Parallax Views w/ J.G. Michael

Ep. 79: David Golumbia on The Silicon Valley Ideology, Racism, and AI

April 8, 2019

On this edition of Parallax Views, we probe the possible intersection between the ideology of Silicon Valley tech culture's obsession with strong AI, or General Artificial Intelligence, and the issues of racism and white supremacy with David Golumbia, author of The Cultural Logic of Computation, The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism, and the recent essay (and subject of this episode) "The Great White Robot God: Artificial General Intelligence and White Supremacy".

We begin the conversation by discussing how David became interested in the topic of philosophy and ideology as it relates to tech culture. David explains how he was interested in the analytic philosophy of figures like Hilary Putnam, specifically the philosophy of language as it relates to mind, and its relation to the left intellectual tradition. In particular, David discusses the computational model of understanding the mind and why he has been critical of it. Additionally, David notes how he saw the early tech culture, or computer liberation, as engaging with right-wing ideology as opposed to left-wing intellectual traditions. During this portion of the conversation we delve into the philosophical differences between the left and right's intellectual traditions, and especially how they view freedom in extremely different ways.

From there delve into what's been called the Silicon Ideology or the California Ideology, and in particular it's obsession with logic and rationality. During this portion of the conversation we delve into the elevation of rationality to a place of almost quasi-religious veneration by both elements of the tech community and the alt right as well as the denigration of emotion by both these elements. This leads us into the main topic of this episode, namely David's essay "The Great White Robot God: Artificial General Intelligence and White Supremacy".

Sam Harris, the New Atheist leader that has become embroiled in the race/IQ discourse

David explains how New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and, in particular, Sam Harris served to spur his interest in writing the Great White Robot God essay. David notes that figures like Harris and Dawkins have become entangled in Islamophobic rhetoric and the race/IQ discourse. We delve into how the ideology of New Atheists seem to coincide not only with a number of right-wing talking points but also the Silicon Valley tech culture. David navigates us through the ways in which Artificial General Intelligence, or strong AI (see The Terminator or The Matrix movies for pop culture imaginings of the topic), seems to coalesce with the race/IQ discourse. During this portion of the conversation we discuss how the popular conception of AI is, in David's words, philosophically incoherent, why David views ideas like Ray Kurzweil's Singularity as crankery, and delve into the ideas of Eliezer Yudkowsky and his Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI). Although Yudkowsky steadfastly distances himself from the alt right, David argues that Yudkowsky's thinking, along with much of the Silicon Valley tech community as a whole, dovetails with the alt right.

David Golumbia