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Colonies on Mars? Floating cities? Silicon Valley Tycoons Design a (Bespoke) Future, by Michele Catanzaro

  • Billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos set out to colonize space and the oceans

  • Experts warn of the risks and inequalities involved in privatizing the next world

Silicon Valley gurus have become increasingly megalomaniacal. Characters like Elon Musk – Tesla boss – or Jeff Bezos –From Amazon– they prophesy a future with ultra-fast trains, cyborg bodies, skies crossed by thousands of drones and colonies on Mars. They make hyperbolic promises about sectors traditionally led by the state: space, transport and health. And some of them end up being fulfilled.

Musk’s Space X company has taken off private space rockets. Both Musk and Bezos are filling the sky with dozens of microsatellites (to the despair of astronomers). Driverless cars and frictionless trains They are in the prototype phase. And Uber, founded by Travis KalanickHe even plans helipads for flying taxis.

Ultra-fast trains, cyborgs and colonies on Mars are some hyperbolic promises in sectors traditionally led by the state.

This quick check-up raises a handful of questions, to say the least, pertinent: Is the futuristic obsession of tech millionaires an eccentricity or does it hide a plan? Is it short-term advertising or is it really meant to control the future?

New mindset

“Utopian thinking is a constant in the history of computing, but now there are people so rich that they might want to turn those utopias into reality,” he observes. Mark Christians, Director of the Initiative for the Digital Society of the University of Zurich (Switzerland). “The improvement of computers has been incredible and there is empirical evidence that things can move very quickly at the technological level – he continues -. However, the behavior of people and the social world do not follow the same dynamics.”

However, there is something new in the mindset of the latest generation of billionaires. The former sought to transcend its business through philanthropic projects. For example, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) of George Soros tries to spread liberal ideas around the world and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tries to improve global health. But the last batch has abandoned the humanistic dimension. “Their approach is to embrace science and technology as a religion,” he observes. Josep Domingo Ferrer, Researcher in Computer Science at the Rovira i Virgili University.

“His approach is to adopt science and technology as a religion”, according to Josep Domingo Ferrer, researcher at the Rovira i Virgili

This rhetoric is not without its short-term motivations. “When Mark Zuckerberg –Founder and president of Facebook– talks about the benefits of connectivity for education and health, he is looking for benefits for his company “, he observes Storm Cancela, author of the book ‘Awakening of the technological dream. Chronicle on the defeat of democracy against capital ‘(Akal).

Not just advertising strategy

The pumps that Elon Musk Launches on Twitter have documented effects on the cryptocurrency markets, in which the tycoon himself invests. “One strategy of these companies is to make statements that attract attention and get reputations for their products,” he explains. Cancel.

“To attract investment, they make excessive promises. Once the money arrives, something different takes place – he relates Andrea Signorelli, Italian journalist expert in artificial intelligence. They can present a rocket claiming that it will go to Mars; We know that it will not get there, but it is still useful for reaching the International Space Station or for space tourism. “

However, behind the futuristic rhetoric of Silicon Valley there is much more than a ‘marketing’ strategy. “A very powerful element is the idea that private company replaces to the traditionally public sectors“observes Signorelli. That fits with rising political trends in the United States, such as libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism, which advocate a miniaturized state and wide sleeves to extreme individualism.

“A powerful element is the idea that private companies replace traditionally public sectors,” says artificial intelligence expert Andrea Signorelli

“They are easy ideologies to assume for individuals who are more powerful than many states,” he reflects. Domingo Ferrer. This Rovira i Virgili researcher recalls a conversation with an artificial intelligence leader who argued that a machine could make better decisions than those of the political class.

Noah’s arks for the rich

Access to space is the activity where the effort to replace the State is most evident. However, the same logic is being applied to more earthly areas, such as transport, coveted by services such as Uber; health, digitized by means of bracelets and other sensors; and even education, dominated by private platforms in its digital segment, as the pandemic has shown.

“Before it was tried to influence regulators; now, to create a vision of the world in which the market solves all problems with technology”

Long ago, lobbyists tried to influence regulators by sitting on advisory boards. “Now they want to shape the sociotechnical imaginary: to create a vision of the world in which the market solves problems hand in hand with a technology that will lead us towards a wonderful future,” he says. Andrea Saltelli, researcher in Ethics of Quantification at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

“There are very clear advantages in leaving space for private initiative. The problem is that while the public initiative has to provide broad and equal services, in the private sector, efficiency can be increased at the cost of equality,” he clarifies Signorelli.

“It is the speech of a privileged aristocracy that seeks to save itself”, observes Gemma Galdón, director of Ethics Research & Consulting

In fact, what all these techno-futurist narratives have in common is inequality. Future wonders, from body enhancement prosthetics to a plaza in a Martian colony, are only meant for those who can afford it. “All the value is linked to creating Noah’s coffers for the rich. It is the speech of a privileged aristocracy that seeks to save itself,” he observes. Gemma Galdon, director of Ethics Research & Consulting.

Another common feature of the imaginations of computer gurus is ‘technological solutionism’: in them, salvation comes exclusively from technology. “Silicon Valley transhumanism considers that we have a moral obligation to use technology to improve,” explains the philosopher. Judith Membrives, researcher at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. Membrives refers to ideologues as Nick Broston, founder of the Humanity + association.

Geniuses and data

“They are people who only respect science and technology, who have elevated them,” he says. Domingo Ferrer. “These are people who spend a lot of time in front of a computer and have very little free time: this is why they become convinced that machines will replace humans,” he adds Cancel. “His vision of humanity is that it is divided between a few engineering geniuses, and the rest only serve to provide data,” he agrees. David Casacuberta, philosopher of the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

“His vision of humanity is divided between a few engineering geniuses and those who only serve to provide data,” says philosopher David Casacuberta

Big egos hide behind certain megalomaniacal projects. “Our society has positioned millionaires as sources of knowledge. Gates lectures us on education. Musk, on how to rescue some children from a cave. We are depositing in them the mystique and magic that we attribute to technology. They are the magicians, the ones who handle this fantastic thing that we cannot understand, “says Galdón.

The life of a classic millionaire is narrow to this handful of individuals who accumulate a almost unlimited power, according to Domingo. “The millionaires were looking for a certain aura of secular sanctity, with their charitable works. They seek to go down in history as Alexander the Great O Julius Caesar. They do not seek to acquire a moral stature, but to be someone who makes great works that remain forever “, reflects the researcher from La Rovira i Virgili.

“Soros and Gates have a Christian footprint. Musk and Bezos seem to be inspired by pre-Christian models,” says Domingo Ferrer

“Soros and Gates have a Christian footprint. Musk and Bezos seem to be inspired by pre-Christian models,” he adds. Furthermore, he sums up, while historical leaders used to head states, the new generation intends to do without them. “They are Alexandros without a State.”

The role of public investment

However, the success of the Silicon Valley giants would be inconceivable without a powerful government behind it like the United States and its public investment. For example, Google algorithms or Apple technology grew out of university or military research, and Space X could not survive without a public client: NASA.

Chinese score

In fact, American anarcho-capitalist utopias seem to mirror those promoted by an all-pervading state: China. It is there that experiments are being carried out on the elimination of physical money or massive scoring of citizens’ civility. China sells technologies that make life easier for dictators and appears to present fewer ethical barriers to technology. “In essence, I do not see a big difference: there the score of the citizens is open, while in the United States it is secret”, comments the consultant Gemma Galdon.

Data protection regulation in Europe has breached a business model that seemed unshakable

Europe has the opportunity to envision a different technological future. Its data protection regulation (GDPR) has breached a business model that seemed unshakable. “Europe has opened a space, but it has been inhibited and continues to pursue the dream of Silicon Valley,” warns Galdón.

Innovation open to social debate

“It may not be desirable to slow down innovation, but you can work to make it more equitable,” says Signorelli, who believes that fiscal and labor policies applied to technologies are essential. Furthermore, it is committed to platform cooperativism –for example, applications owned by taxi drivers or booksellers– as a fairer model.

“These narratives exclude others related to living in another economic model”, highlights the philosopher Judith Membrives

“Normally, you get to regulate technology when it has already created problems,” he observes. Monica di Fiore, researcher at the Institute of Cognition Sciences and Technologies (Italy). “Innovation and technology are positive, but it would be important that their planning was not exclusively in the hands of experts, but open to social debate and cultural diversity,” he adds.

Brake on other utopias

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Silicon Valley narratives “limit the imagination of other futuribles,” he warns Membrives. “With these stories we are creating a global vision that has no connection with other worldviews. For example, they exclude imaginations related to living in another economic model,” he says. In his view, there is an attempt to try to close any alternative horizon. “If you debate about whether the future is going to be controlled by machines, it doesn’t allow you to debate about which sectors have to be mediated by technology or not,” agrees Cancela.

Nobody disputes that technology is essential to solve our problems. But it is embedded in a system of values ​​and social uses. “Technology is much more than devices, but the Silicon Valley utopians don’t understand it,” he says. Mark Christians from Zurich–. Hence, they think that to solve climate change it is enough to build an improved train. In reality, we need a much broader technology than those millionaires have in mind. “

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