Perspectives from a tech angle—some novel, some oversimplified or overoptimistic
A file photo of humanoid robots being mass-produced in Turkey (Reuters)
Just when people had thought that there was no space for any more social media companies or concepts, Clubhouse has taken the world by storm. No doubt Tesla founder Elon Musk and Microsoft founder Bill Gates participating in online rooms has helped with the app’s visibility, but the world certainly needs a break from 140 characters. The democratisation of discussion has given everyone a chance to interact. Think of a panel where you can interact with the community, listen to new ideas and pitch ideas of your own. But Clubhouse is not as democratic as it is supposed to be; there are choices on who can leave their mic open and how much rights entrants to groups have. However, it is more participative than Twitter or Facebook as it’s voice-driven.
The reason I am discussing Clubhouse is because Po Bronson and Arvind Gupta’s work is a long clubhouse chat from anything to everything. The only problem is that you can interact with them in your mind as the book is authored in long series of message exchanges between two people. The ideas do have merit, but they are just ideas on topics as varied as health to bitcoins, to robots and philosophy. To put things in context, Bronson and Gupta are associated with IndieBo, a biotech accelerator. While Gupta is the founder, Bronson is the managing director. The book Decoding the World: How the Genetic Era Will Change the World is a disaggregated collection of ideas, where the authors try to put the news in context and deliberate upon the future of things. For this, they have picked 33 different news items and compiled their thoughts on them. While some concepts are very well-explained, like CRISPR and bitcoin, mostly there is a hurried approach to discussing things or deriving some context. For instance, on the idea of health and purpose of life, the chapter seems like an interminable babble. The idea of the book is not to draw conclusions, but throw as many ideas towards the readers as possible. There are smart analogies to make it easier for the reader to understand complex terms, but then there is so much surrounding the discussion that it turns into a maze of everything. The authors are cheerily optimistic about the scope of technology— how AI can do wonders and change the world—and grossly oversimplistic about other ideas. But that is what can entail when you are writing about a million different things and shotting off different concepts in the air.
Most ideas seem to be some iteration of what has been discussed. Some ideas related to genetics do sound new, but it is the simplification in explaining them that will catch the reader’s interest. However, it would have been much more prudent had the authors stuck to a topic and discussed that. I remember football coach Juergen Klopp getting furious at a journalist last year when he asked him about coronavirus. Klopp said it does not matter what famous people say, you have to ask the experts.
The problem with Clubhouse, as I have witnessed over the last few weeks, is that everyone has an opinion about everything, and if you are famous, people are willing to believe you on everything. Having an opinion is not the issue here, but if you are famous, then people end up believing everything. The problem with ideas is similar. Had it just been a discourse it could have gone down fine. However, when there is oversimplification, it can find its way into public thinking. Like the poor are poor because they don’t work hard. Sometimes there aren’t any work opportunities. The book is a great stepping stone for those wanting to get a sense of everything from a technology perspective. But I would suggest reading more articles about everything to get a perspective from the other side, because the authors sometimes miss that. If you have missed out reading the tech section in the last two years, this is the book for you. But do read beyond as well.
Decoding the World: How the Genetic Era Will Change the World Po Bronson & Arvind Gupta Hachette Pp 352, Rs 699