Reckoning with the power of tech, when there's no going back
Homo Deus was my introduction to Harari's school of techno-utopians. It is a terrifying book. At each chapter, you think he must be sarcastic, since no one could believe such insane things about the malleability of human nature and society. By the end of the book you're forced to realize that he's dead serious: embrace technology, become God. This man thought Brave New World was a how-to manual. In the vein of "know thy enemy", I highly recommend Homo Deus. Or perhaps in this case, "know The Enemy" is more appropriate.
I predict Keeper will be forced out of business within 3 years by lawsuits that it's treating men and women differently and discriminating against "transwomen" (who ARE women, in case you haven't heard.) Something this useful can't be allowed to continue perpetuating its bigotry. Besides, who wants families (Noah Harari certainly doesn't) when the Earth is going to broil in 12 years (or is it 9 now, Greta?)
Just a pedantic footnote: the tale of the sorcerer's apprentice goes back at least as far as the third century Greek satirist Lucian.
An interesting post this... and Keeper does, as you say, sound like something to be positive about; a kind of AI-enhanced marriage bureau. But whether it's dating apps or pre-internet bureaus, there's no escaping the fundamental asymmetries in sexual mating...the ones that favour (a minority of) confident successful men and (a minority of) highly physically alluring 'pretty' women. Keeper's stratagems are going to have no choice but to reckon with these gaps between desires and reality.
I've been working for sometime now on a possible essay entitled The Less Desired....inspired by just how little attention journalism about sexual mating generally gives to any empathetic consideration of the perspective of 'beta' males and 'plain' females. https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/
Yuval Harari certainly seems to have taken on the role of Mephistopheles with his ethically vacuous appeal to power through merging with technology. I read both Sapiens and Homo Deus and found those books riddled with errors, easy to debunk. I wrote about it on my Substack. On the question of technology, I also wrote in my book Words from the Dead about Samuel Butler's utopian novel Erewhon (1872) in which his fictional society had achieved a state of social equilibrium through a process of public dialogue about technology. They assessed each technology on its merits and its net impact on society—those with too much on the negative side of the social balance sheet were banned or discarded, the rest were kept as useful appurtenances to civilization. This is the social conversation we should be having but aren't. As you so aptly say, Mary, "this means abandoning the delusion that tech is value-neutral..." i.e. the commercial brainwashing that all tech is automatically good and an evidence of "progress."
As you say technological innovation typically offers convenience at first, then scalability of our interests/activities and it's at that point we see the consequences. It is a universal part of our history. I'd argue that the apparent sophistication and rate of speed is not always proportional to impact - each new innovation is built on top of those that came before which actually were more revolutionary. Something as simple as clothing for example allowed us to move from the subtropics to higher latitudes. This had a far bigger impact than AI will likely have.
AI for analysis of text or images is nothing compared to the technologies of seismic surveying, tomography or indeed print. AI just is another opportunity to enhance those greater innovations by automating away the difficult parts (but not necessarily producing better results just quicker).
BTW I wouldn't take any direction from Harari - he only ever has a superficial knowledge of the subjects about which he talks. He's just type of grifter. The style is the same (his and his ilk): conceptual f-bombs, then conjecture that forms the basis of a certainty only he can see (and those that read - re BUY - his work).
Meaning and truth are different. The search for meaning is almost always a striving for power. Meaning and power are not alternatives but co-dependent.
Meaning derives from a set of judgements about value. We say that for example, justice (fairness between people) is "better" than oppression (unfairness due to intention or neglect). But the Faustian dilemma is that making the meaning manifest in the real world requires power.
Power is a coalition of the self interested. The dipole of power is not meaning, but truth which when power is pursued, must always be compromised to build that coalition.
The person who chooses integrity is true to themselves but in social terms, weak, whereas the person who pursues meaning through power becomes influential, but is so compromised by the building of alliances that the original intent is lost. They come only to represent the interests of the coalition they have built.
For people in power, the meaning of their lives is equal to the power they wield. They perceive their lives as more meaningul and so more important, than the lives of the less powerful. This is why they become addicted to power and tyranny is an ever present threat.
It follows that truth is the precursor of meaning and the enemy of power. The broom is a flight that always ends in a crash when the weight of lies overcomes the magic spell.
I think the key distinction here is the old Aristotelian notion of Teleology. Does such tech help or hurt the ultimate aim or goal of man? I.E. glasses help our eyes fulfill their intended purpose. Viagra is licit because it helps the body fulfill its natural function whereas birth control does the opposite. Tinder encourages concupiscence but this keeper app I suppose encourages marriage.
Alasdair Macintyre said we were in a moral dark age in his book “After Virtue” in the 80’s. What we really need is the wisdom to discern natural from unnatural when it comes to tech, not just a destructive Luddite reaction.
Harrington is of course right that there is no going back. But the question is of how to think about this going forward. And again I'll repeat that the appeal to "human nature" here often feels unprincipled and is just a kind of smokescreen term for things the author finds "salutary" or pleasing rather than weird or uncomfortable.
Any dating/mating app completely rewrites the 5,000,000 year-old process for human courtship and so probably cannot be described as something that "helps human nature flourish". People staring down at little glowing screens in order to meet partners instead of going into their communities to do so... this is entirely new, unnatural, biologically unprecedented. There is every reason to believe that it will have profound and potentially very negative effects on relationships themselves; i.e. when 500 alternative partners are just a glance at the phone away. None of this is natural, it is a rewiring of a basic feature of human social life.
The author has values: she values family formation and marriage, and Keeper is more likely to produce those values than other apps. So she values Keeper. This is totally fine, but it is too late in the game to pretend that any of this has something to do with nature.
Reactionary feminist, but not radical feminist, then? Who says there's no going back? Can't we unmake what we have made? Sure, it goes against the dominant grain, it could even be dangerous these days.
I am reviewing your book here in France for my friends who are "anti industrialists" (industrial society isn't dead, it has moved to our colonieswhich include women). I am also writing it for my feminist friends who are trying to resist the erasure of women by biotechnologies. And from that point of view, t.his post is disappointing.It looks like you're giving up. Then, you might as well stop writing, what's the point if we can't help It?
I'd rather die standing up. If I may, I want to recommend this book to you: The Subsistence Perspective, by Veronika Bennholt-Thomsen and Maria Mies, published by Zed Books.
I rather like your book and agree with quite a few points in it, but not all, most notably tech, of course and the acceptance of capitalism.
But then , I could be your mother, my daughter is your age and I'm 75 years old, so...
The apps you mention might incentivise human thriving, still the biggest problem is that they act as mediators of human interactions. The more mediators we add, the more we enfeeble ourselves.
In order to work from home, the freelance laptop class must rely on LinkedIn, Instagram, Google, Twitter and other centralised platforms. The biopolitical aspect has reached surreal levels; if I want to say hi to my mother, I must rely on Zucc's virtual land; if my 20 something brother wants to date girls, he must rely on tinder. If he wants to 'court' girls with virtuous prospects, there's an app for that, praise the cyborg lord!
“Technopoly” by Neil Postman is a must read on the topic of human-technology interface. The key question is who or what lies at the top of the hierarchy? Does technology serve humans, or do humans serve technology?
Keeper sounds interesting and less destructive than other dating apps. I know we can’t go back, and some technologies may be more favorable to human flourishing, but I’m still skeptical. I hope I’m wrong!
'Keeper' is a good concept. I would add to the app a way for parents (and perhaps friends) to also fill in data about the applicant. This would more closely mirror old world matchmaking, which involved parental consent. Matches might be made where each party had the support of family.
Sorry. Not convinced that corporatization of matchmaking arranged marriages will ever be good for us socially. Better off with your dysfunctional family lining you up with their Dentist’s son.
"There's no going back." True enough, and that's probably what the airlines ground worker thought last week as he was ingested into the turbine engine of a taxiing Delta jet in Dallas. But then, that death has been ruled a suicide. So perhaps it was a simple matter of, "My life has lost all its meaning, but this is great technology."
“It’s not just the loss of meaning: it’s that our powers don’t always take us where we want to go, or stop when we want them to”
The latter-part of the quote above, in my mind, echoes the subtitle of James Scott’s book: “Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed”