The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity By Amy Webb
So you’ve all heard of the FAANG gang, haven’t you? 
The Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google of the world who dominate our lives. 
One cannot imagine living without them for sure. 
Some quick notes about the author: Amy Webb is filling in the space lent vacant by Alwin Toffler, another futurist whose Future Shock and Power Shift ruled the imaginations and visions of the world for several decades and are relevant even today.

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4/5

Author : Amy Webb
Originally Published : 2019
Publication :Public Affairs
Pages : 336
Genre(s) :-
Non-Fiction, Technology, Artifical Intelligence

Amy Webb is another visionary futurist who is aiming to comment on the future through her works. Amy has designed a Strategic foresight course for MBA students at the Stern Business School. 

This book feels like Amy is thinking for you and me, thoughts which should have scared us to hell but are still miles away from our collective consciousness. The Big Nine she refers in the context of Artificial Intelligence are the same as above plus Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, Microsoft and IBM (her book does not include Netflix and I wonder why). These nine companies collectively control a hell lot of intelligence from the way we use their services and have access to some sensitive data which they’re using for immediate financial gain. But Amy warns about the future. 

The first chapter Ghosts In The Machine makes for some deep thinking. Amy connects the dots of mankind when she asks that if man has a mind and man makes machines then can a machine have a mind of its own? She quotes Rene Descartes who had said that even if man made an automation (today’s robot), man would still be unrivalled because the machine would never have a mind or a soul. 

Amy makes it clear that AI is not just a trend, it’s the future of computing, the third era if we may say so. 

The world over, these nine tech giants have been hamstrung by the authoritarian terms and hence competing fiercely to stay ahead of competition. We expect them to continuously announce newer versions and path breaking products. It fuels more competition. 

With over 1.4 billion population, the Chinese have mastered the art of algorithms and are making irresistible software for pattern and face recognition which the world is in love. Aren’t the nations who are willingly using this technology handing over billions of people’s data to these companies in return? What and how will they use it for is a question that should scare the shits out of us.  

Amy has some caveats for us

  • The world as we know today will be far different in 2069. We will find that the decisions made on our behalf by the machines may be debatable to us but perfectly fine for the machines
  • Humans are rapidly losing their awareness as the machines are waking up
  • What will happen when power is vested in the hands of a small number of people who are deciding on our behalf by designing the AI
  • AI tools like Alexa catch on to our every word and feed to a system of database. Alexa may be competent but is she intelligent? Does she know what data is sensitive and what is not? Her masters could use that data for any purpose whatsoever because you have willingly handed it over to them.
  • As China could use the AI data thus compiled to shape global thought leadership , being largely dictated by its geopolitical ambitions, is the world handing over the reins mutely?
  • The data that is being collected by the millions of terabytes every day, is widening the gap between the rich and the poor, marginalizing some and ruling our attention

Are the Big Nine to blame, then?

No. 

They did not begin with the intention of playing the bad game, it was just the way it shaped up. 

Intrinsic to the nature of their business is the huge data that they sit upon. But their algorithms are shaping the way we live, buy, work, entertain and learn which could be in the hands of these companies thereby shaping the new world order. If the world will turn out to be a wonderful place, it could be with the help of these companies, but if at all the world would have to collapse under its own weight, the Big Nine would have some major role in its apocalypse. 

Key takeaways

  1. The big nine companies have similar business interests and are sitting on huge data that could potentially shape the world or alter its fabric completely
  2. The core aim of these companies is not at all bad, rather it’s for the good of the human race. But it’s the external forces- the political ambitions of some and the capitalist push of others that could play foul
  3. In a rush to create AI experts, educational institutions are teaching machine learning and language processing but not altruism, anthropology, philosophy and ethics which one doubts if the machines could fathom
  4. The exorbitant costs of AI has pushed the industry into the hands of the top nine
  5. Fixing the dangers posed by AI and the dominance of the Big Nine would be a matter of political and collective leadership and will

Why I recommend this book

Because Amy Webb speaks out for all of us, the ignorant lot (dare I say), who thrive in a virtual world and don’t tire of singing paeans in its glory. She makes sure we are awake and alert as the mighty companies begin dominating our lives for political or economic gain. 

Lest we become pawns in the hands of these companies and the government policies, it is imperative that we wake up and intervene to control the data and its implications for the world.

Read the book if you, like me, think and speak about the future in realistic terms. 

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