As we prepare to change the calendar from one decade to the next, Big Tech is bigger than ever. And that is not necessarily a good thing.
That was on my mind when I came across this recent tweet.
The first names that came to mind were all technology leaders. And looking at the answers, I was barely alone.
So my next question was, of course, which one could really become a supervillain?
Here are some that are good or just not bad enough to do so: Tim Cook (Apple), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Susan Wojcicki (YouTube), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Marc Benioff (Salesforce) and Sundar Pichai (Google).
Others – such as former Uber boss Travis Kalanick and firing WeWork boss Adam Neumann – have yet to prove their longevity.
Mark Zuckerberg receives a dishonorable mention. Facebook has been mean, allowing harassment, violence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, spreading fake news in 2016, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and, well, make your choice, actually. But for all the stupid things Zuckerberg has done or allowed to happen, it’s just that, bless his heart, he just doesn’t have what it takes to become a supervillain.
He talks about curbing hate speech, but then twists about free speech. He partners with far-right Breitbart, and then faces first to be criticized by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on national television. He moves from side to side so fast, it’s amazing that he can keep the lights on on Facebook. He is a bumbling CEO who has lost control.
In the end, there are three technology leaders that are on the brink of surplus approaching the 2020s, and the three are quite powerful.
Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla and SpaceX)
Of the three people on this list, Musk is probably the least likely to become a supervillain. His worst offenses fall into bodily categories of offense, such as violating unions, occasional copyright violations, allegations of defamation, and smoking weed.
And he certainly earned the right to say “I told you so” if AI rules the world.
But Musk can still become a supervillain (maybe controlling AI!). It’s not hard to imagine him waiting, waiting for Tesla cars to become more prevalent and then: BAM.
He takes control of all the Teslas on the road. He uses SpaceX to take over President Trump’s Space Force and his ground forces use Cybertrucks as tanks. And the weapons of your army? Those flamethrowers, of course. Meanwhile, he uses all of his tunnels to move from base to base, always evading capture thanks to his Hyperloop trains.
Musk has been sending weird tweets and Baby Yoda memes as a smoke screen all the time, laying the groundwork for his takeover.
Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon, founder of Blue Origin)
Admit it: Jeff Bezos was the first or second person that came to mind on this list, in part because of his Amazonian empire, but also because he physically resembles Lex Luthor.
Depending on the day (or time), Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world. And yet, Amazon workers face terrible working conditions, Amazon participated in the union breakdown, and part-time employees of Amazon-owned Whole Foods recently got their benefits cut.
He is already pouring money into the truck on his SpaceX competitor, Blue Origin. And he could devote billions to developing supervillain technology and not hurt their economies. And given what already exists, this is a scary thought.
And let’s try not to think about how a supervillain could exercise the surveillance features of Amazon’s Alexa or Ring. Or the fact that Bezos and Amazon already heavily arm Seattle about taxes (to say nothing about the HQ2 mess).
Is Bezos bad? I do not know. But I know that Bezos’s dominance in our daily lives continues to grow: from Amazon’s retail dominance to the growing influence on Prime Video entertainment to the ownership of The Washington Post, one of the country’s most famous newspapers.
All we can really judge Bezos on is the available evidence of how he treats people. And so far, not great.
Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal, founder of Palantir)
Is Peter Thiel the technical leader most likely to become a supervillain?
Enough money to finance a dozen armies? Checks.
In favor of monopolies? Checks.
Maintain a position of influence on Facebook? Checks.
Are you taking this position to prevent Facebook from checking political fact ads? Checks.
Founded a company that, like Facebook, became notorious for the way it extracts data and tracks people? Checks.
Do you have a relationship with a much-maligned presidential administration that seems to be intended to limit the free press? Checks.
Once wrote the phrase: “I no longer believe freedom and democracy are compatible”? Checks.
Did a doomsday escape in the far corner of the globe? Checks.
Look, I’m not saying that Peter Thiel will definitely become a supervillain. (I saw what he does with things on the internet he doesn’t like.)
I’m just saying I disagree with suggestions to the contrary.
That is all.