Off to See the Wizard

I was pleased to see Kara Swisher in recode skewer Trump and slut shame the bevy of tech billionaires tramping to the tower to pow-wow with Trump tomorrow (http://www.recode.net/2016/12/12/13917982/trump-hair-tech-summit-shame-silicon-valley) but in the end I think she was too hard on them just for showing up. Like prizefighters touching gloves before the match, it’s only good manners to bow and wave their caps before the battle begins. The question is, will there be a battle? Will they stand up to him as he destroys net neutrality, choosing ISPs who also sell entertainment services over tech companies who create the devices and services that make the Internet more than a useful tool for laboratories to swap files on? Will they insist that innocent people’s files be kept private or provide backdoors through which Big Brother and his aunt, uncle and every hacker on the planet can peer?

Will they or anyone else be able to explain to him why iPhones can’t be made in the US—and how few jobs would be created if they were? Or why parts of the Internet can’t be shut down?

Will he listen to anyone, let alone a bunch of guys who, except for Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg, look the people he thinks should be on the other side of that wall he won’t build?

I’m always interested in the question of which contributes more to the improvement of human life, technology or culture, and I generally come down on the side of technology. It’s true that democracy is the best form of government in terms of human happiness and that love-thy-neighbor thing would do a lot of good if anyone ever tried it. (Forget “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” I’d like to see how you’d administer that plan.) But the use of antibiotics would make life a million times better in a totalitarian state or a democratic one and public sanitation principles would be an improvement over the practices of earlier ages whether they were enforced by scourge-wielding storm troopers or whistling volunteers. I’d even go so far as to suggest that technology leads or at least permits cultural change. When firearms were a new and rare device, Henry VIII put down a Catholic rebellion in the north of England the old fashioned way, with trained and well-equipped professional soldiers. It’s reasonable to conclude that the American revolution was successful because the trained and well-equipped soldiers George III sent across the pond faced nearly as well-equipped militias.

Maybe technology will make our lives better despite Trump. We’ll get self-driving cars and delivery drones and higher-speed wireless.

But maybe our self-driving cars will collect a record of all our movements and the delivery drones photograph everything in every neighborhood and report it back to the Big Data machines at the NSA. Alexa is already listening to everything you say, just in case you happen to say, “Alexa.”

You can’t expect a bunch of businessmen to take a principled stance on anything. It’s not what they get paid for and it’s one (of so, so many) reasons why Trump himself is unfit for the job that was thrust on him. No, it’s okay to go and see the wizard, even if you know about the man behind the curtain.

It’s what they do next that matters.

Author: leonardrysdyk

Leonard Rysdyk is the author of more than a dozen novels, stories, articles and poems. His work has appeared in many publications including Snow White, Blood Red, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Aboriginal Magazine and the New York Review of Science Fiction. A professor at Nassau Community College, he teaches literature (including science fiction), cultural history (including the history of science) and is an acknowledged innovator in the field of Computer Aided Instruction (CAI), a subject on which he has lectured and consulted.

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