From time to time people ponder the question of why so many of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs-turned-billionaires turn out to be so liberal. My experience hanging around Silicon Valley tech types a bit back in the 1990s was that computer and tech geeks bring an engineering mentality to politics, and do not understand why social and political problems can’t be solved like engineering problems. Republicans are very bad at explaining the political world to tech types, while the sentimental nostrums of liberal politicians—and I watched a few liberal pols in small rooms with tech CEOs—go over very well with techies. And amazingly smart people turn out to be slow learners in politics: even after the Clinton Justice Department went after Microsoft, Bill Gates remained a liberal Democrat, even though I know a lot of Microsoft executives found it to be a “learning experience” in the predatory ways of Washington.
Thia is the preface to a nine-month old story that I just caught up with. Google, I read, has started a “think tank.” Since I’m in that business, I got curious. Here’s the lede from the Washington Post article about it:
Technology giant Google, having conquered the Internet and the world around it, is taking on a new challenge: violent extremism.
The company, through its eight-month-old think tank, Google Ideas, is paying for 80 former Muslim extremists, neo-Nazis, U.S. gang members and other former radicals to gather in Dublin this weekend to explore how technology can play a role in de-radicalization efforts around the globe.
The “formers,” as they have been dubbed by Google, will be surrounded by 120 thinkers, activists, philanthropists and business leaders. The goal is to dissect the question of what draws some people, especially young people, to extremist movements and why some of them leave.
This isn’t a totally frivolous idea, but there is a substantial body of serious social research already out there on why people become terrorists and why some quit the lifestyle. But there is something beyond naïve and presumptuous about their belief in the power of their good-hearted social engineering mentality on this vexing problem. And it is easy to predict that this will come to nothing. At some point I’m sure these group gropes with former terrorists will become what I call “Steyn bait.”
Besides, I thought Google was going to solve the problem of dirty fossil fuels for us. Back in 2007 they launched to great fanfare their “Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal” research project (RE<C was the catchy equation). Great idea in the abstract. How’s that working out for Google? They cancelled the project last fall. Welcome to the real world, hearty internet conquerors. I guess there’s some things Google’s internet geniuses can’t do after all.