The need for trust

 

As discussed last time, the grudging imprimatur granted to Ads+Data World transforms humans into users and consumers, in all aspects of our personal, and social, and economic, and political lives.  

That same platform-centric model now is being imported, without much forethought, into the brave new world of ubiquitous, always-on devices and computing and data flows.

Online technologies of potential control continue to emerge.

  • Maturation of Big Data: data brokers, conducting data mining, engaging in data profiling, utilizing data inferences;

  • Cloud computing: massive data processing and storage on servers worldwide;

  • AI algorithms: machines constantly learning, adapting, evolving, deciding for us;

  • Internet of Things: billions of devices and sensors, everywhere in our environments, on our clothes, in our bodies;

  • Augmented reality: the very nature of our experience can be shaped and altered;

  • Biometrics: uncovering deeper understanding of our emotions, thoughts, and desires; and

  • Quantum computing: all our bits will be processed thousands of times faster.

Each of these advances promises astounding benefits.  The problem is not necessarily (or primarily) with the what, but the who, and the how, and the why. With the ongoing re-centralization of our daily lives, little of this tech will be under our direct control.  

Openness requires trust.

Trust is the essence of any healthy relationship between people.  Trust has been called “the social glue,” one that mutually binds us together as individuals, as families, as institutions, as markets, as political systems.  

One finds trust initially by being open, forthcoming, even vulnerable—but in situations where one also can feel safety and security.  Openness actually thrives within a sense of enclosure, a comfort level.

Trust requires accountability.

In recent years, we have seen collective trust in the World Wide Web badly shaken.  And no clear signs that the situation will improve. In fact, with emerging online technologies being directly tied into that same Ads+Data World paradigm—motivated primarily by money and influence—the trust deficit will only get worse.

The genie cannot be put back into the bottle.  Data will be collected from Users, and utilized in some fashion, and targeted advertising will continue apace.  After all, tangible benefits have accrued from the existing model. But the questions continue: by whom is the data gathered and utilized, and for what reasons?  From our conscious and pre-conscious thoughts, to our limbic system emotions, to our corporeal bodies—all now has become fair game to Ads+Data World. What will it all mean in everyday human terms?  Who ultimately is responsible? And do we have any meaningful choice?

Susie at the bus stop (circa 1995).  Just one small example, of many.

7:22 am.  Every morning.  Rain or shine. Seven year old Susie waits, all by herself, for the school bus to pick her up.  Her parents keep a watchful eye on her from a distance, as do likely one or two friendly neighbors.

Overall, this scene feels safe, comfortable, under control.  There is an implicit trust in this situation. Susie will get to school just fine.  Today, and likely every day this year.

Susie at the bus stop (circa 2020).  Same situation.

7:22 am.  Susie at the bus stop.  Every morning. Except...

Now, some five billion people around the world can become part of this scene. They can see Susie, and her every gesture. They can know who she is, down to every data point.  They can interact with her, manipulate her, try to get her to see or say or do things. In short, Susie has become an online object of interest, from an unseen thicket of connected servers and routers and devices and databases all over the world.

New technologies—drones, IoT devices, AI, VR, biometrics, and more—mean Susie is not alone anymore.  Anywhere. Because “offline” is now fully online. Perhaps at this single moment her parents are still monitoring from afar.  But then, so are many others. The online norm of Ads+Data World now will live with us, everywhere.

Are we OK with this scene?  And if not, what can we do about it?

What is missing from the 2020 scene.

For Susie and her parents—real agency and autonomy.  Legitimate, informed consent. A strong sense of personal safety and security.  Local power and control.

From the other actors—responsibility and accountability.  Meaningful, mutual human connection.

Overall, what is lacking is the freedom and openness just to live as a human being. And, perhaps most fundamentally: TRUST.

The 2020 scenario demonstrates that, increasingly, we can no longer trust that the Web and its emerging technologies will be there for our actual benefit.  And not instead to distract, or control, or even harm us, in potentially countless ways. Perhaps then it is time to reexamine our daily mediation options—and take steps to “counter-mediate” our experiences of the Web.


Next time: Introducing GLIAnet.

 
Richard Whitt