As the world wakes up to the power of big tech, we get to hear – belatedly – of all the damage wrought by the digital giants. Most of these debates, alas, don’t veer too far from the policy-oriented realms of economics or law. Now that the big technocracy wants to quash big tech, expect more such wonkery.
What, however, about the ideas that feed big tech? For one, we are no longer in 2009: Mark Zuckerberg’s sophomoric musings on transparency or the global village impress very few.
And yet, for all the growing skepticism about Silicon Valley, many still believe that the digital revolution has a serious intellectual dimension, hashed out at conferences like Ted, online salons like Edge.org, publications like Wired, and institutions like the MIT Media Lab. The ideas of the digerati might be wrong, they might be overly utopian, but, at least, they are sincere.
The Epstein scandal – including the latest revelation that Epstein might have channeled up to $8m (some of it, apparently, on behalf of Bill Gates) to the MIT Media Lab, while its executives were fully aware of his problematic background – has cast the digerati in a very different light. It has already led to the resignation of the lab’s director, Joi Ito.
This, however, is not only a story of individuals gone rogue. The ugly collective picture of the techno-elites that emerges from the Epstein scandal reveals them as a bunch of morally bankrupt opportunists.