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Every action we do creates data about ourselves

Every action we do creates data about ourselves

MBF Blog Reviews: An occasional series of reviews on exhibitions, books, films of interest to MailBigFile clients and readers. This one, a handful of books to have a look at which really address the current state of play with how technology is changing us and our world…..

It often happens that a theme is in the air, and several films or books come out taking different angles on it. But at the moment, the way machines of various kinds are enslaving us, machines that we have in fact created, is a hot topic.

To Save Everything, Click Here

To Save Everything, Click Here is subtitled ‘Technology, Solutionism and the Urge to Fix Problems That Don’t Exist’ and it’s by Evgeny Morozov, a Russian now working on policy in the USA.

Brian Appleyard, reviewing it in the Sunday Times (17 March 2013) said that Morozov is ‘angry and he goes for the throat’. He attacks the ‘idealogues who affirm the righteousness of the Silicon Valley way’.

To Morozov, the ‘world-transforming dreams’ of technology are a new version of the ‘scientific, technocratic, utopian fantasies that have periodically surfaced’ over centuries. He attacks elitism, and cites the Seasteading Institute, a project to establish a government-free zone on an island 200 miles off the coast from San Francisco.

Described as a libertarian enterprise, liberty is, apparently for ‘a tiny elite’. They dream of a machine-made future, where all the problems caused by human decisions will be forgotten.

Fighting back is hard, but necessary, Morozov argues: we need machines that are in fact our slaves.

Who Owns The Future?

Jaron Lanier wrote Who Owns the Future? and he is one of those behind Microsoft’s Kinect gaming system, described as a Valley ‘aristocrat’.  Appleyard calls his criticism of things as regretful rather than angry, for Lanier is a gentle man, apparently.

He believes that if we continue with the current design of the digital world, we will pay a price in ‘hyper-unemployment, greater levels of wealth inequality, negative growth and social unrest’.

He defines the digital economy as an act of theft, albeit with the ‘willing collusion of the victims’, of our daily information. It costs the great internet companies nothing to collect and therefore does not enrich everybody.

It’s a powerful argument. He suggest the entire economy will soon be taken over by information-stealing software. His solution is that we need a two-way internet system, not one-way. A system where we can see what happens to our data all along the way would fix the system.

His telling point about Google is that it will eventually drain dry the ‘targets of its advertising that is its revenue lifeblood’.

Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think

A simple tweet contains 140 typed characters. But it also has 33 pieces of invaluable metadata, ‘gold dust’ to companies.

That fact is revealed in this book, Big Data: A Revolution that Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. 400 million tweets sent each day by 140 users a month are more than ‘random blather’. They enable datafication of people’s thoughts, moods and interactions in a way never captured before.

They have started selling it to Dataswift and Gnip, for example. Sentiment analysis is already widely used by companies aggregating customer feedback. This kind of use of data is driving new firms and the more aware older ones in every field from personal finance to travel.

Facebook’s billion users are interconnected through over 100 billion friendships, which leads to a social graph representing 10% of the world’s population, ‘datafied and available to a single company.’ That graph can be sold on, and then on again. Indeed, all data can be sold without the originators’ knowledge or consent.

The data provides real-time information, historic practice and makes predictions on future customer behaviour. The authors believe we are in the midst of a great infrastructure project which will lead to the datafication of objects as well as people, the so-called ‘internet of things’.

They are upbeat about it. Big data will harness information in novel ways to benefit the world and explain it not as natural happenings but as a universe of information. That will be a new perspective on reality.

Happy reading!

Previous blogs that have raised some of these issues:

Facebook Enriches the English Language, If Not Our Wallets, 6 March 2013

Net Giants Will Always Overwhelm, Control and Suck People Dry, 26 February 2013

Big Data Is Big News, Big Opportunities and a Big Problem, 30 January 2013

Time to Cage the Twittering, Tweeting Bird of Internet Freedom, 22 January 2013

The Way We Live is Exposed in Statistics, Data and Real Opinions, 7 January 2013

MBF New Service in the ‘Data is King’ Brave New Digital World, 12 December 2012

It’s the Season to Give Away Lots of Valuable Personal Data, 5 December 2012

Image: Heb