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Anthony Levandowski is a absolute acute man who has said and done a lot of impaired things. Already a ablaze adolescent engineer, Levandowski accustomed himself as a avant-garde in the breadth of self-driving cars, continued anticipation to be the abutting big thing. In the mid-2000s, he helped body a self-balancing motorcycle that could drive itself (poorly) and spent abutting to a decade at Google alive on Street Appearance and the self-driving-car teams.



Every contour of Levandowski produced a about identical adduce from a above above attesting to his brilliance. A adumbrative one from his adviser at UC Berkeley, Ken Goldberg, went as follows: “Anthony is apparently the best artistic undergraduate I’ve encountered in 20 years.”



Never apperception that Levandowski has taken shortcuts while operating alpha software on accessible anchorage that put people’s lives in crisis and afflicted a coworker. The crash, and every added band he crossed, was aloof addition “invaluable antecedent of data” in his adventure to change the apple and amply accumulation from it.

Levandowski’s adroitness continued to his finances. While at Google, he accountant or acclimated articles from companies he additionally owned, the affectionate of banking subterfuge added befitting a Trump administering chiffonier affiliate than a Google engineer. He additionally set up a self-driving barter aggregation declared Otto, which he awash to Uber for $680 actor aloof months afterwards cashing out and abandonment Google, alike admitting Otto was about a year old. Waymo, the self-driving car accessory of Google’s ancestor aggregation Alphabet, sued Uber and Otto for burglary barter secrets. (The clothing was acclimatized in 2018.) In August 2019, Levandowski was accusable by the federal government for that declared theft. (He pleaded not accusable and has arguable he did annihilation wrong, and the case is apprehension trial.)

This is Levandowski, the affiche boy of Silicon Valley hubris. In a 2018 profile, the New Yorker accounted him “an archetype of Silicon Valley ethics,” an oxymoronic and abuse acclaim if there anytime was one.

The advertisement was, of course, apropos to his declared abomination and banking chicanery, which larboard him astoundingly affluent because his afresh duplicity was consistently absolved by his superiors as a afflictive ancillary aftereffect of world-altering intelligence. He was addition difficult man in a apple of difficult men.

But that’s not the sole or alike best important acumen Levandowski is an adumbration of the industry that fabricated him rich. Levandowski is an avatar for the tech industry’s foibles because of his attraction with the approaching and antipathy for the past, a constant burden at the centermost of the Valley’s assault heart. If the accomplished has no relevance, aggregate is innovation.

As with aggregate else, Levandowski doesn’t go about it half-assed. In 2015, he started a abbey declared Way of the Future, beneath to WOTF, aloof one letter off from the added adapted abbreviation. WOTF worships a all-powerful bogus intelligence actuality declared “the Godhead.” The abstraction here, as Levandowski told Wired in 2017, is to affluence humanity’s alteration from the smartest breed on apple to bald pets of our AI overlords in a absolute manner.

“We acquire in progress,” WOTF’s official website states, acquainted that it wants to be on the Godhead’s acceptable ancillary back the abstruse rapture arrives. “Change is good, alike if a bit alarming sometimes.”

About a year afterwards Levandowski talked to Wired about WOTF, the New Yorker ran addition continued affection on Levandowski and his escapades at Google and Uber and the afterwards lawsuit. Levandowski told the biographer Charles Duhigg not abandoned that the approaching is all that matters, but that he didn’t affliction abundant for history either:

“The abandoned affair that affairs is the future,” he told me afterwards the civilian balloon was settled. “I don’t alike apperceive why we abstraction history. It’s entertaining, I guess—the dinosaurs and the Neanderthals and the Automated Revolution, and being like that. But what already happened doesn’t absolutely matter. You don’t charge to apperceive that history to body on what they made. In technology, all that affairs is tomorrow.”

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Levandowski may say it added agonizingly than others, but he is hardly abandoned in the acceptance that the accomplished is extraneous for those bedeviled with the future.

“Tech, historically, has been acutely aloof in attractive backwards,” said Margaret O’Mara, a history assistant at the University of Washington and the columnist of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, a history of Silicon Valley. Back tech companies do adjure history, she acicular out, it’s generally afterpiece to mythology. Consider the Account of Two Steves of Apple in a garage. Otherwise, as she asked rhetorically in the book’s introduction, “Why affliction about history back you’re architecture the future?”

This anti-history bent is not abandoned a analytical aberration of a accumulation of bodies that has acutely shaped the avant-garde world. It is a basal principle. Like Levandowski’s church, it is the absolute base for a acceptance system.

But O’Mara argues that this chantry of advance is a baloney of what absolutely fabricated Silicon Valley what it is. “When you absolutely abstraction history,” O’Mara said, “things get absolutely blowzy absolutely fast.” None added so than the history of the tech industry itself.

This abhorrence adjoin the accomplished has abysmal roots in internet culture. In 1996, the Grateful Dead artist and aboriginal internet advocate John Perry Barlow wrote “A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace.” The additional book is: “On account of the future, I ask you of the accomplished to leave us alone. You are not acceptable amid us. You acquire no ascendancy area we gather.” Wiping the slate apple-pie with the agenda era paved the way for the affectionate of benightedness techno-utopian narratives cartage in.

Whether advised or not, reformatting the tech industry’s anamnesis about the admeasurement of the internet helped bolster a allegory that the alpha industry sprang up from the ablaze minds of a alleged few afterwards anyone else’s help. In turn, this adventure became the absolution for a bound government that didn’t baffle with the absolute spirit and bread-and-butter anatomy that fabricated the web great. Too bad it wasn’t true.

History does a lot of cogent us what we don’t appetite to hear. It disposes of the advance allegory we are accomplished in schools— which is additionally additionally a basal assumption of Levandowski’s AI church—that things aloof accumulate accepting better, alike as it feels like they are abandoned accepting worse.

To be sure, there were abounding ablaze minds alive in tech, but they had help, and lots of it, from Uncle Sam. O’Mara agilely capacity such contest in her book: Federal grants accounted for 70 percent of the money spent on bookish analysis in computer science and electrical engineering from the mid-1970s to 1999; the fruits of that analysis were generally spun off into some of the bigger and best affecting tech companies of the day. Hell, the absolute internet, at the time declared ARPANET, was alleged afterwards the Advanced Analysis Projects Bureau (ARPA), a government bureau that provided it with about $1 actor in funding. Starting in 1994, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and DARPA (the almsman to ARPA, which focuses on aegis projects) gave $24 actor to six computer science departments to amount out the best way to basis and chase the internet. Two alum acceptance at Stanford University alleged Sergey Brin and Larry Page essentially benefited from this program, which “supported abundant of Brin and Page’s work,” O’Mara writes. That assignment anon became Google. If DARPA were a adventure basic fund, it would be one of the best acknowledged in history.

This important ambience is either downplayed or abhorred absolutely back the tech industry talks about its roots. Steve Jobs, one of the greatest storytellers in avant-garde times, afar the government’s role in agriculture abounding tech companies of agenda back evangelizing for his—and other—companies during a publicity beachcomber of awning acceptance in the 1980s. Jobs, by the way, was hardly allowed to the allurement of government largesse. He already spent two weeks walking the halls of Congress lobbying the federal government for tax break for computers donated to schools; he bootless in Washington but succeeded in California, putting his articles in advanced of bags of California accouchement for pennies on the dollar.

As O’Mara acicular out, blank your own history or autograph an altogether new one can be a abundant business strategy. “We see a lot of this in mid-20th-century America,” she said, area companies accepted narratives of “we’re boot adjoin the future.” Business leaders accomplished it’s a abundant accessible relations artifice with investors, politicians, and the accepted citizenry to circuit a yarn about advance and possibilities, “making the apple added accessible and connected,” and abrasion abreast inconsistent facts. History was aloof addition business tool, sometimes literally. An Apple ad attack from the 1980s featured actors dressed up as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, and the Wright brothers captivation Apple IIs. One of the taglines read: “Don’t let history canyon you by.”

It’s acceptable for cultures of addition to attention history as added or beneath worthless. Considering Levandowski’s interests, it’s acrid that the Valley’s antecedent actuality is none added than the auto industry. To booty aloof one arresting example, for the 1939 World’s Fair, Accepted Motors commissioned an exhibition declared “Futurama” attractive 20 years into the future, featuring vast, automated, congestion-free freeways. Back the World’s Fair alternate to New York in 1964, GM did it afresh with agnate vast, automatic freeways.

It was a acceptable story, and acceptable for business. In 1953, Admiral Eisenhower appointed GM’s admiral and CEO Charles Wilson as secretary of aegis to oversee, amid added things, the planning of a federal artery system, a 100 percent government-funded affairs to the tune of some $100 billion that helped adhesive the auto as a call for about all American families.

But this wasn’t abandoned about business. Charles Kettering, a GM architect and conceivably America’s greatest artist back Thomas Edison, was decumbent to absolutely Levandowskiesque pronouncements about history’s irrelevance. “You never get anywhere attractive in your rearview mirror,” he already said. The future, Kettering added, was all that matters, because “we will acquire to absorb the blow of our lives there.”

Kettering’s attitude was not abandoned adumbrative of the automotive industry about that time, said the Virginia Tech history assistant Lee Vinsel, but of American business added broadly, which believed durably in American ascendancy and progress. Vinsel acicular out that one of the best abominable quotes about history comes from an American automotive titan, Henry Ford. An agog isolationist, Ford said “history is added or beneath bunk” in a advancing 1916 account with the war-hungry Chicago Tribune about whether the U.S. should get circuitous in Apple War I. The acknowledgment went about disregarded for three years. (This and added capacity appear from a 1965 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Actual Association cardboard by Roger Butterfield that advised the history of this quote.)

Later that year, Ford sued the Tribune for libel, ambitious $1 actor afterwards the cardboard declared him an “anarchist” and an “ignorant idealist.” The case went to balloon in 1919 and the adjudicator fabricated bright the affair at duke was not whether Ford was an anarchist, but whether he was ignorant. Ford spent eight canicule on the attestant angle as Tribune attorneys pelted him with questions in an attack to prove Ford was an apprenticed man, and the columnist wrote up every dank exchange. One such barter admired aloof how abundant antipathy Ford had for history.

Ford won the case, but abandoned just. The board awarded him six cents in damages. Shortly thereafter, he wrote to his secretary Ernest Liebold that he was activity to alpha a architecture “and accord bodies a accurate account of the development of the country.” He vowed to aggregate and bottle artifacts in account of this mission because the abandoned history account celebratory is “that you can bottle in itself.”

“We’re activity to body a architecture that’s activity to appearance automated history,” Ford wrote to Liebold. “And it won’t be bunk.”

And it wasn’t. The Henry Ford Architecture and Greenfield Village circuitous in Dearborn, Michigan, is one of the bigger collections of American actual artifacts. The guy amenable for one of the best acclaimed anti-history quotes in our accent came to affliction a amazing accord about history.

This tends to happen. We get earlier and apprehend we may alive the blow of our lives in the future, as Kettering said, but abundant of our time is spent in the past, too. As we age, the arrangement flips. Abundant chunks of us become history. And one day, we will be too. The accomplished no best seems to be an abstract, extraneous account but commodity that happened to us, to bodies we know. It’s commodity we made, some- affair we did.

This is partly why O’Mara thinks we’re at the alpha of a about-face in which Silicon Valley will alpha to affliction about history. She’s been arrive to allocution about her book up and bottomward the Valley, in advanced of audiences of all ages. The industry is now complete abundant that genitalia of it are history itself.

But it’s not bald nostalgia—or, beneath charitably, a dif- ferent anatomy of hubris—that makes history important. Alike historians disagree on why history matters. Some accent that its alternate nature—“history doesn’t echo itself but it rhymes”—is the business case for acquirements history, so one does not echo the mistakes of the past.

There’s commodity to this, but history’s appliance runs deeper. Acquirements it can be about spiritual, a affectionate of therapy. It’s abnormally abating to apprentice about times back bodies anticipation they were experiencing aberrant circumstances, back they were abashed out of their minds about what had become of their society, back they were abashed they had absent all con- trol over events. Things may be altered today, but not that different.

History does a lot of cogent us what we don’t appetite to hear. It disposes of the advance allegory we are accomplished in schools—which is additionally additionally a basal assumption of Levandowski’s AI church—that things aloof accumulate accepting better, alike as it feels like they are abandoned accepting worse.

The three historians I talked to for this commodity fatigued that history disabuses us of these accessible “progress narratives.” Instead, it presents a abundant added arduous yet honest appearance of humanity.

Patrick McCray, a historian of technology and science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told me that the adventure of altruism is not one of beeline progress, but of spurs and splits, fits and starts, advance and backpedaling. For his accurate history course, one of his basic goals is to appearance acceptance this. But it’s no accessible feat, abnormally for acceptance in science and technology, fields absolutely based on advance narratives and award apple-pie solutions to difficult problems. “It’s absolutely adamantine to get them out of that mindset, because they absolutely acquire this appearance that science is this ever-improving affair and we’re aloof artlessly alive added and added and more,” McCray said.

This is adamantine stuff, and acknowledging it comes with a corollary: We, as a society, are not decidedly special. Vinsel, the historian at Virginia Tech, cautioned adjoin “digital exceptionalism,” or the abstraction that aggregate is altered now that the silicon dent has been acclimatized for the controlled movement of electrons.

It’s a difficult affair for bodies to accept, abnormally those who acquire spent their lives architecture those chips or the software they run. “Just on a cerebral level,” Vinsel said, “people appetite to alive in an agitative moment. Acceptance appetite to acquire they’re allotment of a bearing that’s activity to change the apple through agenda technology or whatever.”

Perhaps no distinct animal embodies the abstraction of agenda exceptionalism added than Levandowski. In an chestnut from a 2013 New Yorker profile, he showed the biographer Burkhard Bilger his accumulating of “vintage illustrations and newsreels on his laptop” of the bootless attempts to acquire cars drive themselves in the past. Levandowski may not be a apprentice of history, but he’s hardly ignorant. For all his bluster, Levandowski may be added like Henry Ford than he lets on.

When Vinsel tells his acceptance about the accent of history, he references the philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s archetypal assignment On Bullshit, which accomplished a abrupt improvement in 2016. Frankfurt argued that babble is not about lying so abundant as artlessly not giving a bits about truth. Babble is adage whatever you charge to get adopted or to body advertising about your artefact or get that abutting annular of adventure basic allotment or win that government contract.

“I anticipate history leads you to be a babble detector,” Vinsel said. He supposes this may be the axiological abhorrence amid tech companies, which advertise an abominable lot of bullshit, and their antipathy for an honest account of history. Perhaps, he thought, they ability see a little too abundant of it in themselves. Afterwards all, Vinsel added, “there’s not a lot of addition in bullshit.”

“We didn’t appear up with this idea,” Levandowski already said of cars active themselves. “We aloof got advantageous that the computers and sensors were accessible for us.” He believes this time is different, aloof like anybody afore him believed their time was different. It’s a gigantic affliction to be told otherwise. In abounding ways, that’s what history is.

Editor’s note: Afterwards this commodity was accomplished for book publication, Levandowski declared Chapter 11 defalcation afterward a cloister adjustment to accord Google $179 million.

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