Blog: Facebook’s Naive Neoliberal
A few days ago, an odd video appeared on Youtube. Odd not because of the content or style or conversation that it recorded but because of the way the sponsor himself comes across. In the video, Mark Zuckerberg, who presumably conceived the idea and paid for the video to be made, discusses the current state of technology with Yuval Harari, the best selling author and current guru for the elite regarding everything from feudalism to biotechnology. On the surface, it’s entertaining to watch how Harari stares at Zuckerberg quizzically, as if asking “Is he for real?” But on a deeper level it’s terrifying, not funny.
The video starts with about 14 minutes of Zuckerberg awkwardly going on and on about how lonely and isolated he felt as a child. He explains how he questioned his decision to play little league when really he just wanted to program computers but no one else around him shared the same passion. Poor Mark, all alone in that American, suburban neighborhood, forcing himself to play baseball just to fit in. The pain and the injustice that scene brings to mind is heartbreaking, isn’t it?
He shares this childhood story for two main reasons. First, he knows he has a reputation for coming off as inhuman, android like, and he probably thought this sort of story makes him seem normal, or at least capable of feelings. Second, he wants to set up Facebook’s virtues as a company that allows people to connect with others of similar interests. That leads to a conversation which is the main focus of the entire one and a half hour long video of which there is a lot to be said and analyzed, not least of which is how awkwardly he keeps returning to his interest in apparently “understanding” what interactions people find meaningful.
At about minute 29 however, Harari does his best to steer the conversation towards something of interest to society at large and not just Zuckerberg. He highlights two main concerns he thinks they should address: the loss of human agency to Artificial Intelligence and the development of Artificial Intelligence itself within a neoliberal context. It may come as a shock, but the billionaire head of Facebook tries to deflect both questions. But when Zuckerberg tries to explain his belief that the development of Artificial Intelligence will benefit all mankind, Harari reminds him that there is no historical precedent to support that claim and reminds him of the enormous economic gap caused by industrialization. If countries left behind by industrialization in the 19th century are only now catching up to industrialized nations, what will happen to them (and to those that never caught up at all) when those same industrialized nations take another, this time exponential leap forward with new modes of production based on AI?
Zuckerberg’s naive and ignorant answer is a mirror like reflection of that childhood he so awkwardly shared at the start of the conversation. If forcing himself to play little league in order to fit in is the defining trauma of his life, it should come as no surprise then that he has no point of reference to help him understand what poverty, discrimination, war or politics are and how they affect most people in the world. If everyone has access to Amazon’s web services, he asks, why wouldn’t enterprising young Hondurans or Yemenis be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and even lift their communities out of wretched despair? He is in fact suggesting that perhaps there is something wrong with the billions of people around the world who have not made themselves rich by harnessing the potential of all these cool tools offered by Big Tech. Don’t they know, he seems to wonder, that all they need to do is program an awesome new app and the gates to Silicon Heaven will open?
See for yourself.