The Rhetoric of Big Tech

Sunday, June 11, 2023
First Aired: 
Sunday, January 31, 2021

What Is It

Big tech is known for its "disruption" of established industries and changing fundamental aspects of our lives from shopping and delivery to communication and transit. While many welcome these changes, there are also worries about privacy, fairness, and deregulation. So how do tech companies think about what it is they are doing and what justifies it? Who are their philosophical sources, and do they use them responsibly? What role does New Age thinking, Ayn Rand, Martin Heidegger, and even Samuel Beckett play in shaping the rhetoric of big tech? Josh and Ray debug the code with Adrian Daub from Stanford University, author of What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley.



Josh Landy  
Are tech companies really making the world a better place?

Ray Briggs  
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Josh Landy  
How can Silicon Valley believe its own hype?

Comments (10)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, March 3, 2021 -- 5:30 AM

Was beginning to think I was

Was beginning to think I was the only person who still valued privacy. Noticed it came up in your trailer for this post. Daily, it seems, there are issues springing from 'social media' and enthusiasts who use it for all things lawful, unlawful and all points on that continuum. It is not a place for the naive and inexperienced. Recently, I responded briefly to your question on the overreach of science---see that post for my comment/question---. I think what we have with the rise of SM might stir a similar sentiment. Sure, we cherish free speech, freedom of expression generally. And although we are now policing most everything, including history, I wonder if there should be greater concern about how far our freedoms ought to go. As to the overreach matter, it is pretty clear we revel in it. I can neither see nor recommend a solution: we have dug the hole. We may as well crawl into it...

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, March 5, 2021 -- 9:27 PM

Big Tech has legitimate

Big Tech has legitimate business models now and going forward. We need to find the solutions that compliment humanity and public welfare. Big Tech has a role in those solutions. Many companies speak to this role already.

We have yet to harvest the benefits of quantum computing, nanotech, biology, material science and artificial intelligence. Once that is done we can settle just what a human being is. Already we are pseudo cyborgs with our phones. I'm not sure ultimately where this ends. Ecological issues are more important for sure. Tomorrow is not going to be anything like today... and yesterday will be a faint memory.

I'm not sure what is best. Neither does Big Tech. Neither does Xi or Putin or Brin or Gates. There is no golden path here. Only human beings. Let's be kind, productive and as true to ourselves as we can. There are too many problems to overcome to blame any one entity.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, April 12, 2021 -- 5:54 AM

I think we agree on your

I think we agree on your final point. I have called the conundrum a totality of circumstances. And, I think there are many seeming marvelous developments which, in more or less time, come back to bite us in the butt. Unwitting overreach, as it might be characterized. More than once the argument has been proffered: are we to do things, just because we can? That's a pessimist's stance. Still, it appears to me that know-how often overrides the better angels of our narure, leaving us with metaphorical bullet holes in our feet. Just sayin'.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 -- 11:14 PM

Yes, I do think we agree on a

Yes, I do think we agree on a/the conundrum. I look at my fellow humans now, the next generation, and what is left of my elders and we are a different breed than in my youth. We don't think the same, act the same. We are changing. I'm hesitant to call foul when I don't see where the path is leading us. Best to you Harold.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, June 7, 2023 -- 7:03 AM

It has been only two years--

It has been only two years---and a bit---since I visited here. Big tech is getting more rhetorical. AI is on everyone's mind; in innumerable conversations. Today, I read other remarks about pausing AI. A day or so ago, there was an interview with a big player concerning next-generation virtual reality and what that may mean towards the betterment of humankind. Some are still beating the dead horse that Panpsychism rode in on, during or around Descartes. Lots of flailing about. To think it is only 2023. 2525 is so far away.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, June 8, 2023 -- 4:56 AM

A few significant events have

A few significant events have happened recently that ties in with this topic. As Harold points the re-invention of Google Glass by Apple is a potential VR/AR advance. I will believe it when I see it or, sadly, when I can afford it. The computer remains my primary mode of work/thought. I could use more and better data IN my life, but nowhere near as much as Big Tech could use more and better data OF my life. This has been true for quite a while. Apple Glass will benefit from the lessons learned from Google's failings.

Another event is the Twitter Twit that has socked tens of billions of capital invectively into free speech and political discourse. Not that I don't see the problem there, I'm just alarmed that what Big Tech means is to create forces of nature that are capitalist numbskulls. The best thing about capital, however, is that as long as it doesn't depreciate, it produces, for the most part. So all of Musk's money into Twitter will find a good home with the intelligent and able engineers who built the beauty of Twitter. There are more beautiful birds to make there in the cloud environment that continues to grow. If we could just get rid of the old power-sucking blockchain (which will probably happen soon due to economic reasons.) But overall, the inertia of Big Tech is impinging on speech and commerce inappropriately. That is the concern in this show and the last two years, and that concern has grown.

The last point I would bring up is the dam/damn failure in the Ukraine. I have no idea who did that. The flooded territory is mostly under Russian control, as was the build-up in pressure that likely caused it (I'm not being metaphorical - the controls were on the Russian side of the river - and the build, if not intentional, was catastrophic.) Dams are super high-tech and easy to understand all the same. What happened in the Ukraine and continues to happen there and elsewhere makes Big Tech a very Big Issue.

I don't know what caused that Dam to break, but when the human bough breaks down comes the baby cradle and all. It's one thing for Elon to buy Twitter. It's another thing entirely for Putin to use Tech (and Russia has pretty good Tech and excellent engineers and scientists along with a boatload of oil bucks to buy Chinese, Iranian, Israeli, and Indian Tech to ruin the entirety of the liberal world.) Whatever Big Tech has to offer, it pales in comparison to the evil and destruction that people can use Big Tech to accomplish.

Philosophers need to think about AI. Yeah, that is right. But not to preserve something baby-like in automata. AI and other Big Tech are Djinnis in the bottle. We need to ethically use Tech and exploit science to get a grip on the world's problems; some of these are the product of human intent. At this point – all of them are the result of human action. That is no small concern. Big Tech can get as big as it needs – as long as it focuses on human problems, not vices.

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mikosla's picture


Tuesday, February 27, 2024 -- 5:39 PM

In comparison to my younger

In comparison to my younger self, I see a very different species in today's youth, in both the current and future generations of humanity. Our thoughts and actions are quite different in spacebar clicker

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tzinaciangf's picture


Wednesday, May 15, 2024 -- 10:47 PM

I agree, Apple made a

I agree, Apple made a technological breakthrough in its time and today and even in the future it is unlikely that other companies will be able to catch up with the brand. I myself own a macbook and know what I'm talking about.

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LeoWalsh's picture


Wednesday, May 15, 2024 -- 10:55 PM

I support you, also love my

I support you, also love my macbook, but recently broke the display a1502 screen replacement (part), had to replace. The good thing is that the manufacturer has spare parts available for any model. It is worth noting that when you purchase this product from MacNest website, you can be assured of its authenticity and quality. The supplier offers only original parts and accessories, which ensures the longevity and reliability of your device. All in all, it is a great choice for those who value quality and reliability.

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amorapotter's picture


Wednesday, June 19, 2024 -- 2:43 AM

While seemingly

While seemingly counterintuitive, the minimalist and iterative approach in tech product development can draw parallels to Beckett’s explorations of failure, slope, persistence, and the human condition.

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