In his new book, Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being, Paul Mason, the former BBC journalist turned roving political commentator, presents a vision of humanity under siege. He identifies four distinct but related threats: the rapid advance of artificial intelligence, coupled with the vast, unaccountable tech monopolies that administer it; neoliberal economics and the adjoining “cult” of free-market competition; the rise of the authoritarian right, as embodied in the politics of Donald Trump and other populist strongmen; and academic post-modernism, which has steadily undermined public support for scientific inquiry and the legacy of the Enlightenment.
If you think this sounds like a lot to pack into 300 pages, you’d be right: it is. Mason shifts frenetically from one theme to the next, stringing together references from popular culture, political philosophy, tech science, and neurology, as well as drawing on his own experiences as a reporter in the US, Europe, and the Middle East. He has a habit of lunging into distracting tangents: an entire chapter on the worldview of Xi Jin Ping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, for instance, could’ve been better summarised in a few short paragraphs. But for the most part, his bracing premise—that human freedom will either thrive as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or be obliterated by it—survives his anarchic writing style.