We are here to talk about fucking machines. In London, on a foggy evening, on a Tuesday, for yet another debate about fucking machines. Another curated discussion underlined by our own human insecurity about versions of us in silica. Fucking anthropomorphic fucking machines. Machines that fuck us. And let’s face it, machines are already fucking us, or so we seem to be told.
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I’ve spent about four years exploring the dark side of innovation, trying to convince people that there’s actually a lot that we can learn from those who work in the unseen corners of the world. You know, so-called misfits. Pirates, hackers, gangsters, con artists, pranksters, ex-prisoners.
I was looking for the tools that you could use to solve global problems in an environment when the nation-state has turned out to be a very very ineffective set of machinery at all. So I’m going to talk a little bit about the technology. I’m going to talk a little bit about what it does and where it’s going. And then I’m going to try and tell a story about the kind of global long-term picture that we could get if this stuff actually works.
Everybody thinks of bureaucrats as being kind of a neutral force. But I’m going to make the case that bureaucrats are in fact a very strongly negative force, and that automating the bureaucratic functions inside of our society is necessary for further human progress.
Conversation has been consistently a model in my head of being human. For quite a while I’ve spoken about how we’re not taught at any time in our life how to ask a question, and how to talk on the phone. And most people think they know how to ask a question, and they know how to talk on the phone. And yet I found that 98% of questions are either bad questions or speeches. And most phone calls are terrible.
I see a set of constraints facing us in the future, and they’re all going to be very expensive. First is funding retirements for the Baby Boom generation. Second is continuing increases in the costs of healthcare. The third is replacing decaying infrastructure. The fourth is adapting to climate change and repairing environmental damage. The fifth is developing new sources of energy. The sixth is what I see as in all likelihood continuing high military costs. The seventh is the costs of innovation.
One of the ways that industrial revolutions are interesting to think about is that they look differently depending on how and where you see them from. They look different whether you see them from Europe or Asia or Africa. But regardless of time or place, economists and historians generally tend to look at industrial revolutions through the lens of innovation. And in my short talk today I want to encourage a different way of thinking about this.
The largest part of the ENIAC team by far were the people that were actually building the thing. And it’s interesting they’ve been forgotten by history, because although their job titles were wiremen, technicians, and assemblers, being a business historian I looked up the accounting records, and sometimes they spell out the payroll. You suddenly see all these women’s names like Ruth, Jane, Alice, Dorothy, Caroline, Eleanor showing up.