Imagine a world with no musicians and no writers. A world where no news isn’t good news, it’s fake news. A world in which we can’t even think for ourselves.
Welcome to the Information Armageddon — it’s coming our way.
This is the dire prediction of US communications expert, author, film producer — and Bob Dylan’s former manager — Jonathan Taplin, who has warned that tech giants who loudly proclaim to be progressive forces with such mottos as “Don’t be evil” are in fact, well, evil.
Professor Taplin says that unless internet giants such as Facebook, Google and YouTube are forced to give a better deal to the people who provide all their content we will end up losing that content altogether.
Meanwhile, they are working on making us so dependent on technology and instant access to information that any collapse of the internet would render us effectively blind.
Taplin has spent years researching these companies and the men behind them and discovered that behind the funky Silicon Valley facade is a far more sinister purpose: Namely to create all-powerful monopolies that force artists and other producers to effectively hand over their work at gunpoint, while at the same time collecting vast hordes of data from the people who consume it — in other words, all of us.
And he says that unless there is a massive consumer revolution or government action, civilisation is headed over the cliff.
Speaking to news.com.au during a visit to Australia, which he says is better placed than the US to act before it’s too late, the mild-mannered Taplin offers a unique vision of an information Armageddon.
“Facebook is working on a technology that can essentially read your mind,” he says, referring to reports last month that the social media giant had hired 60 people to find out how to transcribe thoughts directly onto the screen.
“You wouldn’t have to actually type, you would just think the thoughts and they would appear on Facebook. So it seems to me that ultimately where this goes is that you become so dependent on your devices for everything that you would have lost any critical ability to find information, understand stuff.
“And at some point if, say, there was a huge network breakdown we would essentially be like blind men stumbling around in the dark because we would have not only lost the ability to know anything we would have lost the ability to find out how we need to know something.”
He holds similar fears about the so-called “Google effect”, especially now moves are afoot to develop a Google Now chip that could connect to the brain.
“If you are totally dependent on Google for all your knowledge and understanding of anything such as history, maths and essentially abandon yourself to Google’s knowledge engine then what happens if Google goes away. You would be like a blind, knowledge-less person. You would be like a child.”
He is also highly sceptical of Google’s “Don’t be evil” ethos, citing its then CEO telling The Atlantic in 2010: “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it” — which Taplin describes as “a debatable statement at best”.
All this is in his book Move Fast and Break Things, named after a quote from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Taplin says tech bosses like Zuckerberg are indeed breaking things — in fact they are destroying human creativity by blasting out virtually limitless content without giving any fair compensation to the people who produce it — all the while sucking away ad dollars from other media.
The result, he says, will be the death of content itself, from music to journalism.
“First off, there won’t be money to finance new content. In the US there are 50 per cent fewer people working in journalism than there were 10 years ago. It won’t be a profession that anyone can go into,” he tells news.com.au.
“And quite honestly, someone might be able to make music as a hobby but other than the big stars I don’t think anybody could make a living out of it.”
Taplin says it is up to everybody — both producers and consumers — to realise this and revolt against the tech giants in an effort to make them change their behaviour if they want to keep their reputations as progressive forces for good.
This is especially necessary because tech companies seem to resist any form of government regulation as well as a growing view that Silicon Valley is becoming more powerful than the US government anyway.
Taplin notes that Google’s Larry Page has financed research on “privately-owned city states” while PayPal founder Peter Thiel has gone right into the realm of science fiction to avoid government oversight.
“Thiel has financially supported an idea called seasteading, which is the concept of creating permanent artificial islands, called seasteads, outside the territory claimed by any government,” he writes.
“These cloud businesses could thereby escape taxation and regulation.”
Taplin has called on Australian politicians to lead the way in making giants such as Facebook and Google and YouTube pay for the content they use or face a world where that content no longer exists.
“Somehow there’s this illusion that people will continue to lose millions of dollars producing newspapers or music. It is a fantasy on the part of the politicians,” he tells news.com.au.
“I think a lot of them are beginning to realise that this content cannot be created for free and somehow, just for democracy’s sake we have to have a vital journalism community and we also have to have a vital artistic community.”
While companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google promise they will take steps to reduce “fake news,” Michael J. Casey and Oliver Luckett, authors of “The Social Organism,” argue the first step is an overhaul of the companies’ algorithm-based platforms to make them more transparent. Photo: iStock