When M Zuckerberg appeared in front of Congress, his distress was almost palpable. What, his tense body language seemed to be saying, can you elected legislators not understand about the obvious fact that technical genius always trumps (no pun intended) your human wit, intelligence, experience and, well, humanity.
I was reminded of this by a joke and by the training lesson given to me by a car.
First the joke.
A computer programmer’s partner said please go to the shop and buy a loaf of bread.
Oh, if they have eggs, bring back a dozen.
The programmer came back with … a dozen loaves of bread.
I agree it’s not up there with Micky Flanagan or Katherine Ryan, though I’m certain Dara O Briain would get it immediately, chuckle, and improve it.
It makes a good point though.
This week I have been driving a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, and what a spiffing vehicle it is; quiet, comfortable and exceptionally fuel-frugal. Yet it too, in most of its operating systems follows the remorseless logic of our programmer friend. It is not entirely autonomous, merely nearly.
‘If this, then that’ is how digital systems across the machine spectrum function. And if you try to use human means to achieve what you wish, this may not be permitted by the machine in question.
Aeons ago, when people used either their fingers or a pocket calculator to do sums, the smarter and faster of these invaluable devices used something called Reverse Polish Notation also called Reverse Polish Logic to work their magic. It’s not complicated, it just saves machine time.
To add three and four you would input <3 4 +> rather than <3 + 4 =>. For simple calculations such as this, it makes no difference. For vastly complicated ones using binary notation, it does. Especially with financial trades (faster is better) or, back to Mr Zee, data scraping and selling access to both it and its owners.
Why is this important?
Well it depends: do you want one loaf of bread and a dozen eggs, or a dozen loaves of bread? And no eggs.
If the former, you are no longer able to trust Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, other platforms, and some cars, to look after your interests in a human and mostly sane way. To take that path is to confirm that you are no longer in full control of your daily life processes.
There is an alternative though. Grasp the control as Stone Age man grasped the flint; if we make technology our tool in the same way, all will be well. But perhaps we need to restore balance in the power we have given the platforms which govern our lives. It is now pretty clear that they are not owned by folk who are smart enough to rule or manage us.
There are thoughtful alternatives and options outlined in this book https://scribepublications.co.uk/books-authors/books/the-digital-ape