Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
The differentiating line between human and computer is becoming increasingly difficult to determine when one is linked so intimately with smartphones and similar devices. Whereas this argument would be correctly situated in a discussion about cyborgs, the technical and experiential reality of the portable smartphone device augments an end-user’s experience with the world, so much so that it should be compared to the experience of a cyborg. Perhaps making this claim will draw the much-needed attention of device zombies -- how much of the information instantaneously experienced and disseminated by a smartphone user is truly information he has critically engaged with, understood, and digested for a number of seconds greater than the number of fingers on a given human hand?

Whereas the proportions of the smartphone or similar device is much smaller than that of a physical computer, its abilities are the same, if not more powerful. Tools like maps, locations, news, messages, photos and photo editing, and the availability of real time data mask the devices’ strengths and capacities. It is not too hard to come up with a reasonable explanation for why humans appreciate the devices’ instantaneity: why be critical of a thing that really cares about, say, its user’s success in arriving at the correct address, punctually, through the most efficient mode of transportation or route? What if the device’s programming leads it to suggest an algorithmically-optimized detour to the Starbucks with the smallest deviation from your route? Did we want that double espresso before, or just now? The device is both visible and invisible at the same time. It is very obviously a computer, but it is covertly a mechanism upon which the user-becomes dependent, unable to think clearly or critically, and most worryingly, unwilling to delink from its dark magic.

In the world of instant everything, information, regardless of its degree of validity or falsehood, loses its value. The machine causes anxieties, doubts, and induces a form of obsessive compulsive disorder because the device begs in all its magical glory to be depended upon. But is the machine a subservient servant, or the master in disguise?

The current tenor of human-computer interactions in some ways mimics that of a tyrannical government. Machines are challenging humans to remain relevant, to have a voice that is in no way augmented by the machine and its technical prowess. Most strikingly, however, are the ways in which the machine actively threatens our very humanity by overreaching and challenging those unique characteristics that make humans identifiable human: the ability to think and remember.

-- MadihaZahrahChoksi - 26 Apr 2018

I have been thinking along similar lines lately, and this is probably more eloquent and succinct than I could have put it. "TheMachineIsABehaviorist" reaches a sort of similar conclusion from a different angle. Hegel wrote about the master-slave dialectic - while the master initially creates domination over the slave and produces subservience, the slave, due to taking over labor and necessary tasks from the master, transforms his subservience into a mastery of his environment, which then atrophies in the master. This has happened all throughout history between persons, but machines are involved in a more profound way than ever before.

From about 7 or 8 years old onwards, I promised myself that when cybernetic upgrades came out, I would save up enough money to be one of the first to get them. They weren't nearly as expensive as I had anticipated, but the catch has been that is it really tricky to use them without letting someone else inside your head. Parts of our brains are like the muscles of astronauts drifting in space, slowly atrophying amidst an incomprehensible infinity that subverts our most fundamental expectations. I downloaded my entire 4GB archive from a few weeks ago, and I found it remembers countless conversations and personal relationships that I did not even remember. Even aside from the fact that Facebook has them, the fact that a machine remembers hours of my life, conversations I had, expressions I wrote while I do not would be a separate discomfort even if it were completely and totally private.

Ultimately it seems to me you are provoking one big question, in two parts: 1. How do we use technology without allowing it to create dependency and atrophy our innate capabilities? 2. To the extent dependency is inevitable (and I think we all agree a total rejection of computers, or even handheld ones, is not desirable or feasible), how can we be dependent upon something without allowing it to control us?

And, back on the master-slave dialectic, the people who seem to be in positions of great power are now entirely dependent on the people tapping the screen. The value of Snapchat, Google, Uber, whatever, could fade in a moment from people not tapping the screen in the right way. The position which seems all-powerful is ultimately precarious. But the really strange thing, which I think you are also pointing out, is that regardless of the rise and fall of any individual company, the machine itself might persist. That seems like an especially unique and terrifying problem. When Jacques Derrida wrote about justice he pointed out that even the people at the "top" of a social order may not be exempt from its rules, machinery, and driving impulses.

-- JoeBruner - 27 Apr 2018



Webs Webs

r2 - 27 Apr 2018 - 13:37:46 - JoeBruner
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM