Sunday, March 15, 2020

Cyberocracy is gaining ground, alarmingly: #1

I mostly read about how the information age is affecting particular actors and activities. Here I read how the information age is reshaping everything for everybody, in faster, deeper, darker ways than I’ve fully grasped. Privacy in increasingly a goner, and mass manipulation and herding are becoming ever easier. Liberal democracy is being eroded so extensively that it is already giving way to the rise of illiberal cyberocracy (a concept I fielded in the early 1990s that may be worth revisiting).

In this article, Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff warns that “You Are Now Remotely Controlled: Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth.” Accordingly, “surveillance capitalism” is spreading so rapidly, and so uncontrollably, that while people initially celebrated free new digital services, “now we see that the surveillance capitalists behind those services regard us as the free commodity. We thought that we search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us. We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us. We barely questioned why our new TV or mattress had a privacy policy, but we’ve begun to understand that “privacy” policies are actually surveillance policies.”

One result is a fraught new kind of inequality — “epistemic inequality” — that reflects people’s knowledge and power. People are being massively, unsuspectingly scanned, monitored, manipulated, and maneuvered to such an extent that leading firms, using their “computational factories,” are converting what we have long regarded as privacy into proprietary goods.

A further result is “a new ‘instrumentarian’ power … to manipulate subliminal cues, psychologically target communications, impose default choice architectures, trigger social comparison dynamics and levy rewards and punishments — all of it aimed at remotely tuning, herding and modifying human behavior in the direction of profitable outcomes and always engineered to preserve users’ ignorance.”

Yikes — this has advanced farther and faster than I’ve known, and her suggestions for constraining it do not give me much hope. For as she warns, “surveillance capitalism has turned epistemic inequality into a defining condition of our societies, normalizing information warfare as a chronic feature of our daily reality prosecuted by the very corporations upon which we depend for effective social participation.”


[Re-posted from my Facebook page post a few weeks ago.]

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