Algorithm and blues: how algorithms and surveillance lead us to doubt our sanity--or the sanity of others

Jean Guerrero’s article is one of the few I’ve read that bring the humanities, science, and technology together in a way that explains the predicament we find ourselves in: creating a tar baby whose arms we try to escape but can’t.

This can’t is the result of two things: (1) a vigorous struggle with a monster that is as smart as we are and (2) a pathological inability to reject and abandon a creature of our own making.

A few excerpts:

The advertising model that drives online media and commerce means we pay for the web’s valuable resources by opening up our minds to what virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier calls “siren servers”—cloud computing networks that dominate the internet. Algorithms collect our data and crunch that into maps of our minds, which companies use to manipulate our decisions. Power concentrates where the data are.

In Who Owns The Future, he writes: “When you are wearing sensors on your body all the time, such as the GPS and camera on your smartphone and constantly piping data to a megacomputer owned by a corporation that is paid by ‘advertisers’ to subtly manipulate you … you gradually become less free.”

This surrender is triggering a breakdown in our ability to distinguish fact from fiction. Instead of moving through the world as autonomous actors with original thoughts and inquiries, we become objects of what is dictated to us via the digital realm, including fake news.

In writing about her father, Guerrero writes about us as a population manipulated, exploited, and experimented on by our government and others. The outcome may be dystopian, as she says here:

[Yuval Noah] Harari argues that dictatorships and democracies can be seen as two different forms of data processing: centralized and distributive. In the world wars of the 20th century, democracy emerged victorious because distributive data processing was the most efficient tool for mobilization. The digital economy is changing the game, giving the upper hand to centralized data processing. Harari believes that our clicks and likes are paving a path toward dictatorship.

But as with scientists who warn us about global warning, Guerrero is trying to steer us off the path that leads to apocalypse. I felt hopeful, though sad, when I reached the end of her article.


Loved that (long) article. Thanks for posting. Seemingly delusional people are on to something…

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