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The Storm of Progress:- Book Review by Literary Review of Canada:

“Wade Rowland — prolific commentator, educator, congenital worrier — has a lot of questions for us. They are about technology, society, and the way we live today. But many of them come down to one big question: Can the innovators, experimenters, and purveyors of science and technology proceed responsibly without considering the moral elements of their work?

The implications of this question and of the ones that follow from it are vast. They intrude on almost every aspect of our daily lives. They lead us — or should lead us — to ask whether genetic manipulation is a good thing and whether civilization really needs artificial intelligence. They prompt us to consider whether humankind is now in the thrall of a bunch of Frankensteins: promoters of a science run horribly amok. Rowland asks questions in The Storm of Progress that cause us to contemplate whether science and morality can converge — or whether they are careening off in different directions, never to intersect for the redemption of the broader society.

Rowland has several principal worries. He’s concerned about a future in which computers design other computers that are ever more complex and ever more capable: machines spiralling out of control. He wonders “if the unintended consequences of technical progress — which is supposed to provide our salvation — will destroy us long before any sustainable stasis is reached.” He’s troubled that our political systems have not accommodated themselves to the new technology and the fading of the Enlightenment consensus. These systems, he explains, “fail to deliver on the promise of a morally justifiable level of comfort and happiness for all.” And he believes that we have lost the ability to communicate with one another and to examine life’s big problems. In order to recover it, he writes, “we will need to be fluent in the half-forgotten vocabulary of ethics and pay attention to the neglected processes of making moral judgements that will stand the test of time. We will need to understand the interconnectedness between science, the technology it produces, and the human values that we all agree are worth pursuing.

Hold on to your seats. What follows in these pages is a crash course in, among others, Hobbes, Bacon, Kant, Aristotle, Spinoza, Swift, Darwin, Voltaire, and, especially, Adam Smith, who Rowland argues “played an outsized role in setting the stage for the eventual marginalizing of authentic moral discourse.

Rowland puts into words what is clear to the naked eye: science and technology rule the world, with the previous rulers — religion and morality — having faded in significance and impact. That’s the problem with modernity; it’s unrooted, and our values have been uprooted. And this loss helps to explain an enormous amount: “No fact in the modern scientific consensus on the nature of physical reality is more than about 450 years old, while consensus on moral issues such as truth, justice, equity, and human dignity often stretches back to the beginnings of recorded history.” In short, the worship of the (relatively) new has replaced the reverence of the (much derided and oft-discarded) old. We might reread that passage and wonder whether the old —“truth, justice, equity, and human dignity”— might ever make a roaring comeback, on campuses and in the national conversation, in part as a reaction to what Rowland observes.

Indeed, The Storm of Progress is a compilation of provocative notions that will remain with readers and shape their passage through a swiftly changing and often perplexing reality. Rowland asks whether moral questions are even relevant in our everyday choices or whether, for example, we have even a morsel of “moral reflection, or even curiosity, when we buy a pair of shoes made in some South Asian sweatshop, or a gallon of gasoline produced from Alberta tar sands or Niger delta offshore crude, or, for that matter, a chicken breast or pork chop carved from an animal grown in inhumane industrial conditions.” He adds, mordantly, “If it satisfies desires, it’s all good.”

Good — but hardly a social good. Rowland takes aim at the satisfaction of financial and personal desires, the driving elements of our consumption society, but not without providing guidance to the perplexed: “Good fortune, or happiness, is dependent not just on getting what you want. It depends on both getting what you want and wanting the right things. Wanting the wrong things and getting them is not a recipe for happiness.” Whole books have been written on this subject, with similar admonitions but without the succinctness or power. In fact, The Storm of Progress can be understood with serious contemplation on those thirty-nine words.”

Read the full review by David Marks Shribman at: https://reviewcanada.ca/magazine/2024/03/something-at-work/

    • Literary Review of Canada

 

Morality by Design – Book Review by Literary Review of Canada:

“Wade Rowland’s Morality by Design is also a cri de coeur, a kind of twenty-first-century Ten Commandments. Human morality ought to inform technological design, Rowland ­contends, so that it has known and knowable limits. There should be instinctual oversight of digital endeavours — by virtue of virtue itself.
 
The book is beautifully written, with sparingly few platitudes. And Rowland, a communications scholar from York University, has put his finger on the type of response that almost always surfaces when technological achievement outpaces our sense of how best to apply new techniques and methodologies. Think of recombinant DNA technologies and the genomic revolution: because we could, we did things (and still do) that, whether by design or not, delimited a new sense of what it means to be human. We’re still working out the consequences of the Crick-Watson-­Franklin-­Wilkins discovery of DNA structure a lifetime ago. We’re simply incapable of digesting such advances overnight. They require massive adaptive resources and time — gobs of it.
 
Right now in Silicon Valley, managers of the big tech companies are striking committees to address, in part, what Rowland is rightly demanding: an ethical framework for ­engineering design, as if human beings truly matter. Rowland might well approve of these attempts at self-­reflection in the digital heartland: he cogently argues that we all need to undertake ethical decisions out of our own right reason — our innate moral infrastructure, to borrow from Bruder.
 
His approach is eerily close to the thinking of the Yale University atheist and ethicist Martin Häggland, who also reasons that a moral approach to designing a life can be derived from first principles. Häggland’s central notion is that if there’s no afterlife, we’re actually in a better position — under a greater imperative — to treat one another as we ourselves would like to be treated. The approaches dovetail; Rowland’s chapter on the “alchemy of capitalism,” in particular, is a stellar exegesis on why human failings need not lead — linearly, if at all — to human failure in how we collectively create value.
 
We can reason our way to a better solution, less noxious, more humane. The question, for Rowland, is whether we have the effort and discipline required: an amalgam of reason and passion, of political acumen and empathy.”

 

Reviews of Canada Lives Here:

“This most recent book by Rowland on the topic of CBC/Radio-Canada succeeds at cutting through the hype of digital media while avoiding excessive romanticizing of the senior service’s past. The stated aim of Canada Lives Here is to make a case for the protection and rejuvenation of Canada’s public broadcaster, and Rowland offers up a passionate and detailed defence of the radio and television service.”

    J-source

Reviews of Saving the CBC:

“This book should be read by everyone who gives a damn about Canada and the publicly owned broadcaster that unites us in telling our own stories on radio and television. Wade Rowland convincingly documents the slow, politically directed erosion of the CBC and he has the expertise to show us how to save, and expand, this vital component in Canadian life. Will we listen to him? I hope to God we have enough sense to do so.”

    Farley Mowat

More about Saving the CBC

Reviews of Greed, Inc.:

“…a sound, compassionate, persuasive survey of a history and misconceptions that have led…to our present amoral mindlessness.”

    National Post

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Reviews of Spirit of the Web:

“…thoroughly and trenchantly chronicles the vagaries of information technology …a spirited, stimulating and sophisticated network of stories…philosophical and original.”

    Winnipeg Free Press

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Reviews of Galileo’s Mistake:

“Galileo’s Mistake is a lofty and ambitious philosophical exploration, and Rowland’s considerable gifts as a writer make the book pleasurable and captivating. Rowland skilfully weaves history, biography, science writing, and philosophical overviews into the comfortable familiarity of a travel narrative.”
“Galileo’s Mistake has the lazy ease of a multi-course Italian dinner, at once relaxing and enriching”.

    Quill & Quire

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Reviews of Ockham’s Razor:

“Part travelogue, part philosophical treatise, part random musing — perhaps it’s more helpful to call it equal parts Plato, Robert Pirsig and Peter Mayle — it is a book of metaphysical rummaging, of thoughtful meandering.”

    The Globe and Mail

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