The Unaccountability Machine

17 May 2024/No Comments
By Nick Dunbar
More than the sum of its parts

Charles Dickens showed us how it should be done. If you want a society to examine itself, use a ghost of past, present and future.

The ghost of the past takes me back to when I came of age in the mid-1980s. Much of the UK’s economy was still state-owned, including rail, communications and utilities. From the left-wing outlook of my family, that was a good thing, and we all railed at Margaret Thatcher who was busy privatising it.

Then there is the ghost of the present. So many things work better but we don’t notice them. There is plenty that is worse. Take the water system. As a child I swam in rivers that now run with effluent. Having siphoned off billions to its owners and lenders over the years, privatised Thames Water is heading for renationalisation.

The market, which in Mrs Thatcher’s time was about empowering individuals to own companies, has morphed into private equity, which uses borrowed money to take companies private and then squeeze them dry. The high street has been gutted and no one wants to talk to you in the help centre. Even the humble UK post office – well, look what happened there.

Finally, we meet the ghost of the future. Artificial intelligence is everywhere. What does it mean to be an individual when everything you do is guided by machines that know infinitely more than you. Who makes the decisions – societies or the machines?

These three ghosts loom over Dan Davies’ The Unaccountability Machine.

Related Articles