Monday, 11 September 2017


Aren’t we currently like sheep sleepwalking uncomplainingly into an apocalyptic abattoir? It wasn’t just Brexit, Syria and North Korea that made me ask this. It was a two part BBC2 documentary programme called “The Secrets of Silicon Valley.”

In it Alan Kay, a onetime famous American Computer Scientist, was quoted:

“To predict the future we shall have to invent it”

But who are “we”? Not me for sure. On the basis of these documentaries by Jamie Bartlett the “we” are a pretty nasty bunch of people. I’m not sure that I want to have lunch with any of them,  nor have them meet my nearest and dearest. The world they want in the name of their presumed, unstoppable progress is dystopian. Yet when they’re challenged they just get angry. The angriest of those interviewed was Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, described by Fast Company as “the world’s most powerful start-up incubator”.

Companies they’ve favoured with support and investment include Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit. But as I listened to Sam talking to Jamie Harding, British tech writer and journalist, my skin froze. Even to question the consequences of the tech revolution led to being called a “progress denier” and opponent of what ordinary people want. Apparently we all want to be extracted from our work and paid a basic wage for doing nothing because, if you leave it to Sam, there’ll be no work, as we know it, for anyone to do.

Have I been tough on poor Sam? Line him up with the others on my list of “wrong ‘uns”. The late Steve Jobs (founder of Apple), Travis Kalanick (founder of Uber), Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook), Steve Bezos (founder of Amazon), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google) and a Policy Head of Airbnb Chris Lehane (below) who gloried by the title “the Master of Disaster” when he worked for Bill Clinton.

These are self-styled “masters of the universe”, above the law (in their own minds and increasingly in ours). They claim to be different from the big, bad, old oil, pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies and the banks. They claim they are intent on making this world better and fairer. But the Guardian, although impressed by the TV documentary, asks this question:

“Are these “idealists” good guys who are challenging the old order or are they really tax-minimising corporations that threaten our future?”

How about the latter?

Google are facing a €2.4 billion EU fine for abusing their dominance as search engine owners giving illegal advantage to their own comparison-shopping service. All the US tech giants and others like Starbucks are alleged to owe a potential further €70 billion in extra-tax in the EU. In their own backyard, Santa Clara County, there’s a $60 billion rates tax-dispute with the tech giants.

Well I’m not sure that I want this modern Mafia inventing our future and shaping our world. We can do better than that.

In the end just being clever with algorithms isn’t enough.

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