Julian Assange Says "Apolitical Futurism of Star Trek" Fits Google

Illustration for article titled Julian Assange Says "Apolitical Futurism of Star Trek" Fits Google

Julian Assange is currently answering questions in a live chat over at Gawker, promoting his new book, When Google Met Wikileaks. One of the most interesting exchanges for readers of Paleofuture actually comes from a question by Matthew Phelan who writes the Gawker subdomain Black Bag.

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Phelan asks about the culture of Google and whether its vision of the future aligns with more retro notions of technology, information and politics seen in cultural artifacts like Star Trek.

Question from Matthew Phelan of the Gawker subdomain Black Bag:

There was a piece in Slate last year about Google, that I kept thinking about with respect to this book, about how Google's internal culture and goals are bound up in Star Trek. For example: Amit Singhal, the head of Google's search rankings team, told the South by Southwest Interactive Festival that "The destiny of [Google's search engine] is to become that Star Trek computer, and that's what we are building."

It makes sense to me in that there's a real Camelot-era liberal pro-statist ideal underlying Star Trek's vision of the future, and I'm curious what your sense was as to whether or not Eric Schmidt really buys into that. AND/OR I am curious to know how your idealized vision of the future differs from that Google Star Trek model.

From Julian Assange:

I hadn't seen that piece. At a glance, it reminds me of the discovery that the NSA had had the bridge of the Enterprise recreated. In my experience it is more reliable and fairer to look at peoples interests and expenditure rather than try to diagnose their inner mental state, as the latter often lets people project their own biases. As I say in the book, I found Eric Schmidt to be, as you would expect, a very sharp operator. If you read "The New Digital Age", the apolitical futurism of Star Trek seems to fit what Schmidt writes quite well. I also quite liked this summary of Google's vision for the future: "Google's vision of the future is pure atom-age 1960s Jetsons fantasy, bubble-dwelling spiritless sexists above a ruined earth."

It's interesting to see Assange describe Star Trek futurism as apolitical, especially because from Phelan's question (and any critical reading of Star Trek's quasi-utopian, post-scarcity values) Star Trek is presented as far from apolitical. Even "atom-age 1960s Jetsons fantasy" doesn't seem to quite nail it.

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If anything, this exchange shows that we're grasping at imperfect utopian analogies for the future dredged up from the past — when what we really should be looking at are the dystopias.

Image: Star Trek promo shot from The Daily Pulp

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DISCUSSION

matthew-phelan
Matthew Phelan

Being just ultra generous to Assange, I think there's something like an implicit belief that sixties-era liberalism as seen in Star Trek is just boiler-plate politics today, and thus "apolitical" if you chose to view "political" as more synonymous with "politically radical" or "deeply politically motivated" or something. Still, I would agree that there's a lot of grasping and imprecise language going on in this exchange.

I also agree, for the most part, about the benefits of a dystopian focus — I was just really hoping to goad Assange into waxing a bit on what exactly a positive, healthy future might look like in his view. I don't think we hear enough from activists about what comes after a successful fight with "the system", "hegemonic structures", "entrenched exploitative colonialist patriarchy" or whatever. Seemed like a good question. I hope his fashion debut goes well this month.

(Thanks for this all, also.)