I admit it. The older I get the more stupid I become. It has nothing to do with an aging brain and everything to do with having experienced enough to know life is complex. Designed to interlock right down to the mud of matter, the quantum level, if one part of the universe shivers, then, in a galaxy far, far away, another shivers, also. Given the fluidity of the universe, let there be no demagogues with fingers pointed to the sky claiming absolute truth.
In this life, there are no simple answers. Take the human one of making our internet secure. Facebook, set on its heels by the Cambridge Analytical scandal, (Click) is attempting to do its part. It plans to double to 20,000 the number of security personnel it will hire to monitor the website looking for scammers, bogus news reports and inappropriate behavior. Good luck with that. Facebook has 2.2 billion users and in the short time its plan has been in effect, it has discovered “21 million examples of ‘adult nudity and sexual violation,’ 3.4 million of graphic violence, 2.5 million of hate speech and 1.9 million of terrorist propaganda related to ISIS, al Qaeda or their affiliates.” (“Facebook’s Fix-It Team, by Michal Lev-Ram, Fortune, June 1, 2018, p. 106) And that’s the tip of the iceberg.
But let us suppose Facebook could accomplish its objective. Would we want it to do so? Do we desire to have all our news feed comments read? Including quips to our friends? Personal messages? How secure must we be before we mourn the loss of our privacy? Our freedom of speech? And who shall decide what’s acceptable or offensive speech? Should it be Mark Zuckerberg and his like, dorm room and garage lodged programmers? Are they whom we chose as arbiters of human behavior?
No doubt Zuckerberg squirms under the burden his algorithms have thrust upon him. For a start, with 20,000 new monitors at work, how are we to believe him when he says, “We take user privacy very seriously and build our systems with privacy in mind.” (Ibid pg. 108)
The company is at cross-purpose with itself. Surely, Zuckerberg realizes this. But consider the additional thorny problem. Are we prepared for an algorithm to set standards – to say a person who has committed one murder may use Facebook, but more than one murder is a tad too much? (Ibid pg. 109.)
Surely it’s easy to see that when a person sets about to fix one conundrum, another is likely to appear, one that may be greater than the first. I don’t say we should be to do nothing. But life is a dance, not a landing pad. Demagogues of any stripe, with their intractable ideologies, should kindly shut up. We need broader tolerances, not narrower ones. We need greater humility in our tasks. And we sure as hell need to show compassion for one another as we struggle to make sense of what it means to be alive.
(Originally published 6/22/18)