aNewDomain — We live in a winner-take-all economy. And we have a winner-take-all future ahead of us all that will allow a few companies and entrepreneurs to shape the next stage of our lives.
Here’s a dystopian vision of the future based on the way things seem to be going right now. And this is why tech companies scare me:
In the future, Google could hold your DNA and lord over it all. Sergey Brin’s wife owns 23andMe right now. It isn’t so hard to imagine. And Google could track your home with Nest and make sure it knows where you are going and why because it is driving you around in its driverless cars. Meanwhile, Facebook will organize, inform and alter your social life and news input. It will track what you buy, who you buy it from and what your politics are based on what you read and who you talk to. Microsoft will provide technology that quickly and accurately understands almost everything you say, overcoming the language barrier, while Apple’s Siri will store your personal preferences and provide a near-infinite web of connections that answer almost any query you might have.
And Oculus, the VR pioneer, will provide you with any alternate reality you may need.
Yes, it is a dystopian view of the future. But all these titans have their own developmental labs — and the money to buy whatever tech tools they need to dominate whatever sector they set eyes on. The real money goes to the companies who manage what people do and how they live. Won’t they want a piece of it?
So it’s winner-take-all, buy-all, for an all encompassing vision of the future way of life.
And this is a good thing?
This is why tech companies scare me sometimes.
A Corporate Future
Yuval Harari wrote a book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” that discusses the impending cyborg future. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recommended “Sapiens” to his 38 million friends on Facebook. The Guardian reports:
Only now, the decisions are being taken by ‘a small international caste of business people, entrepreneurs and engineers.’ Governments have become ‘managers,’ he says. They have no vision, ‘whereas meet the people in Google, in Facebook, they have tremendous visions about the future, about overcoming death, living for ever, merging humans with computers. I do find it worrying that the basis of the future, not only of humankind, the future of life, is now in the hands of a very small group of entrepreneurs.’”
So are these companies our “frenemies?” Or is the issue a lack of diversity in those making sweeping societal change?
Before you answer, consider that, according to Privco, “overall spending on tech acquisitions topped $170 billion in 2014, up 54 percent from the previous year.”
That signifies a reduction in the number of independent thinkers and innovators who try to figure out how to progress humanity in creative, non corporate ways.
Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak said this in The Washington Post:
Will we be the gods? Will we be the family pets? Or will we be ants that get stepped on? I don’t know about that … But when I got that thinking in my head about if I’m going to be treated in the future as a pet to these smart machines … well I’m going to treat my own pet dog really nice.”
Pundits have long warned us about another danger, too — the danger implicit in technology we build with artificial intelligence. From popular culture writers all the way up to physicist Stephen Hawking, they’re worried that fewer people are involved in the development of ethics for artificial intelligence than those creating the technology itself. Seems like a pretty fair concern.
And forget about sentient robots for a second. What about the growing move among major tech companies to not change how technology works for society but also how society works period? Who will create the ground rules for this new reality?
And who will enforce them?
If you build a tech empire that invades all your life activities, can you still do no evil?
For aNewDomain, I’m David Michaelis.
Images in order: Mobile Futures by NYC Media Lab via Flickr; Oculus Rift by Sergey Galyonkin via Flickr; Screenshot by David Michaelis courtesy Nest