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The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks

The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks

Joshua Cooper Ramo


It was all going so well. A book about how networks change the relationships between objects, processes, and people, to the extent that we have to regard a connected object as a fundamentally different beast to its unconnected counterpart. It's easy to see this for, for example, books, where an e-book has access to hyperlinks, can be networked with other readers, and so forth. It's also easy to see for connected houses or utilities, exposed to new security threats by virtue of being networked. And it's easy to see for companies, where network effects rapidly produce winner-takes-all situations simply because increased participation increases the benefits of further participation. The "seventh sense", although not really ever got to grips with, is the ability to perceive these effects and adapt strategy to them.

But then the argument falls apart. The solution to this networked issue: the US must create the best networks, attracting others to use them but not shrinking from pre-emptively attacking – both by cyber and physical means – any other country who disagrees with the premises established from the start (or changed over time) for use of those networks. Networks must have hard gates to keep out the undesirables. Disconnect from other networks to avoid being caught in a web to others' advantage. The owner makes the rules.

Does this sound like a familiar line of politics? – maybe it wouldn't have done in 2016, but now it's all too familiar. There's no real discussion about how networks emerge other than by the force of specific developments and goals, which clearly isn't the case for natural systems and isn't really so for a lot of human-centred ones. So this isn't a book that works for me: it doesn't get to the heart of what networked systems could do for society. But a useful addition nonetheless.

2/5. Finished 23 November 2020.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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