“Like the unease and discomfort people sometimes experience interacting with a not-quite-human-like robot, being targeted highly accurately by machines based on private, behavioral information that we never actively gave out feels creepy, uncomfortable, and unsettling.
Jason Kelly, ‘We’re in the Uncanny Valley of Targeted Advertising’, Electronic Frontier Foundation, 20.04.18
The fall-out from Mark Zuckerberg’s two days in front of Congress has – inevitably – brought forth much hand-wringing; largely on the consternation side of the fence that whilst the problems are multiple, solutions are minimal.
And as Facebook starts to roll-out its GDPR compliance juggernaut across Europe with seeming little regard for the consensual safety net legislators envisioned, so fears are growing that it possesses a power and a presence that is simply too vast to roll-back.
Two pieces caught my attention – Jason’s piece on the ‘uncanny valley’ of targeted advertising quoted above and ‘Techno-Fundamentalism Can’t Save You, Mark Zuckerberg’ in the New Yorker by Siva Vaidhyanathan
Siva’s point returns to one that has already been made around here before – that layering one complex solution on top of the next is not a sustainable strategy.
You don’t defeat a Death Star by building another Death Star, or indeed, by making said Death Star even more deathly in the depth of information it enjoys on us.
“Its an expression of techno-fundamentalism,” Siva writes.
“The unshakable belief that one can and must invent the next technology to fix the problem caused by the last technology. Techno-fundamentalism is what has landed us in this trouble. And it’s the wrong way to get us out.”
And the right way to get us out of this ‘uncanny valley’ of 24/7 surveillance and targeting – be it of advertising and/or (fake) news?
Not through more AI, is Siva’s clear belief.
“If we rely on AI to write our rules of conduct, we risk favoring those rules over our own creativity. What’s more, we hand the policing of our discourse over to the people who set the system in motion in the first place, with all their biases and blind spots embedded in the code.”
We forget, in short, what makes us human. And we overlook the power of human interaction to deliver commercial return.
Like the advert above. For a baby shop here in Norwich.
And how has that arrived on the latest, Addiply test bed for a Norwich sports site? Via nothing more uncanny than word of mouth.
The owner is the mate of the wife of Steve, one of the writers on MyFootballWriter.
It’s that simple.
It’s that human.
The only targeting at work is putting an advert for a Norwich baby shop in front of a Norwich audience.
At the click of an ‘Advertise Here’ button.
And this is back to the whole point about humans vs technology; historians versus mathematicians.
The Matrix versus Independence Day, in Hollywood terms.
A fresh simplicity – a simple virus – out-wits further complexity every day.
It is a simple, proven historical truism that Mark’s mind won’t compute.
He is the Master of a Complex Society. And as such has to recognize that Complex Societies such as Facebook collapse – particularly when both audience and governments, key stake-holders in any such society, feel that there’s nothing in it for them.
That the ads you keep showing me are creepy; that the laws we keep passing you keep ignoring – to your own, vast material gain.
The magic lies in simplicity; the wonder comes from the lingering power of human interaction – the efficiacy of word of mouth.
A mate of a mate of a mate, who ‘gets’ the simple opportunity presented to her. By one equally simple piece of technology.
“We should insist that the magic makes us feel wonder, not revulsion,” Jason concludes. “Otherwise, we may end up stuck on the uncanny plateau, becoming increasingly distrustful of AI in general, and instead of enjoying its benefits, fear its unsettling, not-quite-human understanding.”