Is This the Bilderberg or the Circle K Behind My House?
Where does true power reside? Is it waving at you from a stage-lit, Presidentially-sealed podium? Or tucked away inside a billionaire’s wallet? Can you smell it in a mahogany-clad clubroom at Yale in the smoke of a Bonesman’s cigar, or catch a glimpse of its dark feathers perching on the advisory council of a transnational bank? One thing we know for sure: the nature and location of power is changing, and the agents of that change are the Californian technology companies that have the taken the 21st century by the throat.
A revolution in “connection technologies” means we are entering what executive chairman at Google, Eric Schmidt, calls “a new age of shared power.” New power dynamics will be played out within what he calls “the interconnected estate,” a realm in which, soon enough, humans will be sharing power, policies, and influence not just with each other, but with increasingly intelligent computers.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence is set to change everything: the dynamics of power and politics for starters, but beyond that, the nature of life itself. “We are just at the beginning of this infinite journey,” gushes PayPal founder and AI enthusiast Peter Thiel, as he announces his intention to live forever. Thiel sits on the board of Facebook, a company “on a mission to connect the world,” and one of the biggest investors in AI. Meanwhile, over at Google’s DeepMind project, British specialist Demis Hassabis, is working to unravel “the deepest mysteries of the mind.” Hassabis wants to create Artificial Intelligence in order to “solve intelligence and use it to solve everything else.”
Solve everything, connect everyone, live forever: the time for humble ambitions is past. The mood of the day is summed up in the triumphant howl that echoes from Google’s R&D department, when the former head of DARPA, Regina Dugan, swallows a microchip in a pill that turns her body into a digital authentication device, and cries: “My first superpower!”
Grandiose ambitions and the promise of fantastic new powers, but what about the old power structures? The old money? The beating heart of the old Anglo-American Empire is the City of London. Ever since the East India Company controlled half the world’s trade, London has been a nexus of global finance, and the Square Mile is still home to over 40% of the world’s foreign exchange market: a gob-smacking $2.67 trillion in daily trades.
To this day, the City remains on the cutting edge of digital trading, happily blowing up shiny new virtual bubbles, and devising newfangled financial instruments, yet its power lies in a hoary old formula: the extreme concentration of wealth by the extremely few. The suits may be sharper and the phones faster, but it’s no different in structure from ancient Egypt.
The traditional means of maintaining your position “inside” the circle of power is to protect your boundary at all costs. The same tactic is used by banking cartels, elite policy groups, Chinese politburos, and secret societies: guard the walls.
For example, Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club—a notorious private dining society, depicted on the big screen as The Riot Club, and through whose puke-splashed portals have crawled such eminent individuals as the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his loyal Chancellor, George Osborne.
Membership requires some very expensive tailoring, but before you’re allowed to don the splendid trousers and spatter them with champagne vomit, you have to be selected and initiated. The rituals of initiation include having to burn a £50 note in front of a beggar, which must be some comfort to the beggar, who can think, “I may be homeless but at least I’m not a giant arse.”
The whole thing has an old-school vibe: the trousers may be splendid, but they’re thoroughly retro. There’s a kind of Cecil Rhodes imperialist air to the proceedings: these are the chosen few, the mighty protectors of Empire, roaring like young lions, before wiping the cocaine stains off their chinless faces with a terrified waitress’s bra, and going out into the world to stake their claim on power.
And some make it. Cameron and Osborne graduated from Bullingdon Club into Westminster, and then scrabbled even higher up the ladder to the Bilderberg Group. If the City of London is the beating heart of Empire, Bilderberg is its brain. Founded in 1954, this private society is one of the most venerable, powerful and secretive policy forums in the world.