When you start something, people want to know why? However, good or bad the idea, it’s usually the motivation that determines whether people will go along with it, oppose or ignore it. And if you don’t know why somebody does something, you guess, assume or project your own intentions onto it. So, let me put that straight.
The strength of my motivational story is that it is not unique. My own motivations are just a reflection of something that many people increasingly feel and have already expressed in different forms from everyday conversation to academic treatise, including various expressions of outrage. So, my own motivational rant may, in fact, be your motivational rant. I am fortunate that I have had time to articulate and formulate it independently of any commercial interests. This is just one voice amongst many.
And just for balance – I am not anti-technology. It is a matter of putting some sensible ethical limits around developments that a capitalist system can easily (and has been repeatedly shown to) run away with.
My most interesting motivation is ….
… an increasing feeling of disempowerment – a frustration that just a few large corporations are calling the shots. It’s a feeling that is triggered many times a day. Oliver Thorn’s video puts it much better than I ever could (although ironically, you may have to dismiss the adverts):
I’m fed up with Facebook presenting photos from the past and ‘telling’ me what to remember. Here is a typical (actual) message “Rod, we care about you and the memories that you share here.”. In what sense does facebook ‘care’ about me (except perhaps financially)? Surely, this is a blatant emotional manipulation.
I’m annoyed that Google repeatedly asking me to review my settings when I’ve just turned them to maximum privacy. I’m fed up with being bombarded with irrelevant posts and recommendations on the basis of algorithms that I cannot inspect or outwit.
I object to the way Linkedin somehow gets access to all my contact data, when I do not explicitly and knowingly authorise it. If you want to see how to delete the contact data Linkedin has sneakily got access to see: https://www.emilybinder.com/technology/how-to-manage-linkedin-privacy-settings-remove-imported-contacts/
I don’t like my data being used by any of these organisations (including Amazon) to personalise adverts or make recommendations. These algorithms don’t know me. They don’t know that I prefer to see diverse content. They don’t know that I want my views challenged, not reinforced. They don’t know that I don’t want somebody or something else choosing what I see. They don’t know that I don’t want to be known, typecast and stereotyped. They don’t actually know anything that is to do with me as an individual. And nor do they, or their creators, much care. I may as well live in a world of zombie automatons, and indeed, that’s exactly where we are heading. That’s another motivation.
The thing that is most galling is that with these systems there is no human individual that is out there to care (or indeed have any emotion whatsoever). Its just algorithms sending stupid messages that are designed to look human even though everybody knows that they are not. These algorithms are designed to persuade (‘all your friends are doing X’), cajole, engender feelings of hope, and guilt (‘your followers haven’t heard from you in a long time’ etc.). They are deliberately engineered to manipulate emotions while being sent from a calculating machine that is not even conscious, let alone aligned with my interests. These grotesque creations can mess you about while you have no way of getting at them, even if they were sentient.
I simply do not accept that the big companies, that have the power to change the world, are obliged to conform to traditional models of capitalism. Why is their number one motivation to maximise profit when it could be to generate true value and make the world a better place. The executives and shareholders could do things differently if they chose to. It is very clear that rampant capitalism causes social harm – see ‘banking crisis’, ‘Panama papers’, ‘austerity’ , ‘concentrations of power and wealth’ ‘the rise of popularism’. The free market is not all bad but rampant greed and desire for total control is simply not acceptable and deserves to be challenged.
My most interesting motivation is not necessarily the strongest one. There is rarely a single motivation to do anything. Some of mine are to do with the intellectual challenges of the subject matter and a belief in its importance. Some are to do with the desire to learn and achieve mastery in a craft and set of skills. Some are to do with wanting to keep on top of what’s going on and to participate in society. Some are to do with the excitement of living in an age where so many technologies are taking off. Some are to do with having a personality that always wants to kick against the status quo. And some are to do with what Nietzsche calls ‘ressentiment’ – the frustration of feeling disempowered.
Here are motivations I did not have in starting this site. It was not to earn an income or get publicity. It was not really to do with any of the motivations that most websites are set up for.
Why do I think AI is important?
The fear that mankind will become victim of its own success in developing science and technology has always been with us. All new technology revolutionary advances from fire to fusion carry the potential of immense danger as well as immense benefit. Robots and artificial intelligence are the latest manifestations. So far, we have managed to avoid the worst nightmares of annihilation but there is no shortage of great minds, from Isaac Asimov to (the late) Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, warning of the dangers of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. Nick Bostrom’s Future of Humanity Institute regards AI as human-kinds greatest existential threat. There is also an unprecedented upside to AI if harnessed for good. Ethical issues need identification, analysis, debate and policy formulation now, before a rapidly changing future overtakes our capacity to control it.
Machine learning has moved into the mainstream. Big players like Google and Microsoft have made available development platforms. In dialogue systems, tools have also become available for the development of Alexa, Google Home and Siri applications. There are also open platforms and tools. Soon everybody will know how to access tools to build or configure AI systems in the same way that everybody has access to the web. We have seen what can happen on the web when ethical issues are ignored. AI expands that empowerment and the need for everybody to consider and apply fair, balanced and appropriate ethical controls (to themselves and to others).
I make only modest attempts to publicise the site
While I might want to influence you with good argument, I don’t want to buy you or play on your weaknesses.
I question the way in which pretty well every website and individual who puts up content, is playing exactly the same game. What’s more, it is not a game of their creation. Rather, it’s the only game in town – a game thrust on them by less than a handful of big corporations. It is a game that exploits the weaknesses of the players who feel the need to win recognition, and maybe even some financial scraps caste to the masses to secure their allegiance to the game.
Everybody, from individuals to large organisations, is trying to attract more views, followers and subscribers. I’m annoyed when pop-up windows inviting me to subscribe get in the way of seeing the articles I want to read. I’m annoyed at having to wait 5 seconds to skip ads on Youtube videos and especially frustrated when something interesting is repeatedly interrupted by banal adverts. I don’t like that Youtube asks with increasing frequency whether I want to be charged an undisclosed (but when I checked once, an unrealistic) monthly subscriptions to avoid the adverts (or even more outrageously, just because I want a video to keep playing when I close my iPad).
I’m aggravated by Facebook constantly reminding me to post on my page, and then boost the post ‘to reach ‘up to 3,972 people’ with advertising that is probably the only way anybody will ever get to see them. Up to 3,972 is as likely to be 1 as any other arbitrary but deceptively precise number. Why do we fall for such meaningless claims? Google is no better offering ‘free’ £120 vouchers – but only if you spend £120. These guys take us for fools, and that’s pretty much what we are when we play their game. I simply refuse to play when the rules are stacked so heavily in favour of the house.
It is the unremitting stream of small cognitive manipulations that I object to. They are deceptive, deceitful and unnecessary. I would pay reasonably if these guys weren’t constantly being so manipulative (well, that’s my excuse!).
I know how to play the game if I want. I have often created content that has attracted good viewing figures. But that’s not the point. I want to play a different game, not a derivative of theirs. The game I want to play is figuring out how companies, AI and robots can interact with people in a way that is fair and ethical. I want equality with the algorithms and the robots. And I want interactions with people that know and care about me, not just use me for their own ends.
It is difficult to make your point when you are up against an industry devoted to manipulating and distracting your attention to everything but the things that matter. If you have read this far, help by not letting these thoughts become buried in a haystack of meaningless advertisements, enticements and cognitive manipulations that pervade everyday life. Join by voicing your own concerns and challenging the big players whenever you see them exploiting human vulnerabilities.
Well, that’s the end of the rant (except that I reserve the right to change my mind about everything whenever I want!). It’s hard to seem this annoyed when for the most part everything is, on balance, more or less just fine.