Paul Mason on the Human Future
We talk to Paul Mason about his new book Clear Bright Future - a radical defence of the human being in the age of digital transformation and a call to political action. The book covers a lot of ground and so do we: Trump and Nietzsche, machine learning and network effects, climate change and neoliberalism, secular humanism and Christian Enlightenment. But no Brexit! A conversation about the biggest political choices we face and the deep philosophical questions that lie behind them. With Helen Thompson.
How do we demystify technology?
- In his first book on mechanics, Galileo described machines as things that harness the forces of nature.
- Likewise, Adam Smith emphasized that labour produces value, not machines.
- Modern science often likens reality to a computer; but we’ve created them, not the other way around.
AI has the potential to fundamentally transform industrial societies.
- Civil society needs to have a say in how this technology evolves.
- How do we introduce ethical questions earlier in the process, instead of building first and asking questions later?
Information has never been more abundant, yet we feel relatively helpless because we have so little control over network effects and the information environment.
- Information wants to be free, but everywhere it is in chains.
- Information technology has not created the fourth industrial revolution; it has created social relations of production that are designed to suppress the fourth industrial revolution.
Is there still space in our political discourse for difficult choices? Are we willing to lose things we value if we want things to be better?
- Paul thinks that civil society needs to refocus on moral philosophy.
- Paul takes Nietzsche to task and argues that there is a biological basis for universal human rights.
Paul is critical of the effect of neoliberal practice on the human self.
- He argues that in America, the problem, as Arendt put it, is an alliance of the elite and the mob over “access to history.”
- The thing to fight for is not just the truth but the possibility of truth.
According to Paul, the left needs to harness the power of the state.
- He calls himself a “radical social democrat.”
- He thinks that the left’s failure to project a holistic answer and theory of reality has left the right possessing all of the momentum.
Mentioned in this Episode:
- David’s review of Paul’s earlier book, PostCapitalism
- Green New Deal?
- Google, Deepmind, and ethical dilemmas
- The Talking Politics Guide to… Machine Learning
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
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