Google has lost sight of its "don't be evil mission." Can it be brought back to the ethical path?
By Hazel Henderson
Dear Sergey and Larry: I have to tell you why I recently sold my Google stock after holding on since it sank below 300. I believed you both saw the future as I did: a whole-system transition from the fossil-fueled Industrial Era to the cleaner, knowledge-rich, green economies of the Solar Age.
Do No Evil?
Lately, I saw Google losing its way, funding regressive organizations fronting for the fossilized sectors and legacy incumbent interests holding back the green economy!
Nick Surgey of PR Watch reported on November 27, 2013, that these include Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Federalist Society and the American Conservative Union, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation working to shut down Obamacare. I’m relieved that Google is re-focusing on green sectors, investing in Nest, Cool Planet Energy and Clean Power Finance.
Tech Bling's Unintended Consequences
My deeper misgivings concern Google’s R&D, which is narrowly focused on linear, often trivial extensions of IT, like Google Glass and its privacy implications. I worry about your obsession with self-driving automated vehicles, robots and even implanting technologies to enhance human bodies dreamed by futurist Ray Kurzweil and the transhumanist movement.
My social concerns go beyond the loss of entry-level jobs, de-skilling and redundancy for millions aspiring to join the middle class. Such a huge social and cultural disruption would change the face of America in unanticipated ways: widening inequality, stagnating wages and aggregate demand.
Few of the safety and efficiency arguments put forth by Eric Schmidt convince me that any systemic technology assessments have been made on these broader social and macroeconomic consequences.
Who Owns the Future?
It won’t work to call me a “luddite.”
I was an early enthusiast of automation. I envisioned along with many futurists a post-industrial, “Leisure Society” based on self-development, human potential, sports, entertainment and culture, where displaced workers would own a piece of those job-destroying machines. We saw guaranteed basic incomes for all, so as to maintain their purchasing power to consume the cornucopia of new goods and services and keep up aggregate demand.
Instead, we have jobless growth, rising inequality, declining real wages with many needing two or three service jobs to make ends meet. Information technology raced ahead, digitizing sector after sector, while social innovation lagged far behind. The only visionary I have found in the IT community facing up to rising jobless inequality is computer scientist Jaron Lanier in Who Owns The Future (2013).
I served on the Technology Assessment Advisory Council of the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) from 1974 until 1980, as well as in other science policy roles. OTA’s charge was to assess the long-term, broader social and environmental consequences of technological choices. Which groups would win and who would lose?
OTA examined nuclear power, the internal combustion engine, global corporations, electronic trading and stock exchanges, GMO foods and agriculture, deep-ocean oil drilling and the hazards of liquefied natural gas, to name a few of our still-relevant reports. We at Ethical Markets expect to re-publish some of these from our OTA section in our Henderson-Kay-Schumacher Library. OTA was shut down in 1996 by the Republicans who prefer to leave such technological decisions to the magic of the marketplace.
Google Joins Military-Industrial Complex
Today, social and environmental concerns about drones, robots and creeping digitalization and automation are heightened by misuse of "Big Data" by the NSA, the nightmare of swarms of Amazon’s delivery drones darkening our skies and the overall disruption of society by such continued jobless economic growth.
De-skilling is a concern in air travel, with crashes now blamed on pilots so dependent on “fly-by-wire” that when these computer systems failed, they lost their piloting skills.
Even more worrying is the news that Google has purchased eight military robot-manufacturing companies. What is going on? And why is Eric Schmidt worming his way into politics and media outlets like The Economist? Is this the new direction of the IT–Silicon Valley culture with its well-known Libertarian leanings?
We hear your rallying cries: “Freedom” and “Liberty,” but we wonder whether it’s only for your freedom, with little care for the freedoms of the rest of us in society? Is Eric Schmidt following Jeff Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post?
The Corruption of Narcissism and Absolute Power
All these look like pure power plays.
As Lord Acton said: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Some humility is needed before Google joins the “too big to fail” dinosaur sector. Google has too many loose cannons in its Google X “innovation” group, with too much narcissism and spare money to throw around.
Come home, Sergey and Larry! Take charge and steer Google back to its focus on the Solar Age and our human future, by continuing with all your great, innovative green economy investments!
Don't be evil!