So many inexperienced Internet users nowadays are willing to accept what the computer serves up. It all started at the motor vehicle departments in the 1990s when the clerk said, "I don't care what you say. This is the what the computer says. It can't be wrong."
Things have evolved from there. For example, "Teens can't tell the difference between Google ads and search results." And now, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella believes: "Smart agents like Cortana will replace the web browser." This is all part of an effect that I've written about before, namely, the Internet doesn't teach its users how to use the Internet.
By that I mean that people who get a good education and learn the meta information about how the Internet works are better prepared to evaluate what they read and watch on the Internet. On the other hand, if one has bypassed or never been engaged in a classic education that involves history, logic, philosophy, mathematics and science, then the Internet and all its voices merge into a giant, influential, dictatorial body of knowledge - or myth - or fashion - or dogma.
Back to Mr. Nadella's thesis. An intelligent agent can quickly learn what your habits and interests are. That can lead to pigeon-holing the reader into ignorance, bias or worse: the embrace of demagoguery. It all starts out with an innocent dependency on the fulfillment of temporary needs. Here's what CEO Nadella said:
It's still browsing, but it's different because you're not invoking every app, Nadella said. Instead, if someone asks "do I need to bring an umbrella today?" it will be the agent who knows your location and can look up the weather to see if it's raining and say yes or no.
This raises so many questions:
- Why are tech giants so interested in providing customers with software that provides guidance?
- Do they have so little insight into how responsible adults make decisions?
- Are those responsible decisions an irritant?
- What happens to those people from whom the guidance is temporarily disrupted and removed?
- What are the dangers in letting machines make decisions for us about what coat to wear or where to eat? Or which smartphone to buy?
- Does that, eventually, lead to a dependency on the machine to guide one about what job to take or which candidate is best for the U.S. presidency?
An obsessive prying into customer habits and preferences with information then sent back to the mothership by every app, in turn, translates into the corporate temptation to make money by leveraging that information into what appears to be helpful guidance. However, as we'll see on page two below, if the customer starts to act up or bypass the guidance, they may well be punished by withholding of critical services.
The danger here is that it'll become increasingly rare for people to make decisions based on their own common sense and values. Instead, they'll go running to their smartphone, begging for its guidance, or the guidance of those on social media, as to what to eat, what to wear, what to think and how to act. Or who to love. And who to hate.
It's not hard to imagine where it goes from there.
Next page: the tech news debris for the week of November 16. You were bad and will be punished.