3 tech leaders most likely to become supervillains
As we prepare to turn the calendar from one decade to the next, Big Tech looms larger than ever. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The first names that leapt to mind were all tech leaders. And looking through the replies, I was hardly alone.
So my next question was, naturally, which of them could actually become a supervillain?
Here are a few who are either fine or just not quite evil enough to do it: Tim Cook (Apple), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Susan Wojcicki (YouTube), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Marc Benioff (Salesforce), and Sundar Pichai (Google).
There are others – like former Uber chief Travis Kalanick and ousted WeWork head Adam Neumann – who have yet to prove their longevity.
Mark Zuckerberg gets a dishonorable mention. Facebook has been evil, enabling harassment, violence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, the spread of fake news in 2016, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and, well, take your pick, really. But for all the stupid things Zuckerberg has done or allowed to happen, it’s just that, bless his heart, he just doesn’t have what it takes to become a supervillain.
He talks about curbing hate speech but then twists himself in knots talking about free speech. He partners with ultra-right-wing outlet Breitbart and then walks face first into getting excoriated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on national television. He careens from one side of an issue to the other so fast, it’s amazing he can keep the lights on at Facebook at all. He’s a bumbling CEO who’s lost control.
In the end, there are three tech leaders that stand at the precipice of supervillainy heading into the 2020s and they’re all three pretty damn powerful.
Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla and SpaceX)
Of the three people on this list, Musk is probably the least likely to become a supervillain. His worst transgressions fall into pretty ho-hum corporate misdeed categories like union-busting, the occasional copyright violation, defamation claims, and smoking weed.
And he’s certainly earned the right to say, “I told you so,” if AI takes over the world.
But Musk could still become a supervillain (maybe controlling the AI!). It’s not hard to imagine him biding his time, waiting for Tesla cars to become more prevalent, and then: BAM.
He takes control of all Teslas on the road. He uses SpaceX to take over President Trump’s Space Force and his ground forces utilize Cybertrucks as tanks. And his army’s weapons? Those flamethrowers, of course. Meanwhile, he uses all his tunnels to move from one base to the other, always evading capture thanks to his Hyperloop trains.
Musk has been sending weird tweets and Baby Yoda memes as a smokescreen all along, laying the groundwork for his takeover.
Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon, founder of Blue Origin)
Admit it: Jeff Bezos was either the first or second person that came to your mind for this list, partly due to his Amazon empire, but also because he physically resembles Lex Luthor.
Depending on the day (or hour), Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world. And yet Amazon workers face horrible working conditions, Amazon has participated in union-busting, and part-time employees at Amazon-owned Whole Foods recently had their benefits cut.
He’s already dumping money by the truck-load into his SpaceX competitor, Blue Origin. And he could pour billions into developing supervillain tech and not make a dent in his savings. And given what’s already out there, that’s a scary thought.
And let’s try not to think about how a supervillain could wield the surveillance capabilities of Amazon’s Alexa or Ring. Or the fact that Bezos and Amazon have already strong-armed Seattle over taxes (not to say anything about that HQ2 mess).
Is Bezos evil? I don’t know. But I do know that Bezos’ stranglehold on our daily lives continues to grow: from Amazon’s retail dominance to its growing influence in entertainment with Prime Video to his ownership of The Washington Post, one of the most storied newspapers in the country.
All we can really judge Bezos on is the available evidence of how he treats people. And, so far, it’s not great.
Is Peter Thiel the tech leader most likely to become a supervillain?
Enough money to fund a dozen armies? Check.
In favor of monopolies? Check.
Holds a position of influence with Facebook? Check.
Is leveraging that position to stop Facebook from fact-checking political ads? Check.
Founded a company that, like Facebook, has become notorious for the way it mines data and tracks people? Check.
Has a relationship with a much-maligned presidential administration that seems intent on limiting the free press? Check.
Once wrote the sentence, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible”? Check.
Has a doomsday escape in the far corner of the globe? Check.
Look, I’m not saying Peter Thiel is definitely going to become a supervillain. (I’ve seen what he does to things on the internet that he does not like.)
I’m just saying I disagree with suggestions to the contrary.