Looking back is not something that we like to do here at the “Galaxy” but there are times when a past post comes back to make us stare it in the face like Marley’s ghost demanding an answer. Unfortunately this is the case with one of our posts, “Outsourcing Hatred” we finished by musing that one day possibly we would have machines that could hate people for us, outsourcing our hatred so that we could be free for nobler pursuits. While it would be pretty to think that is remained in the realm of science fiction, recently it was touted in the news that the algorithms have learned our biases and are using them to continue a vision of the world that, hopefully, many of us disagree with. It seems that algorithms are being used to grant or deny us opportunities based on prejudice built into our data. These algorithms don’t simply predict outcomes but cause them. When an algorithm takes the past record of success as the predictor of success, we get a future that greatly resembles our present and past, as sort of infinite ground hog day loop. In a world where the ruling class seems to have a vested interest in maintaining their grip on power, what could be better. But, if you have a vision of a tomorrow different than today, if you see something in the future greater than the present, we will have to wean ourselves from these silicon comforts and find value in each other and what we can do for and with each other or we will end up with a future that is a mirror on our past.
I was thinking of the Poi Dog Pondering song while looking at my phone. The lyric “love is everything and everything is a distraction” got me thinking about the object of my affection, my phone. In a recent conversation, Simon Sinek tells how when we get a message on our phone it releases dopamine in our brain, the pleasure chemical that becomes very addictive in the same way that alcohol or drugs affect our brain. More than just that (as if that wasn’t enough) this outward journey keeps us from a necessary inward journey, to find ourselves, to know our own inner peace, free of exterior stresses and interior stresses that can only come through practice and meditation. There is an old African proverb that says, “If there is no enemy within, the enenmy outside can do us no harm.” We allow ourselves to become so distracted by the demons outside that we think we can ignore the demons inside. They will always be there until we turn, face them and make peace with them. All the social media likes will never allow us to love ourselves.
A few years ago, I was working at at company that made promotional items and got a call from a client who was looking for an pen to match their brand color, a pantone color. Having not worked there long I asked one of my associates if it was possible for us to search our online cataloge in that way. “oh, no” I was told “we cant do anything like that” All of the data was obviously in a database, in our computer and all known information. The thing lacking was either the skill or the desire to make the most of the resources that are easily available.
It seems that in many cases we are more interested in maintianing the status quo or our comfort zone than exploring what is possible and profitable. A recent article mentioned that banks outdated approach to IT could lead to their demise as they are unable to cope with disruptive technology. If you are standing on a slowly revolving disk, you need to keep moving slightly to keep staring at the same spot. Technology is making changes faster and that perimage our lives more and more every day. We need to let go of our desire for the status quo and understand that change is the order of the day and as the rate of change accelerates, we have to learn to cope or be swept away by the tide of innovation.
While it has been noted here and elsewhere that there seems to be a movement to do away with people in the workplace and perhaps in general, the boldest faced example of this was seen recently in the Wall Street Journal article, “Everyone Hates Customer Service. This Is Why.” It seems that companies have started crunching data and using artificial intelligence to determine exactly how angry a customer has to be to hang up on a customer service call and finding a to step in just before that happens. While working to save a customer has seemed to be good business all along, now the point seems to be to push them off until they get to a breaking point before you take action to try to redeem the relationship. It seems almost unfathomable that this strategy would be suggested or even endorsed in any other situation. How would you feel if your boss decided he was going to abuse you until you were ready to quit and only then to decide to take any redemptive action. Would you accept this from coworkers or even your wife?
When we learn, when will we remember that companies are there to serve us, that we are not their servants? Since when do we have an obligation to a corporation that sells us goods or services? Is their obligation to us not greater than their obligation to them- are they not there to serve us? And yet we have become so desensitized to our own power, we cower in fear only hoping that they will continue to provide us internet, phone service, and even government. We can’t help ourselves from giving up our data so that we can be turned into force-fed veal dining on our own waste. Have we no dignity left? What is our purpose here- do our lives have a value other than an immediate material gain- and not even for ourselves but for those so engorged on money and power that they either don’t see or don’t care the effect of their gluttony?
The idea that Facebook was creating its own cryptocurrency intrigues on many fronts. First of all the thought that a private company could take over such a large and public space usually occupied by governments. While I am not suggesting that Libra, Facebook’s cryptocurrency will replace government issue money but if we think that this may not create a copy economy we deceive ourselves at our own risk. In a world were retail giants have fallen silent in the face of Amazon, why should we think it impossible that the government wouldn’t outsource the responsibility for creating currency. We outsource many aspects of our military to Blackwater, our prisons are outsourced to private companies, why not our economy. Why suffer the slings and arrows of uncertainty when we can gleefully turn that responsibility to a conglomerate. The only thing that may make this run a fowl would be the fact that only 27% of Facebook users believe that “Facebook is committed to protecting the privacy of my personal information.” while one might forgive even offer up for sacrifice our data for the latest photo of someones the first course, when it comes to our money, I like to think we take things a bit more seriously. But perhaps that is mistaken. While one of those large banks repeatedly stole from customers and yet, after a slap on the wrist from regulators and still, people gladly trade their dignity as consumers to work with a bank of established liars and thieves. Perhaps we shouldn’t worry about businesses too big to fail and worry about the cost of ones that succeed
If banks can be thought too big to fail, maybe we need to work that Facebook may be too dangerous to succeed.
There was always that one guy in High School (at least when I was in high school) who would go to the mat to try to make you believe that Paul Mc Cartney was dead. True to form, the urban legend states that in 1967 Paul McCartney had been killed in a traffic accident while driving along the M1 motorway. While there was no real proof, only rumors, and hazy evidence, the rumor persisted and still has its followers today. The insecurity of the past, the idea that we can’t be sure of what really happened can take many forms, from a false memory, where a person recalls something that did not happen or differently from the way it happened but the idea is taken to a whole new level around 2014 when a concept “The Mandella Effect” began to take hold. It seems that some people remembered Nelson Mandela’s tragic death in a South African prison, prior to late 2009. (In this reality, Mandela died in 2013.) The idea being that someone had gone back to tamper with the past and re-set our experience of it. While we have often spoken of cyber truth in this blog, this idea seems to take the idea into a much larger and more terrifying realm. While a computer could easily erase our bank records we like to think that we have some memory of what happened and that other people could confirm our story. However, the more terrifying reality is that we could find ourselves in a George Bailey like fate, alive and remembering a world in which he never existed. As we continue to hear more tales of data being stolen, do we not see that the true goal may not be just our data but the very fact that we ever existed?
If I remember correctly, in the closing lines of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident”. Now, while the quote goes on, I find it interesting this idea of somethings self-evidence; the idea that something is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof. It seems self-evident that people have rights though we may argue as to the breadth and depth of those rights and that machines, as non-human, non-feeling entities do not. This notion was challenged when I saw an article in the BBC about the appearance of a woman robot in Riyadh Saudi Arabia at the Future Investment Initiative conference. Sophia, as she is known, was given Saudi citizenship but she was allowed to appear without the traditional headscarf and abaya, the cloak that Saudi women are obliged to wear in public. Of course, social media pundits leaped to their keyboards noting that not only had this electronic “woman” not only been granted citizenship but had rights that Saudi women only dream of. Here was a woman speaking alone on a stage where under the Saudi Guardianship system every woman must be accompanied by a male companion who has authority to act on her behalf. It seems as if Saudi Arabia had become the Manor Farm for the day where all women were equal except that those women who were silicon-based were more equal than those of a mere carbon base.
While it may seem laughable now, it is not impossible to imagine that we could create a world in which computers would have more rights than some or maybe even all people. We seem to delight in ways that we can segregate and remove ourselves from those who we deem somehow different or less than us but now we seem to have taken that talent to a whole new level. We could create machines to look down on us- maybe outsource our racism so that we would be free to pursue more noble goals? While it may seem absurd, there are some of us who remember when the idea of an actor as president was a punchline and not a reality.