Fatuity

Zuckerberg and Harari – the latter is one of the most over-rated gasbags of the modern world – talk past each other for an hour and a half. Harari is concerned with the implications of Artificial Intelligence, and Zuckerberg with the breakup of the Internet into national jurisdictions. All of which is reasonable from their perspectives.

I am going to say something outrageous here: I do not think these people are all that bright. I invite you to watch the show (I suggest from about 28 minutes into it). Yes I am aware that Harari has three hugely best-selling histories of everything on the market, and he is currently fashionable. And we all know that Zuckerberg is a Master of the Universe with many tens of billions of dollars in his grasp. I have neither the billions nor the best sellers and I could be accused of envy.

Zuckerberg thinks AI is a set of methods that improve processes everywhere. It should not be personified, as Harari does. Perhaps I should not be so harsh on Zuckerberg. He makes a few reasonable points. Nevertheless I find him banal, even if largely right .

Harari thinks the forces of efficiency and morality have split, and this has given a boost to totalitarian regimes. “Some system far away can know me better than my mother”, and that system can be hostile.

This, he says, is a situation we never had to deal with before.

Zuckerberg observes that there is no metric to optimize society. Harari conceives that “free will” is an illusion, and that what people imagine is their own will is an implant, so to speak, of the persuasive arts developed through the Internet.

My understanding of this attitude is shaped by what I heard recently from some left wing academic (I know, a pleonasm). He argues that the “press” needed to become professionalized , that is, turned into a self regulating professional body with powers of certification and disaccreditation, in the manner of lawyers, doctors or occupational therapists. He based his views o the terrible events of recent years, Brexit and the election of Trump.

It is difficult for those of us who look upon Brexit and Trump as perfectly understandable to sympathize with the shock that these two events delivered to the political Left. More even than the fall of Communism in 1989, the fall of Obama/Clinton and their replacement by Trump was their own personal “collapse of Communism”, their god that failed. And Brexit likewise has overturned the rule of the chattering classes in Britain, and they are fighting back as hard as they can to reclaim their accustomed role in ruling opinion.

Harari would argue that the customer is no longer right, because his opinion has been hacked by AI and manipulative algorithms. Zuckerberg, to his credit, demurs. These questions are not new, he says. In that he is perfectly correct. And I also agree with Zuckerberg that that technology has not made this problem more acute now than it has ever been, and thus I think Harari is merely handwringing. But he will not shut up about his concerns. Zuckerberg, by contrast, seems more rooted in the world of practice.

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