‘Coders’

Clive Thompson, Penguin Press, 436 pages, $28. Code seems cold and objective, the raw logic of the internet, and Silicon Valley likes it that way. When algorithms are implicated in a scandal, the playbook is simple: Blame the code, some off-kilter machine learning, an out-of-control A.I. spasm. Certainly no human hand was involved. Of course, this is a farce. Human hands are all over all of it. In his new book, “Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World,” the longtime Wired magazine writer Clive Thompson works to describe those humans and exactly what their hands do. With an anthropologist’s eye, he outlines their different personality traits, their history and cultural touchstones. Thompson approaches Silicon Valley as if he were performing an autopsy. The backdrop to this book is that something is broken about Silicon Valley. To understand what isn’t working for so many people it’s necessary to scrutinize the coders themselves, their personalities and biases. The very particular culture they’ve created infuses everything they produce for the rest of us. For example, the mostly white men who built the tools of social networks did not recognize the danger of harassment, and so the things they built became conduits for it. Thompson ends by describing how coal miners are now learning to code. The work that had seemed so complicated can be taught pretty easily, it turns out. The new Brahmins lose their power if everyone knows what’s behind the curtain, and that seems to be Thompson’s goal with this book. Algorithms are human tools, not magical spells.

NEW YORK TIMES