Recorded on August 28th, 2018. 

Is blockchain the technology of the future? George Gilder, author of Life After Google, argues that bitcoin and blockchain technology is revolutionizing the Internet. He sits down with Peter Robinson to discuss technology, cloud computing, big data, and the growing role of blockchain in innovating new technologies.

Gilder argues that cloud computing, while it was the hot new technology ten years ago, has reached its limits as the physical limitations of big data storage centers maxes out. Improvements in parsing big data are incremental at this point, and it’s time for the next big technology to take its place. Gilder points to blockchain as the technology of the future, with its ability to prevent corruption and manipulation of transaction data and the infinite uses it could have in third world countries.

Gilder also discusses the history of technology, artificial intelligence, and the revolutionary bitcoin. He argues that artificial intelligence can never replace human intelligence and creativity and that in principle, it is impossible for machines to take over.

What is Blockchain Technology? Watch here:

Additional Resources:

Prefer the audio version? You can listen, download, and subscribe to the audio version on the following platforms:

Podbean | Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | RadioPublic | Overcast | Google Play | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Peter Robinson: More than a quarter of a century ago, our guest today published a book about the future of technology called Life After Television. "The computer of the future will be as portable as your watch and as personal as your wallet. It will recognize speech and navigate streets, collect your mail and your news." Our guest is worth listening to today, in other words, in large measure because he got so much right back then. His new book, Life After Google, George Gilder on Uncommon Knowledge now.

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. One of the nation's most important public intellectuals for more than four decades, now, George Gilder is the author of 19 books. His 1980 best seller, Wealth and Poverty, made a fresh argument for capitalism and became the volume that Ronald Reagan quoted more than any other. Other Gilder works, Knowledge and Power, The Scandal of Money, and Life After Television, which I mentioned just a moment ago. George Gilder's newest book, Life After Google, The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy. George, welcome.

George Gilder: Great to be here, Peter, as always.

Peter Robinson: George, in Life After Google, you refer to Google, the company that all of us use for search, and Gmail, and mapping, you refer to Google, this marvel, as neo-Marxist. What on earth do you mean by that?

George Gilder: Well, a lot of people don't really understand what Marxism was. The key error of Marxism was Karl Marx's belief that the industrial revolution of the 19th century was the final human attainment, a kind of eschaton that the problem of productivity and wealth creation had been solved forever.

Peter Robinson: The end of history of his day, so to speak.

George Gilder: Yeah, and from then on, the only challenge would be how to distribute wealth, rather than how to create it. Well, Google Marxism just repeats Karl Marx's error with the new technology. Google believes that their AI artificial intelligence, their machine learning, their robotics, their algorithmic biology, their search, and their solutions constitute a new eschaton, a new final achievement of human beings that's even more grandiose than Karl's original vision and that the Google people imagine a singularity where the machines will eclipse human minds and allow all of the rest of us to retire on beaches and collect a guaranteed annual income, the new fashion in silicon valley while Brin and Page fly off with Elon Musk to some remote planet in a winner-take-all universe. I just think this is delusional. Google faces impossible business problems, contradictions in their strategy, flaws in their technology, misunderstandings of the very computer science that underlie all their technology. I think Google is having a nervous breakdown.

Peter Robinson: I just want to make sure I heard this right. You just called Larry Page and Sergey Brin, these geniuses who in 20 years have gone from zero to a company with a market cap of 870 billion at market close yesterday. You just called them delusional. I heard that right?

George Gilder: Yep. There are a lot of delusional, brilliant Marxists in the world.

Peter Robinson: All right.

George Gilder: Don't you encounter them all the time? I mean, you live at Stanford.

Peter Robinson: Before, we will return to your attack on Google, but first, how did Google do it? The company's founded in 1998, so we go from zero, non-existence 20 years ago, and even two decades ago, to a market cap of, as I said, between 800 and 900 billion depending on the market close the day people listen to us, which makes it the second-most valuable enterprise on the face of the planet. Apple just crossed a trillion dollars in valuation. So the question is, how did they do it? It is an accomplishment of some kind.

George Gilder: Oh, it's an absolutely fabulous accomplishment. They dominated this era. This is the Google era. We live in it, but the next step is to upload your mind into the Google Cloud. I said I balk at this next step in the Google system of the world.

Peter Robinson: You spent some time in Life After Google describing the Dalles, if I'm pronouncing that correctly-

George Gilder: Yeah, yeah, yup.

Peter Robinson: ... which is the huge Google data center up in Oregon. In Life After Google, you write of the diminishing returns of big data, so let me understand if I, let me make sure I understand at least one part of your argument correctly. The delusions come next. First there are certain physical, almost-physical constraints. We've reached the point now at which no matter how big your data center, improvements in parsing data are only going to be incremental. It's going to be difficult to get enough power. It's going to be difficult to cool these machines adequately, which is why Google's big centers up at the Dalles because there's a huge dam there, which means cheap hydroelectric power and cold water for cooling. So that's argument number one, they're bumping into physical limitations. Is that correct?

George Gilder: This is a symbol. The Dalles and all their data centers, parked like aluminum plants beside big bodies of water, or near glaciers, their various other means of cooling, just like an industrial plant of the previous era. I think that this cloud computing, which was a great triumph for its time, and dominated its time, is now reaching the end of the line. A great computer scientist named Gordon Bell ordained a proposition called Bell's Law, which is that every 10 years, Moore's Law, which is the doubling of computer power every year, yields a hundred-to-thousand-fold rise in total computer capability and requires a completely new computer architecture. I wrote about the cloud first. I hailed the cloud in an article in Wired in 2006, and said that it would dominate the next Bell's Law phase. But it's now 12 years since 2006, and that Bell's Law regime of cloud computing, huge data centers, all parked by bodies of water, is coming to an end.

Peter Robinson: Okay. I just want to tie, make sure that I understand this. I want to emphasize this because I think I'm right about it. Cloud computing, I don't know who the genius was, maybe I'm talking to him now, who first conceived of the notion of the cloud because it puts in the mind of the ordinary user the sense that somehow or other, computing has now become ethereal. It's just up there. It's not up there. It's in big, industrial-scale operations at the Dalles in Oregon and other ....

George Gilder: 80 different sites around the world, I think Google has now.

Peter Robinson: Okay.

George Gilder: Big, big data centers.

Peter Robinson: So the cloud isn't the cloud. It's factories, essentially, of huge computers.

George Gilder: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: That's correct?

George Gilder: Yeah. Yes.

Peter Robinson: All right. You refer, again, let me quote Life After Google, "Google is not just a company. It is a system of the world." That is a phrase that is important in this book. Google is a system of the world. What do you mean by that?

George Gilder: Well, a system of the ... I think that first, a sort of great system of the world that unleashed the miracles of the industrial age, and the British Empire, and of the previous era, was Isaac Newton. He both developed the calculus and the key laws of Newtonian physics, and then proceeded to establish as Master of the Mint in Britain, the gold standard. This together, the calculus, the physics, the gold standard, were really the pillars of the industrial era and Britain's amazing global dominance from a small island. That was a great system of the world. It was implicitly deterministic, and ...

Peter Robinson: Explain that term. How do you mean deterministic?

George Gilder: It-

Peter Robinson: Because Newton was a Christian.

George Gilder: Newton was a Christian and believed in free will, but his physics and his calculus implied a deterministic model that-

Peter Robinson: If you did this, then this must happen.

George Gilder: ... That's right-

Peter Robinson: This action requires that reaction.

George Gilder: Right. A hermetically sealed system that always reproduces the same results with the same inputs. A predictable scheme, and this system of the world was essentially overthrown by Kurt Gödel.

Peter Robinson: Kurt Gödel is born in Austria. He comes to this country. His dates are late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, roughly.

George Gilder: Yeah. His great moment at age 23 or four, was in 1930 when he addressed the great meeting at Konigsberg in Austria that was going to establish mathematics as a complete system that could explain everything implicitly. If you had all the data and you had the mathematical algorithms, you could predict the entire future from the past. This was the great dream, and he permanently overthrew it with Gödel incompleteness theory. He showed that any logical system whatsoever is necessarily dependent upon propositions that can't be proven within the logical system. In proving this, he really invented a kind of computer software system where all the propositions and variables were expressed in numbers. His proof that mathematics could not be coherent and completely consistent, that it appended on outside propositions' axioms, was a major breakthrough and also established the computer age.

George Gilder: Turing, Alan Turing, then went on and took Gödel's formula and transformed it into a universal computer architecture, a Turing machine. Turing machines are also dependent on oracles outside the machine to program them. Now Google says it has a system of the world where it's returning back to the deterministic realm and with big data, they can predict everything. All the answers can be extracted from their aggregations of big data.

Peter Robinson: You're doing something that you do again and again in Life After Google. You're operating on two levels. On one level, you're talking about technology and Kurt Gödel in developing these incompleteness theorems, and he's working on it in the '20s and the ... The big moment takes place in '30, is that correct?

George Gilder: Through 1931 at Konigsberg.

Peter Robinson: Okay, and he develops mathematical tools. On the way to proving his point, he develops mathematical tools, which form the basis of computer software language.

George Gilder: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: So that's the technological point that George Gilder's making, but you are also always arguing about, I won't say theology because you're not really taking on God, but you are arguing the deep structure of reality.

George Gilder: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: What is reality really like? There are pages here that make me scratch my head because you're talking about technology, and math, and that's hard for me. Then there are pages that make my brain explode because you're talking about reality itself, but I want to come back to this point. Gödel proved that there can be no human construct, no human system of thought, that does not rely on some reality outside itself.

George Gilder: That's right.

Peter Robinson: Is that right?

George Gilder: That's correct.

Peter Robinson: Okay. Okay.

George Gilder: And for theological interests, Gödel desperately feared that he might have proved the existence of God.

Peter Robinson: Ah. All right.

George Gilder: He and Einstein used to walk together through the streets of Princeton discussing theology derived from these cerebrations.

Peter Robinson: Both nervous that they may have been onto something even bigger than they ... I see. All right. That's book number 20 for you, George.

George Gilder: All right.

Peter Robinson: But back to book number 19. One other point about Google that you make, a shortcoming for Google is that it gives everything away for free, which, of course, I sent 10 emails this morning on Gmail for free. I haven't started my research for the afternoon, but I'll be using Google, and it'll be for free.

George Gilder: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Okay. This is all wonderful, as far as I can tell. George Gilder in Life After Google, "Not only is free a lie, but a price of zero signifies a return to the barter system, a morass that the human race left behind in the stone age." Well, now I am confounded. How can this marvel of technology be dragging us back to the stone age?

George Gilder: Well, because of free, there are two key points about free. First of all, it avoids the price system so it avoid liabilities to customers that you actually have to serve because the customers have paid you. It avoids the requirement of security because who wants to steal something that's free. It doesn't completely avoid the obligations of security, but it essentially greatly relieves the problems of constantly conducting secure transactions with customers to whom you owe something. It also prohibits learning because the key to capitalism is learning curves. As I told you in my last meeting here, wealth is knowledge, and if wealth is knowledge, economic growth is learning. One of the key instruments of learning in a capitalist system is the signal of prices. By giving away all its products for free, Google avoids this precarious process of falsifiable learning that is the heart of capitalist growth. By giving away products for free, they avoid the security challenge to a great extent. They avoid direct liabilities need responsibilities to real customers-

Peter Robinson: When you say-

George Gilder: ... and they avoid the learning process that allows capitalist growth.

Peter Robinson: When you say they avoid the security problem, the security problem you have in mind is what we all now feel every time we go on the web. We're afraid of identity theft. We're afraid of being hacked. We get alerts from Google itself saying-

George Gilder: Constantly.

Peter Robinson: ... were you this user? Was that you who checked in and changed your password? The feeling that we're naked before who knows, unknown faceless enemy.

George Gilder: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: That's the security problem-

George Gilder: Yep.

Peter Robinson: ... they're avoiding because if they give things away for free, security patches are good enough. That's the point?

George Gilder: Yeah, but the fact is, security is not a video game. Security is an architecture, and the existing computer architecture, of which Google is the paramount exponent, is failing. It's filling the internet with clutter. It's failing with the smartphone. 30% of your payments for smartphone services go to download ads that you don't want-

Peter Robinson: You don't want...

George Gilder: ... to see. You really don't want these ads on your smartphones. They are not adds. They are minuses. Only .06% of these smartphone ads are clicked on. According to surveys, 50% of these clicks, approximately, are in error. So only .03% of smartphone ads are actually desired. This is a catastrophe. This is not a viable business and Google is running, coming to the end of the line in smartphone advertising. It's trying to move from search, where it serves the rest of the internet, to solutions where Google is the answer man in the sky and its AI, with its increasing accumulation of big data, can answer all your questions. But that's where I make the charge of delusional state.

Peter Robinson: All right, the new system of the world. Again, Life After Google, "This very lack of concern with security will be Google's undoing. For every other player on the net, every other player on the net, the lack of security is the most relevant threat to its current business model. This problem will be solved. So fundamental will security be to the new system, that its very name will be derived from it. It will be the cryptocosm." Explain that term.

George Gilder: The cryptocosm is, refers to this amazing providential efflorescence of creativity that's erupted all around the world to supply new architecture for the internet, and, indeed, ultimately a new architecture for the entire world economy at a very time of the system of central banks, with its $5.1 trillion a day of currency trading that doesn't even arrive at settled currency values or significant currency values and the architecture of the internet, which requires you to expose yourself, strip naked, virtually, before the cameras in order to conduct a transaction ... You have to, your passwords, PINs, your user names, your last four numbers of your social security, your mother's maiden name, your first school, your favorite pet, your irises, your DNA, this method of authenticating people to participate in internet transactions is bankrupt. They may imagine that this is a viable system, but it isn't. It is failing every day, and it's going to be replaced by the cryptocosm, by the blockchain, by a whole series of technologies deriving from the blockchain.

Peter Robinson: So I want to use, "Security is," I'm quoting again, "Security is not a procedure or mechanism. It is an architecture, The cryptocosm will start by defining the ground state. You don't build the building, you build the foundation, the ground state. It is the ultimate non-random reality. The ground state is you." The ground state is you, explain that.

George Gilder: Well, the ground state in the cryptocosm is your private key which validates you as your DNA identifies you. It's-

Peter Robinson: This isn't a ... You're not over-reaching for the sake of argument. You are saying that in the cryptocosm, blockchain technology will permit us all to have some kind of [crosstalk 00:23:09].

George Gilder: Unimpeachable ID.

Peter Robinson: Which is as individual to us and as undecryptable as our DNA.

George Gilder: Correct.

Peter Robinson: Okay. Wow, all right. You better explain, and here I brace ... I'm just going hold the table with both hands. You'd better explain, for the laymen, I'll give you a short paragraph. Blockchain. What is blockchain? Make me understand that, George.

George Gilder: Blockchain is a new architecture, new security architecture for the internet that allows you to keep your information to yourself. It distributes all the personal information all across the network just as human intelligence is distributed across the world in individual human brains. It's not agglomerated in giant data clumps. Its human intelligence is distributed. The blockchain distributes personal data rather than concentrating it in one of the few big-walled, gardens, Google, Facebook, what-

Peter Robinson: Like a Dalles? Okay.

George Gilder: ... concentrating it, and then forcing you to petition to the big, centralized database for the right to be yourself on the internet. It's a distributed way of you keep your data to yourself and use whatever data you need to conduct a particular transaction. It originated as a form of money, Bitcoin, but it's ... It's often compared to cash because it seems to allow anonymity, but it's really better than cash. It's a major step forward beyond cash because not only does it allow you to conduct anonymous transactions, it also enables you to demonstrate your behavior in your transactions unimpeachably, if you have to, to the IRS, to a prosecutor, to Preet Bharara, or whoever it may be. The blockchain gives you an immutable record that allows you to document your behavior. It's always seemed to me that the key thing isn't really privacy, isn't really as critical, as being able to prove that you didn't do something that a government wants to charge you with doing. The ability of attestation is an important advance that the blockchain offers, both in third-world countries and in the United States.

Peter Robinson: All right. Your limited claim in Life After Google is that we have a new technology coming along that will make use of my smartphone, and my desktop, and your smartphone, and your desktop, and distribute transactions, and intelligence, and in some ways, meaning across everybody's smartphones and computers and it will render Google's fantastically huge investment in these 80 different data centers, it will render those beside the point perhaps.

George Gilder: Well, or very like those big, abandoned aluminum plants that you can see up the Dalles.

Peter Robinson: Okay. That's the limited claim. Here's the larger claim, that blockchain can fix a lot of what's wrong with America. Life After Google, "Blockchain technology will address the doldrums of centralization, insecurity, and sclerosis afflicting the current information economy." Okay, now give ... How's that? How's that? IPOs are down. This is the Peter Thiel argument, that we're just not getting the innovation that it feels as though we should have. Right?

George Gilder: Yep.

Peter Robinson: And how does blockchain jumpstart that? The whole economy?

George Gilder: Well, it's because blockchain corresponds with the reality of the world, which is the ultimate thinking element is the individual human mind, each one different, each one with a potential of its own, which can make its own contribution. Blockchain is an answer to this cloud mind, which I call sky computing, which you described so well with the computers and smartphones all around the world contributing their cycles as needed to perform supercomputer computations as required, or 3D rendering from the internet that is having 3D experiences provided across the internet, all from the skies, open skies, rather than from the clouds of Google, Facebook, and the rest of the giants, Apple, and Amazon, and the ... Which are the biggest companies in the world and a tremendous-

Peter Robinson: Achievement.

George Gilder: ... upset. I'm not for any kind of attacks on them, of government regulation or whatever. I don't think that that's the problem at all. I think the problem is that they have a business plan and a technological solution that's inappropriate to a world full of individual human minds.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so here's your argument, then. Your argument is the ultimate resources, the base of it all, is not any human construct still less anything that has such a centralizing tendency as these huge data centers that we began by discussing.

George Gilder: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Your argument is, no, no, no, no, it's the individual. The individual is the resource-

George Gilder: Yep.

Peter Robinson: ... and blockchain will empower individual human beings.

George Gilder: That's right.

Peter Robinson: Individual human beings in conditions of economic and political liberty are resources, and blockchain will empower them.

George Gilder: That's right.

Peter Robinson: I've got, okay-

George Gilder: That's well-put. That's the conclusion I've offered.

Peter Robinson: Well, I've been reading you for 35 years, George.

George Gilder: And it is already happening. I mean, you mentioned the IPO crisis, the 90% drop in the number of IPOs. The 50% shrinkage of the number of, more than 50%, 60% shrinkage of the number of public companies on the stock market. This, we are having a stock market boom while the number of companies shrinks drastically and new challengers don't rise up, IPOs, but a Thiel fellow, you mentioned Peter Thiel-

Peter Robinson: Yes.

George Gilder: ... who is a pivotal figure in Life After Google, Peter Thiel has created the Thiel Fellowships-

Peter Robinson: Thiel Fellowships, that's right.

George Gilder: ... One of the first ones was Vitalik Buterin who established Ethereum just five or six years ago, which is a new blockchain based on Satoshi's Bitcoin blockchain, but it improved in more generalized, and he created the new blockchain, a new global computer platform, a new programming language called Solidity, a new currency to finance a new form of smart contracts which could be implemented on this new computer platform, a new source of measurement for the value of the money and the energy consumption of the computer cycles required to implement the smart contracts, a huge new compound enterprise that, in the last 12 months, has essentially solved the IPO problem with ICOs. That's-

Peter Robinson: Initial coin offerings.

George Gilder: ... initial coin offerings, initial Cayman offerings, initial crypto offerings, and they've raised $20 billion in less than 12 months for thousands of new companies. Many of them have failed. Many have gone bust-

Peter Robinson: That's the way it goes.

George Gilder: ... just like the internet upsurge, but this amazing-

Peter Robinson: But they found a way [crosstalk 00:32:33].

George Gilder: ... efflorescence that this Vitalik Buterin, who I think is one of the great entrepreneurs of our history, has accomplished in 12 months. Pretty much solved the IPO problem. It's the Chinese are rebelling because cryptocurrencies are global and the Chinese are skittish about anything that allows the globalization of Chinese capital that's not completely controlled. But anyway, China is deeply involved in all these new cryptocosmic developments.

Peter Robinson: George, a special topic. You touch on it. You more than, you discuss it at some length in Life After Google. It's not the central point, but it's a special topic: artificial intelligence. In Life After Google, you describe a 2017 conference of technologists at Asilomar, California. "They gathered at Asilomar to alert the world to the dire threat posed by, well, by themselves, by Silicon Valley. Their computer technology, artificial intelligence, had gained such power and momentum that they now deemed it nothing less than a menace to mankind. To the Googleplex intellectuals, mathematics is essentially a doomsday machine," and they're wrong?

George Gilder: Yeah. They forgot Gödel. They just don't understand their own technology. It's sad, but they don't.

Peter Robinson: Okay, hold on.

George Gilder: They imagine that-

Peter Robinson: Hold on. They. You're talking about Elon Musk and his buddies Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Googleplex intellectuals-

George Gilder: Musk essentially funded that Asilomar conference.

Peter Robinson: Okay. However, now let me ... I see you, and I raise you, George. I'm going to ... Listen to this intellectual. Henry Kissinger-

George Gilder: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: ... writing in The Atlantic Magazine this past spring. "Heretofore, the technical advance that most-altered the course of modern history was the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, but now the world is experiencing an even more sweeping technological revolution whose culmination may be a world relying on machines ungoverned by ethical or philosophical norms." Now you're taking on Henry Kissinger. Go ahead.

George Gilder: He was my tutor.

Peter Robinson: At Harvard in the old days?

George Gilder: Yeah, he was my ... He was assigned to be my tutor. I always was something of a rebellious student, that I never quite-

Peter Robinson: Even then?

George Gilder: But I loved Henry. He is a great man, and he has absorbed the Google system of the world, and he is wrong. The-

Peter Robinson: Why.

George Gilder: ... artificial intelligence is a terrific extension of human intelligence. It requires an oracle just like any other machine extension.

Peter Robinson: It's still a tool.

George Gilder: It still a tool.

Peter Robinson: It still requires being held in a human hand, in a certain sense.

George Gilder: Yes, and it, in no way, usurps the human brain. That whole concept that somehow a machine can usurp the human mind and excel the human mind, and it's true only-

Peter Robinson: Well, now you're-

George Gilder: ... if you say that the abacus or the calculator excels the human mind. Of course they do, in certain functions, but when Garry Kasparov competes with Big Blue, Garry's using-

Peter Robinson: In chess.

George Gilder: ... 12 to 14 watts of energy and is not connected to anything beyond his own mind. While Big Blue is using essentially gigawatts of energy connected to those big cloud data centers, and it just isn't ... and moreover, they're addressing a deterministic problem. A deterministic problem can be solved by a machine, but deterministic problems are interesting but irrelevant to information as Claude Shannon showed. Information is defined as surprise. It's unexpected bits. It's entropy, as he called it. Surprise is the essence of human creativity. Surprises in a machine is a breakdown. It's bad news when your machine starts surprising you. The way the Google people simulate creativity in machines is they introduce randomness to the machines. They pretend that that is somehow simulating creativity but randomness is minus information. They're subtracting information rather than adding it, just like their ads are actually minuses. Their creative inputs into their machines are actually minuses as well.

Peter Robinson: All right. So, here's what we all have in the backs of our minds. 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which HAL, he takes over the spaceship.

Dave:   Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL:     I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.

Dave:   What's the problem?

HAL:     I think you know what the problem is, just as well as I do.

Peter Robinson: It's a funny scene, but it's, of course, chilling. In those days it clearly, it was fiction which was why it was funny.

George Gilder: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: But that's what everybody has in his mind, that the machines will take over. They'll start giving us orders. You said you were taught by Henry Kissinger, or you were supposed to have been taught by him. Another person you know well is Ray Kurzweil-

George Gilder: I do.

Peter Robinson: ... who is at Google now, and Ray Kurzweil wrote a book in 2005 entitled The Singularity Is Near, and he argues that machines would become so intelligent that the distinction between computers and humans would disappear. HAL would take over, and you say the machines will never be that smart, or you say it is, in principle, impossible?

George Gilder: That's it.

Peter Robinson: It doesn't matter how smart they are.

George Gilder: Yeah. It's, in principle, impossible that ... Machines do not essentially think. They don't know anything. They're systems of gates, of dumb components. They lack this creativity, which is epitomized in all the unexpected bits, the surprising results that human minds and imaginations can generate.

Peter Robinson: All right.

George Gilder: Computers are deterministic. They're machines, and Ray wrote a book called How to Create a Mind. It's a brilliant exposition of how to make a good speech recognizer. In that book, he pretty much concludes that consciousness isn't really an issue. Consciousness is an emergent effect. It's an epi-phenomenon of these machine processes that computer scientists understand, but this is just nonsense. If you don't understand consciousness, you don't understand thinking. Thinking doesn't produce consciousness. Consciousness produces thinking. All these computer scientists are trying to explain away consciousness, but that's where we are. That's where we live. That's how we think. That's the issue, and to say, "Oh, well, we don't know what consciousness is, but our machines are going to compute so fast that it won't matter, that consciousness will emerge like one of their clouds, I think, it's just another fundamental vanity of The Valley.

Peter Robinson: Got it. Last questions, George. In your earlier book, Life After Television, published again in 1990, you predicted computers as small as watches, speech recognition, mapping navigation systems. You got a lot right, but you also predicted, this was in some ways the fundamental argument of the book, that as we went from broadcast television to the 500 channels of cable, and now, of course, we have the essentially infinite channels of Netflix, and YouTube, and all the rest, this direct streaming. As we did that, programming would no longer need to cater to the lowest common denominator so we would no longer all be watching claptrap like The Beverly Hillbillies. You'd go online and you'd be able to pursue your interests, an opera, someone else would be studying calculus, somebody else would be learning a language. We would be enlightened. We would be ennobled. Well-

George Gilder: Well, that's true.

Peter Robinson: Well some of that has happened.

George Gilder: Yep.

Peter Robinson: But you didn't tell us that porn was going to be absolutely pervasive. You didn't tell us that kids-

George Gilder: I think I did tell you that porn would be pervasive.

Peter Robinson: In Life After Television? I don't ...

George Gilder: I think I mentioned that porn is a pretty hard to escape, but anyway.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so, but-

George Gilder: But I was wrong. I was wrong, too-

Peter Robinson: ... what I'm trying to say, it was a wonderfully ... I still remember, I went through it in one reading. I started it at lunchtime and I neglected my work for the rest of the day because it ... In any event, it was a wonderful book but it didn't work out as happily-

George Gilder: No.

Peter Robinson: ... as one would have expected from reading that book. Father of children. You're a father of children. You have a grandchild. The kids have these phones in their hands so long that they ... Attention spans suffer. Family conversations, here's Henry Kissinger again. "Inundated via social media with the opinions of multitudes, users are diverted from introspection. These pressures weaken the fortitude required to develop and sustain convictions that can be implemented only by traveling a lonely road, which is the essence of creativity." What do you do with this argument that it didn't work out?

George Gilder: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Technology has not ennobled us. It's made us passive, and uncreative, and lonely.

George Gilder: Well, I think we were passive, uncreative, and lonely before. I think there's a certain illusion of a golden age that somehow we had privacy. We had creativity. We attained virtue in a different way than we do today. I'm sort of skeptical of the golden age idea, but I'm also skeptical of the idea that this technology is the eschaton, that it's the final thing that-

Peter Robinson: The blockchain. What you're talking about now.

George Gilder: No, AI.

Peter Robinson: Oh, all right.

George Gilder: AI and all these Google era stuff that produce the effects that you're describing. I agree with the effects you're describing, essentially, but I do believe that the blockchain and related cryptographic technologies, it's part of a creative insurgency do ... Are a almost-perfect answer to the problems that currently afflict the net-

Peter Robinson: Let me try one more-

George Gilder: ... that they provide this distribution of intelligence, and distribution of private rights and points of view that has been lost, to some extent, in the cloud.

Peter Robinson: Let me try one more line of attack on an old friend who knows a thousand times more about all this than I do, but it's a layman's attack.

George Gilder: Okay.

Peter Robinson: And it's this. In Life After Television, published in 1990, again, I can just remember what an event it was to read that book. It was wonderfully optimistic. This is going to make things better. Well, actually we have all the kludge that you were talking about, ads we don't want, all that we just discussed. Now you write Life After Google. This is it. Blockchain is going to solve all the problem. What about original sin? What about we're stuck with this, or what about, I'm thinking now, you brush against theology, and I know it interests you, what about 20th century theologian Jacques Maritain who argued that as sin and redemption work themselves out in history, things are getting better but also worse at the same time. That is the human condition. Even blockchain is another tool. It will be morally neutral. It'll have wonderful benefits, but it may have significant costs. I'm trying to get George Gilder to accept some piece of the tragic view of life.

George Gilder: Well, I loved Unamuno's the tragic view of life. Ortega y Gasset was one of my favorite philosophers-

Peter Robinson: I know [crosstalk 00:46:23] all right.

George Gilder: ... and so I accept the tragic view of life, that we're all going to die, we're all-

Peter Robinson: Blockchain won't solve that one.

George Gilder: Blockchain won't solve that one. Blockchain won't solve many of the intrinsic torments of life and sin on this earth. I readily acknowledge that. Blockchain is part of the public world where the great human adventures are conducted, the great new companies are launched, the continued dynamism of human creativity is expressed. What I'm arguing against is what Bill Buckley used to call immanentizing the eschaton, imagining that some technology that you've come up with last week is the final technology, that will end the human adventure, that will subsume all our minds in the clouds governed by eight giant companies, and China, and the US, with a few nerds in Israel contributing all the new ideas. This is the vision that I don't think is going to prevail. I think the human adventure will continue after Google.

Peter Robinson: George Gilder, author of Life After Google. Thank you.

George Gilder: Thank you.

Peter Robinson: I'm Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge and the Hoover Institution. Thanks for joining us.

Show Transcript +
overlay image