Politicians and Technology. Oh Dear.

I was listening to Any Questions?* yesterday and was amazed to hear Lord Steele of Aikwood come up with the most preposterous quote about technology since the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s “series of tubes” description of the internet.

Now, Lord Steele, it should be noted, is the former leader of the Liberal, and then Liberal Democrat, parties in the UK, the UK’s third party for those not from around these parts, but nonetheless I would say a highly respected and senior politician. He’s been awarded a Life Peerage and Scotland’s highest honour, the Order of the Thistle. And until his utterance yesterday, I would say I certainly shared the prevailing view that he was highly competent.

Until he came up with this little cracker:

“The people who run the internet have a lot to answer for.”

For context, Lord Steele was talking about the most recent BBC scandal, where people had used Twitter and various websites to speculate about the name of a senior politician accused of being a paedophile. As is turned out, the accusations seem to have been baseless and thus Lord Steele was attempting to hold “the people who run the internet” accountable in some unknown way.

Clearly, anyone with a gram of knowledge about technology knows that Lord Steele is talking complete gibberish, akin to blaming the turtle that carries the Earth on its back, for a little bit of careless swimming that resulted in Hurricane Sandy.

I find the lack of technology understanding among senior politicians simultaneously amusing (hence my T-Shirt purchase above), mystifying (having a generalist level of knowledge isn’t that hard) and deeply worrying. When I occasionally give speeches about The Singularity (the time when highly evolved robots take over the world from man – 2045, in case you were wondering) one of the audience reactions is that it’s not going to really happen. Why? Because the politicians will stop it.

I ask you a question: If a respected politician like Lord Steele is so happy to demonstrate his pitiful grasp of technology like this, is there really any chance that any of them will understand and take seriously a concept like The Singularity?

Not. A. Chance.

We’re on our own citizens.

* For non-Brits, Any Questions? is a flagship programme on BBC Radio 4 and takes the format of a panel consisting of the great and the good, with questions from the studio audience. It’s very influential and arguably a “must listen” for those interested in current affairs and politics.

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