Luciano Floridi: “The Silicon Valley dream is over”

Real legacy of the digital revolution. According to the philosopher and lecturer at the universities of Oxford and Bologna, the time has come to play everything for everything

Top view of Silicon Valley (photo credits: Patrick Nouhailler via Flickr)

The Dream is over“, John Lennon sang on one of his records from 1970. Title of the piece? God, nothing less. A dead and buried god together with all his earthly declensions – from Christ to Elvis with Kennedy and Hitler in the middle – screamed the most disillusioned among the Queen’s barons, now dismissed from the Beatles and from a life that never failed to celebrate as naive and beautiful and closed.

If he were still among us today, it is not excluded that Lennon, the same verses – “The Dream is over, the dream is over “ – he would call them Internet, just to stay on the side of divinity and surrogates. Away from dichotomies – blessing of the world or the source of all its distortions? – it makes more sense to understand what remains, today, of the promised land of Silicon Valley, that nirvana of evolved cyber libertarianism, also, in the finest persuasion machine ever seen, a Leviathan fattened a like, influencers, more or less fake news, and casual forcing of privacy.

Precisely this investigates the new number of Wired on newsstands from 24 June: the dream ended, in short, and manifested itself the great deception are we really left with social media in hand? Isn’t there really at least one alternative to the promised paradise?

I think the Silicon Valley myth was justifiedHe replies. Not Lennon, but Luciano Florida, Professor of Philosophy and Information Ethics at Oxford University and Professor of Sociology of Culture and Communication at the University of Bologna. “Silicon Valley has been able to attract curiosity, talents, financing, which have gradually specialized in sectors with high technological quality, with an enviable synergy. It was a pole that has brought together some of the best minds of the planet. However, it is illusory to believe that that model is repeatable, which does not exclude the possibility of alternative competition. I am thinking of Texas, towards which today there is a constant migratory flow of ‘digital’ companies and personnel, of the New York area, Boston, but also Singapore or what we try to do today in Bologna: we are coming to see more distributed systems, in which it is likely that it will no longer be true that a region that wins, wins everything “.

An emerging paradigm, like a phoenix ready to rise from the ashes of brilliant intelligences in the service of clickbait. “It would be enough to remember that in recent years there are many sectors in which technological innovation has made enormous strides. A counterexample, however trivial, to internet advertising? There blockchain: in this case the innovation was of a mathematical type. He saw and is seeing extraordinary applications not so much on the Bitcoin side, but on that of smart contract. A platform like Ethereum it is the proof of intelligence at the service of an innovation unrelated to advertising“.

Luciano Floridi at Wired Next Fest ((photo Zoe Vincenti - Ernesto Ruscio)
Luciano Floridi on the stage of Wired Next Fest in Florence (photo Zoe Vincenti and Ernesto Ruscio)

Yet there is no doubt that our way of thinking, acting, relating to others is affected by the culture radiated by California. “Who knows what the world would have been like if digital had just come from Chicago, New York instead of Los Angeles or San Francisco. What different culture would we have of our interaction if the digital revolution had started in Moscow, Seoul, or Tokyo? We will never know, but part of the philosophical question, a small but important part, lies in the digging the conceptual assumptions that we never question. After all we have immersed ourselves, and a bit like a fish that never wonders what water is like, it is rare to wonder what digital culture we have absorbed and are absorbing with the internet, with social media and with the possibilities that they have given us. , or removed, depending on the design of the platforms. Just think of the early days of Facebook, when the only possible interaction was to put a like. Even this simplification, that of a single allowed gesture, is culture. Or consider the revenge that would generate the view of people taking away from us. The design of our digital environment involves, day after day, getting used to ways of acting and operating, of doing things, of understanding them, of conceptualizing them. The design of our interactions is critical to understanding how thinking is conforming“.

It remains to be understood whether the process is irreversible. “I believe that part of contemporary culture, that for which one is worth one and freedom of speech is untouchable and never negotiable in the need to be reconciled with other fundamental rights, such as personal security for example, here I believe that similar phenomena also derive from the way in which which we have absorbed the philosophy of Silicon Valley, a philosophy behind the philosophy, breathable in the streets, in the corridors of companies.

I like it? Impossible to judge without knowing what it would have been if… But I believe that something is changing, I noticed this on Netflix“. Netflix? “I refer to production policies of the platform, on which I happened to see a Turkish adventure film. Beautiful, with local actors, shot in a completely different way than Hollywood or Silicon Valley would have done. This much more widespread distribution around the world is good for you. Because even those who grew up like me in the 60s, in a very positive, post-war culture of America, should recognize that monoculturalism hurts to all. It also hurts the United States, because it reveals the inability to see beyond themselves, to recognize their limits and then manage them if not overcome them. Monoculturalism is a mental prison that often generates intolerance towards the other “.

From Netflix to its denial: after all, even the counterculture was born from the dominant paradigms of the United States. “This is why I believe that even today similar phenomena could emerge, and emerge in a much more significant way when there are more incentives for this to happen. Monoculturalism is not born by chance, but because there are no resistances to a force more preponderant than the others. It’s a bit like a plant that grows well in a particular environment where it ends up killing all the others, dominating. Monoculture contrasts by changing its conditions of hegemonic possibility, not eradicating it. Otherwise, the risk is that it will be reborn. With a Silicon Valley that was truly more open to the world, that was more aware and diverse, we would see alternative narratives spreading. I hope it will happen“.

Still a question of culture, of thought, well beyond the borders of digital. “I think of the environmental issue: on this spacecraft called ‘planet Earth’, there is still a lot to do. We can still rectify the situation and thanks to the technology and wealth accumulated over all these years. The extraordinary resources of intelligence, science and financial wealth that we have must be put in the right direction. But we need to start thinking about the our landing in Normandy, that is, to the final effort in which we go all out to defeat evil. I am happy to notice a new awareness, more and more widespread. For this I have the hope that perhaps we will see the alternative to a only promised paradise. Today the paradise is up to us to make it happen, we have the means and the skills, but there is a lack of goodwill and the right policy, which is why I am not pessimistic, but frustrated, frustrated by our inability to get out of a self-inflicted hell. We have a great human project to carry out for our century: the marriage between the green of all our environments – biological, urban, social, economic, political – and the blue of all our digital technologies, from interent to social networks, from mobile telephony to supercomputing, from intelligence artificial to large databases. It is on this ‘Green & Blue’ human project for the 21st century that we must bet everything, to save goats and cabbages, ourselves and the planet we inhabit. We can do it and we must do it “.

No, the dream is not over, John.

On this same theme, in Wired n.97 currently on newsstands you will find an interview with Jaron Lanier, computer “guru” and one of the fathers of virtual reality.

Categories:   Internet