My Interview with Forbes Magazine [Part 2]
As I shared on Friday, I’ll be featuring an interview I did at Forbes with Rich Karlgaard.
If you missed part 1 of this series you can click here to catch up.
Keep scrolling to read part 2 in this series…
Q: One of your lifelong theories, which reaches back to your 1980s bestsellers Wealth and Poverty and The Spirit of Enterprise, is the role of the human spirit and human agency, something economists and governments don’t see or don’t want to acknowledge.
It’s the greatest of all forces. Think about what’s going on in the U.S. today, particularly in our university system. As Tyler Cowen describes in his book The Complacent Class, we’ve adopted a kind of ideology of cautionary principles and stationary states. He really puts his finger on it. We’re not living in an age of boldness and abundance, but in an age of retrenchment and shrinking horizons and careful rearrangements of existing resources. A lot of it is epitomized by this whole idea that unless human beings stop moving, the climate’s going to collapse on us.
The climate-change paralysis has been very destructive, not only to our national economy but particularly to Silicon Valley. Every time I find a company that’s doing everything right, I discover a peculiar feature of its technology that’s designed chiefly to stop it from emitting carbon dioxide. And that feature twists the technology into a pretzel, making it less useful and less promising. Take Google. It’s making an elaborate effort to render all of its massive data centers around the world “carbon-neutral.” They’re all linked up to various druidical Sunhenges of solar panels or quixotic kites or windmills. I mean, that’s some archaic way to produce energy!
I think we’re really in the middle of a loss of confidence, a loss of courage that is expressed and perpetrated by a massive expansion in regulations. This began in the Bush era, was vastly expanded during the Obama years, but has now been marginally retrenched. My hope is that the Trump retrenchment signals a truly new approach to the world and the human predicament.
Q: Well, I think that’s what Peter Thiel has been talking about in numerous interviews. He was born in 1967, so some of his earliest memories are of the Apollo moon landings, when the space program was going full-throttle. There are a handful of people, who, like Thiel and Elon Musk, were influenced by the big physical projects NASA’s space program represented. Against those, social media looks trivial.
Yes, I think Elon Musk is a tremendous entrepreneur, yet he’s a quite retarded thinker.
Q: Do explain!
I call him the Elmer Gantry of Silicon Valley. He’s a wonderful entrepreneur, but when he starts pretending that he’s an ethical visionary, that human life is just a simulation in a smarter species’ game…. I mean, those guys make some calculation based on false assumptions about life in outer space. Then they assume — because, as we all know, technology’s “inevitable” — that technology must produce vastly more sophisticated simulation systems in other universes that actually encompass our own universe. Thus, they’ve just reduced us to entities in an alien algorithm.
Q: That’s a pretty demoralizing view of life.
It’s really nuts. It’s clinically crazy. But I hear lots of otherwise brilliant people talk in these terms. I think it’s a Silicon Valley dementia that’s going on, which probably results from a religious collapse. I think G.K. Chesterton put it very well: When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they start believing in anything. Such as, we’re part of a computer simulation, or that there are infinite numbers of multiple parallel universes, or that a planet, which has endured orders of magnitude greater amounts of carbon dioxide through eons of geologic history (producing photosynthesis in the process), will suddenly founder on an increase of .003 to .004 of a percent. You know, those bizarre, speculative fantasies that you hear very solemn, professorial figures espouse. It’s an amazing phenomenon of our time.
Silicon Valley should stop trying to obsolete human beings and figure out how to make them more productive again.
Q: Today’s Silicon Valley, I think, is a throwback to the Progressive era of the early 20th century. The idea that grass-roots capitalism is dead, and that the smartest people should run society along scientific management principles. Life organized as a Frederick Taylor factory.
I think you’re right. A lot of people have an incredible longing to reduce human intelligence to some measurable crystallization that can be grasped, calculated, projected and mechanized. I think this is a different dimension of the kind of Silicon Valley delusion that I describe in my upcoming book.
Q: Having lived my adult life in Silicon Valley, I think today’s dirty secret is a kind of nerd fascism, wherein it’s thought that only the highest IQs have legitimacy.
I’ve argued with Charles Murray on this point. Murray is a wonderful figure and a terrific libertarian, but he does have a kind of fetish for IQ tests. He really believes they measure something definitive, discrete and reliable. But I’m as skeptical of that idea as you are.
Q: The highest IQ people have a tendency to want to reduce everything to algorithms and predictability, but in doing so, they cut out the surprise. Yet all great discovery and innovation, by definition, comes as a surprise.
Yes, they’re destroying information rather than expanding it. If something’s determinist, it can’t generate information. As Claude Shannon showed, information is the unexpected bits, the bits that can’t be directly calculated from the database.
Q: If the US is shooting itself in the foot with bad regulatory and monetary policy, which countries are getting it right?
Israel — in many important fields. It’s the leader in cryptography, which is the basis of an emerging distributed computer architecture. And, although China has reactionary politics, it is becoming incredibly technologically creative, producing all sorts of interesting new technologies and projects. This is why I think capitalism is probably more important than democracy, at least in the short run. A democratic republic is critical to maintaining a ground state that doesn’t get completely manipulated by one government or another. But capitalism really provides the avenues of freedom and creativity that can carry the human race forward, even in the face of obtuse tyrannies among the politicians.
Q: Since your next book is titled Life After Google, are we to assume that Google and the current big tech leaders are at their peak?
Yes. The Google paradigm of massive data centers and artificial intelligence determinism will be transcended in the next era. We’ll leave behind the big tech view that human progress springs from some inexorable Darwinian model that allows the big winners to take all, and then project themselves into outer space. Determinist materialism is contrary to the deepest insights of 20th-century mathematics and philosophy that sprang from Kurt Gödel and his incompleteness principle, as well as John von Neumann’s oracular computer model and Alan Turing’s further findings of incomputability. All of these technologies themselves refute the very determinism that Silicon Valley seems to return to in its concepts of what intelligence is.
Stay tuned for the last bit of this interview in tomorrow’s Daily Prophecy.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy