"Your Computer is on Fire": the anticipated essay collection on technology-driven bias is now in print

MIT Press has just released Your Computer is on Fire, an essay collection long in the making that takes on the myth of techno-utopianism, raises real-world harms caused by Big Tech and its products and systems, and proposes solutions. Contributors include Mar Hicks, Associate Professor of Technology and History at Illinois Institute of Technology; Safiya Umoja Noble, Associate Professor of Information Studies at UCLA and the author of Algorithms of Oppression; and many others.

From the official MIT Press announcement:

This book sounds an alarm: after decades of being lulled into complacency by narratives of technological utopianism and neutrality, people are waking up to the large-scale consequences of Silicon Valley–led technophilia. This book trains a spotlight on the inequality, marginalization, and biases in our technological systems, showing how they are not just minor bugs to be patched, but part and parcel of ideas that assume technology can fix—and control—society.

The essays in Your Computer Is on Fire interrogate how our human and computational infrastructures overlap, showing why technologies that centralize power tend to weaken democracy. These practices are often kept out of sight until it is too late to question the costs of how they shape society. From energy-hungry server farms to racist and sexist algorithms, the digital is always IRL, with everything that happens algorithmically or online influencing our offline lives as well. Each essay proposes paths for action to understand and solve technological problems that are often ignored or misunderstood.

VentureBeat also published a review of the book a few days ago, so I'll include some extracts from that article below.

Your Computer is on Fire is available from independent bookstores - see https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780262539739 to order from a store near you, or via bookshop.org.

- Bruce


‘Your Computer Is On Fire’ draws on tech history to critique AI and the cloud

... The book attempts to interrogate how the legacy of social constructs and media narratives have shaped computing. It invites people to think critically about notions of purity surrounding data, the concealment of the carbon footprint the cloud represents, the whiteness of robots... Your computer is on fire in part, authors argue, because of automation that perpetuates racism and sexism, and the growth of resource-intensive datacenters and the cloud at a time when climate change is an existential threat for the planet.

The title of this book is meant to prepare you for a series of 16 provocative essays that consider the history of technology, media, and policy, from Siri disciplines and the cloud as a factory to how the internet will be decolonialized and tech for the Global South...

Understanding, for example, that in the past women made up much of computation work treated as menial and feminine for most of its early history helps illuminate ongoing problems of racism and sexism in tech environments that women — especially Black women — describe as toxic...

By using computational history as a foundation, it’s able to, as Noble put it, “underscore how much is at stake when we fail to think more humanistically about computing.”


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