In his new book, “World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech” (Penguin Press), Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and former editor of The New Republic, expands on the film’s warnings. Mr. Foer asserts that technology is replacing thought and relationships. He specifically warns of the goals of Google, Facebook, Amazon and other corporate tech giants, charging them with being “monopolists who want access to every facet of our identities and influence over every corner of our decision-making.”
Phi Beta Iota: Isaac Asimov predicted this in one of his short stories, where humans were relegated to serving expert machines, and not allowed to read. We have indeed been migrating in that direction because governments have remained corrupt and failed to heed Plato’s primordal guidance: that the highest duty of government is to nuture and educated engaged citizenry.
Elegantly tracing the intellectual history of computer science—from Descartes and the enlightenment to Alan Turing to Stuart Brand and the hippie origins of today’s Silicon Valley—Foer exposes the dark underpinnings of our most idealistic dreams for technology. The corporate ambitions of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, he argues, are trampling longstanding liberal values, especially intellectual property and privacy. This is a nascent stage in the total automation and homogenization of social, political, and intellectual life. By reclaiming our private authority over how we intellectually engage with the world, we have the power to stem the tide.
At stake is nothing less than who we are, and what we will become. There have been monopolists in the past but today’s corporate giants have far more nefarious aims. They’re monopolists who want access to every facet of our identities and influence over every corner of our decision-making. Until now few have grasped the sheer scale of the threat. Foer explains not just the looming existential crisis but the imperative of resistance.