What is Enlightenment?

KantThis question was posed by Immanuel Kant [Philosopher] back in 1784 and you may well wonder if we have become more enlightened when we read of all the political bickering going on around us.

Immanuel Kant went on to say that “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.

Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another.”

You see my point.


These lines though are not about Kant, but about the digital revolution which we are part of and the changes it has made and will go on making as the data mountain we produce doubles every year.

To put that in perspective we produced last year [2016] as much data as in the entire history of humankind through 2015. Thanks to Facebook posts and Google searches we produce hundreds of thousands every minute just of those.

We have talked about our connectedness and what a useful and good thing it was, access to internet and to friends and family via our computers and phones, but now we need to consider our connectedness also via the Internet of Things [The Internet of Things] [The internet of things-part 2] where your appliances talk to you, and you can talk to Google or Amazon or your robot vacuum cleaner or any number of cloud Artificial Intelligence devices [Fear not, AI is here] instead of your dog.

It is estimated that by 2025 there will be 150 billion networked measuring sensors, or if you prefer 20 times more that people on earth, so as you already suspect the data mountain will double every 12 hours.

The result of that is smart homes, smart factories, smart cities, maybe smart nations and smarter planet? Brave new World indeed, as Huxley wrote.

Meanwhile the AI or artificial intelligence is making heart stopping advances, combine it with quantum computing and the AI will then be quite capable of learning and hence developing itself. It should be interesting to see how the financial market responds since today more than 70% of all financial transactions are performed by algorithms, clearly the traders of today may have had their best days. We have already talked about job losses but it will also impact today’s top companies where you can expect 40% of the 500 top corporations to have vanished during the next decade.

You may think I am being unduly alarmist, nevertheless, it is clear that the way we organize our economy and our society will change fundamentally, I do believe that we are going through the largest transformation since the end of WWII. Automation of everything, self-driving cars and automation of society is next. Take Singapore, a data-controlled society started as a programme to protect its citizen from terrorism and now influencing everything from economics, immigration, property market and the school curricula.

China is next on the similar path, with military involvement. Social control is also planned, each citizen receiving a so-called “Citizen Score”, and you can imagine the impact on getting a mortgage or loan, job even, travel visa to go overseas. Individual monitoring will allow for this, including internet surfing and the behaviour of their social contacts.

Maybe we are not far behind, we are already the focus of institutional surveillance, it was shown to be the case in the UK in 2015 when the British Secret Service’s screening of everyone’s Internet use became public.

Today, algorithms know what we do, what we think, what we feel, maybe better than our friends and family or even ourselves know. The more that is known about us the less likely it is that our choices are free and not predetermined or manipulated by others.

So where does that take us? The Trend goes from programming computers to programming people. Politicians will love whoever comes up with that technology, and the governments will nudge its citizens via this new form of paternalism to do the ‘right’ things i.e. what it considers is right, and all achieved without having to involve its citizen in the democratic process.

Such scenarios are not easily introduced or achieved, we humans may or may not follow the instructions given by the super intelligent machine, but if we did then the warnings expressed by Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Stephen Hawking and others would have become true and the computers would have taken control of the world.

There is much more that can be said for and against, but for now I won’t plague you with still more for the thinking box. The importance of thinking for oneself rather than being guided by algorithms or top-down control is still relevant more than 200 years after Kant wrote his “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”

We still have much to learn.

Happy Computing.