Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Algorithmic Big Brother is Watching

Evgeny Morozov
Big Brother is watching. He has always been watching. During the Inquisition, he was the Catholic Church. When the women’s movement was getting its legs, it was NOW. Now in our computer age, it’s not a religious organization or political interest group guarding its rights against language pirates, it’s algorithms. “Thanks to Silicon Valley, our public life is undergoing a transformation,” wrote Evgeny Morozov, the author of the soon to be released To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism in a recent Times Op-Ed piece (“You Can’t Say That on the Internet,” NYT, 11/16/12) “Accompanying this digital metamorphosis is the emergence of new, algorithmic gatekeepers, who, unlike the gatekeepers of the previous era—journalists, publishers, editors—don’t flaunt their cultural authority. They may even be unaware of it themselves.” Autocompletion is one of the areas which Morozov singles out and he uses George Carlins 7 words to illustrate his point. “See how many of those words would autocomplete on your favorite Web site, “ he comments. “In my case, YouTube would autocomplete none. Amazon almost none (it also hates ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’). Of Carlin’s seven words, Google would autocomplete only ‘piss.’” Relax, at least it’s value free, might be one response to such algorithmic choices. Algorithmic censorship may turn out to be our first experience of the A.I. universe. Indeed, it’s not what the algorithm does, but what it doesn’t do that’s   the problem. Anyone who has ever received an automated telephone questionnaire from their insurance company, which provides yes and no’s but no maybe’s, will understand. Kafka foresaw it before there were any computers, in The Trial. It’s the tyranny and triumph of information, a dehumanized lynch mob made up of bits of data, determining our fate.

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