Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, members of the 1% club no matter how you work out the door policy, have pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook stock. It’s a wonderfully generous thing, but not an easy one to pull off well, and of course the process will be heavily influenced by the worldview of the Facebook founder.
In the announcement of his intentions, Zuckerberg asked this question: “Can you learn and experience 100 times more than we do today?” Listen, I want the world to be 100 times smarter (or even 2 times smarter), but that sounds like he’s investing money in brain chips and VR gear, which is fascinating, sure, but not quite the Gates-ian antimalarial efforts some might have anticipated. In all fairness, the technologist also mentions disease prevention and eradication, but there’s an awful lot of sci-fi-esque wording about radical life extension and the like. A lot of progress may ultimately come from future-forward neuro- and bioengineering, or maybe it will be money spent poorly. Good intentions and good execution are not the same thing.
In a similar vein, a Daily Beast piece by Charlotte Lytton notes that 2015 was the year that Silicon Valley became something of an Immortality Industrial Complex, with the well-compensated wanting to live forever, or at least until their stock options run out. An excerpt:
Might it be more charitable, then, to use the billions being funneled through avoidance schemes into abiding by the law and helping to reverse the problems created by a deficit-laden economy you’ve willfully avoided paying money to for an extended period of time?
“It’s incredibly exciting and wonderful to be part of a species that dreams in a big way,” explained bioethicist Laurie Zoloth. “But I also want to be part of a species that takes care of the poor and the dying, and I’m worried that our attention is being drawn away to a glittery future world that is fantasy and not the world we live in.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Bill Gates, the world’s second greatest philanthropist (after Warren Buffet), who expressed that “it seems pretty egocentric while we still have malaria and TB for rich people to fund things so they can live longer” in a Reddit AMA earlier this year.
In any case, whether significant progress of the ilk [Peter] Thiel and co. are searching for will ever be made remains a big “if.” But should one of these projects yield a major discovery, who will benefit? As we’ve gleaned from the plethora of “free” services made flesh (or screen) by these businessmen, there’s no such thing as something for nothing—and that something has largely been handing over our personal data.•