Occasionally the doors to the research laboratories in Silicon Valley and other high tech centers open just a crack to reveal what the geniuses and entrepreneurs inside are doing to improve humanity’s future. That’s why I always take notice when I see headlines like this one from KGO-TV in San Francisco: “Next big 5 technologies that will change your life.”
Oh good! What does the future hold in store?
This time the story features some visionary, blue sky projections from Bernie Meyerson, IBM's vice president of innovation. In tones of earnest excitement Meyerson describes the astonishing breakthroughs just over the horizon.
1. Phones and computers will actually know what you’re thinking (by observing your behavior);
2. No more spam (the filters will improve);
3. No more passwords (computers will have facial recognition, voice recognition, etc.);
4. New ways to charge phones (micro-generators produce energy from the body’s motion);
5. The digital divide will disappear (as godsends like items 1 through 4 trickle down to the world's grateful poor).
It comes as no surprise that silliness like this comes from a vice president of “innovation.” To a great extent, “innovation” has become the brand name for projects of breathtaking triviality. For those obsessed with “performance measures,” here are some good ones – “metrics” for a civilization that staunchly refuses to apply the best of its knowledge to the world’s most urgent problems – peak energy, climate crash, global inequality, world hunger, environmental crises too numerous to list -- but instead generates an endless stream of clever toys designed for high end consumers already sated with gadgets galore.
Max Weber accurately described our predicament about a century ago:
“Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has obtained a level of civilization never before achieved'"
(from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905)