Big Tech vs Us: 0 — 0

Be Your Own Robot
5 min readOct 18, 2020


With the smartphones in our pockets people have turned into semi-digital beings. We have become entities in in a hybrid universe in which online, offline, virtual and physical realities are merging. But the influence of digital technology on our daily life will even increase radically once we start wearing AR devices.

If we end up wearing augmented reality glasses remains to be seen, and another question cannot be answered yet neither: who will control what we get to see through our devices in 10 years from now?

Instead of waiting and hoping for a good outcome, it’s better to be well prepared for what’s to come. Therefore the current focus of this “Be Your Own Robot” initiative is focussed on what we can do now. Followed-up with a step-by-step approach on what to do next. But not starting too late, is crucial.

A central theme in a lot of the discussions today is data. Data is valuable. Our data is valuable for Big Tech, so they’re providing us free services in return for our data. And these free services nowadays define our society, there’s no way to do without them (yet). The usual story.

Numerous initiatives are working on mechanisms to manage the ownership of our data, but there’s much more that we can and need to do. Data should not be a piece of value we’re trading for services. We should keep the invaluable insights extracted from this data to ourselves. We should use the data for our own future AI systems that we need to develop as alternatives to the invisible algorithms the Big Tech companies are building. And by providing our own data to the systems we build ourselves, and trust, we can even be adding more data that will make the total dataset more valuable. Social media profiling tools need to guess how we feel, and wait patiently for our likes and comments, nudging us to interact more. But if we can keep track of our own ‘soft data’ and store it in a time-stamped location-tagged way, we’ll be building up a much more reliable ‘digital twin’ about ourselves and our feelings. And it will be much better to let our own AI decision-making tools rely on a profile we can monitor and adjust in a clear and transparent way.

The urgency of the need to act is being driven by a development in Silicon Valley we’ll soon be confronted with: the re-launch of the AR wearable. This time, it will be a subtle, properly designed and privacy safe version. So we’re told by Facebook and Apple. These devices will be monitoring us throughout the day. Thirds party apps will not have direct camera access, but the Big Tech companies will use the data to profile us at an insane new level. All for our own benefits, they’ll tell us. To optimise the services these devices will provide to us.

So before it’s too late, we need to do a bit of thinking, a bit of decision making and a bit of action. Do we see the risks of Big Tech collecting data about us? What if, in 10 years time, we do no longer agree with the situation we’re in? We will have lost a decennium of time which will limit us in our search and/or development of proper alternatives. There will be no way out, because we can implement the systems (if patent filings allow us) but we’ll lack the data that makes these systems valuable.

So what we need to do now, is data collection. We need to start tracing ourselves, storing our own data and we could even enrich that data collection with time-stamped additional information about how we feel in ways that are not easy to quantify and measure with our technical devices.

A summary of the steps for phase 1 (now):

Steps in phase 2 (within some years from now)

  • Assume there will be software that will make sense of our incompatible pile of data snippets and bulks of downloaded and gathered data.
  • Development of smart but transparent AI systems for us as semi-digital humans, using our own data
  • Create open source engine for human HUD-controlled behaviour
  • Create an API for Big Tech to use when they need to contact us

The era of AR wearables hasn’t started yet, not for real. What we see around us right now are function-oriented AR devices, such as the Hololens. But the smartglasses and AR glasses of the future will be a completely different league of devices. Being worn 24/7 we’ll use them different, they will enhance our life in new ways and before that happens they will first have to learn how to do so. They’ll have to get to know us, and Big Tech needs to learn how to design this into our life.

Big Tech vs we

But we should join that challenge too and think and design for ourselves how we want these devices to become part of our life and our society. In order to have any change to be succesfull, we need to arrange that we’re in the same starting position. And data is the fundament. So let’s start our preemptive data collection today, and assume that the score in the battle between us and Big Tech is 0 to 0!



Be Your Own Robot

Sander Veenhof / hands-on futurist