In The End of Reality (PublicAffairs, Sept.), USC digital studies professor Taplin argues that Big Tech billionaires are selling people a false future.

When did you realize technology companies were harming their own customers?

In 2000, I learned that my friend Levon Helm from the Band had wound up so broke that he needed to borrow money to pay for surgery. This was a direct effect of Napster. I realized, from the point of view of the artist, things are not working out well.

Why do you think the Securities and Exchange Commission should have jurisdiction over crypto?

Somebody has to regulate these businesses, and I’d much rather have the SEC regulate them than the Commodities Future Trading Corporation. The CFTC has a record of allowing people to game markets.

What is transhumanism, and why is it dangerous?

Transhumanism is the belief that bodies will inevitably be merged with computers. Someone like Peter Thiel, who’s just flat out afraid of dying, says he’s going to get blood transfusions from a 20-year-old once a month, and with the added help of nanobots, he’ll live to be 200. Even if these technologies get developed, they’ll only be available to the very rich. The inequality we see now will expand exponentially.

What do Thiel and the other billionaire technocrats you profile—Marc Andreesen, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg—get wrong about technology?

We have an opportunity right now to fix core things that are wrong with our society. Technology can solve problems; for example, the cost of solar power is cheaper than the cost of coal or natural gas. But the key tech leaders in America are all-in on escape: let’s give up on Earth and go to Mars, let’s give up on reality and spend eight hours a day in the metaverse, let’s pretend we can live to the age of 200, let’s have a currency nobody can trace so everybody can hide their money from the government. They simply are not focusing on real-world solutions to real-world problems.

Of the four, which one poses the most serious threat?

I’d have to say Elon Musk. Because he’s weaponizing Twitter. His grandfather was a leader of the Technocracy movement, which believes society should be run by engineers—that it should not be a democracy. I think that Thiel and maybe Musk are what you might call accelerationists: they want to spur us into the end-times. Maybe to have a dictator take over because things are too chaotic. Thiel has made very clear that he thinks using crypto is accelerationist. If the government has no control over the currency, then it has no control over anything.