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Machine Logic: Our Lives Are Ruled By Big Tech’s ‘Decisions By Data’

With the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are increasingly moving to a world where many decisions around us are shaped by calculations rather than traditional human judgement. The Guardian, citing many industry experts, reminds us that these technologies filter who and what counts, including “who is released from jail, and what kind of treatment you will get in hospital.” A digital media professor said, these digital companies allow us to act, but in a very fine-grained, datafied, algorithm-ready way. “They put life to work, by rendering life in Taylorist data points that can be counted and measured” From the report (edited and condensed): Jose van Dijck, president of the Dutch Royal Academy and the conference’s keynote speaker, expands further. Datification is the core logic of what she calls “the platform society,” in which companies bypass traditional institutions, norms and codes by promising something better and more efficient — appealing deceptively to public values, while obscuring private gain. Van Dijck and peers have nascent, urgent ideas. They commence with a pressing agenda for strong interdisciplinary research — something Kate Crawford is spearheading at Microsoft Research, as are many other institutions, including the new Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. There’s the old theory to confront, that this is a conscious move on the part of consumers and, if so, there’s always a theoretical opt-out. Yet even digital activists plot by Gmail, concedes Fieke Jansen of the Berlin-based advocacy organisation Tactical Tech. The Big Five tech companies, as well as the extremely concentrated sources of finance behind them, are at the vanguard of “a society of centralized power and wealth. “How did we let it get this far?” she asks. Crawford says there are very practical reasons why tech companies have become so powerful. “We’re trying to put so much responsibility on to individuals to step away from the ‘evil platforms,’ whereas in reality, there are so many reasons why people can’t. The opportunity costs to employment, to their friends, to their families, are so high” she says.


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