Invention and Innovation: A Brief History of Hype and Failure


Book by Vaclav Smil: “The world is never finished catching up with Vaclav Smil. In his latest and perhaps most readable book, Invention and Innovation, the prolific author—a favorite of Bill Gates—pens an insightful and fact-filled jaunt through the history of human invention. Impatient with the hype that so often accompanies innovation, Smil offers in this book a clear-eyed corrective to the overpromises that accompany everything from new cures for diseases to AI. He reminds us that even after we go quite far along the invention-development-application trajectory, we may never get anything real to deploy. Or worse, even after we have succeeded by introducing an invention, its future may be marked by underperformance, disappointment, demise, or outright harm.

Drawing on his vast breadth of scientific and historical knowledge, Smil explains the difference between invention and innovation, and looks not only at inventions that failed to dominate as promised (such as the airship, nuclear fission, and supersonic flight), but also at those that turned disastrous (leaded gasoline, DDT, and chlorofluorocarbons). And finally, most importantly, he offers a “wish list” of inventions that we most urgently need to confront the staggering challenges of the twenty-first century.

Filled with engaging examples and pragmatic approaches, this book is a sobering account of the folly that so often attends human ingenuity—and how we can, and must, better align our expectations with reality…(More)”.

The Big Con: How the Consulting Industry Weakens Our Businesses, Infantilizes Our Governments, and Warps Our Economies


Book by Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington: “There is an entrenched relationship between the consulting industry and the way business and government are managed today that must change. Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington show that our economies’ reliance on companies such as McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, and EY stunts innovation, obfuscates corporate and political accountability, and impedes our collective mission of halting climate breakdown.

The “Big Con” describes the confidence trick the consulting industry performs in contracts with hollowed-out and risk-averse governments and shareholder value-maximizing firms. It grew from the 1980s and 1990s in the wake of reforms by the neoliberal right and Third Way progressives, and it thrives on the ills of modern capitalism, from financialization and privatization to the climate crisis. It is possible because of the unique power that big consultancies wield through extensive contracts and networks—as advisors, legitimators, and outsourcers—and the illusion that they are objective sources of expertise and capacity. In the end, the Big Con weakens our businesses, infantilizes our governments, and warps our economies.

In The Big Con, Mazzucato and Collington throw back the curtain on the consulting industry. They dive deep into important case studies of consultants taking the reins with disastrous results, such as the debacle of the roll out of HealthCare.gov and the tragic failures of governments to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic. The result is an important and exhilarating intellectual journey into the modern economy’s beating heart. With peerless scholarship, and a wealth of original research, Mazzucato and Collington argue brilliantly for building a new system in which public and private sectors work innovatively for the common good…(More)”.

Because Data Can’t Speak for Itself


A Practical Guide to Telling Persuasive Policy Stories” by David Chrisinger and Lauren Brodsky: “People with important evidence-based ideas often struggle to translate data into stories their readers can relate to and understand. And if leaders can’t communicate well to their audience, they will not be able to make important changes in the world.

Why do some evidence-based ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Because Data Can’t Speak for Itself, accomplished educators and writers David Chrisinger and Lauren Brodsky tackle these questions head-on. They reveal the parts and functions of effective data-driven stories and explain myriad ways to turn your data dump into a narrative that can inform, persuade, and inspire action.

Chrisinger and Brodsky show that convincing data-driven stories draw their power from the same three traits, which they call peoplepurpose, and persistence. Writers need to find the real people behind the numbers and share their stories. At the same time, they need to remember their own purpose and be honest about what data says—and, just as importantly, what it does not.

Compelling and concise, this fast-paced tour of success stories—and several failures—includes examples on topics such as COVID-19, public diplomacy, and criminal justice…(More)”

Big Data and Public Policy


Book by Rebecca Moody and Victor Bekkers: “This book provides a comprehensive overview of how the course, content and outcome of policy making is affected by big data. It scrutinises the notion that big and open data makes policymaking a more rational process, in which policy makers are able to predict, assess and evaluate societal problems. It also examines how policy makers deal with big data, the problems and limitations they face, and how big data shapes policymaking on the ground. The book considers big data from various perspectives, not just the political, but also the technological, legal, institutional and ethical dimensions. The potential of big data use in the public sector is also assessed, as well as the risks and dangers this might pose. Through several extended case studies, it demonstrates the dynamics of big data and public policy. Offering a holistic approach to the study of big data, this book will appeal to students and scholars of public policy, public administration and data science, as well as those interested in governance and politics…(More)”.

Prophets at a Tangent: How Art Shapes Social Imagination


Book by Geoff Mulgan: “This Element asks if the arts can help us imagine a better future society and economy, without deep social gulfs or ecological harm. It argues that at their best, the arts open up new ways of seeing and thinking. They can warn and prompt and connect us to a bigger sense of what we could be. But artists have lost their role as gods and prophets, partly as an effect of digital technologies and the ubiquity of artistic production, and partly as an effect of shifting values. Few recent books, films, artworks or exhibitions have helped us imagine how our world could solve its problems or how it might be better a generation or more from now. This Element argues that artists work best not as prophets of a new society but rather as ‘prophets at a tangent’….(More)”.

The Smartness Mandate


Book by Orit Halpern and Robert Mitchell: “Smart phones. Smart cars. Smart homes. Smart cities. The imperative to make our world ever smarter in the face of increasingly complex challenges raises several questions: What is this “smartness mandate”? How has it emerged, and what does it say about our evolving way of understanding—and managing—reality? How have we come to see the planet and its denizens first and foremost as data-collecting instruments?

In The Smartness Mandate, Orit Halpern and Robert Mitchell radically suggest that “smartness” is not primarily a technology, but rather an epistemology. Through this lens, they offer a critical exploration of the practices, technologies, and subjects that such an understanding relies upon—above all, artificial intelligence and machine learning. The authors approach these not simply as techniques for solving problems of calculations, but rather as modes of managing life (human and other) in terms of neo-Darwinian evolution, distributed intelligences, and “resilience,” all of which have serious implications for society, politics, and the environment.

The smartness mandate constitutes a new form of planetary governance, and Halpern and Mitchell aim to map the logic of this seemingly inexorable and now naturalized demand to compute, illuminate the genealogy of how we arrived here, and point to alternative imaginaries of the possibilities and potentials of smart technologies and infrastructures…(More)”.

The Doctor Who Wasn’t There: Technology, History, and the Limits of Telehealth


Book by Jeremy A. Greene: “The Doctor Who Wasn’t There traces the long arc of enthusiasm for—and skepticism of—electronic media in health and medicine. Over the past century, a series of new technologies promised to democratize access to healthcare. From the humble telephone to the connected smartphone, from FM radio to wireless wearables, from cable television to the “electronic brains” of networked mainframe computers: each new platform has promised a radical reformation of the healthcare landscape. With equal attention to the history of technology, the history of medicine, and the politics and economies of American healthcare, physician and historian Jeremy A. Greene explores the role that electronic media play, for better and for worse, in the past, present, and future of our health.

Today’s telehealth devices are far more sophisticated than the hook-and-ringer telephones of the 1920s, the radios that broadcasted health data in the 1940s, the closed-circuit televisions that enabled telemedicine in the 1950s, or the online systems that created electronic medical records in the 1960s. But the ethical, economic, and logistical concerns they raise are prefigured in the past, as are the gaps between what was promised and what was delivered. Each of these platforms also produced subtle transformations in health and healthcare that we have learned to forget, displaced by promises of ever newer forms of communication that took their place. 

Illuminating the social and technical contexts in which electronic medicine has been conceived and put into practice, Greene’s history shows the urgent stakes, then and now, for those who would seek in new media the means to build a more equitable future for American healthcare….(More)”.

Algorithms of Education: How Datafication and Artificial Intelligence Shape Policy


Book by Kalervo N. Gulson, Sam Sellar, and P. Taylor Webb: “While the science fiction tales of artificial intelligence eclipsing humanity are still very much fantasies, in Algorithms of Education the authors tell real stories of how algorithms and machines are transforming education governance, providing a fascinating discussion and critique of data and its role in education policy.

Algorithms of Education explores how, for policy makers, today’s ever-growing amount of data creates the illusion of greater control over the educational futures of students and the work of school leaders and teachers. In fact, the increased datafication of education, the authors argue, offers less and less control, as algorithms and artificial intelligence further abstract the educational experience and distance policy makers from teaching and learning. Focusing on the changing conditions for education policy and governance, Algorithms of Education proposes that schools and governments are increasingly turning to “synthetic governance”—a governance where what is human and machine becomes less clear—as a strategy for optimizing education.Exploring case studies of data infrastructures, facial recognition, and the growing use of data science in education, Algorithms of Education draws on a wide variety of fields—from critical theory and media studies to science and technology studies and education policy studies—mapping the political and methodological directions for engaging with datafication and artificial intelligence in education governance. According to the authors, we must go beyond the debates that separate humans and machines in order to develop new strategies for, and a new politics of, education…(More)”.

Governing Smart Cities as Knowledge Commons


Book edited by Brett M. Frischmann, Michael J. Madison, and Madelyn Rose Sanfilippo: “The rise of ‘smart’ – or technologically advanced – cities has been well documented, while governance of such technology has remained unresolved. Integrating surveillance, AI, automation, and smart tech within basic infrastructure as well as public and private services and spaces raises a complex set of ethical, economic, political, social, and technological questions. The Governing Knowledge Commons (GKC) framework provides a descriptive lens through which to structure case studies examining smart tech deployment and commons governance in different cities. This volume deepens our understanding of community governance institutions, the social dilemmas communities face, and the dynamic relationships between data, technology, and human lives. For students, professors, and practitioners of law and policy dealing with a wide variety of planning, design, and regulatory issues relating to cities, these case studies illustrate options to develop best practice. Available through Open Access, the volume provides detailed guidance for communities deploying smart tech…(More)”

Responsible AI in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities


Open Access Book edited by Damian Okaibedi Eke, Kutoma Wakunuma, and Simisola Akintoye: “In the last few years, a growing and thriving AI ecosystem has emerged in Africa. Within this ecosystem, there are local tech spaces as well as a number of internationally driven technology hubs and centres established by big tech companies such as Twitter, Google, Facebook, Alibaba Group, Huawei, Amazon and Microsoft have significantly increased the development and deployment of AI systems in Africa. While these tech spaces and hubs are focused on using AI to meet local challenges (e.g. poverty, illiteracy, famine, corruption, environmental disasters, terrorism and health crisis), the ethical, legal and socio-cultural implications of AI in Africa have largely been ignored. To ensure that Africans benefit from the attendant gains of AI, ethical, legal and socio-cultural impacts of AI need to be robustly considered and mitigated…(More)”.