They say that knowledge is power. At least that is what people used to believe when we took the time to read beyond the number of characters in the average tweet or the tantalizing headlines that we accept as fact without ever questioning the veracity of the text below it.
In the digital age, we no longer have an appetite for knowledge but byte-sized information that comes in the form of easy to access and easier to digest packets. It is, therefore, no small irony that having greater access to information means that we are less informed and more inclined to accept what pops up on our screen as an unassailable gospel to which we readily genuflect.
In such a world, it is the information brokers who are calling the shots and ultimately controlling our understanding of the greater reality.
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
Like Orwell’s Big Brother someone, somewhere is always watching you, tracking your every move on the Internet to identify patterns of interest and beliefs, eventually using that knowledge to influence you by way of “customized” search results. On reaching that critical point of increasingly narrow input, you will then be ready to have your views gradually and imperceptibly reshaped, leading to your pliant acceptance that all search results and their corresponding doctrines are irrefutable truths to be embraced and defended.
After all, how often do you question the accuracy of a Google search? While history may have been written by the victors, your future is being orchestrated by Google and the ever-changing, increasingly mysterious algorithms they employ to direct you to the “right place.”
The only problem is for whom is it the right place? Does it serve your best interests or the best interests of the one providing the information that directs you?
We are, in essence, all drinking the Google Kool-aide, but instead of using cups, we are ingesting it in electronic milliseconds under the watchful eyes of supposedly subservient yet pervasive technologies. The real question to which we need an answer is; who is serving whom?
Technology is no longer solely an external device that you access through an entry point that you control, such as a keyboard or mouse.
Today, and with the advent of wearable devices, the technology is accessing you. Think about it for a moment. Put on a wrist band that monitors your heart rate or tracks your sleep patterns. You need not do anything other than move and breath and sleep; the technology does the rest.
Is it such a stretch with AI to imagine a day when these accessories can access your brainwaves so that under the auspices of convenience and enhancing your daily life, you merely have to think of a phone number to dial it? Or, instead of saying “OK Google,” the company’s intuitive neural technology instantly provides the information you seek directly to the computer that is your brain?
In granting such intimate access to your mind when will Google transition from being a benevolent, helpful servant to a malevolent self-serving master? At what point does convenience to your detriment, become blind trust?
The Inescapable Dystopia Within
Right now, look around you? Do you like where you are? Do you like the people sitting next to you? Are you happy or uncomfortable?
The beauty of being in the physical realm is that if you don’t like where you are, you can conveniently get up and leave. However, there is no number of miles that you can travel geographically to escape your mind. Your mind, your thoughts, your values, and ideas are inescapable. Therefore, to whom and to what are you granting access to your mind is of paramount importance.
Think about this for a moment; from the time we are born to the age of 7 – the point at which we begin to have conscious awareness of the world around us, our ideas and values and beliefs have been formed by others through a kind of repetitious osmosis.
According to experts, 70 percent of what we learned during our early years is wrong and self-limiting, yet even today said information influences what we think and how we act.
In this regard, and as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman describes it,
“For some of our most important beliefs, we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold these beliefs. Considering how little we know, the confidence we have in our beliefs is preposterous – and it is also essential.”
The fact is that from birth, we are “wired” to take in information without questioning its veracity because it is intuitively fast and undeniably convenient, and the words “OK Google” is the epitome of such expeditious learning. Like knowing how to walk without thinking about it when does our ability to quickly take in information become so easy that we no longer think about the information itself?
It’s Not A Superpower
Someone once said that “it isn’t a superpower unless it can also be used for evil.”
Google has many great attributes and has, in many ways, changed our world for the better. But like a superpower, its omnipotent reach into our daily lives poses a threat if we abdicate our responsibility as the true gatekeepers of our minds.
Vigilance is the key to our future, not technology, or Artificial Intelligence, or even Google.
By the way, I would like to thank Google for providing me with the information needed to write this article.
As the editor and lead writer for the Procurement Insights Blog, Jon Hansen has written nearly 3,000 articles and papers, as well as five books on subjects as diverse as supply chain practice, public sector policy, emerging business trends and social media. He is also a two-time Ottawa finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award (out of a group of 15,000). An internationally sought-after speaker and moderator, Jon is also the host of the highly acclaimed PI Window on The World Show on Blog Talk Radio, which has aired more than 800 episodes since its initial broadcast in March 2009. Blog Talk Radio named him as one of their top 300 hosts.