The Absurd Moral Authority of Futurism
Yesterday one of my long-standing fears was confirmed: futurists are considered moral authorities.
The Intercept published an article entitled Microsoft Pitches Technology That Can Read Facial Expressions at Political Rallies, and written by Alex Emmons, which described a new Microsoft product that is meant to be used at large events like the Superbowl, or a Trump rally, to discern “anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, neutral, sadness or surprise” in the crowd.
Spokesperson Kathryn Stack, when asked whether the tool could be used to identify dissidents or protesters, responded as follows:
“I think that would be a question for a futurist, not a technologist.”
Can we parse that a bit?
First and foremost, it is meant to convey that the technologists themselves are not responsible for the use of their technologies, even if they’ve intentionally designed it for sale to political campaigns.
So yeah, I created this efficient plug-and-play tool of social control, but that doesn’t mean I expect people to use it!
Second, beyond the deflecting of responsibility, the goal of that answer is to point to the person who really is in charge, which is for some reason “a futurist.” What?
Now, my experience with futurists is rather limited – although last year I declared myself to be one – but even so, I’d like to point out that futurism is male dominated, almost entirely white, and almost entirely consists of Silicon Valley nerds. They spend their time arguing about the exact timing and nature of the singularity, whether we’ll live forever in bliss or we’ll live forever under the control of rampant and hostile AI.
In particular, there’s no reason to imagine that they are well-versed in the history or in the rights of protesters or of political struggle.
In Star Wars terms, the futurists are the Empire, and Black Lives Matter are the scrappy Rebel Alliance. It’s pretty clear, to me at least, that we wouldn’t go to Emperor Palpatine for advice on ethics.