The question appeared everywhere during Web Summit in Lisbon. Fake news, clickbait and systematic abuse of personal data are all ingredients that have contributed to many now questioning whether the internet has come to a point where it is already too late to turn.
Central to the questioning is the so-called 50-50 moment, when half of the world’s population got connected to the internet for the first time. At the same time, a number of discussions regarding privacy arise: How do we create a free, democratic and sustainable internet that can be continued without harming the next generations?
In parallel with half the globe being connected to the internet, the industry is scaling up its internal and external resources to manage and understand the company’s newfound oil – data. The budget items to develop products within automation, robotics and A.I. has the highest priority, and the goal is to streamline the data collection processes, often in a blind collaboration with the world’s largest third-party vendors, Google and Facebook.
Few, if any, will argue against this involving a risk. Both for companies, society and individuals. Neither politicians, brands, nor consumers wish to be a cookie, a persona or a small dot in IBM’s data map. Nobody wants to be the massive amount of data that lies hidden on Facebook’s servers, waiting to be abused in our next political cyberwar, yet, we still are.
In parallel with awareness regarding that it is actually wrong to treat ourselves and others this way, we continue to upscale systems to dig deeper and more systematically for data, so that we can spit out hypersegmented messages for the lowest possible CTR and with the highest possible ROI. The basis of growth is simply too big for us to read the warning signs, even though they are quite large and flashing.
– If data is the oil, A.I. is the engine, Samsung’s president Young Sonh said, painting a precise picture of the high-speed train that is coming. With machine learning and artificial intelligence, dataminers all over the globe have found the machinery that can streamline and create profit for many years to come.
The comparison of data and oil is fitting, as there lies an awareness that what we do may not be sustainable for the planet, but of course we have to keep mining to keep at pace with our own growth. At the same time, we know that the systematic excavation and hunt for hypersegmented growth modules can be both harmful and dangerous to the fundament in our connected daily lives, and the more people involved in this, the greater the risk to privacy, data leaks and cyberwars.
With oil the question is always, what are we going to live off when it ends, not whether we should quit before it runs out. In the same way, the question of whether the internet can be repaired becomes the question whether we are able to stop mining for your and my data, when we know that it can harm both ourselves and the future of our descendants?
Originally published on kampanje.no (Norwegian)