WTF? Book Summary - WTF? Book explained in key points
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WTF? summary

Tim O’Reilly

What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us

3.9 (46 ratings)
19 mins

What is WTF? about?

WTF? (2017) documents the recent history and developments of modern digital technologies, and explains why, far from being harmful in and of themselves, these technologies only do damage to business and society when misunderstood by humans. Instead of fearing for the future, we should embrace it and use the attendant technological developments in ways that bring society up rather than push costs down.

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    Digital platforms and algorithms have revolutionized the technology industry.

    Remember when you saw your first touchscreen phone or virtual-reality headset? Or when your first Uber car arrived at your doorstep? You may have thought, “WTF?” The new technologies just keep on coming – and they’re forever changing the world we live in.

    Two monumental developments are at the heart of the modern industry: artificial intelligence, in the form of algorithms, and modern digital platforms.

    Modern digital platforms are based on open-source software, which was developed in the 1990s. This type of software is free, and any user can access and edit it for the benefit of all – a model that’s diametrically opposed to closed-software platforms such as those used by Microsoft, who dominated the industry at the time by locking hardware developers into their operating systems.

    The shift began with the rise of Linux, and was highlighted in a 1997 paper by Eric Raymond called “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.” Rather than worshipping at the altar of Microsoft, Linux users worldwide, from hackers to developers, pooled their resources and encouraged the free trade of knowledge.

    This established a template for digital platforms, where the level of freedom and cooperation generates rapid growth. Modern companies such as Uber and Amazon are built around this model, acting either as hosts or as a marketplace to connect users

    But these platforms couldn’t operate at such a level of complexity without the algorithms that govern them.

    Every platform is run by multiple algorithms, each designed to complete a specific task. Computer algorithms can process enormous amounts of data in almost no time at all and manage complex functions that no human could handle, such as coordinating the vast Uber network of passengers and drivers.

    Once programmed, algorithms operate independently. Because of this, they’re often referred to as a sort of artificial intelligence, or AI. And their operations are only becoming more advanced.

    So, now that you understand the principles of these two developments, let’s take a look at the effects that they have on businesses and the world around them. First up: platforms.

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    Best quote from WTF?

    The US government originally designed GPS tracking systems for Air Force satellites; later, President Reagan offered it up for commercial use.

    —Tim O’Reilly
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    About the Author

    Tim O’Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, a technical book publisher that seeks to share recent knowledge and developments. He has helped to identify and shape public responses to many of the biggest technological advances and trends of the last 30 years, and helped popularize terms such as “open-source software” and “Web 2.0.”

    Who should read WTF??

    • Business leaders seeking to understand and implement digital technologies
    • Technophobes who want their fears pacified
    • People interested in the recent history of technology

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