As recently as May 15, I questioned where the young techies, building their virtual worlds, are taking us. Certainly, they live a schizophrenic existence. On the one hand, they purport to be bringing people together and creating a democratic agora for ideas. On the other hand, the success of their mission lies stewing upon a bed of commercialism.
Dreams cost money and to get it, these dreamers must sell things. To know what consumers want, they must know a good deal about us. And to know a good deal about us, they must invade our privacy. In sum, never has so much idealism been bastardized by commercialism. As one young computer whiz described it, “The best minds of our generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” (“In Ads We Trust,” by Ashlee Vance, Bloomberg Busnessweek, May 8-14, 2017, pg. 6.)
And click ads we do. The two largest “dream” companies, Google and Facebook, pulled in 90.2 billion and 27.6 billion, respectively, last year, an income that will grow as retailers shift advertising dollars away from print and television media. Already, these two enterprises account for “65 percent of the money spent on digital ads and 90 percent of the growth market.” (Ibid pg. 7.) Nerds, as one observer noted, have never had so much power.
While these companies purport to “care” – Google’s motto is “Don’t be Evil — they create algorithms designed to manipulate us. (Ibid pg. 7.) Worse, to achieve their end, they engage in intrusive spying, building a data base worthy of NSA, and worth a fortune, in itself. Not only do they sell this information to other retailers, but in their quest to perfect artificial intelligence, they use their research to unlock the secrets of human nature. Simply put, we must ask ourselves if hacking humans to create human-like robots is a practice to be left unregulated.
Many organizations exist to oppose corruption in politics, medical practices, business operations and crime. A few attempt to keep the media honest. But who is watching the Sixth Estate? Congress, too mired in the 19th century, isn’t up to the task. (Blog 5/16/17) If we, as a people, don’t begin to visualize the future together, then a few young minds will. Frankly, I don’t trust their emotional judgment.