Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Classic Hollywood Villain Peter Thiel Scolds Hollywood for Decelerating "The Future"

Peter Thiel is upset that movies like The Matrix and Avatar make technological innovation seem "destructive and dysfunctional."

As the multitudes of geeks who more or less treat the slick glossy fetishized fantasy technoscapes in these films as gizmo porn can surely attest, there is easily as much going on in The Matrix and Avatar that could be described as advertizing for "technological innovation" as could be described as anti-technology propaganda. And quite apart from that obvious observation, one also wonders if Peter Thiel really wants to deny that many instances of "technological innovation" actually have been destructive and dysfunctional as they have played out in the real world, or whether he really wants to deny that this is a worthy topic for a film to observe incidentally or even to explore in some depth?

Thiel apparently bemoans what he calls a recent "deceleration in tech" which he illustrates by pointing out that " and Google together have a larger market capitalization than the combined market caps of every tech company founded since the year 2000" -- which tells you pretty much all you really need to know about the skewed priorities and scary premises of Peter Thiel.

Of course, it is true that a whole generation of futurological faithful from the first wave of irrational exuberance in the 90s over the coal-powered wage-slave constructed toxic-implemented disastrously deregulatory cyberspatial "Home of Mind" dot.bomb through the second wave of irrational exuberance ever since over the social-networked "digital democracy" of empty openness, panoptic surveillance, targeted marketing harassment, crowdsourced exploitation, and zero comments spent much of their time peddling "accelerating change" and "acceleration of acceleration" and "disruptive technology" and "all the rules have changed" BS for unearned cash and undeserved attention for year after year after year after year without ever really changing much of anything for anyone but an ever smaller minority of plutocrats in a world of proliferating weapons shuddering in the death throes of ever more conspicuous Greenhouse storms.

As I never tire of repeating "accelerating change" is more or less what ever increasing neoliberal precarization looks like from the rarefied vantage of the one-percenters who are the "winners" prevailing over this precarity or for those who foolishly identify with these winners without ever winning themselves. But the actual sales pitch of the techno-boosters is a sad stale song by now, attesting to stasis and not acceleration.

Generations of cocksure boosters for old fashioned artificial intelligence endlessly prophesying that AI was right around the corner could try to blame Kubrick's villainous HAL 9000 for their serial failures to deliver on their supremely and idiotically overconfident promises, but one suspects that a more plausible explanation would be that their facile, alienated, reductive, mechanistic, disembodied, computational mischaracterizations of the phenomenon of intelligence in the first place has something to do with their difficulties.

And so too one suspects that the digital utopians who promised that cyberspace would overthrow all borders and end history even though cyberspace was accessed via computers within borders and within history, and who also promised that the digital economy would deliver superabundance and even immortality even though you can't eat or live in data (hell, data can't even make a subprime mortgage on a real house into a going proposition) and you are not a picture of you or an avatar of you even if the picture or program or profile in question lasts forever (and none do, just saying) probably keep failing to deliver on their promises as well because their promises have never made any kind of sense at all, not because Hollywood movies append cautionary morals to the end of two hour spectacles of masturbatory technoporn which make people too skeered to embrace the awesome delusions celebrity tech CEOs like Peter Thiel use to justify to the world and possibly to themselves lives devoted to skimming and scamming for cash in the face of planetary predation, war, and climate catastrophe.

Peter Thiel made billions of dollars by investing other dollars he already had in PayPal and Facebook and other digi-wizbangs coded by folks many of whom didn't make so many dollars as Peter Thiel did. Now Peter Thiel is investing in plots to build an offshore libertopian pirate utopia on an oil platform or cruise ship (right off the shore of socialist hell-hole San Francisco, so he and his rich friends can, you know, still have their foodie feasts in restaurants where basic hygiene is secured by government regulations and real hospitals are within easy helipad reach, natch) and investing in a klatch of self-declared sooper-geniuses who think they are coding a sooper-intelligent Robot God that will end human history by solving all our problems for us (or by converting us all to computronium feedstock, depending on whether you prefer your Singularitarian Robot Cultists to be of the hype-notized or the disasturbatory variety).

It is easy to see why a person so readily caricaturable as an over the top Hollywood techno villain might be made a wee bit uneasy by Hollywood techno villains. Be that as it may, I suspect that the reason fewer and fewer people are buying the digital moonshine Ayn Raelian techno-transcendentalists like Peter Thiel are selling is simply because you can't fool all the people all the time, as the man said.

As for Thiel's assertion, in cadences redolent of Rick Perry, that we are now witnessing an historical inversion in which Californians are leaving its sclerotic tyranny to seek economic opportunities in Oklahoma, that is a palpable lie. Hey, nobody ever said con-artists were part of the "reality-based community," after all! I cannot speak for all Californians but I for one am more than happy to send Thiel on his way with my compliments to the "greener pastures" of some homophobic anti-science anti-gu'ment Red State.

Go Galt, Peter Thiel, do, and then upload yourself.


Black guy from the future past said...

Peter Thiel is a right wing, republican-libertarian, christian, gay man. What a juicy contradiction. How does this guy live with himself? This guy is almost as bad as Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams.

Dale Carrico said...

I suspect billions of dollars ease the demands of living with such contradictions.

Black guy from the future past said...

I have the urge to impulsively agree with you, but after some consideration and examination of people with huge sums of money, I have come to the conclusion that money cannot truly drown out misery. Make no mistake, Thiel is a miserable man. Otherwise, why the hell would he invest huge sums of money in a project that is (doomed to fail anyway)basically involved in isolating people out in the ocean somewhere, in some libertarian fairy land. One who goes that far has serious issues, that even his excessive wealth cannot solve.

Dale Carrico said...

Well, only his hairdresser knows for sure if he's miserable or not. I do know his ideas are stupid and contribute to the misery of countless others and I'll leave it there.

jimf said...

> Classic Hollywood Villain

Come to think, he was himself one of the minor supporting
villains in _The Social Network_. ;->

That wasn't exactly a sci-fi movie, though.

Seth Mooney said...

"Thiel apparently bemoans what he calls a recent "deceleration in tech"'

perhaps to bolster in advance against the failure of the next '20 years to AI' prediction.

joe said...

"offshore libertopian pirate utopia on an oil platform or cruise ship"

I'd give it six months before it went all Lord of the flies..

Anyone who has played Bioshock knows what happenes when you put a group of Ayn Randian libertarians together and isolate them in a cut off from the rest of the world echo chamber...

Fun....but also death, lots and lots of death.

jimf said...

> As for Thiel's assertion. . . that we are now witnessing an
> historical inversion in which Californians are leaving its
> sclerotic tyranny to seek economic opportunities in Oklahoma. . .

Oklahoma! OK!

When we hit that road hell-for-leather
Cats and dogs will dance in the heather
Birds and frogs will sing all together and the toads will hop!
The wind'll whistle as we rattle along
The cows'll moo in the clover
The river will ripple out a whispered song
And whisper over and over
Don't you wish you'd go on forever
Don't you wish you'd go on forever
Don't you wish you'd go on forever
And you'd never stop?
In that shiny little surrey with the fringe on the top

Dale Carrico said...

Everything's up to date Kansas City,
They've gone about as fer as they can go.