Throughout history, technological revolutions have been driven by the invention of machines. But today, the power of the technology transforming our world lies in an intangible and impenetrable cosmos of software: algorithmic code. So symbiotic has our relationship with this code become that we barely notice it anymore. We can’t see it, are not even sure how to think about it, and yet we do almost nothing that doesn’t depend on it. In a world increasingly governed by technologies that so few can comprehend, who—or what—controls the future?
Devil in the Stack follows Andrew Smith on his immersive trip into the world of coding, passing through the stories of logic, machine-learning and early computing, from Ada Lovelace to Alan Turing, and up to the present moment, behind the scenes into the lives—and minds—of the new frontierspeople of the 21st century: those who write code. Smith embarks on a quest to understand this sect in what he believes to be the only way possible: by learning to code himself.
Expansive and effervescent, Devil in the Stack delivers a portrait of code as both a vivid culture and an impending threat. How do we control a technology that most people can’t understand? And are we programming ourselves out of existence? Perhaps most terrifying of all: Is there something about the way we compute – the way code works – that is innately at odds with the way humans have evolved? By turns revelatory, unsettling, and joyously funny, Devil in the Stack is an essential book for our times, of vital interest to anyone hoping to participate in the future-defining technological debates to come.
Praise for Andrew Smith:
“Smith is an ideal narrator: sharp-eyed yet increasingly affectionate about his subjects; expert enough to dissect Apollo minutiae clearly but not so obsessed as to leave a general reader trailing in the jetwash.”—Financial Times on Moondust
“A brilliant exploration of madness and genius in the early days of the web. Fascinatingly weird . . . terrific.”—Guardian on Totally Wired
“A rich mix of cultural history, reportage and personal reflection.”—Evening Standard on Moondust
“Highly entertaining . . . [Smith’s] superb book is a fitting tribute to a unique band of 20th-century heroes.”—GQ on Moondust