Evil never presents itself as evil. There are no corporations standing on street corners twirling their proverbial mustaches.
There are lies and deception. There is whitewashing. And there is technology forced on society without full disclosure. This is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
What is a common theme in the tech marketing you will hear? “This technology is helpful!”
Arrest That Corporation
Corporations are treated as people for taxation purposes. Why can't we treat them as people for other purposes?
Wouldn't that be a sight? Suppose that a bona fide tip was phoned in to a police department. It showed that a product caused premeditated harm. The department sends officers to the HQ to shut it down immediately. Employees are sent home and executives are held.
Police may cuff real people on the spot, but there is no path for such a corporate remedy. Take up your complaint in court and sue, they say. Wait years for your turn, they say. Meanwhile, the damage to society is ongoing.
What is our track record in large, pervasive industries? Let's cherry-pick a few.
Let's add the more recent ones:
Do you see any mustache twirling?
When health and safety research results are influenced by an industry, they are no longer valid. Worse, when these disclosures are unavailable to the public, the entire body of evidence -- influenced and not -- is brought into question. (Medicine struggles in a similar parallel.)
We're all on the train to dystopia. It is no longer a question of consent; you simply cannot exit left.
The next passengers getting on are familiar. They have been headlines.
Oh, hello Big Data. Hi AI, I see you have brought your friends AR and VR. Hey, Bitcoin and Blockchain! And look, it's 5G (wireless) as well. Internet of Things is just getting on! Everyone looks so helpful and friendly, just like ... tobacco, oil, smartphones, social media, and our current wireless infrastructure.
This is a lot of technology that corresponds to a lot of infrastructure. Infrastructure that is not being built to last and whose fate has been sealed as e-waste the moment it leaves the production line. But wait, mustache check! Nope, no mustaches.
“We often hear that technology by itself is neutral; it is neither good nor bad. It is simply a tool. This is a fantasy, perpetuated by corporations, that intentionally neglects the person-technology system. Technology does not exist in a vacuum.
If a technology exploits a human weakness or encourages an undesirable behavior in a majority of cases, it is no longer a neutral technology. It is something that needs changed.” -- Ty Sopko @ Shift Sight
Most corporate marketing not only hides the negatives, but it also over-emphasizes the positives. This type of whitewashing is bad for your health.
Corporations do not want you to have even a sliver of doubt that the technology that is about to be thrust upon you is anything but wonderful.
Let's do a background check on these new passengers. We keep hearing about their helpfulness and utility.
You never needed to enter information for a ticket to dystopia, because there was already a mountain of personal data about you walled up in a datacenter somewhere. A file with your name on it that you can never see. Your digital biography, so to speak.
Is it accurate? Who knows. When (not if) it is leaked, any misinformation could damage your personal or work life. Humans have a problem with unseeing information since the environment we evolved in never contained disinformation.
Artificial Intelligence (Machine Learning)
What is the best course of action when we have mountains of misinformation? Feed it into sophisticated algorithms and call it artificial intelligence. It will carry biases; those that proclaim AI is unbiased do not understand human neuroscience and how we confer our intrinsic, unidentifiable biases into our every action. Your brain does not contain memories -- it is memories.
Some current use cases for AI include showing you ads and displacing your job. There is also the occasional thing that industry wants you to forget about.
That is a lot of energy used, natural resources consumed, and electronic waste created just to show you an ad. Or leave you without income.
At present, AI is more marketing than substance. (The labor for manual "Big Data" entry for some AI applications is not sourced locally, either.)
There is a severe problem underpinning both Big Data and Artificial Intelligence: they exploit a human desire to find patterns where none exist. We have inputs, and we demand an output.
The output of a well-trained AI may conclude that people that own a cat are significantly more likely to purchase a new vacuum on a Thursday evening while wearing a blue shirt. A human operator can choose to scoff at this output and throw it away.
What happens when the results become human-unverifiable against the original dataset? What happens when these results are used for hiring or firing decisions, or used to deny you for some service or coverage?
Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality
I do not follow the consumer side of this industry closely. As far as I know, most marketers are salivating over AR applications. They can put ads in your face while you are walking down the street. Other AR applications act as deskilling devices, enabling you to rely on the technology instead of your own imaginative abilities. (Adults should exercise their imagination from time to time!)
VR is a mixed bag. It is presently incompatible with human physiology over long periods. Some people claim to have positive experiences with it. My impression is that some of these positive cases are simply because VR displaced a smartphone, providing a different form of escapism. It is still e-waste and neglecting someone's human needs.
Both AR and VR are routes to e-waste: companies are working to evolve them as quickly as possible.
As designed, cryptocurrencies were never sustainable. Today, one Bitcoin transaction (buying a pack of gum) can power 20 U.S. households for one day. Disregarding environmental damage, Bitcoin is now three-times more energy-intensive than mining an equivalent amount of gold.
Every device that is purpose-built to mine Bitcoin is e-waste in the making. With massive energy use.
The idea underpinning cryptocurrency is flawed. People believed it will lead to financial freedom from banks and government. Assuming that the environmental nightmare is addressed, this utopia is contingent on one minor, but extremely important detail: most countries (and banks, occasionally controlled by the government) will not allow their endorsed currency to be undermined. With a stroke of a pen, crypto can be made illegal. We all live within political borders.
Thankfully, the Blockchain hype is dying down. As one Twitter user so eloquently stated, tech execs are realizing it is a "slow ****ing database."
Bitcoin is an energy-intensive nightmare. Blockchain-style databases are a different environmental nightmare. Blockchain converts problems of linear complexity -- e.g., one grocery store printing one receipt for each transaction -- into exponential complexity -- every transaction gets a receipt AND every customer needs to validate every other customer's receipt. This is exponential energy use while requiring additional infrastructure and technology (future e-waste).
I keep encountering articles about using "Blockchain for Good." There are a few human problems with this. In many cases, Blockchain is being employed to replace human trust in adverse environments with unknown actors.
Neuroscience tells us that deferring trust to a third party will ultimately erode our trust in each other. Learning to trust each other leads to benefits in the workplace such as more energy, less stress, and more overall satisfaction. Trust, social connectivity, and well-being are intertwined.
Trust is not meant to be outsourced. Lack of human trust is a systemic failing that will not be corrected by applying Blockchain technology. We will learn to trust a machine that can be exploited while learning to distrust each other.
Human challenges and exponential growth concerns aside, Blockchain-tech has one other major failing: the universe is not stored on Blockchain. Every chain has an entry and an exit point. Immutable data is not accurate data, it is simply impossible-to-change-data.
In an adverse scenario, the "Blockchain for Good" applications could be hijacked by falsifying data at entry and exit points. It is not a panacea for societal ills.
The premise of wireless is to keep you connected to everything that matters to you regardless of your location. The reality of wireless is to hook you on distractions for monetization regardless of your location.
We're told that 5G will enable us to do so much more with our smartphones. (We are not being told about the adverse health concerns.)
In reality, 5G will not make us happier. It will not bring us together. It will make us more reliant on our technology, more addicted to our technology, and change our brains in ways that were previously unseen.
I use a cell phone less than once a month. I have no apps. I am actually quite happy and well-connected with those close to me. I realize that I am an outlier.
One byproduct of 5G is "more accurate" advertisements. Remember that pile of inaccurate Big Data being fed to AI? 5G will collect more data faster. It will also enable more realistic AR to show us "better" ads.
Who is paying for the infrastructure? You are. Through monthly contracts, you are paying to see ads.
Internet of Things
The IoT is e-waste in the making. Companies are rushing to create solutions to problems that nobody has. And in the process, they are creating more problems -- for example, thermostats that stop working with a loss of connectivity or without payment, easily hacked child-tracking devices, lights that do not work, keys that may not work, products that cannot be adjusted once the company goes out of business, devices that record you and your child (not strictly IoT, but Big Data), cameras that record everything you do, or locks that let anyone into your home.
Remember, the byproduct of most of this is to show you ads.
Shift Sight is not looking at any of these technologies. They are either unsustainable, over-hyped, inhumane, or a means to exploit you. They are the by-product of myopically focusing on a single-bottom-line -- of using profit to generate research that places a false light on their product.
As long as society emphasizes this mentality in education, this dystopia is what society shall continue to receive. The dystopia train is moving headed full steam, founded on false premises by industries that will act deceptively for profit.
This is a universal truth of emphasizing money as an end. A triple-bottom-line company sees money as a means.
The worst part is that you cannot get off the dystopia train. You cannot ask Big Data companies to delete the digital biography they hold on you.
We at Shift Sight are working tirelessly to launch Jade in the face of all of this. You and your children deserve digital sanity.
Your support, and the support of your colleagues, is the best way to shut down this dystopia. Single-bottom-line businesses cannot survive when the dollars dry up.
See you next week!
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.