GDPR and the Global Data Panic
I just watched another video on the dangers of Big Data in the hands of tech giants and politicians. Cambridge Analytica really did a number on our collective psyche. Perhaps I’m being naïve but the current global panic about how data is used to influence people’s decisions seems pointless. Let me tell you why.
Modern civilization has always been about influencing other people’s decisions, ideally without the use of force. You pay people to do things for you (work or give you their stuff), you seduce mates to sleep with you, you train children to make them behave in a certain way, the list goes on. Just like the industrial age basically used the new technology of the time to amp up commerce (paying people to do stuff), machine learning & AI, the new technology of today (originally called Information Technology for a reason), basically amps up our ability to convince people to do what we want, again without the use of force.
There is nothing wrong in me being persuaded to make a choice, so long as I make that choice with access to all the necessary facts. Most people are happy to be seduced by a crush. You don’t get upset when you find out your crush seduced you by wearing perfume, paying you compliments, or treating you nicely. You get upset when you find out they lied about having a job for instance, or about what they really wanted out of your “entanglement”.
The Internet became popular because it made finding information easier. Information about things you’d like to buy, for instance. People hate the idea of being advertised to, yet we seek out reviews and product recommendations online. We want to know which item to buy but we don’t want it in our faces. So what if it wasn’t in our faces? What if it was what we wanted but didn’t yet know we wanted? What’s wrong with algorithms using patterns to predict what would appeal to us? The illusion of control.
People want to believe their choices were totally theirs and completely uninfluenced by anything outside their minds. But all our choices are influenced by something external. Your choices are influenced by where you were born, who your parents are, your friends in school, what books you read at what age, etc. Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers has a chapter devoted to showing how a child’s birth month could affect his/her performance in sports or academics. We like to believe we are the captains of our fates and we are… but only to the degree to which we use what we are exposed to.
So am I asking you to just lay back and take whatever the tech giants dish out? No. I’m asking you to take responsibility for your own actions. Own your decisions. Use the technology of today to your advantage. Seek out information about both sides of the debate. Then make a decision that’s honest. And most importantly, be willing to change your mind in light of new information.