A Couple Of Trips To The Future

During my year end vacation, I read a few books and saw some films. The two I want to talk about today are Dave Eggers’ The Circle and Spike Jonze’s Her. I am a fan of both artists and have consumed most of their prior work.

Though they are very different works, both take us on a trip to the near future and show us what our lives may be like. And, though I am more than a little bit involved in the industry that is taking us to that place, I came away from both disturbed and a tad bit agitated.

Banksy says that “art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” And in that context both the Circle and Her are great art. If you are disturbed by the ever increasing role of technology in our lives, both works will comfort you. For me, they shook me out of my comfort zone and made me wonder whether all the things I believe in and advocate for are going to work out so well.

In The Circle, a young woman named Mae goes to work for the top tech company in silicon valley which is called The Circle. Eggers creates a company that to my mind is mostly Google with a fair bit of Facebook thrown in. Anyone who has spent any time in Silicon Valley will instantly recognize this company and all the great things about it. But the way Eggers tells the story, the dark side of The Circle is revealed slowly and surely. I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone who is reading it or will read it but I will say that the idea of radical transparency, something that I have advocated for many times on this blog, is taken to an extreme that even I would not be comfortable with.

I kind of hated The Circle. Many times I wanted to put it down. My wife and daughter urged me to finish it. Though I really like Eggers and his writing, I absolutely hated Mae and her story. It made a mockery of an industry that I love. And it made me uncomfortable loving it.

Her is about a man named Theodore who is depressed coming out of a recent divorce. He mopes around all day. He installs a new OS that is “personalized” and all of sudden he is in a relationship with Samantha who is a lot like Siri, his very own personalized operating system. Again, I am not going to describe much more than that in case you want to see it. The thing that made me literally squirm in my seat was the idea that a real person could have such an intimate relationship with a machine. I was completely uncomfortable the entire two hours.

However, I loved Her. It did not mock, but it sure did question. And all I wanted to do coming out of the movie was think about it and talk about it.

I know a lot of people in tech who are excited about the coming of the Singularity. I am not one of them. While I love machines and artificial intelligence/machine learning and all that it can do for us, I love humans and humanity a lot more.

These two works of art are, to my mind, about that human vs machines question and are an attempt to ask society if its happy with the place we are going to and getting there fast. If you work in tech, you should watch Her and read The Circle. Those of us who are building this future ought to subject ourself to this kind of art most of all.

#art#Books#Film#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Thanks. I will see the later but no interest in reading the former honestly.Throughout history there are always the movements that embraced a future as it was developing–the Dadaists, the Surrealists, the Beats, Black Mountain Poets and Artists.The difference today is that it’s not a group it’s a mass market culture.And–truth be told, I reject this machine vs people conflict.It doesn’t really exist, as it is always been about the people, always about the connections, like this conversation between us, people on the streets, who connected here first.It’s a brave–and so much better–foundation for the world we are all working to create.

    1. fredwilson

      Amen. But see Her. It will make you think

      1. awaldstein

        Saw Her yesterday. A great recommendation–thanks!Been awhile since I experienced something so nuanced and soulful.What a pleasure to have an aftereffect that drove me to think about what I believe, about what is not empirically knowable, about challenges to how a view a life beyond the busyness and decisions of every day.

        1. fredwilson

          exactly. it was really well done. i loved it. but it made me squirm a lot during the film.

    2. Scott Barnett

      I came here to reply almost the same thing you did! Well put. I cannot wait to see Her. Two of my absolute favorite actors (although sadly you don’t get to see Scarlett, just hear her).

    3. johndodds

      We may well be working to create a better foundation for the world, but that doesn’t guarantee that this is what will emerge. And the fact this is indeed a mass market culture makes it very different from the other groups you list – one with highly skewed power structures.Though I admire both Eggars and Jonze’s work, I’ve yet to read the book, which I’m told is a satire, nor seen the movie so while I’m inherently optimistic, I’m prepared to countenance the dangers of unintended consequences. The simple fact that Zuckerberg could declare that privacy is dead was enough to give me pause for thought. It continues so to do.

      1. awaldstein

        I’ll take all the thoughtful pauses I can find in life.Laments over change may be instructive but this book sounds like pulp kvetching to me from afar.

        1. johndodds

          I’ve never known a book elicit such diverse opinions amongst both friends and the general readership. Since that implies a 50% chance of my loathing it, I’m yet to buy it.

    4. iggyfanlo

      For a more machine/man movie, and one probably a lot closer to our time, watch “Frank and the Robot” with Langella

      1. awaldstein

        Now on my list. Thanks.

    5. R. Mutt

      Hmm, this is interesting, but I’m gonna call BS slash offer gentle push back on at least a part of this 🙂 It seems like a deliberate misreading to say that Dada was embracing an emerging future. Instead, it was rejecting a present that was. The conventional narrative now is that much of the art of the teens was explicily rejecting the dominant thoughts of the day — the thoughts that led to WWI. In that reading, Eggers is firmly of the Dada tradition.

      1. awaldstein

        Great comment.I never thought of it that way though.Just because they rejected the ‘logic’ that led to the war doesn’t mean they were reactionary to a changed future, certainly in the direction of thought and art. Their salons as I remember (hazzily) led to the creation of concrete and sound poetry and some randomness in physical art forms ala Marcel Duchamp.Been awhile honestly but I’ll accept this as a nudge to go back to do some reading. Been awhile. Some reading and a trip to the museum or two is forthcoming.Thanks.

        1. R. Mutt

          Not saying they were against (that’s how I interpret your word “reactionary”) a changed future. Just saying, at the time, they were probably perceived as rejecting the present, rather than as proposing a future. The changed future validates their initial position, of course, but if the future turned out differently, they would be an art movement relegated to the dust bin of art history!At any rate, I’m sure we both agree that discussing art history is a lovely way to while away a Sunday evening 🙂

          1. awaldstein

            Enjoyed it.Used to be a passion of mine. Now just a sometime collector of images I love.

      2. ShanaC

        I just got the r mutt joke…

    6. SubstrateUndertow

      And–truth be told, I reject this machine vs people conflict. I too reject it as an inevitability!BUTAs a possibility it seems more like the META-CHALLENGE of our era!Men have always created biological-extension tools and those tools have always reciprocally recreated man and his environment in their own image, mostly for the best after a little skirmishing to establish some socializing constraints around those emerging new toolsets. Technologies are like children they don’t arrive pre-socialized.Money and credit tool-extensions have yet to be functionally socialized into proper tools of humanist economic homeostasis.And now, arriving perhaps a little too soon, comes the mother of all toolset extensions!Algorithmic domino-synchronized-everything with unlimited self-referencial positively/negatively nested feedbacks that loopty-loop the whole planet into a distributive living system of organically interdependent complexity beyond anyone’s real comprehension?This whole frontier is radioactive with social and economic undertows capable of collapsing the very substrate of all previous human social/technical toolsets. Not the least of which is a collapse in our personal sense of control/security(autonomy) as well as collapse in our trust in any believable social contract.We have no choice.Evolution is ushering us into an organic-living-system based toolset that is itself a microcosmic instantiation of our own biological evolutionary substrate?Like all previous toolsets this organic-toolset brings both opportunities and challenges.Our Opportunity:To revisit the rag and bone shop of technological/social history in order to retrieve and extend all we can possibly mine about the recurring dynamics of organic-living-systems as they might apply to our newly emergent microcosmically-instantiated organically-networked universal-constructor toolset.Our Challenge:To apply the above learning opportunities in a conservatively cautious stepwise approach. WE ARE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE, from here on out we are in the big leagues. At these power levels of organically-volatile-interdependence, systemic failures can potentially drill deep down to destabilize many layers of social, economic or even biologically foundational substrate.(a negative strange-loop substrateundertow feedback effect)History does have exponential break points and I think it is a good bet that we are presently sitting atop human history’s most exponential tecnology-rocket ride.As McLuhan pointed out, our reality-tunnels are mostly shaped within the constraints of our rear view mirrors.Our present social/technological challenges demand a lot more front windshield imagineering in order to avoid a catastrophic social-operating-system(SOS) crash for which we lack the necessary planetary resource-base required for a successful reboot.It is “do or die” with little margin for cavalier hubris on our part!Reminder:Every cells carries its own DNA data and onboard methods, same for organisms. The computing mothership is a powerful organic-platform tool-extension nicety, it is not the fallback substrate-containment system. Distributive redundancy of both form and function, thats the foundational organic-substrate fallback ticket. Mothership backup with selective data-synchronization and selective method-updates should operate as federated, redundantly-interchangeable, smart-memory based, organic-platform synchronization extensions.Cellular evolution and Mother Goose both agree! You should not put all your eggs in one basket. This may possibly be coalescing over at APP.netP.S.to all our Godsfrom all our peoplesplease bestow blessingsof optimal inertia dampening upon our emerging noosphere

  2. jkrums

    This is exactly how I felt reading it…”I kind of hated The Circle. Many times I wanted to put it down. My wife and daughter urged me to finish it. Though I really like Eggers and his writing, I absolutely hated Mae and her story. It made a mockery of an industry that I love. And it made me uncomfortable loving it.”

  3. falicon

    I actually started reading the Circle last night (because both Joanne and Brad Feld had recommended it on their blogs)…I’m only 14% into the book (her second day of work) and also don’t really like it (yet) but will see it all the way through (I *always* do).The other fiction that I just read (again thanks to a Brad Feld blog recommendation) was “mr penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore” ( http://www.amazon.com/Penum… ) — this one was *great* and I couldn’t put it down (it’s a short read so you can read it straight through in one dedicated sitting if you’re inclined).Generally I don’t read fiction…but both of those books came as good recommendations from trusted (on quality) sources…so I gave them a shot, and in both cases they turned out to be more educational/interesting than I expected.

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, mr penumbra is on my “to read” list

      1. JJ Donovan

        Do you have any non-fiction books on your “to read” list that you would be willing to share? JJD – Tryin’ to catch up….

        1. fredwilson

          i don’t read a lot of non fiction, though i do like history and biography i just read John Heilemann’s Double Down which i enjoyed

          1. JJ Donovan

            Thank You! I am now in the same ballpark. JJD – Now working on the time management piece for reading…

          2. pointsnfigures

            Read The Monuments Men before the George Clooney movie comes out in February. History, culture and art. My friend wrote the book and is doing a live webinar for educators and their classes http://bit.ly/1eOfsRW

          3. LE

            I don’t read any fiction at least not since college.I find that there is already enough fiction in non-fiction.Of course I watch movies which are fiction and documentaries which are non-fiction with lopsided points of view which makes some of it fiction.

          4. John Revay

            Did you get John to sign it

      2. panterosa,

        I got an early copy and haven’t cracked it yet. Had I a magic wand, faster reading would be a skill I’d want.

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      It’s easy to get pulled into a habit of never reading fiction, isn’t it? I always feel like I don’t have that luxury. I have to read something that will teach me how to do something, or do something better than I already am.

      1. falicon

        Yes! I generally read (and listen to – I LOVE audible) non-fiction…for my fiction fix, I watch a TON of TV and movies (more enjoyable for me personally though I know it loses some of the story/details compared to the book versions – but less of a time commitment so I don’t feel as guilty about it) =)

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Love Audible, too!

          1. Donna Brewington White

            When do you tend to listen?

          2. Kirsten Lambertsen

            I like to listen to stuff when I have sort of mindless stuff to do like cleaning up the email, driving, etc. Don’t get to do it as much as I used to now that wifi makes it possible to work on the train 🙂

        2. Donna Brewington White

          As much as I love to read I tend to get my fiction fix in the same way for the same reason. We got rid of television early in our marriage partly because we felt it was a time suck and robbed creativity. With online viewing options our consumption has increased, somewhat defeating our initial purpose but not entirely. The only “television” in our house is online and video. While there is still a lot of video consumed in our our house there is less of the mindless watching the next thing that comes on just because it’s there. And any binging becomes more selective. My kids don’t have the experience of waiting for the next episode of a weekly series. And for some reason they tend to pay attention to the credits.

          1. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Wow. Impressive! We went one year without TV, and it was without question the most productive and creative year.

          2. panterosa,

            Have gone yonks without TV. Never missed it’s interruptive power on creativity.Select movies are different. Long format.

      2. panterosa,

        I am usually in the same position. But I don’t suffer – my imagination is such a wild beast that I have plenty of fantasy and stories for all.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Ha! Indeed 🙂 Sometimes I think it’s probably best for me — otherwise I might live in a fantasy world in my head.

      3. Donna Brewington White

        That last sentence… in my early years that is exactly what fiction did for me. I lived in a world of books, both fiction and nonfiction and this was highly instrumental in shaping me. I place value on the transcendence that fiction allows. It doesn’t so much shape my thinking as it does my ability to think and envision. But reading a novel is a rare treat these days. Sometimes on the plane after an intense business trip. ..as a reward and mental break.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          I used do crosswords at night to fall asleep. I’ve recently replaced that with non-instructional reading 🙂 Right now it’s “Hatching Twitter.” After that, Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography. Then hopefully I’ll be able to make the transition to fiction. I tried to read “Neuromancer” last winter and could not get through it!

      4. ShanaC

        I find short stories help break that cycle.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Great suggestion! I actually have a penchant for New Yorker humor. I own two big collections. I should go back to the one I haven’t finished.

  4. William Mougayar

    It sounds like one was creepy (Circle), and the other absurd (Her). Creepily absurd. Absurdly creepy.Both were fictional entertainment pushing the boundaries and concepts of human communications, life privacy, presence and relationships. If we let technology take over humanity, we are doomed. Technology should help humanity, not take it over.

    1. awaldstein

      I find these concepts reactionary and honestly more boring than creepy.Old school, old value rejection of new possibilities.There have always been these articulate limited naysayers about every change in social norms about every advance in communications.

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Let’s take the films “Network” and “Rollerball.” To me they were totally prescient. But drama, is just that: drama. It has to go to a bit of an extreme to make its point. So while I think we can assure our selves that things won’t get “that bad,” I think there is enlightenment to be had.Art like this, to me, serves to try to keep us aware that no form of progress is perfect. I love love love tech, but I don’t want to be eaten by software.

        1. takingpitches

          +1 — “don’t want to be eaten by software”

        2. pointsnfigures

          Moviemakers sometimes do stuff to extremes to make a point reflecting on modern society. Took a film class and the great filmmakers always have something to say about current day times-even if they are making a historical film. I was at the Art Institute the other day, and found it ironic that painters in the 1800’s did the same thing. Saw a really cool painting that was a comment on women’s equality from the late 1800’s.

          1. awaldstein

            There’s pov, there’s pandering, then there’s storytelling.Hey T2 and Skynet still tells the tale, and we suspended disbelief and let a cyborg into day.I’ll watch this one and report back!

        3. awaldstein

          Nothing is perfect.Software will always be secondary to human touch and true engaged connections. I have zero concern over this personally.I’ll all about different views of life so I’ll take a look but as one that grew up in the early startup culture of the valley and saw it change so much for the better, I do have an edge already.

          1. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Completely agree that the culture has changed for the better (since the mid ’90’s when I became involved, anyway). And yes, it’s because of the people involved. I am totally optimistic about the future of our species :-)Of course, it seems the current movers and shakers are heavily influenced by the sci-fi they read in their formative years…

          2. awaldstein

            I remember distinctly the day we took CREAF public.I had hired really young, stretch candidates from music stores, musicians, foley studios and the game industry, paid them nothing and gave them equity.Watching their lives change–new cars, houses, marriages and better schools for their kids. starting their own companies, after working with me, a focused maniac for a while was formative and made me realize the power of it all.

          3. Trevor McKendrick

            What company is CREAF? A quick search tells me Creative Technology LTD but it looks like a Singapore-based company.I enjoy learning about the background of AVC commenters so thought I’d ask.

          4. awaldstein

            Creative Technology was the parent out of Singapore.Two buddies and myself, formed a NA subsidiary in early 90s (above the batting range in Santa Clara), bought the world wide distribution rights for the product and tech from the parent, then took the parent public in the US.We went from 3 to 2800 people and up to $1B in revenue in four years. We sold (I think) 85M cards, unlimited chip sets.My job was the Sound Blaster developer relations, brand and product, ww distribution and marketing, with some M & A. Great run.We left, the world has moved on.

          5. Trevor McKendrick

            I still remember the Sound Blaster days from my childhood. I guess you’re branding is as good as you say.

          6. awaldstein

            This was my third (maybe fourth) job. First was Atari during the Tramiel takeover.I was raised on consumer tech and entertainment branding through community and channels.It’s kinda who I am 😉

          7. LE

            Micro Center in Wayne PA. The Creative Labs logo is still up with a bunch of other 80’s and 90’s companies (like Okidata).It’s sad. The store is a shambles, un kempt and lacking inventory almost reminds you of a russian supermarket. It’s just hanging in there trying to sublet to get out of what must have been a 25 year lease that they renewed at the wrong time.

          8. awaldstein

            Nice share.I loved retail–actually still do.Since I ran product but also built the software publishing side of the brand, twice a year I would go on the road for 30 days at a time, different city every day, meeting retailers at airporter hotels giving pitches, visiting shops, talking POP and merchandising and the big one–coop dollars!

          9. Timothy Meade

            I haven’t been to Micro Center here in Cleveland, I’m guessing it’s similar. CompUSA in Fairlawn (near Akron) was one of my first computer stores, we bought a computer and ended up returning it. (Oddly, the CD-ROM drive on the SoundBlaster might have been the reason, but I don’t remember.)

      2. William Mougayar

        My sarcasm aside, I’m intrigued and will seek to read/see both of them, seeing them as works of art that have de-constructed elements of technology and re-assembled them in imaginary ways.Going over the limit in fiction educates you in knowing what the limits are in reality.

        1. awaldstein

          I’ll take any challenge to my view, any method to step outside, but honestly, when things smack of academia or pontification, I go play with Sam as it is more interesting.

          1. LE

            “I go play with”Agree and I think that’s a really good real life coping mechanism.

          2. awaldstein

            Works for me.Sam is my secret weapon for life balance. Well, Sam and Lianna both.

          3. LE

            I was never a cat person but my 2nd wife had a cat when I met her.I call my cat “zen kitty”. Because in the morning before I leave I sit on the floor and rub her belly and she does “milky paws”. It’s very soothing (for me) hence the “zen kitty”.Interesting thing I observed is that she chooses a new place to plant herself that coincides with my wife’s “cycles”. I picked up that pattern. I call it “kitty has a new spot”. (She’s like 15 years old).

          4. awaldstein

            Older cats rule.I’ve had two that lived over 20.Yoda like. They have it all figured out and us to support them.

    2. pointsnfigures

      Stanley Kubrick made that point a long time ago.

      1. William Mougayar

        Interesting. I didn’t know that. Was it in one of his movies?

        1. pointsnfigures

          2001 A Space Odyssey: HAL

          1. leapy

            “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”One of the most frightening lines in any movie ever.

    3. ShanaC

      Her actually I think actually goes more deeply into “what is human” through its question about love. So I wouldn’t describe it as absurd

      1. William Mougayar

        I haven’t seen yet, so I was just echoing my understanding of it. I think the absurd part is about the relationship with the “voice” or machine, but the other significant message is that the relationship evolves and develops in a very similar way to a human type of relationship, no?

  5. Martin De Saulles

    “I know a lot of people in tech who are excited about the coming of the Singularity.”Fred, you talk about the Singularity as if it is inevitable. It is just a concept put out by Kurzweil based on a load of graphs and which does not really stand up to any real scrutiny. I suppose some geeks like the idea of machines reaching a higher level of intelligence but Kurzweil is simply preying on people’s imaginations fueled by a strong tradition of science fiction writing.

  6. Tom Labus

    I loved the Circle and like Dave Eggers novels. It was great to see someone take a good whack at Tech and The Valley. Nobody else would have the balls.

  7. Martin De Saulles

    I posted this comment a few minutes ago but it disappeared – probably my mistake.”I know a lot of people in tech who are excited about the coming of the Singularity.”Fred, you talk about the Singularity as if it is inevitable. It is just Kurzweil’s predictions based on a load of graphs and which does not stand up well to closer scrutiny. I can imagine that some computer geeks might find a future of intelligent machines a positive outcome but Kurzweil is preying on imaginations fueled by reading/watching too much science fiction.

  8. takingpitches

    Fred, you tend to kill it on Sundays. Maybe it’s the Saturday “video” rest day.One of my favorite paragraphs ever on AVC:”Banksy says that “art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” And in that context both the Circle and Her are great art. If you are disturbed by the ever increasing role of technology in our lives, both works will comfort you. For me, they shook me out of my comfort zone and made me wonder whether all the things I believe in and advocate for are going to work out so well.”

    1. fredwilson

      it’s a combo of not writing on saturday and two nights of good sleep and a day of goofing offbrad feld calls it digital sabbath. i don’t go anywhere near his level of observance but in general the gotham gal and i spend saturday out and about enjoying NYC and each other and that is great fun

      1. takingpitches

        From someone at a different stage of life and who only knows you through this and GG’s blog, it’s fun to see how everything is tying together – the kids, marriage,NYC, extracurriculars, life, and, of course , tech and investing.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          I value this too. It really helps to have models and especially to be able to view them somewhat holistically even at a distance. And my appreciation of Fred is enhanced significantly by knowing more about GG.

      2. ObjectMethodology.com

        Cool topic!.The real thing that shapes our world is not technology. It’s not movies or ads or blogs or operating systems or devices or governments or churches… It is people!.That is an important thing to understand because it is not just the actions of people but also their inaction that does the shaping. All the technology that is being created will do nothing without people using it! It can be used for good or bad. But make no mistake it must be used by a human for it to have any real impact on the world.,When people think big corporations are evil they are delusional!!! That is a very important point so allow me to repeat it. When people think a corporation or government or other things are evil they are delusional. The people running or working at a big corporation can be evil but not the corporation itself. A person who hold a position in government can be evil but not the government. If all people who work at a corporation were to stop coming to work that corporation would not be able to do anything hurt anyone!.Corporations, governments, etc. are only instruments used by humans as a means to an end. So when we watch movies and read books we must as intelligent people understand the points I’ve made. We cannot blame devices or entities other than humans for the way our world is. The responsibility is ours to make the world what we want it to be..If you know that certain people inside a company are doing things that are not good for the environment then you don’t allow those people to hold positions of authority inside that company. It always makes me laugh when I think about those people who where involved with “occupy wallstreet”. How could they be so stupid to not understand that if you want to bring about change in the corporate world you must “occupy ownership”! Not be stinky sleeping in tents at the park..I ask everyone right now… Is your neighbor doing OK today? Are you spending money on things that move you forward in life and make it so you children or grandchildren have a better life? Are you help the people you call friends reach their goals? Are you taking part in life and trying to make the world around you a better place?.Or are you just letting yourself be guided by the will of others?

      3. LE

        “two nights of good sleep”You should strive for 7 nights of good sleep. Good sleep is up there with exercise and nutrition. Probably more important than nutrition but having good nutrition is fairly easy to achieve.

        1. ShanaC

          Hard to do, so many things affect sleep

          1. LE

            It’s easier for (someone like) Fred to do than it is for someone who has money issues.(Someone like) Fred can modulate his schedule.He already does that to find time to exercise and to spend with his family. He’s not up against some immovable financial wall that is created when you don’t have money. He does it because he wants to and is driven to do it by the enjoyment and/or the success. That’s a conscious choice it’s not an absolute. It’s not a rock and a hard place.I go through this with my wife as well because she runs herself ragged with both her job and in taking the kids to all these activities (sports etc.) which, in my opinion, are nowhere near as important as her personal health. (It’s not a really bad situation, and her health is good, but it’s not ideal by my standards by any means. And I can see it leading to behavior that I’d rather not have happen.)

    2. Dave Pinsen

      Banksy’s line is derivative of the old aphorism about how journalists should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.

  9. JimHirshfield

    Sounds like I should skip The Circle. What are his better books?

    1. fredwilson

      i love Zeitoun and A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius is exactly that. amazing book.

      1. JimHirshfield


    2. Brandon Burns

      all of his books master the “woe is me, the 1%” point of view. over-privileged characters trapped in less-than-ideal lives made by their own over-privilege. read at your own risk!

      1. JimHirshfield

        Thanks for the warning. I’ll start with one and see how it goes.

      2. Toph

        You Shall Know Our Velocity notwithstanding, your criticism is strange and misses the mark. Does “over-privilege” explain parents dying from cancer? Or devastating hurricanes and a governments incompetent if not scandalous response thereto? Or the Sudanese Civil War?

        1. Brandon Burns

          Eggers broke out with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which is no doubt moving, but still a story about a spoiled little rich boy whose life is turned upside down when he had to deal with hardship he wasn’t prepared for.Zeitoun is a story about Hurricane Katrina though the eyes of a resident of tony Uptown (which had practically no flooding), who let his “white guilt” compel him to slum it in the Ninth Ward to help the (mainly black) poor.Even his screenplay adaption of Where The Wild Things Are managed to put a heavy focus on the main character’s negative feelings towards his upper middle class parents and his cushy suburban home. And McSweeny’s is pretty much the definitive log of #firstworldproblems.Content and merit of his works aside, when you consider the tone of his work, Egger’s is the soapbox for the “plight” of the 1%. That’s his angle.

          1. Toph

            Pardon the pun, but it’s a bit rich for a Northwestern grad to play the 1% card vis-à-vis an Illinois grad. My sense is your criticism comes from your reaction to Eggers, not to his work. Penis envy cum lit crit.

          2. Brandon Burns

            For the record, I’m not “criticizing” Eggers. I don’t love his novels, but I’m a big fan of McSweeny’s and other efforts.I’m merely making a statement about his point of view as a writer. The voice he’s known for may be elitist, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

          3. Toph

            You’re also a well-educated dude trying to make it rich with a startup. So you really need to shut the fuck up about “elitism” “the 1%” “over privilege” “white guilt” etc etc. You come off as completely obnoxious; maybe it’s just your “black guilt.”

          4. Donna Brewington White

            Taking this a bit personally?

          5. Brandon Burns

            Would ye who hides behind the anonymous avatar like to come out of hiding?

          6. Salt Shaker

            Brandon, he’s already come out of hiding and revealed himself as an ignorant, highly frustrated bigot. No place for that here or anywhere else for that matter. For the record, I appreciate your insights and perspective.

          7. Brandon Burns

            Thanks (and to you, too, @donnawhite:disqus). I appreciate your, and every other AVC community member’s contribution to the discussion, whether I agree or not. Anyone who asserts and stands by an opinion deserves respect, provided they do it openly.

          8. Toph

            Sure, send me your phone number and I’ll give you a call.

          9. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Don’t feed the trolls, folks 🙂

          10. Toph

            Still willing to have a conversation if you want to send your number. Haven’t seen a reply though.

  10. Simone

    Sorry to bring up Elysium (just another blockbuster) here, but for the first 20 minutes, the movie made me think Elysium may be the Mars neighbourhood Elon Musk will be building. There is nothing new about the idea that better off individuals have a separate life (by location too). I wouldn’t be so fast to dismiss the possibility of a future where technology takes over because we let it, we can’t get enough of the technology around us and cant wait for the next new invention.. the genie is out of the bottle.I take the tube everyday and see people gladly loosing themselves into their devices plus same devices are the preferred excuse to avoid real communication.The machine vs people conflict is in fact the people vs people conflict, and when exposed to pleasure we tend to give in and develop dependencies. Funnily enough, I can imagine dependency on a digital creation being potentially constructive (e.g. educational) in contrast with many real life damaging relationships experiences.

  11. sigmaalgebra

    > made me wonder whether all the things I believe inand advocate for are going to work out so wellConsider fire: It can warm a home or burn it down.There will often be the same dichotomy for thethings you “believe in and advocate”.It took a while to get fire under control, but wedid, and, thus, for a long time have had many warmhomes and only a tiny fraction burned down. We cando the same for the things you “believe in andadvocate”.For “radical transparency”, people should be able tohave some good privacy and anonymity. For theexcesses of the NSA, eventually it will become goodpolitics to shovel out the barn a little east ofLaurel, MD. E.g., having the NSA suspected of goingafter Members of Congress sounds like a good way tothrottle the NSA. The old saying is “Don’t bite thehand that feeds you.”?A Web browser ‘user agent ID string’ can say a bittoo much, but there is an easy fix with just thenext releases of the popular browsers.For ‘trust’, that was a recent topic here at AVC,and if people care then there can be steps to raisethe level of trust. E.g., the last time I went tothe Web site of my bank was after the Target dataleak, and my bank made the flat statement that sucha leak will not cost the bank’s customers anything.So, my bank got some of my trust.To be more secure on the Internet, we can have moreproxy servers such as TOR, Son of TOR, etc. If TORall in software is too slow, then maybe Cisco couldbuild a faster alternative.For ‘machine learning’, ‘artificial intelligence’,and the ‘singularity’, to me they are so far 9944/100% pure hype and the rest nonsense. I was inan artificial intelligence project at YorktownHeights and concluded that the emphasis was on’artificial’ and not ‘intelligence’.Here’s about the best progress that was made: Thereis a computer game Animals sometimes played with ingrade school. So, there is a little computer-userdialog where the user thinks of an animal and thecomputer asks some questions to try to guess whatthe animal is or, in case of a bad guess, learn whatthe animal is.So, the computer has its ‘knowledge’ in a simplebinary tree where each node is a question, e.g.,”Does your animal have four legs?”, and there is abranch for each of the two possible answers, yes andno. When the dialog gets to a leaf of the tree, thecomputer makes a guess, say, dog. If the users saysthat dog is wrong, then the computer asks, “What istrue for your animal and false for a dog?”.By the end of a semester, the little program canidentify nearly every animal the children can thinkof and can look really ‘smart’.Of course, the program is not ‘intelligent’ at all.Indeed, the intelligence is from the human playerswho, for any animal where the computer guesseswrong, say, a dog, has to know something true forthat animal and false for a dog, and that’s quite alot of ‘knowledge’ about animals.For ‘machine learning’, I watched some of the MOOCof Professor Ng at Stanford. In spite of ProfessorNg’s course, at times I’ve seen some good work comefrom Stanford. Apparently Ng was giving a sloppycourse in applied maximum likelihood estimation(MLE); a lot is known about that technique ofstatistical estimation, but I saw no effort by Ng tocover it. Instead Ng was using MLE just as aheuristic. Such uses of heuristics can work but arenot very promising. In an airplane analogy, wewould declare a new airplane ‘safe’ if it just, justempirically, flew successfully some number of times.Instead in aeronautical engineering we use a lot of’reductionism’ back to or toward ‘first principles’with detailed examination of what can go wrong withan airplane, lots of careful engineeringcalculations, e.g., on fatigue life, etc. Uh,remember the British Comet and it’s problems withfatigue life? E.g., the Dassault Fan Jet FalconDA-20 was designed to be so strong that it wasjudged to have have essentially infinite fatiguelife; can’t draw such a conclusion from justempirical testing and, instead, need some goodengineering, ‘reductionism’ back to solid ‘firstprinciples.MLE applied just as a heuristic is crude and toooften in practice will prove to be too crude andgive some bad surprises.Ng is playing ‘fast and loose’ with the long knownprinciples of good work in applied math, science,and engineering. In simple terms about all we haveto recommend some of Ng’s ‘machine learning’ is thatthe ‘learning’ from the ‘training set’ seems to workwell on the ‘test set’. There are problems wherethat approach can work, but we need to keep them faraway from situations involving human life or bigdownsides.That MLE has a ‘machine’ ‘learn’ is at least from Ngputting $10 worth of quarters into the hype machineor just a fraud.We don’t have to be too afraid of frauds; there havebeen plenty for a long time, along withmanipulations, deceptions, etc.Once I did some work that had some software appearto be ‘smart’ and to ‘learn’, but the work was someapplied math where we (1) start with a real problem,(2) for this problem find some mathematicalassumptions that appear to be justified, (3) usethese assumptions to convert the real problem to amathematical problem, (4) use theorems and proofs toget a mathematical solution to the mathematicalproblem, (5) use computer software to do the datamanipulations specified by the mathematicalsolution, (6) appropriately ‘interpret’ the outputof the software as the real solution. And the mathshowed that, with the assumptions, the output of thesoftware should be essentially the best possiblesolution forever.So, there’s some ‘sense’ to this work: If theassumptions, theorems and proofs, and software arecorrect, then we can start to take the output of thesoftware seriously. And we don’t want to use thesoftware where we don’t have the assumptions.In that work, nearly all of that ‘discipline’ was myidea and was my effort to have a solid foundation,framework for my work and was my formulation of thediscipline I’d commonly seen in applied math,science, and engineering back through college. Inparticular, I didn’t want to be accused of proposinga lot of ‘mathemagical manipulations’ without solidreasons to take the results seriously. The piece ofwork was my Ph.D. dissertation. Maybe Ng shouldlearn a little about how to do applied math fromwhat I wrote, i.e., steps (1)-(6).Generally I believe that computer output needs somesolid rational support before being taken seriously.In most cases so far, that support is fairly easy,say, just accounting or some such. But with’machine learning’ and MLE, more is needed than Isaw from Ng.I see little threat to good aspects of human lifefrom artificial intelligence or machine learning.Why? Because so far such work has no way tocircumvent what we know about how to do good work inmath, science, and engineering. If the work is tobe basically some applied math, e.g., MLE, then thework gets welcomed to the long established world ofapplied math where we’ve known for a very long timethat anything much like ‘intelligence’ has yet to beseen.

    1. pointsnfigures

      I think the problem lies in having a government (not just the US), with the inherent tendencies of govt gaining too much information about an individual. I am reminded of Minority Report…..

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        Remember the Gov has been spying all along, like with the telegraph. It is a matter of doing something outside both Gov and Merchandising interests since both end up hand in hand.

    2. Dave W Baldwin

      There will be a lot of fast and loose but a lot of claimed Art Intel will only go so far in the market. The lack of smooth will level the field.

  12. pointsnfigures

    I am going to read them. It’s good to read “sci-fi” or other books. Was a big fan of Robert Heinlen, Orwell, Bradbury back in the day. I mostly read bio’s and history now. We are on the same wavelength when it comes to transparency and “the crowd”. There is a lot of merit in theory to this view-which comes from Adam Smith, Ronald Coase and extends through a lot of things research has proven about free markets.At the same time, since we have identified a problem-organizations and machines knowing too much about us which might be harmful to us-I am waiting for an entrepreneur to solve it. What ever solution they come up with will be better than any solution created by a bureaucracy or government.

    1. Aaron Klein

      You will really enjoy Andy Kessler’s Grumby if you haven’t read that yet.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Love Andy Kessler

  13. Hank Williams

    I saw Her yesterday and had much the same reaction you did. I have spent my life loving technology, and I cant imagine doing anything with my life other than build it, but in recent years I have come to a place of fearing, or perhaps knowing, that where we are headed may not end well.Technology is displacing workers, messing with our economic system and societal distribution assets, at the same time it is messing with our ability to relate to each other in certain ways. What Her demonstrates is one aspect of this that I had not thought through fully, but represents a future that is, as I see it, almost a certainty.I am not sure there is anything that any of us can do about any of this, but perhaps the most important thing all of us can do is just to think about it. Thinking beyond the next quarter, the next startup, next year’s cool new tech is something that those of us involved in creating technology (and those that aren’t) is, I think, becoming a civic and hugely important social responsibility.

    1. iggyfanlo

      See BSOTT and Mark Suster’s recent post where he describes human nature as driven by “greed and lust for power.. In a world where that is “rewarded”, the end would seem to be both concentration of wealth and isolation. While I do not profess to have novel solutions, this is clearly the path we are on

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        Thanks for heads up re Suster. We have to be careful re definition of isolation for we have always had segregation via the haves and nots. So, it will be that way moving forward.

  14. ErikSchwartz

    I just reread Snow Crash. I try and reread it every five years or so. On this read I noticed the privacy issues.The Circle is already on my Kindle. I’m looking forward to it. I am much more cynical about the culture of the valley than I used to be. It’s all packaging and image and not so much technology anymore.

    1. awaldstein

      Required reading at Electric Communities–most whacked out of all my startups. Neal was an advisor.

  15. Salt Shaker

    The Circle is dystopian drama meant to unsettle via hyperbole. More an indictment of the human race than tech.

  16. Brandon Burns

    I didn’t love Her. From a pure movie standpoint, I thought it never went beyond the “OMG he’s dating an OS!” concept, which was a disservice. Following a typical rom-com format, the plot structure was predictable from the very beginning. The only surprising, new, haven’t-seen-that-before scene was with the surrogate. The rest was dialogue that we all knew exactly where it was going right from the beginning of the movie.What I wanted was commentary from Samantha’s makers, and even better the government. The most interesting aspect, I found, was that our hero’s romantic situation was not unique to him. The construct even seemed to be spreading. The implications of that on society as a whole, and how the makers and legislators adapt around this new social construct, would have been much more interesting to me to explore than its effect on one dude in yet another predictably failed relationship. What happened to the people for whom their OS relationships didn’t fail? How do they fit into society? What does their new “family unit” look like? That’s what would have been mind-blowing.

  17. Matt Zagaja

    I love technology but I’m just too much of a cynic about it to be able to suspend disbelief for these extreme scenarios. I have not seen or read either of those stories, but my relationship with Siri can be summed up in the graphic below.As far as privacy, I think it’s an interesting thing. I’ve taken several law school classes on it. In general I think it’s a bit overvalued. There are certainly some clear cut cases where we might want it (i.e. we don’t need pictures of us in the shower floating around). However the same sensors and social networks that might tell a stalker about their target can also tell the police if the stalker gets too close to their potential victim.Over the summer I celebrated the end of my previous job by going on a day long hike with my best friend and some other buddies on a mountain in New Hampshire. I did bring my iPhone. We had a great time on the way up, used it to navigate and also take pictures. When we were stopping for a break we were able to skype in one of my friend’s old roommates who was at a bar in Asia. When I reached the summit of the mountain with my friends (it was a much more vigorous hike than I expected!) I tweeted in victory. Not for the benefit of the random people following me, but because I know it makes my mother feel better to know I’m safe.Ultimately I think we’re overoptimistic on technology and under optimistic about people. I remember when Howard Dean was running for President, it was the era of blogs and the Internet. Meetup.com was buoying his candidacy and he was taking tons of money in online and supporters were appearing out of nowhere. In my home state of Connecticut in 2006 the blogosphere embraced a candidate for senate named Ned Lamont. Dean and Lamont were among the first to embrace the Internet and its potential, but they both failed. Some years later Barack Obama ran for President and while he embraced the Internet, he was not the “Internet” candidate, it’s just that the Internet and technology played a role in his campaign. It was a people first campaign and the tech was just hiding in the background (or clogging your inbox).

  18. Dotan Barnea

    Thanks! I will definitely check the Circle. I strongly recommend Jaron Lanier’s “who owns the future”, which I find to be an important read for anyone interested in the design of a future society that maintains the dignity of people.

  19. Brad Dickason

    I saw Her with my wife and felt the same conflicted emotions you’re describing. On one hand, it’s a beautiful film in all aspects – story, cinematography, soundtrack, acting. It’s also clearly centered in the ‘tech/scifi’ universe but spends surprisingly little time focusing on the technology.The technologist in me that was initially giddy about the idea of a humanlike computer became more and more uncomfortable as I started to see how much People began to rely on technology. This was something I never expected when I walked into the movie. Like you I assume that advanced tech leads naturally to a better quality of life and rarely question this idea.However as I left the theatre and discussed the film with my wife, we both kept coming back to the human elements of the film. Although there is absolutely commentary on tech, I felt very moved by the critique of relationships and some of the less tech-related points like the writer who scribes personal letters for couples.Overall, the film caused a ton of great thought and dialogue on the future as well as what we’re doing in our relationship.Everyone should see the film, even if it makes them uncomfortable.

    1. fredwilson

      My daughter, who saw Her a few weeks ago was way more into the human aspects and I’m particular what it said about intimacy

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Wow! Clearly all the emphasis on technology inyour house didn’t ruin the quality of your parenting!

      2. panterosa,

        Very curious to hear what her generation thinks of it having grown up with social media as well as online dating as a given. That is a unique combo to have perspective from.

        1. Dave W Baldwin

          Right on, and @fredwilson:disqus you need to have her write something doin that.

  20. panterosa,

    I wasn’t creeped out by Her, and haven’t read The Circle.Re Her, the most interesting idea was how fast can humans grow emotionally as well as intellectually? With the comparison of having the OS figure things out, a human looks slow, yet human and OS moved each other forward during their time together.I didn’t find it creepy – it was more virtual than anything. Anyone who has done online dating knows many people never want to actually meet and leave the conversation going on a long time to prevent an IRL experience, for which so many are unprepared. Not so different than Her in many ways.BONUS – I loved the video game character in HER, the attitude was hilarious.

    1. Robert Metcalf

      I’m pretty sure that Spike Jonze was the voice for the little video game alien, which made me enjoy it all the more.

  21. Dan Ramsden

    The subject in my opinion is not so much human vs machine as it is the rapid pace of change and the impact this has on human personality. We are living through major transformations that are taking place inside the span of years, not even decades. The subject of technology speaks to some of us the way it does because we are right in the middle of the crossroads and equidistant to both ends, both detached and immersed at the same time. While the sentiment can be one of discomfort, it is also an opportunity to shape directions, precisely because the action is happening so fast.

    1. JLM

      .It’s also the selective rate of technological change. This AVC.com bunch is on the bleeding edge and the rest of the world is not.There is a developing “drinking from the fire hose” problem.I don’t fail to discover at least 5 cool things about the Internet on a weekly basis.I was in business before the advent of the PC.JLM.

      1. Dan Ramsden

        Indeed, I think there is a generational aspect to all this as well. The largest sub-segment straddles the analog and digital worlds and has been required to readapt continuously.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Requires perhaps unprecedented alertness and being in touch at a deeper level.

  22. John McGrath

    Thanks for the mini-reviews. I’m a fan of both too and look forward to checking these out.Picayune point: the quote you attribute to Banksy is a variation of something Finley Peter Dunne wrote in the 19th century: Journalism should “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” The rest is pretty good too: “and bury the dead, then roast them afterward.”

  23. LE

    Great reviews. Certainly piqued my interest for sure.

  24. Michael Dempsey

    I haven’t read The Circle yet, but intend to. I’ve been discussing this transparency dynamic a lot lately with people and think that a part of it is being overblown. I wrote a short post the other day about what it would mean to open source your life and how transparency seems to continually reach a “limit” and then bust through it. I think we may actually be nearing a real ceiling or at least a stagnant time until wearable devices like Narrative and Google Glass are widespread, but we’ll have to see how people embrace digital memories vs. digital tracks.Check out the post if you’re interested: http://goo.gl/svLBDq

  25. nilb

    This reminds me of a story I heard few months ago. I always thought that the higher rate of suicide in Sweden was because of the cold weather and lack of vitamin D. But then I met a Swedish woman who gave a different interpretation for it. According to her, the Swedish social services are so good, and give people almost anything they want. However, this also had a side effect where people are not communicating and are not in need for help from one another. (Where the lack of human interaction/empathy is what cause the higher rates of suicide). And it reminds me that technology with all its beauty also in a way take the part of empathy and human interaction.

  26. Wyatt Wong

    Thanks for the reviews! I think you might enjoy the Black Mirror series as well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wik

    1. Oren Morav

      Completely agree! Season 1 episode 3 is one of the most fascinating and disturbing glimpses into the near future that I’ve seen. I highly recommend it.

  27. bfeld

    I haven’t seen Her yet, but The Circle appears to have done to you exactly what I expect Eggers wanted it to do.I thought it was outstanding. And incredibly uncomfortable.http://www.feld.com/wp/arch…My short version of a review follows.They combine in a magical way as the story unfolds. Large parts of the book are uncomfortably close to home, shining an absurd light just a little to0 brightly on stuff we talk about – in private, and in public – all the time.And then – boom – Eggers does what he does best. As the pressure builds, he makes his point, over and over again. With a relentless drumbeat of character destruction. In a way that is cringeworthy to an extreme. Where you vacillate between “she deserved that” and “shit, that’s just not right.” And, as you take a deep breath and process what just happens, he does it again.

    1. fredwilson

      Yup. That pretty much nails it. Seems like you enjoyed it more than I did

      1. bfeld

        Amy told me I was shaking my leg the entire time I read it. And breathing through my mouth, which I do when I’m both concentrating and anxious.

        1. fredwilson

          Did you see Her?

          1. bfeld

            Not yet – but probably this week. We saw Wolf of Wall Street the other night and hated it. We were mostly bored – almost walked out halfway through but Amy hates walking out of movies. We saw American Hustle a few nights earlier and loved it. Her is next. The one I’m really psyched about is Transcendence.

          2. pointsnfigures

            American Hustle was good. I will not see the Wolf. I find that movies about Wall St. only talk about the very gratuitous side of the business. Was there coke and hookers? Yup. But I saw some people do some amazing humanitarian things, and I saw some incredible trusting relationships made. I can go into a meeting with traders and there is an implicit code-I don’t get that with other people.

          3. Brandon Burns

            The whole film is a cliché, but it was executed sooooooo well. I haven’t laughed so hard in a movie in a long time. The climax scene with DiCaprio trying to fight his way through a quaalude overdose to contact his partner before he blows it is one of the best physical comedy scenes ever caught on film.If Chiwetel Ejiofor wasn’t standing in his way for 12 Years a Slave, DiCaprio would have the best actor Oscar wrapped up. And Jonah Hill still might get the supporting one. Amazing performances.

          4. Donna Brewington White

            Interesting to hear this perspective.

          5. Brandon Burns

            But Wolf was so hilarious! I went with a hedge fund friend, who was kinda uncomfortable in the beginning, but then he just let go and had fun — which I think was Scorsese’s goal. It’s too ridiculous to not laugh at.But I guess sometimes movies hit too close to home. I hated Inside Llewyn Davis. I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — I need not witness another story about a hipster bum in a band. Snooooooze.

          6. bfeld

            I didn’t find it very funny. It was mostly dull. There were a few moments of hilarity, but the overall story arc was painfully predictable and Scorsese dragged it out at least 90 minutes longer than necessary.

  28. Sean Besser

    As someone who works in social media (most recently heading up BizDev for GetGlue), The Circle really struck a chord with me. It’s staying with me. It’s haunting me. If you really think about it, some it’s absurd conclusions really aren’t all that absurd.Just last night I had dinner with a friend who created a heart rate monitor for kids with heart troubles which records all heart activity for medical evaluation. Yet again it took me back to The Circle. I am certain it won’t be the last time as we creep closer and closer to many of The Circle inventions.Whether this future makes you smile or frown, it is becoming more and more of a reality everyday.

  29. vruz

    If there’s any consolation, Ray Kurzweil has always been wrong, and Our Dear Central Planner Eric Schmidt’s only great regret is that he failed to see the rise of pseudomodern web media.On hindsight, even if Facebook are the bane of the open web, I can’t help but think that we might have been in an even worse situation had Google mastered that too. I am not sure, but it’s one of the possible universes that didn’t happen.And now military robots. Great.SovietCon Valley is at a crossroads. Collude definitively and side with totalitarian power absolutely, or return to Hewlett and Packard’s common decency they’ve long departed.Of course, they will try to hedge their bets and play it both ways, but you’ve seen how well that worked out so far: 30% loss.Here’s hoping 2014 brings some sanity, restraint, self-awareness, common decency and just good business sense to those idiots.

  30. Semil Shah

    This post shows your range just as a writer. Would you consider these more immediate reactions to the art, such that you may write a follow-up in a few months after some time?

  31. denmeade

    I haven’t see Her (released in Sydney in a few weeks) but have read The Circle. It wasn’t my favourite of Eggers’ books but I’m glad I read it. It was uncomfortable, in a thought-provoking way. It made me reflect on the values and incentives that are built into the products and services many of us use and the kinds of choices I’m making.

  32. nstamas

    It was written 60 years ago, but Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut is another uncomfortable read for anyone in the tech industry.

  33. Donna Brewington White

    I’m very glad that you wrote this. Personally I am in “Saving Mr. Banks” mode for the moment but these questions you raise are critically important and the types of things to which I want to give serious thought. But I don’t think there is really anything new here in the grand scheme of human history except perhaps the speed and scope of the effects. (I may change my mind after reading/viewing.)Borrowing from the school of thought that power corrupts I guess you can look at tech as a type of power. But we have historical evidence of power and technology being used for great good and for great evil. Closer to home and on a much smaller scale my husband wants to shut down our kids’ electronic and digital devices so that they will read more and make better grades. I argue that teaching them to use these responsibly is the answer. The latter is much more demanding and I may be kidding myself. But I’d like to think I am helping to raise people who will be among those asking the important questions and using technology for good.What it comes down to is the type of people we are and what/who we value and how we are valued. How we use tech as individuals and as a world will come out of this. I also think this is a critical reason that the tech industry must guard against becoming insular but rather partner and cross-pollinate with other industries and schools of thought.

  34. Tracey Jackson

    I just saw HER today. I was not expecting to like it as much as i did. I don’t want to give anything away either, but I think it goes way beyond man’s relationship to a machine, but the difficulty so many have in establishing real intimacy with others and the expectations we project onto others. Spike Jonze poses many questions and leaves many unanswered, I think this along with his reach makes him one of our better filmmakers.

  35. Donna Brewington White

    And meanwhile my 13 y.o. is in the other room having a conversation with Siri. Going in to break up this relationship right now. I must hand it to “her” though, “she” is teaching him a thing or two about boundaries.

  36. ShanaC

    I stand by what I said about The Circle on your wife’s blog – it is a bad reading of Foucault’s reading of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The Panopticon is designed as a prison, and designed to be a form of torture. Foucualt’s perspective on the way and how it works and why such tortures are developed is way way more nuanced than Egger’s. Outside of “Mae wants to be awesome at work” Egger’s never seriously answers why Mae bothers. If anything, it would be more interesting to me if Egger’s actually grew a backbone about white collar, but lower wage (intro-level) labor, since I would take Mae’s embrace of pseudo-punishing herself as basically a corporation molding her because she can’t seriously earn money otherwise.The guy also doesn’t full understand the limits of machines. Fitbits are not EEGs. Ad prediction software is not as good as it should be (and I say this having read some of the patents of ad prediction software – random walks to a local maxima are crappy at figuring out even basic things like “Shana is a woman who reads financial news sites and does not need Bonobos pants”*)Her made me cry for nearly two days. It was a beautiful meditation on both the nature of humanity and the nature of love. The one question that I never asked myself – how do I treat a computer that passes the turing test. Samantha is both more and less than human, and I have no idea how to interact with such a creature, especially if it also has the same sort of capacity to love. Hence why the movie made me cry. (I’m a huge sap)*Things that have happened to me. I get mens pants advertised to me. I definitely have a woman’s hips.

    1. Upton

      Fascinating comment! But I’m not totally on board with the idea that Mae wouldn’t have seriously been able to earn money otherwise. Most reviews — Fred’s included — tend to compare the Circle to Google. If she is a FTE of Google, with its attendant benefits, etc, then she certainly would be able to get a job elsewhere. Google is a pretty prestigious resume builder. Your broader point — I think, it’s your broader point — is that there are lots of people with college degrees and above who live the life of contract employees and have no bargaining power whatsoever and cannot make ends meet and live in more or less despair. This is the actually New Economy and it has not been reported because the people who are living it are too embarrassed to admit that it’s their lot in life. I believe we’re reaching a tipping point, though, that soon someone will be willing to say, I have a college degree and a professional degree and I can’t make ends meet, and I’m willing to call myself out and write a book about it. The Jungle of our modern economy, if you will.

      1. ShanaC

        There is a discussion in the book about how she ended up at the circle – her college roommate and best friend was both very smart and very privileged, and was an executive there. Before she was working at a utility and couldn’t make ends meet enough to live on her own. She also apparently was making among the least in her old division and was the most computer literate. Egger’s hammers home about how scared she is to go back to her hometown permanently because of this, but never discusses anything more. It would have been a far more interesting book if it had

        1. Upton

          I’ll concede that I haven’t read the book. But from your description, I’d guess that Eggers is being figurative. I think he’s talking about smart people who, e.g., love art and obtained art degrees but go to work in finance because you make certain money in finance, but it would be scary to actually try to make a living doing what you love in art history. This is Michael Lewis’s great lament about Liar’s Poker. He had an art degree from Princeton and went on to be a banker. Wrote the book thinking everyone would be disgusted by the world of high finance and would go back to chasing their dreams. Instead, it became a must read book if you wanted to make your fortune on Wall Street.However, I think we’re both on to something. The way that people with lots of education cannot make ends me these days is a huge problem and is being under reported because the people who are affected have too much pride to admit that they’re screwed. And if people with lots of education cannot make ends meet, what do you expect of the people who do not have college degrees? Delusional times in our country!

    2. Dave W Baldwin

      Don’t feel bad. Turned 50 in April and I keep getting Medicare Supplement crap in the mail….

  37. LE

    “an attempt to ask society if its happy with the place we are going to”This article, today in the NY Post, where a man is trapped on on the 26th floor of his burning high rise apartment (with his wife and his 2 yr old) but feel compelled to take the time to write a message on twitter:http://nypost.com/2014/01/0…Mickey Atwal, who was stuck on the 26th floor, went to his balcony and tweeted a picture of the smoke billowing from below.“Too much smoke on hallways,” Atwal wrote on Twitter. ”Elevators not working. Standing in balcony with wife and 2yr old.”The man later tweeted that he and his family were “safe and in good spirits.”It’s this guy:https://twitter.com/MickeyAhttp://www.cshl.edu/Faculty…He’s an assistant professor at Cornell.Have to say that the fact that he took the time (when he was in danger and trapped) with his wife and 2 year old) to post something on twitter bothers me a great deal.The reason is that in a situation where there is danger like that you should be focused 100% on avoiding the danger and ensuring your safety as well as your families. Not thinking (at all) about tweeting messages out so you can get your 15 minutes of fame.(And I’ve considered the reasons why others outside the building might find the information helpful and I still don’t like that he did this.)

  38. Douglas Crets

    Banksy is riffing off of another person, Finley Peter Dunne, who said: “The job of the newspaper is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” It’s a paraphrase of one of something he wrote previously about journalism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wik

  39. ayo

    Saw “Her” today. I think part of the reason it hits so close to home is that even though the technology isn’t quite there, the human effect already is. We already walk the streets staring at our phones instead of each other, talking to a mic or an earpiece. Spike Jonze just replaced the voice on the other end, with an OS.

  40. Dave W Baldwin

    Without having a chance to see HER yet. I’m assuming it is based on a realm of today with something that passed the Turing. Remember all of the things that will come to pass on the Biotech side as well as ML. I’d say it is safer to speculate there being those that will be of like current Virtual World is Everything mentality who would spend 90% of their thime with conversing machine. The vast majority will not.At the true time of Turing, the human will communicate getting things done and be with their friends. Don’t worry, the transition of a machine telling jokes out on the porch to 5 guys with cigars won’t bring down the world.

    1. fredwilson

      yup, you have guessed the basic premise of the film

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        It would be interesting to have a group of individuals offer a landscape of what will be there at different points. No matter what as I’ve said over and over, 2014-17 will be amazing.

  41. janwrite1

    I also found The Circle hard to get through. As a writer, Eggers could have added more paranoia and suspense to this story.

  42. Guest

    The Singularity per Kurzweil’s fundamental assumption (Moore’s law meaning that more and smaller microchips can process data faster, exponentially, will cause Consciousness to emerge in the machines because they can “map” and correlate-calculate data relationships more rapidly) is refuted by the works of Stuart Hameroff and Sir Roger Penrose who won the Wolf Prize in Physics alongside Stephen Hawkins:

* http://youtu.be/bEATDhaZyVA…Also, Kurzweil and Google seem have these plans for us:

”But Kurzweil is thinking far beyond Glass, to devices even smaller and more powerful than tiny text ads. Really small.

”Ultimately these devices will be the size of blood cells, we’ll be able to send theminside our brain through the capillaries, and basically connect up brain to thecloud,” Kurzweil says. “But that’s a mid-2030’s scenario.”

In Kurzweil’s vision, these advances don’t simply bring computers closer to ourbiological systems. Machines become more like us.”Your personality, your skills are contained in information in your neocortex, and it is information,” Kurzweil says. “These technologies will be a million times more powerful in 20 years and we will be able to manipulate the information inside your brain.”

* http://www.marketplace.org/…Yes, Kurzweil is talking not about wearable technologies that are external choices through which we access information but about invasive internal nano-machines through which Google “will be able to manipulate the information inside your brain” by mid-2030s.Meanwhile, last week two articles put into perspective whether the historical 1’s and 0’s and statistical approach to building “Thinking Machines” is stillthe right one (it’s not, yet that’s another basis of the Singularity theory):

* http://www.nytimes.com/2013…

* http://www.forbes.com/sites…Interestingly, IBM Watson’s creator has already challenged statistical reasoning as the method by which to build AI:

”Much of artificial intelligence today, he said, focuses on mining vast amounts of data to make predictions.Those predictions are based on statistical probabilities and patterns — acertain symptom is highly correlated with a certain disease, for example.

“Butin a purely data-driven approach, I can’t explain my decisions,” Dr. Ferruccisaid. “People are so enamored with the data-driven approach that they believecorrelation is sufficient.”

*http://bits.blogs.nytimes.c…Notably, Dr Ferrucci likened his own IBM Watson creation to “a human autisticsavant”:


This is the area of tech I focus on.Imo, humans and humanity are not simply inherently social; the rise of social networks and social tools during Web 2.0 tapped into that strand of the philosophy of our existence.Humans and humanity are also not simply logical and risk-oriented; if we were, logic would tell us not to risk lives in ridiculous or meaningless wars.

Humans and humanity are also inherently emotional and cultural; these affect our decisions of consumption, war, resources allocation etc as much as logic and social factors.I believe emotional and cultural data within our brains make us intelligent as much as logic, probability and spatial reasoning do.So how can we factor these in (create some type of code framework of emotional and cultural data — aka our perceptions) to make the machines and economic systems intelligent in a more similar and mirror reflection way to our natural intelligence?

Without enabling the machines with emotional and cultural interpreters (collectively “Perceptions”), they’ll have no consideration for or consciousness towards humans. We will merely be a statistical probability of interests (0’s=no interest, 1=interest) and socio-demographics data to them.If that continues to happen, that form of “machine consciousness” will produce systems that are underpinned by the logic of “It’s them (humans=0) vs us (themachines=1).”

However, with emotionally and culturally intelligent AI, the machines would have a measure and a scale of consideration towards humans beyond us being the sum of 0’s (dead) and 1’s (alive).So creative Dystopias are definitely worth watching and reading, to enable technologists to really examine WHY we build what we do and how it affects future generations alongside our own.We either enslave ourselves through the systems we build, set ourselves free or enable the future us to experiment and improve by the technological theories and builds we make today.Turing and von Neumann’s theories locked us into the last 60+ years of computing.It could be that there are theories out there — not necessarily the Singularity Theory — which open up and augur in a new age of intelligence, computing and economic systems.

  43. daryn

    just started reading “The Circle” last night. I can see what what you mean about cringe-worthiness and wanting to put it down.

  44. LukeG

    we undervalue the software and services that make empathy machine-readable. we better figure out how to teach them how to feel. human software; a human web.

  45. Carl Rahn Griffith


  46. Roger Berkowitz

    It is important that those in technology read and think about criticisms of technology, whether or not they agree with them. We always need to challenge our own convictions and unarticulated prejudices. That is the kind of enlarged thinking, thinking from the perspective of others, that Hannah Arendt calls for. This post does that.We need to take seriously, for example, that all sorts of studies show that human beings are able to fall in love with machines and robots. Sherry Turkle collects these studies in her book “Alone Together.” It is scary how over and over humans prefer the company and compassion of machines that are reliable and untiring in their attention to the fickle treatment by other humans. The point is not to condemn technology. It is to ask: as we spend more time with machines that are reliable and objective in a certain way, will be less tolerant of human interactions? Maybe. That means above all that we must work harder to preserve our human relations. If movies like Her help us to reaffirm our commitment to human relationships, all the better.Similarly, I take it as right that while transparency is positive, radical transparency is dehumanizing. We all need dark spaces and places where we can be by ourselves and make mistakes, fail, be angry, and be mean, without those activities becoming public. It is human to have angry emotions and it is human to let off steam. We should not have all our human emotions made public. There is a limit to transparency if we are to remain free to express our humanity.I take this to be the key and essential insight of the post:I know a lot of people in tech who are excited about the coming of the Singularity. I am not one of them. While I love machines and artificial intelligence/machine learning and all that it can do for us, I love humans and humanity a lot more.That we love humanity more than technology doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy technology. Thanks for posting.

  47. Dave Pinsen

    Fred, for some reason I didn’t think of this when I first read this post, but since then I saw the trailer for Her, and it reminded me of a novel by Richard Powers called Galatea 2.2, which covers somewhat similar ground. It’s been years since I read it, but it was excellent. Here’s a link to the NYT review that probably promoted me to buy it: http://www.nytimes.com/book

  48. Robert Metcalf

    Fred, glad that you enjoyed “Her”, and thankful that it’s reached its full release, so there will be more people available to talk about it. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing my wife in the film, which made the experience all the more surreal!

  49. Twain Twain

    Golden Globes 2014…BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTUREHer – Spike Jonze

  50. Laz

    I just finished reading The Circle. The first half was kind of boring, but it got more interesting, and more disturbing, in the second half. Thanks for the recommendation.If you haven’t already, I suggest reading “Super sad true love story” by Gary Shteyngart. It doesn’t deal with the same end issues as the Circle, and revolves around a love story, but also touches on several potential future themes. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but The Circle reminded me of it.

  51. Donna Brewington White

    A lot of insight here Sandy and I have appreciated other comments of yours as well. One problem with anonymity is that I like to make connections between the thoughts that people express and who they are/what they do. But if anonymity allows more people to play then I’m all for it!