Thought bytes: Drowning in the silicon sea – beware the bots!

A picture of a white robot nalancing a small family on the palm of its hand

There’s an ever-increasing list of issues that could keep you up at night: there’s an always-rising tide, or the relentless anti-bacon lobby, “Would you like some cancer with those eggs?”.

How about being publicly shamed on social media, by some 23-year-old millennial just because you happen to share a similar view with his 87-year-old grand-dad? But you’re worrying about the wrong things.

Buy a house by the water, eat the bacon. Tell the world what you really think and use CAPS and never apologise (seriously never-ever ever apologise, the outcome won’t change, so at least go down with some dignity) go wild, buy your son a toy gun and a blue T-shirt!

The smartest people in the room are not concerned about such trivialities. They are instead, intensely and solely concerned with Turing Tests. The Robots are coming. And they’re smart. And they don’t care. About you, about anything.

If this sounds alarmist, it should. We are living in the age of Artificial Intelligence; Moore’s law might be pressing up against physics but the damage is already done. Most people rationalise this by buying into the AI effect.

The AI effect

The AI effect occurs when onlookers discount the behaviour of an artificial intelligence program by arguing that it is not real intelligence. It makes it less scary. Siri, Google Now, smart cars, Chatbots, Content generation Bots, Bot bots.

Don’t fool yourself It’s now ubiquitous. The algorithms have won, but at least we can retain a modicum of mana as we drown under their silicon sea.

Let’s start with privacy online. Assuming you have any left. Google, Facebook and all the rest make their money by selling your data. You happily agree to this so that you can see pictures of your niece’s new dog. Good trade! Maybe seeing a photo of a dog is a fair price for passing over all your personal data to some brainy billionaires.

Maybe they really need do a new spaceship, or tropical island…Or you could stop using free email services. Or, use them and use fake everything. Fake name, fake news. Mess with Google’s business model. Get a burner (or 5) Mailnator or YopMail are great for this. Use EFF’s Privacy Badger extension add-on (it works on all browsers) set and forget. Track the Trackers. Email the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Lobby Mr Edwards to audit all the large data-sellers. Maybe you won’t change anything. Which is cool too. But it can’t hurt to think twice about what you’re giving up to your big benevolent brother.

And if anyone knows, Orwell knows, that these days, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

By John Connor

“I write for this magazine because it’s easier to say ‘I told you so’ when it’s in print.”