Elon Musk and the future of civilization

With assistance from Derek Robertson

Listen to the fourth episode of POLITICO Tech’s multi-part podcast series on cybercrime below, and find out all string here.

Elon Musk has a hunch That his Twitter acquisition is really important, but he finds it hard to explain.

“I can’t say exactly why,” he told listeners in an online chat last weekend, “just that my biological neural network said it was important to buy Twitter… If Twitter is not bought and directed in a good direction, it will be dangerous for the future of civilization.” “.

Sure, there’s a brand-building rationale to statements like this — Musk’s “future of civilization” sales pitch gives his other companies, like SpaceX and Tesla, plenty of character. But with Twitter, there’s a different kind of argument about why it matters, one that political analysts outside the tech world have thought about more.

Military analyst John Robb is one of them. Rob examines how technology shapes political coordination and war lines; He coined the term “open source insurgency” to describe the conflicts that ravaged Iraq during its US-led occupation, and charted the evolution of similar insurgent dynamics in the online culture wars of the Trump era.

Recently, he has been warning of a new danger he sees to global stability: that a “swarm web” of digitally connected Western institutions—connected to one another largely via Twitter—could escalate the conflict with Russia in a way that is beyond the control of Western governments, fostering a form of Forms of groupthink evolve at lightning speed and can lead to catastrophic errors.

In Rob’s view, the people who control platforms like Twitter have a responsibility to watch out for potential wildfires in their platforms. It’s not clear if Musk thinks along these lines, but I called Rob yesterday to discuss Musk’s takeover and what he should do if he’s serious about saving civilization.

This interview has been abridged in the newsletter. Read Fuller version here.

What is the relationship of Twitter to the future of civilization?

Twitter develops a framework for information and events. The struggle over this framework, no matter what is resolved, ends up as the dominant media framework. And what you see on Twitter will be ahead of what you see on all the evening news as well as in the major newspapers.

Same with politics. Policy ideas and campaign ideas are thrown on Twitter first and foremost. It is now part of this new decision-making system.

amazing. What could go wrong?

There were three great decision-making systems that we socially used to get things done – tribes, markets, and bureaucracies. They’ve taken hundreds of years to kind of take a shape that won’t kill us, with all the rough edges. But this takes time. We’re only at this initial stage of learning what to do about making networking and networking decisions.

We’ve seen the development of dangerous groupthink before. What is the difference in a digitally connected network?

It can pack faster. It can also be very effective in generating group sympathy. We process that differently with the online broker. It is much easier to launch it. We don’t have the kind of defense mechanisms we’ve created in the offline world to keep that from going overboard.

These things are not driven in the traditional sense. If a news organization started calling for extreme measures, it would be possible to stop that with a couple of phone calls. You can only stop the network if you stop the entire network.

Tell me about the concept of “network swarm”?

The political response to January 6th created this one entity. As of early 2021, pretty much all companies were aligned with this view that you should limit public discussion and reduce the frames and ways of looking at potentially dangerous information.

On January 6 there was a violent attack on the Capitol. What’s wrong with prioritizing safety?

As it always happens in this type of situation, the restrictions get bigger and bigger and more widespread and cover many topics. You end up with a highly restricted networked decision-making system that is a wellspring of media, politics, and politics.

The “swarm” seems to put society further at risk of a slow decline. Why are you worried about a sudden disaster?

He’s great at mobilizing and creating enough pressure to fire even the most powerful person in the world at the time, the current President of the United States. He saw Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a trigger moment, and it has accelerated and deepened that war, cut Russia out of touch, and brought us to the brink of nuclear war.

Grid drove everything. Measured responses [Western governments] It was on the move in terms of imposing an embargo on Russia that was completely bypassed by forcing, cajoling, or influencing companies to do so. It was way ahead of what the Biden administration did.

Why should not be Do digitally connected networks guide foreign policy?

Grid has no sense of mortality. It does not fit well with the traditional global security system, which was nuclear peace. Don’t attack the network with any sense of proportion.

So, in some ways, do you agree more with those who want to separate people from these networks, and put more restrictions on expression?

You will put broad restrictions on things only when there is a danger of getting out of control.

What’s wrong with the way we manage expression and decision-making on the Internet now?

Right now, we alternate between a monarchist approach with Musk, or we have a group of trust-and-safe bureaucrats operating on theories or ideologies that not everyone supports. Better to be out in the open.

What is your advice for touching?

Find out what the circuit breaker is for maximum packaging and digital rights work. Make things official and see if we can get other networks to buy, to become a benchmark.

What if the novelty of AI tools that look eerily human like them ChatGPT, or stable deployment, portends something more dangerous and destabilizing?

Samuel Hammond, director of social policy at the “liberal” think tank at the Niskanen Center, asked this question in blog post This week – and answers it with a quick warning for the future.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Hammond writes. “Peter Thiel has an aphorism: ‘Crypto is libertarian, AI is communist.’” He argues that central bank digital currencies — money on a blockchain, backed by the state — can give government actually more A window on financial behavior. On the one hand, the power of AI cuts both ways: a country like China can easily use it to consolidate its own power, but it is also a decentralizing power. As Hammond writes: “Within a decade, ordinary people will have more capabilities than a CIA agent has today.”

He goes on to point out that the unstoppable march of AI-powered technology is less a technical problem than a political one, as high-powered software gives individuals a level of power that was once reserved for the state. “We can fight AI fire with AI fire and adapt our practices along the way,” he writes. “But there are an awful lot of laws that will need to change… When technology changes the balance of power between society and the state, institutions must adapt to keep the two in harmony.”

Therefore, society will experience as much renewal as it did during the Industrial Revolution. If Hammond is half right, buckle up. – Derek Robertson

The noose is slowly being tightened in Washington For Sam Bankman Fried.

Just this afternoon, the Washington watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that Bankman-Fried appears to have violated campaign finance law, after exposing the crypto magnate to YouTube Tiffany Fong That he transferred “black” money to the Republicans during the 2022 election cycle. Why? In his words: “Journalists freak out if you donate to the Republicans.”

Ironically, Bankman-Fried’s loose talk since the collapse of FTX may have earned him a round of obligatory rhetoric by way of a subpoena. Senate banker Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and ratings committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) said in a joint statement yesterday that the committee sought Sam Bankman-Fried’s testimony at a hearing on Dec. e-mail If he does not respond by 5:00 pm today, Brown wrote, he is “prepared, along with arranged member Pat Twomey, to issue a subpoena to compel your testimony.”

Politico’s Sam Sutton I mentioned last week On the prospect of Bankman-Fried testifying, with the prevailing advice from various crisis managers as “don’t”: Nicky Kristof, a Washington-based strategic advisor who was formerly at Uber and Google, warned that he would “create a sworn record for prosecutors to indicate when Sam is Definitely accused of fraud.” Right now, he didn’t seem to have much of a choice. – Derek Robertson