Humans Vs. Algorithms (AI)

The Human Race Is In A Civil War With Technological Systems

A Declaration of War

In my wildest dreams I never expected to write these words. It is with a heavy heart that I do.

I have LOVED technology from my very earliest memories. I was fascinated by technology. Intrigued by technology. Drawn to technology. And increasingly beguiled by technology. No longer.

I thought it could do no wrong. I thought it could do no harm.

I was wrong.

Socrates

The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms

~ Socrates

Human Race:

Humans or homo sapiens — the most widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality and large complex brains, which has allowed the development of advanced tools, culture & language.

Civil War:

A war between organized groups within the same nation-state or country.

Technological Systems:

Systems that take an input, changing it according to the system’s use, and then producing an outcome.

Where We Are:

I re-iterate:

(We) the human race are in a civil war with technological systems (specifically algorithms/artificial intelligence/ai).

The question of whether we should continue to develop technology until it starts trying to take over control of the human race is already irrelevant. The sooner we as a species collectively recognize and accept this fact, the greater our chances of surviving and finding a co-habitable, healthy and productive state with technology.

To be sure, I do not write these words lightly. It is the worst case scenario to be at war. Even more so a civil war. And even more so a pernicious war. An abstract war. The collateral damage of this cold civil war results in hot wars, yet causation is almost impossible to prove.

Think about the last decade and the civil and political unrest that we have seen on a global scale. Revolutions and protests across every continent. Look at the genocide in Myanmar linked to Facebook. Then Myanmar refugees in India started facing persecution sparked again by Facebook. Look at the U.S. Capitol riot on Feb. 6th, 2021, where CEO Jack Dorsey admitted that Twitter played a role. At what point do we stop rationalizing away these events as simply coincidence and start delving into what’s really occurring?

It is no longer a question of IF we will ever be at war with technological systems. We already are.

Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

~ Sherlock Holmes

Is That Even Possible?

Our typical predictions of dystopian futures are full of technological hardware that goes to war with humans beings to either control them or destroy them (think “The Terminator” or “The Matrix”). This is not a dissent on those movies, they are classics that I absolutely love. However, as it turns out, these visions of the possible dystopian future are deeply flawed.

As my father-in-law states, whatever the future holds, the only thing we’re consistently correct about is predicting the future incorrectly. Turns out he was correct.

As per usual, we’ve mispredicted the future and have completely misdiagnosed our predicament. The war with technological systems is not some far off future event against mechanical machines. The war is already here, and it’s not a war of humans vs. machines, but rather a civil war between humans & technological systems that are already in existence.

I suppose many of you reading this are skeptical. That is good. It is healthy to doubt proclamations on the internet. In fact I would be more concerned if you weren’t skeptical of what I’m presenting. Stay with me long enough to follow my logic & I believe you’ll come to the same unfortunate conclusion as I have, that we are already at war with technological systems.

Allow me to define one additional term:

Social Engineering:

The use of psychological manipulation to make people divulge private contents or to perform certain actions.

The key purpose of social engineering is to gain access to private information and/or money. //Most social engineers are after any and everything they can get their hands on- knowing that the more leverage they have, the more to gain.

I want you to take a moment to pause and really take in these two definitions. Re-read them a couple of times.

Can you think of any individual, or group of individuals or entities that engage in social engineering? I can. Worse yet, they’re not only legally paid to socially engineer our lives, they are incentivized to do it. I would be stupefied if you couldn’t think of at least one if not dozens of examples off the top of your head.

Upon first encounter, the term “social engineering” can seem somewhat quaint and perhaps even pedestrian. One would be forgiven to consider it a rather innocuous term. There is nothing inherently sinister about either the words social or engineering. In and of themselves they are neutral (if not positive) terms and even when combined into one term they do not overtly imply negative traits. However, when defined and understood properly, the term “social engineering” takes on a very sinister meaning indeed.

The Trojan Horse — A Story of Social Engineering

Although history is replete with events that could be categorized as “social engineering,” the precise term is relatively new (only formally defined within the last 20 years or so) and was most commonly attributed specifically to a nefarious subgroup of hackers known as social engineering hackers. They were and are still considered the digital equivalent of con artists who employ dirty tricks and sleight of hand to steal either information, money or both. Think the Nigerian Prince scam or that time your grandmother was tricked into giving out her bank information over the phone.

Naturally con-artists and social engineering hackers have been categorized by society as professions of an unethical natures and ones that are commonly subject to legal ramifications if caught. In 2010 the FBI outlined three versions of social engineering include fraud schemes, phishing scams & data mining. For the FBI to include data mining is a very interesting inclusion on the list and should be a canary in the coal mine (or should I say data mine?) since career paths related to data mining have exploded and become some of the most highly sought after jobs over the last decade.

Societies and consequently the laws that govern our societies have generally agreed that both con-artists and social engineering hackers are cut from the same cloth— both use unethical practices and are undesirable in a well functioning, healthy and productive community.

In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow written by Daniel Kahneman, we are presented with the idea that our brains have two main systems. System 1 is the fast thinking system. System 2 is the slow thinking system. System 1 is automatic and processes information unconsciously. System 2 is the system we use for any type of processing . Now watch the video below for a demonstration of system 2:

What Daniel Kahneman states is that this video proves two things; that one, we can be blind to our cognitive biases (especially when attempting to utilize our slow thinking system); and two, unfortunately we can be blind to the blindness of our own cognitive biases. This was an especially painful lesson for me personally as not until very recently, did I connect the dots that the social engineering techniques that we find so unethical when con-artists or hackers employ are the same exact techniques baked into nearly every technology platform we use today. Corporations the world over utilize social engineering to manipulate human beings into (usually unwittingly) “divulging information or to perform certain actions.”

We as humans are no longer the customer, nor are we even the product nowadays. We’ve actually been demoted to the raw resource that companies mine — thus the term data mining. Just as companies have plundered the natural resources of our planet since the beginning of time, so have companies begun to plunder the valuable data of the human species.

This is is all accomplished through one simple game— the game of social engineering. The goal of the game is to get any human being on the planet to do what you want them to do; when you want them to do it; while they are using your technology. In one of the simplest versions of the game, the goal is to entice the user (human being) to stay on the technological platform for as long as possible. In this way the company that developed the technology is able to gather, filter and extract valuable information about you that assists them in predicting what your interests are, who you probably know, what you prefer to do, what you are most likely to spend money on and when, how you are likely to respond when presented with certain stimulus. Target was able to figure out how to predict if their customers were pregnant. Amazon was able to figure out that sales exploded with the addition of the “one-click” buying option. Sure got humans to spend more money — social engineering at work.

To be fair, companies have engaged in some level of social engineering since the invention of advertisements. It may have started out innocently enough but what was once a simple method of engaging with customers has morphed into a pan-global bacterial infection. The sheer scope, depth and breadth of reach that companies now have and the amount of social engineering influence that they can exert on any given community far outweighs any perceived “innocence” of today’s social engineering efforts.

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

Additionally companies know that searching for new resources is much more costly than capitalizing on available resources. Like a tube of toothpaste we are constantly being squeezed so that every last bit of data can be siphoned out of us. No matter what method is employed and for what end result, social engineering is at work.

Still not convinced that human beings are engaged in a civil war with technological systems? Then consider this: there is in fact an analogous term for social engineering in military environments. It’s known as Psychological Operations (PsyOps) or Psychological Warfare (PSYWAR) and is defined in wikipedia as:

“to denote any action which is practiced mainly by psychological methods with the aim of evoking a planned psychological reaction in other people.”

Low-Flying Helicopter Over Protesters in D.C. is a form of Psychological Warfare Known As “Show Of Force”

Sound familiar? It should. I’ll rephrase my earlier question: Can you think of any individual, or group of individuals or entities that engage in psychological WARFARE?

Algorithms, which are now employed by all the tech giants of silicon valley were haphazardly released into the wilds of the world wide web and thus onto society. Silicon Valley inadvertently unleashed a virtual form of psychological warfare on the human race — with the only goal of engagement. Thus lies spread faster than truths. Twitter storms are now a thing and cancel culture is out of control.

You see the key metric of success for most companies providing a “free” service such as networking, searching, etc. is prolonged engagement (aka the attention economy) of client or potential client is the root motive of practically every technology company. In order to capitalize on this goal of engagement, technology companies have built automated technological systems (algorithms/AI) to amplify engagement. Consequently, algorithms have been let loose “into the wild” and learned that psychological warfare is the optimal method of “evoking a psychological reaction in people” thereby increasing engagement and ultimately increasing revenue.

Whether we like it or not, whether we recognize it or not, we are already at war with the technological machines (systems) known as algorithms or AI and by tacit approval or association, we are consequently at war with the companies that employee these unethical methods of social manipulation.

Allow me to define one last term:

Extortion:

“The practice of obtaining something, through force or threats.”

Now take a look at the business model of a typical social media company outlined below while keeping the definition of extortion as define above in mind:

Distilling the Current Social Media Business Model:

(I/me = any given tech company)
1. I give you a social network platform in exchange for your attention.
2. I convert your attention into predictive models about you (and others like you).
3. These predictive models allow me to categorize you and everyone else on my platform into groups and assign a likelihood of strength of your interests
4. I use this information as my differentiating proposition to other companies that want to target ads to the likely potential customers.
5. I use my value proposition (Metcalfe’s Law) and length of engagement time in order to justify my prices.
6. This allows me to successfully sell ad space on my platform to other companies and make a profit.
7. The more information I have on you and everyone else on my platform, the greater my collection of valuable information and the more accurate I can make my prediction models and the more I can justify my prices, which in turn converts into greater profits and fatter pockets than last quarter for the board members of my publicly traded company.
8. I can only extract (aka data mine) more information from you if you spend more time on my platform.
9. Therefore, it is in my best interest to ask, suggest, entice, tempt, trick, coerce, manipulate, mislead, exploit, extort & take advantage of your time by any means necessary. (aka social engineering/psychological operations/psychological warfare)
10. Our greatest success comes when employing cognitive blind spots also known as cognitive illusions to create dark patterns or more simply understood as consciously design FRICTION in the user experience.
11. Dark patterns is how we use technology to enhance, amplify, magnify, augment, re-inforce, strengthen, increase, encourage, your cognitive blind spots to get you to do what we want — spend more time on our platform.

Does this business model not sound like a prototypical example of extortion?

Ask yourself:

Do I accept the constant extortion of my thoughts, emotions, feelings and habits on a minute by minute basis at nearly every interaction with technology?

Perhaps your answer is ya, sure, whatever. It’s the price of admission, so what? Then let me alter the question for you then and raise the stakes. Instead, ask yourself:

Do I accept the willful extortion of my friends that I claim to care about? Do I accept the willful extortion of my aging grandparents that I love? Do I accept the willful extortion and manipulation of my parents that I love?

My importantly, do I accept the willful extortion and manipulation of my children? Is that fulfilling my duty as a parent to protect them? Am I showing them that they are worth protecting through my words or my actions? Do I mean what I say, when I tell them, “Don’t worry, it’s alright, I’m here to protect you.”

Do you still accept the psychological warfare as the price of admission?

I for one do not. I do not accept a world where my children will grow up to face the greatest psyops in the history of humanity. I can no longer passively stand by and watch and see what happens. Can you?

As of right now we are in grave danger of being the proverbial frog in boiling water. The greatest irony of all is we’re turning the heat up on ourselves (we can thank America’s culture of profiteering for that and silicon valley’s endless and insatiable desire for your “free” data). It is a self-induced war. A war that has grown rapidly out of control like a wild fire. A war that currently, we are losing, in no small part due to the fact that we haven’t recognized and accepted that we are actually in a civil war with algorithms. A war that in all actually we are currently quite capable of winning as a human species.

Make no mistake — I am not advocating against technology. I am not advocating for the destruction of technology or tech companies or even AI. Whatever your feelings, thoughts or misgivings about technology are at this point are moot. Our future as human beings is now inextricably intertwined with technology — we are effectively (if not literally) cyborgs and we can no more successfully function without technology than we can successfully live without food and water.

Lyrics from “My Shot” in Hamilton

That being said, I’m past patiently waiting. I am not throwing away my shot.

Pandora’s box has been opened. The time for half-measures, holding hands and singing “Kum Ba Ya” are over.

It’s time to go to the mattresses.

The following are the only acceptable terms of surrender:

  1. All companies engaged in developing, implementing and deploying algorithms/AI that are found to be unethical, fall within the definition of psychological warfare or operate under the auspices of engagement economy must cease and desist immediately.
  2. Any and all individuals and/or entities who do not comply with the prior term(s) are complicit actors of these unethical, socially destructive, technological systems and consequently we are at war with them (figuratively speaking), until such time as they comply with the prior term(s).

To Sum Up (TL:DR):

Communities are the life blood and the glue of successful, productive and healthy communities. They have existed since the beginning of human history, naturally developing, evolving and dissipating over time in a cyclical pattern.

Over the last 20 years, however, the corporate world (and specifically the tech sector) has co-opted and hijacked our communities; capitalizing (both literally and figuratively) on the opportunity of monetizing the very fabric of our societies. Algorithms have become a cancer to society. They were intended to be benign but they have metastasized into a malignant tumor, attacking every corner of communities. Silicon Valley has unwittingly opened up Pandora’s box and let the equivalent of a super virus run rampant through the very foundations of our societies, poisoning our hearts and minds. It is time to tame the wild beast (these technological systems) and limit their functionality. Our very existence and survival depends on it.

I’m pissed off right now. Silicon Valley has taken one of the loves of my life and turned her into a monster. I now have to chose a side — technology or humanity. I will always be on the side of humane tech. The naivete of silicon valley is in large part how society has ended up in a civil war with technological systems. Silicon valley has been making astronomical sums of money hand over fist, all the while paving society’s and our community’s road to hell and a war with technological systems.

And now the same silicon valley tech bros that have literally led us like lambs to slaughter (think genocide in Myanmar, India & U.S. Capitol riot) are turning around and claiming to have all the solutions for the salvation of humanity (oh and charging a pretty penny for it on the way). I wonder what would have happened in Gandhi had said, “ guys I have all the answers but first you’ll have to give me $10,000 and only then will I tell you how we can gain our independence.” I digress…

“It’s one thing to see the obvious bad in the world. Quite another to discover (or become) the hidden good.”
~ Robert Thomas

Of course we can co-exist with technology. Of course AI isn’t guaranteed to win. Of course we are still in control. We need to remind ourselves that we are in control of our own attention and our own destiny. Then we need to take action to regain our focus and attention.

We can stop social engineering dead in its tracks anytime we want. It’s the simplest and easiest war to win in the world.

I’ll tell you how, but first give me a minute…

…..I need to unplug my computer and pull out the battery.

No signal.

There’s who I THINK I am. There’s who I WANT to be. And there’s who I ACTUALLY am. I’ll be damned if I can figure out which one is which.

Get the Medium app