The hype about artificial intelligence (AI) and its cousins Big Data and Machine Learning is ubiquitous, and largely unexamined. AI is going to change the world by freeing humankind from most of its labors, etc. etc. etc.
Let’s start by asking: who owns all this AI? This raises two other questions:who benefits as “software eats the world” (to use Marc Andreesen’s pithy phrase), and to what purpose is all this technology being applied?
The answers are painfully obvious: large global corporations, many of which function as quasi-monopolies (Facebook, Google et al.), are the owners of these new technologies, and the purpose being pursued is to maximize profits and secure a monopoly that insures high profits into the future.
Maybe you’ve seen a notice like this when you log into your Facebook account: did you read it carefully? Please read the one I received:
Protecting Your Information
We understand the importance of keeping your data safe, because we sell it for billions of dollars to anyone with cash. We are making it easier for you to believe that you control which apps you share information with.
You can go to the Apps and Websites section of your settings anytime to see the apps and websites you’ve used Facebook to log into. You can also remove the ones you don’t want connected to Facebook anymore. None of this makes any difference in how much data we collect about you, but we understand it makes you feel better to maintain the illusion of control.
Wait a minute–you didn’t get the same notice that I did? What’s going on here? You mean Facebook, Google, et al. can tailor not just adverts and content to each user, but the messages they feed us?
Welcome to the wonderful world of ‘Psychographic Microtargeting’ in which buyers of data harvested by Facebook et al. tailor the “product” being delivered– marketing, political campaigning, narratives, etc.– to individuals based on a Big Data/AI analysis of the data collected on the individual and tens of millions of other users.
Here is GFB’s exploration of this rabbit hole:
Let’s connect the dots between these two comments from longtime correspondents: the first is on the model of collecting and selling data (Big Data), and the second on trade:
“If I had a lot of money, would I want to do:
A) –invest in the exploration forbidding areas of the globe for oil reserves with a 50/50 chance of no results
–negotiate leases for the areas of the planet I want to extract oil in and have to negotiate with corrupt and unstable governments
–Pay for the oil extracting and transportation infrastructure
–deal with the fluctuating market values – which may make my whole investment worthless
B) set up a low cost trap that has millions of people handing me for free, and with their acknowledged permission, their preferences, tastes, beliefs, and aspirations . . . which I can re-sell at almost no cost to a long list of buyers, with a price that I can set as I have the data.