“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question … Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.”
— George Orwell, 1945, ‘The Freedom of the Press’
When leading media platforms in new technology and innovation, that proclaim to be the cutting-edge in tech and digital culture commentary, earnestly promote establishment narratives in deference to the US intelligence community, embrace a pattern of dumbing down which is increasingly conspicuous, and now, given the ominous proliferation of technological trajectories which all of us will be required to adapt to while approaching the third decade of the twenty-first century: does a hyper-liberal bias pose as much of a problem in tech journalism as it does in the larger sphere of corporate mainstream press?
And when it is verging on the kind of mainstream media malpractice seen in recent months, when major outlets would rush to judgment over anti-Russian stories, why might this become a more harmful problem in tech reporting than you might think?
At a time when mainstream media has become an extension of the military-industrial complex, when those who espouse freedom, civil liberties, and human rights have given in to mass surveillance, censorship, and perpetual war — by hyper-liberal tech journalism I refer to the abundance of popular media publications online (and in print) that collectively share a focus on a less-formal alternative to traditional journals in how they cover emerging technologies, innovation, multimedia, and science.
My focus will be on a number of the popular (large audience) platforms such as Wired, The Verge, Motherboard, Ars Technica, and MIT Technology Review. Their editorial and proprietorial bias, I posit, is increasingly unconcealed when they avoid skepticism and embrace questionable initiatives like that of — Bush-era neocon & neo-liberal interventionist partnership — the Alliance for Securing Democracy, who assert that in “2016, American democracy came under unprecedented attack. The government of the Russian Federation attempted to weaken the pillars of our democracy.”
At the time of writing, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) are stating without evidence that “there is no doubt that Putin ordered the Russian government to mount an unprecedented effort to undermine U.S. democracy and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump.” And the Democratic National Committee have previously responded to those suggesting an alternative to their narrative with the line: “any suggestion otherwise is false and is just another conspiracy theory…”
And so it is with this acceptance of an apparent Russian interference, without plausible evidence to back up such claims, and without exploring evidence to the contrary, that the liberal bias of these platforms is defined.
Collectively, these publications have an exceptional reach. But to many it is not surprising what passes for journalism in tech when, for example, the CIA and NSA seed-funded and oversaw the evolution of Google. The reality that companies like Google and Facebook are so closely aligned with US intelligence is not featured much in our controlled news feeds; just as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, is rarely mentioned in connection with his $600 million contract with the CIA.
Of course this makes sense because these corporations control the largest part of what we read, see, and hear online. And it is noted often across independent media that in the US six mega-corporations (Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, News Corp., CBS Corporation, and NBC Universal) own the mass media, controlling the newspapers, magazines, television networks, studios, and the music and entertainment industries.
Considering all of this, how has tech journalism fared in the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency? A useful lens through which to begin studying this question is with one of the biggest stories to be covered in tech journalism during that time.
Net Neutrality caused quite some hysteria throughout 2017. There was a lot of fretting and arguments back and forth, with those on the side for net neutrality obviously being the loudest. It was argued that the repeal would be the most diabolical threat ever to free speech on the internet — that ending net neutrality would mean government and corporate control bringing about the conditions for internet censorship. During these arguments, the Obama White House was praised on the left for the net neutrality rules put into place in 2015, while the Trump administration rolling this back threatened to undermine free speech.
Now in 2018 you do not hear from those same voices about other changes to the internet. The irony here is lost on those still oblivious to — or given in to contrived ignorance of — what has been happening in the wider context of media and digital culture in the time since Obama’s net neutrality move.
Outside of the debate on net neutrality, towards the end of Obama’s second term, a confluence of factors — relating predominantly to the 2016 presidential election and to America’s foreign policy — were already creating an environment in which the suppression of free speech and anti-establishment views was not only possible, but was becoming widely accepted and normalized. During the net neutrality tumult, it became apparent that those who expressed their outrage the loudest avoided going against the establishment to decry the concurrent issue of online political dissent being restricted by government and corporations. Today, widespread suppression of oppositional analysis and independent media remains unfettered.
While most of what occurs in regard to recent changes shows up on the radar of tech writers, there is no analysis of the kind that you see with independent anti-establishment sources. Across tech and popular culture platforms, commentators were not actively calling attention to Google’s de-ranking of RT and the manipulating of search results to restrict or block access to socialist and left-wing websites. Nor was there outcry over Twitter banning RT and Sputnik from advertising on its service. Senate Judiciary hearings, interrogating Google, Facebook, and Twitter over Russians using their services, did not receive the kind of in-depth analyses that would show a worrying concern for the dystopian nature of the event; instead tech outlets repeated a generic report of the affair as something that was definitely extremely interesting, but not because it might somehow set a sinister precedent.
Increased pressure brought to bear by government and intelligence agencies on supposedly open global internet platforms, the smearing of independent journalists as fake news and conspiracy theorists for providing substantiated opposing perspectives, surveillance powers brought in by Democrats being used to criminalize constitutionally protected speech and political associations, the circulation of blacklists— tech commentators and progressives tend to keep silent on these issues.
Because it has become normal to promote a distrust and fear of Russia.
We now know this, this is known, and we all know this
Moving away from the debate on net neutrality, it is clear that tech journalists are happy to comply with establishment narratives in the current neo-McCarthyist climate. After more than a year of looking for evidence of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia there is still no proof. The NSA’s ability to follow hacking to its exact source is a matter of public record, still there is nothing. However, terms like ‘Russian hacking’ and ‘Russian bots’ entered the lexicon of Western corporate media effortlessly. A transparent anti-Russia bias — where evidence is not needed to casually throw around sentences like ‘Putin’s plan is to destabilize the West’ and ‘Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people’ — can be found throughout all of the best tech publications.
Beyond its general absurdities, and its aggressive provoking of a nuclear power, Russiagate is an incipient threat for being the catalyst needed to normalize far-reaching censorship. ‘Fake News’ is the meme used by the Western establishment system to marginalize independent and alternative media sources of almost all kinds. Without having to provide examples of what fake news even is, they can amplify every aspect of dissent that reinforces a stereotype which comes across as laughable, conspiracist, and alt-right. This further compounds the problem because Russiagaters then enlarge the Alt-Right to include a diversity of rational, clear-sighted thinkers. All of this distracts from the most powerful anti-establishment truth-tellers, who have for decades uncovered the stories that would otherwise be kept out of the press. The best of these investigative journalists have for a long time now been excluded from the mainstream because they refused to compromise their integrity — think of for example John Pilger, Robert Parry, Seymour Hersh, and so on.
So with their attempts to isolate them, effectively the establishment is now marginalizing the already marginalized. (At the time of writing I have not found reporters in tech who similarly challenge narratives at the risk of being marginalized. I welcome any recommendations of names to look out for.)
At the basic level, fake news is the most popular threat to warn of. Though at all levels it is the one to come back to time and again.
These days, if you find yourself being warned about the dangers of misinformation then you are likely the target of misinformation. If someone like Moby can be so casually manipulated and have their social media platforms infiltrated by the intelligence community, then it is not much of a stretch to assume intelligence agencies have strong influence throughout all of the entertainment and movie industries, as well as the news media. This subject has had interesting analysis lately in the independent media.
It is important to keep in mind that warnings about fake news often come from those who have misinformed us, and continue to misinform us, of events in Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria. Those loudly accusing Russia of ‘disinformation’ are the same Western states pushing the most reprehensible campaign of disinformation in living memory — that being the dominant narrative around the conflict in Syria.
Likewise, instances where those who point the finger at others are in fact guilty themselves could be seen when it re-emerged with the Uranium One scandal that Hillary was actually more guilty than Trump of Russian collusion.
And for a time towards the end of 2017, when revelations came thick and fast — news that Clinton had paid for the Steele Dossier which was used as justification for investigating Trump, when Donna Brazile admitted that the Democratic primary was rigged, and the Wasserman Schultz’s-Awan Family scandal — we were presented with the dismal reality that none of this is a big deal for ‘progressives.’
It was confirmed that the notion of justice from those who espouse fairness and equality is in fact mob justice. When faith is put in the investigation by Mueller, reporters writing about what it uncovers fail to pay attention to its glaring lack of proof. Or that what it does reveal could be outweighed in terms of the scope of malfeasance and conflicts of interest at the DOJ and FBI. The recent media response to the Nunes memo has reinforced this polarized duopoly, the left is now a cheerleader for the same multi-agency intelligence that manufactured data to justify war in Iraq and so on.
In this brief report, France’s President Macron Wants to Block Websites During Elections to Fight ‘Fake News', Gizmodo summarized some mainstream news reports for its readers telling us that “tech giants grapple with how to detect and scrub misinformation.” It further mentions accountability for “the proliferation of misinformation” and the potential for [Macron’s] government to “curb the spread of misinformation online.”
It is a piece that illustrates a recurring theme across all of the popular technology and digital culture publications. The approach is to report ongoing developments in dealing with ‘the misinformation,’ which is acknowledged as an unfortunate repercussion from a devastating 2016 election. What is absent, essentially, is an examination of what exactly fake news is.
This piece closed by alluding to the possible threat to democracy, but only insofar as it could fit into a single sentence. In most cases there is a proviso to imply that there is a ‘Big Brother-ish’ tone to all of this business, but this typically does not get elaborated on much. Similar reports on Macron’s crack down, but noticeably with less warning about the potential dystopia, can be seen by TechCrunch: here, and an earlier one by Recode: here.
If the dangers of misinformation are so great as to warrant legislation which can threaten our freedom of speech and right to privacy, then should not every article that sets out to inform us about misinformation do that task more rigorously?
The Verge and Motherboard are the two platforms where this method thrives. The Verge is owned by Vox Media, whose flagship news site Vox puts out some of the most insidious propaganda, stylishly aimed at millennials, misleading them by pushing a US government narrative on foreign policy which is shaped by their pro-Clinton bias. Motherboard is owned by Vice Media, one of the most sophisticated propaganda tools online. Vice masks its pro-establishment and neocon-promoting interests to sell mainstream narratives to unwitting hipsters — duped into thinking they are following a bad-ass counterculture platform. Yet Vox and Vice are often the most pernicious neo-liberal agents of disinformation out there.
Motherboard has many examples where an anti-Russia bias depicts the West as being snowed under with cyber attempts to thwart our democracies.
In another short piece, this time from The Verge: Russia reportedly used Pokémon Go in an effort to inflame racial tensions, Russia’s effort to weaponize Pokémon Go to inflame racial tensions was reported on very matter-of-factly. It is interesting that The Verge simply put the story on their site without expanding on, or even just drawing attention to, how outlandish this story is. When The Verge is informing its readership about a CNN report on how Russia “used Pokémon Go in an effort to inflame racial tensions,” it fails to identify — whether there was truth to the story or not — a golden opportunity for mockery. This is something that happened in the news, we are informing you of it, Russia is bad, that is all.
Stenography journalism is one thing, but to see Russophobic hysteria really take hold on these platforms then look to the in-depth analyses on Russia’s technological capabilities as it wages its sophisticated warfare on unfortunate Westerners. For this there is Wired and MIT Technology Review. This is when the narrative states that ‘their’ intelligence agencies are dangerous whereas ‘our’ intelligence agencies are benign; and the focus must be on ‘their’ war crimes instead of on ‘our’ war crimes.
Wired, published by Condé Nast (who claim Wired reaches more than 30 million people each month), last August published ‘A Guide to Russia’s High Tech Tool Box for Subverting US Democracy’ in which we are presented with a James Bond version of Russia. This is the type of long-read story where a line Hillary is fond of repeating comes into play: you accept Russian hacking and aggression as something which is ‘known,’ and it is said that ‘we now know’ this, ‘this is known’ and other variations on ‘knowns,’ without a single appearance from Donald Rumsfeld.
Attempting to outline what Russia has in its “bag of tricks” the author launches his analysis of the Tool Box with this mind-bending assertion that the entire Russian Federation is like some homogeneous criminal operation that functions only to assist master villain Vladimir Putin’s hybrid warfare on our precious Western democracy:
“At the broadest level, modern Russian active measures break down into at least eight distinct types, ranging from traditional diplomacy to covert assassinations. While each tool is important in its own way, it’s the combination of Russia’s efforts that make them so effective internationally. And they are self-reinforcing, because in Russia the intelligence apparatus, business community, organized crime groups, and media distribution networks blend together, blurring and erasing the line between public and private-sector initiatives and creating one amorphous state-controlled enterprise to advance the personal goals of Vladimir Putin and his allies.”
Similarly, at MIT Technology Review they did an extensive piece in April 2017 called ‘Russian Disinformation Technology.’ MIT Technology Review have the distinguished selling point of: “Reporting on important technologies and innovators since 1899, with the backing of the world’s #1 technology institute.” You could be forgiven for thinking that a long-established publication which is backed by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology would resist dumbed-down clickbait and heavily biased analyses — but they love just how cool backflipping robots are as much as Wired do. They claim to “provide an intelligent, lucid, and authoritative filter for the overwhelming flood of information about technology” with “serious journalism … governed by a policy of accuracy and independence.”
Like Wired, the Technology Review piece goes for all-out slanderous mode with its Russophobia. Here something is ‘known’ absolutely for sure: “We now know of e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee by Russian hackers…” The one problem with this assertion in a publication ‘governed by a policy of accuracy’ is that we do not know because there was never any actual proof found.
The author uses a one-sided outline of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 as a vehicle from which to examine how the Russians have supposedly re-shaped the battlefield. We are told that the Russians have launched a war against the “compromised immune system of liberal democracy” as if United States military and intelligence had not developed — and continue refining with their NATO partners — the unconventional warfare doctrine.
Comparably, the Wired article warns of Russia’s ‘Grand Strategy’ of the Putin ‘regime’ to undermine and destabilize democracies, without offering any real proof.
In both cases, we are expected to accept that the US goal of full-spectrum dominance is a kind-hearted plan to keep all people in the world safe from harm.
Like the neocons who fill television studios and op-ed pages, these authors fail to note the extent to which Russia is surrounded by US and NATO military hardware and personnel. Neither Russophobic piece considers that the supposed aggression from Russia might come as a reaction to NATO moving eastward after it was agreed that it would not — as Stephen F Cohen stated in regard to Russia’s status as a threat: “to the extent it would be on any of my short lists, Moscow is a ‘challenge’ or ‘threat’ we ourselves have, for the most part, created.”
Observe how MIT follow the same kind of ‘amorphous state-controlled’ crime-enterprise logic that the Wired piece went with:
“The Kremlin’s fog machine went into overdrive. The full panoply of Russian state media, troll farms, semi-automated botnets, and what Russian novelist Nikolai Leskov called ‘useful fools and silly enthusiasts’ began their murky work. The Russian government’s response to the shooting down of MH17 was a charade, wrapped in a travesty, inside a miasma: a relentless campaign of abuse and deceit, trying to entangle every fact of the matter in a net of disinformation.”
Naturally the article is entirely sympathetic to Ukraine in the face of apparently relentless Russian aggression, but without mentioning how the US armed neo-Nazis in Ukraine, or that the Obama administration orchestrated the bloody coup d’etat which overthrew pro-Russian and democratically-elected Viktor Yanukovych. Also, according to the author, private companies and NGOs are all doing great humanitarian work at fending off Russian aggression in Ukraine as well as in Syria — it’s simply assumed that their interests are purely humanitarian and not biased at all.
A notable theme across all of these platforms surfaces here in the form of high praise for open-source citizen investigators, specifically Bellingcat and the Atlantic Council’s Eliot Higgins. Higgins’ citizen journalism and internet-based investigation works from a position of support for Western foreign policy interventionism and seeks to discredit any reporting that opposes an interventionist agenda. On this front, Higgins came under scrutiny from independent media for his defending of allegations implicating the Syrian government in the apparent chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun (events which incidentally coincide with the time the MIT article came out).
It is common for writers in tech journalism to mention outfits like Bellingcat, CrowdStrike, Fusion GPS, and think-tanks such as the Atlantic Council without raising any of the obvious concerns. As with the Alliance for Securing Democracy’s ‘Hamilton 68,' these operations are always regarded as the authority on the subject matter being discussed. Like mainstream media, tech journalism shows little-to-no skepticism about versions of events which adhere to a pro-Western neocon/neoliberal think-tank/NATO position. Trying to critically investigate narratives around the Syrian chemical weapons attacks or the White Helmets’ status as an impartial humanitarian NGO are not looked upon favorably when it comes to being published.
What both the Wired article and the MIT one fail to do is to provide conclusive details that back up what they so confidently assert to be the case. As with the mainstream media, this kind of work always relies on dubious intelligence assessments and quotes from anonymous sources and/or those pushing an anti-Russian agenda — often the same sorts of sources they criticize Hersh and others for. For authoritative platforms on technology and innovation, they seem devoid of the kind of concrete technical details that would support their shared thesis.
Absent from these articles were perspectives from those who challenge the claim that the DNC was hacked by Russia, or that the Russian’s plan to destabilize Western democracies.
For instance, they do not report on the work done by former senior technical official at NSA Bill Binney, and the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). Together they have drawn on decades of senior-level experience, with emphasis on cyber-intelligence, and since 2016 have consistently claimed that data was leaked (not hacked) by a person with physical access to DNC computer.
At a time when it is crucial to defuse tensions with Russia, in their memos to Obama (when he was president) and Trump they have sought tangible evidence that can support the assessments made by intelligence agencies. Across the mainstream media, and noticeably so in tech journalism, there is no questioning of the narrative in the way seen here in the memo A Demand for Russian ‘Hacking’ Proof (from shortly after the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment):
“We urge you to authorize public release of any tangible evidence that takes us beyond the unsubstantiated, ‘we-assess’ judgments by the intelligence agencies. Otherwise, we — as well as other skeptical Americans — will be left with the corrosive suspicion that the intense campaign of accusations is part of a wider attempt to discredit the Russians and those — like Mr. Trump — who wish to deal constructively with them.”
Garbage In, Garbage Out
Bad tech journalism is par for the course when the space in which (and for which) it is produced is profoundly influenced by bias, and when government and intel agencies hold sway.
GIGO is the computer science acronym which stands for ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out.’ In information technology, good programming will not produce garbage by avoiding accepting it in the first place. When input data is bad one can expect output data to be bad, and valid input data will help avoid errors and crashes. It does not matter how accurate a program’s logic is, results will be incorrect if the input data is not valid.
In tech, science, and innovation spheres, if the prevailing orthodoxy is accepted and communicated without skepticism — when it is discernible that multiple strands of the narrative are either inconclusive, open to debate, or potentially erroneous — then what you are working with is bad input data, and what you promote is bad output data.
The popular narrative on Russia has become self-reinforcing because mass media fills with content day after day which supports the narrative. There are now hundreds of articles, studies, and reports which back up the claims that Russia ‘hacked’ an election. But to some people it does not matter what could be understood by a sentence like: “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary…”
It does not matter how accurate a program’s logic, this system will continue, and go unquestioned, but as long as the content is unchallenged then the input data is not valid. This is our current environment, which is toxic because challenging the narrative is not something that is acceptable, and we have reached the stage where it will not be changed without a massive paradigm shift.
In a recent article on Russiagate, journalist Aaron Maté explained in a single sentence how problematic the current discourse in the West is, he said:
“A fantasyland is no place from which to confront Trump’s reality.”
Left-liberalism has a lot to be angry about but no lessons have been learned. People misdirect their anger by going all-out seeking an impeachment of a legitimately elected president, building and connecting fabricated allegations. This further makes a joke out of the mainstream media, thus routinely playing into that president’s hands.
After a decade of subterfuge used to facilitate the corrupt political, financial, and military-industrial dealings of Democrat politicians — that progressive liberals still apply themselves to performing mental gymnastics in attempts to rationalize their support for rapacious war-profiteering narcissists is a clear indictment of where we are with identity politics. A contagion of willful ignorance, consent to the murderous destruction of nations and the lives of millions of human beings by the capitalist ruling elites continues unabated.
A fantasyland is where we find ourselves today. And it is no place for confronting Donald Trump. Instead of wall-to-wall coverage 24/7 about the content of tweets and about a possible but not probable Russian collusion… journalists could fill pages and air time revealing the president’s links to big-pharma corruption, oil and gas industry influence, further media consolidation, the increase in airstrikes and drone warfare under the guise of counter-terrorism, the role of the United States in the Saudi war on Yemen, and now the commitment to their ongoing occupation of Syria.
The relentless message of Trump-Russia, Russia-Trump filters down throughout technology journalism. It dominates the narrative because neoliberal identity-politics understands that you can’t apply any criticism to the Trump administration that could equally be applied to the Obama administration, and to the preferred 2016 candidate’s appalling record as secretary of state.
Whether it concerns arming and assisting neo-Nazis in Ukraine, sponsoring jihadi terrorism in Syria, support for Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, supporting militaries that use child soldiers, indefinite detention without trial, widespread surveillance and data collection… to admit that these activities are somehow problematic only shatters an illusion: the progressive liberal would have to face the reality that both parties are one and the same — that politics has become merely a question of ‘our’ media-shaped cult of personality versus ‘their’ media-shaped cult of personality — and in the West’s version of democracy the people get the leaders they deserve.
At the time of writing, a major story was unfolding around Twitter’s decision to email hundreds of thousands of its users to warn them that they shared ‘Russian propaganda.’ This was rightly denounced across the skeptical independent media and identified along with recent actions by Facebook as a drive by social media companies to censor the internet.
Like the Verge, the Next Web and other sites, Ars Technica (another Condé Nast outfit, which claims a “devotedness to accuracy and integrity”) made light of the Twitter story by using the same stenography journalism as the earlier mentioned pieces about fake news. It is typical of these platforms to pick up a story like this and interpret it as social media making the necessary technical adjustments for the benefit of internet users.
The message that comes across is that Russia meddles. It is considered a fact that they are very good at meddling, and these stories avoid an in-depth analysis which might raise a concern about internet censorship and the authoritarian-style shutting down of dissenting voices.
Tech journalism loves a story about sites like Twitter being a potent tool for change. Uprisings, revolutionary change, these are topics that elicit a compassionate and empathetic look at how others dare to dream of freeing themselves of the shackles of oppression. As Wired puts it:
“The Arab Spring carried the promise that social media and the Internet were going to unleash a new wave of positive social change.”
As seen with coverage of the protests in Iran at the beginning of January 2018, it is customary in tech journalism to put a lot of focus on the draconian practices of some foreign governments and ‘oppressive regimes’ in restricting communications, and the impact this has on the citizens.
Less emphasis is put on Western intelligence agencies’ use of fake content and sockpuppet accounts on social media to infiltrate and manipulate activist groups in the Middle East in pursuit our geopolitical interests in the region. It is interesting that in tech journalism there is a lot of space given to stories of citizens under oppressive regimes having internet freedom restricted, but little is made of the ongoing censorship of their own colleagues in the West who are being silenced in the purge of alternative media.
Likewise, the liberal collaborations with government and corporations in shadow banning, de-ranking, demonetization, and so on. Can you imagine mainstream Western publications showing the same level of concern that is in an article like Tech Companies Are Complicit in Censoring Iran Protests, but instead focusing on the suppression of Western dissident writers opposing establishment narratives?
It is supremely ironic that when the US and Western countries take every opportunity to criticize their geopolitical opponents — depicting Russia, China, and Iran as dictatorships that are suppressing their citizens — that this misleading rhetoric has actually become more relevant now to themselves, because it describes the Establishment’s war on independent and alternative media sources. And tech journalism is failing to report on this.
Then again, because tech journalists, like any mainstream journalists, are content with Western comforts, why should they need to go deeper than they feel is necessary in questioning their society?
Well they might wonder what trends in technological advancements have to do with living in a plutocratic oligarchy, in ‘liberal democracies’ which are increasingly authoritarian surveillance states, with bulk data acquisitions and online monitoring of citizens, where laws are enforced selectively?
When nation states that oppose Western dictates face coming under attack economically and under the pretense of humanitarian intervention, in a world divided in two, with one part globalized and solvent yet drawing on the resources of the other part which has its means of resistance destroyed, and the narrative that is put out over and over again is conflicting with the true reality of the situation: are those who write not compelled to inject some degree of opposition into their journalism? Only during the prolonged and ghastly death throes of the Empire — once corruption permeates every facet of its power structures — would the conditioned, insouciant commentariat fail to notice all that is wrong with their sick society.
Beyond the obvious technological encroachments on their own lives, tech journalists might be interested to investigate and write about alternatives to the parasitic society in which they live — by shaking off their Russophobia and embracing multipolarity. But establishment narratives will not permit favorable reports on partnerships in Eurasian integration, and on the Chinese government embarking on the biggest infrastructure program the world has ever seen (One Belt One Road Initiative). When it comes to the progress of other states and their capabilities internationally, better keep it to a one-sided analysis of, for example, What Would Really Happen If Russia Attacked Undersea Internet Cables without questioning the motive Russia would have for such an act.
So what could they focus on in the short term? Well this is where tech journalism will be tested to see if it is fit for purpose. There is too much for this author to cover at this time, but here are a few notable examples:
People seem to be unwilling (or just unable) to imagine a world where Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Biotech, and Nanotechnology have developed exponentially to establish mass-produced lethal autonomous weapons. The Future of Life Institute put out an excellent short film called Slaughterbots late in 2017. It was shown at the UN to illustrate the worries of leading artificial intelligence researchers who seek to ban lethal autonomous weapons.
This approach has an impressive effect which stands in contrast to what people are more familiar with, such as the TED talks, where we are presented with a show of how highly sophisticated robotics that borrow from nature’s millions of years of evolution are just fun, non-threatening and cute.
We are accustomed now to hear about robotics developments in a way that speaks to us as humans. A face is put on the robots, they are given human characteristics and idiosyncrasies. Sophia the robot is a ‘she’ and likewise our convenient in-house assistant Alexa is a ‘she.’ They are never it. We are told the robot Vestri uses its ‘imagination’ to learn in the same way an infant learns. Scientists are providing all the capabilities necessary for technology to unleash unimaginable carnage and then packaging their research to us as ‘cute’ human-like and pet-like assistants.
When Boston Dynamics showed Atlas doing a single backflip, the tech community, as well as the general public, lost their minds. Yet months earlier their Handle robot demonstrated maneuvers and a smooth mobility which by many standards had an appearance of defying the laws of physics. This passed largely unremarked upon in the mainstream because it did not do something as relatable as a backflip.
What is absolutely certain is that we will see robots like Handle — and others like Elliptical Runners by IHMC researchers — in packs that are assisted by swarms of drones, hunting down wanted humans in all environments. Even ‘pre-crime’ (predictive police programs) suspects. Facial recognition match: release the robots and apprehend the suspects.
It does not matter how much personality you project onto all of this, how much we try to identify with the robots by giving them a face: they are machines.
Generative Adversarial Neural Networks communicating in their own language may be relatively innocuous at its current stage, but when AlphaGo’s move in a board game confounded all those watching, and the ‘creativity’ of which was remarked upon that it was “not a human move,” then great advances are going to become much more frequent.
We are seeing now in areas like machine-learning that visual and audio manipulation are showing the potential where we can envisage the inevitability that sound and visuals will become seamlessly manipulable.
And when you incorporate VR, augmented reality, and other such developments to this, in less than a decade from now we will be presented with scenarios where an individual will not be able to trust anything they see or hear — that is, what they literally see or hear, as opposed to figuratively. The implications if you really think about them are mindblowing.
What else is there?
Alexa and her friends are listening all the time. People are freely setting up a surveillance web in their homes which, through IoT developments, will eventually interconnect and transmit all of your data to corporations, advertisers, and the intelligence community… and hackers.
The United States Air Force is collecting specifically Russian RNA and synovial (connective) tissue samples, prompting fears of the potential use of such biological samples for the purpose of ethnic-specific genetic warfare weaponry.
Serious discourse is needed on CRISPR-Cas9 technology being used to manipulate the human genome: germline modification, designer babies and the enhancement of humans, the ethical implications of inherited genetic modifications which could be passed on to subsequent generations, not to mention genetic discrimination through Eugenics.
All this and more — such as virtual reality porn and sex robots, cryptocurrency, the blockchain and hashgraph, the militarization and weaponization of space, blockchain-enabled genomic data, and of course Automation — will be spun for large audiences in a rudimentary fashion with a liberal bias and without strong skepticism.
These platforms have a combined reach that is exceptional. Yes, they are popular culture platforms that have to cater to their particular audiences, and as such are not required to provide the kind of academic-level rigor of scientific study. But in their area, they are expected to parse and summarize the significant technical, scientific, and socio-cultural changes happening around their audiences, to make these changes easily accessible.
The deliberate oversimplification of intellectual content is one thing, but I do not think people really want to see a total intellectual impoverishment.
If tech journalism does not get smart and reduce the clickbait dumbed down reporting of ‘How’-this and ‘Why’-that without really telling you how or why, if they fail to report on these hugely significant developments without deference to government and corporate interests, then the ‘garbage out’ of invalid data will be the standard.