The problem with high-tech corporations. And geeks

Technology is never the problem. Or the solution.

The problem with high-tech corporations. And geeks /img/men-are-equal-like-corporations.jpg

Last week I found online a mention of a great post from 2018, titled “It Isn’t About The Technology”. Here, I summarize its main points, first to make more accessible essential concepts that everybody should know, and second because… those points are even more reasons to follow this website!

Corporations are just “slow Artificial Intelligences (AIs)”

“Corporations are “slow AIs” that show what happens when we build “machines” designed to optimize for one kind of growth, that is profit growth, above all moral or ethical considerations."

To prove this, the post remembers four cases in which high-tech corporations behave as “slow AIs” that, just like any other software, have no other choice to do what they actually had been explicitly “programmed” to do.

Example 1: Google

When people started using Google as an ‘answer this question’ machine, Google “moved all the results it thinks are relevant off the first page and replaced them with results that people have paid to put there”. They had to create a gross perversion of ‘reference’ information, because “their margins were under pressure… And their other businesses (including YouTube) weren’t profitable."

Example 2: Facebook

“You cannot fix Facebook without completely gutting its advertising-driven business model, which is what has created nearly all the toxic externalities Zuckerberg is worried about." For details, see “Facebook Can’t Be Fixed”.

Example 3: Elsevier and scholarly publishing

The Elsevier publishing company presents itself as a champion of “Open Access” to scientific knowledge. Problem is, Elsevier’s interpretation of “Open Access”, that allowed it to “dominate not just publishing, but the entire infrastructure of science”, is a long, long way from that original definition. But a good part of why this happened is that definition “set goals which implied the demise of Elsevier… without thinking through how [that] “slow AI” would react to this existential threat”.

Example 4: Diaspora and Solid

The decentralized, open source social network system called Diaspora was launched in 2011. So far, it has accomplished nothing relevant, and if it had…

“Facebook’s “slow AI” would have reacted in one of two ways, probably both. Either the team would have been made a financial offer they couldn’t refuse. Or Facebook would have tasked a few of their more than 1000 engineers to replicate the better system."

And the same would happen to the Solid initiative, “if it ever gets big enough to cause problems to Big Tech”.

What we (don’t) need

If we want to fix all this we do not need, as that post puts it:

  1. More false hopes in current antitrust law, because it “assesses competition largely with an eye to the short-term interests of consumers, not producers or the health of the market as a whole."
  2. More proposals like Diaspora, that are just “designed to scratch the itches of technologists”, who believe that “magically, the world will beat a path to their door. This is so not going to happen"

What we need, if we do want REALLY open, non-predatory digital communication infrastructures, is to acknowledge this reality:

_"Trying by technical means to remove the need to have viable economics and governance [of such infrastructures] is doomed to fail in the medium- let alone the long-term. What is needed is a solution to the ECONOMIC AND GOVERNANCE PROBLEMS.

Only after those problems are solved “a technology can be designed to work in that framework”.

Spread the word!

The purpose of this website is exactly to make what one needs to know to face these problems really accessible to as many ordinary, “non-techie” people. Everything discussed in depth in that post is stuff that I regularly explain here, in the simplest possible way, from corporations being just robots to the POLITICAL threats by Facebook &C, and why it’s pointless to face them with antitrust law. Thank you for sharing (and supporting, see below) this effort as much as you see fit.

Image source: Screenshots from “All Men Are Created Equal Just Like Corporations” meme