On November 6, 2008, still in the immediate aftermath of the worldwide economic crisis initiated by the US subprime mortgage market collapse, then-chairman of IBM Sam Palmisano delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. The council is one of the foremost think tanks in the United States, its membership composed of senior government officials, members of the intelligence community (including the CIA), business leaders, financiers, lawyers, and journalists. Yet Palmisano was not there to discuss the fate of the global economy. Rather, he introduced his corporation’s vision of the future in a talk titled “A Smarter Planet.” In glowing terms, Palmisano laid out a vision of fiber-optic cables, high-bandwidth infrastructure, seamless supply chain and logistical capacity, a clean environment, and eternal economic growth, all of which were to be the preconditions for a “smart” planet. IBM, he argued, would lead the globe to the next frontier, a network beyond social networks and mere Twitter chats. This future world would come into being through the integration of humans and machines into a seamless Internet of Things that would generate the data necessary for organizing production and labor, enhancing marketing, facilitating democracy and prosperity, and—perhaps most importantly—for enabling a mode of automated, and seemingly apolitical, decision-making that would guarantee the survival of the human species in the face of pressing environmental challenges. In Palmisano’s talk, “smartness” referred to the interweaving of dynamic, emergent computational networks with the goal of producing a more resilient human species—that is, a species able to absorb and survive environmental, economic, and security crises by perpetually optimizing and adapting technologies.
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