Marx believed the industrial revolution was the end stage of innovation. George Gilder argues that Google believes the same thing about its own AI. Does that make Google a "Marxist" organization? Gilder thinks so.
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I was watching an episode of “Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson” when I first heard George Gilder argue that Google is a “neo-Marxist” organization. (See video below.) Gilder’s reasoning took me by surprise, but his logic seemed sound. To take a deeper dive, I downloaded his latest book, “Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy.”
Early in the book, Gilder clarifies what Marxism has come to mean to today’s academics and proponents and then recounts one of Marx’s little understood beliefs:
At its heart . . . the first Marxism espoused a belief that the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century solved for all time the fundamental problem of production.
The first industrial revolution, comprising steam engines, railways, electric grids, and turbines—all those “dark satanic mills”—was, according to Marx, the climactic industrial breakthrough of all time.
In other words, Marx believed there would be no more technological achievement, that all of the world’s supply problems had been solved: “Marx’s essential tenet was that in the future, the key problem of economics would become not production amid scarcity but redistribution of abundance.” (Gilder, George. Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy . Gateway Editions. Kindle Edition.)
Enamored by the shear capacity of assembly line factories, Marx fantasized that ordinary people would live lives of leisure, free to pursue whatever activities they chose. All would be provided by the governing communist society, given a proper distribution method. (Marx, Karl. The German Ideology . Kindle Edition.)
In William F. Buckley’s vernacular, Marx was “immanentizing the eschaton,” that is proclaiming that the end-all, be-all state of humanity—a communist utopia—was happening in his own lifetime.
The Google AI Juggernaut
As we’re all aware, what began as a revolutionary vehicle for finding information on the web has evolved into, what some consider, a technological juggernaut. Google (in conjunction with multiple other Alphabet properties) has any number of access points into our lives (Chrome, Gmail, Analytics, Android, to name just a few).
But Google is branching into other areas rapidly. AImultiple.com points out that Alphabet (Google’s holding company) has acquired thirty eight separate AI companies in the past few years. And these acquisitions are now evident for all to see.
Consider, for example, that nearly half of all search results are now “zero click,” meaning the answer to a search query is at the top of the results page, and, more often than not, Google provides the answer itself. That’s Google’s AI in action.
According to Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner, “Google is no longer in the business of delivering up lots of answers. Instead, it’s in the business of delivering a single answer—without the need to click.” Stelzner believes, in fact, that Google is taking aim at Amazon’s Alexa, another AI that it sees as competitive. Regardless of Alexa, though, Google’s intention is clear—a massive Internet land grab that is already locking non-alphabet companies out of search.
All of this seems to bring up an all important question: Where does Google’s ambition end?
The Google Eschaton
According to Gilder, Google’s brain trust believes that AI is
. . . redefining what it means to be human, much as Darwin’s "On the Origin of Species" did in its time. While Darwin made man just another animal . . ., Google-Marxism sees men as inferior intellectually to the company’s own algorithmic machines.
But Gilder believes that Google, and other “Silicon Valley titans,” are repeating
the error of the old Marxists in [their] belief that today’s technology—not steam and electricity, but silicon microchips, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, algorithmic biology, and robotics—is the definitive human achievement. (Gilder, George. Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy . Gateway Editions. Kindle Edition.)
The implications of Gilder’s argument are chilling. Where Marx believed that a technological eschaton would clear the path to a utopian society, Google believes that it constitutes an “algorithmic eschaton [that] renders obsolete not only human labor but the human mind as well.”
In practical terms, Marx’s utopian vision had us all lounging around contemplating the meaning of life. In Google’s vision, machine’s will contemplate the meaning of life for us.
The Rise and Fall of Google
The point of Gilder’s book is that Google is not a juggernaut. In fact, Gilder believes that the existing cloud architecture—Google’s architecture—is unsustainable. In today’s cloud stack, security is an afterthought and, consequently, not nearly good enough. The once decentralized web has now become a small collection of gigantic data silos, each of which has a bull’s eye on it for hackers. Server farms built on the Columbia River and in proximity to glaciers for the sole purpose of cooling doesn’t sound scalable. It's not and, in fact, Gilder openly mocks the concept.
Gilder points to two law’s that together point to Google’s demise:
Moore’s Law, which describes the growth in capacity of integrated circuits, [and] Bell’s Law, [which states that] every decade a hundredfold drop in the price of processing power engenders a new computer architecture.
From Gilder’s perspective, the old architecture’s time is nearly up, and a new one will soon take its place. For Gilder the Blockchain era has already begun, and will soon reshape the web and many aspects of our lives.