Definition of technocracy
“Examines the impact of the ongoing technological revolution on the social and political values, institutions and directions of the U.S. and other industrial nations.”
“Brzezinski accurately predicted 21st century events in this book published in 1970. Shocking to think that he influenced the policies of both Carter and Obama which has led to our totalitarian US government here in the 21st century.”
Now that America’s financial power center has shifted from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, we need to ask ourselves, “What are the tech industry elite’s politics?” This question is important because, as we all know in America, money equals political power.
The disturbing answer is that there are some decidedly technocratic or even Leninist tendencies among members of the tech business elite. This does not mean that these people are Communists or anti-capitalists – far from it. Instead, they seem to share some of the values and visions that Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin espoused.
Lenin’s goal was to build a political system in which a highly-educated elite would utilize science and technology to create a utopia. History teaches us that Lenin’s system was a dismal failure; instead of super intelligent technocrats, it produced rule by gangsters, thugs, and brainless bureaucrats. It also led to the needless deaths of untold millions of people around the world.
What is truly frightening is that some of today’s Silicon Valley leaders seem to share some of Lenin’s visions. Like Lenin, they wish to use technology to radically transform the world, destroying traditional society and the status quo in the process. The end goal is something like the Communist utopia, where everybody is equally wealthy and all powerful and all distinctions between classes and people have been erased or made meaningless.
The Tech Elite’s Soviet Style Projects
This tendency is best exposed by the eerie similarity between some tech industry icons’ pet projects and some of the activities of the Soviet Union. A few examples of this include:
- The highlight, and possibly the only real achievement of the Soviet Union, was its space program. Both Elon Musk of Tesla, PayPal, Hyperloop and SpaceX fame and Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) have bankrolled companies building rockets, and Musk has even talked of traveling to Mars and building a colony there. Google cofounder Sergey Brin has also invested in a space travel company.
- Gigantic industrial projects. The Soviets wasted untold amounts of the Russian people’s money on massive industrial projects designed to transform their nation into a major power. There is a similar tendency in the tech industry, particularly with Elon Musk’s gargantuan Gigafactory (or battery plant) in Nevada. The gigafactory would be one of the largest buildings in America, and it would cost $5 billion to build.
- Transformation through electricity. Like many people in the early 20th century, Lenin was obsessed with electricity and felt its use could solve the world’s problems. A highlight of his first five-year plan, GOELRO, was supposed to provide electricity to Russia by building a series of massive hydroelectric projects. Musk has shown a similar obsession; his Gigafactory is supposed to produce enough batteries to store a gigawatt (one billion watts) of electricity. GOELRO was supposed to produce 48 billion kilowatts of electricity.
- Nuclear power. After World War II, the Soviets became obsessed with nuclear power. Fortune reported that a number of tech titans, including Jeff Bezos, PayPal alumni Peter Thiel, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, are bankrolling generation fusion research. Bill Gates is bankrolling the development of next generation nuclear fission reactors.
- Radically transformative next generation technologies. Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is the most visible of these. Two rival startups are working on it; one, Hyperloop Tech, is bankrolled by Silicon Valley investor Shervin Pishevar and headed by former Cisco president Roby Lloyd. Another, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, headed by crowdfunding entrepreneur Dick Ahlhorn, is even involved in a project to create a new city reminiscent of those in the Soviet Union at Quay Valley, Calif.
- New food sources. During the Cold War, Soviet scientists tried to end hunger by developing new sources of food, most notably, the algae Spirulina, which is still sold as a nutritional supplement or superfood online. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who is ironically enough a refugee from Soviet anti-Semitism, spent around $379,974 of his own money to create a hamburger grown in a test tube by genetic engineering, The Guardian reported.
Should we be Worried about Silicon Valley Leninism?
Naturally, people will wonder if we should be worried about this Leninist tendency in Silicon Valley. That’s hard to say because most of these projects could be beneficial; they have noble goals, and unlike Lenin’s Soviet utopia, they are not being created with violence or brute force. Instead, the Next Generation technocrats are investing their own money, which they certainly have a right to do in a free country like the United States.
The potential moral problem here is that these projects are expressions of a distinct philosophy and ideology that a great many people disagree with. Like the Communists, the New Technocrats believe that human beings can be perfected through science. They think that human beings could transcend their nature and become godlike through technology, a belief that traditional Christians, Moslems, and Jews would consider sacrilege.
On some level, the tech elite is trying to take America back to some of the ideals of the 20th century, those of the technocrats that created the 1960s space program. A few of their projects can be seen as attempts to undo the conservative shift in American society after the 1970s. Part of that shift was the curtailing of space exploration, while others included an end to centralized planning and transportation systems. It’s also no coincidence that the move away from space exploration came as Republicans became America’s dominant political party on the national level.
Opposition to some technologies, such as high-speed rail, actually seems to be part of the Republican Party’s political program. The GOP has also attempted to cut funding for a wide variety of scientific research. Even though the Republicans justify their opposition to research and rail with appeals to fiscal restraint, it is easy to discern an opposition to potentially socially or economically disruptive technologies in their policies.
This national technophobia is nothing new; it has been going for at least two generations. It could also form the basis for a nasty conflict between the Silicon Valley tech elite and Republicans and possibly conservatives, in general, at some point in the future, especially when we take a look at some of the intellectual roots of the ideas some of the tech elitists promote.
It Began in the 1960s: Star Trek vs. Eisenhower
Something that we tend to forget today is that there was a strong reaction against the space program and the Cold War military buildup in the United States after 1960.
Some critics of these developments, such as President and war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, the creator of the phrase military industrial complex, seemed to fear them as “creeping Leninism.” They were afraid that spending on technology would centralize power in the hands of big business or big government and undermine traditional society and democracy in the process.
Interestingly enough, some Americans, such as Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, seemed to favor such developments. Roddenberry’s widow, Magel Barrett, described her husband as a Communist and an admirer of the People’s Republic of China.
From the many episodes of Star Trek I’ve seen, it is safe to assume that Roddenberry believed that scientific progress would ultimately lead to a utopia in which technology would provide for the basic needs of all citizens, free of cost. He also believed that technology would one day make money and capitalism itself obsolete. It can also be inferred that Roddenberry also believed that technological progress would also make government, politics, and perhaps law obsolete.
It is probably not a coincidence that some well-known tech entrepreneurs, such as Jeff Bezos, are Star Trek fans. On some levels, Amazon, a company that famously does not make a profit, can be seen as an effort to create an alternative to the free market that will satisfy people’s material desires at the press of a button. The whole tech project can be seen as an effort to create a Star Trek-type utopia and restore the space-age values of the 1960s, or at least 1960s science fiction.
The problem with that is not everybody wants to go along with it. A common criticism raised by many commentators is that there is no democracy in Star Trek; in the society shown in the series, all political decisions are made by the military. Neither bureaucrats nor politicians seem to exist in Roddenberry’s version of the future, which should concern us.
Does Silicon Valley Believe in Democracy or Liberty?
This raises the whole question of democracy because Leninism, like most forms of technocracy, is inherently undemocratic. One of Lenin’s first acts after taking over as dictator during the Russian Revolution was to send armed thugs to break up the Duma, Russia’s elected legislature. His next act was to send the thugs out to smash up any newspaper that printed anything other than his Communist fantasies. Every Communist leader ever since has behaved in much the same way after taking power.
Most of the Silicon Valley technocrats seem to believe in Democracy; Brin and Larry Page at Google are among the few U.S. businesspeople to refuse to kow tow to the Chinese Communist Party to their credit. Yet one senses a disdain for average people and contempt for traditional beliefs among the technocrats. They seem to show absolutely no interest in traditional religion, for example. One has to wonder how long their respect for democracy will last if organized political opposition to their pet projects appears.
Would Bezos tolerate unionization of his mammoth fulfillment centers? Many of the most progressive tycoons in 19th and 20th century America, such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford, were violently opposed to unions. Both Ford and Carnegie hired armed thugs to attack striking workers. Even as they promoted policies that bordered on socialism in other aspects of their business and philanthropy, Carnegie built free libraries accessible to all citizens, while Ford paid his workers the highest wages he could.
How would the technocrats react if Congress tried to break up some of their companies or to regulate, ban, or limit the implementation of some of their new technologies? For example, if the government tried to ban robots or self-driving cars or censor the internet to remove adult content. Or if there was a widespread movement to ban technologies that some people find immoral, sinful, or threatening, such as genetic engineering, nuclear power, or artificial intelligence. What if the government attempts to restrict private space travel or development of rocketry?
How tolerant of traditional religion will they be if a popular preacher, or even the Pope, starts condemning technology as sinful or Satanic? Or if a popular religious movement opposed to technology appears? Would Facebook allow pages telling users to smash their smartphones? Would Google allow searches to turn up a webpage telling visitors they will go to hell if they do not smash their computers immediately?
These questions should concern us, given the control over the flow of information and the amount of money these companies have. Research scientists Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson even believe Google could have the power to influence the outcome of a Presidential election. As I’ve noted elsewhere, some of the tech companies are sitting on vast reserves of cash, which could decide the outcome of an election. Google alone had $69.78 billion in the bank on June 30, 2015.
The Elite Lenin only Dreamed of
I am not opposed to progress, but I have to wonder if allowing so much wealth and power to accumulate in the hands of a tiny minority, whose values and beliefs differ vastly from the majority, is a good development. It sounds like a perfect recipe for political conflict and possibly class warfare.
No politician has yet jumped on the anti-technology or anti-Silicon Valley bandwagon, but I imagine it is coming. There is already plenty of anti-technology talk among the intelligentsia that could quickly become the basis of an anti-tech political movement.
Even if the creations of Silicon Valley are beneficial, and by and large, I think almost all of them are, the tech elitists have certainly given potential critics on both the left and right plenty of ammunition with which to attack them. They are clearly trying to restructure our society without any sort of popular consensus or even sensitivity to traditional values or beliefs.
Can democracy survive in a nation and possibly a world where a few private individuals who are accountable to no one seem to have the means to shape progress and the future of society? Could the Silicon Valley tycoons become the scientific elite that Lenin only dreamed of and use their wealth and technology to force their values on the rest of us? These are questions we need to ask now if we want democracy and a free enterprise to survive.
CHINA’S dictatorship will introduce personal scorecards where citizens will be monitored 24/7 and ranked on behavior.
The Communist Party’s plan is for every one of its 1.4 billion citizens to be at the whim of a dystopian social credit system, and it’s on track to be fully operational by the year 2020.
An active pilot program has already seen millions of people each assigned a score out of 800 and either reap its benefits or suffer its consequences — depending on which end of the scale they sit.
Under the social credit scheme, points are lost and gained based on readings from a sophisticated network of 200 million surveillance cameras — a figure set to triple in 18 months.
The program has been enabled by rapid advances in facial recognition, body scanning and geo-tracking.
The data is combined with information collected from individuals’ government records — including medical and educational — along with their financial and internet browsing histories. Overall scores can go up and down in “real time” dependant on the person’s behaviour but they can also be affected by people they associate with.
“If your best friend or your dad says something negative about the government, you’ll lose points too,” the ABC reports.
The mandatory “social credit” system was first announced in 2014 in a bid to reinforce the notion that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful,” according to a government document.
In a Foreign Correspondent episode, to air on the ABC tonight, financial credit system Alipay, Tianjin general manager Jie Cong, summarised the system in black and white.
“If people keep their promises they can go anywhere in the world,” he said. “If people break their promises they won’t be able to move an inch!”
Under the system, those deemed to be “top citizens” are rewarded bonus points.
The benefits of being ranked on the higher end of the scale include waived deposits on hotels and rental cars, VIP treatment at airports, discounted loans, priority job applications and fast-tracking to the most prestigious universities.
Dandan, a young mother and marketing professional, is proud of her high score. If she keeps it up her infant son will be more likely to get into a top school.
“China likes to experiment in this creative way … I think people in every country want a stable and safe society,” she said.
“We need a social credit system. We hope we can help each other, love each other and help everyone to become prosperous.”
BOTTOM OF THE SCALE
But it doesn’t take much to end up on the wrong side of the scale with an estimated 10 million people are already paying the price of a low rating.
Jaywalking, late payments on bills or taxes, buying too much alcohol or speaking out against the government, each cost citizens points.
Other mooted punishable offences include spending too long playing video games, wasting money on frivolous purchases and posting on social media, according to Business Insider.
Penalties range from losing the right to travel by plane or train, social media account suspensions and being barred from government jobs.
Chinese journalist Liu Hu is one of millions who have already amassed a low social credit rating. Liu Hu was arrested, jailed and fined after he exposed official corruption.
“The government regards me as an enemy,” Liu Hu told the ABC.
He is now banned from travelling by plane or fast train. His social media accounts with millions of followers have been suspended. He struggles to find work.
“This kind of social control is against the tide of the world. The Chinese people’s eyes are blinded and their ears are blocked. They know little about the world and are living in an illusion.” Liu Hu said.
Seventeen people who refused to carry out military service were last year barred from enrolling in higher education, applying for high school, or continuing their studies, Beijing News reported.
Uighur poet and filmmaker, Tahir Hamut, who fled to the US, told the ABC that China’s surveillance system “suddenly ramped up after the end of 2016”.
“Since then, advanced surveillance technology which we’ve never seen, never experienced, never heard of, started appearing,” he said.
As facial recognition technology use generates intense scrutiny, a new system unveiled at Washington’s Dulles airport is being touted as a “user friendly” way to help ease congestion for air travelers.Officials at Dulles unveiled two new face recognition systems Thursday, one to meet legal requirements for biometric entry-exit records, and a second to help speed processing of travelers arriving on international flights by matching their real-time images with stored photos.
The growing use of facial recognition has ignited debate over surveillance and privacy around the world, but officials told media this system was a way to help reducing annoying lines and wait times without compromising security.
“The technology works,” US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters at an airport unveiling.
“It’s fast, it’s user-friendly, it’s flexible and it’s cost-effective. And we believe it will change the face of international travel.”
Over time, officials say the biometric recognition system will allow a traveler’s face to eliminate the need for a boarding pass.
“No more fumbling with your boarding pass when you have two carry-ons, maybe a kid, no more trying to find a QR code or trying the refresh your screen,” McAleenan said.
In one test for the system, McAleenan said the boarding 350 passengers for an Airbus A380 aircraft was completed in 20 minutes, or half the normal time.
At Dulles, officials showed how the new systems, operated with iPads mounted on poles, identified and matched the image of travelers during the boarding process.
Aiming for speed, security
The system is designed to boost security by ensuring that travelers are using their real passports and not forged documents, matching to existing photos from passports or images collected from foreign nationals when they enter.
The Dulles system began operations in mid-August, ahead of the media event, and within three days was credited with the arrest of a man attempting to use a fake passport to enter the United States.
The 26-year-old man traveling from Sao Paulo, Brazil sought to enter with a French passport but the facial comparison biometric system determined he was not a match to the passport he presented.
Officials claim the new systems are being developed only for the boarding and entry process and not being tied to other databases for law enforcement surveillance.
“We are not collecting or retaining any new data,” McAleenan said.
“We need to confirm that the party travelers are who they say they are.”
Dulles is one of 14 “early adopter airports” using facial recognition technology for the entry process.
McAleenan said that because the new system uses only its own images and passport photos, its accuracy rate is “99 percent.”
“We are not seeing significant difference across gender or race,” he added.
The CPB system was developed within the agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, with unspecified technology partners, according to McAleenan.
Privacy activists say there are few safeguards on facial recognition databases used and that the technology evokes fears of a “Big Brother” surveillance state, pointing to China, where law enforcement has been aggressively deploying these systems.
The American Civil Liberties Union has on numerous occasions opposed airport deployment of facial recognition, claiming problems with effectiveness and accuracy, among other things.
“We’ve seen these technologies spread from airports and now they are used in all kinds of venues, including in some high schools,” Stanley told AFP.
The world’s largest technology companies hold the keys to some of the largest databases on our planet. Much like goods and coins before it, data is becoming an important currency for the modern world. The data’s value is rooted in its applications to artificial intelligence. Whichever company owns the data, effectively owns AI. Right now that means companies like Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, IBM and Microsoft have a ton of power.
In an act of self-governance, these five companies came together today to announce the launch of the new Partnership on AI. The group is tasked with conducting research and promoting best practices. Practically, this means that the group of tech companies will come together frequently to discuss advancements in artificial intelligence. The group also opens up a formal structure for communication across company lines. It’s important to remember that on a day-to-day basis, these teams are in constant competition with each other to develop the best products and services powered by machine intelligence.
Financial support will be coming from the initial tech companies that are members of the group, but in the future, membership and involvement is expected to increase. User activists, nonprofits, ethicists and other stakeholders will be joining the discussion in the coming weeks.
“We want to involve people impacted by AI as well,” said Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder and head of applied AI at DeepMind, a subsidiary of Alphabet.
The organizational structure has been designed to allow non-corporate groups to have equal leadership side-by-side with large tech companies.
As of today’s launch, companies like Apple, Twitter, Intel and Baidu are missing from the group. Though Apple is said to be enthusiastic about the project, their absence is still notable because the company has fallen behind in artificial intelligence when compared to its rivals — many of which are part of this new group.
The new organization really seems to be about promoting change by example. Rather than preach to the tech world, it wants to use a standard open license to publish research on topics, including ethics, inclusivity and privacy.
“The power of AI is in the enterprise sector,” said Francesca Rossi, an AI ethics researcher at IBM Research. “For society at-large to get the benefits of AI, we first have to trust it.”
The focus of the organization is a refreshing juxtaposition to more pop-culture discussions about the risks of artificial intelligence. While the jury is still out as to whether a singularity event could threaten mankind, we already face a long list of challenges in today’s world of AI. While computers are not at a point yet where they can take all of our jobs, they can amplify the negative tendencies that humans already possess. A biased world can result in biased data sets and, in turn, bias artificial intelligence frameworks.
To combat this, companies like Microsoft have already formed AI ethics advisory boards. But, rather than override existing efforts, the new group augments projects already undertaken at individual companies and provides a forum for sharing valuable advice. The group plans to make discussions and minutes from meetings publicly available.