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The Death of the Gods, book review: Power in the digital age

Demos researcher Carl Miller details how the internet has brought about profound power shifts that reach into every aspect of our lives.

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The Death of the Gods: The New Global Power Grab • By Carl Miller • William Heinemann • 374 pages • ISBN: 978-1-785-15133-0 • £20

In the 25 years since the internet became a thing, how much has the nexus of power really changed? On the one hand, a visitor to the House of Lords will be shown the shields of the ancient families who ruled Britain, only to learn that at least some of their descendants are rulers to this day. On the other hand, none of us are safe from remote technical miscreants with the desire to invade our personal and financial lives. How much has really changed and should we be afraid?

In The Death of the Gods: The New Global Power Grab, Carl Miller, a researcher at the Demos think tank, examines the power shift the internet is bringing across a range of sectors.

In the chapter on people, he looks at the effect hackers can have on individuals. In 'Crime', he looks at the inability of police to cope with attacks that cross national and technical boundaries. In 'Business', he notes the Google-started trend toward granting disproportionate control of shareholder voting rights to rock-star CEOs and the effect on workers of shrinking rights and pay. In 'Media', he finds that a single guy with time on his hands and a YouTube channel can almost single-handedly investigate in-depth remote events in ways the traditional media can no longer afford.

In politics, one individual -- Audrey Tang -- has managed to change how her country makes decisions. In warfare, state actors may cripple a country without ever having to fund a nuclear warhead. And in technology, intended influence can be hidden by clever design so we consume the results without understanding the consequences. Power, Miller concludes, has changed, and we have both greater access to it and are controlled more intimately by it -- and we don't really understand what's happening.

Solid reporting

There's some solid reporting in this book. Miller travels to places like Silicon Valley and Kosovo, and interviews numerous individuals and groups unknown to most of us, including the 77th Brigade of the British Army and the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee. As a result, he finds some little-known trends -- the beginning of consolidation in the business of producing 'fake news', for example.

SEE: Special report: How to automate the enterprise (free ebook)

At the same time, the book is restrained compared to the talks Miller has given in order to launch it. At the Parliamentary launch in July, for example, he said that the crisis in law enforcement was the biggest in the history of policing and made the deeply alarming suggestion that we might have to get rid of habeas corpus and jury-based due process. The reasoning is hard to understand, since criminals across the globe don't care about British courts. We're the ones who would suffer under such a regime -- which would represent a more frightening power shift than anything documented in this book.

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