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Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans Hardcover – February 11, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


New York Review of Books
"[An] arresting new book... Head offers a powerful indictment of contemporary Anglo-American Capitalism... He brilliantly translates ideas remote from the experience of most people into everyday language... [and] deconstructs and demystifies the pseudoscientific, abstract, jargonized language of management studies in order to reveal the dispiriting realities it obscures."

Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“A dark, revealing view of computerized control and monitoring of the workplace… A sobering, important book.”

Richard Sennett, author of Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation
“The regimented society has arrived, and Simon Head is its most probing critic. He not only shows the grip of computerized bureaucracy on people’s lives, he also analyzes the economic interests and political processes which drive regimentation. This wide-ranging book is clearly and at times eloquently written. A must-read.”

Robert Skidelsky, author of Keynes: The Return of the Master
“With insight and clarity, Simon Head describes the insidious effects of combining scientific management with IT systems and its propensity to create a world of top-down control, where workers are stripped of skills and satisfaction in their work. His fascinating account ranges from Walmart and Amazon’s tightly controlled supply chains to Goldman Sachs’s manipulation of sub-prime mortgages. In doing so he shows how the drive to automate human abilities and increase profits has depressed wages and undermined economies.”

Paul Duguid, co-author of The Social Life of Information
“The world abounds in enthusiastic technologists offering their vision of the ideal, democratic future to which technology will deliver us, if only we are willing to follow. Simon Head’s penetrating Mindless, with its well-chosen and impressively unpredictable case studies of Computer Business Systems in the workplace, the military, and academia, gives us reasons—and the tools—to question such advice. Importantly, Head shows us that the future is not inevitable. We have choices, and for the good of society we need to make them.”

Avner Offer, Chichele Professor (emeritus) of Economic History, University of Oxford, and Fellow of All Souls College
“Simon Head’s penetrating and eloquent book shows how mass surveillance is already manipulating employees in business. Are citizens next? It provides clues about where government surveillance is heading—or maybe we are already there.”

About the Author

Simon Head, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University and Senior Member of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University, serves as the Director of Programs at the New York Review of Books Foundation. He divides his time between Oxford, England and New York.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (February 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465018440
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465018444
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #697,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Johnny Von Roadblock on May 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As an IT consultant I see the effects of automation on not only the unskilled workforce but also on the white collar world. This book gives a unique look at the consequences of our modern world. Hard work, education, and ambition may no longer be guarantees of success. Blake's "dark satanic mills" are being replaced by the fluorescent lit cubicles.

I've always been a die-hard capitalist but this book gives the best justification yet for some form of wealth redistribution in our society for the sake of capitalism itself. The author points out that Henry Ford was perceptive enough to raise wages in Ford's factories in order for the workers to afford automobiles. Without this type of income/wage reform at a national level, capitalism will not have the markets to sustain itself. It is in the best interest of capitalistic societies to adopt some wealth reallocation tenets of socialism.

The author also has some very interesting comparisons of the command economies of the Soviet and Chinese to the command and control hierarchies of British academia.

A very original and thought provoking book. Highly recommended!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By GlobalChangeSupercenter5 on April 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Where were all these professors (like Simon Head here, or Giles Slade, or sometimes Alex Ross, or David Blacker) )with their brilliant dystopic looks at the current scene when I was in college? Transatlantic prof with a conscience writes quick devastating journalistic thesis about the horrid side of the supersystem, and slams this site (A***) with powerful one-twos, showing the evil abusive side of tech predators who are vile to their employees and the ecological sysems of the planet. So too with the egregious business-sepak nowinfesting English universities, and the numbing banaility of the "corporate panoptics" that Head so clearly targets and destroys.
Yet, at the end, Head calls, as do all the would-be dystopics who just can't seem to give in to the last push for nihilism, for "progressives" and labor unionists to come together to unite in holy opposition and make a brave, new humanist worker paradise out of this bloated, Gatesian social devastation. Yeah, that'll happen.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Still Singin' on June 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Simon Head is a university fellow and has been around long enough to be able to trace modern digital infiltration of the workplace from the 1970's until today. He also creates a less recent historical perspective from which the contemporary situation evolved, citing heavily from Taylorism and its "scientific management" principals. While at one time "scientific management" might have seemed like a good idea . . . forward-thinking . . . it has morphed into a technological monster which threatens to consume the humanity of the workplace.

There is lots to digest in this book. CBS or computer business systems is the term Head prefers. The military has played a seminal role in actualizing the infiltration into corporate life of CBS's. Decades ago, there was perceived to be a great need in the defense industry for computerizing management function and workplace behavior. Generous collaboration between the military and private enterprise developed a top-down system, with less emphasis on middle management, and a robotic notion that ground level workers need not have skill sets as much as the ability to follow orders -- i.e., everything would be set up for them in advance. Monkey see . . . monkey do.

Sounds efficient, right? But dramatic draw-backs emerge inevitably from such an approach. Industrial production flourished at first, and still seems to impress. Modern life runs more smoothly due to the creative enterprise of IT specialists and an ability to actualize relevant products. But playing behind the scenes is a deterioration of the workforce, spurred on by a relentless system that "rewards" individual production with ever increasing goals. The harder you work, the more you get to do.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen T. Hopkins VINE VOICE on November 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Simon Head raises an important issue in his book titled, Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans. All the redesigned business processes and algorithms that have transformed work through computer business systems may be displacing the greater value of the judgment of a skilled worker. While he rails against this latest application of scientific management to the workplace, he does it using prose that will likely be tedious to most readers. If you have an interest in business process, this is a book that should be part of your education. Let’s hope that more authors engage on this topic and offer greater eloquence, especially for general readers.

Rating: Three-star (It’s ok)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Edwards on August 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover
In this book Simon Head discusses how Computer Business Systems have paved the way globally for ever-increasing white-collar industrialization and ever-stricter controls imposed thereon. While the chapter on Walmart and Amazon hits closest to home, I also appreciated the chapter on manufacturing in China. Although I wish the author could have done a better job staying away from acronyms, and making the chapters on "Military" and "Global" Halves seem more pertinent, this still was an interesting and quick read.
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