There were many great technology books published in 2019, but here are ten that I found particularly insightful. If you are unfamiliar with these works, I suggest you give them a read.
Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne
Microsoft President Brad Smith together with Carol Ann Browne provide a story of the evolution of technology from their vantage point at Microsoft. They highlight challenges that have arisen, including cybercrime and cyberwar, social media issues, moral issues related to artificial intelligence, and even the challenges to democracy. Smith provides interesting insights into the decisions Microsoft leadership, himself included, of course, have faced, and the broader implications for society at large.
Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction by Tom Siebel
Tom Siebel argues that the confluence of four technologies – elastic cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things – will change the way in which business and government operate going forward. As he also noted in my recent interview with him, there is a blueprint company that can follow in order to take full advantage of these four technologies and sustain a competitive advantage in the process.
The End of Killing: How Our Newest Technologies Can Solve Humanity’s Oldest Problem by Rick Smith
In this fascinating book, Rick Smith, the founder of TASER, which is now known as Axon, notes that the gun and bullet are antiquated technology, and use of them leads to the senseless killing of tens of thousands of people annually. He believes that the combination of better hardware coupled with data analytics can help us push past the era of the guns and bullets. He provides a useful overview of his thesis in this interview from a couple of months ago, as well.
The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Developers, Digital Disruption, and Thriving in the Age of Data by Gene Kim
Gene Kim is the co-author of the bestseller, The Phoenix Project (about which, Kim and I covered in this interview from 2015), which provided an overview of the power of DevOps told through a fictional company, Parts Unlimited. Kim takes us back to Parts Unlimited, this time from the perspective of software development. Kim notes, “The Age of Software is here, and another mass extinction event looms – this is a story about rebel developers and business leaders working together, racing against time to innovate, survive, and thrive in a time of unprecedented uncertainty…and opportunity.”
How to Speak Machine by John Maeda
John Maeda is a former Professor at the MIT Media Lab, a former President of the Rhode Island School of Design, and a former Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. As such, he has remarkably deep insights about the intersection between technology and design. In How to Speak Machine, Maeda provides a framework for product designers, business leaders, and policymakers to better understand the power and the danger of advances in algorithms. He notes that “when a program’s size, speed, and tirelessness combine with its ability to learn and transform itself, the outcome can be unpredictable and dangerous. Take the seemingly instant transformation of Microsoft’s chatbot Tay into a hate-spewing racist, or how crime-predicting algorithms reinforce racial bias.” Maeda takes what can be an esoteric topic in the wrong hands and makes it accessible.
Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control by Stuart Russell
Artificial intelligence researcher Stuart Russell is also worried about the creative destruction that is possible through AI, but he believes that the scenario can be avoided. He believes that machines can be designed to be humble, altruistic, and committed to pursuing human objectives rather than their own by programming them to be uncertain about the human preferences that they need to address. He argues this is the pathway to what he refers to as “provably deferential and provably beneficial” machines.
The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance by Steven Rogelberg
Americans will have 55 million meetings today, according to research on the topic, and the vast majority of those meetings re ineffectual. Steven Rogelberg, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte notes that most people think that this is inevitable. In The Surprising Science of Meetings, Rogelberg provides methods to emulate to ensure that people get more out of their meetings, and eliminate the enormous waste of time that each of us experience on a regular basis. He provides a good overview of his ideas in this interview I conducted with him a few weeks ago, as well.
Designed for Digital: How to Architect Your Business for Sustained Success by Jeanne W. Ross, Cynthia M. Beath, Martin Mocker
In Designed for Digital, the authors note that much of what companies believe to be digital transformation falls short. They implement cloud technologies, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, or mobile apps, but, at their core, they operate as they have always operated. This book offers recommendations on how to fundamentally retool the enterprise to achieve true digital success.
The authors note that business design needs to be rethought. They argue that “Effective business design enables a company to quickly pivot in response to new competitive threats and opportunities. Most leaders today, however, rely on the organizational structure to implement strategy, unaware that structure inhibits, rather than enables, agility. In companies that are designed for digital, people, processes, data, and technology are synchronized to identify and deliver innovative customer solutions – and redefine strategy. Digital design, not strategy, is what separates winners from losers in the digital economy.”
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
In his new book, The Infinite Game, bestselling author Simon Sinek notes that many people believe approach business and life as though they are finite games like baseball or chess, with known players, fixed rules, and a clear end. He notes that this is not the case. One cannot truly “win” in business or life.
How do we win a game that has no end? Finite games, like football or chess, have known players, fixed rules and a clear endpoint. The winners and losers are easily identified. Infinite games, games with no finish line, like business or politics, or life itself, have players who come and go. The rules of an infinite game are changeable while infinite games have no defined endpoint. There are no winners or losers—only ahead and behind. Sinek notes that “In pursuit of a Just Cause, we will commit to a vision of a future world so appealing that we will build it week after week, month after month, year after year. Although we do not know the exact form this world will take, working toward it gives our work and our lives meaning. Leaders who embrace an infinite mindset build stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organizations.
Beyond the Valley: How Innovators around the World are Overcoming Inequality and Creating the Technologies of Tomorrow by Ramesh Srinivasan
University of California, Los Angeles Professor Ramesh Srinivasan notes that the rules of the internet have been set by an executive in relatively few places in the world, such as Silicon Valley and China. Although the companies they lead provide excellent service, it is limiting, and these companies want our data, but not our input. Thus he believes we need to think Beyond the Valley. As he notes in my recent interview with him, it is important to understand the innovation happening in places like Mexico, West Africa, Scandinavia, and across North America. Srinivasan notes that we need “a new ethic of diversity, openness, and inclusivity, empowering those now excluded from decisions about how technologies are designed, who profits from them, and who are surveilled and exploited by them.”