In the dystopian sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica, the key rule shielding civilization from cyborg invaders is “never link the computers.” Back in our galaxy, how many more breaches and false promises of repair will it take before the very idea of the network will become suspect? Many industries, such as finance and insurance, have already essentially moved off-line. Healthcare is deep in this digital morass. Corporate assurances of safety behind firewalls and 256-bit security codes have given way to a single commandment: nothing critical goes on the Net.
Except for the video game virtuosi on industry swat teams and hacker squads, Silicon Valley has pretty much given up. Time to hire another vice president of diversity and calculate carbon footprints.
The security system has broken down just as the computer elite have begun indulging the most fevered fantasies about the capabilities of their machines and issuing arrogant inanities about the comparative limits of their human customers. Meanwhile, these delusions of omnipotence have not prevented the eclipse of its initial public offering market, the antitrust tribulations of its champion companies led by Google, and the profitless prosperity of its hungry herds of “unicorns,” as they call private companies worth more than one billion dollars. Capping these setbacks is Silicon Valley’s loss of entrepreneurial edge in ipos and increasingly in venture capital to nominal communists in China.
In defense, Silicon Valley seems to have adopted what can best be described as a neo-Marxist political ideology and technological vision. You may wonder how I can depict as “neo-Marxists” those who on the surface seem to be the most avid and successful capitalists on the planet.
Marxism is much discussed as a vessel of revolutionary grievances, workers’ uprisings, divestiture of chains, critiques of capital, catalogs of classes, and usurpation of the means of production. At its heart, however, the first Marxism espoused a belief that the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century solved for all time the fundamental problem of production.
The first industrial revolution, comprising steam engines, railways, electric grids, and turbines—all those “dark satanic mills”—was, according to Marx, the climactic industrial breakthrough of all time. Marx’s essential tenet was that in the future, the key problem of economics would become not production amid scarcity but redistribution of abundance.
In The German Ideology (1845), Marx fantasized that communism would open to all the dilettante life of a country squire: “Society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.”
Marx was typical of intellectuals in imagining that his own epoch was the final stage of human history. William F. Buckley used to call it an immanentized eschaton, a belief the “last things” were taking place in one’s own time. The neo-Marxism of today’s Silicon Valley titans repeats the error of the old Marxists in its belief that today’s technology—not steam and electricity, but silicon microchips, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, algorithmic biology, and robotics—is the definitive human achievement. The algorithmic eschaton renders obsolete not only human labor but the human mind as well.
All this is temporal provincialism and myopia, exaggerating the significance of the attainments of their own era, of their own companies, of their own special philosophies and chimeras—of themselves, really. Assuming that in some way their “Go” machine and climate theories are the consummation of history, they imagine that it’s “winner take all for all time.” Strangely enough, this delusion is shared by Silicon Valley’s critics. The dystopians join the utopians in imagining a supremely competent and visionary Silicon Valley, led by Google with its monopoly of information and intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is believed to be redefining what it means to be human, much as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species did in its time. While Darwin made man just another animal, a precariously risen ape, Google-Marxism sees men as inferior intellectually to the company’s own algorithmic machines.
Life after Google makes the opposing case that what the hyperventilating haruspices Yuval Harari, Nick Bostrom, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Tim Urban and Elon Musk see as a world-changing AI juggernaut is in fact an industrial regime at the end of its rope. The crisis of the current order in security, privacy, intellectual property, business strategy, and technology is fundamental and cannot be solved within the current computer and network architecture.
Security is not a benefit or upgrade that can be supplied by adding new layers of passwords, pony-tailed “swat teams,” intrusion detection schemes, anti-virus patches, malware prophylactics and software retro-fixes. Security is the foundation of all other services and crucial to all financial transactions. It is the most basic and indispensable component of any information technology.
This commentary is excerpted from Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy by George Gilder (Regnery Publishing, $28.99, July 17th, 2018).
George Gilder is a leading economic and technological thinker and the author of 19 books. He is a founding fellow of the Discovery Institute, where he began his study of information theory, and an influential venture investor. He lives with his wife in Western Massachusetts.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.