Sunday, April 13, 2014

Technologists Mad About the Future, or Just Mad?

Bryan Appleyard delivers a hard-hitting critique of technooptimism the New Statesman, reaching back to the 1950s and tracing the madness up through Google's Larry Page and Ray Kurzweil who Google hired as a resident futurologist of sorts.

The reality, as the revelations of the National Security Agency’s near-universal surveillance show, is that technology is just as likely to unleash hell as any other human enterprise. But the primary Ted faith is that the future is good simply because it is the future; not being the present or the past is seen as an intrinsic virtue. 
Bratton, when I spoke to him, described some of the futures on offer as “anthrocidal” – indeed, Kurzweil’s singularity is often celebrated as the start of a “post-human” future. We are the only species that actively pursues and celebrates the possibility of its own extinction.
Bratton was also very clear about the religiosity that lies behind Tedspeak. “The eschatological theme within all this is deep within the American discourse, a positive and negative eschatology,” he said. “There are a lot of right-wing Christians who are obsessed with the Mark of the Beast. It’s all about the Antichrist . . . Maybe it’s more of a California thing – this messianic articulation of the future is deep within my culture, so maybe it is not so unusual to me.”
Appleyeard's essay echoes of Evgeny Morozov's critique of irrational exuberance among the digiterati and is refreshing, even when it oversimplifies like in its critique of TED. Technology is always a two-edged sword, and so is TED. We love it for the global learning and debate it made possible, but we fear its potential to evolve into an opraesque secular mega-church.

Read the whole thing here:

Why futurologists are always wrong – and why we should be sceptical of techno-utopians
Bryan Appleyard is the author of “The Brain Is Wider Than the Sky: Why Simple Solutions Don’t Work in a Complex World”

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