So maybe it is different this time. But in trying to find similar thinking out there that could be preparing the ground for our era’s mania, you don’t have to look far.
Here’s a chart from an actual Morgan Stanley presentation on the ultra-bull case for Tesla Motors, the innovative and very richly valued electric car maker:
Yes, that says “Phase four (two decades): 100% autonomous penetration, utopian society.” As The Wall Street Journal’s Tom Gara pointed out, Morgan Stanley “uses the word ‘utopian’ 11 times — each of them in a sincere, non-ironic way” in its report.
The FT’s Izabella Kaminska calls this an example of Silicon Valley’s “God complex,” and she’s not exaggerating their thinking:
But what we’re dealing with now is arguably a new level of scary entirely. Google has transcendentalists like Ray Kurzweil on their payrolls openly pursuing eternal “cloud-based” life, robot armies and AI — most of it, if not all, facilitated by their exclusive ownership and access to an ever growing global organic dataset (G.O.D.), that one day has the capacity to be all-knowing not only about the here and now, but about the probability of your consuming a cheese sandwich at tea-time next Thursday.
Google has plenty of cash to play with, and bored cash-rich companies that don’t really care about returns can invest in the craziest of things. This is especially so if they have the power to mint their own cash in the form of overly inflated stock prices, the product of cult-like investor appeal, which can be used as acquisition currencies in their own right to stifle the competition or buy it out.
Is it any surprise then that techland is consequently displaying delusions of godhood all round?
Ever think you’d read three paragraphs like that in the Financial Times?
Google has effectively signaled that it’s pursuing nothing less than immortality. It has hired Ray Kurzweil as its director of engineering. Kurzweil is the chief proponent of the Singularity, which posits that very soon, computer intelligence will overtake human ability and either merge with or supplant mankind. Kurzweil is actively working to make this happen, and Google is snapping up every robotics company it can find.
And so we get magazine covers like this:
And headlines like “Google’s New A.I. Ethics Board Might Save Humanity From Extinction” in the Huffington Post and “Facebook Buying Oculus Isn’t The End of The World, In Fact, It’s the Opposite” on a sight aptly called Bright Side of News. And “Hungry hi-tech giants: Are Google and the gang really getting ready to take over the world?” in The Independent, and “Fly me to the moon: Oculus Rift is just the beginning,” in The Week, and “How You’ll Fund — And Wildly Profit From — The Next Oculus Rift” in Wired, and “Will Minecraft and Makerbot usher in the post-scarcity economy?” at Boing Boing.
Take some real technological trends, add the tech industry’s staggering hype machine, mix in the press’s need for sensational headlines to drive clicks, and you have the makings of the next big one.
* I updated this paragraph for clarity