Monday, April 8, 2019

Magical Heuristics -- the magic of destiny

You should check out this essay by Adam Morris. I'm not going to comment on his larger thesis, but his observations about Silicon Valley and VC culture are extremely interesting and nicely complement our magical heuristics thread. In case you missed our original post, check it out (particularly the part about destiny). Then see if any of Morris's observations seem to resonate.

In August 2017, I jumped security and made it into the Singularity University Global Summit at the San Francisco Hilton. It was no easy task: The convention is very well staffed, and black-suited convention employees kept an eye out for convention registration badges at the doorway to every ballroom lecture hall and breakout-session dining room. The enormous badges, proudly emblazoned with the name of each attendee and that of his or her employer, were to be worn from a lanyard printed with the phrase “Be Exponential.” The absence of one around my neck was noted in glances directed at my midsection. I’d already been bounced from the expo hall once, and my ploy to acquire a press pass, recommended by a friend who’d crashed the party the year before, had failed. The Global Summit isn’t a secret, invitation-only convention. But admission is priced north of $2,000, so I couldn’t afford to be exponential. As indicated by the badges I studied as I wandered between sessions, large multinational corporations like Deloitte and Procter & Gamble send mid-level executives to the summit to do reconnaissance on technological innovations in established and emerging markets.

The steep entry fee is is part of the high-gloss veneer of selectivity favored by the organization. Most attendees believe their presence at the summit confers a special stature on their intellect and an illustrious destiny on whatever entrepreneurial endeavor has brought them there. Alumni of Singularity University receive “enhanced” clearance, which provides access to private lunches and sessions where the most elite futurists gather to discuss questions related to the future of human civilization. Attendees were overwhelmingly young, male, and poorly shaven.

I spent the afternoon in Hilton Grand Ballrooms A and B, where plenary talks were held. There I listened as innovators and “disruptors” were invited one after the next to take the stage and share with those assembled whatever TED-talk platitudes they’d rehearsed in hotel bathroom mirrors the night before. As a resident of San Francisco, I was accustomed to their techno-futurist cheerleading and unaffected by the customary flattery of libertarian entrepreneurialism steeped in Objectivist self-regard: a “small group of people,” one speaker informed the audience, was now capable of doing things that no nation-state can do. The obvious inference was that some of those people were in the building.

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