Technology & Prose
John Danaher on Automation and Utopia

John Danaher on Automation and Utopia

April 15, 2021

John Danaher, Senior Lecturer in Law at NUI Galway, discusses his new book, Automation and Utopia: Human Flourishing in a World Without Work.


On the season finale of Technology & Prose, John Danaher joins host Nikita Aggarwal to talk about the meaning of work (1:13), the automatability and automation of work (2:36), why we should welcome automation — the case for technological unemployment (10:02), the gig economy, Uber, and the limits to improving the conditions of work (13:25), building a post-work future - the ‘cyborg utopia’ and the ‘virtual utopia’ (19:25), problems with cyborgization (22:44), the meaning of utopia (28:00), the concept of virtual reality (29:53), constructing a virtual utopia, the ‘utopia of games’ (34:40), psychedelics and other sources of human flourishing in a post-work future (41:25), Big Tech, universal basic income (UBI) and the political economy of virtual utopia (42:34).



Manyika et al, A Future that Works: Automation, Employment and Productivity

Frey and Osborne, The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation? 

Moravec’s paradox

Robertson, Robo Sapiens Japanicus 

UK Supreme Court decision in Uber v Aslam 

Gallup, State of the Global Workplace Report  

Harari, Sapiens and Homo Deus 

Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia 

Macintyre, After Virtue 


Check out John’s blog and podcast, Philosophical Disquisitions


Recorded on 29th March 2021.

Sushma Raman on The Coming Good Society

Sushma Raman on The Coming Good Society

April 8, 2021

Sushma Raman, Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Harvard Kennedy School, discusses her new book, The Coming Good Society: Why New Realities Demand New Rights (co-authored with Bill Schulz).



On this episode of Technology & Prose, Sushma Raman joins host Nikita Aggarwal to talk about the meaning and role of human rights in the Good Society (1:45), the tension between strengthening existing rights and recognising new rights (4:30), Big Data, surveillance and the right to privacy (5:54), intercultural perspectives on the right to privacy and human rights (11:35), human gene editing, DNA sequencing, the use of ‘shed DNA’ and rights in our DNA (14:20), the rights of synthetic embryos (SHEEFS)(21:25), sentience and the recognition of rights, animal and robot rights (23:30), the current state of human rights (25:48), the ‘right to transition’ and the pros/cons of recognizing new rights (28:40), grassroots activism, international human rights organizations and the locations of human rights power (31:17), technology and human rights at the Carr Center (33:30).



The Capabilities Approach

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Sheila Jassanoff and J. Benjamin Hurlbut, A Global Observatory for Gene Editing

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

Justice Matters podcast


Recorded on March 18th 2021

Aaron Roth on The Ethical Algorithm

Aaron Roth on The Ethical Algorithm

March 25, 2021

Aaron Roth, Professor of Computer Science at UPenn, discusses his recent book, The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design.


On this episode of Technology & Prose, Aaron Roth joins host Nikita Aggarwal to talk about the importance of ethical algorithm design (1:34), differential privacy and designing privacy-preserving algorithms (6:09), the costs and trade-offs of designing for privacy (10:38), application of differential privacy by Apple, Google and the 2020 US Census (14:13), GANs and synthetic data (18:22), designing fair algorithms, the ProPublica COMPAS investigation, the value and challenge of formalising ethical norms (20:30), modelling fairness/accuracy trade-offs (28:26), multi-objective optimisation (32:36), algorithmic game theory and designing for cooperation (34:13), incentivising organisations to adopt ethical algorithm design, privacy and fairness regulation (40:28). 



Dinur and Nissim, Revealing Information While Preserving Privacy 

Goodfellow et al, Generative Adversarial Nets 

Angwin et al, ProPublica report on COMPAS  

Northpointe’s response to ProPublica 

Kleinberg et al, Inherent Trade-offs in the Fair Determination of Risk Scores 

Recorded on March 5th 2021.

William Magnuson on Blockchain Democracy

William Magnuson on Blockchain Democracy

March 11, 2021

William Magnuson discusses his latest book, Blockchain Democracy: Technology, Law and the Rule of the Crowd


On this episode of Technology & Prose, William Magnuson, Associate Professor of Law at Texas A&M, joins host Nikita Aggarwal to discuss Satoshi Nakomoto and the genesis of bitcoin (1:40), the history of the internet, the Cypherpunk movement and early cryptocurrencies (4:00), the 2008 financial crisis and the socio-political drivers of bitcoin (9:57), bitcoin and blockchain as technologies of democracy, the role of miners and cryptocurrency exchanges (12:44), Mt. Gox and crime on the blockchain (17:04), Silk Road and the regulation of bitcoin and blockchain (24:40), international bitcoin regulation (28:58), law enforcement on the blockchain, ‘anonymity’ of bitcoin, design changes to reduce criminal activity (30:24), blockchain beyond bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, permissioned/private blockchains (33:15), the environmental costs of bitcoin and blockchain (36:05), proof of stake vs proof of work, increasing energy efficiency of the blockchain (38:51), how (not) to buy bitcoin! (40:49).



The Bitcoin White Paper 


Recorded on February 26 2021.

Sam Woolley on The Reality Game

Sam Woolley on The Reality Game

March 4, 2021

Sam Woolley discusses his new book, The Reality Game: How the Next Wave of Technology Will Break the Truth.


On this episode of Technology & Prose, Sam Woolley, Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism at UT Austin, joins host Nikita Aggarwal to talk about computational propaganda (comprop), mis- and disinformation (1:43) how the term ‘fake news’ has been weaponised by despots (4:46) the ‘Reality Game’ and how comprop has distorted the truth, increased polarisation and decreased trust in institutions (6:30) the key perpetrators of comprop (9:05) grassroots v astroturfing and the boundary between legitimate and illegitimate manipulation (10:20) the history of comprop from Ukraine and the Arab Spring to Trump, Brexit, and Cambridge Analytica (12:16) the role of social media platforms in spreading comprop (15:05) why platforms haven’t taken enough action to tackle comprop (18:10) free speech, section 230 CDA and why governments need to do more to regulate comprop (24:30) recent action by Twitter and Facebook to de-platform Trump and tackle health disinformation (30:13) addressing the demand-side of comprop, why conspiracy theories travel faster than truth, designing technology with human rights in mind (31:58) Deepfake, VR/AR, audio, haptics, and the future of comprop (36:19) the need for more solutions-oriented work on comprop (40:04).

Recorded on 11th Feb 2021.

Nick Diakopoulos on Automating the News

Nick Diakopoulos on Automating the News

February 25, 2021

Nick Diakopoulos discusses his latest book, Automating the News: How Algorithms are Rewriting the Media.

On this episode of Technology & Prose, Nick Diakopoulos, Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Computer Science at Northwestern University, joins host Nikita Aggarwal to talk about how AI is being used in the news media (1:43) the use of AI for story discovery and the Lead Locator project (5:15) hybrid human-AI journalism (8:23) defining “newsworthiness” and the risk of selection bias in data-driven journalism (10:53) data science skills and the need for more interdisciplinary journalism education (14:54) the impact of social media platforms and search engines on news curation and journalistic values (16:58) regulating social media platforms and the use of AI in the news (20:38) clickbait, virality and the values embedded in news algorithms (24:11) advertising versus subscription news business models (26:06) the opportunities of newsbots (27:56) mis/disinformation and the risks of newsbots (34:28) algorithmic accountability reporting, website scraping under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, platform APIs (38:09) the newsroom of the future and the impact of automation on jobs in the media (40:00).
The Computational Journalism Lab @ Northwestern 
Northwestern University Knight Lab 
Diakopoulos et al, Generating Location-Based News Leads for National Politics Reporting (The Lead Locator Project)
Recorded on February 4th 2021
Gary Marcus on Rebooting AI

Gary Marcus on Rebooting AI

February 11, 2021

Gary Marcus, Professor Emeritus at NYU and co-founder of, discusses his recent book Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust.


On this episode of Technology & Prose, Gary Marcus joins host Nikita Aggarwal to talk about the “AI chasm”— the gap between the goals and reality of artificial intelligence (1:40) GPT-3 and the limits of deep learning (4:38) how to build AI systems that have knowledge, reasoning and understanding (9:14) the politics of AI research (and more on the limits of GPT-3) (16:00) innate knowledge in machines and the need for a hybrid approach to building AI (33:25) the Montreal AI Debates, the System 1/ System 2 analogy and lessons from developmental psychology (37:04) and Gary's new venture, (43:15) .



Marcus, Deep Learning: a Critical Appraisal 

Goyal and Bengio, Inductive Biases for Deep Learning of Higher-Level Cognition  

LeCun, Hinton, Bengio, Deep Learning

Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow 

Montreal AI debates ; 

Marcus, Guitar Zero: The Science of Learning to be Musical 




Recorded on January 28th 2021

Ben Green on The Smart Enough City

Ben Green on The Smart Enough City

February 4, 2021

Ben Green discusses The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in its Place to Reclaim our Urban Future.

On this episode of Technology & Prose, Ben Green joins host Nikita Aggarwal to discuss (1:17) tech solutionism and the dangers of viewing urban problems as technology problems (4:09) the shortcomings of Open Data initiatives (7:33) the unintended costs of self driving cars (12:35) the "smart city trap", and the role of technology companies in hyping up the idea of smart cities (16:49) the shelving of the Sidewalk Labs Toronto Waterfront project, public-private partnerships, privacy and privatisation of public space, #BlockSidewalk (26:05) transparency, accountability and balancing public and private governance in smart cities (30:21) predictive policing, criminal sentencing algorithms and racial discrimination in smart cities (38:41) the smart enough city, agnosticism and how to combine political and technological reform of cities.

Recorded on February 11th 2021.

Ryan Abbott on The Reasonable Robot

Ryan Abbott on The Reasonable Robot

January 21, 2021

Professor of law and medicine Ryan Abbott discusses The Reasonable Robot, a fascinating new book on artificial intelligence and the law.

On this episode of Technology and Prose, Ryan Abbott joins host Nikita Aggarwal to talk about the principle of AI legal neutrality (1:23), AI inventions and patent law (2:23), the AI Inventor Project and AI patent cases (5:12), Uber's Arizona accident and liability for self-driving cars (12:52), the 'reasonable robot' standard of liability (14:58), the end of human drivers? (21:55), AI for healthcare and liability for harm (26:00), AI exceptionalism (28:46), AI ethics and principle-based regulation (30:28), AI explainability (32:22), lethal autonomous weapons and killer robots (33:35), robot taxes and the future of work (36:38).

Recorded on December 29th 2020.

Tim Hwang on Subprime Attention Crisis

Tim Hwang on Subprime Attention Crisis

January 7, 2021

Lawyer, writer and researcher Tim Hwang discusses his provocative new book, Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet


On the first episode of Technology & Prose, Tim Hwang joins host Nikita Aggarwal to talk about the digital and programmatic advertising market (1:39), why the attention being sold for digital advertising is garbage (5:32), similarities with the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis (10:18), digital vs traditional advertising (12:32), the myth of online manipulation (15:36), digital advertising fraud (16:55), regulating digital advertising (20:13), advertising and the design of the internet (23:24), why this is the world that Google built (25:53), alternatives to an advertising-driven internet (28:34), privacy, surveillance and Cambridge Analytica (31:44), the risks of a systemic crisis, and why we should defuse the subprime attention time bomb (35:08), antitrust and breaking up Big Tech (40:10).

Recorded on December 31st 2020.

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