The World John von Neumann Built

David Nirenberg at The Nation:

The only recipe for surviving technological change, von Neumann concluded, was relying on “human qualities.” But what are those qualities? What is “human” about them? And how can they help us achieve the political forms and ideals necessary to ensure our survival? Von Neumann and his powers of logic did not address those questions. On the contrary, he encouraged us to imagine a strict identity between mathematics and the human, and he gave us the tools to extend one particular kind of human activity—games of strategy—into ever-greater domains of life. Today, game theory and its computational algorithms govern not only our nuclear strategy but also many parts of our working world (Uber, Lyft, and many others), our social lives (Meta, TikTok) and love affairs (Tinder), our access to information (Google), and even our sense of play. Von Neumann’s ideas about human psychology provided the founding charter for the algorithmic “gamification” of the world as we know it. By concealing the distance between logic and the complexity of being rather than minding the gap, his axiomatized “psychology” heightened the very dangers he feared.

more here.