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Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  602 ratings  ·  62 reviews
A field manual to the technologies that are changing our lives at bewildering speed
Everywhere we turn, our everyday experience is being overlaid and interrupted by startling new technologies. Today, we depend on the smartphone as an interface to an urban environment we share with autonomous drones and self-driving cars, even as we use augmented-reality applications to
Paperback, 360 pages
Published May 29th 2018 by Verso (first published May 30th 2017)
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Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve been reading a lot about the future of work at the moment for a project at work – I can’t say it has made me feel all that great, to be honest. In fact, I can only hope the people making the predictions I’ve been reading are so far wrong as to make themselves look like fools in a decade or so when we can all have a bit of a laugh at their expense. There are also lots of people saying that there will be lots of new jobs created – perhaps even more than those that are about to be wiped out in ...more
Tim Pendry
If I had known that this book was published by Verso, I probably would not have bothered buying it. Buying a Verso book is like buying a book from the Ignatius Press. You pretty well know what you are going to get and it helps being a true believer to get maximum enjoyment from it.

In this case, Greenfield fits the standard issue model - gloomily negative, pessimistic, striving to find some optimism of the will and 'right on' about (yawn!) feminism, Marx, environmentalism, progressivism and
51st book for 2017.

This book offers an interesting critique of a number of emerging technologies (smartphone interconnectedness; augmented reality; digital fabrication; cryptocurrencies; blockchain; automation; machine learning; artificial intelligence).

The tone of the book is quite negative, which was quite tiring after a while, but the critiques are insightful (I found this especially so for the discussion of cryptocurrencies and blockchains). I guess overall I would have preferred both a
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
This well-written book brings home an important message: capitalism is always seeking to exploit fresh resources. Now it’s our daily life that is being commodified. Our ‘digital exhaust fumes’ are sequestered, cleaned, packaged and sold for myriads of purposes we are unaware of. The risk is that this leads to an unwanted contraction of citizen’s ‘opportunity space’, as access to particular kinds of information, to employment and credit may increasingly be determined by a segmentation that is ...more
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“the purpose of a system is what it does.”

When in the concluding chapter Greenfield invokes Stafford Beer with the above quote, all the preceding chapters click into place and it is marvellous.

With great patience and care, Greenfield walks us through the smartphone, IoT, AR, 3D printing, cryptocurrency, the blockchain, automation, machine learning and finally, general artificial intelligence—showing how each works in great detail while steering clear of technical jargon. And more importantly,
Peter Gasston
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, non-fiction
Brilliant and frustrating. Really clear, concise explorations of current and near-future technologies and their potential consequences—both good and bad—let down by occasional bloody-minded negativity. I really liked parts of this book, and was intensely frustrated by other parts of it.

The chapter on mobile/smartphones is almost worth the price of the book on its own, and he’s particularly strong when talking about cryptocurrency, the blockchain, and the internet of things. But other chapters
Vuk Trifkovic
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Impeccably written, well thought-through, very impactful.

It moves between the registers very well - the first 6 chapters are very practical, very detailed deconstructions of key technologies. As we move up the stack to automation and machine learning and AI, it gets less technical and more conceptual. Not many could have pulled such shift off.

It is also very warm and optimistic book. The fact that the book is a rare example of writing from an unabashed leftist, humanist, but very realistic
Justin Tam
the blockchain will kill us all
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A terrific book that strikes a well-considered balance between the real political potential offered by new technologies on the one hand, and the many (institutional, ideological, technological) limitations they encounter when interacting both with each other and with the world around us on the other. Greenfield writes with passion, eloquence, and tremendous knowledgeability about these topics, in language that is accessible and engaging without sacrificing nuance or complexity. My only point of ...more
Steve Kemple
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A lucid and necessary critique of the sociopolitical ramifications of emergent technology. In particular, the chapters on blockchain, digital fabrication, and algorithmic production of knowledge are worth reading and rereading -- not only for their explanatory clarity but also for their extended insight into some bigger questions. As with most books of this nature, I'll be interested to revisit it in a few years to see how it holds up.
Apr 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An amalgam of fancy words and contradicting viewpoints that don't say much in the end. It can cause headache and I surely drifted away in the last hundred pages. For all the research that went into it, I guess it's a good reference book of contemporary technology. Or a good sum up of all the media articles written so far on these topics.
Aden Date
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Radical Technologies is an ideal jumping off point for the technologically illiterate, but culturally critical, to develop an understanding of the social and cultural impacts of Silicon Valley triumphalism and the suite of technologies they reify.

Greenfield's writing is erudite yet accessible, full of narrative flourish yet balanced. Greenfield explicates and dissects a series of complex technologies, from Blockchain to Machine Learning, and then critically analyses how they function in society.
Our everyday lives are more and more steered and regulated by technologies that are ultimately driven by a desire for profit, control and power. Greenfield's book stresses the need for a better understanding and more critical thought on these technologies surrounding us. He chooses today's most pervasive and innovative fields (smartphone, internet of things, augmented reality, digital fabrication, cryptocurrency, blockchain, automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence) and dedicates a ...more
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great examples in each category to bring the techs into view, but I was hoping for greater range such as the open-source developments in blockchain in order to give a more robust analysis of how these techs touch us from their potential future existences.
Aug 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Useful to understand new trends (blockchain, crypto currency, automation, machine learning, internet of things, artificial intelligence) and how to deal with them in a critical way
Alexander Smith
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
If you remember the book _The World Is Flat_, this is 2.0 with a little less optimism. This is a primer to the potentials of the near future and it's just speculative and optimistic enough that it might inspire some venture capitalists to think about the future of their investments. That said, this book is an optimistic primer to potential (urban) life 5 years from now. Lots of this book already lacks rigor in that it does not entirely grasp what these technologies are beyond what someone might ...more
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A perfect intelligble antidote to the common thriumphalism surrounding most technology. Yes, it tends to be very pessimistic, but this way it did offer another perspective, which is kind of the point.
Alexander Rose
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Technologies that are fundamentally restructuring every day life are at hand but rarely interrogated critically. Understanding them in depth is essential if one hopes to navigate their futures.

I found this book very approachable despite Greenfield's unenviable task of making plain the esoteric and intentionally obtuse world of technology. In particular, Greenfield covers smartphones; the internet of things (self, home, city); cryptocurrency; block chains; machine learning; automation; and AI.
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's a joke I may have imagined that Verso will put out any book with "Radical" in the title, but the radicalism hinted at in the title refers not to the radicalism as a self-judtofuing quality of leftist thought independent of the material world, as Verso authors are won't to ascribe to, not does it refer to the kind of starry-eyed gamechanger quality of technology that countless tech blogs and writers take as their tenor.
Rather it focuses more on the qualities of technologies and the
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a slim shard of the world’s favored, a bleak prosperity prevails. Life goes on for them pretty much the way it does now: peppered by increasingly catastrophic weather events, unpredictable outbreaks of savage violence, and a nagging, inchoate sense of loss, but otherwise very much business as usual. Unprecedentedly healthy, sparklingly bright, and diverse along every conceivable axis, the elite . . . grind away ironically at jobs they know full well to be bullshit, in a gigantic, complicated
Thomas Andrew
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Razor-sharp analysis on the social, political, and economic impacts on technology that has recently begun to shape our lives in ways we (mostly) have yet to understand.

When treated as such, the book excels marvelously. Greenfield is a master explainer, who is able to weave metaphor and simile to make arcane technology digestible to even the most tech-averse layman. He also understands the complex social, biological, political, and economic intersections that inform the production of new
Bill Williams
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Radical Technologies is an in depth view of the every day devices that shape our lives. There are chapters on the power of cell phones, the broken promise of augmented reality, 3D printing, autonomous cars, blockchain technology, bitcoin and complex algorithms to name a few.

The underlying theme of the book concerns the false promise of the technology sold to us on a daily basis. Autonomous vehicles can crash and self-driving trucks will put the current truck-drivers out of work. Every time our
Sep 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When something can be said in two sentences, the writer takes about forty. I get that he's going for a sweeping overview and hypotheses designed to capture our imagination on what the future holds but this went overboard. Whatever the pressures he faced to beef up the book, the contrived way that a lot of vocabulary was incorporated was unjustifiable.

I enjoyed the chapters on cryptocurrency/bitcoin but probably would have enjoyed many of the other ones if he had reigned in the grandiloquence.
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Are you a leftist? Do you want to read highly sophisticated accounts of confusing tech things like blockchain and 3d-printing minus the techno-optimist schwarmerei of the likes of Rifkin or Srnicek/Williams? Then this is the book for you!

Technologist Adam Greenfield's narrative style and penchant for explaining things to laypeople make for a highly engaging read as he discusses both the emancipatory and repressive sides of a variety of new technological developments. While somewhat sobering, his
Keith Dodds
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Must reading for anyone concerned with where modern technology is going. Particularly the subject areas such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Government is so far behind and the technology is developing so fast, it is highly doubtful governments can catch up. And even if they had the nous to do so, do they have a real incentive to rein in intrusive technologies and surveillance capitalism? Or do the demands of the national security state suggest that government mass surveillance
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-request
I follow a lot of these technologies professionally, so there was very little that was brand new to me in the book. However, its real benefit is drawing together how they work, and the effects of their organisation and deployment, in clear prose that is understandable to non-geeks. The chapter on bitcoin and blockchain was the first time I felt like I approached understanding these topics. Greenfield has a lucid and reassuringly (to me) skeptical approach to technologies; he's always asking the ...more
Lee Barry
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ux, technology
A must read at the very least for its clear explanation of blockchain technology and the social implications.

I am seeing more books railing against the "accelerationists," including elders of computer culture such as Jaron Lanier, most recently in his book "Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts." There seems to be a new wave of cynicism about technology coming from many technologists.

Adam Greenfield is well worth listening to:
Victor Bevz
For a simplified guide to entrenched and emerging technologies, this book is too prone to gratuitous Latin. But Greenfield provides some good footholds for questioning the services, methods and ethics of big tech corporates like Amazon and Google.

I got a lot out of this book with some additional research, but I'd take some of the arguments with a grain of salt. Many of the noted sources are articles from news websites of average reliability.
Conrad Leibel
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is maybe the best book I have read on current technologies and their projected impact upon civilization.

The chapter on algorithms was particularly frightening and left me feeling a tad despairing for the future. Greenfield has a poetic method of framing the melancholy that underlies these social and technological transformations that communicates his prose with a deeper felt meaning. I loved this book. I hope you love it too.
Thom Kaife
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Seemingly prescient, informative and thoughtful critique of the technologies subverting their dominance and perversion of our every day lives. it's not all doom and gloom though, offering what seems a fair discussion on both the utopian and distopian potential for these technologies. Bitcoin and the blockchain were explained really well this book, two particular technologies that have been completely impenetrable until now for my understanding.
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“Just as James Watt refused to license his steam engine, suppressing the development of that technology over the quarter century that elapsed between his first commercial model and the expiry of his patents in 1800, the evolution of digital fabrication has been hobbled by practices aimed at securing a remunerative monopoly.30 During the period that Stratasys enforced its patents, the practice of 3D printing went more or less nowhere. It wasn’t until these patents began to expire, after twenty years of painfully slow progress, that the Cambrian explosion of depositional fabrication devices and things made with them became possible.31” 0 likes
“And for those of us who are motivated by commitment to a specifically participatory politics of the commons, it’s not at all clear that any blockchain-based infrastructure can support the kind of flexible assemblies we imagine. I myself come from an intellectual tradition that insists that any appearance of the word “potential” needs to be greeted with skepticism. There is no such thing as potential, in this view: there are merely states of a system that have historically been enacted, and those that have not yet been enacted. The only way to assess whether a system is capable of assuming a given state is to do the work of enacting it.” 0 likes
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