In the movie “Terminator” machines with artificial intelligence provoke a nuclear holocaust with the objective of eliminating humanity. While they almost succeed, the future reveals a small, but determined, human resistance led by John Connor. In that future Connor is on the verge of eliminating the machines when they dispatch a cyborg assassin back in time to kill Sarah Connor, John’s mother. Sarah Connor gets help from the future also when her son also sends a defender back to protect mom from the assassin cyborg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, assuring John’s birth and fulfillment of his destiny to save humanity.
In listening to the first season of a podcast about artificial intelligence called “Sleepwalkers” https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/sleepwalkers/id1449757372 , I started wondering who from the future is coming back to protect us from the growing manipulation of algorithms and data mining by corporations and governments?
Stop Sleepwalking About Artificial Intelligence
“Sleepwalkers” serves as a clarion call to the billions of people who have openly shared via social media their data, preferences, inclinations and personal secrets. This naïve pursuit of community, friends, recognition or self-alteration on Facebook , Instagram and Twitter and immediate gratification from Google and Amazon, may really be changing the social contract. The owners of the algorithms and the data may become a new ruling class.
Where that data is not shared because it is too sensitive, it has often been stolen. Recent examples are Target, Equifax, Facebook and now Capital One which is changing its slogan from “What’s in your Wallet to “Who’s in Your Wallet”. The upshot is the owners of the data and the algorithms to use it to predict or manipulate human behavior may be in a position where they know us better than we know ourselves.
You can test it by logging into Amazon. Amazon knows how you behave better than behavioral scientists like Kahneman and Tversky, and certainly can predict your inclinations better than you might predict yourself. For example, Amazon knows I will eventually buy two pairs of ASICS volleyball shoes if they first show the only one in inventory.
The “Sleepwalkers” series debunks the social assumption that humanity is really on top of the food chain and completely in charge of political systems, financial outcomes and self-determination by pointing to advances in artificial intelligence powered by data analytics.
Artificial Intelligence Is Already A Tool Of Repression
One of their episodes is devoted to China’s use of facial recognition to score model citizenship. Good citizens are allowed to travel and get good jobs, while bad citizens enjoy few freedoms. The worst among them (Tiannemen Square), are reprogrammed or simply eliminated. The facial recognition episode also asserts China’s belt and road policy of providing financial aid to emerging nations comes with a Faustian bargain. The puppet rulers of those nations have to allow facial recognition as a tool for citizenship conformity by which Beijing controls its burgeoning empire and puppet leaders with legions of cameras and algorithmic software scoring citizenship.
At its core, the uprisings in Hong Kong suggest a whole mass of humanity is not sleep walking about China’s intentions for imposing its repressive regime via its puppet leader in Hong Kong, Carrie Lam.
The Power of the Gods
Sleepwalkers Season 1 asks the question: Can you trust businesses and governments to make the right ethical decisions about using artificial intelligence when we have given them the lightning rods of Zeus? Mark Zuckerberg sort of looks like Zeus, and I would answer the trust question in the negative. The same would be true for Google and Amazon.
Needless to say, when you hear interviews on this podcast with senior executives from Google saying they will not permit their children to be on the internet at all because of manipulation and mind control you know you need your own cyborg.
Faustian Bargains in 2020?
While my personal opinion is the 2016 Presidential election was not influenced enough by social media to change the outcome, I have absolutely no confidence the 2020 presidential and congressional elections will not be manipulated by artificial intelligence to create the first devil’s bargain between the owners of artificial intelligence and consumer data and politicians all too willing to do anything to get elected. Maybe Facebook’s Libra gets approved if it will spread fake news or censor certain users?
I can envision Amazon giving double discounts to citizens who vote in certain states, Instagram generating fake pictures of candidates with a goat on election eve which they will then blame on the Russians and maybe even fake posts from Trump’s Twitter account.
Listen to ‘Sleepwalkers’ and wake up! Then start searching for your own cyborg not named Alexa or Siri. I am sure Elon Musk will be offering one soon.