Response to Mathias Döpfner : Dark Google

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The NSA and other intelligence agencies are already  using “pattern of life analysis” to identify threats, including those that might originate within the organization as they hope to head off the next Edward Snowden.  A range of software companies, some spun off from or funded by the intelligence agencies, provide capabilities in patterns-of-life activity and activity-based intelligence analysis.

Reality is the new product

Google’s ambitions in this new arena appear to be limitless. In 2012 Brin/Page/Schmidt hired computer scientist Ray Kurzweil to lead engineering. Kurzweil, a brilliant inventor,  is a proselytizer for the idea that computers can develop consciousness. „Future machines will be human,” he wrote, „Most of the intelligence of our civilization will ultimately be nonbiological.”  Kurzweil wants to turn “the next decade’s ‘unrealistic’ visions into reality” at Google.  The firm has purchased most of the top machine learning and robotics companies to build what has been described as the „greatest artificial intelligence laboratory on earth.” It paid richly for a company that produces high altitude drones as well as Nest Labs, a firm at the forefront of smart devices for the home and considered essential in the new Internet of Things.

All this suggests that Google is building capabilities even more ambitious than reality „mining”. The aim is not merely the God’s eye view, but the God’s eye power to shape and control reality. Google’s glasses, wearables, or self-driving cars have a clear purpose: to inform on where you’ve been, and where you are, and to influence where you’re going. As one expert has suggested, third parties could pay for programming that drives the car sends you to their restaurant,  store or political rally .

There are vast opportunities for similar reality mining and shaping through the Internet of Things. This refers to the growing network of smart sensors and Internet enabled devices intended as an intelligent infrastructure for all objects and even bodies. From your baby’s diapers, to your refrigerator, heating system, mattress, lights, walls,coffee mug, and artificial knee ––this will be the smart neural network in which you breathe, eat, sleep, travel, and work.  It will perform infinite configurations of actions, observations, suggestions, communications, and interventions all geared to a new product category: reality. Google and others will make money knowing, manipulating, controlling, slicing, and dicing all of it.

Is Reality for Sale?

To make sense of this big puzzle, it helps to have some historical perspective. There are two useful ideas for us in the work of historian Karl Polanyi. He described the rise of a new human conception: the self-regulating market economy.  He saw that the market economies of the 19th and 20th centuries depended upon three astonishing mental inventions.  He called them „fictions“. The first was that human life can be subordinated to market dynamics and be reborn as „labor.” Second,  nature can be subordinated and reborn as „real estate.” Third, that purchasing power can be reborn as „money.”  The very possibility of industrial capitalism depended upon the creation of  these  three critical  „fictional commodities.” Life, nature, and exchange had to be turned into things that could be profitably bought and sold.

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