The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is an exceptional read, building a theory of the Google-age of the internet as the next stage of the capitalism in which all data — online and in the physical world — is subject to harvesting by companies that want to sell predictions about our behavior. On the surface there is very little that is new in this idea — we are all generally aware that Google and Facebook extract our data and use it to sell ads. Do we really need hundreds more pages on the same topic? Zuboff’s polemic adds to the conversation by going deep into the philosophical underpinnings and the history of the idea that we can automate all decisions away from fallible humans to perfectly rational AI, which Zuboff identifies as the true threat of big tech’s data harvesting operation. To make her case she invents new, strange terms, repeats information regularly, and otherwise creates an uncomfortable and dense book that kicks a tremendous amount of ass.
The danger as Zuboff sees it isn’t only the destruction of privacy everywhere, online and offline, but big tech influencing our behavior and driving us towards the outcomes the highest bidder desires. Whether that outcome is buying a new toy we don’t need, voting for a politician, or abolishing democracy is irrelevant to the data machine, the mindless accumulation of data, predictive power, and behavioral influence to increase profits is all that matters for the men running the machines.