|Photo: Sanjena Sathian|
Enter a bookstore, while they still exist. Walk toward the philosophy section, toward shelves of fat books by Plato, Nietzsche, Spinoza. Some postmodernists with funny names — Zizek, Baudrillard. Perhaps you browse through their pages before putting them back in their place, respectfully but with a bit of a yawn.
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Video by Melanie Ruiz.
More appealing, perhaps: the books at the front of the store, the best sellers, the ones that portend crises (Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future); others advise on surviving one (Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence). The business best sellers are more gung-ho about the changes to come: Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. Or Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.
These almost-sci-fi books offer the Silicon Valley zeitgeist, distilled and ready to drink: This is the applied philosophy of doers and thought leaders, sculpted by the kings and fewer queens of the Bay Area, this gleaming, ambitious place that churns out innovation at an exponential rate and is quietly building your future.
These thinkers have smartened up talking thermostats, installed robots on the manufacturing floor and begun to unschool us all. They will rewrite labor laws and colonize Mars. And whether you like their thinking or not, today’s techno-philosophers are incarnating the next generation of big ideas, intentionally tackling fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness and what constitutes the good life, questions that once lived mainly in philosophy departments.
Yet the grand ideas driving the technological age seem to move so fast as to be positively ephemeral for the rest of us. Many live in rapid, self-referential conversations and retweets and late-night ideating between designers. They take form in a language that could frighten away those who deem themselves technologically illiterate. Parse the insider chatter and you will discover the philosophies of the people who will direct flows of money through this boom and its potential busts and those who own your many screens. But perhaps the most seemingly dreamy-eyed of the bunch are using their epistemological, ontological and ethical muscles on giant, sometimes scary, positively cinematic issues of artificial intelligence. Meet the futurists.