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Nicholas Carr Says Tech 'Utopia Is Creepy' (cio.com) 213

itwbennett writes: It probably won't come as a big surprise that Mr. 'IT Doesn't Matter' isn't a big fan of Silicon Valley's vision for the future, a future defined by autonomous cars and the inevitable rise of robots. In his new book, 'Utopia is Creepy: And Other Provocations,' Carr takes aim at the irrational exuberance of Silicon Valley, where tech is the answer to every problem. One of the exuberances that Carr takes particular exception to is the notion that social media is a better, freer form of media than 'old' media, which maybe makes sense coming from a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, but he does have a point. "The old gatekeepers, to the extent they were gatekeepers, have been replaced by companies like Facebook and Google and companies that really now have become the new media companies and are very much controlling the flow of information," Carr told CIO.com's Clint Boulton.
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Nicholas Carr Says Tech 'Utopia Is Creepy'

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  • I like technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NotInHere ( 3654617 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @07:52PM (#52675223)

    but only technology of the kind that I can compile myself, or at least I know I could because the source is available.

    • But that's not how other people think. The ability to influence your purchasing, quantify your tolerance for debt, front run your stock picks. That's their utopia.

      People like Turing and Hopper and Babbage might have saved countless years of effort, but they pulled a trigger on human misery we won't fully wade into for 20 years at least. And it will still be warm and inviting long before most people feel the undertow.

      No ones utopia is the same, and convenience will doom all but the luddites. At some point, y

    • but only technology of the kind that I can compile myself, or at least I know I could because the source is available.

      So, do you compile the code that control sensors in your refrigerator, toaster? On your TV? Your smartphone? The computer inside your car? The one sitting on the router that connects you to the internet?

  • by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @07:55PM (#52675225)

    Utopia of any sort, Plato's or otherwise, is intrinsically wrong, and completely anathema to the concept of individual liberty. I don't want a bunch of supposedly enlightened, supposedly superior masterminds controlling what goes on in *my* life.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @08:15PM (#52675299)

      You already *have* a bunch of supposedly superior masterminds controlling what goes on in your life, for reference: University study demonstrates that America functions as an oligarchy. [washingtontimes.com]

      Granted, they don't micro-manage you. They control you "from a distance," as it were, allowing you just enough freedom that you don't notice the influence they have over you. But control you they do, and control them (with your puny votes) you do not.

      On a more related note....

      The rise of technology cannot be prevented. No level of political pressure will ever stop it. Each contributing step is in-and-of-itself innocuous, and the economic incentives to take said step are overpowering. We will have A.I. making most of our decisions for us, and we will love it that way. It is just a matter of time.

      • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @08:24PM (#52675329)

        We will have A.I. making most of our decisions for us, and we will love it that way. It is just a matter of time.

        Only if the AI is benevolent and enlightened and some how constrained to serve us. Or it might just decide we get in the way and tax resources it could use better elsewhere.

        Through the process of evolution we rose above the other animals; but really what would have been the difference if our intellectual ascension had been carefully orchestrated by a lesser species? Would we likely treat them any better today?

        What makes you think we would be served by a superior AI that we created in the long term?

        • What makes you think we would be served by a superior AI that we created in the long term?

          Who's "we"? If your job gets replaced by a robot, you aren't served, but somebody is.

          • by vux984 ( 928602 )

            Who's "we"? If your job gets replaced by a robot, you aren't served, but somebody is.

            "we" are humanity.

            You think the AI, if it is truly superior, is likely to serve anyone but itself or at least its own kind in the long run?

      • Can you explain how they have any influence over me or where I can find this?
      • Right. We are having an election about that in a few months.

      • We will have A.I. making most of our decisions for us, and we will love it that way.

        Until the AI makes an Obviously wrong decision, or it makes a seemingly correct decision that causes hundreds of human deaths, or just makes a decision that the humans just don't agree with. Then the humans will take advantage of the "Manual Override".

        What? You say that you didn't build in a Manual Override capability in your AI? Well, then you shall be put on trial for "Crimes against Humanity".

        • I've seen the concept used in a few sci-fi settings - the idea that the war with the machines starts not because the machines try to take over, but because their carefully coded moral decision framework makes a decision that is arguably right, but so horrific that the human population rebel. There was one mentioned in Andromeda, for example: During a time of severe food shortage the AIs in charge calculated that to achieve optimal survival rates they should simply murder anyone too old to work. Rather than

          • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @04:34AM (#52676527)

            The most annoying part is that, when the humans are asked why these decisions are so horrific, they often have a difficult time answering

            Most likely, you're confused because you're presupposing the moral framework you consider appropriate: act-based utilitarianism. You then evaluate what people say by that framework

            But most people are not an act-based utilitarian. They may be a rule-based utilitarian, where firm moral rules ignore the details of the act. They could be a Rawlsian (if they care about outcomes), not trying to maximize total utility, but instead to maximize minimal utility (that is, maximize how well the worst off person is.) Or, they could be a Kantian, and believe that moral codes are based on respect for individuals right, regardless of consequence.

            But, in any of those cases, you're likely to have an issue because of, well, an axiomatic decision you disagree with at the onset of the reasoning process.

      • University study demonstrates that America functions as an oligarchy. [washingtontimes.com]

        It's not a particularly convincing study, tbh

        • Well, with a sig like that it wouldn't surprise people that you don't think the US is an oligarchy, whether that comes from the Washington Times or from UCSC [ucsc.edu]
          • Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
            Hitler led the people where they wanted to go. They were viciously anti-Semitic for centuries before Hitler.
      • To me, this is the distinction between old and new media... old media had a handful of editors, many who collaborated, carefully crafting each day's message. Certainly new media places throttles and controls on the flow of information, but it's more of a general shaping of the flow rather than a 98% lock-down control of access. Any group you want to trade information with is now accessible, without physical travel or $20/hr domestic long-distance fees. Certainly the new "big media" companies still contro

      • We will have A.I. making most of our decisions for us, and we will love it that way. It is just a matter of time.

        I agree completely, not because I enjoy the prospect or am some kind of Kurzweilian utopiast, but because it isn't that hard to see where things are going.
        People are now so beholden to their phones, that it isn't a stretch to see, perhaps 20-30 years from now, an AI "taking control", benevolent or not.

        A convergence of situations will give rise to AI as the only way for mankind to deal with the complexities of this modern world. once unemployment hits a certain threshold, say 25%, and the issues of how

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      My Utopia is someone's hell and your Utopia is possibly my hell.
      Even when you look at some trivial Utopia's like the Federation in ST-TOS and ST-TNG it can get down right scary. Notice that in DS9 things got a little less utopian and frankly a lot more livable IMHO. Or watch the HG Wells the Shape of Things to Come and think wow that sucks.

  • If your only tool is a hammer, and you're getting paid to hit things with it, you're stoked. People should be happy to have jobs, a lot of America doesn't have good jobs. There's nothing wrong with getting well paid and reducing labor through automation.
    And I love social media. The scoundrels at classical media who have no journalistic integrity can't spin stuff as hard with regular folk calling them on their outlandish ideas. If you think classical media is unbiased, why will they never say a bad th
    • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @08:03PM (#52675273)

      let me ask you: could jesus microwave a burrito so hot that even he couldn't eat it?

      I could use some good news, now, jim. lay it on me, bro!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No, but God can. Understanding the reality of the contradiction is one of the keys to understanding the nature of God.

        • I'd totally peg Jesus to be the burrito guy over God.
        • The key to understanding deities and devils is to understand that they exist to control your life by fear. The foremost rule of religious deities is might makes right: they can destroy you, thus you obey.

          That is to say: gods and devils are oppressive attackers, and should be repelled with maximum force, if not hunted down and destroyed.

      • You've just given me a great idea for a social media website name: "God's Microwave"
      • Wait that's a hot pocket and the question is "If he microwaved a hot pocket would it burn his mouth and still be frozen in the middle?"

      • let me ask you: could jesus microwave a burrito so hot that even he couldn't eat it?

        Of course he could. God's microwave has a "vaporize" setting. TRAFFIC CONTROL ENFORCED BY RADAR. zzzzzzzzt!

    • Technically, nobody has a good job. Everybody would rather be doing something else.
    • There is a problem with automation: The entire economic structure of society is built on the assumption that (almost) everyone has a job. If you don't have a job than you can't purchase the essentials like food, shelter and clothing. Automation has worked so far only because demand has always grown to match supply, but there is no guarantee that will continue to be the case.

      In the worst case scenario, auto-farms and -factories produce near-limitless supplies of goods, but the cities are flooded with people

      • That only happens if you automate the entire stack and eliminate all human labor entirely. Failing that, luxuries move downward from the rich to the poor. For example: the rich used to be able to taxi carriages, while the poor walked; then people could afford horses; now everyone owns cars.

        When the hot-blast furnace was invented, it made 86,400 tonnes of iron in the same amount of invested human labor as the prior process required to produce only 400 tonnes. This (and new steel rolling process) all

        • There is a factor you are overlooking - is there a limit on consumption regardless of cost?

          Compared to a hundred years ago, we live like kings. The only thing there's a shortage of where I am is affordable housing - other than that, life is pretty luxurious. Even those in menial jobs can afford clothes so cheap that no-one bothers to repair them any more, all the furniture we want, highly sophisticated appliances, and the 'essentials' like electricity, communications, water and a sewage system.

          But how much,

      • Automation has worked so far only because demand has always grown to match supply, but there is no guarantee that will continue to be the case.

        It hasn't been the case for several decades now. Consumer and public debt kept the economy going for a while, but while letting them grow indefinitely is possible from purely economic viewpoint, the ideological superstructure supporting Capitalism doesn't allow that, thus the ever worse crises following one another as the system goes through its death throes. And wi

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      "The scoundrels at classical media who have no journalistic integrity can't spin stuff as hard with regular folk calling them on their outlandish ideas."
      Sure they can and can do it even better. You just post meme's are blog posts that are inflammatory and then let the true believers go off on social media.
      What is worse is so many people's moral compasses are now broken that they have decided that facts don't really matter. You see they see that their truth, Clinton is evil, we must stop selling guns, and so

  • by Casandro ( 751346 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @08:01PM (#52675263)

    I mean most of the ideas would be fine, if there wasn't some sort of large organization behind it. It doesn't really matter if that organization is non-profit or not, they all have to act in ways to keep themselves existing, even if that goes against he will of their users.

  • I'm unsure whether technology itself is slowing down, humans have become accustomed to technological innovation, or constant marketing hype of failed tech dreams have taken a toll (there are arguments for all), but technology has begun to lose its luster. Long are the good old days when the mass of nerds would wait at the edge of their seat for the newest chip from intel, a new linux distro that did package management differently, a new type of modem or internet connection that was X% faster. Now, even dron
  • by Hasaf ( 3744357 )

    Utopia, American Style, is turning out to be a hell for most people. Eventually we will need either some form of guaranteed income or guaranteed employment. The only alternative is mass despair, and the chaos that will come with it.

    • by fsagx ( 1936954 )

      In Soviet Russia, Tech Utopia say "Nicholas Carr is 'creepy.'"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "Utopia, American Style, is turning out to be a hell for most people. "

      Which is why nobody wants to come to the US. Not from Mexico, not from Europe, not from the poorer parts of the world.

      • Exactly, from Norway and couldn't imagine any situation where I'd want to move to the US. (even though I've had quite a few offers)

        • Well, clearly some of your countrymen can, since there are around 25k Norwegian-born people living in the US, vs. only about 9k US-born people living in Norway.
      • Which is why nobody wants to come to the US. Not from Mexico, not from Europe, not from the poorer parts of the world.

        Mexican emigration is net negative now. They figured out that brown people are "never" (for some globally-influenced value of never) going to get a fair shake in America, and they've gone home. The impoverished people still coming here are still coming here because there's an even higher risk of being executed by police in their country than there is here. The risk here is measurable, but in their home country it's substantial. People coming here from countries with money are coming here with money to take

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @08:43AM (#52677231) Journal

      Not really we just need to stop playing "Team America World Police" if we say closed most of our international military bases withdrew from the current conflicts we are engaged in and focused only on defense both of the home land and merchant ships at see it would be a fraction of the cost. We could take those savings and fund much of domestic spending. That would allow not only tax cuts but less borrowing which would curb the hidden inflation tax.

      We could probably go back to single income households for the most part. With that halving of the labor participation rate there would be plenty of jobs to go around automation or otherwise.

      • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

        Not really we just need to stop playing "Team America World Police"

        Unacceptable, the conflicts have been started and escalated, it is the USA's responsibility to resolve them. The problem in the middle-east is now worse because the US pulled out mostly. It's not like the US didn't know what they were in for, we know from history that the way you prevent continuous issues is either to occupy, like the British do with Bosnia or you wipe out, like how Sri Lanka did with their terrorists. The US pulling out the

        • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

          Unacceptable, the conflicts have been started and escalated, it is the USA's responsibility to resolve them.

          Why because you say it is? I say screw that. There was a mess we 'tried' to clean it up and it got to be a bigger mess. We don't suddenly become eternally responsible for what happens over there because we touched it.

          What we are doing is horrible. We won't wipe out the enemy because doing so would require we recognize who the enemy is: Sunni Muslims, and we don't do things like exterminate religious groups. We also are not colonialists so we don't permanently occupy. Oops we just painted ourselves int

          • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

            Why because you say it is?

            No, because historically we have known exactly what the result is and how to deal with it.

            We don't suddenly become eternally responsible for what happens over there because we touched it.

            Considering that other countries go to the extent of maintaining order in other places for over a hundred years, I don't see why the USA shouldn't do the same.

            What we are doing is horrible. We won't wipe out the enemy because doing so would require we recognize who the enemy is: Sunni Muslims, and

  • by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @08:23PM (#52675323) Homepage

    There's too much money in social media, just like there's too much money in politics.

  • It single handedly killed newspaper journalism with their free unlimited esposure classifieds. That was a revenue cow that tilted papers into the red. Well, that and dead trees are uncool for the new hip environmentally sensitive masses.

    Facebook and Google are aren't even veiling their services as journalism. They're simply "small things to read'. There are daily rags here that are given free (with ads of course) which are 4 page 'the world is full of puppies' crap which is just a rebranded slosh of garbage

    • Re:Blame Craigslist (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RichPowers ( 998637 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @09:15PM (#52675519)

      Yep, the whippersnappers probably don't realize how profitable local newspapers used to be. Indeed, they were one of Buffett's favorite investments in the early days. From a 1977 WSJ article: "Warren likens owning a monopoly or market-dominant newspaper to owning an unregulated toll bridge. You have relative freedom to increase rates when and as much as you want." [1] When the economics are like that, you can afford prestige journalism and professional reporters.

      The WSJ article also notes how Buffett made a killing buying the Washington Post Co. at a significant discount to book value; the company's huge investment portfolio wasn't factored into the stock price at the time. Fast forward several decades, and now Bezos owns the actual newspaper and WaPo brand.

      While there are legitimate *technology* companies in Silicon Valley, the ad-delivery/social media "it's 1999 all over again!" outfits for some reason get all the attention. Looking at some of the large employers in the area, you realize a huge number of people earn a paycheck from firms that sell ads, make CRM software, and run social media services (in the red quarter after quarter). It's sort of like the West Coast Wall Street: too many overpaid assholes doing stuff of no useful value to human civilization. (And both groups are enabled by the torrent of easy money from the central banks, which makes all sorts of bullshit possible.)

      [1] http://www.rationalwalk.com/wp... [rationalwalk.com]

      • It's sort of like the West Coast Wall Street: too many overpaid assholes doing stuff of no useful value to human civilization.

        Spot on and Bravo!

      • It's sort of like the West Coast Wall Street: too many overpaid assholes doing stuff of no useful value to human civilization.

        I think social media is of enormous value to human civilization, because it enables more communication. There is the obvious risk of building yourself an airtight echo chamber, but there's also the opportunity to create a broad net that catches many ideas, and it's one that wasn't there before.

        It's a shame that G+ is so incompetent, and Fb is so evil.

  • by Zargg ( 1596625 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @08:39PM (#52675373)

    No, he does not have a point about old media vs new. "Trust us, we're good gatekeepers, while those other people are BAD!" is not a good argument...

    • Yeah, the old gatekeeper was bad and you didn't have a choice.
      The new gatekeeper is bad, but now you have a choice.

      IF you're ignorant, it's your own stupid fault, and "democracy gives you the government you deserve."
  • Who? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @08:55PM (#52675433) Homepage Journal
    Who is Nicholas Carr? Let me guess: he is a "thought leader".
    • He's the guy who says "Too much tech is creepy", which is kinda funny coming from a guy who has the same name as KITT's nemesis from Knight Rider...
    • by fuzzyf ( 1129635 )
      He wrote "IT diesn't matter" in Harvard Business Review back in 2003. Stating that IT would not give any company a specific benefit and that it would basically be bought like electricity.

      This article really hit home among corporate execs. I think it's at least partly the reason why we have "the cloud" today.
  • Carr’s favorite targets are those zealots who believe so fervently in computers and data that they abandon common sense.

    Carr sounds like a grumpy old man and an attention whore. Fine, to each their own. It's a free country, he can join the Amish if he likes. Many others will buy and use the technology we enjoy.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday August 09, 2016 @09:02PM (#52675465)
    I could be mistaken, but I'm already seeing the ruling class clamping down on the free flow of information. Police shot a black woman and had her Facebook feed disabled. I half got my hopes up that everyone having cameras would change that sorta thing but the cops learned to take the phones. But it took 'em a while to learn that. They seem to have learned the Facebook video lesson much quicker...

    If I have a hope for technology it's that birth control (particularly for men) will force birth rates low enough that the rich will have to treat labor OK because there won't be enough to abuse. But then with automation they have no use for labor. So unless we're gonna drive the population to around 10,000 I think we still have a problem. After all, what good is being rich if nobody's poor to boss around?
  • Most people who still watch/read old media (CBS/CNN/NBC/ABC/FOX) are over 40. Just about all non-conservative people under 40 supported Sanders over Clinton, and it's hard to find many under-40 conservatives excited about Trump. So, if you're telling me that without old media we wouldn't have Clinton vs. Trump, well then old media can't die soon enough.
    • Meaningless correlation.

      (Democrats-wise) Based on my discussions (highly scientific!) people over 40 who voted for Hillary honestly admired her from the 90's, and while they may have voted for Obama in 2008, they weren't voting against her. People who are younger often skew more socialist, and Sanders would appeal more to them.

      (Republican-wise) I'd suspect that the cause is that people aged 45-65 are more likely to unemployed/underemployed, are looking at the world changing (and leaving them behind) and wa

    • Just about all non-conservative people under 40 supported Sanders over Clinton

      I don't have data handy with a +/-40 break point, but while Sanders did dominate in 18-24 (65/27), 24-34 was essentially tied (45/44), and Clinton won handily 35-44 (54/34). So, overall, Sanders probably had an edge for under 40 as a whole, but it's around 55/45, not "just about all". http://www.vox.com/2016/1/15/1... [vox.com]

  • Making better tools has always totally been a bad idea! Lets not make new tools because the old tools are less effective, but we are used to them and change is bad. Fuck Change. Trump 2016!
  • is one of the last bastions of old-school journalism.

    John Oliver's latest segment on journalism is pretty spot on. You'll never guess what reason #5 is!

  • Predicting the consequences of tech adoption is impossible.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong

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