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Re-Engineering Humanity
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Book description

Every day, new warnings emerge about artificial intelligence rebelling against us. All the while, a more immediate dilemma flies under the radar. Have forces been unleashed that are thrusting humanity down an ill-advised path, one that's increasingly making us behave like simple machines? In this wide-reaching, interdisciplinary book, Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger examine what's happening to our lives as society embraces big data, predictive analytics, and smart environments. They explain how the goal of designing programmable worlds goes hand in hand with engineering predictable and programmable people. Detailing new frameworks, provocative case studies, and mind-blowing thought experiments, Frischmann and Selinger reveal hidden connections between fitness trackers, electronic contracts, social media platforms, robotic companions, fake news, autonomous cars, and more. This powerful analysis should be read by anyone interested in understanding exactly how technology threatens the future of our society, and what we can do now to build something better.


‘Frischmann and Selinger provide a thoroughgoing and balanced examination of the tradeoffs inherent in offloading tasks and decisions to computers. By illuminating these often intricate and hidden tradeoffs, and providing a practical framework for assessing and negotiating them, the authors give us the power to make wiser choices.'

Nicolas Carr - author of The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us, from the Foreword

‘Re-Engineering Humanity brings a pragmatic if somewhat dystopic perspective to the technological phenomena of our age. Humans are learning machines and we learn from our experiences. This book made me ask myself whether the experiences we are providing to our societies are in fact beneficial in the long run.'

Vint Cerf - Co-Inventor of the Internet

‘Frischmann and Selinger deftly and convincingly show why we should be less scared of robots than of becoming more robotic, ourselves. This book will convince you why it's so important we embed technologies with human values before they embed us with their own.'

Douglas Rushkoff - author of Present Shock, Program or Be Programmed, and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus

‘Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger cogently argue that our Fitbit, Echo, Android, and game console, our Facebook pages, Google searches, Amazon and Netflix profiles, give far less than they take. With tiny, almost imperceptible steps, we have entered into a bargain with socio-technical engineers of the digital age that literally drains our humanity and is imperiling freedom, autonomy, and other precious values fundamental to meaningful human existence. Beyond admittedly important questions demanding balanced policy answers, this disquieting book is about the big picture. All of us should read it and decide, deliberately, if this is a future we want for ourselves and our children.'

Helen Nissenbaum - Cornell Tech, and author of Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life

‘Everybody is suddenly worried about technology. Will social media be the end of democracy? Is automation going to eliminate jobs? Will artificial intelligence make people obsolete? Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger boldly propose that the problem isn't the rise of ‘smart' machines but the dumbing down of humanity. This refreshingly philosophical book asks what's lost when we outsource our decision-making to algorithmic systems we don't own and barely understand. Better yet, it proposes conceptual and practical ways to reclaim our autonomy and dignity in the face of new forms of computational control.'

Astra Taylor - author of The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Control in the Digital Age

‘A magnificent achievement. Writing in the tradition of Neil Postman, Jacque Ellul and Marshall McLuhan, this book is the decade's deepest and most powerful portrayal of the challenges to freedom created by our full embrace of comprehensive techno-social engineering. A rewarding and stimulating book that merits repeated readings and may also cause you to reconsider how you live life.'

Tim Wu - Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia Law School, and author of The Attention Merchants

'The book Re-Engineering Humanity by Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger will help us all gain better understanding of techno-social engineering and help us think through what we want and don't want in our future. This is an incredible work that should be studied by every thinking human. It captures details on threats, documenting the many warnings we are already seeing.'

Bob Gourley - CTO Vision (

‘Together, they explore how ordinary activities like clicking on an app's legal terms are made so simple that it 'trains' us to not read the contents. Over time, the authors fear that humans will lose their capacity for judgment, discrimination and self-sufficiency. Or, as Douglas Rushkoff, a tech writer, put it: 'We should be less scared of robots than of becoming more robotic ourselves'.'

Source: The Economist Online (

‘… a recent startling and thoughtful book … [Re-Engineering Humanity] is an exploration of how everyday practices – such as clicking to accept an app's legal terms – are made so simple that we are effectively 'trained' to not read the contents. Unless things change, the dominance of digital technology means that, over time, humans will lose their capacity for judgment, discrimination and self-sufficiency.'

John Naughton Source: The Guardian

‘In Re-engineering Humanity, Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger have dug deeply into what's going on behind the 'cheap bliss' in our fully connected world.'

Doc Searles Source: Linux Journal

‘In our own time, as Frischmann and Selinger observe, the 'smart' device and 'internet of things' developers who offer us efficiency then pull a bait-and-switch: instead of sending us on our way to use our newly-free time on art, beauty, and education, they channel us into putting our time into mumblety-Facebook and its ilk, or what the authors aptly call 'cheap bliss'.'

Lara Freidenfelds Source: Nursing Clio (

'Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger have written Re-Engineering Humanity as a sustained and multifaceted critique of how contemporary trends in internet technology are slowly but surely shrinking the territory of human autonomy. Their work is a warning, as well as a description, of how internet technologies that ostensibly make our lives easier do so by taking control of our lives away from our self-conscious decision-making.'

Adam Riggio Source: Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective (

‘Professors Frischmann and Selinger shine a bright light on the current path of our surveillance capitalist society, using a combination of detailed analysis, contemporary examples, and thought experiments. The authors explain that as we (and information about us) increasingly become the product, we are also becoming simple machines programmed by our technology to respond in certain ways. As Frischmann and Selinger suggest, techno-social engineering is a powerful force that requires us to responsibly evaluate its use. And 'if we don't accept that responsibility, we risk becoming means to others' ends'.’

Jeramie D. Scott Source: Epic Alert

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  • Foreword
    pp xi-xii

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