George Gilder: Life After Google – Book Review

In his prophetic 1990 book, Life After Television, George Gilder predicted:

 The computer of the future would be as portable as your watch and as personal as your wallet. It would recognize speech and navigate streets, collect your mail and your news. It just might not do windows. But it would do doors…”

To a few who paid attention, Life After Television did open doors to the future.  Ari Emanuel, the Hollywood impresario talent agent, stated exactly that in an article he wrote in Medium.

In 1990, I picked up a book by George Gilder called “Life After Television”. It changed my life.

 

It caused me to imagine technology that could move so fast that our industry might be gone in a decade or two. Most of the people where I worked couldn’t see that. They bet on the past. Because of George’s book, I bet on the future and left to start my own business.

 

It was one of the hardest decision of my life, but I’ve never looked back.

Gilder opens Life After Google describing the making in the early 1990s of Universal Studio’s 3D virtual reality Back to the Future: The Ride.  Created by Douglas Trumbull in Gilder’s office space in western Massachusetts, the immersive, before its time, four-minute virtual reality ride helped rescue Universal Studio from the competitive grip of nearby Disney World.

Gilder then takes us on his own futuristic ride into Life After Google, another prophetic journey that opens new doors to the future.  Life After Google examines evolving internet architecture, its current problem, and its future solution.  

Gilder explains that the internet worked perfectly well when it was primarily a communications network.  Once transactions and their financial intermediation began, it transformed the network from a peer-to-peer information structure without required security into top-down, walled garden silos where a few giants now control the flow of information.  Get on the wrong side of Google, Facebook, Twitter, or Amazon and they can virtually ban you from the internet.  Internet security today is a patchwork of software fixes with no permanent solution that is always one step behind hackers and malware.  The decentralized promise of a peer-to-peer network has metamorphosed into today’s centralized internet gateway giants.

Central to this outcome is Google giving everything away for free and subsidizing it with unwanted advertisements.  Gilder traces Google’s rise from its amazing search engine to today’s paradigm of massive data centers and artificial intelligence determinism.  It is Google’s philosophy of free–which even includes free lunches at Google workplaces–that Gilder sees as its downfall.  He explains:

But not only is “free” a lie, as we’ve seen, but a price of zero signifies a return to the barter system, a morass of incommensurable exchanges that the human race left behind in the Stone Age.  You pay not with money but with your attention.

 

Above all, you pay in time.  Time is what money measures and represents–what remains scarce when all else becomes abundant in the “zero marginal cost” economy.  Money signals the real scarcities of the world concealed in the false infinities of free.  

The evolution of Google’s search engine success is its pioneering of machine learning.  Gilder explains that machine learning is a result of advancements in the speed of processing.  He describes it as the same intelligence just accelerated to terahertz speeds.  Yet, Google has projected this increase in processing speed into machine learning that will reach singularity and usurp humans.  At Elon Musk’s conference in Asilomar, Google warned the world that the greatest threat to humans was the rise of AI, which they themselves are creating.  Gilder dismisses Google’s deterministic vanity and cogently explains that consciousness is what drives creativity, which machines can never achieve.  

Concurrent with advances in machine learning and singularity is Google’s belief that it signals the end of human progress. Gilder compares Google’s AI eschaton with Marx’s belief that production reached its limits with the industrial revolution, and all that was left was to organize the splitting up of the spoils.  Gilder debunks this theory in a fascinating, detailed discussion of AI.  Based on Gilder’s impressive knowledge of physics, computer science, mathematics, information theory, artificial intelligence, economics, money, and the intellectual pioneers who define the subjects, a reader may conclude that his intellectual example alone negates the idea of Google’s rise in AI machines eclipsing humans.  It is not Gilder’s speed of knowledge that matters, but rather his consciousness and creativity of knowledge.

Gilder visits Robert Mercer, billionaire co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund.  Using Markov Chain AI and advances in computer power, Mercer’s AI-based hedge fund successfully sluices off zero-sum trading profits without adhering to fundamentals or even knowing anything of the sectors and industries that it skims—most of which come from the chaos of floating fiat.  Renaissance’s profits accumulate regardless of market direction.  A Gilder maxim is that wealth is knowledge and learning is growth.  The AI of Renaissance and Google negate this central element of human progress, and Gilder states that both of their strategies will ultimately fail.

Gilder defines the cryptocosm by ten laws.  They are the future of the new internet architecture and an antidote to Google’s dystopian AI singularity.  Gilder then examines the future through the stories of individuals creating the cryptocosm.

 Here are a few that Gilder introduces to the reader.

  • Thiel Fellows and prodigy entrepreneurs Vitalik Buterin, Austin Russell, Stephen Balaban, and Thomas Sohmers.  The Thiel Fellowship funds brilliant young applicants to drop out of college—escape from the “cradle of credentialism”— and work on their own unique products.  Ethereum and Luminar are just two of the world-changing results.
  • Satoshi Nakamoto in the guise of Craig Wright who unleashed Bitcoin, the blockchain, and the promise of the cryptocosm.
  • Brendon Eich, creator of JavaScript, and now the Brave browser with its basic attention token, BAT.  BAT is a solution to disrupt the ubiquitous advertising model that has reduced the internet to the equivalent of perpetual unsolicited phone calls at dinner time. 
  • Jules Urbach and OTOY’s metaverse that is building the cryptocosm foundation for AR/VR by leveraging the graphics power of all the world’s computers. 

Life After Google is a visionary tour de force that defines the future of technology.  Some parts require careful, concentrated reading to grasp Gilder’s deep insights.  A careful reading rewards not only in knowledge but in clarity of Gilder’s vision. 

Twenty-eight years after the release of Life After Television, perceptive individuals can emulate Ari Emanuel’s epiphany and make their own bet on Gilder’s vision for life after Google.

A follow-on, personal reflection on Life After Google

Gilder includes the chapter, The Bitcoin Flaw, based on many email exchanges I had with him on the subject.  The foundation for the cryptocosm is a stable, decentralized cryptocurrency.  Along with decentralized cryptocurrency, comes the blockchain, an immutable ledger.  

Would cryptocurrency even exist had Nixon not ended Bretton Woods?  If we were still on a gold standard, we can say no.  There would be no need for a cryptocurrency solution to non-existent monetary chaos.  But a gold standard is only a constructed monetary dam to hold back currency manipulation.  Like a dam, a gold standard—that is ultimately maintained by the government—is susceptible to leaks and collapse.  Monetary history is a continuous cycle of stable money based on gold that is abandoned for fiat, chaos, and collapse, followed by a return to gold and stability. The monolithic demand-side economics profession requires currency manipulation to enact their academic theories.  Had Nixon not ended the gold standard, there is little doubt that a future President would have succumbed to the constant pressure for monetary chimera and ushered in floating fiat.  

Cryptocurrency evolved as an anarchy cyberpunk solution to fiat currency.  It is an attempt at stable currency by doing an end run around government central control.  The promise of cryptocurrency is a global, democratic, decentralized stable currency.  It is another trial-and-error process in mankind’s innate desire for human progress.

If the U.S. returned to a gold standard would that end the cryptocurrency experiment and the cryptocosm?  No, the crypto genie is out of the bottle and it can’t be put back.  But a stable dollar linked to gold would infinitely advance the cryptocosm.  Any cryptocurrency linked to the dollar would also be linked to gold.  Blockchain transactions and contracts would achieve stability of value and marketplace transactions denominated in a stable value cryptocurrency would explode.  Any cryptocurrency that could not maintain its value against a gold-linked dollar would disappear.

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