No hyperbole can adequately reflect the fear I felt after seeing Netflix’s new documentary The Social Dilemma. It was quite appropriately released during the Halloween Season, for it is a genuine “Horror Story.” Like all classics of that nature, it is a true story, and that is what makes it so compelling and so terrifying.
We all know that our phones and the internet manipulate us to a certain degree. After all, we understand, that’s what advertising is all about, but until you see this film, you have absolutely no idea the extent to which they actually control you. As they put it, take 1,000 genius engineers, backed by all the super computers in the world, and your brain has absolutely no chance of figuring out what is happening to you. And make no mistake, their fundamental goals are to addict you and then use that addiction to manipulate you. There are only two industries in the world that describe its customers as “users” – software and illegal drugs.
This film was not made by some theoretical professor sitting in his ivory tower, but by some of the key players in the industry. Tristan Harris was the Google design ethicist before he freaked out and started shouting, “You’re eating people.” Jaron Lanier, the father of virtual reality; Roger McNamee, a leading early Facebook innovator; Tim Kendall, Google’s former director of monetization; Shoshana Zuboff, Harvard Business School professor; Sean Parker, former president of Facebook; and others of comparable expertise are contributors. It isn't speculation. It is fact presented by the people who created it.
The film explains that it is “the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own beliefs and perceptions that is the product.” Whether you believe so or not, "Big Tech" knows everything about you, and with that they build predictive models. And these predictive models have become so good, they know with all but absolute certainty what you will do next. With that knowledge, they then begin the process of manipulation. They actually use the same foundations of misdirection that magicians use to gain control of your mind. They develop experiments and tactics to study their designs. Without being aware, you have become quite literally a trained lab rat.
The dangers they explain in the film only scratch the surface, but enough so, that you will begin to get the picture. When you read a Wikipedia source or other sources you believe are for everyone, do you know that what you read is designed to fit your world view and not what is necessarily factual? The algorithms at work are designed to create addiction and profit, and they have taken on a life of their own without human supervision. They prey on human weaknesses, and they want you addicted, polarized and radicalized. The more so, the more they can move you in one direction or another. Yes, this does sound like a prelude to the "Terminator" franchise, but it's all true.
This is the new reality: There is no objectivity and all media today is based on social media. False stories spread faster and with more authority than true stories. Human behavior can be directed, and move worldwide in minutes without anyone being aware. The truth is boring and people have no idea what is true and what is not. This all leads to a never-ending string of conspiracy theories; fake news; less control over what we believe; and complete intellectual destabilization.
If you’re not frightened yet, the people who created this mess believe that it will ultimately lead to imploding global economies, civil war and a destruction of civilization itself. They believe it is an existential threat that will be more immediate and more consuming than global warming.
If you’re sitting there thinking, “Oh, come on, it can’t possibly be that bad.” You’re probably right, what could possibly go wrong with a room full of 20-something white guys deciding what’s right for 2 billion people.
As Sophocles said, “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”
See this movie – now!
Photo Courtesy of the pixbay.com.