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They Made Him a Moron

The strange career of Alec Ross

One day in October 2009, I received an email from the office of Alec Ross, then the innovation adviser to Hillary Clinton. Informing me that my writing on technology and global affairs had attracted considerable interest at the State Department, the email mentioned that Ross would like to meet and chat about my work. A subsequent email, from Ross himself, asked me for advice on what the State Department should do. “What I’d really like to know,” wrote Ross, “is what are those things we can do, either materially or symbolically, to help ensure and extend Internet Freedom across the globe.”

Ross seemed like an intriguing type: he was the first such innovation adviser, one of the whiz kids brought in from the outside to help disrupt the stale world of U.S. diplomacy. He was a political appointee, with little experience in foreign policy. During the 2008 election campaign, Ross advised Obama’s team on technology policy; prior to that, he cofounded a nonprofit dedicated to bridging the digital divide. Here was someone young and ambitious, a poster child for Obama’s infatuation with digital technologies—after all, they had just got him elected.

Curiosity got the better of me. I went to see Ross at the State Department, just a few blocks from the flat that I was renting in Washington. I was, to put it mildly, underwhelmed. Mr. Senior Adviser for Innovation, I quickly discovered, didn’t have much advice to dispatch and was himself busy recruiting informal advisers to generate talking points for Clinton. That wouldn’t have been so bad if, at the same time, Ross weren’t so keen on namedropping and signaling his status. It took him just a few minutes to mention that he was supposed to have a call with “Samantha Power at the White House” and that, despite his senior position, he had seen poverty up close in West Virginia (where he grew up) and in Baltimore (where he was living). A six-week-old copy of The Economist, featuring an African woman holding a mobile phone on its cover, occupied a strategic spot on his desk. Here was an important man reading important things and talking to important people.

Out of courtesy, I did share some thoughts with Ross, but it wasn’t long before our paths diverged.[*] I soon became a critic of the U.S. government’s “Internet freedom agenda,” while Ross and his colleague and friend Jared Cohen (then on the policy planning staff of the State Department and now the head of Google Ideas) embarked on adventures so reckless and ridiculous, so obsequious to the interests of Silicon Valley and offensive to anyone well-versed in the diplomatic trade, that some career staffers at the State Department began to ridicule, anonymously, of course, their cluelessness on social media.

Ross’s tenure at the State Department was, by and large, a failure. His efforts to promote “twenty-first-century statecraft”—Clinton’s lofty vision for American power that would put “Internet freedom” and digital technologies at its core—floundered after the State Department was confronted by Cablegate, the release of a massive library of leaked diplomatic cables that began in late 2010 and was coordinated by WikiLeaks. Ross, who claimed the twenty-first-century-statecraft concept as his own and hoped that it would become “a major part of [Clinton’s] legacy,” was suddenly forced into damage control. Few would find his pronouncements on “Internet freedom” credible after the State Department’s reaction to WikiLeaks. An even more unglamorous picture of his activities emerges from Clinton’s email trove. The good news is that Ross did innovate on at least one front—spin. In 2012, Ross wrote to Cheryl D. Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff: “‘Hillary Clinton is the most innovation-friendly American diplomat since Benjamin Franklin.’ Thought you’d enjoy that line. It appears in minute 10 of show I did on CSPAN. I’m going to continue to use it.”

Ross’s brief moment of national fame had more to do with his penchant for self-promotion than innovation. In summer 2010, Ross and Cohen took a delegation of American technology executives from the likes of Cisco and Microsoft to Damascus to meet with Bashar al-Assad—strange are the twists of twenty-first-century statecraft. Never missing an opportunity to show off, the pair tweeted all the fun they were having in Syria. (Cohen: “I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappuccino ever at Kalamoun University north of Damascus”; Ross: “Creative Diplomacy: @jaredcohen challenged Minister of Telecom to cake-eating contest.”) By Ross’s account, though, the trip pursued the much nobler objective of fomenting regime change via social media. As he wrote in another email to Mills, “When Jared and I went to Syria, it was because we knew that Syrian society was growing increasingly young (population will double in 17 years) and digital and that this was going to create disruptions in society that we could potential [sic] harness for our purposes.”

Anyone familiar with Ross’s style won’t be surprised to discover that his first book, The Industries of the Future (Simon and Schuster, 2016), has all the usual ingredients: West Virginia or Baltimore gets a mention in almost every chapter; the few interesting speculations in the book come from somebody else; and there is an abundance of praise lavished on CEOs, venture capitalists, and other very important men, all of them Ross’s buddies. As Ross put it in one of the emails written during his government tenure, “We should cultivate ‘social media influencers’ for the purpose of validation and amplification of our message”—and he follows that advice to the letter.

Apparently, Ross has never met an “influencer” he didn’t want to quote or praise. We learn that Larry Summers has “one of the sharpest minds in the world”; that LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman is “one of Silicon Valley’s top minds (and nicest people)”; that investor Charlie Songhurst is “one of the most creative thinkers at the intersection of technology, society, and the global economy”; and so on. The influencers are happy to return the favor. “Anyone who wants to understand the key forces that are shaping our economic, political, and social futures will benefit hugely from Ross’s insights,” reads a blurb for the book from Hoffman—one of Silicon Valley’s nicest people, indeed. This network, it turns out, is quite incestuous. First, Ross quotes the famous venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. Then, he quotes Larry Summers—only to tell us that Summers is also an adviser to Andreessen’s firm and sits on the board of several other Silicon Valley startups. An app for disrupting the elites? Alas, nobody is building it.

At times, the book reads like an extended college admissions essay, with the student, prompted to reflect on his most memorable experience, desperately trying to relate something very trivial he did last summer to lofty questions of globalization and democracy. Ross reflects, for example, on his time working as a janitor after his freshman year in college, linking it to his experiences as an innovation adviser to the Secretary of State. On another level, The Industries of the Future can be read as an extended effort to prove to the world that Ross does belong in the very center of that bizarre Venn diagram—right at the intersection of technology, foreign policy, and the Democratic Party—that had secured him his original job at the State Department.

Apparently, Ross has never met an “influencer” he didn’t want to quote or praise.

Such books are normally written before a person is appointed to a high-level advisory position within the government; they are meant to attest to one’s intellectual credentials and articulate a grand strategic vision of the future, which can then guide the person’s advisory work. Ross, however, got his career backwards: he got his advisory position based on his campaign work for Obama, though he had few academic or intellectual credentials to his name. Then, after he left the State Department in 2013, he pursued the well-trodden path of aspiring pundits-cum-lobbyists: a fellowship at an Ivy League school (Columbia), seats on half a dozen corporate boards (FiscalNote, Kudelski Group, Leeds Equity Partners, Telerivet, AnchorFree, 2U), and now, finally, a book.

Given Ross’s career trajectory—from a supposed “big thinker” without any big thoughts to a power broker between industry and government—this book appears eight years too late. While his publisher blurbs him as a “leading innovation expert” whose book “belongs on the shelf alongside works by Tom Friedman and Fareed Zakaria” (pretty faint praise, this), The Industries of the Future reads more like a love letter to a few more unexplored corporate boards, preferably in industries that will last longer than Alec Ross’s career as the next Tom Friedman.

This turn to futurism and technology is not new for Washington insiders. Even Zbigniew Brzezinski once penned a tome on the “technetronic era.” Ever since the heyday of modernization theory, with its belief in the civilizing power of radio, television, and satellites, anyone with even rudimentary expertise in the latest technologies has been in high demand in Washington; a lucrative career spanning academia, the lecture circuit, and the private sector was guaranteed. From Ithiel de Sola Pool to George Gilder, Ross is in good—or, rather, awful—company.

The Jargon That Ate the World

The Industries of the Future has a relatively straightforward structure. Ross dedicates each chapter to an emerging industry, from biotech to fintech to cybersecurity, all while peppering the reader with so much data and so many examples that one can only hope that no interns were hurt in collecting them. He interviews his favorite experts—most of them Silicon Valley royalty—and extracts long quotes from each, periodically pausing his courageous reportage from the digital frontlines to proclaim, in a crushingly banal editorial voice, what he himself thinks about the future.

Whatever industry he examines, Ross inevitably comes up with the same finding: any industry of the future will be just like one industry of the past—the Internet. His mindset is the best example of what I call Internet-centrism: using the Internet as the basic analytical category for making sense of the world and urging everyone to heed its lessons. Thus, when Ross thinks about the future of robotics, he thinks about “the Internet in the 1990s.” Likewise, “where we are today with genomics is the equivalent of where we were in 1994 at the advent of the commercial Internet.” Bitcoin’s blockchain will be “to banking, law, and accountancy as the Internet was to media, commerce and advertising.” (Here, Ross is quoting the director of the MIT Media Lab.)

This is futurism at its laziest: it’s enough to simply take an industry and search for its equivalent of eBay, Google, and Uber, or search for some well-known phenomenon from the 1990s and argue that it will repeat itself, albeit in a different sector. (“I anticipate that the same kind of protest and labor movements that advocated against free trade agreements in the 1990s will form in the 2020s once robots begin to really make their presence known in the workplace”; the Luddites will finally arrive, says our futurist.) The rest of the book is filled with banalities unworthy of even Thomas Friedman. “Data: the raw material of the information age”; “The world has left the Cold War behind only to enter into a Code War”; “Multicultural fluency is increasingly important in a business world that is growing more global”—this stuff would be embarrassing enough to read coming from the futurists of the 1950s.

The paucity of big ideas in this book can easily be explained by the material it draws on. Mostly, Ross cites articles from newspapers and magazines rather than actual books on these subjects. He ignores anything of analytical substance that has been written on the industries he’s examining and prefers to “waterboard” the reader with factoids and trivia about hair-washing robots in Japan or the consultant dispatched by the State Department to the Colombian jungle (“the last stronghold of the FARC guerillas”), where he was “educating local stakeholders.”

There are occasional wild predictions, which are either irrelevant or impossible to substantiate. What good is it to say that in the future you will be able to host a dinner party with eight people at the table, all speaking different languages, while the voice in your ear will be whispering the language of your choice? Moreover, do you know anybody with a burning need to organize such a dinner party?

This book by the State Department’s former innovation adviser merely attests to the intellectual bankruptcy of the term “innovation,” which in the hands of people like Ross has ceased to have any substantive meaning. For Ross, “innovation” is an activity that will prepare you for the future—which can, of course, be foreseen if you surround yourself with enough “innovators.” But what exactly makes Ross an innovator? Tweeting about Cohen’s cake-eating contest in Syria? That may very well be: mastery of social media is what passes for savvy technology strategy these days.

The Alec Ross success story is a fine illustration of how somebody with virtually zero foreign policy experience can rise to the upper echelons of the foreign policy establishment by becoming a go-to authority on all things technology—and now, apparently, on all things future. Technology experts have joined economists as America’s most useful idiots. There is always demand for their expertise, there is no risk in saying stupid things about complex matters (the majority won’t understand them anyway), and there are plenty of corporations willing to foot the bill for this intellectual circus.

Ever since the heyday of modernization theory, anyone with even rudimentary expertise in the latest technologies has been in high demand in Washington.

In his supposed pragmatism, Ross combines the worst of Clinton and Obama, making it impossible for him to come up with any mildly defensible, let alone exciting, thesis. Yes, technology is disrupting many industries; yes, some jobs will be lost and some will be created; yes, we need to distribute the gains of the digital revolution more evenly. Ross doesn’t say how all this will be done, and instead stops short at a level of generality that should endear him to the Davos elites. Here is someone talking technology policy without hurting any corporate interests in the process!

While Ross does pinpoint the dire consequences of automation for the job market, he shies away from more radical proposals—like a universal basic income—for tackling it. Rather, he believes that government will somehow be able to pull it all together with the same old tools of taxation, regulation, and retraining. Perhaps the rise of Bitcoin will give Silicon Valley an innovative method of paying taxes? Or perhaps, Ross writes, “as the sharing economy grows as a share of the total economy, the safety net needs to grow with it.” There are, however, no details whatsoever on how that net is to be designed, let alone implemented.

This might seem boring—and it is. The only redeeming feature of this book is that Ross, in the course of defending the empire-building efforts of both Silicon Valley and Washington, reveals the geopolitical and technological unconscious of American elites. The Industries of the Future is interesting not for what it says about technology—you could have read it all in The Economist, years earlier—but for what it leaves unsaid. Ross makes implicit, and occasionally explicit, assumptions about Silicon Valley’s increasingly prominent role in global affairs that deserve far more scrutiny than what he has to say about robotics, agriculture, or the sharp mind of Larry Summers.

Ross uses terms like “globalization” and “innovation” as harmless euphemisms for “capitalism.” Globalization, for him, is something for which the United States government has no responsibility—it’s just happening on its own, autonomously and anonymously, as if trade treaties, military bases, and offshoring zones were all springing up without anyone consciously creating the policies that enable them. Ross’s book is a good example of how this discourse of globalization has been adopted by American policymakers as a way of blaming the effects and consequences of their own policies—aimed primarily at making the whole globe a safe playground for American capital—on historical inevitability.

Magic Mountains

Like many in Silicon Valley, Ross believes in what has become known as the Varian Rule—named after Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian—which states that the kinds of luxuries enjoyed by billionaires today will eventually be provided, albeit in a somewhat modified, heavily technologized form, to the poor and middle classes. You won’t get a chauffeur, but you will get a self-driving car; you won’t get a secretary, but you’ll get Siri or Google Now. The only benchmark of success is access to goods and services, while the actual terms on which this access is provided—for Google Now to work, for example, you need to let Google monitor you pervasively—are never discussed. Here is a capitalism-friendly version of social mobility, whereby consumption, rather than the dissolution of existing power relationships, becomes the sole goal of emancipatory struggles.

Ross also subscribes to the view, quite popular in both Washington and Silicon Valley, that thanks to the digital revolution and proliferation of cellphones and social media, the powerful (corporations, governments, traditional media) have lost their clout and newly empowered citizens find ways to outsmart their oppressors. It’s not for nothing that Mark Zuckerberg chose The End of Power, by the quintessential Washington insider Moisés Naím, as the first selection of his book club. (The book’s not-so-subtle subtitle is this: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be.)

Ross tells us that “everywhere, newly empowered citizens . . . are challenging the established order in ways never before imaginable—from building new business models to challenging old autocracies.” To see just how ridiculous this idea is, it’s enough to look at what happened in Greece last summer. The angry Greeks and their supporters abroad had a fancy hashtag (#thisisacoup), while their opponents in the European governments, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund—well, they had just about everything else. Guess who won. Perhaps the Greeks should have heeded Ross’s advice and attempted to disrupt the Troika with a “new business model.”

Despite incessant proclamations to the contrary, the purse still wields more power than the cellphone. And given the growing indebtedness of the population and the financializaton of everything under the sun, citizens stand to be further disempowered for the benefit of elites, banks, and transnational institutions. (The latter barely get a mention in Ross’s book.) Populism is on the rise across the globe not because citizens feel empowered by new technologies, but because they feel disempowered by everything else. These populist movements might even be putting technologies to good use. But as the Greek experience shows us, while a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin might offer some hypothetical lifeline to a government that subscribes to an alternative political and economic agenda, other mechanisms of power—mostly the old-fashioned banking system—preclude its actual deployment.

What is most interesting about Ross’s geopolitical unconscious is his treatment of the future itself. Apparently, there’s just one future, with America and Silicon Valley at the helm. All that other countries can do is either adapt to it by reshaping their industries and expectations to favor more “openness,” or risk being labeled “control freaks” and “closed societies” by the likes of Ross and his army of think tanks, NGOs, and fake grassroots activists. It’s pointless to imitate Silicon Valley, Ross warns. Instead, other countries should accept that American companies will operate the network and communications infrastructure on which the global economy functions. These countries, Ross tells us, should find ways to foster industries of the future and make money with additional services—like, say, data analytics—built on top of that infrastructure.

This is, of course, very bad advice for any country that would like to preserve strong domestic industry and maintain a modicum of sovereignty. Not everybody can be an authoritarian city-state like Singapore or a tax haven like Ireland. Ross does his best not to acknowledge a basic fact—that the profitability of future industries is inherently tied to the data-intensive platforms from which they emerge. A company like Google wants to be in every industry, from life extension, to home automation, to insurance, to energy—and it runs the infrastructure on which all these industries will operate in the future. How is it possible for any country to build a sustainable, long-term business strategy around data analytics when Google owns their data? Ross pays some lip service to the importance of people owning their own data but dances around the fact that, on this very issue, corporations enjoy far more rights than citizens—and the U.S. government is clear about whose side it is on.

Ross’s world is not just flat—it’s plastic. Any country, he suggests, can simply abandon an industry that feeds it and move to embrace “the future.” But German car companies are afraid of Google not because they can’t develop an analytics business on top of self-driving cars and operating systems supplied by Google, but because they’ll make far less money from the analytics business than they currently make selling Mercedes and BMWs (while probably having to fire most of their heavily unionized workforce). This is a painful political and economic conflict, but for Ross, it’s simple: all these foreign countries and companies are refusing to look toward the “future,” adjust to the inevitable disruption that it will unleash, and acquire the expertise required to survive.

The Fool’s Errand

Ross’s only big idea in this book is that, thanks to the rise of new technologies, we are entering a new era, one in which countries will need to decide just where to be ideologically. “The principal political binary of the last half of the twentieth century,” he writes, “was communism versus capitalism. In the twenty-first century, it is open versus closed.” It doesn’t take long to understand that “open” can mean only one thing—“open for business,” and particularly for business involving American capital. Ross’s “open” vs. “closed” dichotomy does not transcend capitalism—it simply rebrands it.

Consequently, any country that would like to limit, or at least slow down, the pillaging of its economy and resources by global corporations will be classified as “closed,” its leaders immediately labeled “control freaks” or “neo-Luddites.” The doublespeak of American diplomacy—the phony enthusiasm for “freedom” and “human rights”—was bad enough, but merged with the doublespeak of Silicon Valley (“open source,” “Internet freedom,” “transparency”), the hypocrisy becomes absolute.

Ross’s reframing of “capitalism vs. communism” as a contest between open and closed reveals that, on issues of foreign policy, there’s barely any difference between America’s two major parties. In the domestic context, any policy demanding the removal of barriers to the free circulation of capital would traditionally be associated with the neoliberal right, who believe that the government should not limit the further intrusion of market logic into all domains. But while Ross insists that the U.S. government has a role to play in opposing the tide of “neoliberalism”—which he defines as an ideology “encouraging the free flow of goods and services in a market without government regulation”—he opposes all such efforts by foreign governments. Here is the duplicity of the Democrats in a nutshell: neoliberalism is bad when practiced in America, but when imposed on other countries, it’s “globalization.”

Ross’s views are consistent with Washington’s long-standing opposition to efforts such as the New World Information and Communication Order, a now mostly forgotten attempt by developing countries, many of them from the Non-Aligned Movement, to assert the right to shape their own technological and media destinies. Not only did the United States fight such efforts tooth and nail, but Washington also articulated its vision for a world in which no such rights would exist, giving us the doctrine of the “free flow of information,” which has now been reincarnated as the “free flow of data.” Thus, we get the curious paradox of somebody like Alec Ross: as a Democrat, he timidly opposes neoliberalism at home, but he is more than happy to export it globally.

To substantiate his thesis about the importance of “openness,” Ross embarks on a brief discussion of geopolitics—clearly not his area of expertise, despite his years at the State Department. His treatment of Estonia and Belarus—his best examples of “open” and “closed”—is a case in point. The two countries, we are told, faced a clear choice about what route to pursue after the fall of the Soviet Union. Estonia, he concludes, chose Skype, while Belarus chose to be ruled by the same mustachioed man for more than twenty years now.

This is, of course, a caricature of history, with Ross substituting his fictitious future—the one in which we are all wearing multilingual earpieces—for the actual past. Never mind the questions of Russian language, national minorities, the power (or lack thereof) of the diasporas, the different structures of national economies—for Ross, all post-1990 decision-making in the former Soviet Union pursued just one objective: innovation. This is history as seen by the likes of George W. Bush, with his predilection for viewing everything through the single lens of freedom vs. terror. But it’s a bit of an embarrassment for Alec Ross, who likes to boast that he was a history major in college.

Ross sees the same civilizational conflict between “open” and “closed” in today’s Ukraine, again with little understanding of history, language, culture, or even the future, on which he is supposed to be an expert. The wild enthusiasm of Ukrainians who want to join the European Union is not at all reciprocated, with many Europeans already thinking about life after the collapse of the union rather than the admission of new members.

Ross’s reading of technological developments in Russia—which he calls a good example of how not to build industries of the future—is equally flawed. For one thing, Russia was much closer to following the “open” Estonian path than the “closed” Belarusian one, with shock therapy and radical neoliberal reforms almost running the country into the ground in the early 1990s. If only the sharp mind of Larry Summers had been there to guide them! All Russia got was his Harvard buddy Andrei Shleifer.

Even looking at the last decade alone, one can see that Russia has pursued a pro-American technology policy, inviting many Silicon Valley giants to set up shop in its own equivalent of Silicon Valley, Skolkovo. The war in Ukraine changed all that, with Russians reversing their efforts to integrate themselves into Western networks and institutions and instead rushing to lessen their dependence on American and European partners and reclaim their sovereignty—in finance and food, but also technology.

In technology policy, it has meant efforts on the part of the BRICS states to coordinate an alternative to the dominance of Silicon Valley, with the Russian government investing in mobile operating systems and mobile phone companies, taking aggressive positions on Internet governance, and pushing for data localization laws that would force American firms to store data locally. Likewise, other countries that Ross disparages—Ecuador, Venezuela, and Argentina—pursued smart, hands-on technology policies that aimed to boost domestic industries, create new talent, and reassert control over their own technology and monetary policy. (Ecuador, for example, attempted to roll out its own digital currency.) For Ross, though, anything that aims to limit the reach of U.S. capital is immediately labeled closed, technophobic, and neo-Luddite.

Here is the duplicity of the Democrats in a nutshell: neoliberalism is bad when practiced in America, but when imposed on other countries, it’s “globalization.”

One might disagree with the political ideologies of those governments, but one would be hard-pressed to call them technophobic. It’s true that they see America’s technology firms as an extension of America’s economic and foreign power—not an unreasonable assumption given the revolving door between Washington and Silicon Valley (a trend exemplified by people like Jared Cohen and Alec Ross). And the U.S. government itself does not conceal its agenda. A close look at new trade treaties like TTIP, TPP, and TiSA reveals that they advocate the “free flow of data” (now a euphemism for the free flow of capital) and that any effort to stem it would surely be considered contrary to American interests.

What Ross doesn’t want to say is that there’s another possible future, a highly technological one that would deploy algorithms, big data, sensors, and all the rest to accomplish a very different political and economic program than the one he endorses. In fact, we have already caught glimpses of such a future. The experiments with cybernetics in Allende’s Chile come to mind, though they were crushed by none other than that evangelist of openness, the United States. Some governments have grasped that, in order to develop the industries of their own future, they need to maintain some technological sovereignty—much to the chagrin of Silicon Valley and Washington, who were planning to continue their joint project of spreading markets, information, democracy, and American investment everywhere.

Ross implies that only benighted adversaries like North Korea, with its rudimentary technological capabilities, could resist the American gospel. But in the face of efforts to develop a very different version of the sharing economy—as the new radical mayor of Barcelona, for example, is now trying to do—Ross has little to say. The fact that much of the rest of the world has been working on an alternative to neoliberal globalization—what the French call altermondialisme—has either never registered with Alec Ross or is just not something that the corporate boards he is auditioning for want to know.

Ross’s argument, or rather its style, leads to the eventual depoliticization of extremely political and contentious issues by wrapping them up in the empty, futuristic language of technology and innovation. Technology talk furnishes the seemingly innocent vocabulary that allows the U.S. government to bypass any organized resistance to the sort of neoliberal measures—more privatization, more austerity, no controls on movements of capital—that used to constitute the agenda behind the so-called Washington Consensus. All these measures, from privatization of industry to the radical reform of labor markets, are now presented as the reasonable and future-oriented option that would allow developing countries to leapfrog right into advanced, knowledge-based capitalism.

And while previous efforts to market such policies generated a lot of pushback and even rioting from Bangkok to Buenos Aires, none of that struggle is visible now that Silicon Valley has taken over the job from the World Bank and the IMF. Who could argue that a country shouldn’t adapt itself to the future and build fancy apps? Why would any country want to resist the natural pull of technology?

Of course, there is nothing natural in that pull. For every deep thinker like Alec Ross, there are a dozen American technocrats working to ensure that such boring (but vital and controversial) issues as international technology standards are resolved in the interests of Washington and Silicon Valley. All this talk of the future, with its air of inevitability and progress, gives them impeccable cover. Alec Ross has seen the future and heeded its advice: the only industry safe from disruption is cheerleading for American capital.


[*] That much can be gleaned from a bizarre and random attack that Ross launches on me in his book, calling me “a social media-savvy graduate student in Massachusetts . . . who writes neo-Luddite screeds against American technology companies, advancing the official views of Russia and Belarus”—arguably, just the kind of person that Hillary Clinton’s innovation adviser should have sought advice from! Ironically, the only memo of advice I’ve ever written for a government was for the American one—at Ross’s own prompting.