Obama: Technology has made us more confident in our ignorance
You may have already seen a clip from Obama’s commencement address to Rutgers class of ‘16.
The speech has been doing the rounds for the past 24 hours because of Obama’s “burn” against the anti-intellectualism of Donald Trump.
As the New York Times put it….
Obama used his commencement speech Sunday at Rutgers University to tear into the presumptive Republican nominee, without ever mentioning his name. Time and again the president invoked specific Trump policies to denounce a rejection of facts, science and intellectualism that he said was pervading politics.
For my money, though, the most interesting part of Obama’s speech wasn’t the remainder of the importance of facts, but rather his meditation on the double edged sword of online information.
After praising Grace Hopper and Steve Jobs, Obama went on to say (26:30)…
And today in every phone in one of your pockets we have access to more information than at any time in human history, at the touch of a button. But ironically the flood of information hasn't made us more discerning of the truth in some ways it’s made us more confident in our ignorance. We assume whatever's on the web must be true. We search for sites that just reinforce our own predispositions. Opinions masquerade as facts. Wildest conspiracy theories are taken for gospel.
The President’s point -- that there’s no use having access to more information than God if we filter it to reflect our pre-existing biases -- couldn’t be more relevant given the reports that Facebook has been filtering out right wing news stories. Those reports don’t stand up to much scrutiny, of course, but that hasn’t stopped conservatives from treating the headline as proof of a grand liberal conspiracy to silence “the truth.”
In other words, conservatives are filtering out the facts about whether Facebook is filtering results to fit its pre-existing bias in order to fit their pre-existing bias. Neato.
Not that Trump will actually be burnt by Obama’s words. Let’s face it, Trump has never positioned himself as the world’s foremost intellectual. For my money, the speech was more effective as a burn against Trump’s latest, richest supporter (and, sadly, a Pando investor), Peter Thiel.
Whether Obama intended to or didn’t (he didn’t), the part of the speech where Obama attacks Trump’s anti-intellectualism provides a textbook explanation of why Thiel’s support of Trump is so disingenuous and so hypocritical.
Listening to Obama praise technology but point out that even the smartest technology can be used as a weapon by the dumbest people, it’s impossible not to think of Thiel. One of the smartest people in the tech industry (academically and as a chess player, if not morally and as a non-hypocrite) being used as a tool by Donald Trump to give cover to his proud anti-intellectualism.
How is it possible that Thiel -- creator of Paypal, chess grandmaster and a man who shares Obama’s wonder over the power of cellphones (“Every one of today’s smartphones has thousands of times more processing power than the computers that guided astronauts to the moon,” Thiel gushed in his recent book) -- doesn’t also share the president’s contempt for fucking morons running for office? Not only doesn’t share it but has his name on its ballot and has agreed to join its finance committee.
Precisely how disingenuous, and self interested and just plain fucking awful do you have to be?
You know the answer to that, of course. And so do I, and so does Peter Thiel.