Why Can't We Do this in IRL? Megan Broadmeadow (2018)
Installation shot Rob Battersby
A Brief Digital History: We are in the midst of The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) - that is the so-called fourth industrial revolution since the initial massive industrial shakeup of the European 18th century. The 4IR consists of a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres; collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems.
The revolution began when stored-program computers broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. Numbers that do things now rule the world. But who rules over the machines?
The jaw dropping brilliance of the big tech companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft etc.) is that they broke the model of the physical world as we knew it and cyber formed a digitally ordered replica of it. Their models are no longer simply modelling physical reality. They shape the way we behave and act with or without our knowledge and consent. In this winners-take-all game, which is taking place in the virtual realms, Governments with an allegiance to antiquated models and control systems, are being left behind.
Large hybrid networks, in the form of economies have existed for a long time and for most of human history information circulated at the speed of gold and silver. Man-made technological tools have only recently allowed information to circulate at the speed of light. And it was only 50 years ago, that an obscure Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, (1881 – 1955) set down the philosophical framework for this planetary, Net-based consciousness - The Noosphere.
We imagine that individuals, or individual algorithms, are still behind the curtain somewhere and with the correct policy or law we can regulate these systems to a more just and equitable path. We are fooling ourselves.
This electronic library spewed data in vast mounds. High-quality training datasets integral to Machine Learning AI are becoming to shape our lives. And these data sets are expensive to produce, because of the large amount of time needed for labelling. Ethical understanding of how we label data, comes from the historic cognitive organisation produced from particular cosmologies. For the Western countries this is a rationalist framework which privileges logic over sense, white people over black and men over women.
The new gatekeepers, tech companies (mainly owned by tech bros), rule a growing sector of the world by controlling the flow of information. Block one flow with new legislation and the digital system simply adjusts around it. This is a real outcome of words such as cloud, distributed and decentralised. We have created something which no central government can control.
"People of literary and critical bias find the shrill vehemence of de Chardin as disconcerting as his uncritical enthusiasm for the cosmic membrane that has been snapped around the world by electric dilation of our various senses. This externalization of our senses creates what de Chardin calls the 'noosphere' or a technological brain for the world. Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors ” Marshall McLuhan, The Guttenberg Galaxy (1986)