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Musk, Thiel, and Gates: the 3 tech billionaires abstraction our world

In the 20th century, politicians’ views of human nature shaped societies. But now, creators of new technologies more drive civic change. Their view of human nature may shape the 21st century. We must know what technologists see in humanity’s heart.

The economist Thomas Sowell proposed two visions of human nature. The abstract vision sees people as artlessly good. The world corrupts us, but the wise can absolute us.

The tragic vision sees us as inherently flawed. Our affection is selfishness. We cannot be trusted with power over others. There are no absolute solutions, only amiss trade-offs.

Science supports the tragic vision. So does history. The French, Russian and Chinese revolutions were abstract visions. They paved their paths to paradise with 50 actor dead.

The USA’s founding fathers held the tragic vision. They created checks and balances to constrain political leaders’ worst impulses.

Technologists’ visions

Yet when Americans founded online social networks, the tragic vision was forgotten. Founders were trusted to juggle their arrogance and the public absorption when designing these networks and accepting vast data troves.

Users, companies and countries were trusted not to abuse their new social-networked power. Mobs were not constrained. This led to abuse and manipulation.

Belatedly, social networks have adopted tragic visions. Facebook now acknowledges adjustment is needed to get the best from social media.

Tech billionaire Elon Musk dabbles in both the tragic and abstract visions. He thinks “most people are absolutely pretty good”. But he supports market, not government control, wants antagonism to keep us honest, and sees evil in individuals.

Musk’s tragic vision propels us to Mars in case astigmatic arrogance destroys Earth. Yet his abstract vision assumes people on Mars could be entrusted with the direct capitalism that America’s founding fathers feared. His abstract vision also assumes giving us tools to think better won’t simply enhance our Machiavellianism.

Bill Gates leans to the tragic and tries to create a better world within humanity’s constraints. Gates recognises our arrogance and supports market-based rewards to help us behave better. Yet he believes “creative capitalism” can tie arrogance to our built-in desire to help others, benefiting all.

Peter Tiel stood in front of screen announcement computer code.
Peter Thiel considers the code of human nature. Heisenberg Media/Flickr, CC BY-SA

A altered tragic vision lies in the writings of Peter Thiel. This billionaire tech broker was afflicted by philosophers Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt. Both believed evil, in the form of a drive for dominance, is part of our nature.

Thiel dismisses the “Enlightenment view of the accustomed advantage of humanity”. Instead, he agreeably cites the view that humans are “potentially evil or at least alarming beings”.

The after-effects of seeing evil

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche warned that those who fight monsters must beware of acceptable monsters themselves. He was right.

People who accept in evil are more likely to demonise, dehumanise, and punish wrongdoers. They are more likely to abutment abandon before and after another’s transgression. They feel that redemptive abandon can eradicate evil and save the world. Americans who accept in evil are more likely to abutment torture, killing terrorists and America’s ascendancy of nuclear weapons.

Technologists who see evil risk creating arrogant solutions. Those who accept in evil are less likely to think deeply about why people act as they do. They are also less likely to see how situations access people’s actions.

Two years after 9/11, Peter Thiel founded Palantir. This aggregation creates software to analyse big data sets, allowance businesses fight fraud and the US government combat crime.

Thiel is a Republican-supporting libertarian. Yet, he appointed a Democrat-supporting neo-Marxist, Alex Karp, as Palantir’s CEO. Beneath their differences lies a shared belief in the inherent dangerousness of humans. Karp’s PhD thesis argued that we have a axiological advancing drive appear death and destruction.

Just as assertive in evil is associated with acknowledging pre-emptive aggression, Palantir doesn’t just wait for people to commit crimes. It has patented a “crime risk forecasting system” to adumbrate crimes and has trialled predictive policing. This has raised concerns.

Karp’s tragic vision acknowledges that Palantir needs constraints. He stresses the attorneys must put “checks and balances on the implementation” of Palantir’s technology. He says the use of Palantir’s software should be “decided by association in an open debate”, rather than by Silicon Valley engineers.

Yet, Thiel cites philosopher Leo Strauss’ advancement that America partly owes her abundance “to her casual deviation” from attempt of abandon and justice. Strauss recommended hiding such deviations under a veil.

Thiel introduces the Straussian altercation that only “the secret allocation of the world’s intelligence services” can abutment a US-led all-embracing peace. This recalls Colonel Jessop in the film, A Few Good Men, who felt he should deal with alarming truths in darkness.

Seeing evil after 9/11 led technologists and governments to bamboozle in their surveillance. This included using the aforetime secret XKEYSCORE computer system used by the US National Security Agency to aggregate people’s internet data, which is linked to Palantir. The American people alone this access and autonomous processes added blank and bound surveillance.

Facing the abyss

Tragic visions pose risks. Abandon may be unnecessarily and coercively limited. Alien roots of violence, like absence and exclusion, may be overlooked. Yet if technology creates bread-and-butter growth it will abode many alien causes of conflict.

Utopian visions ignore the dangers within. Technology that only changes the world is bereft to save us from our arrogance and, as I argue in a accessible book, our spite.

Technology must change the world alive within the constraints of human nature. Crucially, as Karp notes, autonomous institutions, not technologists, must ultimately decide society’s shape. Technology’s outputs must be democracy’s inputs.

This may absorb us acknowledging hard truths about our nature. But what if association does not wish to face these? Those who cannot handle truth make others fear to speak it.

Straussian technologists, who accept but dare not speak alarming truths, may feel accountable to assure association in absolute darkness. They overstep, yet are encouraged to by those who see more harm in speech than its suppression.

The age-old Greeks had a name for addition with the adventuresomeness to tell truths that could put them in danger – the parrhesiast. But the parrhesiast needed a adviser who promised to not to react with anger. This parrhesiastic arrangement accustomed alarming truth-telling.

We have disconnected this contract. We must renew it. Armed with the truth, the Greeks felt they could take care of themselves and others. Armed with both truth and technology we can move closer to accomplishing this promise.The Conversation

Published September 14, 2020 — 10:00 UTC

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