The philosophy of Silicon Valley is shallow and self-servingby Thomas Meaney / April 24, 2013 / Leave a comment
The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen (John Murray, £25)
Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier (Allen Lane, £20)
To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov (Allen Lane, £20)
It’s 2075 and you’re lounging on the beach. You receive a message informing you that microscopic robots are ready to start applying your suncream. How would you like to pay? You can watch a two minute advert for a local casino or transfer some nano-payments you’ve collected from your blog. Now for some lunch. While you eat, you decide to watch a holographic replay of the 1936 Olympics games, seating yourself in the stands next to Adolf Hitler to watch Jesse Owens win gold. Your desires are automatically monitored by particles in the sand, which send a robot to massage your back. Feeling better? It’s another beautiful day in the late 21st century.
If this seems like a world you might like to inhabit, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen have plenty more to offer. The executive chairman of Google and the director of Google Ideas have crammed their new book with futurist techno-dazzle which, they assure us, is only a few clicks away. For Schmidt and Cohen, the genius of the internet is that it lacks any “top-down control.” “The largest experiment involving anarchy in history,” as they call it, will not only enrich nearly everyone’s lives but—barring a few disasters—usher in a golden age for individual citizens who have until now been at the mercy of their states.
Schmidt and Cohen are not the only ones positioning themselves as guides to our “new digital age.” This spring also sees the publication of two new books by writers more sceptical about the utopian promise of the internet, Jaron Lanier and Evgeny Morozov (of whom more later). A pioneer of virtual reality, and a promiscuous consultant in the digital industry, Lanier is now better known as a coast-to-coast tech guru, with millions of fans. He casts himself as a heroic dissenter from conventional Silicon Valley thinking, like that of Schmidt and Cohen. His main concern in Who Owns the Future? is that companies like Google and Facebook are responsible for the looming spectre of mass unemployment. In a world where so much manual labour—laundry, paperwork, policing, truck-driving—will soon be done by highly efficient robots, Lanier sees wealth ending up…