Rockefeller gave away money for no return. Can we say the same of today’s tech barons?

If the logic driving the Fords and the Carnegies was to atone for the sins of rapacious capitalism, the logic of the Zuckerbergs and the Omidyars is to convince us that rapacious capitalism, fully unleashed on society, will do lots of good.

.. Parents of these students can hope that Summit Basecamp will keep its word and that no personal data will ever leave the company. Such promises won’t be any more reassuring than those of the founders of WhatsApp, who, on being acquired by Facebook, promised to defend their users’ personal data, only to announce, a few months ago, that it will be shared with Facebook.

.. What passes for philanthropy these days is often just a sophisticated effort to make money on engineering the kinds of rational, entrepreneurial and quantitative souls that would delight at other types of personalisation. Such learning is, of course, well suited to the needs of consulting firms and technology giants. A recent profile of AltSchool in the New Yorker mentioned that its students read the Iliad armed with a spreadsheet where they mark how many times the theme of “rage” occurs in the text. Such schools can produce excellent auditors; poets, however, might need an alternative, to, well, the AltSchool.

.. The very same technology elites are also backing the charter school movement – a longrunning effort to bring more competition to the educational sector by supporting privately run but publicly funded educational initiatives. From Gates to Zuckerberg, technology billionaires are vocal defenders of this movement. It won’t be surprising if they deploy their big data weapons to advance the argument that the traditional educational system must be completely overhauled.

.. We should be careful not to fall victim to a perverse form of Stockholm syndrome, coming to sympathise with the corporate kidnappers of our democracy. On the one hand, given that the new tech billionaires pay very little tax, it’s not surprising that the public sector would fail to innovate as quickly. On the other, by constantly giving the private sector a head start through technologies that they own and develop, the new tech elites all but ensure that the public would rather choose slick but privatised technological solutions over quaint, but public, political ones.

.. With Silicon Valley elites so keen on saving the world, shouldn’t we also ask who will eventually save us from Silicon Valley?