As I sat down to write this post, I had to rename the title from The Social Dilemma 2.0, to what it really is, the dilemma that is created by capital. And let me start with the crux, so that we may begin at the ending, and work our way back to the beginning.
The essential premise of The Capital Dilemma that faces us is this: In a post-corona post-digital world, what are the ethical boundaries of AI-powered capitalism?
And why talk of all this at all? Don’t capital and wealth accrue to those that do the hard work to make it? What is wrong with such a model, indeed, without the profit motive, nothing would stir. The reason we ask this question however is in an attempt to understand the limits of this model, the boundaries outside of which the system fails because the capital model no longer holds true.
It isn’t different in the case of newtonian physics, those rules don’t apply at certain sizes, and thus those models don’t work in understanding reality at those levels. Traditional physics is suspended at the quantum level, and illogical things can be seen to happen
Does capitalism have such limits, such boundaries? Here is St. Augustine, on the topic of gold:
Greed is not a defect in the gold that is desired but in the man who loves it perversely by falling from justice which he ought to esteem as incomparably superior to goldSt. Augustine, 5th Century BC
And what does this have to do with The Social Dilemma? Hopefully this will become clear as you read this post, as well as others writings.
Given how unequal the world has become, this really is the question of our times: what are the requirements for a healthy society? And what happens when the world becomes entirely digital, which it is about to in a way that will make the past two decades seem quaint?
The Digital Dilemma
Digital. What a word! Do people even really know what it means? What it deeply signifies? Not in the Internet-has-already-happened sense, but in the Alan Kay sense of the computer revolution hasn’t really happened yet. That digital.
What has happened is the wholesale capture of our attention, our entire consciousness as individuals, as communities and as countries, has been thoroughly hijacked by technology that then facilitates the control of our minds, and prompts us to take actions that may or may not be in our best long term interests.
But these social media platforms are only the incredibly tiny tip of what is the real digital iceberg. Control of the Internet itself, and everything that flows through it, but also in active control of what anyone sees, or is able to see.
It is true: the Internet is the Ultimate Weapon, for it controls all aspects of our lives, work, and play.
Like nuclear energy, or any other inert matter, the Internet is itself quite neutral, it has no opinion on what flows through it. It simply reflects our natural actions, and indeed, is the reason why software is eating the world. Tech entrepreneurs the world over are creating platforms that mimic processes and workflows seen in the real world.
Given the massive scale that successful platforms accrue, they automatically create large scale transformation of entire industries. See Uber or AirBnB as examples, and indeed Door Dash.
It may also be clear already: technology not only makes everything incredible efficient, but quite brutally so. Take for instance, the impact of Big Tech on the restaurant industry.
Is Door Dash a symptom of the social dilemma?
Or is Door Dash another perfect example of what I call The Capital Dilemma?
The Capital Dilemma
The Social Dilemma really is two things: a digital dilemma, and a capital dilemma.
The movie covers the digital part, how big tech platforms have created a new world order, by subverting the consciousness of billions of citizens of our planet, certainly all netizens on the Internet, and how advertisers are using this to control how people think and act and spend their time and money.
What it doesn’t quite cover is that the digital tools merely accelerate what is the hearts of men (and women). It does not change us in any fundamental way, just more efficiently brings out the best and worst in people, and everything in between.
What the movie doesn’t talk about is that these big tech companies have caused a basic reversion to the law of the jungle, and the subsequent departure from a more civilized society can be traced to this acceleration of our base fears and material desires over a higher awareness of our selves and who we really are.
In other words, the advent of digital has resulted in a BigTech-powered world that is built on AI-driven profit maximization, and this platformization has further accelerated the already non-linear effects of the tech-divide, while itself continuing to feed on it.
It is no longer a question of what we want our society to look like. We had been witnessing the collapse of the middle class for some time now, 2020 put the nail in the coffin. The world is going to see a shift to populism and government control like never before, because unemployment creates unrest, this is a law of the universe. And politics abhors a vacuum, creating the conditions for flash points all over the world.
This is the root of the capital dilemma, powered by the the Internet.
Consider the paradox: in a world of plenty, we are going to witness the deathly consequences of a breakdown in the social contract, and indeed, a breakdown in the capital contract. In a world where so many need help so suddenly, 2020 has exposed the underlying farce of “developed nations” where populations are equally vulnerable, perhaps even more so than societies that didn’t take on so much debt, and where it isn’t so expensive to even simply exist.
The Invisible Hand
There is a force that drives us every day to do things in the world. We call it Profit Motive, and it has been a source of contention among philosophers ever since the establishment of the first market economy. And there is also the natural human trend towards increasing productivity and thus efficiency of resources deployed. This is part of human ingenuity, and indeed entrepreneurship – what more can we do with what little we have?
And when digital transformation hits this profit motive, we get something new – a Digital Invisible Hand, that is able to create vast gulfs between digital-haves and digital-have-nots.
This type of nuclear energy is a fission reaction, and splits up society into factions, along stark socio-economic lines, like we are now seeing the world over. That the invisible hand exists is not in question, venture and business investments are driven based on this model of meritocracy, and while it is very dangerous when things get extreme, things get even crazier when governments get involved and try artificial ways to change the natural movements of the invisible hand.
The Hacker Ethic
So what can be done? Indeed, what are the options? Thrust into a technology-driven world of Artificial Intelligence and FinTech models, what is the common man to do? What hope do people have on the losing side of the digital divide?
The Social Dilemma may be answered by trying to regulate Facebook et al, but it doesn’t solve the problem, simply kicks it down the road, and even that is tenuous at best. The technology is out of the bag, there is no way to control it via unnatural means aka rules, because the Internet is also inherently global, and talent and money will automatically find new jurisdictions in this new borderless and entirely digital world.
This really calls for a renewed focus on the original impetus behind all this networking technology. The Internet had a spirit, an inner calling of those original pioneers who built this invisible technology that binds all of humanity into a single network of networks, the Internet.
The times call for a new rendition of The Hacker Ethic, the manifesto that drove the early innovators and visionaries that create the global Inter-network for all of us to benefit from. It is The Hacker Ethic that created the original Internet, and it is these new nethics aka net ethics that need articulation.
In short, this new rendition of The Hacker Ethic is: Enable The Actual Internet.
The Actual Internet
Just to be clear, we don’t mean the show, but The Actual Internet.
So how does it read, The Hacker Ethic restated, so to speak? Here are some inspirations:
The general tenets or principles of hacker ethic include: Sharing, Openness, Decentralization, Free access to computers, and World Improvement (foremost, upholding democracy and the fundamental laws we all live by, as a society).Steven Levy, in Hackers
I’d tweak that free access to computers to “free access to computers, knowledge, algorithms, and people”. And it goes without saying, although it never hurts to be clear, the word free here refers to not free as in beer, but free as in free speech.
An Internet where things are Free as in free speech. Also known as Free as in Freedom.
An Inter-network that recognized that it was composed ultimately not of bits and bytes, but that it was composed of users, made of flesh and blood, full of hopes and dreams, seeking security and dignity.
A global digital network of networks that brought everyone together, in exchange and in trade, and in co-creating the world’s largest universal market network.
A Unified Internet that shifted the conversation from politics and guaranteeing income to guaranteeing the functioning of The Actual Internet, or The Actual Free Market, of unleashing the raw potential in all, and in allowing individuals the world over to self-actualize themselves.
And what of The Capital Dilemma?
In this new Internet, they would speak of having gone past the singularity of capitalism, that point of no return from where they would talk of having brought humanity back. They would speak of how the capital dilemma was solved for good, and they would speak of the time when All Peoples came together as One Internet, One World, and worked together to do Great Things.
They would do these things because The Actual Internet would move the human race forward.