Book review: Zed

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Zed by Joanna Kavenna is a dystopian satire, set in a future Great Britain, where a tech giant called Beetle runs most of society. Their ‘lifechain’ product is able to predict the future, which the justice department uses to prosecute people for future crimes (very Minority Report). They also deal in currency (BeetleBits), transport (Mercury cars), virtual assistents (Veeps) and VR (Real Virtuality).

Beetle’s CEO, Guy Matthias, is one of those tech CEOs that Sillicon Valley seems to have way too many of. Before he addresses a conference in Davos, he orders his robot to read Thomas Mann’s Magic mountain, and distill a funny opening from it. When he needs a date for a dinner party, he checks out the expected success rate.

Beetle takes pride in that they’ve created a reality where everything can be predicted and determined by smart algorithms… except it can’t, it sometimes fails. Of course it does. Those who insist we should compute every aspect of our lives clearly fail to truly understand every aspect of our lives.

Zed is an excellent novel about what could go wrong if big technology corporations have too much power and not enough humanities majors in their leadership. It is very resemblant of the real world: Facebook who want to introduce a currency, Uber who try to reinvent transport… the list goes on.

Someone on Goodreads called it ‘the fictional extension of Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism’, which I think is apt. I would warmly recommend this to people who are interested in a critical look at the tech industry. See also the review in The Observer.

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