Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans

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Head, Simon. Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2014.


Reviewed by James Steinhoff, Canadian Journal of Communication, 42.2 (2017): n.p.[1]

In the book, according to Steinhoff (with our condensing),

[...] Simon Head introduces the reader to [...] “Computer Business Systems” (p. 4) or CBSs. CBSs are defined as largely invisible “amalgams of different technologies that are pulled together to perform highly complex tasks in the control and monitoring of business, including their employees” (p. 6). Head shows how CBSs employ digital networks, large quantities of data, data visualizations, and artificial intelligence [AI] in the form of expert systems, towards [...] another complex technological system: the Taylorist-Fordist mass production system. [...]

Head’s main objective is to show how with the proliferation of CBS technology, the principles of Scientific Management have spread from the industrial production of material commodities to the provision of services and even to the handling of human resources. It is when the logic of industrial production is applied to complex human social scenarios that Head asserts [...] “misindustrialization” (p. 64) occurs. [In t]he apex of misindustrialization [there] is [...] a disturbing and convincing parallel between CBSs and the rationalization of human cognitive and emotional processes in the fields of Human Resource Management (HRM) and emotional labour theory. These chapters are disturbing in that they reveal that CBS technology might be what [...] have [been] called an abstract machine, or a set of techniques, broadly construed, that govern or control human and non-human action [...].

There are a number of reviews; as of August 2021:[2]

See for Taylorism,[3] and as background for such fictional dystopian works (written long before Mindless) as Y. Zamyatin's We and K. Vonnegut's Player Piano.


RDE, finishing, 24Aug21