Bill Maher and Kara Swisher Ask: What’s Happening in the Tech World?

It was a wide-ranging night on “Real Time”

March 23, 2024 1:59 pm
Kara Swisher on "Real Time"
Kara Swisher appeared on this week's "Real Time With Bill Maher."

Bill Maher set the tone for what was to come in this week’s Real Time With Bill Maher with his opening monologue, which closed with a riff on TikTok and Congress. His first guest was longtime tech journalist Kara Swisher, who was there to discuss her new book Burn Book: A Tech Love Story. Swisher knows plenty about the tech industry, but she’s also willing to push back against some of Maher’s declarations — and their give-and-take made for one of the show’s most interesting interviews in a while.

Those contrasts became clear early on, when Maher defended Elon Musk, saying, “He’s a complicated guy.” Swisher’s response was succinct: “He’s not a complicated guy. He’s just a jerk.” Later, she would critique Musk’s social media persona, saying that “All he wants to do is dunk.”

“I like Tesla Elon. I like Neuralink Elon. I even like Hyperloop Elon,” Swisher said. “It’s Twitter/X Elon that’s the problem.”

Even Maher, who’s spoken admiringly of Musk in the past, conceded that he was baffled by some of Musk’s behavior on social media. “I don’t know why he needs to high-five these crazy people,” he said. Swisher pointed out that technological leaders often have troubling politics, pointing to the example of Henry Ford.

Both Maher and Swisher expressed frustration at the gulf between tech’s promise and its reality. For Swisher, there was a sharp difference between the way tech leaders speak and their actions, Or, as she phrased it, “They cosplay this idea that they’re changing the world.”

Swisher went on to argue that the issue related to tech CEOs not knowing much about things that weren’t actually tech-related. “A lot of them aren’t educated, in a wider way. They don’t read widely,” she said.” That’s the reason I liked Steve Jobs — he read widely.”

Late in the conversation, both Swisher and Maher expressed their frustration at technology released prematurely, without being fully aware of its effects — whether self-driving cars or AI systems. “We’re the crash test dummies of the digital age,” Swisher said — a haunting image that also felt uncannily accurate.

Some other notable moments from the episode:

  • Maher on Congress passing bills to keep the government funded: “We’re a superpower and we run this country like when I was broke and bought enough gas so I could get home.”
  • Maher on the potential forced sale of TikTok: “Can we trade it for Boeing?”
  • Panelists Beto O’Rourke and Sarah Isgur both have roots in Texas. Quoth Maher: “I love Texas! I hope they don’t secede.”
  • For viewers seeking cohesive political debate, O’Rourke and Isgur both articulated their positions well — and with everything from immigration to the U.S.’s relationship with Israel up for discussion, they didn’t lack things to discuss.
  • Maher on O’Rourke’s style: “He looks like the cool professor who has weed.” 
  • New Rules saw Maher arguing for the end of St. Patrick’s Day, which segued into a larger discussion against identity politics.
  • The segment ended in an unexpected place, though: Maher acknowledging the complexities and contradictions of people’s identities across the country. Or, as he phrased it, “We are all Jelly Roll now.”

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