Last week, Sir Ken Robinson, who I follow on Twitter, posted a BBC article 'Children are being datafied from birth.' It opens by saying that; "Today's children are the first to be datafied from birth and little thought has been given to the consequences." This made me think about our recent CIS visit where we were questioned about what we are doing as a school to protect our students from the world of big data, data profiling and teaching an understanding of digital foot prints and the issues they can create. We didn't really have a robust answer. Hence, Sir Ken's post jolted me into writing this post to you based on my thinking that if you understand the challenges better then perhaps we can start to educate our students about this better.
So I started to do some research and I have to admit that what I discovered is most definitely Food for Thought. Again it all comes back to the role of AI. We have always collected data but in the past we did not have the means to be able to collate all this data and use it to analyse human behavior so precisely. In this article, Will big data algorithms soon control our lives? it references the work of Yuval Harari, who wrote Sapiens and his new book Homo Deus in which he argues that the combination of big data and self-improving algorithms will soon outsmart humans entirely and make human decision-making obsolete.
"Even today, it just takes to know your needs, fears and hopes better than your parents do, and just over 300 likes for such software to know you better than you know yourself. All based on analyzing your likes against Millions of other likes and profiles. No wonder the Trump campaign made effective use of that software last year to . But this is just the beginning: Recently, researchers from Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, were able for the first time to – creating the first ever . Based on increased connectivity, smart algorithms may soon be able to monitor and analyze all our biological functions, thoughts, interactions, and purchases, and know much better what we want and what makes us happy than we do. Harari argues that in the end humans may delegate all important decisions – choices of careers, partners and places to live – to algorithms that exceed our brain capacity manifold. So will big data algorithms eventually control our lives?"
What became increasingly obvious from my reading is that the time when we were in control of the data on our own computers has been replaced with devices containing sensors we cannot control, storing data we cannot access, in operating systems we cannot monitor, in environments where our rights are rendered meaningless. Soon the default will shift from us interacting directly with our devices to interacting with devices we have no control over and no knowledge that we are generating data. This reminded me of a documentary that I shared with you last year or before, Do you Trust this Computer?
Now we have the means, through algorithms to collate and analyse all the data that we are producing consciously or unconsciously. The sinister thing is that this is now being used to manipulate our lives by corporations and governments. The data that they are collecting is very extensive as this article illustrates, I asked an online tracking company for all of my data and here's what I found. Data profiling itself is a widespread practice. Data brokers and online marketers all collect or obtain data about individuals, your browsing history, your location data, who your friends are, or how frequently you charge your battery etc., and then use this data to infer additional, unknown information about you, what you’re going to buy next, your likelihood to be female, the chances of you being conservative, your current emotional state, how reliable you are, or whether you are heterosexual etc.
Whilst exploring this topic I discovered an organization that is trying to protect us all, Privacy International, and I suggest that you spend 30 minutes looking through their website. One resource that links back to Sir Ken's post is this short 3 minute video on Data Exploitation.
You will all have heard of the company Cambridge Analytica and their involvement in political campaigns and use of Facebook information. Essentially, companies like Cambridge Analytica do two things: profile individuals, and use these profiles to personalize political messaging.
By the looks of things companies like Cambridge Analytica are really the tip of a huge iceberg that is taking everything we do, recording it and then using this data to predict/ profile our behaviors. So the key question remains are we doing enough to inform our students while they are still young enough to understand what is happening and be able to take some control over their future. Providing the knowledge and skills necessary to remain in control of their lives falls under our mission to EMPOWER our students. Now you know more you can start to protect yourselves and inform your students.