The good old days

CSLewis NostalgiaWe can all get a bit nostalgic at times and yearn for an easier time, a happier time, a time when the sun always shone, or the world seemed a safer place.

We know, of course, that our memory of such times are dependant on our feelings, not our reason, and it has been thus for many a year.
Wishing ourselves back to that gentler time may seem just sentimental nostalgia, and in fact can be dangerous as it can create havoc not just as politics go [think Trump], but also in f.ex. medicine.
In the case of medicine the most important medical decisions are increasingly based NOT on your feelings of how ill or well you are, not even on informed predictions of your doctor, but on the calculations of computers who know you better than you know yourself. Think of DNA tests determining your likelihood of getting f.ex. breast cancer if you carry a particularly dangerous mutation of a gene and what the probability of you developing the cancer is. Even if you do not have cancer the determination may lead you do what Angelina Jolie did to pre-empt the disease.

Clock NostalgiaThe ‘good old days’ is being used currently in the US political race by the power hungry to displace sensible discourse with patriotic platitudes.
A look at history will soon dispel the myth of the good old days, the days when diseases were unknown, and no suffering existed, no pain, and getting food required no labour.
Yet untouched by today’s evils the ancient Egyptians suffered heart disease and Neanderthals got cancer. Perhaps they weren’t so good old days after all.

For thousands of years humans also believed that all authority came from the gods, and eventually the authority shifted from the gods to the people. Quite a shift that led to convincing us that our own feelings and wishes were the source of meaning, and our free will consequently became the highest authority of all. The idea was named Humanism.

At this point you are wondering where this is leading, well it leads to yet a new shift away from the good old days, to that of the creation of a new universal narrative that legitimizes the authority of algorithms and Big Data.

algorithm jokeIn a Kapiti SeniorNet computer course today the word ‘algorithms’ was used, simply because it is now part of our life and our vocabulary, and we know that be it Google or other industry giants their existence is totally tied in with algorithms.
The boys and prophets in Silicon Valley now sees or perceives the entire universe as a flow of data and that humanity’s cosmic vocation is to create an all-encompassing data-processing system – and then merge into it.

We are in the process of giving way to Google and Facebook, and where biologist may be sorting out the mysteries of the human body and especially that of the brain and human feelings we have computer scientists cooking up unprecedented data-processing power. The result is that between them these new external systems have learned all about you and understands you and your feelings better than anyone else can. Once that happens the authority will shift from humans to algorithms thanks to Big Data.

We saw it with medicine and as it spreads even to your Kindle Reader when fitted with biometric sensors and face recognition which will allow Amazon all your details and how to press your emotional buttons.

BlackboardWhat’s next, logically people will give algorithms the authority to make their most important decisions. Google already knows when you were born, it has read all your emails, recorded your smartphone calls, it knows your favourite films from your streaming, your taste in music, and your entire biometric history from your medical records, your Fitbit, your blood pressure and diabetic reading and when you went on a date with someone. All of this enables the algorithm to determine and advise you of your next step which you already know will be the correct answer for you.
Google may not be perfect, but it won’t have to be, just better than the average, and you know all the mistakes you have made because in reality you don’t know yourself that well, whilst Google does.

I am sure you don’t like this and prefer to stay well away from algorithms, if so there is probably just one thing to do, the oldest in the book: know thyself. As long as you have greater insight and self-knowledge than the algorithms, your choices will still be superior and you will keep at least some authority in your hands. If the algorithms nevertheless seem poised to take over, it is mainly because most human beings hardly know themselves at all.