A Dangerous Master

How to Keep Technology from Slipping Beyond Our Control


By Wendell Wallach

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$36.50 CAD



  1. Hardcover $28.99 $36.50 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 2, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

We live in an age of awesome technological potential. From nanotechnology to synthetic organisms, new technologies stand to revolutionize whole domains of human experience. But with awesome potential comes awesome risk: drones can deliver a bomb as readily as they can a new smartphone; makers and hackers can 3D-print guns as well as tools; and supercomputers can short-circuit Wall Street just as easily as they can manage your portfolio.

One thing these technologies can’t do is answer the profound moral issues they raise. Who should be held accountable when they go wrong? What responsibility do we, as creators and users, have for the technologies we build? In A Dangerous Master, ethicist Wendell Wallach tackles such difficult questions with hard-earned authority, imploring both producers and consumers to face the moral ambiguities arising from our rapid technological growth. There is no doubt that scientific research and innovation are a source of promise and productivity, but, as Wallach, argues, technological development is at risk of becoming a juggernaut beyond human control. Examining the players, institutions, and values lobbying against meaningful regulation of everything from autonomous robots to designer drugs, A Dangerous Master proposes solutions for regaining control of our technological destiny.

Wallach’s nuanced study offers both stark warnings and hope, navigating both the fears and hype surrounding technological innovations. An engaging, masterful analysis of the elements we must manage in our quest to survive as a species, A Dangerous Master forces us to confront the practical — and moral — purposes of our creations.


  • “This book is a must-read for venture capitalists, investors, asset managers, HFT firms and day traders – as well as concerned civic leaders and politicians.”
    —Hazel Henderson, Seeking Alpha

    “This appeal for deliberate and thoughtful approaches to humankind's future will find its audience among those interested in ethics, public policy, and the future of health care.”
    Library Journal

    “[T]his thoughtful polemic convincingly argues that ‘In striving to answer the question “can we do this?” too few ask “should we do this?”'.... Readers will admire this astute analysis while harboring the uneasy feeling that the barn door seems stuck open.”
    Publishers Weekly

    “A well-mounted argument that deserves wide consideration.”
    Kirkus Reviews
  • “Wendell Wallach, it seems, is always a few years ahead of the rest of us. In this marvelous book, he takes us to the technological frontier and shows us where, why, and how our most promising technologies could turn on us. Wallach is levelheaded and thoughtful, combining his encyclopedic knowledge of emerging technology with a sense of history and an abiding respect for humanity. A Dangerous Master is fascinating, important, and—in defiance of its own gravity—a joy to read.”
    —Joshua Greene, Director, Harvard Moral Cognition Lab and author of Moral Tribes

    "This timely book offers a balanced assessment of the upsides and risks of a wide range of fast-developing technologies. It helps us to think more clearly about what the world will be like in 2050, and deserves a wide readership."
    —Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, University of Cambridge, and author of Universe and Just Six Numbers

    "When it comes to technology, humanity is playing for supremely high stakes—and it's a game we can't walk away from. In his new book A Dangerous Master, Wendell Wallach surveys a wide range of technological risks, and proposes how we humans may evade disaster, leaving the possibility of wondrously good outcomes."
    —Vernor Vinge, author of A Fire Upon the Deep and Rainbows End
  • "It is increasingly difficult to weigh the risks associated with new technologies against the benefits they may bring. Experts often disagree, the public is not certain whose views to trust, and politicians and the market take short-term perspectives that may not be best in deciding whether or not to plunge ahead in the face of uncertainty. A Dangerous Master gives us a balanced and timely guide to navigating the troubled waters of decision-making when new technologies appear. Read it—your uncertainty may not diminish but your ability to cope with it will increase."
    —Arthur Caplan, Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics, New York University Langone Medical Center

    “Wendell Wallach has done all of us a service. He has alerted us in detail, and provocatively, that there are dangers as well as gains in our national romance with innovative technologies. Like all heated romances, they can be full of drama and distress, but hard to ignore. His account of the troubled technology romance is well told, and it is one we need to hear.”
    —Daniel Callahan, President Emeritus, The Hastings Center
  • “A Dangerous Master is reminiscent of—and sometimes even references—about a million popular books and movies: Robert Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil; Isaac Asimov's I, Robot; David Mitchell's The Bone Doctors; Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go; Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age; GATTACCA; The Matrix; The X Men; The Phantom Menace. But while these works and the various dystopias they depict are characterized as speculative fiction, Wendell Wallach's book and the various dystopias it depicts warrant neither qualifier. They reside firmly in the real world—or could imminently, if we do not heed his warning to vigilantly track technological developments and constantly assess if the benefits they provide are worth the risks they inevitably engender.”
    Ars Technica

    “Wallach...deliver[s] sobering assessments of today's engineering culture.... Neither alarmist nor affirmative, [A Dangerous Master] contain[s] urgent, compelling and relevant calls to consciously embed our values in the systems we design, and to critically engage with our choices.”
    New Scientist

    “Hordes of technologies emerge in lockstep with warnings of their risks. Ethicist Wendell Wallach sorts the hysteria from the hazards in this magisterial study.”

On Sale
Jun 2, 2015
Page Count
336 pages
Basic Books

Wendell Wallach

About the Author

Wendell Wallach is a consultant, ethicist, and scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. He is the co-author of Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong. He lives in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

Learn more about this author