Of Digital Shadows And Digital Ghosts

Ice, Shadow and StoneIn writing about shadows and ghosts, it’s hard not to draw the line to how we process data – the phrase big data gets tossed around a lot in this way.

Data Science allows us to create constructs of data – interpreted and derived, insinuated and insulated, when in fact we know about as much about that data as we do the people in our own lives – typically insufficient to understand them as people, something I alluded to here.

Data only tells us what has happened, it doesn’t tell us what will happen, and it’s completely based on the availability we frame in and from data. We can create shadows from that data, but the real value of data is in the ghosts – the collected data in contexts beyond our frames and availability.

This is the implicit flaw in machine learning and even some types of AI. It’s where ethics intersects technology when the technologies have the capacity to affect human lives for better and worse, because it becomes a problem of whether it’s fair.

And we really aren’t very good at ‘fair’.

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Google, War and Ethics.

When 3,000 employees send an email to Google’s CEO about not wanting to be involved with warfare projects, it shows that there are at least 3,000 people who are willing to stand up for their own personal ethics.

It also means that in this day and age, Google employees are paid enough to have the privilege to do so.

Many people are forced to compromise their own ethics to pay the bills. At least some working for one company aren’t in such a boat, who are willing to speak up to their CEO.

Let’s see what happens.

Technology And Arts

Sisyphean TechnologyPeople in technology of my era and later are strange creatures that delve into the depths of understanding the cold and relentless logic of systems that they create and maintain. We see the same in other fields, in Law, in Medicine, Accounting and so many others.

Today, as Lessig wrote, ‘Code is Law‘, and Law wrestles with technology even as technology works to circumvent existing Law. Law, as a freshman student will tell you, is not Ethics – it is an attempt at the codification of Ethics in a society. That distinction is important yet routinely forgotten by many – and that’s where some empowered by technology have an ax to grind. Others are just in it for the money, or for some political agenda.

One of the problems we face, as a global society of screen-watchers, is that we have separate silos of technology and arts – where technology is often used as a platform for the liberal arts.

Apple vs. FBI: Hedgehog Factor

Sonic the HedgehogOn the old site, I wrote quite a bit about the Hedgehog’s Dilemma and how it applied to social media. I didn’t write about my own experiments with code, what I found, etc. – and that’s because I didn’t fully understand what I found. I still don’t. But I think it’s appropriate to bring it up now in the context of Apple’s amazingly open battle against the government about backdooring it’s own phone. It almost sounds like forced incest when you put it like that. Give me about 4 paragraphs before I make the point, OK?

So, first, the Hedgehog’s Dilemma itself. I like what Schopenhauer wrote:

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.

This is the battle within social media and networks with their consumers and the government. It’s constantly shifting. Personally, I’m amazed at how much people give away to simply have social connections of convenience – but it somehow works. So we have people’s expectations and wants of privacy, varying from person to person, across a network. But privacy is also intimacy, and privacy is largely a matter of how much one wants to be intimate with someone else – not everyone else. So we’re lax about privacy because we don’t consider much of what we do to be a personal space.

Cross into that intimate space, and bad things happen. People get upset, talking about privacy. I suppose in myself, my intimate space is a vast wasteland and I take it more seriously than others do, projecting that into how I interact on social media and networks without actually sucking too much at it. It goes beyond settings hidden behind a gear icon. It’s how much you share, what you share, etc.

So I’m going to drag this home. What’s at stake is the government forcing Apple to backdoor – to create something that wasn’t there – their own device, where so many people now keep their intimacy.

The Hedgehog factor, you see, is intimacy.