The Silicon Jungle is a bit of a rarity for Significance; though, like all other books under review on the website, its themes are statistically linked, the style in which it is written is rather different, for The Silicon Jungle is a novel.
The novel follows the exploits of Stephen Thorpe, a data mining summer intern at the fictional organisation Ubatoo, and his efforts to impress his superiors in attempt to secure a permanent position. Thorpe and his fellow interns are given unlimited access to Ubatoo’s extensive data sources, which range from email and search engines to online shopping and social networking, and are expected to produce new and innovative solutions to the different commercial problems presented to them.
However, things take a turn for the worse when Stephen agrees to assist an acquaintance from the American Coalition for Civil Liberties in highlighting the names of individuals likely to be at risk of being targeted on national security watch lists. Stephen is under the impression that this work has been sanctioned by his supervisor at Ubatoo and in his enthusiasm to make an impact, and with access to such a comprehensive data source, he produces a list of names that proves to be more accurate than anything seen before.
The novel is intended to highlight the amount of detail made available by our day to day online activities, and the implications of this data being used in the wrong way, or arriving in the wrong hands. The author himself is a senior staff research scientist at Google, and previously was chief scientist at Lycos, so clearly has a wealth of personal experience to feed into the story. In his preface he is also keen to explain that there is no one single company that has the range and wealth of data as portrayed in the novel by Ubatoo, though it is not difficult for the reader to imagine that it would only take the data of two or three major organisations combined (think Google, Amazon and Skype) to reach the same end result.
The novel’s focus on the data mining industry as a new and rapidly growing industry finds its foundations in Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle, which looked at the meatpacking industry in the early 1900s. Baluja emphasises the vulnerability and importance of data protection within an industry that is expanding exponentially, at too fast a rate for the individuals working within it to possibly keep up with.
The book itself is a very easy read and an interesting glimpse into the progression of this fascinating new industry, and though at times some of the characters appear to be slightly one-dimensional, the fundamental point remains clear – that the internet contains a wealth of information on almost every aspect of every part of the lives of a vast proportion of the world’s population. This is a level of personal information that has never before been available, and the potential, either for good or for bad, is endless.