Crypto Market Commentary
7 November 2019
Doc's Daily Commentary
The 10/30 ReadySetLive session with Doc and Mav is listed below.
Mind Of Mav
Who Owns Data Owns The Future
In the last few decades, people all over the world were told that humankind is on the path to equality, and that globalization and new technologies will help us get there sooner. In reality, the twenty-first century might create the most unequal societies in history. Though globalization and the Internet bridge the gap between countries, they threaten to enlarge the rift between classes, and just as humankind seems about to achieve global unification, the species itself might divide into different biological castes.
Globalization has certainly benefited large segments of humanity, but there are signs of growing inequality both between and within societies. Some groups increasingly monopolize the fruits of globalization, while billions are left behind. Already today, the richest 1% owns half the world’s wealth.
Even more alarmingly, the richest 100 people together own more than the poorest 4 billion.
This could get far worse.
“Wealth” as a measure of one’s stash of gold or cash or cryptocurrency is an outdated concept.
The rise of AI might eliminate the economic value and political power of most humans. At the same time, improvements in biotechnology might make it possible to translate economic inequality into biological inequality. The super-rich will finally have something really worthwhile to do with their stupendous accumulated material wealth.
While hitherto they could buy little more than status symbols, soon they might be able to buy life itself. If new treatments for extending life and for upgrading physical and cognitive abilities prove to be expensive, humankind might split into biological castes.
Consequently, instead of globalization resulting in global unity, it might actually result in ‘speciation’: the divergence of humankind into different biological castes or even different species. Globalization will unite the world horizontally by erasing national borders, but it will simultaneously divide humanity vertically. Ruling oligarchies in countries might merge and make common cause against the mass of ordinary Sapiens. From this perspective, current populist resentment of ‘the elites’ is well founded. If we are not careful, the grandchildren of Silicon Valley tycoons and Moscow billionaires might become a superior species to the grandchildren of Appalachian hillbillies and Siberian villagers.
By 2100 the rich might really be more talented, more creative and more intelligent than the slum-dwellers. Once a real gap in ability opens between the rich and the poor, it will become almost impossible to close it. If the rich use their superior abilities to enrich themselves further, and if more money can buy them enhanced bodies and brains, with time the gap will only widen. By 2100, the richest 1% might own not merely most of the world’s wealth, but also most of the world’s beauty, creativity and health.
The two processes together – bioengineering coupled with the rise of AI – might therefore result in the separation of humankind into a small class of superhumans and a massive underclass of useless Homo sapiens. To make an already ominous situation even worse, as the masses lose their economic importance and political power, the state might lose at least some of the incentive to invest in their health, education and welfare. It’s very dangerous to be redundant. The future of the masses will then depend on the goodwill of a small elite. Maybe there is goodwill for a few decades. But in a time of crisis – like climate catastrophe – it would be very tempting and easy to toss the superfluous people overboard.
If we want to prevent the concentration of all wealth and power in the hands of a small elite, the key is to regulate the ownership of data. In ancient times land was the most important asset in the world, politics was a struggle to control land, and if too much land became concentrated in too few hands – society split into aristocrats and commoners. In the modern era machines and factories became more important than land, and political struggles focused on controlling these vital means of production.
If too many of the machines became concentrated in too few hands – society split into capitalists and proletarians. In the twenty-first century, however, data will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset, and politics will be a struggle to control the flow of data. If data becomes concentrated in too few hands – humankind will split into different species.
The race to obtain the data is already on, headed by data-giants such as Google, Facebook, Baidu and Tencent. So far, many of these giants seem to have adopted the business model of ‘attention merchants’. They capture our attention by providing us with free information, services and entertainment, and they then resell our attention to advertisers. Yet the data-giants probably aim far higher than any previous attention merchant. Their true business isn’t to sell advertisements at all.
Rather, by capturing our attention they manage to accumulate immense amounts of data about us, which is worth more than any advertising revenue. We aren’t their customers – we are their product.
Once algorithms choose and buy things for us, the traditional advertising industry will go bust.
Consider Google. Google wants to reach a point where we can ask it anything, and get the best answer in the world. What will happen once we can ask Google, ‘Hi Google, based on everything you know about cars, and based on everything you know about me (including my needs, my habits, my views on global warming, and even my opinions about Middle Eastern politics) – what is the best car for me?’
If Google can give us a good answer to that, and if we learn by experience to trust Google’s wisdom instead of our own easily manipulated feelings, what could possibly be the use of car advertisements?
Ordinary humans will find it very difficult to resist this process. At present, people are happy to give away their most valuable asset – their personal data – in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos.
If, later on, ordinary people decide to try and block the flow of data, they might find it increasingly difficult, especially as they might come to rely on the network for all their decisions, and even for their healthcare and physical survival.
Humans and machines might merge so completely that humans will not be able to survive at all if they are disconnected from the network. They will be connected from the womb, and if later in life you choose to disconnect, insurance agencies might refuse to insure you, employers might refuse to employ you, and healthcare services might refuse to take care of you. In the big battle between health and privacy, health is likely to win hands down.
The key question is: who owns the data? Does the data about my DNA, my brain and my life belong to me, to the government, to a corporation, or to the human collective?
Private ownership of one’s own data may sound attractive — but it is unclear what it actually means.
We have had thousands of years of experience in regulating the ownership of land. We know how to build a fence around a field, place a guard at the gate, and control who can go in. Over the past two centuries we have become extremely sophisticated in regulating the ownership of industry – thus today I can own a piece of General Motors and a bit of Toyota by buying their shares.
But we don’t have much experience in regulating the ownership of data, which is inherently a far more difficult task, because unlike land and machines, data is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, it can move at the speed of light, and you can create as many copies of it as you want.
Which brings attention to the conundrum of our time: how do you regulate the ownership of data?
This may well be the most important political question of our era. If we cannot answer this question soon, our sociopolitical system might collapse. People are already sensing the coming cataclysm.
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