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Keen On Democracy

Produced and Engineered - Jason Sanderson at

Mar 28, 2019

So what to make of Clive Thompson's ideas about coders, his new tribe, who Clive, at least, claims are remaking the world. On one level of course. I think he's completely right.


The ideology of “the coders”,  if that's the right word to describe his new class, is one of extreme efficiency of ones and zeros and they are indeed in many ways remaking the world in their own image. It's a world of extreme rationality - a kind of an unregulated form of capitalism. It’s the market logic of capitalism.


The consequences of this revolution - as we know from this series and as you all know from everything around you - is one of extreme wealth for a tiny group of coders of Silicon Valley, the Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world, and increasingly inequality for the rest of us.


I think this is a really important observation that Clive makes. It’s the other side of the coin of the coding revolution of this new tribe - it’s the rise of irrationality, the rise of xenophobia.


Authoritarian nationalism rejection of democracy, the cult of Erdogan and Putin and Trump. Ironically, as Clive suggested, this is in a weird kind of way connected with the increasing rationalisation of the world. So what to do about this?


As Clive says and this has been a theme throughout our series, there's only really one fundamental way off dealing with the problems that have been caused by the coding revolution, by this new tribe that has remade the world.To quote Clive, he says “there’s one force on the planet and that is the government, that's the state. He makes a good argument for this particularly in the way in which he explains; that the coding revolution itself, is built on the foundations of government and state investment in technology, that companies like Google wouldn't exist, if they hadn't got initially grants from the government and hadn't been able to build their technologies on resources and ideas that were originally funded by the state.


So the old libertarian argument that the state needs to keep out of this because the Silicon Valley revolution was driven always by free enterprise, as Clive suggested, might be wrong.


Where I think Clive offers a very original and interesting take on our current problems the problems of the crisis of democracy of inequality, perhaps the looming crisis of unemployment generated byA.I. is his reliance on young coders, he says there is an uprising of young coders that the kids now who are working for Facebook and Google and Amazon and Apple, they don't like the old world. They want to reject the values or at least the outcomes of the current world of big tech. He says that they are willing to reject the cults of scale reject the idea of getting funded by venture capitalists, so that they can grow to become billion dollar companies. This is Clive's hope, this is his optimism.


This is where he believes that the future might be better than the past, that the first generation of coders. They weren't bad but they were naive. They didn't get it. They didn't understand the unintended consequences of the digital revolution. This next generation, the people now working in Silicon Valley, the people coming out of university with the same kind of idealism that drove the first wave of coders.


These people have learnt from experience they're not going to make the same mistakes. So how optimistic is Clive. His optimism of course is built, I think, as he even acknowledges himself, on wishful thinking.


This is the depressing part of what Clive is saying. The reality is that his vision of a future of coders who are building technologies which are more humane depends on a kind of rejection of the market, depends on a rejection of capitalism and the reality is that this isn't probably going to happen.


So my conclusion from what Clive is saying is that realistically if we want to make the world a better place we need more regulation.


Now this isn't just because Clive is a Canadian or that I'm an Englishman. The real truth of the matter as Clive said, is there's only one force on the planet to right the wrongs of the digital revolution. There is only one force on the planet who can bring out the best aspects of the digital revolution, while confronting some of the more problematic areas which today of course we know all too well.


So in conclusion I think it's important to note that where Clive perhaps is over optimistic and unrealistic his focus on regulation is important. And it's one that's come up time and time again in this series and will come up again and again in the future


Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode with Clive Thompson, you can find out more about him here:




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Produced by Jason Sanderson