Sage Against The Machine: A Leading Google Critic On Why He Thinks The Era Of ‘Big Data’ Is Done; Why He Opposes POTUS Trump’s Talk Of Regulation; And, The Promise Of Blockchain
Tunku Varadarajan, a Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution recently sat down with polymath and prolific author, sage, George Gilder (78); and, he had a feature article in the weekend’s/Sept. 1/2, 2018, edition of the Wall Street Journal. I refer you to Mr. Vardarajan’s article for the full interview. “Mr. Gilder is one of a dwindling breed of polymath Americans who thrive in a society of intellectual silos,” Mr. Vardarajan eloquently wrote. “As academics know more and more, about less and less,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote, Mr. Gilder “opens brazenly on subjects whose range would keep several university faculties on their toes: marriage and family, money and economics, law and regulation, and the social role of technology, a subject that engrosses him at present, and the subject of his latest book, “Life After Google: The Fall Of Big Data, And The Rise Of The Blockchain Economy.”
“Mr. Gilder has published 20 books, the best known of which, “Wealth And Poverty,” (1981), sold more than a million copies, and made him rich,” Mr. Vardarajan notes. “It was an impassioned defense of the morality and compassion of the free market.” Former POTUS Ronald Reagan, “acknowledged that the book bolstered his confidence in supply-side economics; and, he was known to be particularly beguiled by its opening line, which reads: “The most important event in recent history of ideas — is the demise of the socialist dream.”
Mr. Vardarajan reminds us that “Mr. Gilder had a vast and avid following during the tech boom of the 1990s, when his Gilder Technology Report –– an idiosyncratic newsletter – shaped the investing habits of thousands around the world. [Wall Street] Analysts spoke of the Gilder Effect, which had investors rushing to buy stock in any new company mentioned in the Report. The newsletter effectively ended,” Mr. Gilder told Mr. Vardarajan, “in the months after the 2000 stock market crash, when I lost nearly all of my 106,000 subscribers.”
“Mr. Gilder, 78, is still immersed in the world of tech but, he doesn’t like all that he sees,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote. “Google makes him mad, as does Silicon Valley more broadly; and, his ire is directed at the “new catastrophe theory,” which holds that “artificial intelligence will make human minds obsolete, and we’ll soon produce machine-learning tools and robotics that exceed the capabilities of the human mind.” Mr. Gilder calls this attitude, “Google Marxism,” — a phrase he utters with a certain salivary distaste,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote, — “because Marx’s essential theme was that the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century had overcome all the challenges of production.” “From that point on,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote, “Marx held, “human beings would focus on redistributing wealth among the classes , rather than creating it.”
“Marx was convinced that the steam turbine, electrification, and what William Blake called “dark satanic mills” were a final stage in social evolution — “an eschaton,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote. “Mr. Gilder loves abstruse words, and this one, that signifies a kind of climax in human attainment, is a particular favorite.” “Google and Silicon Valley people also imagine that their artificial intelligence, their machine learning, their cloud computing, is an eschaton — ‘another end of history moment. And, its just preposterous,” Mr. Gilder said.
“In truth,” Mr. Gilder argues, “Google is at the “end of its paradigm,” “which he defines as “avoiding the challenge of security across the Internet, by giving away most of its products for free, and financing itself with an ingenious advertising strategy,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote. “Mr. Gilder also contends that Google believes capitalism is at an end — that “this winner-take- all universe,” as he puts it, “and the existing generation of capitalists, are the final capitalists. That’s their vision.” And, if you believe that “machines can re-create new machines in a steady cascade of greater capabilities that are beyond human comprehension and control, you really believe that’s the end of the human race.”
“Mr. Gilder rejects that premise,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote. “Machines can’t be minds,” Mr. Gilder argued. “Information theory shows that. Creativity always comes as a surprise to us. If it wasn’t surprising, we wouldn’t need it.” However useful they may be, “machines are not capable of creativity,” he said. “Human minds can generate counterfactuals, imaginative flights, dreams,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote. By contrast, “a surprise in a machine is a breakdown. You don’t want your machines to have a surprising outcomes!,” Mr. Gilder observed.
“The narrative of human obsolescence,” Mr. Gilder said, “is giving rise to a belief that the only way forward is to provide redundant citizens with some sort of “guaranteed national income,” which would mean the end of a [free] market economy:” “If everyone gets supported without any kind of growing up and facing the challenges of life, then our capitalist culture would collapse,” he said. Amen. “Mr. Gilder worries deeply about the state of capitalism in America,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote, and sadly, so do I. POTUS Trump’s “focus on the trade gap, irks him,” he added. “To the extent that the U.S. is the world’s leading capitalist power, and welcomes foreign investment, it can’t possibly run a trade surplus,” Mr. Gilder said. Mr. [POTUS] Trump “is a politician, and his chief goal is to communicate to the unions in the Midwest that he is on their side.” I do not agree that is POTUS Trump’s “chief goal,” but I digress. “Besides, it’s a lot easier to blame China than it is to really explain the widespread campaign in the colleges of this country to suppress manufacturing and industry in the United States.”
“America’s university system,” Mr. Gilder said, is “incredibly corrupt and ideological.” Spot on. “How did it come to be like that? Surely I [Mr. Vardarajan] observe, it wasn’t that way when he graduated from Harvard in 1962.” “It was beginning to get that way,” Mr. Gilder said. “The rise of affluence through the 1960s created this kind of amazing irresponsibility that resulted in an entire generation losing track of reality.”
“Although Mr. Gilder is a critic of Google, he disapproves of Mr. [POTUS] Trump’s [would anyone have written Mr. Obama, instead of POTUS Obama?] talk of regulating the search engine — a prospect the president [President recently] raised in a tweet, describing its results as “rigged” against him, and possibly illegal,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote.
“For all the gloom about Silicon Valley that appears to suffuse Mr. Gilder’s new book,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote, Mr. Gilder “insists he is no tech pessimist.” “I think technology has fabulous promise,” as he described blockchain and cryptocurrency as “a new technological revolution that is rising up as we speak.” Mr. Gilder said It has “generated a huge efflorescence of peer-to-peer technology and creativity, and new companies.” “The decline of initial public offerings in the U.S.,” Mr. Gilder added, has been “redressed already by the rise of the ICO, the initial coin offering,” which has raised some $12 billion for several thousand companies in the past year.” “This is no time,” Mr. Gilder said, “for American conservatives to advocate an expansion of the administrative state into social media, and social networks. If right-leaning content ranks low on Google, that shows that conservatives still have a long way to go, if they are to prevail in the opinion wars on social media. They cannot expect the government to do it for them.”
“It is clear,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote. “Mr. Gilder is smitten with what he calls, “this cryptographic revolution,” and believes that it will heal some of the damage to humanity that has been inflicted by the “machine obsessed” denizens of Silicon Valley. Blockchain “endows individuals with control of their data, their identity, the truths they want to assert, their transactions, their visions, their content, and their security.” Here, Mr. Gilder sounds less like a tech guru than a poet, and his words tumble out in a romantic cascade,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote.
With the cryptographic revolution, Mr. Gilder says “we’re now in charge of our own information. For the first time in history, really, you don’t have to prove who you are, before a transaction.” A blockchain allows users to be “anonymous if they wish, while also letting them keep a time-stamped record of all their previous transactions. It allows us to establish unimpeachable facts on the Internet.”
“That evokes trust in the Internet, “without having to trust or rely on Sergey Brin, Larry Page, or Mark Zuckerberg, or whoever the paladins of the new economy may be,” Mr. Vardarajan wrote. “In the age of the almighty machine, Mr. Gilder believes, this is a notable victory for mankind.”
What a fascinating read. Rich and interesting, with lots to think about. I do agree with Mr. Gilder that blockchain technology is at least one of the keys to the next step in the technological revolution which began some four decades ago, along with the invention of the Internet. Indeed, there are those who believe blockchain is the most important invention/development since the creation of the Internet. I tend to agree with the thought of less regulation and a light hand when it comes to these social media companies. I am a bit surprised that Mr. Vardarajan did not bring up the issue of breaking up the big social media companies. Something that was done to the railroads and later ‘Ma Bell.’ As of now, the big social media players are practicing infanticide when it comes to new, smaller companies attempting to break into this space. It is something that needs more debate and thought. And, it is refreshing to be reminded tha