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
Perhaps it was unique to my neighborhood, but growing up as we played tag or any other number of games, the place that you tried to get without being tagged was called “ghoul”. Now I am aware that many others may have called it home or safe or maybe even goal but in my neighborhood ghoul meant safety. The sounds of friends saying good night as the summer street lights came on rang in my ears when I saw of Quora having almost 100 million of its accounts hacked only days after Marriott reported that hackers had been penetrating their Starwood network for years, and had compromised the data of 500 million people. It seems that in the cyber universe or cyberverse, nowhere is safe anymore. Indeed, when these instances occur, it seems the those affected are to blame, Quara’s programmers are now forcing affected users to reset their passwords, and it advises them to change these passwords if they’re used on any other websites, as if the blame were on the people for putting their information there in the first place and then not protecting it with passwords that were incorruptible.
While the argument may seem far-fetched, the buck doesn’t stop here. Sexual assault victims are being turned into perpetrators, (how dare they accuse a person of such behavior) school shootings are blamed on the schools; they are not well enough armed or trained in weaponry to defend themselves against the now obvious threat, as if there were protections in place in the past that have been left by the wayside, a childish illusion we have outgrown in this new adult age. Things like going home when the street lights came on in summer, playing outside with friends, or having a safe place which you might call home.
There is an old joke about the performer in the circus who as he gets older keeps falling farther and farther down in the billing. A friend who he hasn’t seen in years sees him cleaning up the elephant dung and asks, “what happened, you were a big star! when the old performer replies, “ Yes but I’m still in show-business!” This punchline came to mind when I read in the BBC that professors at medical schools are finding that their surgery students are losing the dexterity to stitch patients. Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, says young people have so little experience of craft skills that they struggle with anything practical. It seems that the simple skills that used to be common to us all, cutting textiles, measuring ingredients, repairing something that’s broken, learning woodwork or holding an instrument are no longer common in today’s young people. While we may be learning skills to help us swipe through screens of pixels, we may no longer be getting the training to live in the real world.
Post-apocalyptic television shows, like the Walking Dead and and movies such as World War Z create a fantasy where we test our survival skills by pitting us against zombies, over the top creatures or even other people in a world removed from the modern conveniences. Yet perhaps we don’t really need the zombies to bring us to our knees, we seem to be doing that for ourselves by losing even the most simple skills we need for survival. While its pretty to think we can navigate a world gone mad, many of us can not across town without a strong internet connection. So while we may not be able to stitch up a wound, at least we can do our Cyber Monday shopping in record time.
I believe it was E B White who once said, “When I arise in the morning I am torn between the twin desires to reform the world and to enjoy the world. This makes it difficult to plan my day…”. When I saw the article on how electronic tattoos may be able to be printed on our skin. While this would allow something like built-in thermometer tattooed onto the skin or a monitor a level of drugs in our body. While part of me is thrilled by the possibility of what is to come, there is another part of me that wonders about this new intrusion to our bodies and our own experience. Again, the question arises, who would own the data about yourself, who would possibly own your experiences. When a famous person dies it is their estate that manages their image and has the places and ways it can be used. Is that only the right of the famous? What about the experiences of ordinary people, what rights do we have to our experiences and our stories, indeed the very truths that make us who we are. If we think this data has value does that not also mean that the creatures creating these experiences have value also or can they be discarded as simple tin cans to wear our electronic labels.