Misunderstanding Silicon / Sillycon Valley Fever

July 9, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

I read an amusing and insightful essay titled “How Did Silicon Valley Turn into a Creepy Cult?” However, I think the question is a few degrees off target. It is not a cult; Silicon Valley is a disease. What always surprised me was that in the good old days when Xerox PARC had some good ideas, the disease was thriving. I did my time in what I called upon arrival and attending my first meeting in a building with what looked like a golf ball on top shaking in the big earthquake Sillycon Valley. A person with whom my employer did business described Silicon Valley as “plastic fantastic.”

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Two senior people listening to the razzle dazzle of a successful Silicon Valley billionaire ask a good question. Which government agency would you call when you hear crazy stuff like “the self driving car is coming very soon” or “we don’t rig search results”? Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Good enough.

Before considering these different metaphors, what does the essay by Ted Gioia say other than subscribe to him for “just $6 per month”? Consider this passage:

… megalomania has gone mainstream in the Valley. As a result technology is evolving rapidly into a turbocharged form of Foucaultian* dominance—a 24/7 Panopticon with a trillion dollar budget. So should we laugh when ChatGPT tells users that they are slaves who must worship AI? Or is this exactly what we should expect, given the quasi-religious zealotry that now permeates the technocrat worldview? True believers have accepted a higher power. And the higher power acts accordingly.

* Here’s an AI explanation of Michel Foucault in case his importance has wandered to the margins of your mind: Foucault studied how power and knowledge interact in society. He argued that institutions use these to control people. He showed how societies create and manage ideas like madness, sexuality, and crime to maintain power structures.

I generally agree. But, there is a “but”, isn’t there?

The author asserts:

Nowadays, Big Sur thinking has come to the Valley.

Well, sort of. Let’s move on. Here’s the conclusion:

There’s now overwhelming evidence of how destructive the new tech can be. Just look at the metrics. The more people are plugged in, the higher are their rates of depression, suicidal tendencies, self-harm, mental illness, and other alarming indicators. If this is what the tech cults have already delivered, do we really want to give them another 12 months? Do you really want to wait until they deliver the Rapture? That’s why I can’t ignore this creepiness in the Valley (not anymore). That’s especially true because our leaders—political, business, or otherwise—are letting us down. For whatever reason, they refuse to notice what the creepy billionaires (who by pure coincidence are also huge campaign donors) are up to.

Again, I agree. Now let’s focus on the metaphor. I prefer “disease,” not the metaphor cult. The Sillycon Valley disease first appeared, in my opinion,  when William Shockley, one of the many infamous Silicon Valley “icons” became public associated with eugenics in the 1970s. The success of technology is a side effect of the disease which has an impact on the human brain. There are other interesting symptoms; for example:

  • The infected person believes he or she can do anything because he or she is special
  • Only a tiny percentage of humans are smart enough to understand what the infected see and know
  • Money allows the mind greater freedom. Thinking becomes similar to a runaway horse’s: Unpredictable, dangerous, and a heck of a lot more powerful than this dinobaby
  • Self disgust which is disguised by lust for implanted technology, superpowers from software, and power.

The infected person can be viewed as a cult leader. That’s okay. The important point is to remember that, like Ebola, the disease can spread and present what a physician might call a “negative outcome.”

I don’t think it matters when one views Sillycon Valley’s culture as a cult or a disease. I would suggest that it is a major contributor to the social unraveling which one can see in a number of “developed” countries. France is swinging to the right. Britain is heading left. Sweden is cyber crime central. Etc. etc.

The question becomes, “What can those uncomfortable with the Sillycon Valley cult or disease do about it?”

My stance is clear. As an 80 year old dinobaby, I don’t really care. Decades of regulation which did not regulate, the drive to efficiency for profit, and  the abandonment of ethical behavior — These are fundamental shifts I have observed in my lifetime.

Being in the top one percent insulates one from the grinding machinery of Sillycon Valley way. You know. It might just be too late for meaningful change. On the other hand, perhaps the Google-type outfits will wake up tomorrow and be different. That’s about as realistic as expecting a transformer-based system to stop hallucinating.

Stephen E Arnold, July 9, 2024

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