Free Will vs. Hyper-convergence


Data integration must empower people to make sovereign personal decisions, informed by reliable evidence.

Free will is irrevocable. We are always engaging it, yet countless editorial decision points determine the list of options from which we will choose.

In other words, the limits on human freedom are curated boundaries, set by the powers that be. In every corner of the world, throughout most of human history, those curated boundaries were set by natural threats, including competition from distinct small, nomadic bands of human beings.

With the advent of agriculture and permanent human settlement, the curatorial process became one of human engineering—societal convention, systems for adjudicating power and justice, and access to prevailing technology.

Droughts, floods, wildfires, and unseasonal frosts, threaten our supply of food and water. Industry may pollute the air, land, and water, or give us incremental solutions, but it is natural systems that determine the health-building capability of the resources we interact with.

Creativity may best be described as the act of seeing around the most forceful of these limitations. This may be the reason violent authoritarians tend to persecute creative visionaries and artists. They show the way out of darkness and into the light, and they point to the injustice of eroding generosities that cannot be replaced.

In the modern age—having taken on board scientific positivism, democratic revolutions across the world, and the rise of telecommunications—we are accustomed to viewing the elevation of individual choice as a measure of civilizational success. Global interconnection—through post-war peacebuilding, commerce, space-based telecommunications, and the Internet—raises questions we have never had to answer before:

  • What if technological liberation is a shortcut to integrated media control?
  • What if my access to information feeds information to those who wish to predetermine my choices?
  • What if the line between digital viruses and physical pathogens is not so well defined?
  • What if the Internet of Things (IoT) makes artificial intelligence not only necessary, but necessarily smarter than any of us?
  • What if there is no one in political office who understands how to plan for these existential questions?

Hyper-convergence is a description of the coming together of information, technology, day-to-day human activity, the built environment, and the role of human choice in determining outcomes—locally and globally.

For instance: convergence of electrical power with high-definition monitoring of electron flows, with accurate maps of buildings and communities and regions, with smartphones and satellites, could enable individual human beings to achieve more in energy conservation and decarbonization than any public policy initiative yet conceived. That is hyper-convergence.

  • Hyper-convergence is an engine of human empowerment, and also a structural curation of the menu of options we will confront, as individuals and as a society.
  • Free will is irrevocable, but the limits on human freedom are curated boundaries, set by the powers that be.

A short run-through of the really big problem:

  • In the last 20 years, we have seen a steady decline in people’s trust in, and understanding of how to define, “the powers that be”.
  • In the happy revolution of universal information technology, any abusive power can be toppled. This is celebrated, as it should be.
  • But that same revolution brings with it a pervasive destabilization of tested structures and deeply evolved moral codes.
  • The question arises: Who is at the controls? Should anyone be? What if we are freer, but human frailty pushes a new concentration of power?
  • Are nonlinear connected threats an unprecedented, impossible-to-plan-for destabilizing force?
  • And quite seriously: How can law prevent weaponized AI from starting to make its own targeting choices?

Concentrated power deceives all decision-makers. The in-built efficiency we feel we get from prevailing methods and practices leads us into dead-end choices.

  • We favor coal, because policy has made coal appear to be affordable.
  • We have infrastructure, and a lot of engineering experience exploiting coal’s unique qualities.
  • Coal pollutes our lungs, our air, our water, our food, and destabilizes Earth’s climate system, on which the human species depends for its existence.

We have agency; we make choices; the range of choices are highly designed and curated; we enjoy a sense of stability, and yet we harm ourselves and degrade our prospects for survival. We have, for all of our history, lacked critical information that would save us from ourselves. We are now beginning to access it.

As of 2013, human history had produced 4.4 zettabytes of data. Trends suggest this number will hit 44 zettabytes by 2020—nine times as much data as all of history, in just 7 years. A zettabyte is roughly 1 trillion gigabytes. Estimates of data acceleration suggest we may hit 44 zettabytes far sooner.

Free will is irrevocable, but hyper-convergence and the rise of intelligent machines could push us past a point of no return, where we no longer understand the scope or structure of the curation of our menu of options.

If technological hyper-convergence is going to be a force for good, it must:

  1. empower individuals,
  2. expand freedom of choice,
  3. inspire lifelong everyday learning, everywhere,
  4. and ensure we are more sovereign, capable and peaceful in our relationships with other people and with natural systems.

[ The Note for August 2017 ]

What is Data Sovereignty?

March 24, 2018

In light of recent revelations that Cambridge Analytica illegally accessed and weaponized the Facebook data of 50 million users, touching 57 billion “friend pairs”, the world is taking stock of core privacy protections and the right to personal data sovereignty. What, exactly, does that mean?

To define any meaningful protection of rights, it is necessary to understand how they are violated. When any institution — government, commercial, financial or academic — professes to be engaging with people in one way, while operating in an entirely different way behind the scenes, that is fraud. When that behavior allows the institution to harvest personal data, that is the usurpation of personal data sovereignty.

The beating heart of a free society is the guarantee that:

  1. Those who govern do so with the consent of the governed, under the rule of law,
  2. the actions of the powerful are constrained by checks and balances, and by a free press, and…
  3. all people are fully sovereign in their political decision-making.

Whatever the current stage of the development of the Internet, the right to personal data sovereignty is critical to ensuring that free societies are possible. That standard requires:

  1. That no entity may harvest personal data without explicit permission;
  2. permission should mean, in all cases, free, prior and informed consent;
  3. limitations of interpretation for secondary data usage (i.e. limits on the resale of data without new explicit consent) are placed on the entity seeking data from others, not on the user whose existence or activity generates that data;
  4. a firm legal distinction must be made between legitimate advertising practices and efforts to manipulate the information environment in which users access news and information relating to political choices.

We are data sovereign when we are free to seek, find, sift through, and rule out or accept, information that empowers sovereign political and personal choices, and when we have the reasonable expectation that:

  1. reporting is done thoroughly and honestly,
  2. our personal data is secure, and
  3. no personal data can be redistributed or re-sold without free, prior and informed consent.

We are less data sovereign (which means NOT fully personally sovereign) when the value, reliability, and diversity of information are limited in a deliberate way to interfere with our free and informed moral choice.

The legitimate and trustworthy application of data from human activity and technological hyper-convergence requires that this standard be upheld. Without it, corrupting influences can call all use of data, and the security of all worthy endeavors, into question.

Knowledge can and should do heroic work. We must demand that everyone whose job is to manage the flow of data and information honors that insight.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: