Harvard Economist George Gilder appeared on the Fox News’ Life Liberty and Levin show on October 14th 2018. The interview consisted of some thoughts from his book “Life after Google”. I was not previously familiar with Gilders work, but became enthralled with the how he sees the future of computer technology and how cryptocurrency will play in to that vision of where we are headed. Gilder began the interview with the premise that creativity is the foundation of capitalism, and the process of creation is always surprising. Socialism contrasts the creativity of capitalism through planning. While surprise is fundamental to the success of capitalism, life and development is unpredictable, surprise is the one foil that make socialism’s planned economy fail because it can not react to the surprises of life.
I had to get the book and begin reading it immediately, and I can not recommend the book enough. The book begins with a fascinating history of Google and describes the remarkable story of how the company was built. Despite the unique business plan that built Google, it is that same business model that Gilder argues is leading to the fall of big data and the rise of the crypto economy. While the book is called “Life After Google” it conveys the unique achievement of the company and spends several chapters describing the start and execution of the company as an amazing feat of out of the box thinking. It’s difficult to describe how Gilder enthusiastically writes about how truly unique Google’s business model is from first hand knowledge of the players. He socializes with these moguls of digital kingdoms and creates vivid images of who these people are, but also describes the possibility of their fall through their lack of vision. They fail to see the future of the information terrain. Challenging minds like Eric Schmidt and Ray Kurzweil about what’s coming next, now that is an ambitious endeavor. The book, however, makes compelling arguments that they fail, or possibly refuse to see the human terrain over the digital. People value their privacy.
While this is the first book by Gilder I have read, I have read several of Kurzeil’s works including “How to Create a Mind” and “Singularity”. I have often thought of him as the most interesting and possibly the most dangerous person in the word. During the interview with Levin, Gilder mentions his friendship with Kurzweil. I would be interested to see what these opposing views talk about over a beer. I have a feeling that their debates have an aire of collegiality, but they see the world in vastly different futures for mankind. One sees a progression towards the Singularity where AI eventually overtakes the mind of man, while the other sees a future where the mind of man utilizes the tools at hand to reach greater and greater heights of understanding. A benevolent authoritarian vs. the freedom of invention.
“I think the cryptocosm endows individuals once again with control over their content, with control over their identities, with avenues for their aspiration and creativity.”
“Albert Hirschman, the Princeton economist once put it, creativity always comes as a surprise to us, and if it didn’t, planning would prevail and socialism would work.”
“Learning is the heart of capitalism”
We are at a point where the world wants to come together as one, but competing ideas are fighting for control of that reality. As long as people will trade their freedom for security there will always be a challenge to true individual autonomy. It is our right to share our ideas as we see fit against the prying eyes of an overbearing society. Life After Google is a dispassionate exploration of a planned information society vs. the possibility of unplanned free market built and governed by individuals working together towards a goal.
A planned economy, admitted or not, looks at the world as an understood domain. All that is needed is here. Marx looked at the industrial revolution as the pinnacle of societal creation despite the horrors of the early industrial factory, and did not envision a greater future that would completely unravel the society around him. There was nothing left for Marx but redistribution to create a just society where all people were able to enjoy the benefits of the “modern” industrial world. The problem is the world moved on to without Mr. Marx. Gilder advances the idea in his book that Eric Schmidt and Google have the same flaws in their big data business model. He describes the amazing achievement of Google and the revolutionary business model of their start, but also believes that they feel almost like Google is the pinnacle of computational design, digital Marxism. Their rather Marxist view of big data and AI is a closed view, that there is no other way forward despite the limitations of hardware. This is also where Gilder begins to chisel away at the Google philosophy of “give it away for free”. You are not actually receiving those searches for free, but selling the inner most details in your life for targeted advertising. Google isn’t selling their service to you, they are selling you to their customers in the form of targeted advertising and extremely detailed demographic research.
After the fair, almost generous, description of what Google really is Gilder begins to unravel its business model. Then he introduces what Bitcoin really is, and how crypto will unravel their view of the future.
At one point he describes a virtual conversation with Satoshi Nacamoto where Satoshi is the John Galt of the cryptoverse. Value is derived not just from the scarcity of Bitcoin, but also the scarcity of Time. The way to express value through proof of work is only valuable because the use of time to solve the computation of the blockchain and a facility of transfer give the product of that work value. The work goes from Bitcoin to Ethereum and Vitalik Buterin. How his vision of Cryptocurrency changed the dynamics of the industry with Smart Contracts and ERC20 tokens to redefine derived value. While Gilder does take the time to describe several tokens including Golem, EOS, and Iota the future of cryptocurrency does not seem to be the direction of the work. It does seem to define essentially the state of the market today and why it, in his view, big data will fail, but leaves the future of crypto wide open for interpretation.
I think the work challenges the control the Internet has formed in all of our lives. Gilder promotes the cryptoeconomy as a means to recapture our freedom and privacy from companies marketing our supposedly personal thoughts to the highest bidder. Let’s face it, our relationship with our smart phone or laptop is more personal than our relationship with a trusted shrink. The digital device forms no opinion about the content of your searches in cyberspace, but simply provides them to you. When you think you are traversing the net in the privacy of your own mind, you might explore thoughts not shared with anyone else. What if your not alone? What if the private moments shared with your device are not private. Who might be watching? That is what Google is selling.
The cryptoverse creates a future, admittedly, a non-free future, where you pay to find what you want, buy advertisers pay you directly to consume their material. A fair exchange of goods on agreed upon terms for a defined price. You purchase access to information on the blockchain and vendors purchase access to your persona directly. Privacy is yours to keep or sell as you see fit, and all of it is transmitted on a highly encrypted block chain platform. EOS is well on its way to providing such a platform for its users.
I honestly see some hybrid of the two ideas developing where the Internet is mingled with crypto protocols which allow the user to give away some of their personal information for access to web sites while also being able to communicate and interact with other services with assured privacy. The infrastructure of the Internet is not free, Gmail is not free, we provide a commodity that service providers sell to pay for infrastructure and services, our persona, our desires. It all has to be paid for somehow, and now it comes down to the choice do we pay for the service to retain privacy or do we sell ourselves to get it for free? Rabbit ears vs. Cable all over again…