How to be “Team Human” in the Digital Future: Douglas Rushkoff (Transcript)

Or the intelligence to be able to participate in democracy. When we make it an extension of the job, what are we really doing? We’re just letting corporations really externalize the cost of training their workers.

And the worst of all really is the humane technology movement. I mean, I love these guys, the former guys who used to take the algorithms from Las Vegas slot machines and put them in our social media feed so that we get addicted. Now they’ve seen the error of their ways and they want to make technology more humane.

But when I hear the expression “humane technology,” I think about cage-free chickens or something. We’re going to be as humane as possible to them, until we take them to the slaughter. So now they’re going to let these technologies be as humane as possible, as long as they extract enough data and extract enough money from us to please their shareholders.

Meanwhile, the shareholders, for their part, they’re just thinking, “I need to earn enough money now, so I can insulate myself from the world I’m creating by earning money in this way.”

No matter how many VR goggles they slap on their faces and whatever fantasy world they go into, they can’t externalize the slavery and pollution that was caused through the manufacture of the very device.

It reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s dumbwaiter. Now, we like to think that he made the dumbwaiter in order to spare his slaves all that labor of carrying the food up to the dining room for the people to eat. That’s not what it was for, it wasn’t for the slaves, it was for Thomas Jefferson and his dinner guests, so they didn’t have to see the slave bringing the food up. The food just arrived magically, like it was coming out of a “Start Trek” replicator. It’s part of an ethos that says, human beings are the problem and technology is the solution.

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We can’t think that way anymore. We have to stop using technology to optimize human beings for the market and start optimizing technology for the human future. But that’s a really hard argument to make these days, because humans are not popular beings. I talked about this in front of an environmentalist just the other day, and she said, “Why are you defending humans? Humans destroyed the planet. They deserve to go extinct.”

Even our popular media hates humans. Watch television, all the sci-fi shows are about how robots are better and nicer than people. Even zombie shows — what is every zombie show about? Some person, looking at the horizon at some zombie going by, and they zoom in on the person and you see the person’s face, and you know what they’re thinking: “What’s really the difference between that zombie and me? He walks, I walk. He eats, I eat. He kills, I kill.”

But he’s a zombie. At least you’re aware of it. If we are actually having trouble distinguishing ourselves from zombies, we have a pretty big problem going on. And don’t even get me started on the transhumanists. I was on a panel with a transhumanist, and he’s going on about the singularity. “Oh, the day is going to come really soon when computers are smarter than people. And the only option for people at that point is to pass the evolutionary torch to our successor and fade into the background. Maybe at best, upload your consciousness to a silicon chip. And accept your extinction.”

And I said, “No, human beings are special. We can embrace ambiguity, we understand paradox, we’re conscious, we’re weird, we’re quirky. There should be a place for humans in the digital future.”

And he said, “Oh, Rushkoff, you’re just saying that because you’re a human.” As if it’s hubris OK, I’m on “Team Human.” That was the original insight of the digital age.

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That being human is a team sport, evolution’s a collaborative act. Even the trees in the forest, they’re not all in competition with each other, they’re connected with the vast network of roots and mushrooms that let them communicate with one another and pass nutrients back and forth.

If human beings are the most evolved species, it’s because we have the most evolved ways of collaborating and communicating. We have language. We have technology.

It’s funny, I used to be the guy who talked about the digital future for people who hadn’t yet experienced anything digital. And now I feel like I’m the last guy who remembers what life was like before digital technology. It’s not a matter of rejecting the digital or rejecting the technological. It’s a matter of retrieving the values that we’re in danger of leaving behind and then embedding them in the digital infrastructure for the future.

And that’s not rocket science. It’s as simple as making a social network that instead of teaching us to see people as adversaries, it teaches us to see our adversaries as people. It means creating an economy that doesn’t favor a platform monopoly that wants to extract all the value out of people and places, but one that promotes the circulation of value through a community and allows us to establish platform cooperatives that distribute ownership as wide as possible.

It means building platforms that don’t repress our creativity and novelty in the name of prediction but actually promote creativity and novelty, so that we can come up with some of the solutions to actually get ourselves out of the mess that we’re in.

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