THE VERY KIND OF ‘DISRUPTION’ that Silicon Valley has relentlessly promoted for the past two decades achieved a shocking result in 2016 with the election of Donald Trump. Facebook, Google and Twitter -- eager to capture eyeballs and entertain their users -- turned a blind eye to the fake news and hateful ideas proliferating on their platforms. Meanwhile, discontent with the “meritocratic” ideology emanating from Silicon Valley fueled much of the populist anger in the Rust Belt states that sided with Trump. In “The-Know-It-Alls,” former New York Times technology columnist Noam Cohen exposes the Silicon Valley vision for society as a harrowing, libertarian, and often cruel one, one where each of us, in the words of LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Hoffman, is a “start-up of you” struggling in a hypercompetitive market without the protection of unions, government regulations, social-welfare programs or, all too often, even basic decency.
IN ‘THE KNOW-IT-ALLS,’ Cohen explores how we reached this poisonous juncture by chronicling the rise of Silicon Valley as a political and intellectual force in American life. Highlighting the role of Stanford University as the incubator of this new class of all-powerful geeks, and focusing particularly on John McCarthy, the maverick computer scientist who pioneered the term “artificial intelligence” and was the godfather of the first hackers, Cohen shows how smart guys (and they are indeed overwhelmingly guys) like Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg fell in love with a radically individualistic ideal espoused in the computer lab and then ruthlessly mainstreamed it.
THE CHARACTERS who populate Cohen’s story have dreams of world domination yet, as has become all too clear, are the last people you should trust to set the priorities for our society or any society.