Sue Halpern is a regular contributor to The New York Review and a Scholar-in-Residence at Middlebury. Her latest book is A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home.
 (December 2016)


Robert B. Silvers (1929–2017)

Robert B. Silvers in his office at The New York Review of Books, early 1980s
Until I arrived at the Review as an editorial assistant, I had never met anyone who so rarely engaged in idle pleasantries as Bob. His daily language was pared down, accurate, and sincere. I found his example revelatory, and I would ponder his usage and elisions like a giddy college freshman. Bob would never, for instance, wish us a good weekend. Presumably he had no particular investment in the quality of our weekends, and possibly he didn’t even know when his assistants’ weekends were, since we took turns working Saturday and Sunday shifts with him. But was he also, I wondered, rejecting the implied value of a good weekend? Is the goal of leisure time pleasure? Edification? Novel experience? If we couldn’t settle on criteria, we couldn’t possibly arrive at a valuation, in which case why bother asking on Monday morning how someone’s weekend had been?

They Have, Right Now, Another You

Peter Thiel speaking at the Republican National Convention, Cleveland, July 2016. Thiel, the first outside investor in Facebook and a cofounder of PayPal, is a founder of Palantir, a Silicon Valley firm funded by the CIA, whose algorithms allow for rapid analysis of voluminous data that it makes available to intelligence agencies and numerous police forces as well as to corporations and financial institutions.

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

by Cathy O’Neil

Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy

by Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice E. Stucke
It would be naive to think that there is a firewall between commercial surveillance and government surveillance. There is not. Many of us have been concerned about digital overreach by our governments, especially after the Snowden revelations. But the consumerist impulse that feeds the promiscuous divulgence of personal information similarly threatens our rights as individuals and our collective welfare.

Our Driverless Future

Saul Steinberg: Car, 1953

Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead

by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman
For generations of Americans, driving and the open road promised a kind of freedom: the ability to light out for the territory, even if the territory was only the mall one town over. Autonomous vehicles also come with the promise of freedom, the freedom of getting places without having to pay attention to the open (or, more likely, clogged) road, and with it, the freedom to sleep, work, read e-mail, text, play, have sex, drink a beer, watch a movie, or do nothing at all.

US Cyber Weapons: Our ‘Demon Pinball’

The disguised speaker representing sources inside the NSA and CIA who spoke to Alex Gibney for his documentary film Zero Days

Zero Days

a documentary film directed by Alex Gibney
Ninety-four minutes into Zero Days, Alex Gibney’s documentary about the American government’s expanding and largely invisible embrace of offensive cyber weaponry, the image of retired general James Cartwright appears on the screen. From 2007 to 2011 Cartwright was vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a favorite of President Obama. But when he appears in Gibney’s film, it’s not as an advocate, it’s as a potential enemy of the state, accused of leaking classified information.


The Assange Distraction

A mobile phone shows the Ecuadorian Embassy where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living since June 2012, London, England, August 20, 2012

Given what the files in the recent WikiLeaks release contain, and given that they’ve landed in the hands of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s press release might be read more as a threat than an invitation. Julian Assange has not destroyed the source codes that came to him with Vault 7, the algorithms that run these programs, and he has not ruled out releasing them into the wild, where they would be available to any cyber-criminal, state actor, or random hacker. This means that Assange is not just a fugitive as he often calls himself, he is a fugitive who is armed and dangerous.

The Americans We Need

Over the last few years, we’ve spent considerable time in refugee enclaves across the nation. They are among the most admirable—and the most American—communities we’ve ever visited. Which is to say, President Trump’s ban on refugees is clearly racist and probably unconstitutional but it’s also just plain stupid, at least if the goal is to build a strong, safe, working nation.

Facebook, Twitter & Trump

Facebook's main campus, Menlo Park, California, 2013

What is missing from post-election analyses is a recognition of the outsized influence the Internet has had in this election, influence that may be less susceptible to fixing than, say, tweaking polling methods or replacing political consultants. Out of four million election-related tweets created between September 16 and October 21, one in five were generated by bots. About 39 percent—4,645,254 of Donald Trump’s 11,972,303 Twitter followers—were bots, compared to 524,141 of Hillary Clinton’s 10,696,761, or just 5 percent.