Some look to the skies and wonder how the stars operate. Whether they communicate, whether it all builds into a big, self-organizing, perhaps intelligent, system. Some look at our cells and think whether, if we can zoom deep enough, we can find a civilization sort of like our own. Some look at us, the seven billion people, the way we operate, organize, wondering whether we are, when combined, a being, a great mind with a life of its own, the parts making organs, corners making solar systems.
Deep algorithms control our lives in ways we can’t comprehend. Google is a far more powerful media space than any TV, print, radio or even government could ever dream. Just by a slight tweak of their algorithms, they could erase great knowledge, they could choose political, economical, industrial, winners or losers.
Because Google now is a media company operating on super complex self-learning algorithms which obey their masters in performing whatever function. They are fed incomprehensible amount of data, daily. In the process, sinking some information, while repeating endlessly some other information.
Facebook has locked its empire fully, with walls greater than China’s firewall. Two billion people live within Facebook, constantly providing information at an incomprehensible scale, feeding the algorithms with endless data. Yet who keeps such immense power accountable?
As everyone knows, the greatest power comes from information, especially in our knowledge economy. So, how do these algorithms operate? What are the trade-offs? What parameters are being set, for what reason, where is the scholarly discussion, where are the reports, the analysis, the results?
The Economist, a product of a somewhat similar age when an industrial revolution was underway some two centuries ago, in an interesting article titled “Fuel of the future: Data is giving rise to a new economy,” beautifully describes what they are very familiar with:
“An oil refinery is an industrial cathedral, a place of power, drama and dark recesses: ornate cracking towers its gothic pinnacles, flaring gas its stained glass, the stench of hydrocarbons its heady incense.”
Yet as one might expect from dinosaurs of old age, they describe the data fuel as “windowless grey buildings that boast no height or ornament.” But zoom into those buildings and see what they contain. The billions of lives, at a seconds increment, what they thought, what they did, what they loved, what they hated.
Look at them all, the stupendously complex graph, teaching our new intellectual extending capabilities we call artificial intelligence based on data analysis, data we provide.
By comparison, an oil refinery is bland, boring, mechanical, while here we have the entire world itself, abstracted into 1s and 0s, with the intellect of all human kind stored and saved. The scale of all this data the Economist describes thus:
“Amazon, an e-commerce giant with a fast-growing cloud-computing arm, uses trucks pulling shipping containers each packed with storage devices holding 100 petabytes (a mere 15 zeros). To ingest it all, firms are speedily building data refineries. In 2016 Amazon, Alphabet [Google] and Microsoft together racked up nearly $32bn in capital expenditure and capital leases, up by 22% from the previous year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”
Don’t be confused by the Economist’s familiarity with the physical. This is digital. From your laptop you can key in and look at all this, order your bots to analyze, provide summaries, find, monitor, see.
Yet it is all hidden behind walls, seen by faceless people, manipulated by faceless individuals, organized by closely guarded algorithms, operated in a very secretive manner and openly secretive.
These data halls are not cathedrals of our time, but libraries of Alexandria. The immense wealth of information, of knowledge, which could drive our society so stupendously forward, is being locked under key for greedy temporary selfish aims by primarily two companies, Facebook and Google.
No wonder neither is having even a cursory look at blockchain technology. This new invention threatens them far more than banks or any government, for it is Google and Facebook which have built an empire based on nothing but the creation of artificial walls and closed source code.
Blockchain technology brings down those barriers, opening data to everyone capable so that they can operate more efficiently and serve far better the knowledge economy which depends on algorithms and data analysis to extend our intellect by ordering bots to operate through rule based code.
Instead of the secretive black hole Facebook or Google employs, the new generation can use open source software like Akasha, which is fully decentralized, with its data transparent, allowing anyone to tap it, and thus increase our intelligence, in the process preserving it, rather than making it available for just one centralized entity, giving it such immense power, power which necessarily is abused.
Data, thus, once more demands to be freed, with the excessive centralization receiving its backlash by a blockchain based decentralization movement which demands it is all made available for everyone for it is a common resource, like books, like libraries, like universities, like the cathedrals of old that Luther King opened to the public following the printing press revolution of the 1,500s, leading to the great European Renaissance, and the prosperity fuel it provided to our enjoyment even today.