As the world around us increases in technological complexity, our understanding of it diminishes. Underlying this trend is a single idea: the belief that our existence is understandable through computation, and more data is enough to help us build a better world.
In reality, we are lost in a sea of information, increasingly divided by fundamentalism, simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics. Meanwhile, those in power use our lack of understanding to further their own interests. Despite the apparent accessibility of information, we’re living in a new Dark Age.
From rogue financial systems to shopping algorithms, from artificial intelligence to state secrecy, we no longer understand how our world is governed or presented to us. The media is filled with unverifiable speculation, much of it generated by anonymous software, while companies dominate their employees through surveillance and the threat of automation.
In his brilliant new work, leading artist and writer James Bridle surveys the history of art, technology, and information systems, and reveals the dark clouds that gather over our dreams of the digital sublime.
In these videos James Bridle explains some of the arguments from New Dark Age. Watch all the videos here.
“New Dark Age is among the most unsettling and illuminating books I’ve read about the Internet, which is to say that it is among the most unsettling and illuminating books I’ve read about contemporary life.”
“An Orwell of the computer age.”
“A doomy overture to a new era. A work of digital gothic in which the chills are provided by the unpredictable and unstoppable forces we’ve unleashed on the world in the decades since the Manhattan Project.”
“I expect many readers will find Bridle’s perceptive and throught-provoking book terrifying rather than enjoyable.”
“Highlights the ways in which we are deliberately being kept in the dark and are sleepwalking into a future of non-stop surveillance and ‘the dark clouds [gathering] over our dreams of the digital sublime.’”
“In New Dark Age, Bridle posits sci-fi dystopia not as a future state but fitting description for our technology-haunted present.”
“Groundbreaking … New Dark Age is a shuddering, urgent, brilliant warning about our current direction of travel.”
“Each chapter of New Dark Age provides a different lens that reveals how deeply these imperatives have permeated our social relationships and how opaque they have rendered actual knowledge … [James Bridle] has done us a great service by emphasizing the tangible nature of the infrastructure that constitutes the internet.”
“An extraordinary, perceptive analysis of the various ways in which the rise of information technology has obscured, rather than illuminated, the operations of power in the world, and diminished our capacity to improve it. It’s brilliant and bracing.”
“New Dark Age is a paradoxical work, elegiac yet futuristic, which embraces paradox and the limits of knowledge—especially the limits of knowledge that the present moment’s technological advances, political instability, and environmental chaos have conferred upon us.”
“As an artist and author whose work explores the contested intersections of capitalism, surveillance, and computer intelligence, Bridle unravels these vexing issues across his new book.”
“My copy of this book is full of underlining and notes that climb around the margins. I feel like those overwhelmed organic chemistry students, highlighting everything because it all matters and it all connects, and yet ultimately the information world he’s describing—none of it makes sense. Which is kind of his point … Dense, demanding, and totally compelling.”
“[New Dark Age] is an essential read on the key subjects around AI, and the dangerous feedback loops that are currently being produced.”
“A book-length argument for the idea that vastly proliferating knowledge—from mass surveillance, social media, artificial intelligence, and other sources—is paradoxically making the world harder to comprehend, while the technology that underlies it is creating environmental damage that we’re ill-equipped to understand or solve … Highly nuanced in its analysis of technology, and it provokes [one] to think more about the unspoken social and political assumptions underlying a lot of [the] industry.”
“[New Dark Age] lucidly argues how our enthusiasm for, and reliance on technology is working against us by undermining our ability to reliably anticipate future risks…Bridle’s multidisciplinary research deftly hopscotches across science, politics and the arts. His writing is clear and precise, showing his background in computer science and experience in public communication.”
“Powerful insight and useful provocation throughout. Harrowing and fascinating.”
“A startling call to arms. Argues convincingly for a more informed integration with the technologies we have created.”
“James Bridle is a master of finding contradictions within existing technologies … New Dark Age is an important text for the present moment.”
“New Dark Age is enlightening but frightening, a dystopian warning about the implications of the convergence of data and robotics, code and quantum computing, science and technology.”
“Original and provoking book.”
“[New Dark Age] offers something not often seen from white, male, techno-culture writers (of which there are seemingly so many): an acute sensitivity and unwavering commitment to earthly environments— soil and water—which are profoundly affected by the growth of technological industry.”
“The glorification of technological progress is one of the cornerstones of the contemporary cultural and artistic mainstream, and Bridle justly stands up against it.”
“Brilliant and beautiful.”
“New Dark Age is a masterful study of all the things approaching out of the future's night. Compelling and essential.”
“The young British artist is spearheading a conceptual-art movement—‘the New Aesthetic’—through Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, as he tries to capture technology’s strange effects on society.”
“James Bridle, one of our surest guides, here offers us a widely informed, deeply felt, and occasionally terrifying course on living in and with the enveloping darkness of our time. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s ever wondered how we might come to terms with technological complexity, and emerge with our humanity intact.”
“Computation brings humanity more darkness than enlightenment: a goblin horde of digital superstitions, invented and unleashed in just half a century. Yet James Bridle is fearless in our gloomy post-truth predicament; he’s a theorist, artist, technical visionary and even a moralist. Has he foreseen the worst?”
“Technology is not the answer. Nor is it a solution. James Bridle’s lucid and fearless writing instead insists on technology as an open question and urgent problem—which nevertheless needs to be confronted in order to think the present and free the future from false algorithmic certainties.”
“One image that I cannot get out of my head reading James Bridle extraordinary new book is that even as we can access vast tech capabilities we may actually know less and less.”
“Touching on a wide variety of topics, including search algorithms, surveillance, climate change, and many more, Bridle makes a compelling case for pumping the brakes on technology to allow ethics to catch up.”
“Foreboding, at times terrifying, but ultimately motivating account of our technological present … He insists that what is needed is not understanding, but a new language, new metaphors—a new image—that would allow us to look at the darkness directly and—hopefully—begin to see.”
“[James Bridle’s] approach is more accurate than the ahistorical meme that everything is suddenly fake, and more exciting than the truth-hustling of disoriented pundits.”
“Whichever way the reader veers, the argument that we need better education about technology and more careful thought about what is it for and what is it here to do is a compelling one.”
“[New Dark Age] is a shuddering, urgent, brilliant warning about our current direction of travel.”
“[New Dark Age] offers something not often seen from white, male, techno-culture writers (of which there are seemingly so many): an acute sensitivity and unwavering commitment to earthly environments—soil and water—which are profoundly affected by the growth of technological industry.”
“An unsettling but perceptive read.”