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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Yearning Annex: Google Commits Millions for Robot Cult Indoctrination in Plutocratic Venture-Capitalist Dystopia

Also posted at the World Future Society.
Their prose was all purple, there were VCs running everywhere, tryin' to profit from destruction, you know we didn't even care.
via Singularity Hub (h/t David Golumbia):
Google, a long-time supporter of Singularity University (SU), has agreed to a two-year, $3 million contribution to SU's flagship Graduate Studies Program (GSP). Google will become the program's title sponsor and ensure all successful direct applicants get the chance to attend free of charge. Held every summer, the GSP's driving goal is to positively impact the lives of a billion people in the next decade using exponential technologies. Participants spend a fast-paced ten weeks learning all they need to know for the final exam—a chance to develop and then pitch a world-changing business plan to a packed house.
"Exponential technologies" is a short hand for the false and facile narrative superlative futurologists spun from Moore's Law -- the observation in 1965 (the year I was born) that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit had been roughly doubling every two years, and the paraphrase of that observation into a law-like generalization that chip performance more or less doubles every two years -- into the faith-based proclamation that this processing power will inevitably eventuate in artificial intelligence, and soon thereafter a history shattering super-intelligence that will control self-replicating programmable nanoscale robots that will provide a magical superabundance on the cheap and deliver near immortality through prosthetic medical enhancement and the digital uploading of "informational soul-selves" into imperishable online paradises.

The arrival of superintelligent artificial intelligence is denominated "the Singularity" by these futurologists, a term drawn from the science fiction of Vernor Vinge, as are the general contours of this techno-transcendental narrative, taken up most famously by one-time inventor and now futurological "Thought Leader" Ray Kurzweil and a coterie of so-called tech multimillionaires like Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Jaan Tallinn all looking to rationalize their good fortune in the irrational exuberance of the tech boom and secure their self-declared destinies as protagonists of post-human history by proselytizing and investing in transhumanist/singularitarian eugenic/digitopian ideology across the neoliberal institutional landscape at MIT, Stanford, Oxford, Google, and so on.

That most of these figures are skim-and-scam artists with little sense and too much money on their hands goes without saying as does the obvious legibility of their "technoscientific" triumphalism as a conventional marketing strategy for commercial crap (get rich quick! anti-aging! sexy-sexy!) but amplified into a scarcely stealthed fulminating faith re-enacting the theological terms of an omni-predicated godhead delivering True Believers eternal life in absolute bliss with perfect knowledge. Not to put too fine a point it, the serially-failed program of AI doesn't become more plausible by slapping "super" in front of the AI, especially when the same sociopathic body-loathing digi-spiritualizing assumptions remain in force among its adherents; exponential processing power checked by comparable ballooning kruft is on a road to nowhere like transcendence; and since a picture of you isn't you and cyberspace is buggy and noisy and brittle hoping to live there forever as an information spirit is pretty damned stupid even if you call yourself a soopergenius.

Since the super-intelligent and nanotechnological magicks on which techno-transcendentalists pin their real hopes are not remotely in evidence, these futurologists tend to hype the media and computational devices of the day, celebrating algorithmic mediation and Big Data framing and kludgy gaming virtualities like Oculus Rift and surveillance media like the failed Google Glass and venture capitalist "disruption" like airbnb and uber. That this is the world of hyping toxic wage-slave manufactured landfill-destined consumer crap and reactionary plutocratic wealth concentration via the looting and deregulation of public and common goods coupled with ever-amplifying targeted marketing harassment and corporate-military surveillance should give the reader some pause when contemplating the significance of declarations like "GSP's driving goal is to positively impact the lives of a billion people in the next decade using exponential technologies."

The press release suavely reassures us that "Google is, of course, no stranger to moon shot thinking and the value of world-shaking projects." I think it is enormously important to pause and think a bit about what that "of course" is drawing on and standing for. It should be noted what "moon shot thinking" amounts to in a world that hasn't witnessed a moonshot in generations. There are questions to ask, after all, about Google's "world-shaking projects" advertorially curating all available knowledge in the service of parochial profit-taking, all the while handwaving about vaporware like immortality meds and driverless car-culture and geo-engineering greenwash. There are questions to ask about the techno-utopian future brought about by a "grad school" at a "university" for which "the final exam" is "a chance to develop and then pitch a world-changing business plan to a packed house." I will leave delineating the dreary dystopian details to the reader.

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