The December issue of The Book Review is devoted to what is known as the ‘Digital Revolution’.

 

Not many people read The Book Review. They should. It is a non-political, non-ideological, intellectual and literary monthly journal published from New Delhi. Its editors are Chandra Chari and Uma Iyengar. The Book Review was founded in January 1976. The founders were K.R. Narayanan, S. Gopal, Nikhil Chakravarty, Raja Ramanna, Meenakshi Mukherjee and K.N. Raj. All have passed away.

K.R. Narayanan, a former IFS officer, retired as Rashtrapati. S. Gopal was an internationally known historian and scholar, Nikhil Chakravarty started the weekly magazine, Mainstream. K.N. Raj was a well known academician and economist.

The December issue is devoted to what is known as the “Digital Revolution”. The guest editor is Osman Manzar, founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation.

The opening article, “Story of Digital Shift from Village India” is by him. A young student from Barmer (in western Rajasthan) Shakti Singh, six years ago joined Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF). He became a digital expert, i.e., in the words of his mentor, “Shakti Singh went through a long rigorous training to understand the world of connectivity (Digital), pervasiveness of mobiles, importance of critical thinking, what is misinformation and fake news, what disinformation means, how to identify misinformation and fake news…”

Recently, Shakti Singh informed Osama Manzar that he was using a smartphone: “and I use all my functionalities of my phone. I realize that everything I am doing on phone is being tracked and recorded and it is also analysing my activity and behaviour…” (shades of George Orwell’s Big Brother in his novel 1984).

As far as I can understand Shakti Singh, he is obviously disenchanted and apprehensive. He tells Manzar that he was worried about someone who was collecting information of the masses which was controlled by an unknown private entity. Having so much centralised control and ownership data, Shakti Singh concluded that, “we are moving toward death of human rights, death of democracy and proliferation of slavery and autocracy”.

On another page I read about a book, Where Will Man Take Us? The Bold Story of the Man Technology is Creating, by Atul Jalan. Here I felt lost. AI, artificial intelligence I have heard of, but not of ANI (Artificial Narrow Intelligence), nor of AGI (Artificial General Intelligence). Finally, we are informed of ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence), when computers will be smarter than humans.

The title of another article is a mouthful and to me incomprehensive. “Forward without fear; Towards Humanity’s ‘Symbiotic Human Machine Hybrid’ Future.” The author is Mark Prensky. He is the coiner of the phrase, “Digital Native’”. Do you know what it means? I don’t. Unlike you. I am an ignoramus.

One wise author tells us, “Progress is a process, not an event”. Fine. But progress is not inherent in history. The dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot be called progress.

Amy Web in her book, The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity. Mercifully, she is critical of the nine monster companies: Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba. The reviewer of this book, Karishma Mehrotra, points to the question Amy Web poses: “All tribes should be asking themselves…Is there a code of human values or of ethics. My answer is the AI and its sinister sisters have so far not dictated our emotions, our loves, sentiments, laughter, sorrow. Perhaps and unfortunately machines will become smarter than humans. That will be a sad day. A way must be found to manage technology, also AI and Digitalism. How do the likes of me cope with Digitalisation? Let me paraphrase Karl Marx, ‘Ignoramuses of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your ignorance’.”

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Earlier in the week I read a fascinating and revealing biography of R.N. Kao, the founder of RAW by Nitin Gokhale. R.N. Kao is an outstanding intelligence officer independent India has produced. I had the good fortune to know Ramji Bhai for many years. I don’t respect too many people. Him I did.

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Do you know what MAKAUT stands for? Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University. It is located in Kolkata.

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