Five Upcoming Academic Books on Tech, Podcasts, and AI to Keep on Your Radar

A trove of new tech books is hitting the press

A woman holding a plus sign in front of a document, hinting at which new academic tech titles she's looking forward to

Humor me if February is too late to still be trend forecasting for 2024, but my hunch is that this year will be a big one for academic titles on tech. The simple reason is that books on generative AI have now had enough time to pass through the publication process. Another reason is that the tech controversies bubbling up over the past few years—free speech, children’s safety, user privacy, conspiracy proliferation, among others—have made it through the publication pipeline as well. And given the controversies about the role of social media in shaping previous US elections, you can bet that the US presidential election at the end of the year will mean that new slate of books about tech and the future of democracy will hit publishers’ catalogs.

Some of these books will no doubt be opportunistic, seizing on buzzwords and anxieties to make a quick buck. Others will be deeply valuable for thinking through and building a better tech future. (If only there were a review publication to help librarians separate the wheat from the chaff!) But here are five books that are on my radar for the first part of 2024.

🚗 Guardrails: Guiding Human Decisions in the Age of AI, by Urs Gasser and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (Princeton)

Cover image for Guardrails: Guiding Human Decisions in the Age of AI

Guardrails refer to the safety mechanisms embedded within algorithms to regulate their outputs. For instance, guardrails prevent users from asking ChatGPT for step-by-step instructions for building chemical weapons. The need for guardrails recently made headlines when AI-generated, sexually explicit images of Taylor Swift hit the internet, and this fledgling moment for generative AI certainly calls for a deeper consideration of this topic. Gasser and Mayer-Schönberger mix technological guardrails with social guardrails (such as laws and norms) in this upcoming book and try to draw out how we can create guardrails while maintaining human agency. More importantly, their book wants to ask urgent theoretical questions about guardrails, social engineering, and decision-making that are sure to inspire further discussion.

🦾 Co-Intelligence: Living and Working with AI, by Ethan Mollick (Portfolio)

The cover to Ethan Mollick's book Co-Intelligence: Living and Working with AI

Wharton professor Ethan Mollick made a name for himself as an early adopter of generative AI in the college classroom. “Adopter” might even undersell his ethos—he required students to use generative AI in his class. His bold approach, together with his Substack, One Useful Thing, which boasts more than 100 thousand subscribers, have propelled his voice in conversations about the future of AI and higher ed. He emphasizes the practical and collaborative uses of generative AI—working with it the way you would a coworker—that underestimates neither the tools nor the people using them. Though I’m skeptical of many new books with “AI” in their titles, this one looks to me like a must read.

🕵️‍♀️ The Secret Life of Data: Navigating Hype and Uncertainty in the Age of Algorithmic Surveillance, by Aram Sinnreich and Jesse Gilbert (MIT)

Cover image for The Secret Life of Data: Navigating Uncertainty in the Age of Algorithmic Surveillance

Shoshanna Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2019) urged scholars to think critically about the surveillance practices embedded in data and technology platforms. Sinnreich and Gilbert’s new book continues this project by looking at the “long-term consequences of humanity’s recent rush toward digitizing, storing, and analyzing every piece of data about ourselves and the world we live in.” For librarians, archivists, and informational professionals who work with digitization, metadata, and the like, this book will no doubt strike a chord and open up crucial intra-professional conversations. The authors’ advocacy of “slow fixes” to data and guidance on “navigating hype” give me pleasant flashbacks to Meredith Farkas’s article on a slow librarianship approach to tech.

🗞 All the News That’s Fit to Click: How Metrics Are Transforming the Work of Journalists, by Caitlin Petre (Princeton)

Cover image for All The News That's Fit to Click

If you’ve notice the number of stories about Taylor Swift on the New York Times homepage over the past couple weeks, you’re well aware of how metrics and SEO shape the news and headlines. This book offers a deep dive into implications of data analytics on news reporting. Petre aims to shed light on the backstage of news production and how journalists interact with data analytics. The book promises to be interesting for all data analytic professionals, not just journalists. But for librarians specifically, I think this keyhole view into the production processes of newsrooms offers important insight for how we conceptualize information literacy. How do we have to rethink “authority” when the ultimate authority for a story may not be a rigorous fact-checking process but an SEO optimization tool?

🎧 Podcast or Perish: Peer Review and Knowledge Creation for the 21st Century, by Lori Beckstead, Ian M. Cook, Hannah McGregor (Bloomsbury)

Cover image for Podcast or Perish

Call it a scholarly intuition, but my hunch is that we haven’t done enough work to apprehend the influence of podcasts on information dispersal, except maybe in the context of misinformation about COVID-19. We also haven’t grappled with their potential for scholarly communication. (Maybe the stereotype of droning academics has stood in the way of this conversation.) The authors of Podcast or Perish aim to evaluate the potential of and outline workflows for academic scholarship through this medium. The authors might face an uphill battle against tenure committees to argue for the treatment of podcasts as a legitimate scholarly production. But the wild popularity of some podcasts hosted by professors could help pave the way.

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