Jobs-and-Gates
By Joi Ito from Inbamura, Japan – Steve Jobs and Bill Gates on Flickr, CC BY 2.0

April 17, 2016: The Guardian

Last week, NPQ ran a now-much-read article by Joanne Barkan, entitled “Charitable Plutocracy: Bill Gates, Washington State, and the Nuisance of Democracy.” But, her take on the potential dangers in current billionaire philanthropy does not stand alone. Voices of caution are being raised in any number of venues, including here in the Guardian by Nellie Bowles.

What the tech titans have in common with the Gilded Age barons is a rapacious appetite for domination and, as they age, a complicated relationship with almost 100 percent of the world’s population. And there the comparisons end.

When Mark Zuckerberg chats up the president of China (in Mandarin), lobbies for immigration reform, or announces that he’s going to use his new LLC to rethink society, he is, according to this article in the Guardian, wielding a kind of influence that would make Rockefeller and Carnegie blush. As David Nasaw, a history professor at City University of New York and a Carnegie biographer, says:

Carnegie could never have imagined the kind of power Zuckerberg has. […] Politics today is less relevant than it has ever been in our entire history. These CEOs are more powerful than they’ve ever been. The driving force of social change today is no longer government at all.

Facebook, Google, and Amazon are vacuuming up your private information; they know where you are, and they more or less know what you are thinking. A recent court ruling intended to regulate Google instead “put the company at the forefront of Europe’s enforcement of Internet privacy.” Google owns 90 percent of the search market in Europe. Can government rein the tech titans in like they did Carnegie and Rockefeller?

As Peter Thiel, PayPal’s founder, wrote in “Zero to One, or How to Build the Future,” “All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.” In his essay “The Education of a Libertarian,” he writes, “We are in a deadly race between politics and technology.” Thiel makes the case that the fate of the world depends on propagating the “machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.”

In their radical faith in technological advances, politics and policymakers slow down progress. Had Uber scaled just a little bit slower, regulators would have had the opportunity to enforce the countless laws it broke. Tech is global; laws are local, and tech is faster and speeding up. Tech optimism is their redemption.

In the manifesto to which Silicon Valley adheres, tech titans alone can solve the world’s problems, from aging to space travel. From the article:

This week, Parker, known as the bad boy founder of the music filesharing service Napster and first president of Facebook, announced a $250m gift to six nationwide cancer centers. Tech founders have been criticized for not giving enough to charity, and this gift shows Parker seeking to establish himself in the pantheon of power players, according to historians.

Announcing it, Parker spoke about fixing the healthcare system to look more like the venture-funded, high-risk world of startups. “The system is broken somehow—funding doesn’t reward risk-taking. We don’t get ambitious science…we get incremental science.”

Robots are already here. Tesla claims you could summon their driverless cars from across town or from across the country if only antiquated laws would permit it.

At Singularity University, participants are taught how to create companies that reach at least a billion people. SU students are challenged to influence all humanity. (The word “singularity” describes that moment in the not-too-distant future when mut