from Medium Website
The Wealthy are Plotting
to Leave Everybody else Behind...
It was by far the largest
fee I had ever been offered for a talk - about half my annual
professor's salary - all to deliver some insight on the subject of
"the future of technology."
The QA sessions always end up more like parlor games, where I'm asked to opine on the latest technology buzzwords as if they were ticker symbols for potential investments:
The audiences are rarely interested in learning about these technologies or their potential impacts beyond the binary choice of whether or not to invest in them.
But money talks, so I took the gig.
But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me:
After a bit of small
talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had
prepared about the future of technology. They had come with
questions of their own.
Slowly but surely, however, they edged into their real topics of concern.
Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked,
For all their wealth and power,
they don't believe
they can affect
That was their euphemism for the,
This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour.
They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs.
The billionaires considered,
That's when it hit me:
Taking their cue from,
They were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with 'making the world a better place' than it did with 'transcending the human condition altogether' and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of,
For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape...!
There's nothing wrong with madly optimistic appraisals of how technology might benefit human society.
But the current drive for a post-human utopia is something else. It's less a vision for the wholesale migration of humanity to a new a state of being than a quest to transcend all that is human:
It's a reduction of human evolution to a video game that someone wins by finding the escape hatch and then letting a few of his BFFs come along for the ride.
Will it be Musk, Bezos, Thiel… Zuckerberg?
These billionaires are the presumptive
winners of the digital economy - the same survival-of-the-fittest
business landscape that's fueling most of this speculation to begin
There was a brief moment, in the early 1990s, when the digital future felt open-ended and up for our invention. Technology was becoming a playground for the counterculture, who saw in it the opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future.
But established business interests only saw new potentials for the same old extraction, and too many technologists were seduced by unicorn IPOs.
Digital futures became understood more like stock futures or cotton futures - something to predict and make bets on. So nearly every speech, article, study, documentary, or white paper was seen as relevant only insofar as it pointed to a ticker symbol.
The future became
less a thing we create through our present-day choices or hopes for
humankind than a predestined scenario we bet on with our venture
capital but arrive at passively.
Worse, as I learned, to call attention to any of this was to unintentionally cast oneself as an enemy of the market or an anti-technology curmudgeon.
So instead of considering the practical ethics of impoverishing and exploiting the many in the name of the few, most academics, journalists, and science-fiction writers instead considered much more abstract and fanciful conundrums:
Asking these sorts of questions, while philosophically entertaining, is a poor substitute for wrestling with the real moral quandaries associated with unbridled technological development in the name of corporate capitalism.
Digital platforms have turned an already exploitative and extractive marketplace (think Walmart) into an even more dehumanizing successor (think Amazon).
Most of us became aware of these downsides in the form of
automated jobs, the gig economy, and the demise of local retail.
less a thing we create
through our present-day
choices or hopes for humankind
than a predestined scenario
we bet on with our venture capital
but arrive at passively.
The manufacture of some of our computers and smartphones still uses networks of slave labor. These practices are so deeply entrenched that a company called Fairphone, founded from the ground up to make and market ethical phones, learned it was impossible. (The company's founder now sadly refers to their products as "fairer" phones.)
mining of rare earth metals and disposal of our highly digital
technologies destroys human habitats, replacing them with toxic
waste dumps, which are then picked over by peasant children and
their families, who sell usable materials back to the manufacturers.
If anything, the longer we ignore the social, economic, and environmental repercussions, the more of a problem they become.
This, in turn,
motivates even more withdrawal, more isolationism and apocalyptic
fantasy - and more desperately concocted technologies and business
plans. The cycle feeds itself...
The very essence of what it means to be human is treated less as a feature than bug. No matter their embedded biases, technologies are declared neutral. Any bad behaviors they induce in us are just a reflection of our own corrupted core. It's as if some innate human savagery is to blame for our troubles.
Just as the
inefficiency of a local taxi market can be "solved" with an app that
bankrupts human drivers, the vexing inconsistencies of the human
psyche can be corrected with a digital or genetic upgrade.
Like members of a
gnostic cult, we long to enter the next transcendent phase of our
development, shedding our bodies and leaving them behind, along with
our sins and troubles.
Heck, even the
robots in that show want to escape the confines of their bodies and
spend their rest of their lives in a computer simulation.
what it means to be human
is treated less as
feature than bug.
Let's either change them or get away from them, forever...
And if a few people
do reach escape velocity and somehow survive in a bubble on Mars -
despite our inability to maintain such a bubble even here on Earth
in either of two multibillion-dollar Biosphere trials - the result
will be less a continuation of the human diaspora than a lifeboat
for the elite.
They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family.
And the more they can expand this ethos of inclusivity to the rest of their business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution, the less chance there will be of an "event" in the first place.
technological wizardry could be applied toward less romantic but
entirely more collective interests right now.
They are simply
accepting the darkest of all scenarios and then bringing whatever
money and technology they can employ to insulate themselves -
especially if they can't get a seat on the rocket to Mars.
We don't have to use technology in such antisocial, atomizing ways...
We can become the
individual consumers and profiles that our devices and platforms
want us to be, or we can remember that the truly evolved human
doesn't go it alone.
is not about individual survival or escape.
It's a team sport.
Whatever future humans have,
it will be together...
"Survival of the Richest"
Researcher Douglas Rushkoff
by Medium Playback
how to survive environmental collapse.
But what they really wanted to know
was how to transcend the human world
they look down upon...
Despite his misgivings
about offering investment advice to incurious rich people, he went:
The speaker's fee was roughly half his annual professor's salary.
On the face of it, they wanted Douglas's advice on how to escape environmental collapse.
But soon they began asking questions like,
Douglas realized that these one-percenters just shy of the .01 percent really sought an escape - and reliable protection from - human beings.
To these billionaires, regular humans are the enemy: inferior, particularly in their unpredictability and insubordination, to robots and machines. So naturally, Douglas's advice to focus on a humanist approach to apocalypse fell on deaf ears.
These investors don't want to invest in community and environment; they want to invest in themselves - in their own power and domination.
This begs the question:
Listen to Douglas read his argument (3:00) - plus recordings from a technologist who learned that "fair" products are almost impossible to make - and then chat with host Manoush Zomorodi (16:20).
The two get into
Douglas's self-described positioning as "the technology world's old
country doctor," why preparation is the same as prevention as far as
apocalypse goes, how many tech-evangelist billionaires don't
actually know history and digital technology's relationship with