News — At The Edge — 3/4

Only two articles this week, but both are thought-provoking.

  • Our Forger-in-Chief -
  • Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?

In essence, both note that we’re at a very strange moment in history.

While the velocity of change is accelerating in all domains, information overload has disoriented most people. But this problem is being exacerbated in three ways.

  1. Current efforts to discredit scientists and journalists, along with fake new and alternative facts, is leaving many without any sense of what is and isn’t real, important, trustworthy or reliable.
  2. We’re also becoming an algorithmic, data-driven society, which makes large-scale covert manipulation and control easier.
  3. Together, these two developments make us all more vulnerable to dystopian futures

Ironically, I just wrote a new article called, The Evolution of Mind Games, on my Medium publication, A Passion to Evolve, which nicely ties into the issues raised in these articles.


Our Forger-in-Chief -

“1930s and ’40s…forger Han van Meegeren made a fortune…passing off many of his fakes as authentic paintings by Vermeer…[through] the art of poisoning the wells….

[This] stems from the [fact]…[w]e do not assess whether a claim is reasonable simply by thinking about that claim in isolation…[rather] relate the claim to…beliefs we already hold. Relative to…accepted beliefs, we decide whether the new claim is a reasonable one….[So] such a poisoning of the wells of belief leaves us powerless to make any further decisions about what to believe….

Citizens in a technologically advanced [societies]…must rely on its scientific community to deliver disinterested information…about the policies they would have their elected representatives enact. Citizens are also highly dependent on a probing press to help them judge the performance of their elected representatives…

[Trump continues] to deny and denigrate the findings of scientific bodies…[and] regularly calumnies individual members of the press and vilifies entire news organizations….[This] poses an existential threat to our democracy…[by poisoning] the wells of reasoned public discourse….

The problem is not…a falsehood here, a lie there…rather that by destroying the citizenry’s confidence in…science and the press, we risk being deprived of the tools needed to assess what to believe and want…[and] will have been rendered rationally impotent. It is damaging to be fed falsehoods or to be outright lied to, but it is utterly debilitating to be deprived of the resources by which to sort fact from fiction….

The assaults on science and the press by Trump and his followers are…a well-poisoning assault on public rational discourse, a prerequisite for a healthy democracy.”

Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence? -

“The amount of data we produce doubles every year…[but soon] will double every 12 hours…. The field of artificial intelligence is…now capable of learning, thereby continuously developing itself…[and] supercomputers will soon surpass human capabilities in almost all areas…[and] possibly even more dangerous than nuclear weapons…..[So] society is at a crossroads [that]…could threaten our [existence]….

Today, Singapore is seen as a perfect example of a data-controlled society….. China is taking a similar route….[and] we are on a similar path in the West. It is also increasingly clear…we are all in the focus of institutional surveillance….Programmed society, programmed citizens….

Today, algorithms know pretty well what we do, what we think and how we feel — possibly even better than our friends and family or even ourselves…. In fact, we are being remotely controlled….But it won’t stop there…moving towards ‘persuasive computing’…using sophisticated manipulation technologies…able to steer us through entire courses of action….The trend goes from programming computers to programming people.

These technologies are…increasingly popular in the world of politics…to govern the masses efficiently, without having to involve citizens in democratic processes….[But] scientific literature shows [it’s]…doomed to fail because of the complexity of the problem…[as] an improvement in one area almost inevitably leads to deterioration in another….

[Still] criminals, terrorists and extremists will try and manage to take control…perhaps even without us noticing….A further problem arises when adequate transparency and democratic control are lacking: the erosion of the system from the inside….Therefore, whoever controls this technology can win elections….

[F]or manipulation to stay unnoticed, it takes a so-called resonance effect — suggestions that are sufficiently customized to each individual…[and] local trends are gradually reinforced by repetition, leading all the way to the ‘filter bubble’ or ‘echo chamber effect’…[and] causes social polarization…[and] groups that no longer understand each other and [conflicting]….

In this way, personalized information can unintentionally destroy social cohesion…[as] currently observed in American politics….The result is a fragmentation, possibly even a disintegration, of society….The effects occur with a time lag, but, also, they cannot be easily undone…

[Such] manipulative methods change the way we make our decisions…[overriding] relevant cultural and social cues, at least temporarily…[and] restrict the freedom of choice….[So far] slowly enough that there has been little resistance from the population, so far…..

[T]he right of individual self-development can only be exercised by those who have control over their lives, which presupposes informational self-determination….[If] constrained, this undermines our [society]…..[Ads] must be marked as such and must not be misleading…[and] not allowed to utilize certain psychological tricks such as subliminal stimuli…..

[T]he current widespread collection and processing of personal data is certainly not compatible with the applicable data protection laws…[and] legality of personalized pricing is questionable, because it could be a misuse of insider information…possible breaches of the principles of equality and non-discrimination — and of competition laws….Personalized advertising and pricing…take advantage of our psychological weaknesses and knock out our critical thinking….

[In] the academic world, even harmless decision experiments are considered to be experiments with human subjects, which would have to be approved by a publicly accountable ethics committee…[requiring] informed consent…[not] single click to confirm…a hundred-page ‘terms of use’ agreement…. Nonetheless, experiments with manipulative technologies…are performed with millions of people, without informing them…transparency [or]…ethical constraints….[W]e urgently need to impose high standards, especially scientific quality criteria and a code of conduct similar to the Hippocratic Oath….

We must be clear that a super-intelligence could also make mistakes, lie, pursue selfish interests or be manipulated….[I]t could not be compared with the distributed, collective intelligence of the entire population…because that would dramatically lower the diversity and quality of the solutions achievable….

In a rapidly changing world a super-intelligence can never make perfect decisions…[as] systemic complexity is increasing faster than data volumes, which are growing faster than the ability to process them, and data transfer rates are limited. This results in disregarding local knowledge and facts, which are important to reach good solutions.

Distributed, local control methods are often superior to centralized approaches, especially in complex systems whose behaviors are highly variable, hardly predictable and not capable of real-time optimization….[So] the manipulation of decisions by powerful algorithms undermines the basis of ‘collective intelligence,’ which can flexibly adapt to the challenges of our complex world.

For collective intelligence to work, information searches and decision-making by individuals must occur independently….[If] predetermined by algorithms [it]…leads to a brainwashing of the people….downgraded to mere receivers of commands, who automatically respond to stimuli. In other words: personalized information builds a ‘filter bubble’ around us, a kind of digital prison for our thinking…[ultimately] a new form of dictatorship.

Therefore, the top-down controlled society…under the banner of ‘liberal paternalism,’ is in principle nothing else than a totalitarian regime with a rosy cover…[with] the targeted incapacitation of the citizen by behavioral control…[and] fatal in the long term….Centralized, top-down control is a solution of the past, which is only suitable for systems of low complexity…..

With economic and cultural evolution, social complexity will continue to rise…[requiring] collective intelligence….[So] citizen science, crowdsourcing and online discussion…are eminently important…to making more knowledge, ideas and resources available…[and] requires a high degree of diversity [that’s] being reduced by today’s personalized information systems….

Reducing sociodiversity often also reduces…performance of an economy and society…[increasing] political instability and war…. Pluralism and participation are…functional prerequisites for thriving, complex, modern societies…..

Big data, artificial intelligence, cybernetics and behavioral economics are shaping our society…[but if] not compatible with our society’s core values…could lead to an automated society with totalitarian features…[that] control what we know, what we think and how we act. We are at the historic moment, where we have to decide on the right path….

Big data and artificial intelligence are undoubtedly important innovations….[but] basic rights of citizens should be protected, as [prerequisite]…[with] the creation of a new social contract, based on trust and cooperation,…

[T]he state would have to…ensure that technologies are designed and used in ways that…guarantee informational self-determination…a right to get a copy of personal data collected about us…automatically sent, in a standardized format to… manage the use of their data…[and] unauthorized use of data would have to be punishable by law….

Sophisticated reputation systems considering multiple criteria could help to increase the quality of information on which our decisions are based…[with] an efficient complaints procedure for….sanctions for violations of the rules….[Finally] leading scientific institutions should act as trustees of the data and algorithms that…evade democratic control [and]…an appropriate code of conduct [for]…anyone with access to sensitive data and algorithms….

  1. citizens must have an understanding of these technologies…[and] what uses are illegitimate….
  2. a participatory platform is needed that makes it easier for people to become [knowledgeable]….
  3. building a ‘digital nervous system,’ run by the citizens,…[to] provide real-time data measurements available to all…. By using appropriate feedback loops, systems could be influenced in such a way that they achieve the desired outcomes by means of self-organization….
  4. To better cope with the complexity…we will require personal digital assistants…combining human and artificial intelligence …controlled in a distributed way….

[T]he framework needed to efficiently collate knowledge and ideas from lots of people in order to create collective intelligence is still missing…[so] online deliberation platforms would be highly useful…[for] greater participatory opportunities for citizens…[since] many of the problems facing the world today can only be managed with contributions from civil society.”

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May you live long and prosper!
Doc Huston



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Doc Huston

Doc Huston

Consultant & Speaker on future nexus of technology-economics-politics, PhD Nested System Evolution, MA Alternative Futures, Patent Holder —