Sunday, July 16, 2017

Big Data Algorithms, Inequality and World History: Two Books, Two Visions

Writing the History of the Global



WEapons of Mass Destruction
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books


The two books reviewed in this blog make interesting reading. the Weapons of Math Destruction by Dr Cathy O'Neil, a Ph D in Mathematics from Harvard University is a spell binding account of the misuse of Statistical Big Data in the world today and the consequent rise in income inequality which in turn widens the gulf between the super rich and those struggling to get along in the world. She points out that the growing trend towards using sophisticated algorithms by corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and the like enable advertisers to target their potential clients with a fair amount of precision. There is a fascinating description of the US Educational Ranking system and the calculated manner in which educational ranking is used to extract Federal Educational Loans on the promise that a College Education will increase the chances of getting a secure well paying job. The author also analyses in great detail the smart, highly educated army of Data Analysts sporting fancy degrees from Ivy League Universities who by letting the Algorithms predict the flow of funds and Capital in the highly volatile realm of high finance contributed to the sub prime crisis that engulfed USA in 2008. Even Barack Obama intervention helped only the big companies escape the consequences of their financial profligacy and his bail out package only shifted the burden onto the shoulders of an already weakening Middle Class. This book is an eye opener and for those who believe that technology is a panacea that is creating a safer and a more democratic world. this is a must read text.

Writing the History of the Global by Maxine Berg is an imaginative look at the cross currents of debate in the field of Global History/World History. The fact that Historiography in the modern sense of the term was the out growth of the advent of the Nation State meant that writing the histories of the Nation State was taken to be the real and vital task of the professional Historian. The Nation State dictated its own narrative and Historians had to find justification for their task within the limits set of the Nation State. The contrived debates in India between the Secularists and their opponents is essentially a debate between the political conceits of the Nation State and the Civilizational Ethos of an Old but Wounded Civilization. The disillusionment with the contrived and false pretensions of the Nationalist view of History and the Leftist paradigms led to the rise of the so called Subaltern School. With its marriage of convenience with the post colonial/linguistic approaches to the past, the subalterns lost all credibility leaving behind a wreckage of unreadable prose. The Global History perspective elaborated in this book is an excellent alternative to the procrustean bed of Nation State Histories. Trade, Conquest, Migration have always linked the world and such trend and developments do not adhere to the limits of the present day Nation State.