Ted Chiang is a genius, but he’s wrong about Silicon Valley



Ted Chiang isn’t simply one of many best science-fiction writers alive — he’s one of many best writers alive full cease. Which is why I used to be so saddened and disenchanted by his latest excoriation of Silicon Valley in BuzzFeed. Because the tech trade grows ever extra highly effective, we’d like sensible minds critiquing and dissecting its many flaws. As an alternative we bought a trenchant takedown of a Valley that solely exists within the minds of particularly shallow journalists.

To be clear, his bigger level is lifeless on: that being that the fear about an AI which maximizes for the fallacious factor, most famously one which is instructed to make paperclips and responds by turning your complete planet into paperclips, is a fear which applies completely and precisely to capitalism itself.

The maximalist capital mindset, i.e. “all of the world’s issues might be solved simply by making markets freer” and “the social duty of companies is to extend their income” are certainly examples of robotic pondering, both profound mental laziness or a really flimsy fig leaf for grasping narcissism. Such pondering — name it “paperclip capitalism” — is devoid of any context, nuance, or understanding that even at its well-regulated finest, capitalism is just ever a method to an finish, not an finish of itself.

(as an apart: the paperclip analogy has given us what’s clearly 2017’s recreation of the 12 months, Common Paperclips, which ate an evening of my life a couple of months in the past. Hilariously, and/or semiotically terrifying, individuals have now after all begun to coach AIs to play and win at this recreation…)

However the factor Chiang doesn’t get is: Silicon Valley is definitely not a house of paperclip capitalism. That’s Wall Road. That’s Confessions of an Financial Hit Man-style neoliberal globalization. That’s not the tech trade. The Valley is a flawed and generally horrible place, true, nevertheless it’s a nuanced generally flawed and horrible place.

Chiang: “Who adopts a scorched-earth method to rising market share? … It’s assumed that the AI’s method might be “the query isn’t who’s going to let me, it’s who’s going to cease me,” i.e., the mantra of Ayn Randian libertarianism that’s so well-liked in Silicon Valley.

His argument is fallacious as a result of his postulate is fallacious. Uber and Peter Thiel will not be Silicon Valley; they’re excessive outliers. Silicon Valley is usually full of people that actually need to construct rocket ships and remedy most cancers with knowledge evaluation and who genuinely believed that “making the world extra open and related” might solely ever be useful; who go to Burning Man every year and speak about how nice it’s that it’s decommodified and the way terrible capitalism is; who see capitalism because the engine that may drive them to their objective of [insert technical breakthrough here], not wealth as a objective in and of itself.

It is a main cause that Elon Musk is so hero-worshipped. Silicon Valley desires to do as he did, and comply with the path he blazed; first, make some huge cash from paperclip capitalism, sure (like Musk did with PayPal) however solely as a way to use that cash to make rocket ships and electrical automobiles and photo voltaic roofs. Not as an finish in itself. They don’t need paperclips. They need to use the paperclip machine to construct a paperclip catapult to launch humanity to Mars.

It seems that this can be a hopelessly naïve and confused and counterproductive and corruptible method, flawed in lots of or not less than a number of alternative ways, every of which deserves thought-about dissection and repudiation — nevertheless it’s nothing just like the straw Valley that Chiang assaults in his piece. I hope he takes a second swing at it someday, possibly in fiction. We completely want sensible, essential eyes watching and criticizing our each transfer. However they need to be shut sufficient to see by way of the cliché, and into the nuance.


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