By Michael Krieger
Source: Liberty Blitzkrieg
Stiegler insists, however, that authentic thinking and calculative thinking are not mutually exclusive; indeed, mathematical rationality is one of our major prosthetic extensions. But the catastrophe of the digital age is that the global economy, powered by computational “reason” and driven by profit, is foreclosing the horizon of independent reflection for the majority of our species, in so far as we remain unaware that our thinking is so often being constricted by lines of code intended to anticipate, and actively shape, consciousness itself.
As the share price of Google parent company Alphabet soared to new highs in the U.S. equity market last week, several articles were published detailing just how out of control and dangerous this tech behemoth has become.
First, we learned Google is in the process of secretly sucking up the personalized healthcare data of up to 50 million Americans without the permission of patients or doctors. This was followed by a detailed report in the Wall Street Journal outlining how the search giant is meddling with its algorithms far more aggressively than executives lead people to believe. Despite these revelations, or more likely because of them, the stock price jumped to record levels. This is the world we live in.
We should’ve known right away that a tech company with the motto “don’t be evil,” would quickly and without any hesitation embrace as much evil as possible. Although pushback against America’s most dangerous tech giants (Google, Facebook and Amazon) has been growing, it hasn’t amounted to anything serious, and investors don’t expect much if the share price is any indication. Perhaps after seeing zero bank executives jailed after last decade’s financial crime spree, coupled with Boeing executives likewise facing no real repercussions despite killing hundreds out of profit-obsessed negligence, we’ve come to embrace our sociopathic, depraved overlords. Give me liberty, or give me new highs in the S&P500.
It’s important to note that while much of the recent focus on tech giants revolves around market dominance and anti-competitiveness, the real danger posed is far more extensive. Particularly since the post-election “panic of 2016,” these companies have begun to more earnestly morph into digital information gatekeepers in the name of empire and the national security state.
Day by day, tweaked algorithm by tweaked algorithm, and with each new thought criminal banished from major digital platforms, we’ve seen not only dissident views marginalized, but we’ve also lost a capacity to access information we’re looking for should tech company CEOs or their national security state partners deem it inappropriate. The powers that be have determined the internet permitted too much freedom of thought and opinion, so the tech giants stand ready to bluntly throw the hammer down in order to reverse that trend and regain narrative control. The algorithm will be used to get you in line, and if you don’t comply, the algorithm will destroy you.
More from TruthDig:
Stiegler believes that digital technology, in the hands of technocrats whom he calls “the new barbarians,” now threatens to dominate our tertiary memory, leading to a historically unprecedented “proletarianization” of the human mind. For Stiegler, the stakes today are much higher than they were for Marx, from whom this term is derived: proletarianization is no longer a threat posed to physical labor but to the human spirit itself…
Stiegler firmly believes that a distinction must always be upheld between “authentic thinking” and “computational cognitivism” and that today’s crisis lies in confusing the latter for the former: we have entrusted our rationality to computational technologies that now dominate everyday life, which is increasingly dependent on glowing screens driven by algorithmic anticipations of their users’ preferences and even writing habits (e.g., the repugnantly named “predictive text” feature that awaits typed-in characters to regurgitate stock phrases)… As Stiegler’s translator, the philosopher and filmmaker Daniel Ross, puts it, our so-called post-truth age is one “where calculation becomes so hegemonic as to threaten the possibility of thinking itself.”
This is the true crux of what we’re dealing with, and so we find ourselves at a terrifying transition point in the entire historical human experience should we fail to correct it. As a consequence of their dominant market shares in core areas of our modern digital world like e-commerce (Amazon), human-to-human communication (Facebook) and information access (Google), tech giants now have the capacity to replace human curiosity and thought with opaque and ever-changing algorithms.
Here’s some of what the WSJ revealed in its investigation published last week:
More than 100 interviews and the Journal’s own testing of Google’s search results reveal:
• Google made algorithmic changes to its search results that favor big businesses over smaller ones, and in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser, eBay Inc., contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action. The company also boosts some major websites, such as Amazon.com Inc.and Facebook Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.
• Google engineers regularly make behind-the-scenes adjustments to other information the company is increasingly layering on top of its basic search results. These features include auto-complete suggestions, boxes called “knowledge panels” and “featured snippets,” and news results, which aren’t subject to the same company policies limiting what engineers can remove or change.
• Despite publicly denying doing so, Google keeps blacklists to remove certain sites or prevent others from surfacing in certain types of results. These moves are separate from those that block sites as required by U.S. or foreign law, such as those featuring child abuse or with copyright infringement, and from changes designed to demote spam sites, which attempt to game the system to appear higher in results.
• In auto-complete, the feature that predicts search terms as the user types a query, Google’s engineers have created algorithms and blacklists to weed out more-incendiary suggestions for controversial subjects, such as abortion or immigration, in effect filtering out inflammatory results on high-profile topics.
• Google employees and executives, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have disagreed on how much to intervene on search results and to what extent. Employees can push for revisions in specific search results, including on topics such as vaccinations and autism.
• To evaluate its search results, Google employs thousands of low-paid contractors whose purpose the company says is to assess the quality of the algorithms’ rankings. Even so, contractors said Google gave feedback to these workers to convey what it considered to be the correct ranking of results, and they revised their assessments accordingly, according to contractors interviewed by the Journal. The contractors’ collective evaluations are then used to adjust algorithms.
This comes down to power and control, and the tech giants are now maturing into their predictable role as algorithmic gatekeepers of a new digital feudalism. Google has the power to shape your mind by limiting what you have access to, while at the same time wielding the power to destroy your livelihood with a tweak of an algorithm. Although a lot of the most nefarious stuff is still being conducted at the margins so the masses don’t realize what’s happening, stealth censorship will continue to be rolled out until the internet most people use becomes for all practical purposes an information gulag where nothing but shameless propaganda is pumped onto screens by hidden algorithms tweaked (for your own good) by billionaires.
A perfect example of this can be seen in how YouTube hides ones of the most popular videos ever made regarding the attacks of September 11, 2001. The short clip made by James Corbett, is titled 9/11: A Conspiracy Theory, and has over 3.2 million views. Nevertheless, here’s what YouTube spits out if you search by the exact title of the video.
Keep scrolling and you still won’t find it. This isn’t YouTube helping users find the information they want, it’s YouTube hiding content from its users. Moreover, the only reason I’m aware of the censoring of this particular item is because I’m familiar with the video from years ago. You can be certain this sort of thing is more common than you realize and will only get worse.
The internet was supposed to free information while connecting people and ideas across borders. This promise is being lost with each passing day, and rectifying the situation is one of the most significant challenges we face. Should we fail, we can look forward to a future where humanity consists of little more than digitally lobotomized automatons responding like lab rats to algorithms created by tech CEOs and their national security state partners.