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.
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 A recent article mentioned that banks outdated approach to IT could lead to their demise as they are unable to cope with disruptive technology.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.
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.
I believe it was Cheap Trick that had the song with the lyric, “Surrender, but don’t give yourself away” but it seems like that is exactly what is happening as Facebook is going forward in its plans to create its own cryptocurrency for use across its platform and other partner platforms. While we are invited to surrender to a world of convenience and security we also seem to be on the brink of giving too much away. With the creation of a stand-alone currency seems to be running the risk of starting a stand-alone economy. With the global online economy now running almost seven trillion dollars imagine the power that a corporation could wield in world politics. With a current value of almost 2.3 billion, they could become powerful enough to begin to dictate financial policy in the same way Walmart dictates when it will receive certain merchandise to its loading dock. While we have seen the effective ways that savings and loans can regulate themselves into a $160 Billion dollar bailout, and later banks almost bankrupted the economy only to get a $700 billion bailout, what could possibly go wrong with a single industry dominating online currency and online transactions? Let us embrace our inner Alfred E Neuman- why worry? A rising economy lifts all boats even at the cost of flooding the low lying ports. So sit back, relax and enjoy the ever warming bathwater.
It was with a certain pleasure I read John Chen’s excellent article, “The Simple Solution To The Technology Trust Crisis” and its suggestions as to how to resolve the issue that people don’t trust the technology that they seem to rely on every day. He suggests that we must own our data and be allowed to be responsible for the monetization or non-monetization of our data, our choices and by extension ourselves, something we have been saying here. It got me thinking of having drinks with a lovely girl from South Africa while in college. She was African and delighted in telling me how in Apartheid South Africa, I would be thought of as less than white, with my olive skin and dark curly hair, that I would fall somewhere on the scale of quadroon, or octoroon. The dictionary reminds that quadroon refers to one who In the 19th century was a person who was one-quarter black and three-quarters white. In other words, a quadroon had one grandparent of African descent. The dictionary goes on to declare that the term is deeply offensive and obsolete.
While that is a charming thought, perhaps the future will see a return of that type of classification for our relation to our digital assets, perhaps we will allow the big tech companies to own our digital personality- digital slaves. Perhaps we will find this term useful to declare how much of ourselves belongs to us and how much is owned by Google, Facebook or Amazon. Author Kashmir Hill, tried to remove herself from the snarl of big tech only to find that she was unable to live without its convenience. Perhaps we are already fast asleep, and the oozy weeds about us twist as we give the only power have, the power to make choices for ourselves, away. Maybe, for us to even think of ourselves as complete owners of our data, our choices and by extension ourselves is only make-believe.
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.
Brooks Stevens is one of my favorite people. The industrial designer and graphic designer and is also credited with coming up with the idea of planned obsolescence or “instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” In short the idea that whatever you have now is about to be replaced by something better, faster, sleeker and to put you ahead of the curve. It seems that now, everything has an expiration date, that nothing is exempt from extermination from the crushing march of progress. No better example of that can be seen in the problem with cybersecurity. As was recently reported in the BBC, the main problem with cybersecurity seems to be PEBKAC is, Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair. That’s you and