Third Party & Independents Archives

​Your Life is a Ledger Entry & Google Owns it

If you use an ad-blocker, some websites; like Salon.com apparently, use your CPU’s spare processing power to mine a digital currency called Monero. This is what 2018 looks like. If you haven’t heard of Monero, don’t feel ashamed. There are around a couple hundred different digital currencies. Mining in the bitcoin universe (where the term bitcoin substitutes for digital currencies in general) mining is normally done by what cryptographers call a brute force attack. This means using as much processing power available to you to do enormous amounts of repetitive calculations to try and find a private password or key, for example.

In the case of digital currency mining, it usually involves trying to get a number that is lower than a given large number, often with a number of leading zeros. That requires lots of CPU space and so, they hijack your device's CPU, and 'borrow' unused CPU capacity. Extensions in your Chrome browser - if you happen to have chrome - are one way in.

The point is, every key stroke you do, every click you do, is stored somewhere, especially by large social media companies like Google. That's been true for a number of years. That's how Google makes it's hundreds of billions of dollars. Selling all that data to buyers. Now a story about a Google X - a Google think tank now simply called "X" - video that proposes modifying user behavior based on our stored data, is providing yet another dystopian vision of the future. But this vision is real and likely already happening.

With the coming and passing of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it's obvious that all that data also can be used to influence political behavior. And this too has been happening for some time. Brad Parscale didn't just have a Nikola Tesla moment - his arms stretched to the sky in a San Antone thunderstorm. He built on what has been going on for some time. And of course, modern computer-based cryptography was created by intelligence agencies. Computing exists because of Alan Turing's ability as a cryptographer to crack Nazi Germany's Enigma Machine. His postulation of what a computer should do - a revolutionary moment in world history that one can only look back at in stunned disbelief at the awesome power of his mind - came at least in part from his experiences as a code-breaker.

So now some 75 years later, your life is being reduced to a series of complex data points. You are, we all are, an entry in a ledger. It can be a distributed ledger, like Monero, where your entry might be your device's IP and how much of its CPU some fricking website is using to mine that digital currency. The way it supposedly works is through a site called Coinhive that uses a script (programs that automatically execute tasks) to mine Monero.

But your ledger entry can be a whole bunch of things. For example, according to Vlav Savov writing in The Verge about Nick Foster the head of design at X whose ideas form the basis of the video:

The way we use our phones creates "a constantly evolving representation of who we are," which Foster terms a "ledger," positing that these data profiles could be built up, used to modify behaviors, and transferred from one user to another:

"User-centered design principles have dominated the world of computing for many decades, but what if we looked at things a little differently? What if the ledger could be given a volition or purpose rather than simply acting as a historical reference? What if we focused on creating a richer ledger by introducing more sources of information? What if we thought of ourselves not as the owners of this information, but as custodians, transient carriers, or caretakers?"
The so-called ledger of our device use -- the data on our "actions, decisions, preferences, movement, and relationships" -- is something that could conceivably be passed on to other users much as genetic information is passed on through the generations, Foster says.

A fashion designer, an industrial designer, a website designer, a system engineer, and now an algorithm to design your life for you. To nudge you towards goals like buying fresh produce at your local market, or using Uber rather than your own car. The video then moves on to imagine scanning your data to see what data points are missing. Like your weight for example. And then having a 3D printer create a device or product (and all products are on the way to being devices; it's called the Internet of Things which of course has it's own digital currency, IOTA), to capture that data. Here's Vav Slavov in The Verge again:

Foster envisions a future where "the notion of a goal-driven ledger becomes more palatable" and "suggestions may be converted not by the user but by the ledger itself." This is where the Black Mirror undertones come to the fore, with the ledger actively seeking to fill gaps in its knowledge and even selecting data-harvesting products to buy that it thinks may appeal to the user. The example given in the video is a bathroom scale because the ledger doesn't yet know how much its user weighs. The video then takes a further turn toward anxiety-inducing sci-fi, imagining that the ledger may become so astute as to propose and 3D-print its own designs. Welcome home, Dave, I built you a scale.
Yes, I laughed a little too. It makes me think of an interview on the radio (it's this old technology ... ahh never mind) wayyy back in the mid-80's with Timothy Leary, who made the observation that we were all lining up to watch Big Brother - i.e. television - rather than hiding from it. Orwell had got it wrong. Your ledger entry is already a reality. Your reading this article is a data point. Google, and one assumes others as well, have barely scratched the surface. Your life can now be represented by a SHA 256 hash. Look it up if you wish.

Will our only answer to this be to line up and stare at other people's data in Learian fashion? Will our devices become mostly data miners, trying to earn rewards in digital currencies by burrowing like the enzymes in your bowels through the rest of humanity's data? With your devices being paid in iota's (better yet in miota's) for all that digital butt surfing?

Will we even notice? Or mind? Time to read Huxley.

Posted by AllardK at May 31, 2018 7:13 PM
Comments
Comment #427532

Stephen, thank you for the intelligent article. Most of the right wingers here won’t even understand it. There’s aomething very familiar about it, like I’ve read some of this before somewhere.

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People are promoting cryptocurrency as the wave of the future, yet others have already figured out a way to rob those same people of their “money”. They do it in small amounts all funneling into one bigger account.

I heard a proposal recently that Google, Facebook, et al, should pay their users in some way for the personal data that they mine from the internet.

“With the coming and passing of the Cambridge Analytica scandal”

It hasn’t passed just because the media isn’t talking about it right now. There will be much more about that iin the future.

Posted by: Ohrealy at May 31, 2018 8:05 PM
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