A lot of science-fiction over the past century has followed a certain theme. The more technology develops, the closer robots come to AI, the more human they become. Except, of course, they have much greater power than humans and end up enslaving us.
But until a few decades ago, sci-fi did not know about the internet and how it would change the world. It didn’t predict how the internet would connect humans with such immediacy. If you wanted to invade someone’s privacy, or use that as a plot point, you had to actually get to that person’s house somehow to bug it.
Invading our own privacy
Now, Facebook has shown us another way sci-fi got it wrong. The big threat to us is not robots becoming sentient – developers have unprecedented control over their creations because of the internet, and technology still needs us to replace its parts, including parts that protect us from the big bad weapons we’re afraid of, detecting chemical agents and other big
threats. The big threat is those developers and their employers taking advantage of the internet to invade our privacy.
Amazon recently made the news for patenting ‘voice sniffing’ technology. This technology could give the Amazon Echo the ability to look out for certain words or phrases and use them to tailor its services. ‘I like’, for example, would get its attention. People were quite concerned about this, but the truth is it’s nothing new. After all, the Echo listens out for the word ‘Alexa’ already. Our phones listen out for ‘Hey, Siri,’ or ‘Okay Google.’
We’ve brought technology into our lives that gives its developers or owners the ability to collect our information and use it against us. Facebook harvesting our data should not be a surprise to anyone. It would be more surprising to learn that none of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Samsung, etc. were misusing our data for profit.
This is worse than a robot invasion
Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. A robot invasion that enslaves humanity wouldn’t be a walk in the park. But at the moment, we are learning more and more about how companies and governments have been manipulating us.
We all like to think that we’re independent thinkers, but Facebook has single-handedly shown us how governments and corporations can determine who we vote for, how we see major movements (the biggest Black Lives Matter page is possibly run by its enemies), and how we treat facts.
And the biggest problem of all this is that our data is going to the highest bidder. Whereas robots would likely not be malevolent, corporations or governments with specific agendas are happy to bend us to their will. Even if that puts the world at risk, by putting unstable megalomaniacs in power.
Worst case scenario
Of course, this is all worst case scenario thinking. We’re probably not at a point at which our lives are totally in the hands of the highest bidders. Privacy regulations give us some measure of protection.
But we’re not going to stop letting new technology into our lives, and giving that technology every molecule of information about our lives is putting it at risk. Facebook has shown us that while a robot invasion is far away, corporate invasions are already here.