Miscellany – February

Artificial intelligence

“We’re a species that… can study our own ability to be manipulated,” said Tristan Harris, a former ‘design ethicist’ at Google.

“We have to talk about the advertising-based business model, which, paired with artificial intelligence, poses an existential threat. We have to get really serious about this. If you think about where are the most powerful AIs in the world located right now? Arguably, at two companies: Google and Facebook. The most powerful AIs in the world.

“Instead of pointing them at a challenge like climate change, and saying, let’s solve that, or pointing it at drug discovery for cancer, and saying, let’s solve that, we have pointed the most powerful AI supercomputers in the world at your brain. And we basically said, play chess against this brain and figure out what will engage it the best. And so every time we open up a news feed, we’re playing chess against a supercomputer that’s designed to see 50 million steps ahead on the chessboard of your mind, and figure out what will perfectly engage you.”

The results are not always pretty,: Read more at: https://www.alternet.org/media/what-can-be-done-about-attention-economys-dark-side


Time Well Spent

And for those  really interested in this  vital trend,  have a look at Harris’  not for profit website Time Well Spent whose aim is to improve Big Tech’s impact on society. He outlines why the digital revolution is  not only addictive but different from anything that has  come before it:

Artificially Intelligent – No other media drew on massive supercomputers to predict what it could show to perfectly keep you scrolling, swiping or sharing.

24/7 Influence –  No other media steers two billion people’s thoughts 24/7 – checking 150 times per day – from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep.

Social Control – No other media redefined the terms of our social lives: self-esteem, when we believe we are missing out, and the perception that others agree with us.

Personalised – No other media used a precise, personalized profile of everything we’ve said, shared, clicked, and watched to influence our behavior at this scale.

The race to keep us from looking at  our screen 24/7  creates mental and related stress; children  replace their  self esteem with ‘likes’,  constantly compare and often feel  they are missing out according to his website  which adds that the race for attention is ‘eroding the pillars of society’.  It goes on to explain impacts on  social relationships and democracy:

Social Relationships – The race for attention forces social media to prefer virtual interactions and rewards (likes, shares) on screens, over face-to-face community.           

DemocracySocial media rewards outrage, false facts, and filter bubbles – which are better at capturing attention – and divides us so we can no longer agree on truth..  Read much more at: http://www.timewellspent.io/problem



Maybe all this began with American trends network TV was already following back in 1961.  Here’s Newton Minnow,  who was appointed by President Kennedy, addressing the National Assembly of Broadcasters that year:  First he told them that nothing was better when television was good and then added:

“But when television is  bad, nothing is worse. I invite you  to sit down in front of your television when your station goes on air and stay there without a book, magazine or newspaper to distract you – and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs you off.   You will see a procession of  game shows,  violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder,  mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endless  commercials – many screaming, cajoling,  and offending” – from  The Golden age to the Vast Wasteland.  Sound familiar?

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.