The Glass Cage by Nicholas Car

Carr's book is a more sceptical and profound examination of the benefits and perils of automation than one typically finds in the blogosphere. He considers at length the cognitive danger associated with not only increasing ease, but with the intrinsic intermediation that advanced technology creates between humans and the physical world. We understand objects better when we touch them and heft them, and we understand people better when we actually speak to them.

Many previous authors have commented on 'learned helplessness,' but Carr's real contribution lies in placing today's issues in a longer historical context. He not only mentions the Luddites, but quotes Karl Marx about early 20th-Century trends at some length. He considers that the idea of automation-enabled liberation from work is actually a form of oppression, since job-related accomplishments tend to be the ones that, in the end, people find most rewarding. The notion that labor is an onerous demand that is best escaped is therefore a 'miswanting', and not only because of unemployment.

Carr's comments about the obfuscation of choices and their implications by newer technology products is spot-on. Other authors too, have commented on individuals' devolution of personal power to large corporations, but Carr shows how these trends relate to the notion that any effort is 'friction' that must be avoided.

Thanks to Curran Dwyer for recommending (and lending) this book. While Carr treats the history of automation in aviation at some length, the lessons for autonomous ground vehicles are clear.

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