About the publication
Who Are We Now

Blaise Agüera y Arcas

From leading AI researcher Blaise Agüera y Arcas comes an exploration of how biology, ecology, sexuality, history, and culture have intertwined to create a dynamic “us” that can neither be called natural nor artificial.

A beautiful physical edition is available from Hat & Beard Press.

Order Book

Audiobook (Audible)
eBook (Kindle)

Identity politics occupies the frontline in today’s culture wars, pitting generations against each other, and progressive cities against the rural traditions of our past. Rich in data and detail, Who Are We Now? goes beyond today’s headlines to connect our current reality to a larger more-than-human story.

At the heart of the book is a set of surveys conducted between 2016 and 2021, asking thousands of anonymous respondents all over the United States questions about their behavior and identity, and especially about gender and sexuality. The resulting window into people’s lives is a bit like that of the Kinsey Reports, which scandalized postwar America more than 70 years ago. Today, the landscape is—in every sense—even queerer. Twentieth century heterosexual “normalcy” is on the wane, particularly among young and urban people.

The landscape outside has changed too. After millennia of being fruitful and multiplying, we’ve strained, and exceeded, planetary limits. Domesticated animals far outweigh wildlife, and many species are in catastrophic decline. Yet curiously, our own population is poised to begin collapsing this century too, our fertility now curbed by choice rather than by premature death. Is this the end of humanity—or the beginning?

“A fascinating, provocative account of the contradictions and complications of identity and community in the technological age.” Sonia Katyal, Distinguished Law Professor and Co-director, Center for Law and Technology, UC Berkeley School of Law

“This is that rare book that not only explores a fascinating topic, but that teaches you how to think more deeply about any topic. Insightful and original.” Tim O’Reilly, Author, publisher, and founder of O’Reilly Media

About the author

Blaise Agüera y Arcas is a frequent speaker at TED and many other conferences, winner of MIT’s TR35 Prize and Fast Company’s Most Creative People award, and a Vice President and Fellow at Google Research. He leads a 500-person team working on Artificial Intelligence (AI), large language models, smart devices, technology ethics, and privacy. Publicly visible projects from his team include Federated Learning, Artists and Machine Intelligence, Coral, and many AI features in Pixel and Android. In 2016, he wrote a widely read essay on the relationship between art and technology, and in 2017 he co-authored another popular essay on physiognomy and bias in AI and a refutation of claims that facial structure reveals sexual orientation. Some of this material has been incorporated into the book’s third and fourteenth chapters. His early involvement in large language models and generative AI prompted op-eds in the Economist and essays in Noēma, as well as inspiring the novella Ubi Sunt, also published by Hat & Beard Press.

Connect with Blaise

For press inquiries, please contact Noah Bethke ([email protected])


Who Are We Now? died and came back to life several times. In its earliest incarnation, it was a side project based on one of the lectures I gave for a course at the University of Washington, Intelligent Machinery, Identity, and Ethics. My first thanks go to Adrienne Fairhall and Benjamin Bratton, for encouraging me to put that course together as a way to organize my thoughts into something that could turn into a book. Thanks also to my students, whose questions and after-class discussion often challenged and refined my thinking.

“Just record and transcribe the lectures, then edit them,” said Benjamin. I complained that there was too much material. “Then find a self-contained piece and start with that,” he advised. It worked, but it wasn’t as easy as he made it sound!

The (more or less) self-contained piece in question, focusing on the “identity” element of the course, originally consisted of a slideshow of plots based on my first Mechanical Turk surveys, each revealing something non-obvious and accompanied by a caption one or two sentences long. In my quest to contextualize these findings, stories about evolutionary biologists, sexologists, criminologists, witches and wizards, and eco-prophets began entering the mix. It seemed, for a while, that Who Are We Now? was destined to become a comic book, something like xkcd meets the OkCupid data blog. 1 (That might still happen one day.) Lucy Bellwood drew some beautiful comix treatments, as well as providing helpful editorial input.

As more surveys and more background material accumulated, and as the stakes of evolving human identity came into focus and the text lengthened, it became clear that this needed to become a “real” book. Warm thanks to Lesley Hazleton for making that abundantly clear one overcast afternoon on the deck of her houseboat. I began another rewrite and shopped the manuscript around, but had trouble finding a traditional publisher who both believed in the idea and was willing to include all of the graphics, let alone invest in the design that would be needed to do justice to the visual material. Never mind putting it all on the web for free.

The solution turned out to be near at hand: the crew I had worked with to publish my novella, Ubi Sunt, were game to reunite. Profound thanks to JC Gabel of Hat & Beard Press, for his unhesitating boldness in taking this unconventional project on, and to multitalented design geniuses James Goggin, Marie Otsuka, and Minkyoung Kim, who dove into ambitious parallel treatments of Who Are We Now? as both an interactive web book and a print book. Johan Michalove, my polymathic Intelligent Machinery TA, undertook workflow engineering, fact checking, reference wrangling, captioning, editing, image rights securing, and when needed, eyebrow-raising, with timely assistance from David Michalove. The maps rock because we were fortunate to enlist cartographer extraordinaire Scott Reinhard to make them. Laurie Aguera-Arcas was an exacting copy editor, applying her red pen to the manuscript in a hundred or so places per chapter (thank you, Mom). Sybil Perez at Hat & Beard was our final proofreader. My deepest gratitude to this globe-spanning dream team, who dedicated a painstaking year to turning Who Are We Now? from an unruly collection of text, code, and pixels into a beautiful finished whole.

Some of the material in Chapters 3 and 14 first appeared in essays I co-authored with Margaret Mitchell and Alex Todorov; my warm thanks to them for that intellectual partnership.

Eleanor Drage, Geoff Keeling, Adrienne Fairhall, Justin Smith-Ruiu, Sonia Katyal, and Emily French provided close readings and major editorial input into large sections of the text. This would have been a different and lesser book without them. My heartfelt thanks also to: Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Dylan Baker, Genevieve Bell, Rebecca Brown, Kristen Carney, Ted Chiang, Patricia Churchland, Kate Devlin, Ellen Forney, Nancy Hartunian, Katie Herzog, Tim Keck, Rem Koolhaas, Danielle Krettek, Alison Lentz, Kerry Mackereth, Andrew McAfee, Phoenix Meadowlark, K Allado-McDowell, Audrey Muratet, Peter Norvig, Tim O’Reilly, Irene Pepperberg, Dan Savage, Oliver Siy, Troy Conrad Therrien, Chai Vasarhelyi, Judy Wajcman, Lawrence Weschler, and Oberon Zell-Ravenheart. As with any project of this size, the roster of friends and colleagues whose intellectual input and encouragement mattered over the years is long, and I’m sure my recollection is incomplete—so apologies to anyone I’ve missed. And of course, any errors and all opinions expressed are strictly my own.

  1. If you don’t know what either of these are, you should stop reading and go check them out.