A reading club with a view to the future

145 Nicholas Carr: The Glass Cage: Automation and Us

The increasing automation of tasks can have unforeseen consequences, limiting human potential and creating a dangerous dependence on machines.

Nicholas Carr: The Glass Cage: Automation and Us


In The Glass Cage, Nicholas Carr explores the implications of automation on our lives, both at work and at home. He argues that while automation can improve efficiency and productivity, it can also lead to a loss of skills, autonomy, and creativity. Drawing on research from a variety of fields, including psychology, neuroscience, and engineering, Carr makes the case for a more thoughtful approach to automation that takes into account its potential impacts on our well-being and society as a whole.


Title: The Glass Cage: Automation and Us

Author: Nicholas Carr

Publishing year: 2014

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Length in hours: 8 hours and 40 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Automation can limit our potential by taking away opportunities for learning and growth.
  2. Automation can make us more dependent on machines, leading to a loss of control and agency.
  3. Automation can lead to a devaluation of human labor and expertise.
  4. Automation can have unintended consequences, such as accidents and errors.
  5. We need to be more thoughtful about the role of automation in our lives, balancing its benefits with its potential costs.
Nicholas Carr: The Glass Cage: Automation and Us

5 funny quotes

  1. "In the future, robots will be our coworkers. But until then, we can enjoy being their bosses."
  2. "If a robot does the robot dance, is it performing a self-referential act?"
  3. "If you can't beat them, join them. If you can't join them, build them."
  4. "Automation is the sincerest form of flattery."
  5. "Machines are good at math, but they'll never be able to appreciate the beauty of a sunset."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "Automation is an expression of human intelligence, but it's the kind of intelligence that requires no consciousness or intentionality on our part. That's its power, and its danger."
  2. "We become intimate with the machines that do our thinking for us. And as we do, we gradually give ourselves over to their subtle but steady influence."
  3. "The more that machines encroach on human skills, the more important it becomes that humans remain aware of the skills they still possess."
  4. "The more we automate, the more we create opportunities for failure, error, and catastrophe."
  5. "The ultimate threat posed by intelligent machines is not that they will become conscious and hostile to humans, but that we will become so dependent on them that we will cease to be fully conscious ourselves."

5 dilemmas

  1. As automation takes over more jobs, how do we ensure that people still have meaningful work and can support themselves financially?
  2. Should we regulate the development of artificial intelligence to prevent potentially catastrophic outcomes, or should we allow researchers to explore the limits of what is possible?
  3. How do we balance the benefits of automation, such as increased efficiency and productivity, with the potential downsides, such as loss of jobs and worker exploitation?
  4. How do we prevent algorithms from perpetuating human biases and discrimination when they are used in decision-making processes?
  5. How do we maintain control over autonomous machines when they are capable of making decisions and taking actions on their own?

5 examples

  1. The autopilot feature on Tesla cars, which has been involved in several accidents, including a fatal one in 2018.
  2. The use of AI algorithms in the criminal justice system, which has been criticized for perpetuating racial biases.
  3. The replacement of human workers with robots in Amazon's fulfillment centers, which has led to concerns over job displacement and worker exploitation.
  4. The development of chatbots, such as Microsoft's Tay, which was quickly shut down after it began spewing racist and sexist messages on Twitter.
  5. The use of drones in military operations, which has raised ethical questions over the distance between the operator and the consequences of their actions.

Referenced books

  1. "The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies" by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
  2. "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future" by Martin Ford
  3. "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other" by Sherry Turkle
  4. "Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong" by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen
  5. "The Industries of the Future" by Alec Ross

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"Machines are good at math, but they'll never be able to appreciate the beauty of a sunset."

Nicholas Carr: The Glass Cage: Automation and Us
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