Against Google and the Coming Technocracy
Technocratic idealism relies on a computerization of most human behavior. Driverless cars have become one of such projects. While the technology is available, and in many ways successful, ethical questions have arisen in the case of accidental death where two or more computer-driven, driverless cars confront an inevitable crash. If synced to a supercomputer or through a type of relational programming, the machines, in effect, would have to decide on who lives or dies.
Two options have been proposed. One is marketed as a “humanistic” solution whereby the machines calculate which vehicles have the more passengers and attempt to save the most lives possible. Of course, this would take a technology where the number of passengers would have to be transmitted to a super-system from each vehicle. This complicated matrix must, then, have an authority. In a second, possibly worse, case scenario, the authority would either be the state or the car and health insurance companies, which would have to decide on what vehicles or passengers were more worthwhile to save. The ethics of the state would most likely mirror the first option which is the more “democratic” or egalitarian. On the other hand –– although a bleak prospect –– it is not far-fetched that insurance companies, too, would attempt to take authority over these life and death assets. In each scenario, it’s not difficult to see that a safer option would exist for “first-class” riders. It would be survival for the highest bidder — driving skills would be irrelevant and simply ignored from supercomputer calculations, of course. It would be a pay-to-survive system.
Technocratic idealists — who at bottom may not be working for the romantic idea of innovation but for profit — would eventually have to confront these large, powerful, and highly capitalized institutional powers. A negotiation between technocratic utopians and the powerful institutions that coincidentally fund them is another inevitability. It is the ethical dilemma that each institution must eventually face if such roads are taken. With a little foresight, we can ask the simple question of, “does this problem even need to exist?”
The political and ecological stress on civilization certainly is inextricably linked to the economy. Many economists and technocrats are now promoting the idea of UBI or Universal Basic Income as a solution to the coming crisis where productivity decreases, automation increases, and income disparity grows. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Vernon Smith in an op-ed titled, “Trump’s Best Deal Ever: Privatize the Interstates,” supports the idea of UBI through the privatization of the interstate highway system as a means to set up a fund that pays every American a basic income in a method modeled after the Alaska Permanent Fund that pays every Alaskan a share of the state’s oil revenues. This Alaskan dividend scheme is also supported by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley CEO’s. This highway fund would be financially viable, to Vernon, only through driverless car monopolies produced by tech companies such as Google.
The challenges to a driverless car future seem to be that a complete replacement of cars driven by people (drived cars) would be necessary for such a system to work efficiently on current roads. The idea that citizens, particularly Americans, would give away their rights to drive seems unreasonable. Add this with an interstate highway fund dependent on a type of taxation on tech companies to support a UBI seems to be further unrealistic. It is a circular economy where tech companies end up in power on both ends with the people forced to hitch their wagons on the success of such companies. In other words, it seems like great math but subtracts the politics of people.
In a highly automated society where technocratic Silicon Valley corporations hold control over people reliant on the buttressing of such corporations, are we not creating a kingdom of automation with serfdom and all?
Perhaps, the best solution would be to hit the brakes, slow down, and walk away from such tricky technology and ethical dilemmas. Waiting for innovative mass transit infrastructure to become more universal would be a great start. Intersecting a road already paved purely for disruption’s sake is foolhardy at best. Man needs to be responsible for himself again and just drive better.
Imagine a world where the deaths of loved ones are blamed on a government, corporation, or insurance company algorithm. Not even vengeance would be possible. It is the coldest dish we can offer ourselves that offers little closure and even greater, repressed, institutional contempt: Kafka’s bureaucratic nightmare down to the human soul.