Scroll to the end of the page if you want to watch the film before or instead of reading. 😊
This can equally be a preview or post-discussion.
[I wrote this in 2020. It is now March 2023, and the advent of general availability to chat with A.I. has perhaps generated more awareness of its extraordinary capabilities in conversation, analysis and generative output.
The article remains as it was written in 2020, with a few typos and grammar fixes — and I'm still studying and experimenting, to write more on our journey into an A.I. future, very soon.]
More than your computer and devices — do you trust those asking you to trust them and their technology?
Having told as many people as might be interested, but perhaps don’t think it matters much, about what on earth is going on behind all our ubiquitous omnipresent screens now — I’m compelled to do the same here — as one more voice asking questions, for others to then ask more, before we all answer to technology, without enough information on the motivations and capabilities behind it.
If you’re wondering why we have such vast technological progress in a generation, but more of us, in equivalent vocations, feel time and money poorer than the last, you need to know more about how the technology works — and how the increasingly powerful, but decreasing number of controllers of it, operate.
Understanding is a prerequisite for changing or improving things — in this case to restore your balance for reward matching endeavour, when I’m sure you’re feeling the effects of these unseen influences, but don’t quite know how they work, and what they can now do.
I’m sharing my views here, on the artificial intelligence (A.I.) technologies we live with today, in the hope we can collectively get more answers, ask more questions — and, ultimately, keep the trust we all need that forms the fabric of a successful and enjoyable society.
My background in technology
I work with, and develop, automation systems for ecommerce.
Most of my work involves getting useful information to people, so they can get the things they are looking for — when, where, and how they would like them.
Part of our work is with the largest tech platforms you already know — search engines and social media platforms — that have somehow become integral to our searches for satisfaction, of some kind or another.
As technology designers and programmers, this gives us a view of both sides of the curtain. We have the technical understanding to both create and deconstruct what these patrons of progress do — and how they do it.
There are no secrets, really, they even document what they do publicly. However, the prestige is hidden in plain sight, as any good magician knows — through misdirection, and overwhelming our predictable and conditioned senses.
With the advent of computer-generated text and imagery, now indistinguishable from reality or direct human creation, the question as to what or who you trust can become a question of survival and sanity — in the face of increasing divergence in who or what, seeks or judges, and assigns; your value, your values, and affects those you care for.
I hope to have a reasonable understanding of how much is going on behind the screens; how much is beyond knowing for sure, often by-design — and how it can direct you, whether you know it, care, or not.
I believe you should know a little more, too. So, this is post is food for these thoughts, before watching the film, included below…
Why target you or anyone?
Quite simply, you are being targeted, for your present and future value, through your payment card details, purchases, subscriptions and votes of every kind. Not by traditional methods or scams — but by super-computers, charged with the elevation of their owner's powers, by using every bit of information they can find, including all that data stored and analysed on you and your peers circumstances (resources), beliefs (input) and behaviour patterns (output).
I’m not talking about the good people who are making things, or offering services, for their better understanding of their target audience — but the walled-garden search and social platforms that now stand profitably between you and me, and gatekeeping sellers and publishers — charging fees for the interception of your attention, and then censoring introductions, as they choose. Not through what you see — but what you don’t. Still think those spam filter false-positives are accidental? Everything is filtered now, and that filtering iterates and optimises towards its instructed, yet undeclared, objectives.
When a platform secures and encompasses sufficient users (or citizenship), that it can set its prices without competition for; efficiency, choice and equality of responsibility — then it becomes a fiefdom and tax-collector — able to use the procured and secured funding, as it pleases, for its own ends — far, beyond the interests of the necessary users it may proclaim to serve — and without account to the natural democratic forces of voting with your wallet or feet.
Do you want your vaccines and insurance provided by non-profit organisations, funded by the people for the people — prescribed the role of reinvesting in continuous improvement to desirable results for all — without prejudice, and in the pursuit of excellence from the reward of good reputation — or transient corporate boards, just doing their job, targeting and directing the many, for the profit of the few?
You are a lot more predictable now that computer algorithms can know more about you than you can ever hope to remember, know or see — and your view of the free market is now curated and controlled based on directing you in ways that maximise profits — for those custodians of your data, with the most behavioural insight, and self-profit optimising logic processing power available, at almost the speed of light.
You probably found this page through one of those platforms. They make a profit from you when a small percentage of your attention is diverted by the accompanying advertising and subscriptions — but, they also guide your increased likelihood to make such clicks, purchases and votes, with curation and analysis of the free content you also consume. This forms an increasing component of the price you pay for such goods and services, that would otherwise not need to include such costs in their providers' pricing. The makers, doers, and genuine innovators, now have decreasing options for how and where to catch your eye — to where it is now spending more time.
Think about this word for a second; targeting. 🎯
Well, first and most obviously; your money. That’s called advertising, it’s the same with or without technology, one entity’s designs to influence another. Fair game.
Money is an arbitrary unit-of-measure better described as a promise. As stated on many government banknotes in; “I promise to pay the bearer”.
The word pay coming from the Latin pācāre, meaning “to settle” or “to satisfy”.
Pay what? Satisfy whom?
Well, firstly, the bearer — with your time, labour or property — in further exchanged for the same or similar redeemable monetary tokens, then exchangeable for the promises of others for their time, labour or property. It’s a conversion-mechanism for effort. Those having less, being additionally burdened by those having more — to then meet such satisfaction demands, or otherwise be without the resources one cannot make or grow alone.
Then, there’s your attention — that has a quantifiable property value too, and is bought & sold as such. Collectively we know this as media — defined as; the means, channel, or agency by which an aim is achieved.
In life, there is inherent safety and risk-reduction in crowds — whereas in targeted marketing, or political influence, it is the segmentation of crowds where targeting is most lucrative.
Lastly, there is your influence — both over your own actions, and the actions of others. When someone controls more influence than another, we tend to call or recognise that as power. Although, thankfully, uncorrelated to personal merit or likeability, for which we are still highly attuned to differentiate.
Politicians and marketeers tend to know that the magic number for influencing a majority can be achieved by simply influencing a mere 8% of the influential populace — as those influencers then pass on their insight to those trusting in their recommendations and choices.
Who’s targeting whom
These objectives are all targeted to audiences, in whole and part, for both; advertising and political propaganda ambitions — and by media creators, via their delivery platforms.
Until recently, the creators of such campaigns were also people — somewhat accountable to their; morals, self-preservation, transparency through visibility of their peers or regulators, our direct and indirect anecdotal feedback, and all other varied human motivations and intuitions that pre-empt human actions.
Sometimes motivations and actions are difficult to understand, but intrinsically, people all operate in good faith reliance on unknown others. The moral balances of a group typically temper and average individual views and interests — more equitably than experience tells us that any one person might do alone.
Often, groups are counter-balanced by other groups, too — which all adds up to the multifaceted functioning of a society that we know and recognise.
Bots & drones
That is until now, where the technology exists to give a machine an objective, a crowd to assess, segment and target, and the information delivery mechanisms to infinitely test and retest their scope and prey, until the requested result is achieved.
Note the specific use of the word; requested, and not; desirable.
A machine designed to make bottles, will invariably make those bottles as long as it is supplied with power and raw materials.
The power in a computer is not just the electricity, but the collective intelligence of all those that described to it how to process information, with code, for the then rapid calculation of further information.
The commodity being manufactured by marketing machines is; money, influence, and the promises or obligations for; attention, labour and property — as we now know, this all translates or converts back and forth, with money as the typically trusted base currency for these things.
What are the raw materials for these marketing machines?
Well, that’s you, and your data — collectively; your life.
Who’s watching the watchers?
Accepting that; as you are most-likely reading this on a connected device, it is safe to assume someone (or something) else can see what you see — even if only me. I don’t know who you are, but I can now know your browser, screen size, general location, and viewing data for just this one website, where you came from, where you go to after, and who else you might know or influence — which I do strictly keep to a bare minimum, and you can read more about on my privacy page.
Your technology providers (device manufacturer, various software and extensions, social logins, like and comment widgets, network providers and many governments) also knows you’re here — and whomever they sell that data does too. Maybe they won’t look at specifically what you look at, but the machines can read and categorise this content, and infer many more things from it, with masses of data to cross-reference and identify patterns in — or search for specific outlier behaviours — for law enforcement, or just random training surveillance, where the purpose may simply be, as-yet, unknown.
Now, we know that information or data is a by-product of attention — and that attention is a commodity that can be converted to promises — via money or votes — based on the desired direction of your future attention, by the now custodians and guardians of that attention data.
Nothing particularly new, that is, or was, the point of advertising — and good creators rightly want to promote their creations. Sometimes organically, through shouting about it and asking people to relay their messages and offerings. Sometimes by cashing-in some promises earned elsewhere — and using that promise-conversion mechanism, that we know as money, to pay for other attentions, faster than they, and their friends, can pass on the message.
Is advertising bad?
Well, Tesla famously doesn’t advertise, in the traditional sense — reasoning that all their energy is invested into the product itself, to give the best possible value to the customer. They do, however, undertake many other types of marketing, though — with public relations, and projects that gather organic interest. Although, equally arguable, their demonstrations are for the reward of pride in the work of the many creators — involved and motivated by sharing their innovations — when many of these displays of innovation are purely for entertainment, or just furthering the boundaries of possibility — because they can.
Generally, Tesla is considered an exception — although, sometimes exceptions become the rule if they work better for more. I tend to agree that we might be reaching peak advertising — and perhaps should in an enlightened society.
But I digress…
What media technology does, is reach more people faster — regardless of the underlying value of the offering. It can now do this more efficiently — and now evolve as fast as the behaviours of the audience. Beyond coincidental ads anyone?
This now means that there is a successful feedback mechanism for creating these machines results, in a trajectory whereby the controllers of the technology must compete to make their machines more and more capable — in their robot-wars against other people’s machines. As in any knock-out contest, the inevitable evolutionary conclusion being; fewer and fewer people will control a bigger and lesser number of winning machines.
Think of it like a tournament in any sport; there will be fewer competitors as we get closer to the finals — and there will be just one winner, for many losers. However, unlike in sport, there are no re-matches — and there is only one tournament; the technology arms-race.
The winner’s prize?
The promises of everyone watching their glory — on demand.
Traditionally, the role of; non-commercially influenced, democratic (by and for the people) governments, lawmakers, and policy enforcers, would be to referee and counterbalance such tournaments — to ensure they never achieve more than a 30% market-share in any one sector — also known as Monopoly law.
It is illegal in a civilised society to be a Monopoly, Cartel or form anticompetitive collusion agreements. The remedy in law is; subdivision, separation of consolidated interests, and deterrent penalties for circumvention of the principles of a truly free (as in freedom) market (as in level playing field) — to reset the competitive contest — and return the game to one of promotion by skill, ambition and excellence, again.
But, what do we do when the technology transcends the geographical borders and jurisdictions, that have otherwise managed our civilised counter-balance, until now?
Where are the watchers to even watch now?
Awareness is growing of the potential hazards from this power potential — that the controllers of these technological promise-yielding machines can solicit — but these are machines designed to be aware of awareness — as just another input variable to iterate, test and evolve. To then continue on their quest, for those requested outcomes — regardless of any instructions they don’t have included in their algorithm, by design or oversight. This can include operating with the laws, as they stand, and for it to become advantageous to then operate lawfully, in its limited definition, and seek the opportunities that laws may not yet have considered, or evolved, to maintain balance in society, and equality of opportunity.
Knowing you are being watched, advertised to — and even accepting, or being mildly annoyed by, what we currently just call creepy, is irrelevant. You are part of a crowd, remember. It was supposed to be safer working together.
You’re not being targeted, your crowd is
It matters not if you are immune to the attention-seeking, promise-generating machinery — as long as enough of your crowd are, these automatons are profitable.
Your minority awareness is merely noise to filter out — in both gaining your crowd’s majority attention and action — and making your choices limited to being a part of the crowd you know and trust, or not.
The result of this, the rewards for resistance or compliance?
Well, it is isolation for the aware, and sufficiently short-term reward for the many — for them to happily continue providing the power and energy that the machines need — and allow them to continue, in the pursuit of the ambitions of the technology owner’s button pushing.
In pushing the crowd’s buttons, your society and community will then push yours, by proxy.
Do you really want single-minded machinery pushing your increasingly predictable psychological buttons?
Do you want as much value as possible squeezed from you during your useful life? Only to become valueless and disposable at the times you would otherwise have relied on social conventions for sickness support and dignified retirement? Do you think retirement of anyone able-bodied or valuable will continue as we'd come to expect and hope?
So, who or what do you trust?
Mostly, trust yourself — although, that is going to get harder, when trusting yourself will increasingly mean both; questioning yourself, and those around you.
The pinnacle of this sort of thinking would be a trajectory towards what we typically think of some kind of psychosis — that’s not a desirable or acceptable externality!
On the subject of psychology, corporate psychosis is the subject of another post for another day, reviewing an interesting book called, “The Corporation” — made into a film in 2004, and the sequel due for release in September 2020.
Don’t worry too much, though. We are equally an advanced and fast-evolving species, and consciousness — with vastly more computing power than collectively can ever be achieved with technology. Although, it doesn't stop the technology owners from seeking to harness our collective minds for direction, and use our collective attention, behaviours and creations, as training data.
One of the post powerful things I see is the ability for people to say, “no”, and simply not respond. Any parent of a toddler, I am sure, will relate to the immovable force of refusal, and test of will, that then requires having to provide alternative motivation.
When enough people, on the side of the many, look at those we democratically vote for at the polls — and sponsor with our purchasing and employment or endeavour decisions — say; “no”, “not now”, or don’t respond as expected — we push back.
Machines now learn and evolve — we must learn and evolve, too. To live with them, but not for them — or their temporary owners.
The symbiosis we hope for is technological progress — that we often recognise as nicer things or experiences. The vehicle that none of us could make. The house none of us could build alone. The phone that even its creators could not offer without a team of millions supporting the innovations.
How do I know any of this, and not go crazy with worry?
Well, the most evolution that any artificial intelligence can ever achieve, that we already know of, is through biology — and, through genetics, we already know a lot about how biology works.
We’re all organic computing programs as well, with DNA cellular instructions — as life’s programming, and its ability to record and replay thoughts with literature and the arts, experience — nurturing our young and social networks — and evolving through natural selection. Whether arbitrary or intended, the resulting variety of life is also the enjoyment of the lives that continue it. This contrasts with the homogeny of technology that works for us — but cannot replace us, or be alive — beyond being an extension of our own needs, desires and permissions for it to exist for our collective benefit.
Individually, we have variable influence — but as a crowd, we are the life that technology needs to exist for.
To further reassure how primitive and limited the reach of technology is; my Dog is still more intelligent and capable than Google or Facebook could ever hope to be — he can find a yummy treat in the house, playmate on acres of beaches, and elicit the attention of people as much as any smartphone. Technology still has not created any particle detector as capable as that of a dog’s nose, even if it did, it wouldn’t be so cute in all the other subtleties a dog has, let alone a person or a society. A smart speaker still cannot procreate.
If technology creates something as smart as a human, well, we already have plenty of those. Create smarter humans? We do that anyway through time and evolution — what’s the hurry? We’ll either continue to evolve or we’ll mess up the planet and reset the clock until another life-form evolves to do the same, or the sun inevitably engulfs our little spinning blue & green rock.
Life doesn’t need inventing or improving, it already is and does. It just needs enjoying and protecting. The temporary custodians of technology are still human and would be quite unhappy without other happy humans to share life’s variety with, too.
The sun is still our only known source of all life, and it doesn’t care for the inhabitance of our rock being; leafy, scaly, furry or computery.
We do care, though — we mostly quite like things now, as it's all we know.
We’re always just about getting used to progress, with varying levels of satisfaction and freedoms, to be philosophers more than fighters. With each generation more compassionate than the last, as we realise the scientific necessity that; variety in life is the ultimate reason for our existence, and is necessary for our continuity in enjoying our many stories unfold.
OK, an epic extrapolation — but my point being to think of technology as a pet more than a threat.
We shouldn’t be too distracted by the automatons themselves. We should, however, be very much attentive to the button pushers, their ambitions, and the greater wisdoms we have as a collective — for enhancing a civilised society and the enjoyment of more by all. The benefits of technology are only realised when it; reduces unnatural imbalances for expectations of toil, and promotes variety and enjoyment by more, not less. Otherwise, we deprive life of its motivation — its many reasons to exist, and imagine, and create.
Promise less to the machines, and more to each other — and we should be just fine.
Choose wisely what you give your attention to!
Having now contemplated what life could be without freewill — and the resulting and surprising variety in life that freedoms offer us all — I do still believe we’ll choose responsibility for ourselves and our peers every time. For as long as we have art and literature to transcend ourselves, we live on — through the technology to record our experiences and creations, with the ability to share stories and ideas — that them become memories, inventions and inspirations for our future regenerations to inherit, and add to.
This documentary will date, as the technology is now self-evolving — and the growing interest that A.I. attracts in investment — if only to satisfy our curiosities of what may be possible — when we apply our own mortal contemplations to the collective and uniting processing power of the network of computing and calculating machines that we call; The Internet.
With limited time and perspective, it is not a complete study of the subject of privacy, and your changing autonomy in the technological age — but it is a good start for understanding where we are — and how fast technology, and its uses by those that own it, are now capable of going — what they now know, and how they can use it.
Forewarned, if not yet forearmed — the first step in solving any potential problem or risk, is in understanding it. The next being to slow down events that can increase risk and problems so that the solutions can be the desired results for all — rather than the requested results for the few — with all the unbalanced hazards that accompany that inevitably more limited vision — and perhaps unwittingly limited resulting compassion, for variety in life, through freedom of thought.
It’s easy to dismiss technological advances as unavoidable — but now we (technologists) can create system, that can also create systems themselves, it is worth at least an awareness of the potential consequences — now and within most of our lifetimes.
You know something’s worth further understanding when the creators of the technology themselves can be spooked by how little they can understand of how their own creations work.
Things like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, smartphones and devices like your router, car, health tracker, TV, reading, video and audio services are all sensors for our interactions with them — and can all now gather and provide unprecedented amounts of data on what you do, when and how — to then pretty-much calculate why — when this stream of data is two-direction and now calculably influential.
The nostalgia of a lo-fi life takes on a new meaning, as you now have to consciously avoid having something that can track, hear or see what you’re doing.
How do you know if what you’re doing is the same as it would have been without these covert influences?
Mostly, the pleasure from a bluetooth speaker, a video call with family far away, and asking your phone to set a timer for your cooking are the nice things.
The material cost to the environment in creating these things, we hope will be somewhat offset by our ability to travel more virtually, and less using costly carbon producing means — until more balanced alternatives are available — but the feeling of being plugged into The Matrix is still eery when you stop and think — ironically if you still feel you have time to think?
Having time to think is just another variable for encoded logic to optimise, and if thinking gets in the way of requested results, then creating noise and disinformation becomes a necessary input, in pursuing that requested output.
We do now need an awareness of the quality and quantity of information we allow into our finite time here – for then choosing what is worthy of our attention and endeavour, to preserve our capacity to create and enjoy life too.
Listening to music on vinyl, driving an old car, hiking, biking and liking things you see in person, now has a new-found charm — and without the competing allure of your always connected attention-seeking devices.
Please remember, you do still have choices, and free will — as long as we all recognise and choose to preserve it.
There is now significantly more investment and interest in your value as a worker for the technology owners, that may be beyond your own values — so it has become an area of awareness that is as important now as knowing how to cross a road has been since the proliferation of motorised vehicles.
I’ll save my opinions, and small technology protection and mitigation suggestions, for further musing posts on our technology options and choices — because they do need a bit of a mindset shift for; how you make choices, what you buy, subscribe to, and how you interact with these mechanised influencers of our malleable reflexes.
I do feel this film is one of the more useful insights you can have, a starting point for greater awareness, in preparation for the speed at which you are likely to now need to make decisions — or have them made for you, through the personalised censorship that you now (unnervingly) know as your timeline.
Think about that expression for a second, your timeline, and then have a think again about; where that comes from, and who or what controls it, after watching.
Enjoy exercising the unique imagination you have that no machine ever will — built on all the life that came before you, as a collective intuition, that helps us choose how we evolve our society and technology. Now, I hope you will find a greater understanding of the risks and rewards that technology can offer — to then participate, and guide its creators and custodians, with respect for the capabilities it can enable.
We do still have choices; for the good of many, or passively relinquishing our freedoms — through the otherwise assumed permissions of acceptance that would empower the few, to the detriment of the world they also enjoy — a world that only exists in such harmony because of our diversity, and trust in cooperation.
We can still choose how we allow these things to proliferate — with accountability to our permissions for enablement or adaption — as long as we remain invested in our responsibility to understand the choices we face, and sponsor, temper or otherwise may have to pause, when necessary. We can still choose to only allow that which compliments and preserves fairness in political and market democracies — and freedom for the variety of life that envisaged what we can now see and do.
We all need to enjoy what we share, as still the only known intelligent life in the universe, and only known beings that can transcend space and time with a mastery of science and technology. We’ve come so far, can know and see so much more now — with this collective knowledge and vision, that is all of ours to improve, or lose, with the choices we still have…