“The rich are dif­fer­ent from you and me.”

“Yes, they have more money.”

No exchange like that between F. Scott Fitzger­ald and Ernest Hem­ing­way ever took place, but it’s a lot more fun to imag­ine that it did.

The ini­tial­ly curt put-down con­tains with­in it the germ of a much more intense con­cur­rence the more you think about it. Unscaled by Hemant Tane­ja, or “How AI and a New Gen­er­a­tion of Upstarts Are Cre­at­ing the Econ­o­my of the Future” man­ages to embody both read­ings of that exchange.

The mul­ti­mil­lion­aire ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist’s book often reads like a lit­er­al van­i­ty-press prod­uct, talk­ing of its sub­jects as an excuse to brag about all of the occa­sions Tane­ja’s invest­ments thus far have paid off. That includes invest­ments you’ve heard of like the tem­po­rary-mes­sages app Snapchat as well as those you prob­a­bly haven’t, like the “con­sumer dig­i­tal health com­pa­ny”, Livon­go.

In that way, the expe­ri­ence of read­ing Unscaled is very much like any­one who’s ever been cor­nered at a house par­ty by some­one you’ve just met, quite sure every­thing they do will be as inter­est­ing for you to hear as it clear­ly is for them to recount.

But, the rich are dif­fer­ent from you and me, and what inter­ests Tane­ja ver­sus what does not is almost like read­ing an alien species talk about the impli­ca­tions of tech­nol­o­gy for the future.

Take this sum­ma­ry of the chal­lenges posed by CRISPR gene-edit­ing techniques.

Wealthy peo­ple will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make them­selves bet­ter, health­i­er, and smarter than poor­er peo­ple, cre­at­ing a gap between rich and poor that’s not just about wealth and oppor­tu­ni­ty but about tal­ent and phys­i­cal prowess. … We could end up with a soci­ety of per­ma­nent class­es. Gov­ern­ments must think this through before it becomes reality.

That cer­tain­ly sounds pro­found­ly impor­tant and inter­est­ing. Yet even with what’s con­tained in the ellipses, the entire­ty of reflec­tion on the sub­ject is one para­graph, and the book then skips mer­ri­ly along to the genet­ic-test­ing com­pa­ny 23andMe’s data dis­clo­sure then the future of ener­gy for a para­graph, offer­ing noth­ing more about how we might avoid active­ly bring­ing the world of Gat­ta­ca to reality.

I don’t real­ly need two pages on why Jeff Bezos thinks a “Day 1” mind­set is impor­tant to keep­ing a mega-cor­po­ra­tion vir­ile when you’ve just told me it’s entire­ly plau­si­ble all my descen­dants will be Mor­locks, Hemant.

His premise that the world is unscal­ing rather than accel­er­at­ing hav­ing-yet-more to the haves is also not entire­ly con­vinc­ing when, accord­ing to Oxfam, eighty-two per­cent of all new wealth went to the rich­est one per­cent of the globe from 2016 to 2017, and those peo­ple already had half of every­thing, per Cred­it Suisse, the Swiss bank­ing multinational.

More­over, if com­pa­nies like Face­book and Ama­zon are allowed to extend their monop­o­lies, to buy out their com­peti­tors when they need to taste break­fast octo­pus, to steal from and crush them if they choose not to sell, how exact­ly are we sup­posed to see few­er giants? Who the par­tic­u­lar giants are may change with time, but that’s sort of like shuf­fling around which patri­cian fam­i­lies get to rule Rome.

If, as Tane­ja argues, the future is unscaled and per­son­al­ized, and you’re to have an indi­vid­ual prod­uct made just for you and no one else, why would­n’t the com­pa­nies already capa­ble of cre­at­ing the most per­fect psy­cho­graph­ic pro­file of you based on their access to your data see their advan­tages increase further?

As to how Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence is going to change all this for the bet­ter, well, there’s always a cer­tain fla­vor of futur­ist with opti­mism for what they promise is just about to be pos­si­ble while nev­er reck­on­ing with how what’s already pos­si­ble has­n’t real­ized that same utopi­an result.

One of the most pop­u­lar exam­ples of this, in the book and cul­ture gen­er­al­ly, is the bright, ever-approach­ing day when we’ll have self-dri­ving cars.

The most moti­vat­ed sup­port­ers cast the ulti­mate effect as some­thing akin to erad­i­cat­ing polio because they’re going to be erad­i­cat­ing traf­fic death and injury, or at least reduc­ing it to close to noth­ing. Indeed, remov­ing human error from bil­lions of inter­ac­tions each day glob­al­ly would be a mon­u­men­tal accom­plish­ment, if the secu­ri­ty dan­gers can be over­come.

But this ignores how for well more than a cen­tu­ry we’ve had the tech­nol­o­gy to effect the largest part of that decrease: invest­ing in mass transit.

Mov­ing folks in tens and hun­dreds — hav­ing pro­fes­sion­als respon­si­ble for apply­ing their sober, wake­ful atten­tion in pro­fes­sion­al­ly-main­tained vehi­cles that are account­able to pub­lic audit — makes traf­fic deaths all but evaporate.

For New York City in 2017, there were 214 deaths in a year count­ing all pedes­tri­ans, cyclists, motor­cy­clists, and auto­mo­bile occu­pants. By con­trast, the car-glut­ted twelve coun­ties in the Dal­las-Fort Worth Metro­plex had a mil­lion few­er peo­ple than NYC and five hun­dred more trans­porta­tion deaths: sev­en hun­dred and forty-three.

Mass pub­lic tran­sit avail­able to all man­ages to accom­plish oth­er nigh-mag­i­cal ends like mak­ing real estate more valu­able by allow­ing for greater den­si­ty. It wastes less space most­ly-unused roads for sin­gle-occu­pant cars and places to park them. It reduces racial dis­par­i­ties by pro­vid­ing free­dom of move­ment irre­spec­tive of wealth. It gives more options for peo­ple to live and work where they choose.

Of course, mass tran­sit isn’t a good fit every­where, but we have man­aged some fur­ther inno­va­tions since the Amer­i­can Civ­il War, like seat­belts sen­sors and the igni­tion-lock breath­a­lyz­er. That may seem flip­pant, but of the 37,461 traf­fic deaths in 2016, 10,428 were relat­ed to lack of seat­belts and 10,497 to alco­hol impairment.

We don’t actu­al­ly need more inno­va­tions; we just need the will to make auto­mo­bile trans­porta­tion rar­er and safer. We’ve had the tech­nol­o­gy to stop drunk dri­ving for 30 years and not done it because it’s too incon­ve­nient to the wrong people.

You see, I total­ly believe that self-dri­ving vehi­cles will help com­pa­nies become even more prof­itable by giv­ing them few­er employ­ees to pay, espe­cial­ly long-haul truck­ers and ware­house work­ers. Those who can afford self-dri­ving vehi­cles, afford the upkeep, and afford ensur­ing they’re the ones their algo­rithm chauf­feurs con­sid­er most valu­able, will feel quite comfortable.

But tech­nol­o­gy and machines age, and the Trol­ley Prob­lem turns out not to be so much of a prob­lem as soon as you put it into the con­text of the real world and real world pow­er dynam­ics. We don’t care much at all about med­ical care or pro­tec­tion from nat­ur­al dis­as­ters when it comes to 2.3 mil­lion prisoners.

We don’t care about the elder­ly when they’re too poor to afford a decent assist­ed liv­ing facil­i­ty. Does any­one hon­est­ly believe that Elon Musk would get into a self-dri­ving car with his next girl­friend if it might have to swerve into a pylon just to avoid killing ten peo­ple in a home­less camp?

In a coun­try where we go along with per­ma­nent­ly sep­a­rat­ing asy­lum seek­ers from their chil­dren and force tod­dlers to rep­re­sent them­selves at depor­ta­tion hear­ings, would you be shocked if the algo­rithm did­n’t give any weight to peo­ple it could­n’t rec­og­nize as being prop­er­ly-doc­u­ment­ed residents?

Chi­na, famous for its slav­ish devo­tion to Black Mir­ror / Com­mu­ni­ty premis­es, recent­ly rolled out an actu­al social score for its cit­i­zens.

Why would­n’t col­li­sion algo­rithms fac­tor that into their trol­ley prob­lem to ensure that they’re fair to more valu­able citizens?

In a cap­i­tal­ist coun­try, why should­n’t you be able to pay to have your sta­tus upgrad­ed for bet­ter protection?

One of the few pre­scrip­tions Tane­ja is will­ing to offer for how a gig-based econ­o­my for the nine­ty-nine per­cent can avoid mas­sive social unrest of the teem­ing mass­es and the per­func­to­ry rit­u­al can­ni­bal­iza­tion of GMO ultra-rich is the idea of a Uni­ver­sal Basic Income. Along with cheap Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty and on-demand 3D print­ing, this may be enough to pla­cate the poor while guar­an­tee­ing a soci­ety still based on wealth does­n’t churn too much or at all.

More than AI, more than self-dri­ving or self-taught things, there’s a dis­rup­tive, unscal­ing inno­va­tion for the future that bil­lion­aires and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists don’t ever seem too jazzed about. Instead of a Uni­ver­sal Basic Income, we could have a Uni­ver­sal Max­i­mum Wealth, Huey Long-style.

If that were the case — if the gulf between rich and poor and what was avail­able to each, now and in the future — weren’t quite so dis­parate, maybe the only dif­fer­ence between us would be that the rich have a bit more money.

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