Praise for the Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do
A remarkable review of how well-intentioned technology dreams can become digital nightmares. Ron Baecker fluently covers contemporary issues like e-commerce, online community, self-driving cars, disinformation, and unemployment, reporting on the history and key personalities, while giving a balanced view so readers can form their own opinions. Then he makes bold recommended actions for readers to help make a better world.
— Ben Shneiderman, University of Maryland
Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do works on many levels. First, it provides a fascinating and thorough history of digital technology. Second, it explores the many ways technological advancements have turned against us. Third, and most importantly for me, it provides plenty of proverbial food for thought and ideas. If I was looking for the next “big idea” in digital technology, or to develop an app that helps rather than hinders, this book is a must-read.
— Dwight Wainman, Co-founder and long-time CEO, Caseware International
A thoughtful reflection on what digital technologies have done and might do to society from someone who has been part of the revolution that has taken place over the last half century.
— Joshua Gans, Professor of Strategic Management
and holder of the Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship
at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
In documenting his personal journey from dreams and exuberant optimism about computer technology to pessimism, nightmares, and fear caused by the evolving reality of emerging consequences of the exploding development of technology over the past 75 years. Ron Baecker has provided a comprehensive historical sweep of the computer revolution. In Part I he chronicles the high hopes of early developers to create technological solutions to disparities in healthcare and education, to increase creativity, collaboration, and community, and to provide greater power and convenience to all. Part II of the book examines the resulting nightmares of algorithmic injustices, greater inequities, disinformation, loss of privacy, unemployment, increase of monopolistic power, and individual psychological damage.
The chapter on the rise of risky AI is especially prescient. It opens with,
“Imagine a society in which control over many aspects of life has been delegated to a mysterious godlike spirit that has proclaimed a mission of improving society’s productivity and welfare…The spirit conveys many benefits, but also causes an increasing number of deleterious side-effects.” The chapter continues by describing the pervasive and persuasive nature of AI algorithms that now invade every aspect of life, contributing to the nightmares of internet addiction, injustice, loss of privacy and lack of accountability. Part III of the book provides solutions to the problems presented in Part II “— a rationale and concrete actions designed to rekindle dreams and banish nightmares — a prescription for hope.” The chapters in this section deal with possible solutions at the personal level as well as at the policy and regulatory level.
Each chapter of the book is written in a lucid and engaging style with a number of case studies and examples boxed off within the text to be used for discussion. The organization of the book makes it very usable as a textbook for an undergraduate survey course on computers and society or computer ethics. The very current and relevant examples in each chapter make the book ideal to facilitate robust class discussions around these important issues. The book also has a comprehensive list of references to facilitate student research on the topics. And the author is making the book directly available at a very affordable price for students. All in all, it is a wonderful contribution to the set of resources available to faculty and students studying the societal impact of computers.
— C. Dianne Martin, George Washington University and the University of North Carolina
It is crucially important to remain somewhat distrustful and even cynical about many claims of pure benefit offered by new technology, which acts like a virus. Ron Baecker’s book explains both good and evil attributes of this virus and offers antidotes, or at least pain-killers. His voluminous and detailed anecdotes, history, and facts, together with charming illustrations, make the pages fly. He offers bold statements, explains causes and effects, and illuminates the broad weave as well as the detailed threads of our society, naming both people and companies.
He provides practical techniques for coping, for example GetHuman.com, which can put people in contact with actual human beings at companies to talk through issues. The book explores teenage addiction and abuse; the author notes the lack of resources to help young adults distinguish fake and real versions of themselves and others. The text stresses making computer science ethical; this foundation for teaching the discipline is usually missing.
Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do is a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion of practical, useful techniques, as well a cogent analysis of how we got here, where we are, and where we are going. This book can help guide our way through the technological nightmares we experience daily.
— Aaron Marcus, user-experience design pioneer, author, and teacher
I have had the pleasure of reading a pre-publication version of Dr. Baecker’s book, Digital Nightmares Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do, is a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion of practical, useful techniques, as well a cogent analysis of how we got here, where we are, and where we are going. This book can help guide our way through the technological nightmares we experience daily.. In it he lays out a well thought out summary of the great gifts digital technology has brought to society, but then describes the many ways these same gifts have turned malignant.
I paid particular attention to the section on health and medicine. This is because I have found the use of computers indispensable for my own specialty of clinical genetics. Inexpensive DNA analysis depends on computers and is necessary for diagnosing many otherwise confounding cases. Moreover, without computers, extensive searchable genetic disease databases, such as Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man, could not exist. Computers also make possible PubMed and related databases that include virtually all articles published in medical journals which are then searchable by key word.
The internet is also increasingly useful for medical care. Especially during the pandemic, it greatly expanded the reach of tele-medicine. The internet can also unite families who are dealing with similar problems to allow them to share information, solutions, referrals or, importantly, moral support. This is especially needed for families struggling with rare genetic diseases. Computers are also necessary in the technology for genetic engineering — which hold both enormous promise but also engenders complex and daunting ethical dilemmas.
Artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning of pattern recognition, can assist in diagnosis. Already computers are more accurate than lab technicians in diagnosing cancer via Pap smears and more accurate than radiologists in reading certain x-rays. As AI advances, will physicians and patients be prepared to let digital technology take over more and more aspects of medical care?
But there are downsides to the use of computers in medicine. Hospitals and clinics are so reliant on computers that they can be easily victimized by ransomware. Sensitive patient information can be hacked and can be used in a variety of nefarious ways. Fake and misleading medical information abounds on the internet.
These problems do not admit of easy solutions. Some may have technical fixes, but many are inherent in never ending battle between the locksmiths and the thieves. And some, like fake medical information are as much a social problem as a technical one.
Dr. Baecker does offer some possible solutions including future legislation. But in the end, many of his answers come down to an appeal to best practices.
What We Must Do is a useful, very broad and well documented survey of the field. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the good, the bad and ugly of our increasing reliance on computers and the internet.
— Dr. Gary Feldman, Public Health Officer of Ventura and Riverside Counties in California for over 14 years
Praise for The COVID-19 Solutions Guide
The COVID-19 pandemic is the defining event of the past 75 years, destined to continue for at least the next few years. This delightful book is a survival guide written by a broad array of experts. Equal parts down-to-earth advice on how to handle everyday life and an easy-to-understand description of the technical intricacies of pandemic modeling and vaccines, this book is highly relevant to both experts and novices.
— Arvind Gupta, former President of the University of British Columbia
This comprehensive and considerate look at COVID-19 covers all the bases from mental health resources, navigating online learning, and healthcare to implications for your financial future. Possible ramifications of this world-shifting pandemic are explored, with resources and suggestions on how to cope. Sense-making is essential now and this guidebook is a critical tool for doing just that.
— Carolyn DiCarlo, architectural & interior design expert
This collaboration for everyday readers, involving experts in the field of science, education and finance is not so much about the disease as about coping with its implications. It offers in one place valuable tools for those who want guidance on how the past, present and future of the crisis affect their own life and family. It is particularly useful in examining the role that technology plays – both at home and at work, in schools and online – in dealing with COVID-19. The authors smartly keep the title updated with entries on social media.
— Grace Lichtenstein, former New York Times journalist, book critic and author of six books
It’s well written, well organized, hits a good blend of solid science and journalistic ease. In addition to being useful to people now, it seems to me that you have provided a great historical resource for those who will want to look back in the future. BRAVO!
— Susan Lieberman, non-fiction writer
Praise for Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives
An exceptional encyclopedic review of the vital issues of our time – it’s a remarkable accomplishment by a leading researcher, educator, and entrepreneur. The astonishing book should be required reading for every computer science student to sensitize them to the realities of technology impact on society. It will also be a valuable resource for faculty, professionals, and journalists. The historical grounding, numerous potent examples, popular culture stories, and thoughtful analyses will enrich their understanding so as to make them better professionals. Instructors will appreciate the well-organized chapters with wise recommendations for research projects, debate topics, book reviews, ethical concerns, and almost 2000 references for further reading. I hope this book triggers a resurgence of courses on computers and society, which could do much to make a safer and more satisfying world for all people.
— Ben Shneiderman, Emeritus Professor, University of Maryland, USA
This book will change how you think about technology’s role in society. If you are a developer or product purchaser, it may help you to consider the negative implications of the computer applications you are creating or buying—that is, to see the ‘dark patterns’ in how the applications can be misused or subverted, and the various shades of grey in between. If you are a technology consumer, you may better understand and debate the issues that accompany the computer systems you or the people around you are using. If you are just living your day-to-day life, this book may help you to understand and interpret the changes you notice around you, what you hear in the news, and what you talk about with your friends and family.
Computers and Society could not have been easy to write. The breadth, depth, historical context, and relevancy of the topics covered are impressive to say the least, and the amount of work that must have been required to research each topic is somewhat staggering. It needed someone like Ron Baecker to write it. Ron is a senior academic whose career spans the period from the 1960s to 2018 and beyond. As an expert in graphics, human–computer interaction, and collaboration technologies, he was instrumental in researching and pioneering some of the key computer concepts that we now take for granted. He not only lived through the changes introduced by computers over the last sixty years, but remained highly aware of those changes both through his knowledge of the field and his teaching of various Computers and Society courses over the decades (the first in 1972). …[Ron] has the personality to fit the authorship of a book such as this. He doesn’t accept things at face value. He delves into issues and debates them. He is opinionated, but his opinions are evidence-based. He pioneers, because he is always looking into the future rather than just at the present.
… While you may have a passing awareness of at least a few of the issues raised in this book, Computers and Society will further inform you about those issues through its deep and thoughtful treatment.
— Saul Greenberg, Emeritus Professor, University of Calgary, Canada