It is difficult to appreciate the global reach and implications of this rights grab. Leaving aside whether or not it crosses the threshold of „revolution,” it is a form of radical politics that has engineered a significant redistribution of power in just a few years based on the. Expropriation of widely held privacy rights and the choices they entail. This has been accomplished through a unique assembly of public and private actors and interests that operate outside the auspices of legitimate democratic mechanisms. In some respects, the social relations that emerge from this rights grab are best compared to that of a pre-modern absolutism.
We have been caught off guard. Neither we as individuals nor our public institutions have a clear grasp of these new relationships, their implications, the relevant paths to action, or the goals to achieve. There are good reasons for so much confusion and dismay. The dynamics I describe have occurred in a blank area that is not easily captured by our existing social, economic, and political categories. They extend far beyond the realm of economics and the old debates about business monopolies and competitive practices. The new business operations reach beyond our wallets into the very essence of our lives. They elude our mental models and defy our rational expectations to such an extent that we end up questioning our own witness and powers of evaluation. Unfortunately, the situation is about to get worse as Google’s radical politics spread from cyberspace to the real world.
Reality is the Next Big Thing
What is Google up to next? We know it’s secret, but here is how it looks to me. Google is no longer content with the data business. It’s next step is to build an even more radical „reality business.” Google sees „reality” as the next big thing that it can carve up and sell. In the data business, the payoff is in data patterns that help target ads. In the reality business, the payoff is in shaping and communicating real life behaviors of people and things in millions of ways that drive revenue to Google. The business model is expanding to encompass the digital you as well as the actual you. The scene is changing from virtual reality to, well, reality. Unsurprisingly, the two entities at the vanguard of this new wave are Google and the NSA.
The „reality business” reflects a shift in the frontier of data science from data mining to „reality mining.” This new approach was pioneered over the last decade at the MIT Media Lab. Now its migrating to military intelligence and commercial applications. In a 2011 paper, MIT Professor Alex Pentland explains the value of reality mining. „We must reinvent societies’ systems within a control framework.” He notes that this will require „exponential growth in data about human behavior.” In another paper, Pentland explains that the proliferation of sensors, mobile phones, and other data capture devices will provide the „eyes and ears” of a „world-spanning living organism.” „Where do people eat? Work? Hang out?” - „Distributed sensor networks,” he observes, will provide „a God’s eye view of ourselves. For the first time, we can precisely map the behavior of large numbers of people as they go about their daily lives.”