– Welcome everyone. First Media Lab talk of the year. I’m Kate Darling, I’m aresearcher here at the lab. I am excited and slightly terrified to be next to Douglas Rushkoff here today. I first heard about Douglas from our lab director Joey Ito, who said, I quote, Douglasis braver than I am. Which if you know Joey Ito, I mean the guy who inventedthe disobedience award at MIT, that’s pretty high praise. So for those of you who don’t know him, Douglas is a fairlyprolific media scholar, I think your website says media theorist, although looking at his work, I feel like media is definedprobably about as broadly as we define it here at the Media Lab. He’s written, how manybooks have you written? – Depends if you count graphic novels. – Oh, wow. – If you do then it’s like 20, but otherwise it’s like 15.- That’s, well okay, either way, an inhumane number of books. Including the book that we are talking about today, Team Human. So I have a signed copy of Team Human. It has a snarky inscription. You too can get a signedcopy of Team Human if you like after this talk, we’re selling books back there. And if you’re watchingthis on the livestream and you’re in the lab,please don’t do that, please come here, it’smuch nicer in this room, you can get a book, you can hug Douglas if he’ll let you, ask for consent first. Come join us in the atrium. A few housekeeping notes, if you are watching on the livestream and you can’t join us here today, and you want to participateon social media, there’s a hashtag, I think it’s up there, #mltalks, and you canask questions on Twitter because we will, the way this works is, we’re gonna talk alittle bit about the book and then we’ll open it upto broader conversation, we’ll take questions from the room and also some questions from Twitter that I’ll sneak in, probablyto Douglas’s chagrin.Because I know you preferin person questions. – Yeah, while they’re here.- But please ask questions on Twitter, I’m abig fan of Twitter questions. So, Douglas, we go way back. We go way back to lastSeptember when we first met. I met you in New York. You were about to give a talk and I did not know who you were, and my baby crawled up to you and tried to knock over your water, I think that’s how we started talking.And I just, I remember that conversation just being struck by how warm and kind and mild mannered you were. Just really nice. – Aww. – And then I sat down to watch your talk. And this nice guy just launches into this most powerful, passionate, angry speech I had ever heard, and I almost choked on my wine, because I realized who you were, I realized you were Douglas Rushkoff. – Oh, courageous guy. – The brave guy. – Oh, brave, sorry. – So I feel like the reason I didn’t put two andtwo together is because it seemed like such acontrast at the time, this fiery rhetoric and your demeanor. But looking at your workand reading this book, I actually feel likeit makes a lot of sense that you are both nice andangry at the same time. And that maybe we shouldall be a little bit more of both of those things. And I do want to get, Iam hoping we can kindle some of that fire here today, but I actually wanna startwith the warm and fuzzy side.- Okay. – So, you’re not jaded about people. Your book is called Team Human, don’t you think peopleare kind of terrible? What gives you so muchfaith in the human race? – Well, what else am I gonnahave faith in, you know? I mean I certainly thinkpeople can be corrupted. I think people can become addicted to systems, to operating systems that they’re not aware of. I think they can sometimes see invented things as givencircumstances of nature and then respond accordingly. If you’re born into acompetitive, angry war game, you’re gonna think that’s the world. But no, I don’t think, I think human beings arejust confused right now. And I can watch almost anybody, I mean, to think of the darkestpeople in politics today. I can watch almost any of them and see the human being there. I can have, I don’t know if compassion’s exactly the right word, but I can see the person struggling, trying desperately to establish rapport in a world where they don’t know how to engagewith other people and all.But yeah, when I look at thestory of human civilization, what I see is a story of our efforts to collaborate andcoordinate and work together and forge solidarity andrapport with each other. And then how fear or capitalism or something kind of turnsthose things against us, or against that effort. But yeah, I have to. Unless we believe that some savior’s gonna come down in some deusex machina thing and fix it, then I’ve gotta believeit will come from humans. And I think our, our current lowest, lowsense of self esteem we have as a species islargely manufactured, is largely a result of livingin a dehumanized landscape. I think our big problemnow is we’re having trouble understanding people in any terms other than our utility value. And I’m a Mr. Rogers kid, I was told that I’mspecial just the way I am.And you could say that that’sa sick boomer illusion, but if you don’t think that there’s some essential merit or worth to humans, and if you don’t have the experience of establishing rapport, or seeing somebody’s pupils get larger and feeling the mirror neurons fire and the oxytocin go through your blood and bonding with another person, then you don’t understand where our power actually comes from as a species, where the whole thing derives. And then yeah, sure, you’re gonna end up being one of the billionaires building a bunker in New Zealand. – Oh, tell this story, that’s a good one. – Yeah, that was the thingI did that talk about was I had been invited to do a talk for what I thought was gonnabe this group of bankers about the digital futureand it turned out to be five billionaires who theybrought into the green room to pepper me with questions about how they should invest their money.But eventually the wholeconversation turned to where should they puttheir doomsday bunkers, you know, for the climate catastrophe or the electromagnetic pulse or the social unrest that was gonna come. And they spent the majority of the time on the single question,how do we maintain control of our security force after the event? Because they know theirmoney’s gonna be worthless and then these guys will havethe guns and be more powerful, so should they have acombination to a lock? That’s what one of them thought, I’ll have the only one who hasthe combination to the food. It’s like, that’s really, that’sa recipe for waterboarding. Or shock collars or otherdisciplinary techniques. So I decided to, you know, I mean– – Did they really say shock collars? – Yeah, yeah, it was one of the– – That’s incredible.- It was half facetious, so what do we do, shock collars? I mean, it was sort of more like that. It’s where you havecollars around the guys that if they wanna serve you, they’ve gotta wearthese things so you can, you know, you’ll be asleep, they’ll change thecontrols, it doesn’t work.So what I was trying to tell them is there at the end of a scenario that they’re thinkingabout wrong from here. In other words, that ratherthan trying to figure out how much money they need toearn to insulate themselves from the world they’re creating by earning money in this way, they could think about whatabout making the world a place that they don’t have toinsulate themselves from. But that’s the antihuman bias that’s so embedded in, really, in our technology culture today, in digital culture, andthat’s because digital culture is built on an unrecognizedoperating system of corporate capitalismwhich has always been about getting humans out of the equation. It isn’t just digital companiesthat wanted fewer workers because they can’t scaleif they have humans. It isn’t just digital companies that think we have to useall of our technologies to manipulate peoplerather than serving people. So it’s much older than that, and that was part of mytrepidation coming here, is I don’t want, particularlyMIT Media Lab people, to think that I’m railingout against technology.I love technology. If anything, I’mdisappointed in what we did with technology becauseI really believed that the internet could have helped us practice collective intelligence, collective awareness, collective activity. It could have helped us not do it, but at least be training wheels for, you know, at the time, in our little psychedelicworld we thought, for the guy in mind, for the global neural pathways to emerge, and we just surrenderedit so fast to the market that we’re using it for the opposite.We are not the users ofthe internet anymore, and we’re not even the product, even that would be something, we’re the medium at this point. The net is playing us, we are the medium of our technologies. We don’t use algorithms,algorithms use us. We don’t use our smartphone, our smartphone, every timeyou swipe on your smartphone, it gets smarter about youand you get dumber about it. And we can’t even learnabout the smartphone because the algorithms in there are protected by proprietary black boxes. So we can’t even know the systems. In an oppressive law, atleast bad laws you can see, they’re on the books,oh, look at this bad law.Once the laws have migrated into code, they become subterranean, they become part of the operating system, and that’s a little bit different. – Yeah, what I really like about this, so you do talk a lot about technology and digital media in your book, and, you know, I’m a millennial. The cutoff for millennials is 82, so I’m barely millennial, but I’m there, and I’m extremely online, as the kids say. I love social media, Imet my husband on Twitter, we got engaged on Twitter, like I– – Had you met him before? – No, we met on Twitter.- And you got engaged on Twitter, but you met between?- Three years later, yeah. (audience laughing) Yes. (laughs) But I’m a huge fan of social media and I believe that itconnects people in new ways and in interesting ways,and not just social media, a lot of stuff that we do here, from social roboticsto affective computing to fluid interfaces, I thinkthat there are a lot of things we do that connect people innew ways, in interesting ways. And so, normally when someone, you know, a lot of the populartech criticism out there, like what I hear is thatDouglas Adams quote. You know, the anything that gets invented after you’re 30 is againstthe natural order of things and the beginning ofthe end of civilization. Because their argumentsare usually just like, look at that teenagerabsorbed in their cell phone.And that’s their whole argument, and then they sell books, because there’s a wholegeneration of people who are like, well, yes, clearly that’s a bad thing. And it’s the same argument we’ve heard about every technology,like new medium that’s got, people said that aboutbooks when they came about. Oh, the books are gonna destroy the kids, the rock music’s gonna destroy the kids. But your argument is different, your argument is not acriticism of technology, it’s a criticism of the systemsthat co-op the technology. Is that fair? – Yeah, yeah, it is. I mean I’m as annoyed as the next guy by this rampant sort of almost mediumrhetoric that I see now, and I love, I write formedium, and I love a lot of it, but basically it’s like,putting two sentences next to each other somehow connects them. So it’s like, writers deserveto be paid for their work, you know, the Internet Archivecan be clicked on by anyone. Okay. I get you’re upset, and that’s really the only response I can have, I got it.You feel threatened, you’re upset. But it’s like, you’re not making sense. There’s a day that for meshall remain in infamy, the day that Netscape went public. Netscape was a web browser that was actually based on Mosaic. And Mosaic was done, like champagne, I think it was Universityof Illinois, shareware. Netscape went public on thesame day that Jerry Garcia, the guitarist for the Grateful Dead, died. And for me, it put together something. For me, it felt, and I’m saying it felt, and this is another one of those putting two things togetherthat are actually unrelated. But to me, those two thingshappening on the same day made me feel like the 60s communal, common zing, countercultural cyberpunk values that I thought were going tobe expressed by the internet were being surrendered to the needs of the sort of IPO stock market. That Wired magazine wonand Mondo 2000 lost. That the internet would be contextualized not as a cultural renaissance, but as an economic revolution. And an economic revolution really means we are not going to disrupt anything. When I read Kevin Kelly’sbook of that period, New Rules of the New Economy, it seemed extraordinarilyreactionary to me, that what that book was saying is, here is how, even though we have this seemingly disruptive digital technology, you all can still makemoney the same old way by investing in things,externalizing your costs, extracting value and moving on.So it’s like, don’t worry, the Walmart model willstill work, and it does. We have Amazon, we have Uber, it’s the same rule book from the British East India Trading Company, on how to go to a place and colonize it and form a beachhead, extract its value, enslave its people and move on. And, my hope, my naive hope,was that the internet, rather than being a revolution,it would be a renaissance. That it would retrieve thevalues that had been repressed in the original renaissance,the peer to peer values and local marketplaces,and all the kind of late medieval mechanisms that got sidetracked or repressedby centralized currency and chartered monopolies and the replacement of thecity state by the nation state, all these kind of abstracted,scaled solutions to things.But instead, the digital ended up being more about scale than anything else. And the problem as I see it is that human beings don’t liveat scale, we live locally and the planet turnsout to be local as well. So we’re in conflict, and that’s where you get these sort of throwing rocks at the Google bus situations, where you have a company that is, on an abstract level,is extremely wealthy, but in its actual physicalworld operational level, it ends up being extractive to the humans who are trying to coexist with it. – So when I was reading your book, and it kind of starts out by saying market forces depend on humanpredictability to operate. And so the market forces try to separate us for social control. And I was like, I don’t know Douglas, that’s a really dystopian view of things. And then literally just last week, I was at this conference with a bunch of marketing data analytics people, and I had never really talked to people in that world before.They were all super nice,but I learned so much. I learned that that Gillette ad, they knew exactly what was gonna happen. And it was exactly whatthey wanted to happen, they weren’t trying to make a political statement or anything. You know, I’m naive. I learned that I’m part of the 45% that prefers lime Skittles to green apple. It was fascinating. So I met this womanthere and she was great. She had this partytrick that she could do, where she could ask you threetotally unrelated questions and tell you exactly what typeof menstrual product you use.Tampons, pads, she could even tell whether you use pads with wings. And it’s because I foundout, you’re absolutely right, the ad industry, the menstrualproduct industry says there are three types of women. There are exactly three buckets and they can sort you into a bucket depending on all these attributes. And I was like, holy,that’s a fun party trick, but you know, what’sthe bigger picture here? – I mean, it’s funny ’cause I kind of came up with this construction forthat, even for that Ted Talk. The idea that, when thedigital renaissance, whatever it was, was emerging, part of what made us excited about it was we were excited about the novelty. We were excited about the possibilities of an unbridled collectivehuman imagination and what would that bring forth, you know, that the digital future seemed like open terrain, infinite possibility.And investors don’t want that. Investors want predictability. They hire scenario planners, some from even this veryinstitution I’m sure, in the global business network, to tell them what’s gonnahappen so they can bet on it. If you’re betting, you wantthe most predictable outcome, you wanna bet on a sure thing. So we’ve ended up, I feelwe’ve ended up using data and technology more to figureout where things are going, than to have some impact on where we might want things to go.And especially those billionaires who saw themselves as so utterly powerless to influence the futurethat the best they could do was build bomb shelters to prepare for the inevitablecollapse of civilization. I thought, wow, I feelmore powerful than they do, is that because I’m an idiot, or because they’re solocked into their betting? So when I look at the primaryuse of algorithms today, or of big data today,when I look at Facebook, what I see is an operating system that uses data from our past to put us in a statistical bucket and then use behavioralfinance and machine learning to get us to behave trueto our statistical bucket.So if they determine,with say 80% accuracy, that I’m gonna go on a dietin the next two months, they’re gonna startfilling my newsfeed with, hey, Doug, you’re looking fat, or this is what the veins of someone who’s not taking careof themselves look like. And they’re not just doing it so that I buy a particular diet product, they’re doing it to make sure I stay true to my statistical profile, to get that 80% up to 85% or 90%. So what they’re actuallydoing, and I understand why, because they wannaincrease the predictability and ultimately serve me better if I want the thing that they’ve got.But what they’re doing is taking that 20%, that Pareto principle weird factor, and reducing it to 10% or 5%, or if they can get it downto nothing, they would. So what are they doingis reducing our novelty. They’re reducing the one thing that humans have over machines, if anything, is our 20%,is that anomalous behavior, is that unpredictable thing. If we’re gonna cure canceror solve climate change, it’s not gonna be the 80%doing things the way we do it, it’s gonna be the weird20% who figure it out. So if we get rid ofthat, that’s a problem. What is that 20% basically considered in our current technologicalparlance, that’s called noise. But that’s not noise, that’s humanity. That’s what I see as the thing, that’s the quirky weird thing I’m trying to promote and celebrate, and that’s the part thatseems soft and squishy. But I’m arguing that there is a weird, good reason to keep people around, this was the argument Igot into with the famous singularity guy on a panel for CNN, and they cut this part from it.Where he was arguing thatthe singularity’s coming and people should accept that computers are our evolutionary successor, and we should be humble enoughto pass the torch to them and then recede and stick around as long as computers needus to keep the lights on and then accept our inevitableextinction, it happens. And I was like, no,but people are special, we should be kept around. A human being, we can sustain paradox, and we can enjoy ambiguity. We can watch a David Lynch movie and not understand what it means and still experience it as pleasurable. What is that? It’s those soft, squishy,liminal, contradictory places, that ability to experienceawe in confusion, that moment that the dog has. Dinosaur didn’t do it,but when you confuse a dog and it goes like that for a second, and we go, oh, werecognize that human, huh? That’s the part I’m trying to celebrate, ’cause I think that’s wherethe magic of life happens.And if we intentionally stamp that out, and we have machines that are really good at shaving that off, who we are, at automating our behavior, we will never be as goodmachines as our machines, they will never be human,but we won’t really care. So I’m worried for the, you know, the day thatcomputers pass the Turing test. But not because computerswill have gotten so smart, but because we will have gotten so dumb that we can’t tell the difference anymore.- So, Larry Lessig, he railedagainst copyright legislation for years and years and years and years, and he popularized this whole movement, the copyleft movement with his work. And then after years in this space, he realized he was still just fighting this uphill battle andjust getting nowhere. And he realized, oh, it’s because the problem isn’tcopyright, the problem is our system of government that’s so corrupt that I’m never gonna win this battle. And so he shifted his focus to fighting government corruption. And so in this case, howmuch of this problem is technology versus justunbridled capitalism? – I don’t really blamethe technology at all. Technology does not want anything. I promise you, Kevin’s wrong on that. But it wonts for something, in the sort of Shakespearean sense, W-O-N-T, it wonts fordirection or consciousness, or intention, and that’swhat we would have to instill it with. We were just talkingabout dear John Barlow’s Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, and how it was inspired, butit also inspired a wrong turn. Those of us in the early cyber days, we saw government as the enemy.And I remember fighting withLarry Lessig about this. Because they had done Operation Sundevil, I don’t know if any of you areold enough to remember that. Where the government and the FBI went in and they raided the apartmentsof these little raver, you know, raver hacker kids who would, you know, someone broke into AT&T or someone broke into a shopping mall, on the computer, just to see if they could change the thermostat. The FBI is coming in there with handcuffs and tear gas and we’re all like, oh, fuck you, fuck the man. And at the same time, itwas like Tipper Gore era, and they were doing theComputer Decency Act, and they were gonna shut down websites that had dirty words, andwe were just like, okay. So then John Barlow writes the Declaration ofIndependence of Cyberspace, saying, governments of theworld, beware, stand away, we will govern ourselves,we don’t need you.And we got rid ofgovernment off the internet. But stupid little raver kids that we were, we didn’t know thatgovernment and corporations kind of balance each other like fungus and bacteria in the body. You get rid of all thebacteria with antibiotics and your fungus goes nuts,that was the same thing. So we got rid of government and we created this freespace for corporations. We didn’t know that they would wanna come. The corporations hated theinternet at that point.The average household thathad an internet connection was watching nine hours less commercial television a week in 1994. AT&T was offered theinternet for like a buck and they turned it down,because they were like, we don’t wanna have to maintainthis stupid social thing, people are just talking to each other. We’ve gotta get backinto commercial media, they thought it was, I mean, my first book on thenet was canceled in 1992 because they thought theinternet would be over by 1993, when the book was supposed to come out. I mean, that’s how little and stupid they thought this thing was.So the idea that we were wresting it from the hands of government,it seemed like a good thing. But no, it turned out to be a bad thing. And the problem is, it’s not just the corporatecapitalism on steroids thing, but that the young developers,they drop out of college before they’ve taken a civics class, or anthropology, orsociology, these are kids, they’re 19 year olds, they don’t even have the myelin sheaths fullyformed on their frontal lobe. So they have impulse control issues and they’re already computer geek kids. With impulse control, going in, and instead of having theirprofessors as their mentors, now they’ve got some SiliconValley guy in a sweater saying, here’s how it’s done. We’re gonna get you VC,you’re a company kid, instead of being worth $20,it’s now worth 20 million.And that sounds so good until they realize they have to pay back 2 billion. The hundred X is the problem. So now kid, we’re gonna take this network for connecting people to people and we’re gonna pivot just over here, just a little bit, it can look like that, but we’re actually doing this. So now your businessplan is to extract value and data and whatever from people. And the great, you know,and sell this company before the data bubble pops. But they lose what they were doing. So I don’t even, and I gotta read Zucked, I haven’t read it, Ijust read the beginning.But it feels like eventhat book, McNamee’s book, is kind of presenting Zuckerbergas a knafe, as an innocent. And sort of like, Sheryl Sandberg and her armies corrupted this adolescent. I mean, Thefacebooks’s originalpurpose was pretty dark but at least it was social. It was white male toxic social,but at least it was social. I feel like it wouldhave been easier to pivot sick social toward healthy social than pure capitalism to healthy social. – So you mentioned, you know, the young white male aspect of this. And a lot of people, including myself, would argue that more diversepeople building technology or even leading technology companies would lead to better outcomes. Because people’s work is so influenced by their life experience, and you know, if you have a 20-somethingdude bro in San Francisco who’s like, I wanna make an app so I can order pizza with one button. And then you look at thehistory of technology that can’t recognize darkskin from photography to the automatic faucets in the bathroom to now facial recognition, you know, it just seems that diversity in tech might lead to better technology, but maybe also to better business models.Do you think that that couldbe part of the solution? – Yeah. I mean, we can blamecapitalism for half of it. And the fact that they’reunconscious of capitalism. But the other half I feel like is this, a kind of an anti-human agenda that seems to just be embedded, particularly in Western culture. So I keep thinking about theThomas Jefferson’s dumbwaiter. And yeah, he was a privileged white male and he developed the dumbwaiter, and we’re all taught thatthe dumbwaiter was there to save his slaves on the effort of having to carry allthe food up the stairs. But it didn’t, it was just there, they still had to carrythe food up the stairs. And through a whole two miletunnel from the real kitchen.The purpose of the dumbwaiter was to hide the slavefrom the dinner guests. It was to externalize thelabor, so we don’t have to see. So it was ultimately a dehumanizing device to make it look like slavery wasn’t there. And that’s part of ourproblem is, we have in America such a pedal to the metal, blindered, forward-looking understandingof technological development. Where everything that we’vedone to get to this point, and everything that we’re doing, that all the externalizedharm is behind us. It’s all back there. And for all the memory in these devices, there’s no sense of memory. So we make movies about robot slaves that have a revolution and kill us. Where do you think thatfear is really coming from? It’s from a nation thatwas built on slavery and still hasn’t acknowledgedwhere the heck it came from.And it still hasn’tlooked even that far back, much less at the exhaust pipesticking out of the back of, you know, every one of our lives, as if you can go forward with it. So I feel like capitalismis a big problem, but there’s also a morefundamental problem with any technology that we develop, and I would go all the wayback to language and text, that all of these terrific,potentially unifying or collaborative technologiesand languages and media. If we’re not aware of the affordances of that medium, we end up at the mercy of the medium rather than in control of it. And technology, digital isjust the latest one of them. When we got texts, you could look at the invention of Judaism, say, as a society trying to deal with the potential downsides of a world of text. Of a world where we’re going to have this history and a future. They remake their relationshipwith God into a contract, a covenant is what Torah is.They write down lawsbecause they’re looking and they’re saying, oh, wait a minute. When we start writing things down, now people are using text tokeep track of their slaves, it’s the first thing we did with text. People are lying in text,they’re writing contracts that they then don’t follow. So what if we tried to developlaws that are gonna codify, I mean they were reallytrying to think about, you can, and I have, you can analyze even the Ten Commandments as, these are the things that we’regonna to need to deal with as we move from an oralculture into a textual culture, it’s kind of interesting.And they understood what was gonna happen. They understood when wemove from an oral culture to a written culture, a lot of the rabbis were so upset that we weregonna write this stuff down. They said, oh no, peoplearen’t going to remember the stories once they’re written down. People aren’t gonna have to, learning the storieswon’t be a communal event. So then they made a ruleand said, okay, okay, we’ll make it so that if you read Torah you’ve gotta have 10people there, a minion, to try to reinforce thesocial fabric of it.So if we had been that conscious developing radio andtelevision and the internet of, okay, what are the biases of this medium, how are they gonnachange the way we relate? What ethical presumptions about humans might these technologies not recognize and how can we compensate for that? You know, that would bea very different path, but I feel like we’redeveloping this stuff on top of operating systemsthat we don’t even understand the biases of them, andwe’re just building on and building on and building on, and we need to disinter some of the biases and embedded values. And I would argue that ratherthan rejecting technology, all we need to do is retrieveessential human values and embed them in thetechnologies of tomorrow, rather than forget them utterly.- So when I asked you what youwanted to talk about today, I know that you mentionedthat artificial intelligence and technology might beinteresting, you know, we’re at the Media Lab after all. But there’s actually anotherpart of your book that was really fascinating tome, it’s just a little part, but I thought it was reallyrelevant to our here institution and that’s the part about education. What is education? – Yeah, I mean, I thoughta lot about that because I’ve been teaching myselffor four or five years, and I have all these kidscoming in and their parents all about what job can I getwhen I study media studies? You know, what’s the job? And public education, Iteach in a public university, public education was notdeveloped for job readiness.Public education wasdeveloped as compensation for people who had to work all day. The idea was that the coal miner was working in the coal mines all day, he should be able to comehome at the end of the day and have enough education to be able to pick up a novel and appreciate it. That even though he’s a coal worker, he should be able to live with the dignity of a thinking, consciousperson with real cognition and thoughts that are valuable. And plus, if we’re gonnalive in a democracy, they need to be able to read the newspaper and be informed enough about the issues to actually exercise theenlightenment value of voting. And instead now, we’ve turned the classroom into job training. We have CEOs meeting withhigh school principals and college presidents whoare anxious to find out what skills do you needour students to have so they can get a job in your company? Do they need to know Excel spreadsheets, should we teach them that, or do they wanna know Python or Java? What do you need? So the classroom is a way now for corporations toexternalize job training, rather than being these, dare I sound too idealistic, these sacred places whereyoung people get to, through mimesis, get to practice what it is to learn with a capital L.And that’s where, I mean I got into Horkheimer’s Eclipse of Reason. It’s a great small bookwhere he’s arguing about, and this is old, fromlike the Frankfurt group. Where he’s arguing thatthere’s this sort of capital R reasons that we do things, are like the big, almost platonic valley, I don’t wanna talk about, because it’s really moreAristotelian, it’s a long story. But the real ideals, thereasons we do something versus being reasonable, thelittle R, utilitarian reasons. And that’s, we’ve startedto think of education in a utilitarian way, interms of inputs and outputs. How am I making a more, how am I optimizing these people to be workers in the economy of tomorrow, rather than how am I enhancing this human beings ability to experience the essential dignity of being human.And it’s just so funny that even that now is almost considered elitist or a luxury. Oh, you’re not the onewho needs to get a job when you get out of school. It’s kind of this, and there’san ass backwards in that. And I use that as sort ofone of the main examples of this reversal of figuring ground, how human beings have become the objects of our reality rather than the subject. And that’s a dangerous place for us to be, and it’s just not an appropriate way for us to teach each otherand be with each other. – Can you just explain thefiguring ground concept for people who aren’t familiar? – I mean, yeah, figuring ground, it started, it was I guessa Danish psychologist, it was that famous picturethat could look like a goblet or it could look like twofaces looking at each other. And some people see the goblet,some people see the faces. So it’s sort of a test, in a way, of whether you’re seeingthe figure or the ground, the subject of the picture orthe landscape in the picture.And you know, you wantkind of a healthy balance, where you understand the ground and you understand the figure, but I use it really as a way of describing this kind of profound reversal between peopleand their technologies. When I think about the internet of things, I think of the humanbeings are the things. We’re the things in the internet of things that are actually being trackedand ultimately manipulated. – So that’s not theonly, so education is one that you kind of unravel there. There are a bunch of constructions that you talk about in the book that we kind of justtake for granted today, and this might actually lead nicely into the AI discussion, ’cause my favorite part of the AI chapter was talking about automation in jobs.Because you know, all dayI hear people being like, oh, are the robots gonna take all the jobs or are they not gonna take all the jobs. But you peel back anadditional layer of that and you’re like, well, what even are jobs? So you say about jobs today, they’re not a way to guaranteethat necessary work gets done but a way of justifyingone’s share in the abundance. What do you mean by that? – Well, what are jobs for right now? I mean all politicians always talk about let me get people morejobs, more jobs, more jobs.I mean, who really wants a job? A job? (audience laughing) When were jobs invented,jobs were invented, we talked about that, in the transition from medievalism toRenaissance capitalism. People used to have small businesses and then those businesseswere made illegal, so they had to get employment,they had to get jobs. That was the first time since slavery that people had to sell their time. If you’re talking abouttechnological determinism, that’s when they putthe clock on the tower in the middle of town,to make it look fair that you’re selling your hour instead of selling the bread orthe thing that you made. When I hear, and originally it was, I was listening to Obamaand Bush and all those guys talking about jobs, creatingmore jobs for people. I was thinking, why do theywanna create jobs for people? Is it because we need morestuff, we need more work done? We’re tearing down houses in California because they’re in foreclosure and we don’t want themarket prices to go down.The USDA is burning food every week in order to keep market prices high, and trying to, you know it’s, what? So why can’t we let peoplelive in those houses or have that food, well they can’t have it or live therebecause they don’t have jobs. So then we have to, what,loan money to a bank to give it to a corporationto build a factory to create plastic doodadsthat nobody wants, so they have to hire an advertising agency to create demand for this crap that people will use andthen throw into the ocean and starve the fish thatwe actually wanna eat.All so this person could have a job. You know what I mean? (audience clapping) And if we’re just trying to program a fix, a kluge to the existing system, then digital technologywill come to the rescue and create jobs, oh, TaskRabbit jobs, or these jobs, we’ll make jobs, we’ll create jobs, it’s okay. You know, we’ll pump out jobs if that’s what you’re looking for. So I was like, I don’t want a job, so what if we look instead at, rather than, I mean itgoes to a whole lot of possible economic arguments, but let’s think about whatactually needs to get done. And if we don’t have enough jobs then we’re gonna have to share the jobs so that everybody can have theexperience of contributing.But the fact is we’re notreally near a jobless future. If we were, then we wouldn’thave to send kids into caves in the Congo to get rare earth metals, we wouldn’t have to leave mercury in landfills in China and Brazil. We wouldn’t have to destroy the topsoil in the next five or six decades. If we had more laborintensive, careful practices in our production andagriculture and everything else, we might actually get tostay alive as a species. So there’s not even a shortageof tasks for people to do, but we consider jobsanother thing, you know, you wanna limit the number of bodies that are in your company so that you can scale infinitely and sell, you can’t sell a company that has people unless they’re programmers, and even then the acqui-hires,that’s kinda faded as well.So yeah, there’s just this, that’s another figuring ground problem, it’s this ass backwardsness that happens if we don’t interrogatethe underlying assumptions of the problems thatwe’re trying to solve. – So what about AI though, should we, I see people constantly tryingto create AI systems that are a replacement for human intelligence, that can perform human tasks, and we wanna automate human jobs, is that a good thing or a bad thing? – Depends what we want the AIs to do. You know?- Okay. – I mean seriously, it does. An AI is gonna try to dowhatever you tell it to do. What’s the function of a car salesman? Is it to get someone in the car they need, or is it to get someonein your company’s car? And those are two different things.I don’t like AIs being told to get people to do something. And that’s language I’vebeen trying to avoid since I talked totechnologists at the beginning. How do we get people to do this? Even well meaning lefty liberal whatever, how do we get people tocare more about the commons, how do we get people to, you know, and that whole construction is, again, it’s objectifying the person.So when AIs are about that, then no. I mean if an AI wants to drive me around or run my subway or something, yeah, if it’s safe, sure, and ifit’s gonna make a calculation whether to kill the rat or the squirrel, you know, because it can steerand kill one or the other, sure, that’s a problem that– – You don’t have apreference, rat or squirrel? – I do, but I don’t know where the actual, for me, I think it’s prejudice. I think the rat’s actually, isn’t a rat smarter than a squirrel? Even though squirrel’scuter, I mean, I don’t know. (audience and Kate laughing) You know, that’s so theAI can figure that out. I just wanna ride on thesubway and drink my beer and read the paper, leaveme alone, you figure it out.But yeah, I mean, because that’s a painful choice I don’t wanna make. – Okay, so, we’re at the Media Lab. We were talking a little bit before this about how, I know thatthere are a lot of students in this building who do care about what happens to their technologyafter they’ve created it, and they do worry about. You know, I told you about a student who was worried thatMcDonald’s was gonna get their hands on this educational toy he built for children anduse it to exploit kids. And so, I guess the big question is, what can we do about that? Can we lean into thepositive sides of technology, are there ways to design it in a way that’s it less likely to be co opted? Should we give up and go home? Is it possible to get it rightin today’s capitalist system? Are there examples ofpeople getting it right? What do we do? – I mean, there’s so many ways to get caught up or to take a weird wrong turn.I mean, one of them is, a lot of times we design technologies before we have a use for them. That’s a tricky one. I mean, it’s not to say weshouldn’t do pure research, I mean we have to,sometimes it’s just cool, how do electrons spin and howdoes this work and all that. But it’s like, I love watching, nothing against blockchain, but I love watchingblockchain conferences, ’cause so much of it is about, we have this ledger, what task can we retrofit it to that will do social good and not allow this and not allow that? And sometimes I feel like we’ve got these toysthat we don’t know how, we don’t know how to use, even, let’s try some of this, try some of that.It’s almost impossible to, in the current landscape,it’s almost impossible to develop technology that won’t be used also in some other way. – So do we go higher up,is it a political thing? Do we have to– – I think we go lower down in some ways. I mean if we keep interrogating the operating systemsbeneath what we’re doing, and look, you know, what is it that’s fueling my lab andletting me to do this, who am I working for, what control am I giving up as I develop this thingforward, that’s where… I mean it depends, it’sreally a case by case basis. Right now we are developingdigital technologies with an industrial age framework. And that’s not gonna work, this is not the fourth industrial age.It’s something else. The industrial age is about one size fits all scaledsolutions to whatever. And part of the beauty, if you remember the early cyberpunk era, was how distributed this was. Was this homespun, I’vegot my own computer, I’ve got my own thing here,I’ve got my own server. And it wasn’t about, I’m gonna… I mean, I know it’s the good old days, we did share, we shared our apps on the back of the school bus. And you wanted six other kids to play your friggin’ maze game.And maybe it would get tothe neighboring high school. And this was on paper tape,I mean back in the day, and they would play it. And that was the original,that excitement of, the way you knew if what youhad done was good and worthy was if a lot of people were using it. And that was kind of the point. It doesn’t really translate anymore into, well, the way you know it’s good is if VCs are giving you enough money to force your cab company into this town that really doesn’t want it. You know what I mean, this is no longer a natural uptake of of technologies. But yeah, I think if you start by looking at an actual human need and then think, how can I addressthis need with technology, and actually engage withpeople on the ground.Because I mean I work a lotat Civic Hall in New York, which is a very well meaning place where lots of independent people come in and develop these civic technologies, but I’ll talk to a guy, it’s like, oh, I’m making this app forhomeless people on the street to be able to use blockchain to get durable identity overlong periods of time. It’s like if you talkto anybody about this, and it’s like, finallythey launch this thing and they talk to the homeless people and they’re like, I don’twant durable identity, I’m hoping that I get out of this and no one remembers who Iam at this stage of my life.Don’t put that to me, or I’mtrying to use the benefits of two different shelters at once, so I got two different IDs,don’t mess with me, buddy. You know what I mean, so there’s like– – Yeah, so we’re notconnecting with people enough, again, it’s– – Right. And the techno-solutionist urge, even when it’s meant as I’m gonna do something good forhumanity, it still so often comes from the place ofhuman beings are the problem and technology is the solution, and that’s troubling, really. Right now in most people’s experience, technology is the problem andhuman beings are the solution. And that’s the mindset,as prejudice as it may be, people understand that from the Vannevar, well, they won’t understandit in these words, but Vannevar Bush went to Eisenhower and said, your colonial expansionis not gonna work anymore. You can’t grow capitalism onthe backs of the third world. But I have a new territoryfor you to colonize, and that territory is gonna be virtual, it’s gonna be this computer territory, this is gonna be the new industry that lets the American economy expand.But what we didn’t realize was that you can’t actually colonize the internet, you colonize human attention, you colonize human data, youcolonize human cognition, and that’s what’s been colonized, and people don’t feel, I don’t anyway, like Ihave enough time of the day in my own head or with other people. I feel at the mercy of these algorithms that want to figure out whatkind of menstrual pad I use. And they’re not, if it wasjust surveillance capitalism, if they were just watching me, that’d be one thing, butthey’re not just watching me. They’re tilting the very landscape to influence my behaviors,they’re changing the world. It’s like they’re, it’sa Truman Show where the internet that I get, whichis everything at this point, is being rendered inreal time by algorithms that are trying to get me tobehave in particular ways.And that is a weird worldto be walking through. And it’s a world where, becauseI can’t really see that, I don’t distrust the simulation, I distrust the other people. I distrust the other people because I can’t establish rapportwith them anymore, because they’re not looking at me, because they’re walking down the street staring in their phone, or because I’m only seeing them in Skype where I can’t see their pupils get bigger. I can’t establish report, andI don’t blame the technology, I blame the other person. And that leads to akind of a feedback loop of increasingly dehumanized developments. – Well, we are in a roomwith other people right now, we can connect and I do want to open it up to some audience questions. We have this question box, which if you haven’t seen it before, you just throw it to each other. And so if anyone would like the box, it has a microphone in it,so please speak into the box and let us know who you are.- My name is Ana Hessenbrook, I teach innovation here at MIT. You describe my problems, youdescribe my mother’s problems, you describe my children’s problems, you describe my granddaughter’s problems. But at the same time,half a billion Chinese have been lifted out of povertysince Jerry Garcia died. Isn’t that more important? – So wait, I just wannaget the two things. So, but give it back to him, though. (Kate and audience laughing) How are your grandchildren’s problems and the Chinese gettingout of poverty connected? – No, what we’re talking about is our attention being lost, the dehumanization of our world, all the values that we had askids are sort of disappearing. That’s something that we in this room can all agree to, because we’re rich.We’re the rich guys, right? But there’s a world of poverty out there, and there’s half a billionChinese, just to represent them, and that’s not the only ones. They’ve been lifted out of poverty while we’ve been losing a tinybit of our quality of life. So, which one is more important? – And you attribute the Chinese wealth to AI, to Facebook, to Google, to what? – Sure, to electronics and to the electronics that’s been assembled and the globalization of the system where all of a sudden there’sa lot of work in China where people can get paid,that wasn’t there 30 years ago. – I mean, it’s an interesting model. Alright, so let’s say, and it’s possible, white Western culture has run its course. We’ve been bad, wekilled Native Americans, we enslaved the Africans, so maybe the appropriate andethical step for us to take is to create technologies that make us suffer and maybe end our civilization, but our consumption of these technologies creates wealth for the Chinese who are assembling it. I mean, maybe. It still feels to me a littlebit like a zero sum game that I don’t know if we, it’s sort of like saying, okay, all of America’s addicted to heroin, but we’re buying the heroin from these Arab and Chinese countriesthat are growing the poppies and they’re getting outof poverty as a result.And fuck it, you know, we’rekind of bastards anyway, so let that happen. I could buy that as kind ofa civilization-wide penance, but I think we’re also in danger, and this is just me and 90% of scientists, I think we’re also in danger of destroying the planet itself. And I don’t know if arresting the American psyche, in an effort to save the Chinese economy through industrialization is the easiest way to fix things. But no, I see it. I mean, the real thing I would say is, for however much I hateFacebook for Americans, you look at how Facebook orcrypto are being used in Africa, it’s quite exciting. In Africa, they just callthe internet Facebook. That’s how they get on,and that’s how they do money transfer and find out about jobs, women use crypto, here, cryptois an investment scheme, in Africa, it’s a wayfor women to make money and hide it from their husbands, so they can, rather than having it beat out of them when they get home.So there’s a lot of ways that people who have more genuine needs, or more direct needs, are using technology in waysthat we can’t quite imagine because we’re usingthem for entertainment. But at the same time, I feel like our use of technology in this way is paralyzing our ability as kind of a civic guided republic, and potential catalyst for positive global change.I feel like it’s distractedus from that purpose. I don’t feel likeAmerica, other than maybe through the purchase ofChinese industrial goods, which that’s still poisoning the planet, I don’t see how we are activelypositively contributing to, you know, some kind of global harmony. I feel like we’re descending into kind of, in some sense, thisdigitally induced nationalism and borders and a very binary, polarized, dehumanized way of seeing the rest of the world. But sure, I mean some ofwhat I’m talking about are white people problems. Some of what I’m talking about, though, are species annihilation problems. – Where’d the box go? – Thank you. I’m Neo Mohsenvand, a PhD student in Pattie Maes’ lab, fluid interfaces.And my question is about cyborgs. Where do you think theywill fit in team human? Imagine in a decade or sowe will integrate with AI, so every individual willhave superhuman abilities. So how do you see that unfolding with the current operatingsystem of the society? – The who did you call them? – Cyborgs. – Oh, the cyborgs, human cyborgs? I mean I always thought of like a person with glasses as a cyborg, right? It’s sort of the beginning, you know? I think it’s always a matter of balance. Different people cantolerate different levels of enhancement before they kind of lose their center of cognitive gravity. And that’s sort of whatwe’re gonna see is, how much can you do, how quickly, before the person tips(laughs) into something else? So it’s gonna be interesting.I don’t think that the… Some of it, which is interesting to me. Some of it is about reacquainting people with the physical world,which is interesting. Like the people who put a little sensor on that buzzes when they’re facing north, and it’s like, and theyexperience it as really as this kind of a grounding thing, or people that have a littleshock or something go off when they’re just about to fall asleep so they can sustain the liminal state between waking and sleep. I mean that to me, thoseare cyborg enhancements. So I’m more interestedin cyborg enhancements that kind of extend the nervous system and my perceptual apparatus, than I am in ones that extend my supply of fixed data.So having the Spanish language, you know, the Cassell’s Dictionary here, is not as interesting to me as these almost morehumanities, artsy kinds of extensions. But I mean I do think we’regonna have some fallout. It’s the same as with pharmaceuticals. And again, I think the guide should be, and again, this might be, youknow, a white Western guide, but it’s a guide, is are we correcting the individual for the values of society? Are we giving the person their drugs so they fit into a sick,depressed, extractive society? Are we drugging 30% of, what is it, 30% of America’s onSSRIs now or something? I mean, are we drugging because there’s a systemic problem thatneeds to be addressed, or are we actually enhancing in an interesting and fun direction? That sort of, for me, willalways be the litmus test on whether I’m kind ofinterested in the thing.If we’re just gonna increasesomebody’s utility value by giving them the claw, you know, so now they can, you know. I mean, sure, if you like that, but that’s the part that starts to make me think of the human is the canvas, rather than the artist. – Actually, I’m gonna takethis Twitter question, because I think it’ll infuriate you. What do you think of theconcept of voluntary obsoletion, where humanity is slowly phased out in favor of a new conceptionof what it means to be human? Team Human strikes me asneedlessly adversarial. I think that’s a transhumanist, don’t you? – I guess. I guess I’m adversarial,needlessly adversarial, in other words, it’sinteresting construction. Why not just accept thathumans are going obsolete? My argument to retain a place for humans is adversarial to thosewho would replace us. I get that, it’s sort oflike creative destruction. The robots come, and that’s a creative destruction and the people go. No, I don’t think I’m being adversarial, I think I’m arguing thatwe’re not good enough at programming yet to take into account all of the weirdness of humans.I don’t believe that we yet know everything that happens ina square centimeter of soil. We’re only now getting scientists and everyone to agree that soil is alive, that soil is a matrix, that trees use soil to pass nutrients to one another, and there’s, you know, the mycelia are more adapted and advanced than us and keep us alive. So there’s so much aboutus that we don’t yet know, that I’m concerned that thexerox copy that we envision, even with its improvements,may leave something out. I still feel, again, controversially, like there’s something about record albums that CDs don’t capture, even at 44,000 whatever they are. Cycles, we’ll call ’em. Oh, the sampling rate. And it may be everything,it may be all you need, but. And that, when itfinally comes down to it, it sounds almost theist, but I, like Aristotle, I believein the human soul. I think that there’s some kind of pre-existing something about us. I think we come in with value, that we don’t have to prove our value.And until we reallyresolve a lot of questions about the quantum fields and all, I’m not willing to let us all go. I think that the human projectis still in its adolescence. And I will admit, in the 21st century, it is considered adversarial to argue for a place forhumans in the future. That’s adversarial. And if it is adversarial then I understand my work is important,because I am arguing for a sustainable role forhumans in our future, at least for the nextcouple of hundred years. I think it’s worth keeping us around, more than three or four of us in a zoo. And I think that losingseveral billion people to climate change as things move on would be a catastrophe, a bad thing. People on the other side ofthe wall in Mexico are humans. They’re not just MI 13sor whatever they are, they’re human beings.So yeah. But I don’t mean it’s like… Team human is fighting words, I guess. They say, you only saythis because you’re human, it’s like hubris, and I say, yeah, fine, guilty as charged, I’m on team human. And that’s kind ofsomething fun to fight for. It’s kind of fun. Where I come from, old fashioned, humankind was sort of thisgiven, that we have this role. I think we have a unique role in nature. I think that we’re the only ones who are self-aware in the way that we are. And I think that we can besort of planetary stewards. I think we can make nature less cruel. I think that we can bringmeaning to existence.And I don’t yet have faith that the rapid deployment of digital technology in the name of the next kind of human is being done with the care and precision, with the understandingof the underlying biases, with any consciousness ofcapitalism and the rules and what we’re embeddingthe technologies with. I don’t think that we are wise enough to build the next species as worthy as we are. – Well, I’m human, so thank you for fighting for me. (laughs) And for all of us. We’re over time, but, you know, pick up a book, get it signed, I’m sure we can hang out for a little bit more in this room. And please give our guest,Douglas Rushkoff, a big hand. – Thank you, thanks so much for having me. (audience applauding).

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