The Contradictory Bind

Quoted from: Cloudmoney: Cash, Cards, Crypto and the War for our Wallets, Brett Scott, Vintage Publishing, 2022, ISBN: 9781847925879.

When describing the rise of automated surveillance capitalism, it is easy to point out its various dangers, but something more subtle drives my own discomfort. It is the pervasive feeling of inauthenticity that accompanies it. It is that tremor of emotional conflict a person feels when — in full knowledge of how Amazon is taking over the world — they nevertheless sense the futility of resistance, and find themselves with their finger on the ‘Buy’ button…

We have blindly stumbled into systems that exploit our short-term desires to the detriment of our longer ones, and they break and disrupt our lives if we attempt to pull back from them. Rather than crawling to Utopia, then, large-scale markets crawl towards concentrating production and consumption into pure conglomerations of profit-seeking, represented most acutely by transnational corporations. While the individuals who work within this conglomeration can feel many things, the financial and corporate sector as an institutional complex is unable to ‘feel’ anything except profit, so our systems are running away with us, like a centrifuge spinning ever faster.

It is this which leads to visions of a giant technological ‘Singularity’. Google’s futurist-in-chief Ray Kurzweil tries to put a mystical spin on this by invoking the Enlightenment  tradition, which sees history of one long march to human transcendence over nature, alongside a parallel ascendency of mind over body. It begins with a vision of us crouching naked in the prehistoric wilderness. It ends with us ascending into a human-technology hybrid that lives forever, colonises space and regulates an artificial environment at will through AI ‘super-intelligence’, a pure, transcendent, rational mind. Displayed prominently above the washroom urinals at Singularity University is a comic strip based on a sermon given by Kurzweil, which quotes as follows:

Evolution is a spiritual process. Technological evolution is the same as biological evolution. In the future we will become a mix of biological and non-biological intelligence… plugging our brains into the cloud, effectively expanding our neocortex. Becoming closer to God, the ideal. Humans plus AI as one.

Let’s face it. The transcendent spiritual AI cloud Kurzweil and his associates are referring to is the financial-corporate conglomeration… The ‘state-of-mind’ of this conglomeration is… the cold logic of skyscraper-bound legal entities scanning through people for profit opportunities at scale. It is an outlook calibrated to over-value large-scale friction-less efficiency to the detriment of the deeper things we love — unknown wild spaces, peer-to-peer connection, texture, spontaneity and unguided journeys. If corporate capitalism was allowed to fully express itself, it would demand access to our very brainwaves, promoting payment-by-telepathy to access the thoughts of others. This creep of hyperconnected markets into the deepest parts of being is the defining feature of our age.