Technology is inching to towards a rather unique and unprecedented place. We are quickly reaching the point where the underlying technology running our lives is no longer something most people can even understand, even on a basic conceptual level.
A perfect example of this is facial recognition and data mining. For years people understood that a company like Facebook was storing all of the data they posted. But people were unaware of just how that information was being stored and used.
In fact, it wasn’t being stored at all, it was being used to feed and teach algorithms. Even now most average people think that storing private data is similar to some virtual file folder, where your data is stored like some dusty file in a an old cabinet. But that’s not the case at all. Your photos were all being fed into facial recognition software to train it to become better and also to build profiles of the people posting those images. Those are then combined with data from point-of-sale kiosks and other devices to build a real-time profile of everybody, a profile that is evolving and changing every minute.
Back when all this data collection was happening at Facebook, most people had no idea this technology was even possible. So by the time it was explained to people, it was too late for them to do anything about it. The data had already been collected and used, people were powerless to opt out. This is a perfect example of technology directly impacting our lives, technology that people don’t fully comprehend how powerful it is until it’s too late, and even then they often don’t understand the full scope of it.
Something similar is most likely happening with people’s DNA. DNA background companies have sprouted up like weeds. I’ve even seen these take-home DNA kits at the checkout being sold like an impulse candy bar at my local convenience store. Clearly these companies are collecting data for some purpose similar to what Facebook was doing, but because we don’t understand how powerful the technology is, we have no idea how the collection of our DNA will be used. Once again, most people assume it will be stored, but that’s because they don’t fully understand what kinds of other technologies could be applied. People simply don’t understand how powerful computers and algorithms have become and the companies behind these technologies are cloaked in secrecy.
More and more, people have no idea how most of the systems that are controlling our lives work. In fact, many of the companies running these systems don’t fully understand them. The news is filled with companies apologizing for their algorithms acting crazy because they either banned people or promoted offensive content to children. The companies often just blame the algorithms for these mistakes.
And this is where a huge problem comes in, when people don’t understand the technology controlling the systems we interact with everyday, it sets those people up to be easily taken advantage of. As systems become more esoteric and what goes on behind the scenes becomes more opaque, it opens the door to all kinds of trickery.
All of this is not lost on the tech CEOs who control these companies. They smugly sit before congress and laugh internally at how clueless lawmakers really are when it comes to what their companies are doing behind closed doors. They understand the power they have now that their technology is beyond the understanding of the average person. That’s why they feel so comfortable trying to control people’s thoughts and opinion. And not only do they do that by tweaking their convoluted algorithms to feed you propaganda, they feel as though it’s their responsibility to do so. They are so drunk with the data-power their systems have endowed them with, they see themselves as near-gods who need to manipulate the masses and free them from their wayward and controversial thoughts.
Google and YouTube outright admit to this behavior. Their new algorithm for YouTube detects what you are searching for and if that subject is deemed controversial, they show you content to change your mind. Viewers are oblivious to this trickery and assume they are doing diligent research on a topic by typing in the search bar, but all the while they are being fed propaganda by an algorithm.
Sadly, things are only going to get worse. Soon every single data point on everyone’s interactions will be fed into some algorithm somewhere. It almost already is. And the power of those systems is just not understood by people, and when people can’t understand the world around them, they are easy to manipulate. When you can’t understand how something works, you have no choice but to accept what you are told.
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