Customer Reviews: The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business
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on May 30, 2013
I meant to give this a three star review, not one. I've been in the tech industry for over twenty years (Microsoft, Oracle and Telco industry). I had built up high hopes to read something that wasn't obvious and everything in this book is relatively obvious and not in the future at all. If you're not in the tech industry and particularly if you work in foreign policy, this book is a must read. It appears to me that Jared contributed more to the book than Eric Schmidt. I encourage you to read both of their backgrounds to understand from where their perspective is grounded. I enjoyed the international historical examples that peppered the book, presumably coming from Jared. Now to the more critical concerns I have with the book. It's not visionary. The future examples are usually obvious or show some naivete and lack both depth and breadth. I am concerned that it reads like a book written by the progressive part of our US government instead of a broader view. The criticism in the first fifty pages of Assange shows a clear alignment with traditional US government views and ignores the broader questions and issues around transparency. There was little to no discussion about some of the big technological/policy battles in this space that are taking place daily and accelerating. For example - is the fourth amendment still relevant in the modern world where it becomes increasing impossible to maintain privacy? What about the new NSA Utah datacenter and Stellar Wind type projects which leave all up citizens lives bare? And how is the increasing secrecy of governments along with the increasing openness of citizen data creating potential imbalances in society? What about the other elephant in the room with regards to corporate storage of the same information about citizens? And how those corporations like terrorists have become globalized and are not necessarily loyal to a particular government? How will these issues affect the future? And what is Google's role vis-a-vis government? If corporations and governments collaborate (given the above) what does that mean for society? I'd like to have heard a bit about censorship too. For example, both Google and Facebook crowdsource the flagging of content that is deemed to violate policy. But what is the recourse for those who were censored? Does the person who has been censored even know they have been censored? Do the people who read what the person writes know that they were censored? How does government policy relate to the area of censorship, especially when national security is involved? Is online censorship aligned with first amendment interpretations of freedom of speech - for example speaking on a street corner? Hate speech is protected in person, what about online? Who decides if online entities make their own decisions about free speech and ignore previous first amendment interpretations? What potential issues are there as large government and corporate organizations can perform sophisticated clustering, predictive analytics and graph search on populations without oversight? And how does targeted advertising and the analytics cross and become nearly identical to national security monitoring goals? How inter-country relationships being affected in their policies by globalization. What does it mean when countries collect and share information on each other's citizens. What if the internet pages I see are different than what others see due to the ability to target groups and people to filter/change content? As a subtle example, when I post to Facebook, how do I know which of my friends see my posts? Can the algorithm change who sees my posts based on which analytical groups I'm associated with? What about technologies like PGP which have been around for a long time which allow people to be secure, verify who they are, vote online securely? No mention. And evoting and encrypted communications as a default was also not mentioned. The tension between "national security" and citizen rights as defined by the Bill of Rights was completely glossed over. The book also is too heavily weighted on the technology end. There is assumption that technology will cure much of what's wrong. But anyone who's worked in this space for awhile knows that people are where it is at. You enable people and let them do their thing. And culture is very important. Technology can only be an enabler. Sometimes our intelligence and defense industries evidence too much technology heavy bias in their solutions. The Boston bombers were not really caught by technology, contrary to the impression left. PEOPLE phoned the police. The technology was in a supporting role. And that is our responsibility in the tech industry. Not to get too smug with what we can build but instead empower others and stand up for their rights in the process. Wikileaks, whether you agree or disagree with it, was effectively causing us to question whether the increasing imbalance between who has access to information can be addressed. Governments and corporations are stockpiling histories and predictive analytics about us and changing what we see. Assange, for all his faults, was advocating his own way of shifting the balance back towards an even keel. Put another way, if people now have no privacy, maybe corporations and governments as organizations should also have no privacy. It's an interesting counterpoint. I also fear that the book sides with more activist attempts to create change in countries that align with US policy objectives. We need trust and openness. To that end, the work of Google and the US government to advance human rights should be open and not perceived as manipulative. Being manipulative can result in blowback that undermines the goal. People distrust motives. Especially if human rights and Internet Freedom/communication is not supported equally worldwide. If I had to guess, I suspect that Jared will rise quickly to a high position of power in the US government. My hope is that we think not just about how we can achieve ends with technology, but also how to inspire trust and openness about our leadership in these areas that are so important to everyone.
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on April 25, 2013
As an Afghan war veteran and an historian of technology, I found this book both important and valuable, but also oversimplifying complexity in places.

Important and valuable for one overriding reason: for alerting a mass readership of the current and accelerating social-economic-military-political disruptions arising from the expansion of the internet.

But execessively oversimplifying of complexity in several key instances. One example of this illustrates my concerns: see discussion of "More Innovation, More Opportunity", starting page 18 and the key sentence, pg 19, two lines from bottom of the page. (I will discuss pg 66 and the claim that technology is neutral in the "PS" section, at bottom of page)

The issue in these two pages (18-19) was that of globalized competition for jobs, wherein borders and community boundaries fall in the face of internet outsourcing of jobs. Schmidt and Cohen oversimplify as they discuss how workers in Orange County must compete with workers in Uruguay. How is this oversimplified? By not accounting for the multiplicity of factors that come into play, for example, what is the cost of living for a working family in Orange County compared to an overseas location? What are the working conditions of any number of overseas labor markets?

But the most striking case of over simplication comes near the bottom of page 19:
"Globalization's critics will decry this erosion of local monopolies, but it should be embraced, because this is how our socieities will move forward and continue to innovate."

So, where are the problems with this sentence? At least two instances. Case one: to use the word "MONOPOLIES" when referring to local workers is a needlessly perjorative phrase, especially in the US. Are all local workers monopolies? For example, is a locally operated/staffed industry that prefers to serve clients 'face to face' really a monopoly because it does not promote internet workers who do not serve 'in the flesh'? Does it improve our society when this local worker is displaced by an internet 'virtual' worker who is not in the physical community? Case Two: doesn't this sentence need clarification and a nod toward complexity when the authors assert this borderless competition is good, that "this is how our societies move forward"? Let us stop and think about this phrase...what society? the local society which has now lost the local job? We must carefully consider the EXTERNALITIES working here, for example, what if the local worker was also the coach for the Little League Team? worked in the local food bank? Is the internet 'virtual worker' flying into the local community (in this case, Orange County) to coach the team, serve in the food bank? How does society capture these exerternalities? Perhaps by taxing internet commerce to pay someone to work in the foodbank? This depth of analysis is a bit lacking.

But in the end, the reduction of complexity aside... we all should read this, with a CRITICAL EYE. Society, local physical society, is indeed being "reshaped".

PS: I have received a surprising number of direct emails or responses to my review. Some asking for greater expansion on my thoughts. So, here they are. I mention my experience both in Afghanistan and as an historian of technology. Why? Part of my job in Afghanistan was helping to put back together a society that was 'reshaped' too quickly, in Afghanistan's case, by war. I realize the difficulty of putting societies back together after they are disrupted by war, OR technology. The reference to historian? I served many years in technical fields, from nuclear reactors to networks, and then was given the gift of years of study and reflection, leading to an advanced degree in history of technology. Such years of study help me to see this New Digital Age through a lens of long term, socio-technical change. There is an argument to not stray to far from our natural, human, physical roots... and I believe the debate over that distance we can safely move beyond the 'natural' may be the debate of our time.
A question asked: why did I mention in the title that certain parts of this book could be over simplification? Isn't that what good authors must do? Isn't that what authors often must do? A partial truth, yes. But for a sophisticated audience, and for authors of such stature, on such an important issue, over simplification when presented to a mass audience can, in my mind, be damaging to the public discourse (and, I grant, this may be the result of page counts and the deadlines, editorial pressures which Eric Schmidt may have missed).

So, where is there over simplification? See Page 66. Here the authors assert that "The central truth of the technology industry--that technology is neutral but people are not--will periodically be lost amid all the noise." STOP HERE..... lets think on this a bit more deeply. Who makes technology? People. If people are not neutral, than the technology built by people probably CANNOT BE totally NEUTRAL. And, yet, the authors dismiss the complexity of the issue as "noise"? A couple cases from history will bring the complexity into focus. Robert Oppenheimer, who built the A-Bomb, stood by the complexity of the problem of technology when he asserted, "...physicists have known sin...", not just COL Tibbits who pushed the bomb release switch over Japan. A more emotive example brings us to Nazi Germany. The engineers who built the gas chamber technology at Auschwitz "knew sin", not just the guards who herded the Jewish men, women, and children into the technology, the chambers. Perhaps more subtle, the German V2 missile program. The engineer, Werner Von Braun, merely built the technology.... he never pushed the button to kill London's citizenry, but note: President Eisenhower was morally troubled by Von Braun and his team of v2 engineers, even when von Braun was building American missiles... Ike knew that Von Braun, by building the technology, was NOT neutral. But, in the end, the US was in an arms race wtih Russia and hired Von Braun, despite his past, to build our missiles. Ah... that complexity problem again. Its a complex world. Technology is not neutral, but its here to stay. We need to have our eyes WIDE OPEN in the coming New Digital Age. We need to speak with clarity to one another. We can't soften the rough edges out of fear of hurting the other side's feelings, or driving away readers who don't want to engage complexity.

All the that said, we all should extend our thanks to Schmidt and Cohen for writing this book (they certainly didn't do it for the money), and for informing a mass readership, albeit with some problems with oversimplification and reductionism.
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HALL OF FAMEon April 23, 2013
Authors Schmidt and Cohen have outstanding backgrounds that would help produce an very insightful and detailed book. Instead, we get non-stop pros and cons, and not even very insightful ones. It's basically a summary of lots of bits and pieces that most readers are probably already familiar with - eg. background information about Moore's Law, the rising number of people using the Internet and mobile phones, and how photonics is doubling the data coming out of fiber-optic cables every nine months, but no insight as to when Cox Communications (my local source of Internet frustration) and others will replace cable Internet with fiber-optics.

Continuing, we get one small example of some third-world residents are using cell-phones to improve profits (fishermen in the Congo), a quick reference to Xbox 360 capabilities, extremely superficial comments about the future of robots, Khan Academy, and 3D-printers, but nothing about the revolutionary potential for MOOCs in our colleges and universities, or the obvious limitations of 3D-printers (materials used, size, speed).

Then there's babbling about improved physician-patient feedback for the health care sector - a tiring topic because that's the least of the problems in American health care. The #1 problem in American health care is extremely high costs caused by lack of government regulation, thereby allowing providers to take advantage of the extremely inelastic demand for health care and bleed patients and payers to the point where we spend far more than every other nation - 18% of GDP, vs. 8% for Taiwan and Japan, 4% for Singapore.

Citizen participation in government is another topic they excite over - except Gavin Newsom already beat that topic to death while also ignoring the obvious data showing people just aren't interested in doing so. Facebooking with friends is much more fun. (We can't even get half the population to take a few minutes and vote using painless absentee ballots.) Then there's an allusion to new technology bringing more jobs - except it hasn't to date, compared to the jobs lost to new technology. (The authors should have read Martin Ford's 'The Lights in the Tunnel,' written four years ago.)

Then there's their seeing terrorists as becoming 'far more vulnerable than they are today.' Seems I just read something about the Boston Marathon terrorists using the Internet to become sold on jihad, and to learn how to make their bombs (they were caught primarily because of a local department store security camera); bin Laden learned years ago to cast off his satellite phone. Meanwhile, governments have learned to respond to Arab Spring-like groups by infiltrating groups and monitoring sites and Twitter feeds.

Finally, Schmidt pontificates and pumps his chest over China - seeing its imminent collapse thanks to an aroused public using the Internet and cell phones. Get in line Mr. Schmidt - you're about #101,000 to make that call, and it hasn't happened yet.

Bottom-Line: Schmidt and Cohen did themselves and the public no good with this book.
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on January 15, 2014
I was excited about this book and couldn't wait to get to it. I'm sad to report that by the time I got through 150 pages, I couldn't even force myself to continue on. The "insights" provided by the otherwise well credentialed and respectable authors are no more than broad generalizations about the current state and likely future of technology. The book is written as though their target reader lacks even a cursory knowledge of the topics they are reviewing, leaving little time for the exploration of fine details that the authors, no doubt, could have written compellingly on. Instead, we're left with something that reads more like an overly-long undergraduate paper, wherein high-mindedness is eschewed in favor of covering as many topics as possible. I skimmed through the remaining pages, hoping to find something worth giving a more detailed read, but found much more of the same throughout the rest of the book. Therefore, I have to rate this as something not worth reading, and that really saddens me as I was expecting so much from this book and these authors.
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on April 30, 2013
What persuaded to buy this book was two things

1) The sub-title "Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business" (Mostly the word "Business")
2) Richard Branson's and Walter (Steve Jobs) Isaacson's quotes.

On this basis it would be be fair to assume that the publisher had done their job and fairly named the book.
You would think that on the basis of this you would get at least a third of the book relating to business as it third of the title.
Especially when such high profile entrepreneur related people were profiled up front.

Not so. There is very little about the future of business in this book. Very disappointing.

In many ways it is a guide to revolutionaries, combatants and oppressed citizens as to how their genre will change in the future.
The book roams around the world's conflict zones, hot spots and politically oppressive states giving pointers as to how they will be affected in the future.

Business? Barely mentioned. Cannot understand why the word business is in the title and why they put the two quotes they did up front.
The quotes on the front cover should have been Kissenger and and Tony Blair. That would be fairer to shoppers.
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on July 25, 2013
I guess no one had the gall to tell the head of Google that his writing in tedious in the extreme and his book amounts to a disjointed series of (doubtless well-informed) fortune cookie statements. I have to take this book in small doses as it puts me to sleep in a few pages. However, it is prescient in terms of predicting the NSA spying scandal. Unfortunately, the predictions are couched in terms of what the Internet will do in "repressive" societies. Oh well, half credit?
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on June 15, 2013
I was really looking forward to a thoughtful discussion on the intersection of technology and global affairs. Instead, the authors spend chapter after chapter breathlessly touting how the new world of cloud computing is going to improve everyone's lives. What they didn't do was fully explore the consequences of when Google knows so much about our personal lives and how governments/corporations will leverage that information. As other readers have commented, if you have read even a bit on this subject over the past few years, Cohen and Schmidt have regrettably added very little to the debate.
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on May 18, 2013
I was deeply disappointed by this book. I expected to learn something, but basically all Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen have done is looked at current trends and extended them one inch into the future. Apart from the fact that I could have thought of most of this myself, extrapolating a trend rarely works for long: see The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (incidentally a book with real insights) for an explanantion of why not.

The reading experience itself was also tedious. It read like a list of facts. True, they were then grouped into chapters with some commonality but I would hardly count it as a strategic overview.
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on April 29, 2013
This is an easily accessible tale for the uninitiated about all of the core businesses that Google engages in and will continue to do so. Yes, having Eric Schmidt as the author means that every topic will inevitably connect in some fashion to something that Google does.

My biggest critique is that the book is simultaneously too cursory and too granular. The great bulk of the content focuses on (i) government censorship/information control (ii) the developing world and (iii) warfare, cyber and physical. (There is also a token chapter about how Google is going to make our every day lives oh-so-science-fictiony full of shiny gadgets) Granted these three are really big themes, but so much so that it almost seems that each deserves a more in depth treatment than is afforded here. Somewhat schizophrenically, at other times the book seems to miss the forest for the trees: For all the talk about autocracies, terrorism, and warfare there is no mention of the Western countries' demographic shifts, cultural diaspora; health care and aging; world wide economic troubles; energy production; pollution, etc. Kinda seems like those matter more in the grand scheme of things.

So the overarching theme about the future here seems to be is that 'things will work themselves out', one way or another thanks to new technology. But the author does a terrible job of intelligently introducing the reader to any of the 'on the ground complexities' involved in each matter. (Would it kill to have a brief discussion of the current state of the art in cryptography and why it's really important?) To put it somewhat differently, this book does not engage the reader in the 'how to' aspect of these changes and is instead forcefully conclusory: repeatedly the author uses terms like '[so and so] will happen this way' or '[so and so] will not happen and instead [this other thing will]' without laying out all the facts. The conclusions may be valid, but evidence based arguments tend to be a more interesting read. A few specific examples: (i) No more "Spring" movements; (ii) 'Balkanization of the web'; (iii) The NGO Bubble will burst.

i) Regarding revolutions: it would be nice to read more about the technical details of each such revolution, the specific tech involved, why some worked and why some didn't, the concrete lessons learned and what that means going forward (in terms of tech) for budding resistance movements, rather than just do a big fly over to basically (and quite unexpectedly) conclude 'Arabs are a homogenous group more likely to revolt if one country revolts so don't expect the same "Spring" movements in Latin America or Asia'.

ii) Regarding balkanized internet (e.g. Iranian-only internet): it would be nice to discuss the technical difficulties of doing so and the poorly understood world of sea-cable lines, satellite points of contact, etc., rather than just say 'this may happen'. Or how about the economic ramifications for doing so?

iii) The NGO Bubble- wow that's really interesting. How about some figures, numbers, factors that affect long term success, you know metrics, that thing that Google does a lot.

*These are just three examples I remembered at this moment. There are more; they are meant to be illustrative, not determinative.

Moreover, at times the personal bias comes through all too clear for this to be any type of academic work, which is completely unnecessary given the subject matter. I understand that as a public figure Mr. Schmidt must protect his reputation (as he spends a chapter on it) but some of the editorial content was just fluff without substance. At other times the neutral tone borders on the absurd: sure Saudi repression of women is perfectly normal. So here too it seems that corporate PR folk were very insistent that Mr. Schmidt not offend certain political figures.

Lastly, there is no discussion of the social evolution of either the Western world or the developing world. For all the talk of a 'personal web' and 'social internet' the book does not do a good job of exploring the changing psychology and social norms that is brought about by new technology. Again, here it feels like the author is purposefully avoiding discussing any potentially controversial social policies or norms.

So the takeaway is this- it's on okay read for a boring day but I expected more from someone who is supposed to have his finger on the pulse of technology.

TLDR: the book basically argues that mobile phones are awesome and will make everything awesomer; governments will find new ways to ensure that they know more about you than you do about them or yourself; corporations will continue to be corporations, but meaner and leaner; the developing world is a mess but mobile phones will fix everything; and we're gonna have more robots, mostly for killing.
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on July 19, 2013
Dull, dour, pessimistic. If the character from Charlie Brown, Pigpen, of the Pooh character Eyore, were to right a book about technology in our society, they could not conjure up the downer this book is. Who would have thought Eric Schmidt, the Googilianaire, could see such a foreboding future in technology. I mean, the future is not all peaches and cream, but there has to be something beneficial yet to come. No, I couldn't finish it. I even tried to look ahead for some redemption, but none was to be found. Read Infinite Progress instead, unless you already read the New Digital Age, then read Infinite Progress to balance out the darkness.
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