Coronavirus has hacked our bodily life and we are all running for safety. It has set an algorithm into our bodies to reproduce itself. So far, we find that it has been medically impossible to reverse it. We are fast realising that algorithms define our lives both biologically as well as socio-politically. All life on earth is running in the power of algorithms that nature and the divine have inscribed into it. A view that sees the evolution of life as an unfolding of algorithms seems to be a way forward for science. This means humans too are driven through these algorithms. This is why we are hackable. Coronavirus has hacked us biologically. But the impacts of this event will leave a lasting imprint on the canvas of our life. Besides, hacking our biology, the novel virus has hacked our economy, our government, our medical establishment, and our leadership whether religious or political. We are indeed living in a new brave world of algorithms that know us better than we know ourselves. We have to quickly understand this new world around us and find our ways to address it. The evangelists of the Big data world are pushing ahead a future that is already present. They are in a significant way hacking into our decision-making ability. What would the world look like where algorithms designed to hack our personal lives reign? Our digital future is already present. It is said that algorithms are already taking several decisions in our lives. We are guided by computer codes or algorithms to find places, hotels, coffee houses, malls, theatres, etc. These codes enable us to make choices while we shop online. Our heartbeats, sugar levels, blood pressure surges and several other intimate things are monitored by algorithms. We enjoy surrendering decision making to these smart codes. The question is, are algorithms able to make objective decisions? Algorithms work on the data. Data reflect human bias. We do not have adequate data. There is always missing data. That is why there is a margin of error. But we trust them because they seem to be doing a pretty good job. The algorithmic model of human life is fast becoming normal. It is going to influence our policing, justice administration, and health care. We are getting used to a hackable life.
Both biotech and InfoTech revolution are increasing our ability to hack our life. Yuval Noval Harari has exposed the consequences of these revolutions from the long term basis in his book, Homo Deus: a Brief History of Tomorrow, and has dwelt on the immediate consequences of this technology in his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Following the trail of his work, in this study we attempt to study the impacts of InfoTech on us, particularly the impacts of Big Data analytics. Harari deals with this issue in depth in the third chapter of his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. We begin our study by drawing our attention to human vulnerabilities as we surge through the digital world. Next, we focus on the lure of the cybertopia and the fangs of surveillance capitalism. All is not dark about the InfoTech revolution that is unfolding around us. We have technological solutions like the block chain to increase our cyber security. We try to understand these possibilities in the two sections that follow our analysis of surveillance capitalism. The first section deals with the promises of block chain technologies while the next section studies game theory to explore the possibilities of tracing safeguards to face the growing network of surveillance capitalism. Our study comes to a conclusion that is a bit disheartening. It indicates that even if we find science that will not fail humanity, human dishonesty may find ways of failing science and technology.
The Digital World and Human Vulnerabilities
We are producing data all the time. Using social media platforms like Facebook, we are already leaving our data footprints as well as become accessible to engineered and customised algorithms that has the power to make choices for us. The primary goal of these algorithms like those used by Facebook or Goggle is to make us stay engaged on-line. This increases our chances of receiving customised commercial or political messaging that can do the trick. We then click on the product/object of desire. No prizes for guessing who stands to benefit in this process. But there are also good outcomes like the Arab spring. It is greeted as the Facebook revolution. These movements produce engagements and Big data companies prey on these engagements and milk them for profits. Negativity/ violence/ fear maximises engagement and increases the decimals of their success. The key to their success is simply getting us stay engaged to so-called their services that are free of cost. But there is no free coffee.
By engaging on their platforms, we leave data footprints that enable them to prey on our personal behavioural patterns that manifest our preferences and vulnerabilities by customising their messaging to suit the interest of the highest bidder. The business model of these companies is fascist in character. They keep us engaged in our enjoyment of narcissism while they do the decision making for us. Negative sentiments like fear, resentment, hate, and hostility produce intensive engagement. This is why we can trace how the increased quotient of fear and hate in our society leads to increased engagement into our echo-chambers in our social network platforms where we continue to hear our own voice or feed on our narcissism as we produce data that become the raw material for data mining companies to socially engineer our life. This is why we have to understand the business model of these platforms. This is urgent because when we hand over our decision making to an algorithm, we are actually handing over our decision making to a company that stays hidden while we feed on our narcissistic enjoyments.
Cambridge Analytica has already exhibited the dark sides of this fascist business model. These companies will not change their business model. It is we who have to become mindful of how their messaging is affecting our life. Coronavirus has hacked our life and we are rattled. But before that we have already mindlessly allowed our will power to be hacked in the social media platforms. We are already living on the edge of a hackable life. We already have AI- Psychologists so to say who using psychodemograpics and the predictive power of AI/ algorithms trap us into a life that is designed for us. Maybe the corona moment of humanity is a call to understand and address the strengths and vulnerabilities of living on the edge of hackable life. We cannot run away from the digital environment. We will produce data footprints of our intimate life. We cannot mindlessly live in the digital-hive. We will have to be mindful and critically choose our responses. We need to develop inbuilt resistances within us so that we are not lured and duped into doing things mindlessly. Being off-line is a luxury that we cannot afford. That is why we need to be good at being online and not just get lost in the narcissisms of our echo-chambers. We have to use computers but we cannot hand ourselves to computers and the algorithms. Algorithms with their predictive power are taking way options from the plate of our life. Technology actually should have given us options but algorithms take away options as we believe that they know what is best for us. This is why algorithms are fascists in character and they have to be kept within their limits. We cannot allow algorithms to hack our will power while we live on the edge of a hackable life .
Cybertopia and Surviallance Capitalism
We cannot unplug our digital life. It is the elite who can afford to disconnect. Some hotels offer digital detoxification for those who wish to live outside connectivity for some time. Steve Jobs did not want his children to have an iPad or iphone. Most hi-tech people want to keep their children low-tech. The globe is covered by the digital web and we have no space to escape the digital life of our society. We have stepped into surveillance capitalism. A fascinating cybertopia is leading us and we are leaving data trails that are taking away our privacy and intimacy. We are becoming more and more data visible and it Is difficult to cover ourselves and become invisible to the probing of digital technologies. Maybe like the medical caregivers use a complete cover while treating patients of covid-19, we will need a kind of Faraday cage that will insulate and render us invisible to the probing of the digital spying technologies. But with the growth in AI and face recognition algorithms, this has become increasingly difficult. We are indeed living on the edge of hackability.
We cannot lock the virus with lockdowns likewise; we cannot lock away our hackability. Our connectivity to the web is everyday affair. The cyber optimists see the digital-hive as all milk and honey for us. The internet is positioned as the biggest free market. We are moving into virtual cities and virtual countries. The digital revolution is as dangerous as it is fantastic. E-stonai is greeted a start-up nation. It has about 1.5 million virtual citizens who have an e-residency. It is open to all citizens of the world. Citizens enjoy digital identity and e-governance by taking digital residency. One can send and receive encrypted documents. One can sign directly and do business online without any hassles of regulations of local governments. The digital identity cannot be used by anyone except the person who is having it. No one can fake identity. This means cybersecurity becomes almost given. We are fast moving towards competing virtual identities. The identities that are given by Facebook and other social media platforms are hackable and so those who give us more secure identities will emerge victors. E-countries like E-stonia will offer services online where citizens become clients who pay for the services received. These developments may disrupt national boundaries and local governments will have to compete with these e-nations. Lines dividing states and countries will be bridged with digital passports.
We are fast moving towards a cashless economy. Several e-wallets are in the market competing to get us to use them. But this is a step closer to a fascist’s economy/ surveillance capitalism. It means every single transaction that we do will be monitored and recorded by some bank somewhere. The cash economy offers us space to spend money without anyone knowing where one is spending it. Governments have plugged this freedom with some upper limit to cash spending. In this context, Bitcoin which is an electronic equivalent to cash becomes interesting because it is crypto-currency. We are already hit by the bitcoin gospel. It is preaching that we can be our own bank and is positioned as a financial miracle. It has no transaction fees and is lighting quick. It eliminates the central bank. One can mine the bitcoins by solving complex mathematical problems online. All the bitcoin miners are linked to what is called the blockchain where they have an individual account or wallet. Bitcoin is viewed as an ultimate remedy against invasive state interventions. Some think that bitcoin is like the French revolution that separated Church from State. Bitcoin is separating money from the banks and the State. It is not democratising the economy but elitizing it. This is because a bitcoin owned by anyone cannot be invested by someone else like the way banks do with our savings. But it does serve as a counter-power and form of protest to the existing banking system. So far bitcoin code is not hacked. There is a steady growth of bitcoin as a medium of exchange. Just like the value of gold is largely constructed by humans association with it. Bitcoins are also growing in value in a similar fashion. Average persons today cannot become bitcoin miners but the bitcoin community is growing. The community grows because people buy bitcoins .
The blockchain on which bitcoin works is a global open ledger. It can be used for several other things besides money and is seen as a great invention. But this is where we are fast getting trapped into a fascist economy that is pushing uniformity hard on to the global community. Although all the members of the blockchain are treated as equal and enjoy a form of digital democracy, the fact that they have to work in the same model and are watched by every other member on the public ledger draws it into the fascist mode of operation. But blockchain brings total transparency and yet keep individual privacy safe. This means it can be used by criminals and maybe also used to fund terror. Block chain technology is fascinating and cannot be ignored. May be it promotes distributed consensus. The only problem with it is that it is taking away heterogeneity and leads us to embrace sameness. It can make the world flat for all. But it will do away with the diversity of the world. It has the power to change the world the way we experience it.
The question still remains. Why are we so fascinated by e-life? Although there are several issues with it yet lured by its promises. The question boils down why we are enjoying living on the edge of hackable life. My hunch is that it is because it offers us space to indulge in the enjoyment of narcissisms. May be there are other reasons too. At a time, when our bodily life is hacked by the novel virus, we have to understand our hackability and find adequate responses so that we can stay safe as we live on the edge of hackable life. A new technology called blockchain has a promise of increasing trust among people. It is an algorithm behind Bitcoin. It brings transparency to us. Some Governments are trying to build a block chained based Governance. It is a data-based technology and because of its architecture it is said that it enables everyone to trust the system. It is a tool of decentralisation and direct participation. It is attractive because it disrupts gatekeepers of different levels who mediate our interactions and renders them unnecessary.
Facing the Future that is Already Present
Blockchain increases collaboration. They say that it records everything and helps fixing responsibility and accountability. It gives us the visibility of all transactions becomes new trust architecture. It is a revolutionary technology and is largely secure because its algorithms are difficult to hack. Blockchain can give us some control over our digital traces. Blockchain can assist us to expand our democracy, built smart cities, and put e-administration to work efficiently. In simple terms blockchain can operate as a trusted third party. The blockchain does open new opportunities to humanity. Blockchain is an algorithm that has asymmetric cryptography and distributed systems. It is a network system that is decentralised. Alibaba , Uber, Facebook and the like are centralised networks. It is not a rider to the driver but a rider to Uber to the driver system. Blockchain eliminates the middle man. We need the middle man/ institution to facilitate trust. Blockchain will change the way we trust. It does not need any central authority. It produces a ledger that is indelible and not tamperable. It will do away with the intermediaries like banks and other registries, that stand between us.
We trust the intermediary more than the party with which are transacting. But with the blockchain ledgers are created in real-time and these ledgers are indelible, immutable, and distributed. Thus, the information can be trusted and accessed in real-time. Blockchain has the power to fill the gap of trust in our transactions by writing one single universal ledger. Though there is only one ledger. It is a distributed ledger giving simultaneous access to all members in the chain. There is something totally different happening in the blockchain. We are moving away from a centralised trust backed by the mediating institutions to distributed trust. It is this distributed trust that is at the heart and soul of a blockchain. This is why it appears that mediating services, especially online are on the way out. It sets us to create trust companies that will replace every other company in the world. Blockchain technology has multiple applications. It is set to create a transparent economy. Besides finances, blockchain can manage our healthcare, our education system, land title registries, and trace product journeys / supply chains, political elections ,and the like. It is said that it can be applied to our work.
Work may be seen as active and passive. Some corporates may be willing to pay for the passive work that we do without being conscious because it brings value to them. For now, our engagements on Facebook bring value to it and it uses it in the form of messaging to benefit the commercial or political interest. But we are paid nothing. This can change with a blockchain. We can be on Facebook like peer to peer interaction platforms where our data footprints as well as what they do with the data footprint are visible on the universal ledger. But will they do it? It will puncture their messaging adverts as they require us to be in darkness. It does not suit their business model. The face of Facebook is hidden from us. We cannot see what they do with our data traces and how much they earn on the raw material that is provided by us. This is because Facebook is a centralized network. Blockchain is a decentralised network/chain that is transparent and greatly intemparable. The fact that we can see how our passive work is creating value is important to be able to get paid for our passive work. If Facebook is re-invented using the blockchain they will have to compensate us for that value our passive work is creating for them.
We are emitting data everywhere. This data becomes the raw material for commercial as well as political interests. But no one is paid for it. There may be possibilities of earning if this data mining technologies take us on the blockchain. With the growth of the internet of things, we may be able to share surplus electric power or even storage/ processing capacity of our laptops/ computers that we are not using and get paid through a blockchain. Corporates like Facebook may generate crypto-currencies like the bitcoin (internet of money). Our engagement time and content on Facebook may become like mining a bitcoin. This means we may get paid with crypto-currencies that we can spend or exchange in our market. We are fast moving into a blockchain economy that will care for everyone who is on the chain.
While thinking about our vulnerabilities and our hackable condition, we are facing a future that can be borderless and transparent. Becoming more transparent, we can build an informed and just society. It is a great tool against corruption and is designed to build equity. The new blockchain technology will not just change how we transfer value, but could dramatically change of systems of identity and Governance. It is a new type of shared database which has a single point of reference to truth. Living in a post-truth world, blockchain technology becomes vital. Given its security strengths and intemparabilty, it is our best chance as we are already on the edge of hackability. Privacy still is a risk as all people on the chain have access to the universal ledger. But abuse of it is difficult on a blockchain. Blockchain, for now, is difficult to hack but what will happen in the future only time will tell us. But for now, living on the edge of hackability, our best bet is blockchain technology and we cannot ignore it. It is resourceful because it is public and permanent. But we will not be completely out of a fascist economy since we will not have privacy on the blockchain technology.
Striving for a Liveable Present
There is a link to Game theory with blockchain. Game theory is viewed as a science of decision making. It is the mathematics behind the decisions we make. Some say the game of porker influenced game theory. It is a way of analysing strategic situation. Strategic situations are instances where the outcome of our action is not just depending on our own actions but on the actions of someone else. coronavirus pandemic situation is one instance of a strategic situation where the likelihood of us catching the infection does not just depend on our action but the actions of the human vectors of the virus. We can see our condition as competition against the virus or as cooperation with each other to save our bodily life from being hacked by the virus. Game theory helps us to understand both competitions as well as cooperation. It is also about decision taken in self-interest. There are times when the decisions taken in self-interest are competitive and there are decisions taken in self interest also cooperative.
The blockchain deals with decisions taken in self-interest that become cooperative. This reminds us of the invisible hand of the market of Adam Smith. It teaches us that in a free market, each of the players has to simply pursue their self-interest. As a result of this pursuit of self interest, there will be a balancing invisible hand of the market that will give each player what he / she deserves. Although this system appears just, it is heavily loaded on the side of the powerful players. Game theory actually improves the invisible hand of the market proposed by Smith. It teaches that the invisible hand works only in special instances and not all the time. Blockchain along with game theory can democratically actualize this instance. There are two kinds of games. They are finite games and infinite games. Most games are finite. Finite games are based on known players, fixed rules, and known objectives. The objective is to win the game. Football, cricket, baseball, etc, are finite games. An infinite game is defined by known and unknown players, where the rules are changeable and the objective is to perpetuate the game or stay in the game as long as possible.  In an infinite game, there are no losers and winners. We cannot lose the game. This is why the players keep playing the game. The only way an infinite game comes to a halt when players run out of resources or will to play. Business, life, simple conversation, cold wars and jobs, are instances of infinite games.
Infinite games are basically based on our values while finite games are based on our interest. In an infinite game, one is either ahead or behind. But it is easy to slide down and treat the infinite game as a finite game and look to win when there is no room for winning. The reality of an infinite game is that one is only competing against oneself. Every time one reaches a horizon, one can see new possibilities to move on with the game. The infinite game does not consume us but generate us. The finite game can be played into an infinite game but we cannot play the infinite game in a finite game. Game theory has Nash equilibrium, a point where each player stands to benefit while pursuing his own self- interest. It is the point when the players know the strategy of the other player but he/ she has no incentive to change his/ her strategy. Nash equilibrium was beautifully presented by the movie, a beautiful mind. Nash equilibria can be traced in infinite games too. Nash equilibrium is a point of cooperation. It is the best response that the players can give in a game. This may be a point at which blockchain and game theory meets. Most games have at least one Nash equilibria but it is not easy to trace it. Nash equilibrium is not the dominant strategy of the players. It is a non-dominant strategy but it produces a win-win situation for all.
With all its strengths about its security blockchain is still attackable by human dishonesty. One way to further improve its security and efficiency is said to be provided by game theory. Blockchain does not consider the human factor. Humans on the chain may be dishonest and deviate from the protocols of validation that they have to observe and thus undermining the consensus process. Game theory assists blockchain to bring honesty among the human players. It is done by introducing game theoretical models into the consensus protocol to reward the honest and to punish the dishonest validators that do not adhere to the protocols. There are several efforts to combine game theory to improve the participation of humans to build distributed consensus. Blockchain provides the architecture for a distributed consensus building. It is humans who have to work on this architecture and build consensus. This is why the human factor is very central to the quality of consensus-building that is produced on the blockchain. The issue becomes important because humans may randomly join or are placed at certain nodes of the blockchain by authorities.
The human factor can attack the consensus-building protocols in several ways. Human judgement can err. Bias or geed can influence us. Hence, models of game theory are used to incentivize humans to follow the protocols of the blockchain honestly. Bitcoin, for instance, motivates the miners to use their computing power to secure the network by rewarding them with bitcoins (economic incentive). The consensus among the nodes is reached by proof-of-work (PoW) which reflects the real, quantifiable resources it took to get there. Blockchain and game theory when combined show that we can collectively grow when each of us is honestly promoting his/her interest. While we are reflecting on how we are pushed today to live on the edge of a hackable life, maybe game theory can illumine our present condition. We are playing an infinite game and we have to continue to stay in the game and stay safe. Coronavirus is playing an infinite game with us. But in this infinite game, we can play a finite game and defeat it. Life is indeed an infinite game. Let the game go on.
It is possible to not just possible to hack our bodies but also our mind and free will. New development in AI and the growing surveillance capitalism has made it possible to hack into our minds and will. New technologies like blockchain can save our mind and freedom of will. But there is a cost that we have to pay to save it. It is a loss of privacy. The loss of privacy then is not seen as a loss as it becomes raw material that can be sold as passive work. Blockchain backed economy is set to transform the way we trust but it will commoditize our privacy and over its benefits to us. As things our today, our privacy already stands commoditized but its economic benefits are monopolized by Big data analytics. The blockchain technology also with game theory can assist us to reap the benefits of our visibility and connectivity online. It can also check human tendency to win by inflicting losses on others. It can transform self interest from being competitive to cooperative. We may cooperate with the service providers who use our private data and receive payment for sharing it with them. But this means we get co-opted into the surveillance capitalism. Some may say that this is a lesser evil as we get compensated for our digital visibility. But the truth will remain that we would sink deeper into the clutches of the fascist economy.
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