09.17.18 | Artificial Intelligence / Tyranny of the Drones

Those of a certain age will undoubtedly recall a particular Super Bowl commercial of January 24, 1984. This iconic ad introduced the Macintosh computer by way of an Orwellian scene showing a giant screen depicting Big Brother addressing a mass of seated dead-eye grey proletariat drones in the flat, ominous tones of we-shall-prevail propaganda-talk when in bursts a vision of youth and color, the very embodiment of beautiful feminine energy itself, to execute the perfect hammer-throw that literally shatters the old guard. The tagline: And you shall see why 1984 won't be like "1984". (link: Apple 1984 Super Bowl Commercial Introducing Macintosh Computer ...).The Proles were set free. 

Not seen was the aftermath. These newly-emancipated drones were eventually drawn to bright shiny things -- information, entertainment, communication, even cat videos -- all for free, courtesy of the liberating personal computer. First the few and finally the masses gave in to the lure of something for nothing. Nothing, that is, except for the information extracted by the very interaction with this liberating Net. "So what's the big deal with any of that?," asked these I-have-nothing-to-hide users. That is the topic of our discussion and our focus article, 

Yuval Noah Harari on Why Technology Favors Tyranny - The Atlantic.

First off, the tyranny under discussion is of a different flavor than what we addressed in Member Monday (7/23/18)/Could It Happen Here? i.e. it's not of the jack-boots early 1930's Germany variety. No, the matter here is more the conflict between democracy and dictatorship in terms of control by means of data. But make no mistake about the implications. It carries with it the ability to read and manipulate the human (i.e. the voter's) heart -- reliably, cheaply, and at scale -- and undermine liberal democracy itself.

We first introduced the subject of Big Data extraction in the context of "China's Vast New Experiment in Social Engineering" (Member Monday, 1/15/18) reflecting on man's standing in a world increasingly seduced by the efficiencies of technology: private data aggregators triangulating countless data streams; the merger of such with a central government clearinghouse; man slowly reduced to an algorithm. Add, then, the power and promise of Artificial Intelligence, not so much in terms of human consciousness per se, but as Big Data translated into its replica and we face  . . . . what exactly?

We face a world in which technology eclipses the human endeavor in the market economy. Artificial Intelligence becomes the means to extract ultimate efficiencies. We are left to once again ponder: In a perfectly efficient society man is redundant.

We face a world in which technology wrings out some of the distortions inherent in central planning and open the way to challenge the long-standing belief in the relative efficiencies of the capitalistic marketplace economy.

We face a world in which a pseudo-consciousness "knows" more about us -- by our very actions -- than we (consciously) know about ourselves. We thereby become more and more vulnerable to the subconscious emotional manipulation of an exploitive puppet master. The drones thereby line up like iron filings responding to a magnetic force. 

That's the tyranny of the drones.

Steve SmithComment