Big Data and the New Determinism

You might as well call it a day. Sooner or later the data scientists, the mentats, and the Spacing Guild will know your every move before you make it. As we speak, big companies and governments are hacking the human brain. They are charting the constellations of the human soul.

They are learning to predict how you will vote, what kinds of flannel I’ll buy (trick question, the answer is all of it), who is most likely to shoot up the local shopping mall, which day to mail me that coupon for Bob Evans’ Sausage Links, which applicant will make the best “Customer Care Associate” and so on. Soon enough all will proceed only as they have foreseen. Or so they like to think.

The idea, I guess, is that once you have enough information on someone or some group you can predict how they’ll act in a given situation. Where this gets a little creepier is when you start actively trying to manipulate people with “nudges” in your preferred direction.

If you haven’t already seen it your utility bill will start telling you how your energy consumption stacks up against your neighbors. This is supposed to make you more competitive about being greener and reducing your carbon footprint. As if a lower electricity bill wasn’t enough of an incentive already?

I can’t wait till the next generation of this ulitility bill envy hits the market. Instead of hearing how well your doing against your neighbors on average, Duke Energy will mine social media to find the friend/relative/coworker you loathe the most and put his stupid face on paper with a better score than you. “Did you know Rob Kringle cared more about the Earth than you in 2016?” The fuck he does. I’m gonna buy those double paned low-e argon windows right now and show Rob fucking Kringle what’s up. That’s the hope anyway.

Why do I sound so skeptical about this new enlightened era of rule by algorithm? I don’t think they can pull it off. At least not in the way they seem to think.

For one, much of the psychology and behavioral economics that would make up the foundation of such an effort are undergoing a replication crisis right now. Two, even if the science were sound, the people at the controls are flawed human beings just as susceptible to bias and corruption as you and I. They’re gonna waste all this power on something that’s evil or doesn’t matter. They’ll end up using it to mobilize 40% of the population to hunt and kill the dentist that shot that lion.

Finally, once it becomes public knowledge that they’re using our utility bills and our GPS apps to reduce third-hand smoke. Maybe 40% of us will go along. The rest?

‘oo put you in charge eh?

Put simply,

The Network: Just what is it that you want to do?

Gary King: We want to be free!

Steven Prince: Yeah.

Gary King: We want to be free to do want we want to do!

Steven Prince: Yeah.

Gary King: And we want to get loaded!

Andrew Knightley: Yeah!

Gary King: And we want to have a good time and that’s what we are gonna do!

The Network: It’s pointless arguing with you. You will be left to your own devices.

Gary King: Really?

The Network: Yeah. Fuck it.

That’s how it goes down, baby.


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