Beware, the algorithms are watching you

January 19, 2019

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BY Marlene Resnick Simons

Beware, the Algorithms are Watching You

Most of us who are creative types see ourselves as individuals of independent thought, able to see through many layers of mystical beliefs clothed in the garb of commonly accepted truths. It may be religion, nationalism, parental authority or a belief in the magic of the market to address the ills of society. In each case, Yuval Noah Harari confronts our unquestioned beliefs and even our questioned beliefs with the reality in which we now exist.

He makes us look at the reality that algorithms have the power to manipulate our hearts and minds; that we are imbued with feelings by commercials that make us cry, by stories that make us think that events invented for the benefit of someone or some group, are in fact real. We are susceptible to catch phrases made popular by political campaigns and advertising that has the power to motivate different people in a multitude of different ways, from donating money to prevent starvation of a child on another continent, to stoking hate in many individuals who feel justified in treating others in ways that they would never want to be treated.

So how do I see myself as an independent thinker when the power of the internet captures my questions when I search for information, tracks my on-line purchases, investment strategy, stores a history of my communications and cross-references to project whether I will be getting married, divorced, filing for bankruptcy or needing a philanthropic vehicle in order to protect my assets?

You may find that the on-line advertising that you receive is months ahead of your actual social, cultural and financial questions or needs. That is because all the data collected about you is being used to project your most likely behaviors, your needs and your potential purchases, even before you know what they are. So, what does this mean about independent thought?

Are we promoting misinformation? Are we focused on irrelevancies? Are we really aware of our internal biases? Do we attribute behaviors to human nature that are cultural constructs? Do we even want to engage in such exploration?
The future will become more complex in regard to these questions as artificial intelligence, bioengineering and advances in pharmacology raise a multitude of questions. What does authenticity mean, when outside forces in the form of undetected algorithms feed us the nutrients that build our sense of self without our conscious awareness? The future belongs to those who own the data and know how to use it to program our deepest desires, as well as our beliefs about who we are.

If you are intrigued by such exploration, you may want to get a copy of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.