Can artificial intelligence give the tech industry a heart and save us from capitalism run amok?
Here's a thought: Silicon Valley is afraid of artificial intelligence not out of any sense of humanitarian good will. The tech giants fear AI because they know it's the only thing capable of preventing mega-corporations from owning the world. Award-winning science fiction writer Ted Chiang writes in a December 18, 2017, article on BuzzFeed that the tech industry will never rise above it's founding credo: unbridled capitalism, driven solely by the market.
Elon Musk and other tech titans envision super-intelligent AI as "a form of unchecked capitalism," according to Chiang, and they "have unconsciously created a devil in their own image, a boogeyman whose excesses are precisely their own." But Chiang envisions a different kind of AI, one imbued with ethics and built to be kind and friendly to humans. More importantly, Chiang calls for smart machines to be capable of insight, which would allow them to apply their innate ethics and human-friendliness to novel situations.
Any truly smart machine would figure out pretty quickly that the current corporate control over government is not in the best interest of 99.9 percent of the human population. Chiang goes even further, foreseeing individuals in the tech industry gaining insight from AI about the impact -- good and bad -- that their products have on everyone.
Think of it as a humanitarianism graft, applied to an entire industry via software. The tech giants won't be abandoning capitalism anytime soon, but one way or the other, they may be forced to "rethink the way they practice it."
Tech worship becomes tech loathing
The reputation of tech companies has taken a beating recently. Wired's Erin Griffith writes in a December 14, 2017, article that "tech workers are the world's villain.... The privilege that techies have enjoyed for years is starting to erode." Griffith accuses tech workers of being callous and fixated on the mistaken belief that they are changing the world for the better, so everybody else can go take a hike.
The cynical view, according to Griffith, is that techies don't need to take responsibility for the social costs of their creations because they "are too big to fail, too complicated to be parsed or regulated, and too integral to business, the economy, and day-to-day life." The tech industry will never become self-aware enough to have a self-motivated change of heart, she writes. The result of excesses by tech companies will be regulation, "be it antitrust, compliance, or transparency around advertising."
There is nothing else that would dissuade techies from forever "asking if it’s possible to do something, and not whether they should."
More tech billionaires turn against the companies that made them mega-rich
Among the growing chorus of technology critics are some famous techsters, who would appear to be biting the hands that engorged them. The Guardian's Julia Carrie Wong reports in a December 17, 2017, article that former Facebook executives Sean Parker (he of Napster fame) and Chamath Palihapitiya now bemoan the negative effects Facebook has on society. Wong quotes another former Facebook manager about the mood inside the company: "The fact that they helped [Trump] get elected does dog a lot of people.”
Facebook isn't the only internet giant to be criticized by its own. In a New York Times article, Twitter co-founder Ev Williams calls the role Twitter played in Trump's election "a very bad thing." Wong points out that when it comes to highlighting the damage done by social media and other internet services, the techies are late to the game.
Of course, most of the tech elite were in their 20s when they brought their Frankensteins out of the lab. Now that they're old enough to have children of their own, their Silicon Valley bubble has been popped. Wong writes that many techie parents send their children to tech-free schools, and Palihapitiya says he allows his own children "no screen time whatsoever."
Yet Alphabet, Google's parent company, provides elementary schools with Chromebooks so the company can collect data about the children and "captur[e] their attention." That's the same Google whose YouTube video service is "filled with inappropriate content that creates addiction in children far too young to resist,” according to another techie critic, Robert McNamee, who Wong identifies as "an early investor in Google and Facebook."
Hypocrisy so thick you can cut it with a solar-powered, 3D-printed industrial laser.
Don't bitch and moan, organize! (To paraphrase something union martyr Joe Hill almost said.) But if you are of a mind to get up, get out, and do something, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has created the Electronic Frontier Alliance, which the organization describes as "a grassroots network of community and campus organizations.... working to educate our neighbors about the importance of digital rights."
The five freedoms promoted by the alliance are Free Expression, Security, Privacy, Creativity, and Access to Knowledge.
This organizing thing may be catching on. Emilie M. Townes writes in a December 14, 2017, article on Common Dreams (originally published on BillMoyers.com) that two trends are evident from the recent U.S. Senate race in Alabama: one a "vexing sign of our times," and the other a possible "turning point."
The election highlighted our racial, educational, and economic divides, but it also showed interest in participating in the electoral process has been re-ignited. More people are becoming candidates for elected office, signing up as campaign volunteers, and most importantly, voting.
Organizing isn't limited to political campaigns. Union membership has declined from one-third of the private-sector workforce in 1960 to only 6.4 percent in 2016, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers cited by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa in a December 13, 2017, article on Business Insider. (Da Costa examines the impact decreased union membership has had on record-low salary growth despite an otherwise-healthy economy.)
Bucking the trend are charter school teachers, of all people. In an episode of the Have You Heard podcast on AlterNet, Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider interview Mihir Garud, who they describe as a leader of a union of charter school teachers in Chicago. Garud states that young teachers are particularly interested in unionizing because they believe "corporations and billionaires" have hijacked local school board races, which "takes away the collective power of people and the collective power of democracy."
How about some end-of-the-year privacy cleaning? Today I received two unsolicited phone calls and upteen thousand pieces of junk email, not to mention the two generic offers that came to us via U.S. mail. What better reminder that there's no time like the present to do a little opting out. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Information site makes it easy to find resources that stop unsolicited mail, phone calls, and email.
Toll-free phone numbers, mailing addresses, and links to web sites are provided for opting out of prescreened offers via consumer reporting agencies, direct marketers, even departments of motor vehicles, though you can't block DMVs from sharing your info with law enforcement, government agencies, insurance companies, and other private companies.
A Christmas gift from the Getty's. One of my three Twitter feeds is devoted to works of art. It follows dozens of museums around the world that often post pictures of art in their collections. It's relaxing to just browse through the feed, stopping at and enlarging whatever image catches my eye.
One of my favorite feeds is from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Now I've got another reason to like the oil magnate's legacy: Getty Publications offers the Virtual Library, a collection of more than 250 art books from its backlist catalog that can be perused and downloaded free of charge. Ilia Blinderman describes the Virtual Library in a post on Open Culture.
(This also gives me a chance to plug one of my favorite old-school sites, the Web Museum, which remains unchanged since its inception back in 1994 -- as far as I can tell, anyway. Bonus tip: I find it much easier to browse the artwork on the site via the Artist Index.)
That about wraps up another year of Weeklies, unless I get a burst of inspiration between now and New Year's Day. Considering my bursts of inspirations are generally spaced decades apart, I'd say the chances of that happening are about as good as the chances of the National Football League winning a humanitarian award.
Have a Merry Happy and a Prosperous Fruitfulness!