Tech Firms Enslave Us?

Imagine that centuries ago a visionary had foreseen all of the following:

  1. Future people would live in modern high rise buildings.
  2. Interior high-rise apartments need elevators, mailboxes, forced air, piped water, and artificial light, to let residents exit, talk, breath, drink, and see.
  3. High-rises are expensive and require lots of coordination to manage.
  4. Large rich for-profit organizations can build and manage high-rises, and then rent apartments to residents.

Finally, imagine that this visionary concluded that high-rise residents would in essence be slaves of their rich landlords. He reasons that residents must live in mortal fear of landlords who could at any time cut off their exit, talk, light, water, and air. Facing landlords with that much power over them, surely residents must be slaves.

Of course real residents of modern high rises are not remotely slaves. Yes landlords have the physical ability to kill residents by cutting off their exit, talk, light, water, and air. But any landlord that did this would be in a world of trouble, both via losing customers, and via legal punishment. It isn’t just in some libertarian or economist’s fantasy in which market forces keep landlords from enslaving their residents – this is how it actually works in our real world.

Yet, when we look toward our future, and imagine costly techs that could extend life, many keep imagining that such techs would make us slaves of big bad rich firms. For example, see this video on the Singularity, ruined by lawyers:

Yes, this video gets credit for humor, creativity, and entertainment value. But as social criticism it seems on par with saying that high-rise landlords must enslave their residents.

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