Brave new world here we come

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For my high school graduation paper, I wrote about the future of mankind. Freshly influenced by the essay “Brave New World Revisited” by Aldous Huxley, the thesis of my essay was that mankind was not meant to work in order to enjoy life — a believe that many

18-year-olds maintain today — but that we would instead invent machines to take over repetitive tasks and craft “smart apes” that would tackle more nuanced tasks, like gardening.

Forty or 50 years ago, this all seemed so plausible. After all, we’d just landed on the moon and mankind was the master of the universe. Our genius would eventually solve all problems and catapult us into a life of plenty, without worry and little, if any, work. Since the traditional system that dictates that humans have to work to make a living would no longer apply, we would replace it with a universal income that would become a birthright, so that we could function as a society allowing us to make choices and freely trade things we would value less for things we value more.

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Today, I reckon that one side of my prediction is indeed emerging — that of mechanical systems and artificial intelligence. However, the fundamental philosophical error in my equation was that I prophesied the systems would serve the human species. What I observe now is the opposite; we humans are serving the machines, computers and artificial intelligence. In other words, ordinary citizens are not on top of the food chain and benefitting from the progress; instead, we have become the slaves of the machines that fill the coffers of a handful of corporate officers and shareholders. For the most influential companies in the world —Amazon, Apple, Alphabet (formerly, Google) and Facebook — we are merely data points whose behaviors are systematically plotted and exploited to the fullest extent the (non-existing) laws allow.

Put your critical thinking hat on and ask the deeper question: What is the ultimate motive of these brands? At this point, It goes beyond making a profit. It is all about power: the power to control users (followers) and their behavior. The idea that power equals wealth is not a new concept; rulers and institutions throughout the centuries have known that if one entity or person has undue influence over many, it will result in riches.

Let’s take Amazon as an example: It’s not like Jeff Bezos had an evil plan 24 years ago to take over the world. It simply started out as a disruptive and more efficient way to sell books by taking advantage of what technology made possible. But driven by the goal to become bigger and bigger, the means started to be more intrusive. Amazon holds or has applied for several patents that would potentially enable it to spy on consumers. Take its Echo devices: Artificial intelligence program “Alexa” is listening to your conversations in order to detect trigger words, much in the style described by George Orwell in “1984.” If you need more evidence that humans are serving machines, what do you think about the wristband patent Amazon holds to track the movements of its workers to ensure productivity? I rest my case.

Marc Frey – media entrepreneur
mfrey@freymedia.com