The link between Google and Burning Man is long and rich. They famously used the Burning Man logo on the Google home page, and in fact the concept of the Google logo changing evolved out of the Burning Man logo. Yes, the first ever “Google Doodle” was a secret sign to those “in the know” that Google might be a bit short staffed for the week due to Burning Man. CEO Eric Schmidt was hired after founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin hung out with him at Burning Man. There’s even been Stanford University studies on the links between Burning Man and Google (a company founded on technology that was spun out of Stanford). Last year, Sergei paid a visit to our camp at Ideate wearing the
glassholes Google Glasses.
Google CEO Larry Page is holding a rare Q&A session with attendees of today’s Google I/O keynote, and he’s been offering up some pretty unfiltered answers. In response to a question about reducing negativity and focusing on changing the world, Page noted that “the pace of change is increasing” and said that “we haven’t adapted systems to deal with that.” Specifically, he said that “not all change is good” and said that we need to build “mechanisms to allow experimentation.”
That’s when his response got really interesting. “There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation,” Page said. “And that’s good, we don’t want to change the world. But maybe we can set aside a part of the world.” He likened this potential free-experimentation zone to Burning Man and said that we need “some safe places where we can try things and not have to deploy to the entire world.” Google is already well-known for coming up with some pretty interesting ideas — the idea of seeing what Page could come up with in this lawless beta-test country is simultaneously exciting and a bit terrifying.
Here’s what he actually said about Burning Man, according to the Huffington Post:
I like going to Burning Man for example; I’m sure many of you have been. That’s an environment where people can try out different things, but not everybody has to go. I think that’s a great thing too. I think, as technologists, we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out what’s the effect on society, what’s the effect on people, without having to deploy it into the normal world. People who like those kinds of things can go out and experience that.
Burner Larry envisions a “Tech Burning Man“, an anarchist’s Utopia:
“There’s many, many exciting and important things you could do that you just can’t do because they are illegal or they are not allowed by regulation. And that makes sense, we don’t want our world to change too fast. But maybe we should set aside some small part of the world … I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out: What is the effect on society? What is the effect on people? Without having to deploy it into the normal world. And people who like those kinds of things can go there and experience that.”"
This is conceptually similar to the ideals of the Peter Thiel-backed non-profit Seasteading Institute, and their plans to create on-shore Charter Cities in places like Honduras. Indeed, Seasteading were all over it, quickly launching a petition at Change.Org where you can vote to support Larry’s concepts (so far: 553 supporters of the 1000 needed for…umm, something). Seasteading sent this letter out to their followers:
Change.org petition to Larry Page, CEO of Google:
The last great advance in governance technology was the American experiment with democracy more than 200 years ago. While democracy has brought health, wealth and happiness to billions of people, we also sense that modern governments are slowing down meaningful reform with one-size-fits-all policies. The clash of old rules and rapidly evolving technology leads us to believe that innovative systems of governance could serve humanity better than modern governments do today. We believe a new frontier is needed to once again test out new ways of living together.
In his keynote address at Google’s I/O event on May 15, the company’s CEO and cofounder Larry Page said, ”There’s many, many exciting and important things you could do that you just can’t do because they are illegal or they are not allowed by regulation. And that makes sense, we don’t want our world to change too fast. Butmaybe we should set aside some small part of the world … I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out: What is the effect on society? What is the effect on people? Without having to deploy it into the normal world. And people who like those kinds of things can go there and experience that.”
We applaud Page’s call for the creation of safe places for experimentation, and seek to promote two viable options: seasteading and startup cities. For five years, The Seasteading Institute (www.seasteading.org) has been conducting research into the potential for permanent, innovative communities – floating at sea. At the same time, The Seasteading Institute’s allies have been working to develop startup cities in existing nations where experiments in governance will be welcomed.
We welcome Page’s voice in the call for a new frontier where innovators can chase their dreams. We encourage Page to invest resources into advancing these initiatives by collaborating with The Seasteading Institute and/or by assigning a team at Google to investigate and advance free-experimentation zones.
The Huffington Post suggests that these “techno-libratarian” (sic) Google zones will be out of the government’s eye:
Google employees have attended company parties in Burning Man, derived costumes, maintained internal email lists devoted to the festival and in 2007, even produced a 37-minute online video on how to cook during the event.”
“As once, 100 years ago, churches translated Max Weber’s protestant ethic into a lived experience for congregations of industrial workers,” writes Turner, explaining Burning Man’s pull for so many of the Bay Area’s tech boosters, “Burning Man transforms the ideals and social structures of bohemian art worlds, their very particular ways of being ‘creative’, into psychological, social and material resources for the workers of a new, supremely fluid world of post-industrial information work.”
While Page’s idea conjures images of the Island of Dr. Moreau or Bioshock’s underwater Randian dystopia, Silicon Valley luminaries looking to create a safe space to experiment away from the government’s intrusive eye has long been one of the most ambitious expressions of the region’s techo-libratarian impulse.
We’ve covered the links between Google and Burning Man before – enough so for them to punish us with a relegation to the penalty box. Type “burning man” into Google and you will have to wade through 19 pages of search results before you find us, the largest blog about Burning Man, with the most original content on the subject. You will pass through several pages reposting our content first, including mainstream media sites, and several pages with nothing whatsoever to do with Burning Man. This is in contrast with Page 11 at Bing and 14 at Yahoo.
Much as the idea of libertarian neo-tribal Utopias and hi-tech pop-up communities appeals to me, do we really want the Fortune 500 companies being the ones to create our “experiments” with different authority systems? Wouldn’t it just be more of the exact same old paradigm, wrapped up in different packaging?
Which I guess brings us to a deeper, philosophical question: is Burning Man a creature of the Art world, the Corporate world, the Civic Government world, the Music World? Or the Tech world? Is it a child of San Francisco Bay Area, or is it something that could work in other places? We can see how the freedom of Temporary Autonomous Zones led to an explosion in art and innovation; we can also see how the growth of this temporary city led to issues of money, governance, politics, safety, and ultimately, power and control.
Google already knows a great deal about our identity, knows when we’re home, knows if we have a dog, predicts what we’re going to think before we do. Now they are going to see and hear everything we do, and know what our responses are to each situation we encounter. Where do we go? Who is with us? What do we say? Do we raise our voice? Are we lying? In 5 years, Google say, they will publicly be operating at the level of at least human intelligence – AKA, the Singularity. AKA, “why the future doesn’t need us“. Do we really want them to know everything we get up to at Burning Man too? Isn’t this the last place to get away from the All Seeing Eye of Big Brother?
You think Google at Burning Man and these other “free” zones only means access to a search engine, if you want to look up something on your Android phone? Think again – Larry’s just sold his vision for the ever-extending tentacles of the Google Megamind at their annual I/O Developer Conference in San Francisco’s Moscone Center:
Page didn’t sell products, he sold a vision. It’s a vision of a world where technology is an ever-present assistant freeing us from the drudgery of remembering phone numbers, calendar reminders, or ever being lost again. It is a world where everyone has access to the latest in ideas and education. And where those who already have the access and the technical skills bear a responsibility to help spread the best technology has to offer to everyone else
And where Google will conveniently remember everything for us. What’s next, Art Cars that drive themselves? Some of the best times I’ve had at Burning Man started with me getting lost.
I, for one, welcome our new Hive Mind overlords.