Niall Ferguson: "The Square and the Tower" | Talks at Google
Please, join me in welcoming to the stage mr., Quentin Hardy. Well. Let's. Get right to the real wattage here I. We. Have a lot to cover today because, Neil Ferguson has written a very interesting books about networks, and power something. Of interest to more than a few people in this room I'm sure. Inherently. And considering. Current, events which we will touch on towards. The end of our talk let's go about 40 minutes and then please. You know if you have any questions, come, to the mic, bring them up it's great if it's interactive. I'll. Say a couple of opening remarks that struck, me in reading this book, you. Really what. You take from it more. Than anything and we should talk about this as well is how much you learn about. The present by looking carefully at the past and, how. Important. It is even. In building cutting-edge technology. To have with you the lessons of the past and, a grounding, in previous. Experiences. And, human. Events because. One. Thing you can say about the future is it's going to show up consisting. 99%. Of the past and if you don't take those lessons will be tied, now. The. Question becomes quickly how does one look at the past from, the kind of relationships. That we're seeing in traditional. Histories, those, of hierarchies, of power the, kings and their armies. That. Was one way but it couldn't become a very insufficient, means of analysis, and we quickly moved through Marxist histories, focusing. On social and economic strata that became, particularly, apparent as work standardized, and wealth grew in the Industrial Revolution and, it, became very much a standard means of analysis of the world more, recently, hidden. Social, histories, of feminists, and marginalized, groups which. Tend to be stories, of repression. And resistance, and overcoming. Reflect. The growing empowerment. Of these groups and they're getting a voice in the world and their, own efforts to recapture these stories, and place them in a proper context. Of human experience, then. We come more recently, to science enamored areas. Like big history, which look at people is a biological. Event within the existence, of the universe or, Cleo dynamics. Which attempts to make history as predictive, as a Google search, explaining. Our fates through the prisms, of geography. Or disease or its ecosystem, influences. Is another, popular, means of analysis at this point in. Most of these cases though, you.
Tend To have systems. Focusing. On the primacy, of conflict. And power relationships. Usually, in fairly, stark terms, our. Guest today Neil Ferguson has. Become interested, in the somewhat different and very timely approach to historical, analysis, professor. Ferguson is the author of 16 books and currently Milbank family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He. Wanted to examine history through the prism of human networks which is to say lattices. Of understanding. And information, and yes power along. With the primacy, of key nodes and the connections, and influence that caused some networks to succeed, over others as he, himself says, in his new book the square in the tower this, is not an either/or way, of approaching history. Traditional. And non hierarchical. And. Non traditional hierarchies, or towers, in this context, are also social, networks, the squares, in which people exchange. Information. And relationships. And successful. Networks. Often take on aspects, of their time systems, of power but. His network. Based analysis, of history focuses, on distinctive. Ways that. Information. Was shared often. Towards a particular end the. Book looks at the this and the time of Luther the Republic, of Letters in, the rise of European, nationalism, enlightenment. And in, several other examples many, of them more recently and. While. As I said hierarchies, are a type of network, they tend to be rigid and highly codified, and concerned with formal, concentration. And management of power whereas. Social. Networks are somewhat, looser more diffuse and mutable, if. Any of you are seeing parallels, in this topic and current events you have come to the right place but. In some ways this is also a book about the tensions of information, and power over the past six hundred years and it seems interpret. To begin by talking in terms of historical events, as in, order as I say to better inform, the present that, is we will use the past to look at how recent, advancement, in networked society, primarily, the internet web, 2.0, and massive data capture, and analysis, are, now challenging traditional, hierarchies, in ways occasionally. Seen in history before so. Let me begin by asking, what. Led you to seek this new framework for historical, analysis. Well, thanks, Quentin, for inviting me here it's great. To find, that a, free, talk has, an audience even. On a beautiful, sunny day like this in, California, I had. Worked. Without. Quite realizing. It on networks. For, much of my career, as a historian, I for. Example written, a book about financial. Networks looking, at the rise of the Rothschild family and. Specifically. German Jewish financial, networks which I talk about a bit in this book and I'd also written a book about the British Empire, which was partly, a book about networks. Too because although. We tend to think of empires as very hierarchical, things, actually the British Empire was built by, networks, of traders, and mission reason, and the, like and so, I had been doing this for years my natural, proclivity was, not to go and study kings and presidents and, field. Marshals, but was to go and study more, informal, social, networks but, then I realized as I was writing a biography of Henry Kissinger, in.
Some Ways there's a super. Networker, in his career but I didn't have a formal understanding of, networks. So, I thought hey I'm moving to Stanford, leaving, behind the stuffy East Coast and coming you, know to a university, right next to Silicon Valley I better do my homework so, the idea was I'm, gonna study, some Network science get. A little bit more familiar with concepts, that many of the people in this room, live and breathe and then try and apply those concepts. To historical. Study a few historians, had been doing this and I try and cite most of them in the book but it's quite patchy history. Tends to lag behind other disciplines, so even all those sociologists. And heaven, knows neuroscientists. And economists, and others have been talking about networks, for. Decade. We're kind of catching up belatedly, the. Other reason for doing it I have to admit was that after, I came here which is nearly two years ago now I was very struck by how uninterested. People in Silicon, Valley were. In history, like, history, begins with the Google IPO dude everything, before that is the Stone Age and we so don't need to study it it's, a part of the point of the book is to say to people here, actually, you may never have studied history and you may think it's all completely, boring but it's highly relevant to what you're doing and, I think the book makes a reasonable case for that partly, because I, think, it saw that Christ is coming that, began in the election of 2016, and, in, that sense I think the book is quite a good guide to where, we are now actually. You've. Made me jump ahead to this week's interview in the Washington Post where, you said. You. Saw two years ago that, there. Was a crisis, coming in. In. In, tech and politics, what. Informed, that it, was deja vu to be honest I mean I've been. In New York from. Around 2000, to 3 when I moved from the UK to the US and I did encountered, this. Same, mood. That, I encountered, in Silicon, Valley a couple of years ago the, mood of we, are the Masters of the Universe resistance. Is futile and you, little professor of history you just run along there's, nothing you have to offer that, was very much the pre-crisis, mood on Wall Street and, I wrote a book called the ascent of money which, was published just, before Lehman, Brothers blew up but was written 2005, 6 7 and, the point of that book was to say massive. Financial crisis, is coming, and you better understand, why and, you, low only, understand, why if you know some financial history so when I got here I thought wow this is so familiar these, people running the big tech companies with, some notable exceptions, do. Have the same attitude that the Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley people. Had circa. 2004. 5 6 so, my, hunch was, this. Is the kind of who prostatic, nearly, always followed, by nemesis. And pretty. Quickly it became clear to me that that, the, 2016, election was going to be that Nemus, and the kind of ways in which the network platforms, were were, being used in the election. Those. Were obviously. Problematic, whether. You look at the way, the Russians were able to instrumentalize. Them or the way that the platform's themselves incentivized. Fake news and extreme views even. Before Trump's, victory, I could see trouble coming and that that spurred me on to write the book now. We'll. Return to our putative hubris and shortly. But, let's, talk. A little bit about network. Theory generally, since, you were able to apply this in 2016 you, had seen certain, patterns, going back, well. The big start for you is probably Gutenberg. Talk. Generally. About what. Network. Theory in history, means and what, you saw in terms of Gutenberg. And Luther well, the general point which will be obvious, to people here. Is that any. Historical. Phenomenon any. Organization. Of human beings has, some network architecture. And, you. Know everybody, is a node and their relationships, their edges and it, doesn't really matter what it is you ought to be able to plot that if you have the data and, this. Is a pretty powerful tool, just in itself, and not one that has tended to be used much as you mentioned for years people tended, to think of social change in term in terms of classes, a class, is a very blunt instrument, for historical, study you.
Know It worked for Marx but the fact that historians are still using that framework so, long after Marx, wrote is odd when, in fact, you can capture much, more about any social movement by graphing the network one, it's interesting to talk about the. Proletariat, it's equally interesting to talk about certain. Vietnamese, and Cambodians, in cafes, in Paris, in the 40s and 50s but. The rebel warming communists not the revolutions, and this is a point the book makes that, was so powerful in the 20th century. Beginning, in the Russian Revolution in 1917, actually, better understood. As the results, of networks. Of revolutionaries. Than, of great, historical. Forces propelling, one, class up and the other class down. The, big insight, for me came. From a paper published, by a guy named Dittmar. Who. Was working at the London School of Economics and, Ditmars paper which I cite in the book says if, we, compare, the impact, of the personal, computer in the internet on, the. Late 20th, century early. 21st, century, with. The impact, of the printing, press on, Europe. In the 16th, and 17th century, there, are some striking similarities and. He, has a couple of great charts which I reproduced, showing that the, impact of the printing press on the. Price of contents. And the, volume, of content, is comparable. In its size, and, shape. To the impact of the personal computer in the internet their big difference, I mean they're a whole bunch but the big one is it, happens, faster, in our time roughly, an order, of magnitude faster but. The same processes. Seem to be at work and, so. That the key analogy. In the book is that if you want to find a time like our own time it's. Much better to go back to, that period 500, years ago than, to expect, to find good analogies, in say. The 19th and 20th century, and that's, because, of, the way communications. Technology, changed. Between the printing press and the internet because most of the innovations, of the 19th and 20th century, favored. Centralized, control, because they had a hub-and-spoke, architecture. Railroads, Telegraph's.
And So, forth and so, there's a period where hierarchical. Structures, are very powerful, and distributed. Network structures, are very weak and that period is the 19th and 20th century, and most people, if they study any history, in my experience, have studied, the 20th century they know the 1930s. But if you only that know the 1930s. There's a tendency for everything to look like the 1930s, part. Of the point of this book is this, is nothing like the 1930s, if you want to understand, why, we, have tremendous, polarization. In online, networks. If you want to understand why crazy stuff goes viral and seems, to go viral more readily than sensible, stuff look. At the 16th and 17th centuries because I think the referee, is a, perfect, kind of analogy, not perfect but it's a pretty good analogy for, what we're experiencing. Today so. Combining, Network science which. Tells you that if you create any decent-sized, social network there will be hopefully. There will be self segregation, and you also can, see that in. Any social network stuff, will go viral and it will go viral more rapidly the dense of the network if you combine, that with history, then. I think you have quite a powerful set of tools for understanding the present and I mean, I do apply to history my main, goal in writing history is not just to, indulge. Myself in, nostalgia for bygone ages my, interest, is in trying. To illuminate our present, predicament and, the, plausible, futures, that we face and. I found that applying, this combination, of network science and, history. Is is a pretty good way of thinking about where we are and it hasn't proved, unsuccessful, in, anticipating. The, crisis, that we now find ourselves in. Cambridge. Analytic, is just part of a gathering. Crisis. Around the power of the technology platform, another element of this today I like about the advent of a powerful communications. Technology, what happened in in, with. Print and the Reformation, and what seems to be happening now, is in both cases. Certain. Powerful and seemingly extrinsic. Factors give. New life to the medium the. Printing press comes along just as Constantinople, Falls. Flooding. Europe with all these texts, which, people. Want to translate just, as the bourgeoisie, arising. And being. Able to read in your vernacular is an interesting thing not, so long after the new world is discovered, so there's all this stuff to read about all these voyages which. Also creates an industry and piracy, not, see, piracy, but book piracy. Columbus's. Narrative. Is of his travels up here in ten different versions, around Europe within a year everybody's. Just wild to redesign so the act of reading becomes, important, at a whole new level and. The. Church tries, to control information in a new way the first book burning is 1510. It's, too late they don't understand, like you can't keep up with the velocity here. And the. Last step is Luther the first best-selling, author 1519.
Right, 5,000. Copies in a year oh my god what a homerun doesn't sound like much but enormous. By the standards, of the time fast, forward to today where, you've got. Technology. And in particular, the internet coming around just. As the. Berlin Wall Falls free. Markets appear, to be triumphant. As a global. Dominant. Idea you get you know into, this very, peculiar. Space of Fukuyama's history, ending but that's a different story. And the. Idea of individual, empowerment, arising. World. War two ends and a hundred and eighty countries are created, and they all get sovereignty. You, know save got these new ideas about, how the world ought to work, combined. With these very, very rapid. New. Forms. Of information sharing and information consumption, in both, cases, now. That's. Really interesting the. Bad news is the Wars of the Reformation, killed 1/3 of Germany right there's an enormous amount of turmoil, associated. With, changes, of power yeah do, you think we are headed for not. A similar, level of crises but some kind of turmoil. In the social order is that the lesson of history here I think the lesson of history is, the polarization. Processes. Don't. Necessarily. Stop themselves, that. You can you. Can think this country is very polarized, today and you, can, go. On Twitter and look, at the extraordinary, vehemence, with which people debate, political, issues but don't, think it couldn't get worse because. This, is nothing compared, with what this country, did to itself in. The 19th century over the central issue of slavery. So I think if one, takes. The analogy, that you sketched there a couple. Of further points, arise. Number. One the, printing. Revolution. Did, indeed coincide, with other, variables, that. That. Rendered, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, vulnera. You, mentioned an important point there's not much intellectual, property, right protection, in sixteenth. And seventeenth-century, printing. It's a super, distributed, network with with, each printer, really doing his, own thing in each German. Town so. It's kind of early, internet rather than than, current, internet this this network but. What's very striking, is that in in both cases. People. Are optimistic, about. What, the new technology, will do so. Luther. Himself thinks, that the printing press will really help improve Christianity. Because. Everybody's going to be able to read the Bible in the vernacular and have a direct relationship with God and the, priesthood of all believers will. Be possible, so. It's a little bit like the the you know the optimists, about the Internet in the 1990s saying. Ad nauseam. If everybody. Is connected then everything will be awesome, and this, has, been. Said in multiple ways John Perry Barlow said, in the 90s with his declaration, of the independence of cyberspace, and Mark Zuckerberg has. Said it repeatedly. Until. Relatively, recently we're, building a global community, will solve all the world's problems and, everything will be awesome so you know you start out with the technology, and it just seems intuitive it this has to be good and. Then what do you find well, in the 16th century as you mentioned, very, quickly the. The new technology, allows severe. Polarization. To happen and those in the tower want to reassert themselves and, the task says whoa whoa whoa stop all this people.
Like Me from Northern Europe say said Luther you're absolutely right, but you haven't gone nearly far enough you. Need to meet Calvin and then the people in southern Europe go you are all heretics, and we are gonna burn your ass as well as your books and so the whole thing escalates into 130 years of extraordinary. Bloodshed. That culminate, in, the 30 Years War when. I look, at where we are now I worry, that we've, created engines. Of polarization, online, and it's just Facebook arranges, Twitter its YouTube, and you, know it and the problem, is that they are designed to. Polarize, they're, designed, to move people along, the. Spectrum from, more moderate. To more extreme opinions. Our Neutral, Neal. This. Wasn't meant to happen but but nor was Martin, Luther setting, out to start, a hundred and thirty years of religious war that was not the plan fair only law in history is the law of unintended consequences and. Here, we I think need to you know be quite careful. Because what. Worries me in, the current climate is that. What is already, verbal. Violence may. Not stop there because there, is a history, of crossing. From the verbal, to, the actual, the. American Civil War was prefigured, by roughly. Twenty years of ferocious, debate, on the, whole gamut of issues from slavery itself to states rights to the, nature of racial difference, it's. Only towards, the end of this process that actual. Violence begins or take another good example. Islam. Is the religion that's been most affected, by the internet I don't think anybody would have predicted, that at, the outset, but that's what happened and. It's because the, internet coincided. With two. Great, waves. Of fundamentalism, in the Sunni and Shiah worlds circa 1979. Just as the Internet is getting going and since. Then what's happened is those the, the the different networks that have evolved, have become very powerful tools, of. Propounding. What we'll call fundamentalist. Or literalist, versions, of Islam that. Already is violent, a huge, proportion, of what we call terrorism, is currently. Conducted, around the world by various, kinds of Islamist, groups notoriously. Islamic, state Boko Haram and so forth so I think it's already the case that. Our networked, world has become violent. At least in one domain there. Is no reason why it should not become violent in the realm of secular, politics that's my big worry. You're. Not a fatalist, you, think it's in the hands of the people in the moment absolutely, and the, tools are neutral, and. Most. Of the online groups, it really is, notable. That most of the online political, groups so far, and. This, would go to some, elements of social media as well our, better, at. Tearing. Things down then. Programmatically. Building, new things. With, the exception, of things like Wikipedia, where. The group knows the rules and can. Contribute. In a, very formalized, way, but. For the most part, something. Like an al-qaida, can. Destroy, but. It cannot, get. The mail delivered, particularly, well or, deliver, basic needs particularly, well we're, establish a durable society, probably what an Islamic state turned out to be very bad at being a state right but, it's very good at being an online network and as an online network it's very good at radicalizing. Young people so doesn't that also mean it exhausts, itself over time it's not sustainable, well I'd love to see evidence that the network was shrinking I don't see it at this point if, anything, look at what just happened in France the. Network is is growing, as far as we can measure it there. Is something, of a plateau in terms of terrorist, attacks, and casualties, over the last three, years or so but, there's no decline. No. Minik meaningful, statistical, decline if you look at the data from the start. Folks, at Maryland, so I I, don't see, it I'd love to see it I would love to believe that, the radical ideologies. Of the, present, will burn themselves out, but the bad news is if. One looks at the 20th century experience, that. Bolshevism. Which was the extreme, version of. Marxism. Took a very long time to, burn out I mean 1917. To, 1991. Is a pretty long period, and during, that period. Soviet. Communism remained, a very powerful disruptive. Force in the, third world right into the 1980s, it really, wasn't until the mid 80s that you started, to see this thing running, out of steam, so, let's not assume that that.
Things Burn themselves out, too quickly just out of a sort of Steve Pinker --is-- optimism, that the, world just has to be getting better it, feels like it's getting better not to get all better. Not, to get all Pollyanna, about things but it, is healthy to remember that in the long view of history. 1914. To 1989. Is probably, one long conflict, about unwinding, colonialism. In some, form or other Bolshevism playing an act in that as well and, remember. Some rebuilding, new empires that claim to be against, imperialism, one, Russian and the other America yeah but. It's just to make sure your narrative, doesn't get too soon they're still contending, in cyberspace. And elsewhere but, and that was, the I mean, the, the. Scale of human loss is seventy. To a hundred million, people right just in the big Wars yeah, so we. Maybe that's the room impasse, the crisis, point actually and not know it we're not living in that ear of violence, that our parents, and their parents knew well that's certainly, right, Quentin. You. Know unfortunately I have to keep immersing, myself in, the 1970s. To finish, the Kissinger biography, and each. Time I go back to the material relating. To the United States and the world in the early 1970s, I'm reminded, of how much worse that time was the next, 71. Mm, bombings in America there's much more warfare, around the world in most parts of the world there's some kind of conflict going on homicide. Rates are higher in the u.s. there's a lot more really violent student protests today's, snowflakes, you know even on the Berkeley campus are like such, losers compared, with the people who were running, the anti-war demonstrations, get personal. When. We tell ourselves things are really terrible what. We should definitely say, is, but. They're actually not as bad as they were then. But. The reason that I hesitate, to be you know to go full Steve, Pinker is that and, this is a really vital point. That's. Been made most. Vehemently. By Nassim Taleb but I think it's right given. The capacity for destruction that, we have created, not. Least with nuclear weapons it, does not take much to. Completely destroy the argument it only takes, one nuclear, exchange, to render the entire thesis. Of. The. Better angels of our nature and enlightenment, now wrong the cost of violence has collapsed also, and it's only a matter of months ago that the president the United States was talking about fire and fury in connection, with the nuclear program of North Korea so I think one thing I've learned from history is don't, be. Trend follower, don't just assume that the future is a projection. Forward, of that nice, line you just identified.
In The data because. History has all kinds of nonlinear, qualities there, were plenty of people in 1911 who. Thought Norman Angell was right when he said war had become a great illusion and three, years later the biggest war that had ever happened broke, out to, the surprise. Of nearly all people one, thing that I did, get. Very fascinated, by around ten years ago was the, total unexpectedness. Even, to sophisticated players, of the outbreak. Of World War one historians. Write about it like it was very predictable. Oh this, thing had its origins in the 1870s. Oh no it had its origins in 1815, but, it didn't have its origins anywhere, if you were actually there at the time in the summer of 1914. For, most people it's a complete, surprise that. They're suddenly in a massive, war and it's also surprising. That it lasts four and a quarter years and kills more, than ten million people so, we have to remember at any historical. Moment in time we, can't, predict. With any model the. Future and we need to be aware of scenarios. That that. Seemed really low probability, but could have very high impacts the so-called black swans I've, come to the conclusion that if you're interested, in those black swans history. Is your best guide because, it will help you think about scenarios. That are totally, outlandish, in terms, of your own lived experience, most, people in this room are pretty young looking. Around you know I'm kind of the oldest guy in the room to probably but, this means your data set your, personal history, data set is like laughably, small and, you shouldn't really be running any experiments. With such a small data set history, basically says, let's, have a really large data set let's include the experience, of all the people who ever lived vastly, outnumber, the living and then, let's think about what might happen next hmm, now, let's. Open it up to questions in, just a minute but I also wanted to refer to the, the. Reassertion, of existing. Power which also happens, in these moment of crises we, didn't touch on the 19th century but really. Starting with. The. Congress of Vienna and then. Moving through these industrial, as you put it very centripetal. Industrial. Forces, there. Was a return. To centralized, control, today. We see a call to, regulate. We. See a call for. Authoritarian. States to use. The new systems, of technology, to. Keep an even tighter hand on the population. Are. We, moving to a phase of even greater control. By a few incumbent, powers, what. It's already happened, in the sense that in China the. Square and the tower are one. That's. To say the network platforms, that evolved in China Baidu, Alibaba, $0.10 are in. A, close. Relationship shall we say with, the Communist, Party that runs the country and, data. On those platforms are essentially available, on demand to. Xi Jinping so. We already have an. Answer, to that question for a really large proportion, of humanity. Second. Problem. Is. That in Europe because there are no major technology, companies there they've, embarked, on the regulatory process. Ahead, of the United States and, the. Future of tech companies in Europe is higher, taxation, tighter. Regulation, and hefty. Fines, and. The responsibilities. Being put on tech companies, for in effect censorship. You, know if you do if you let hate speech be on the platform for any period. Of time we're going to clobber you and, that is a responsibility. That no major, company, can really want to have the. U.s. is the kind of unresolved puzzle, and I'll, say two things number, one. Unlike. In the age of the printing press. Hierarchy. Evolved, in itself. And of itself, in Silicon. Valley the, what never happened to the into, the printing press. Was centralization. And the emergence, of giant, net Network platforms, and. That's why very few billionaires, were produced by, the printing press it stayed, a distributed. Network and, it. Not not many people sought to make money sought to monetize, print, data through advertising, advertising's, there, in newspapers, and magazines but, books don't carry over and, public libraries don't carry advertisements, so the evolution, of print technology, was different, our, technology. Evolved, very rapidly in, the direction of, monetizing. Of data and. And. That led, to the emergence of these these, network platforms, of which Google is is one, and I think in. That sense the hierarchy, has already formed, the. Question, is what's the relationship between the Silicon Valley hierarchy. And the, federal government in Washington and that's the question that's going to be answered, in the coming months, and, I think it's very hard to predict at this point quite what the answer will be you talk to people on both sides how, would you characterize, their feeling mutual.
In Comprehension. A, little. Bit because I think Washington is, full of people. Who. Don't even use, the, technology, the. Striking thing to me is how many eminent, legislators. Are totally, clueless I was struck Christopher while he was testifying. About you know his work at Cambridge an analytic, in Parliament, and he. Actually in an aside started. Moaning. About talking, to government regulators, I have to keep explaining to, them how this stuff works you, know I mean, they're asking questions no database, engineer, would ever ask me so. They're sorry kid you know I think there's me there is mutual in comprehension in the sense that there, is has. Been a great I've been struck by in Washington when I talk to people but there is a kind of derp, response. To much of what one says about what's happened, but I think at the same time but, there's a lack of political now, so lack of political awareness and some of the. Companies not not. Google. So much because I think, I have to give credit to your, recently. Departed, chairman. Eric Schmidt. Who. Incidentally, read this book in manuscripts. And, help me get. Stuff right that I probably wouldn't, have got right just in my own reading. When, he I think understood, that the big tech companies have to, have a relationship, with, with. Government, others. Have been more aloof and I think one of reason that Facebook, is in trouble at the moment is that it didn't, think it needed to stoop, to. Ha meet, the mere president of the United States that. Kind of hubris does almost always lead to nemesis. But as I said it's not clear how this plays out given, the mutual, incomprehension. We, have a whole bunch of options that are going to be discussed, in the coming months. Antitrust. Is, one regulate. Them as utilities, is another change. The legal standing. So that there can be more less again referred, I wish, I knew which one it would be but, I'm pretty confident, of one thing the status, quo is over, or in its last inning and things, will look a lot different a couple of years from now right well I will not. Speculate. On other companies characters. Or motives but I will welcome questions from the floor. Pick. Up to the microphone please. And. You know um it's such an honor to hear you speak I've, heard a couple of your books and I've, never you, know encountered, an author who's, like every single book that he writes you know I'm like interested in so so, far so good with this question.
So. I have two questions one is I think it's, really ironic that um, now, that information is so, easily disseminated. Right and everything's so distributed, that you, know you see the banking. Leads have more power than ever right with the snapshot in the European Union you, know we're talking about one more currency now and things like that so using. Your framework of networking. And power hierarchy. Do. You predict, any future, trends, that you see like do, you continue. To see the global elites know having. More power and complete domination of humanity, or do, you see maybe something, like blockchain. Technology, cryptocurrency, something. Distributed, finally, you know taking. Them down right so that's my first question and the second question is um when, you do researches, on books, such as you know the raw Chows right I mean. It's really hard to, really. Paint an accurate picture of what the real power heart is in this world right just, cuz nobody really knows who owns what and who, calls the shots right so, I was wondering if you you, know have gained very special access to. Some. Of these systems, or some of these people in order to you, know do your work two, great questions. There's quite a line behind you so I mean give pre-brief. Answers, so that we can get through as many as we can in the what 15 minutes we have left I. Think that, financial, elites. Successfully. Withstood the financial, crisis. By. Essentially. Going. Hand. In glove with the. Federal government and. Making, sure that the, regulatory cost, of doing that was kept to a minimum look. At the complexity, of dodd-frank which in any case is probably going to be scrapped, the, price that they paid for, the bailouts, has. Been pretty small and if anything it's entrenched. The, position, of the surviving, banks, what, are the two challenges, they face, number one, populism. That the disgust, of middle. America not to mention provincial, Britain and many other places with. That outcome is real, and it isn't over as a political, force number. Two I think and, this, goes to the the blockchain point, that. They still haven't really got a handle on what, could be the next financial revolution. The disparaging, remarks, of certain bankers, are not named, about, Bitcoin. It's tulipmania. I can't take this seriously but, trade I think some ignorant as well as some fear so, I think there is a challenge I think blockchain, is a real. Potentially. Disruptive. Technology. Hate, overuse, the word disruptive, but I think it does at, least have the promise, of some. Reidy, centralization. Of, the Internet but it's very early days and my hunch is that the use case that matters is not money and will look back and say do you remember all that nonsense about cryptocurrency. We should have realized that blockchain, wouldn't really provide a new form of money finally, you. Can't write a history of an institution. Like the Rothschild banks, without. Access, to the archives and I did get that access, at a time when it was quite restricted, it's now pretty open, since. My book was published in the 90s, now, scholars, can go to the Rothschild archive in London and have pretty much unlimited access to what is there and my, view, is that that's a very good thing because, this was a powerful important. Institution. Probably more powerful than any financial, institution today, in the 19th century but. Its power has been exaggerated. Often by conspiracy theorists. And it's, very healthy to let the daylights of serious, scholarship in and show, that they're had bad power but, not the kind of power that the anti-semites, used to used, to claim I was, footnote, what he said quickly, about blockchain. I think symbolically. And psychologically. It's certainly interesting because, the. Dominant power form is the nation-state, and it, likes to express itself in controlling, violence, in printing. Money and in printing stamps, which are all statements about where the border ends right, the.
Police Go to here if we have to go past the border we go to the army a stamp, cost this much if you go past the border it costs more this, currency is good to hear you need somebody else's currency, past that and, email. Has pretty. Much hollowed, out the need for stamps. I. Think, state violence state, control of violence is still its own thing although there are these insurgent, groups doing their thing and blockchain. Is attacking currency. On a transnational basis. So, that these things are. Presented in a way that seemed like a threat to the nation-state the dominant form is. Provocative. Next. Question thanks. For coming you recently. I watched on YouTube a phenomenal, debate you had about. A year ago with Fareed Zakaria at the Munk debates on the end of the liberal world order which was the. Proposition, you supported what, I understand, you know is that something you still agree. With today in particular what, does your research, on networks, inform, about that. Possibility yeah. I lost the debate as, those, of you who watch it will see. But. Imagine trying to say, that the liberal international, order is doomed in Toronto, where everybody, thinks that their liberal international. And orderly, so I never had a chance in that fight but, of course I've been entirely. Right in. Terms, of what subsequently, happened because, here we are in a trade war between the biggest economies in the world the US and China and it's. Real and it's serious and it could escalate I, think, there's, no question that the high tide of free. Trade is. Behind us the high tide of very, free migration. Is behind us and the, high tide of very free capital movements, is behind us so my argument then, that globalization, overreached. And that, the backlash against, it is gonna dial it back I would stand. By and, I, think that one shouldn't freak out about this because it doesn't mean the end of trade and the end of migration, and the end of free capital movement it's, just I think involves, a dialing back of those things they. Had overshot in, so. Many ways so, I I don't, you. Know I don't look back and say when. I think about that debate I was, so wrong dear Fareed I'd take it all back actually I'm gonna write him an email saying I was. Right. I. Want a refund rematch. Hi. Neil I watched a previous talk that you gave about networks, and hierarchies, and fortune I had a chance to read this book, yet although I've enjoyed, your other ones and, in it I believe, and, I could be misunderstanding, this that you mentioned that a lot of times networks. Occur they kind of come out of like left-wing and, a lot of times hierarchies, will come and then co-opt them right and then the network will kind of cease to be and they've kind of co-opted this I'm curious, if that's that's correct then where, you believe it to be in this, case and you two already touched on this somewhat. It's. A little bit different now in that there's these massive, tech companies right it's not completely decentralized as, what before were talking about communication the internet what have you I'm, curious in this, sense is the hierarchy that, might come in to co-opt. This whole network is this, traditional. Government, or is this the private sector in the form of goals and what, have you just, curious yeah this is very, much the right way of thinking about it the book. Argues. That because. Social. Networks are complex, systems with. Emergent. Properties they can undergo phase transitions, they themselves can, quite quickly go from a distributed, architecture to, a centralized, architecture all, by themselves but.
What Commonly happens historically. Is that, the. The revolutionary. Network ends, up in some way being co-opted, by the established. Hierarchy it, happened to Napoleon I mean he ends up saying hey can I crown Emperor that looks that they like the I like the outfit and so. You know that most hierarchies, and if, they to if they're to survive have. To have the skill of absorbing. The new network and. I think that's a fairly, clear recurrent, theme of the book in. Our own time I think. It's been an easy, thing, in. China. To. Simply, take the square that. Formed, in the big tech companies, and say, seamlessly. You're going to be part of the the, party, hierarchy, and, the the pyramidal, structure, of of the Communist Party lends, itself, to that pretty well I think. In in the case the United States, it was happening, the, National Security Agency, was co-opting. The tech companies, and then snowed and blew the whistle now I can't. I keep asking people in the intelligence community did, that really change everything and stop, it or is, there all still going on and we. Just don't know and they. All look at me and they say but. You don't have security clearance. I can't tell you that so, I don't know I don't, know but that's in the process I'm talking about. I. Really. Appreciate this notion that basically, there there, are concepts, that historians will use to reason about bodies, of people you guess you reference, I am a Markuson using class-based thinking, and ideally, you and I basically be able to look at network data and discover the, communities. Of people that were most predictive, of the outcomes that you cared about and I guess, there's. A sense that historians, could basically take those concepts, and use those to reason and to make predictions and to build theory on top of and ideally, make sort of falsifiable. Few peas so I guess I wonder if you think there's actually promise, there if you think this can be grounded. Inside. Of the massive, amount of data that we've been able to collect I think. There is I'm, skeptical, that we'll ever really get. To. Predicting, history. Because. I think the process is so complex. That one, can't modelers and therefore. One can only predict, in rather circumscribed. Contexts. I mean. Even predicting something very circumscribed, like, what the economy, will do next year. Turns out to be super, difficult and as, for, politics, well you remember the predictions, of 2016. And how most people in, the business of political, prediction were wrong what. I would say is that if you take a thesis, like. Quentin. Are proposed, that any radical, ideological, movement will at some point burn, out that I think you could really investigate. Using Network science and history it's. Fascinating, to me that nobody has yet done a serious, network, based analysis, of either. The communist revolution, in Russia all, the, rise of Hitler I know, more about the latter because, I started, my career as a historian, of in toward Germany it is amazing, that we still are explaining. The rise of Hitler with the statistical. Techniques, of, the. 1980s, nobody. Has really taken any, steps forward, to understand, that better and one, project I have at the moment and uber institution, is to, try to take data on the Nazi Party and the Nazi vote and, understand. This phenomenon, is something, that went viral that was very pernicious indeed. And. Try to understand, its dynamics now be one, area where I would say in, most, historical, analysis you'd have a data quality problem, but thank, you German bureaucrats, right there data rich in Bahria we have very, good data on this process now the, bad news is that the Nazi, experiment.
Wasn't Left oh that's. A bad news the good news is if the Nazi experiment, wasn't left to, run its course it was annihilated, by, massive, aerial. Bombardment and, and, ground, forces so. We actually can, never know how. Much how long the, half-life, of Nazism, was because it was destroyed, by exogenous, forces. But I think we can at least understand, how it grew, and the dynamics, of its rise, with. The Russian case we have something, more to go on because although, external. Pressures played a part. Ruth of the store of the Soviet. Collapse was, that it was internal. Proposing. That we think of Nazism, is this meme that, in in fact somebody's people and you can predict how far it will cascade across. Your social graph and what it's like length of time will be all the time it gathers you our influence, and charisma, yeah, that's right and I guess suppose as a function of tracking, many other similar, memes, and the populations, that we do we see today that. We have similar data for so for, there there are people who work on this kind of problem. In the recent past like. Nicholas, Christakis. Or. Laszlo. Barabasi and, my, basic suggestion. Is we take these methods, which, look at cascades, social. And political contagion. And apply them to what was perhaps. The biggest catastrophe. Of them all that, the most advanced, society, in Europe, that was Germany in the 1920s produces. The most disastrously. Murderous. Regime. I still, think that's one of the big questions and what's, exciting about Network science is that it gives us some new tools to work with to, try to understand, that process better. Will. We get to the point that we can predict the course of comparable. Extremist. Movements. Probably, not but. I think we'll understand, a little bit better what to look for and. I'm, excited, by that prospect, because I think we have enough data to chart, this. The. Course of the movement, and understand. What things accelerated. That course why was it some places and not others, that went for, Hitler those.
Sorts Of questions seem to me to be ideally, suited to this approach. How. Hard is our one o'clock stop. Okay. If you if, you can take at. Some point there's an editor in London as, we speak sending, desperate, messages, to me are. You nearly done where's my day. I write my column but. I'm having fun so let's keep going, my. Phone's on silent, II. May. Be a bit of a naive question but, as. We're saying people, generally. Tend to view the future through. The lens of their own experience, or very recent, history I mean do you see in your study of history any evidence, that, the proclivity, of, humans, to. Learn. The lessons of history has. Increased. Over time or are we just doomed to kind of repeat the same mistakes over and over again yeah great great historians, have reflected, in this problem one, of my favorite, observe, was, a JP, Taylors that that, men, only learned from history how to make new mistakes that, kind of counsel, of despair was, quite common, amongst the, older generation, of historians when I was an undergraduate, and. And. I I'm much more I, guess. I'm more of a positivist, I think it's worth a try one, thing's very, sure we're very clear people. Who don't know any history at all are very, likely to make. Obvious. Avoidable, mistakes, and, we've run this experiment in the US government for. Multiple, generations and. It's. It I think we are now in the position to say that this this hypothesis, is good and having, people taking major strategic decisions who don't know anything, about history is a terrible, idea just, why I suggested, it you know favor going with your gut, well. You know let's just put it this way the track record is terrible, and what's fascinating is, that even. The recent past the US, government's, banned at learning, from so, I reared. A great paper by a young military historian recently on the lessons of Vietnam and one very good observation, he, made in that paper was. That even really obvious, lessons of what had gone wrong in Vietnam were not learned and, we still rotate, troops out of combat zones after, six months and we still make, ensure. That no memory, forms, even, at the short time in a short time span so.
I Think I think it's clear that not knowing history is a major handicap for decision makers it's also clear though that if you have a theory, of history that. Says, the, arc of history bends, my, way then. You will do bad things with. Great certainty and I almost fear those people more than, the ignoramuses. The people who think that history is on their side have. Probably, done more damage than the ignoramuses, over. The long run so, when anybody uses, the phrase arc of history in a speech you. Should really be very wary indeed there is no, arc of, history it does exist you wear any guard that agrees with you all the time right. I. Think a state of uncertainty is, what a good historical, scholarship gives you a sense that there, are a bunch of options you have even considered, and. Here. I'll go back to Taylor as a observation. That the. Studying. History is a bit like learning. To appreciate music. Another. Way of putting it was RG Collingwood. Collingwood's, who said the, thing about about, a historian, is that he's like an experienced. Woodsman. He'll. See the tiger, in the grass where. The unwary, traveler, won't and I, love that image of being able to see the tiger in the grass because you've just been wandering, around around the woods most of your life. Given. All that year it's still optimistic. Look. I'm from Glasgow, where pessimism, is the default setting, and I moved. To Northern California in, the hope of finding a cure I. Thank. You very much for this, exciting, lecture. And talk. So. I had two. Questions which, have been partially, covered, by the previous. Question, but, it's. Very. Interesting I think to discuss so, the first, one is about history. And education and. Society. So, I. Come, from Greece which. Is a country which in. A sense has been stuck, in history, so. Everybody. Learns you. Know ancien medieval history very well. New. History, also very well but. People. Also, have. Similar. Short, sadness and, short memory and they make. The same mistakes that their, parents did so, I think this would covered partially, by saying that you, know it's also the establishment, that makes sure that no memory, is created. And people don't really have, this. Extra. Intellect, to, try. To learn, from history and I would like to ask you as an educator how we, could fix. This so that's my first, question the. Second, question is about. Two. Things so one is the parallel with the, printing, revolution and. The. Other is about optimism, pessimism, and skepticism. So these two, remind, me a lot of another, book that has been recently released the how to fix the future I'm. Not sure if you have read, that one by Andrea Keane I have, so. In. There. Similar. Concepts. Are discussed and how people, are, on. The optimism, side. You. Know technology. Will solve everything we, don't need to worry or the peasant mean, sighs. You know you. Know it's gonna destroy everything. A I will, rule us all. Like. That and then the maybe people in between will say that no we, have history, we can study then you can see how to go to a good. Enough, future, for us rather than you, know hope, that things or just. You. Know you know let. Things take their own. So. My. Question is I would assume that you are more on them maybe. Category. And. How. How. Probably, do you see you, know networks. Of different. Actors. Forming, and actually trying to go for the I mean, create, the future that would. Be the optimal for us. I'm. Conscious, that at some point people have to get back to their desks, so I'll be brief I think when. It comes to teaching history, there, needs to be a focus, on, the. Lessons, of history if. One doesn't make that explicit, in the classroom, then, I think it's very easy for people to make to. Infer wrong, assumptions, about what they're they're studying and. So I I'm, pressing, for history to be more explicit, about the, implications, for the present of what you just studied, because, that too seldom is explicit, whether in high schools or in universities, whether in Greece in Britain or the United States.
I Haven't. Read how to fix the future I think, the first thing one, you should, do. Is remember that there's no such thing as the future singular, there are multiple, futures and, the futures that you sketch there the, it'll, all be awesome, and we'll solve all problems future. The kind of singularity version. And the we're, all doomed it's going to be like. A science, fiction nightmare. I mean, both those are plausible futures, I don't, know what probability is you're going to attach to those futures. But. The, business it seems to me of Applied History is to say there. Are a bunch of futures we. Get to choose we have agency, and. The challenge, here is to make sure, that. The techno optimists. Don't. Build, a future that turns out to have the unintended consequences. That the pessimists, feared that's. I think quite plausible, because I think that resembles. Closely, past episodes. You. Know you don't set out to create weapons of mass destruction when, you're doing the Industrial Revolution actually the goal is to make cheap shirts, let's, make clothes cheap that's really the Industrial Revolution it, turns out to also make artillery. Vastly, more destructive, and, I think that's the that's the main lesson I would take from my. 25. Or 30 years of historical study there, is a powerful, law of unintended consequences. And those, people who are too optimistic too. Confident, about what it is that they're doing those, people who really believe the arc of history is bending their way and it will solve all problems and, everything will be awesome, those, people often, are the ones who. Produce, the most destructive, technologies. Without, meaning to at. The risk of skirting banality the future is what we collectively, will do today right, and likewise, what, we collectively will do today will always recast, the past, you. Know under our, ADA but we won't everybody. Is acting on the. Basis of an implicit or explicit historical. Model of how the world works there. They're just those people who know that they're doing applied history, and those who are who, are unaware, that they're doing it but nobody. Doesn't. Have some theory. In their head of how, the world works and how their, actions are likely to influence their. Futures, and that seems to me to be part, of the point here once, trying to get people out of, bad. Models, of thinking about the world I mean the, bad model that's, as well, it's a TLAs will you, know it's God's will, there's nothing much I can do about it and when it all goes wrong it's probably the fault of the Jews I mean that is not a great way of thinking about the world we've, run that experiment a few times you know you give me so many people think. About the world this way one. Can find them online on, YouTube. Thank. You very much my, dude I. Need, another hour. All. Right well thank you quitting, Thank You Neil thank, you everyone for coming, skip over a round of applause. You.