George Gilder, a philosopher of technology and entrepreneurship best known for Wealth and Poverty (1981), does not think that Google owns the world. In fact, he believes that that model of high tech is in trouble.
Recently, National Review weighed in on his new book Life after Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy, where he argues that, contrary to appearances, Google is on the way down, a “utopian cult” “about to meet its nemesis” due to a conventional fact about the way the everyday computing world works (Bell’s Law):
Gilder, a cofounder of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, has a long record of debunking conventional notions about how the world works. His groundbreaking book Wealth and Poverty (1981) debunked the idea that capitalism is driven by greed; Men and Marriage (1986) overturned the notion that chasing down so-called deadbeat dads was good social policy. His book on the microchip revolution, Microcosm (1990), made Moore’s Law — that the output of advanced digital technologies such as microchips will double every 18 months — a household term.
In his new book, it’s Bell’s Law that gets the center spread. Named after Digital Equipment Corporation engineer Gordon Bell, Bell’s Law states that every decade a hundredfold drop in the price of processing power creates a new computer architecture. This is what is happening now, Gilder argues: A new architecture for handling data and information is taking shape that will shake the Google empire to its foundations.
Arthur L. Herman, “Google’s Unstable Empire” at National Review
Google’s philosophy, says Gilder, is to conglomerate everything into itself in a huge database representation of the known universe, and then to perform operations, such as search and often more insidious data rifling, on that big lump of everything it controls.
But, as Daniel observes, Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel (1906–1978) doomed the idea with a famous theorem.
Google’s worldview is built on the philosophical certainty that algorithms, the “if-then” logical elements of computer programming, are supreme. Algorithms are made of numbers and logic. Gödel proved you cannot in principle build a self-contained system of logic and math. There is always a system encompassing your system and a system outside your system that necessarily impinges on the basic rules of your system. We usually call this state of things the real world.
Gilder thinks that the enormous tech companies will be replaced by flattened hierarchies in which people take ownership of their own data, cutting out the giant “middle man.” He calls the successor era he envisions the “cryptocosm,” referring to the private encryption of data, represented by technologies such as blockchain.
Gilder believes that the big tech companies’ centralizing culture was absorbed from the universities so many current employees attended. He describes the milieu as follows:
”Focusing on stopping progress, barring new power plants, dismantling chemical facilities, mobilizing against Israel, and other reactionary pursuits, Ivy institutions are pursuing the fancies of a declining intellectual and business elite, full of chemophobic nags and luddite lame-ducks quacking away on their miasmic pools of old money as the world whirls past them.” Tony Daniel, “Big Tech Is Sowing The Seeds Of Its Own Destruction” at The Federalist
Q: Why would a smart company like Google get it wrong?
Gilder: The advances in machine learning that Google trumpets and preens about really just advance in the speed of processing. The Google guys woke up with a Moore’s Law bonanza from the chip industry and imagined that they had invented it. When their Go-playing computer can play more Go games in a minute than the whole human race has played through all of history, that’s not a great advance in intelligence. It’s the same intelligence just accelerated to terahertz speeds. Yet this creates an illusion of super-intelligence, that machine learning can somehow gain consciousness and usurp humans.
Q: Again, the nerd IQ arrogance that artificial life will trump real life.
Gilder: In my book, there’s a chapter on the conference in Asilomar, that was financed by Elon Musk, and that I think was a kind of intellectual nervous breakdown. All the Google people were there to tell the world that the biggest threat to the survival of human beings was artificial intelligence, which they themselves were creating. What a great bonfire of vanities! Rich Karlgaard, “Why Technology Prophet George Gilder Predicts Big Tech’s Disruption” at Forbes
See also: Bitcoin and the Keys to Cryptocurrency Security: Will Fullerton returns to explain the workings of the cryptocurrency that started it all (podcast)
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