Michel Bauwens: Abandoning Checks & Balances

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Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens

Question authority!

‘We are abandoning all the checks and balances’

WASHINGTON – Evgeny Morozov is a Belarus-born technology writer who has held positions at Stanford and Georgetown universities in the United States. His first book, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, argued that “Western do-gooders may have missed how [the Internet] … entrenches dictators, threatens dissidents, and makes it harder — not easier — to promote democracy.” The New York Times described it as “brilliant and courageous.”

In his second book, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Follow of Technological Solutionism, Click Here, Morozov critiques what he calls “solutionism” — the idea that given the right code, algorithms and robots, technology can solve all of mankind’s problems, effectively making life “frictionless” and problem-free.

Evgeny Morozov

Evgeny Morozov

Morozov argues that this drive to eradicate imperfection and make everything “efficient” shuts down other avenues of progress and leads ultimately to an algorithm-driven world where Silicon Valley, rather than elected governments, determines the shape of the future.

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All solutions come with cost. Shifting a lot of the responsibility to the individual is a very conservative approach that seeks to preserve the current system instead of reforming it. With self-tracking we end up optimizing our behavior within the existing constraints rather than changing the constraints to begin with. It places us as consumers rather than citizens. My fear is policymakers will increasingly find that it is much easier, cheaper and sexier to invite the likes of Google to engage in some of this problem-solving rather than do something that is much more ambitious and radical.

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I have a lot of respect for these people as engineers, but they are being asked to take on tasks that go far beyond engineering — tasks that have to do with human and social engineering rather than technical engineering. Those are the kind of tasks I would prefer were taken on by human beings who are more well rounded, who know about philosophy and ethics, and know something about things other than efficiency, because it will not end well.

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The newspaper offers something very different from Google’s aggregators. It offers a value system, an idea of what matters in the world. Newspapers need to start articulating that value.

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There are many problems I have with TED. It has created this infrastructure where it very easy to be interesting without being very deep. If TED exercised their curatorial powers responsibly, they would be able to separate the good interesting from the bad interesting. But my fear is they don’t care as long as it drives eyeballs to the website. They don’t align themselves with the thinkers, they align themselves with marketing, advertising, futurists who are interested in ideas for the sake of ideas. They don’t care how these ideas relate to each other and they don’t much care for what those ideas actually mean. TED has come to exercise lots of power but they don’t exercise it wisely.

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Mar 16

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