Jamie Susskind first published Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech in 2018, focusing on the implications of living in a society where technology pervades our daily lives. Our human experience has become intertwined with our digital reality.
Susskind argues we have begun to live in a “digital lifeworld” with autonomous digital systems. His concern is that politics, as an organizing force, may no longer be able to control our new reality.
Susskind challenges us to think of digital code as law which, in the future, will dictate social norms. Lines between social engineering and software engineering will blur as algorithms determine social and economic activity.
We already have experienced some of this shift, as algorithms determine CV reviews, job placement, loans, housing, and insurance rates. And this phenomenon will only continue to grow as technology improves.
Susskind worries that IT tools skew human capabilities, magnifying differences and increasing inequality. As we rely more and more heavily on algorithms, those who control or have access to the underlying technology will have greater wealth, longevity, cognitive and physical abilities.
This also means that the companies that develop the code behind our “digital laws” will become more politically powerful. In some cases, it may be governments or state-owned companies that become more powerful with predictive algorithms and surveillance capabilities.
While Susskind intends to inspire fear and concern, he also offers suggestions for preventing the worst case.
He argues that we need new frameworks that consider how technology interacts with individual rights (such as those that already exist for personal data).
He points to places where technology has or will replace human decision making: financial trades, actuarial risks, driverless cars, blockchain contracts and even sentencing decisions based on algorithms that predict re-offense.
He suggests that we agree upon restrictions for companies responsible for the algorithms making these decisions for us.
Like others, he highlights how technology influences opinion by filtering media, and customising search results and content, and he calls for measures to control this power.
He pushes for individuals to become savvier and not rely on corporations or states to develop systems in their best interests.
He calls hacking a form of civil disobedience – but acknowledges that hackers must develop norms in order to differentiate their well-intended interventions from useless criminality.
More than anything, he calls for transparency, suggesting that algorithms that could be harmful to the public must be publicly accountable and subject to independent audits (despite proprietary secrets).