THE TECHNICAL POWERS: Two new books on people and technology: We are all influenced by the pressure chamber social platforms that Facebook creates. And what about NRK, should they actively participate in such a development?

Kroglund is a critic and writer.
E-mail: andrewkroglund@gmail.com
Published: October 15, 2020

[Note. Only published online]

Man and the techno-powers. What do the new technologies do to us?
Author Dag Hareide, Aschehoug

The big game. How to survive in the age of algorithms
Author Bår Stenvik, Cappelen Damm

Gandalf rides on the eagles' back to Doomsday Mountain and saves Frodo and Sam from death. The free citizens of Midgard emerge victorious from the battle of Mirannion, and Aragon is crowned king by Gondor. The hobbits can go home to a party in Hobsyssel, and so the third term ends. But where is the Gandalf of our time? Who can save us from today's Saurons, the techno-powers, who are already well on their way to consuming our soul and our identity?

It does not take much imagination to imagine the conservationist, social debater and human rights activist Dag Hareide as a Gandalf figure. But there Gandalf had a magic wand and magic tricks up his sleeve, Hareide has only worries and many questions. Fortunately, there are some good helpers out there, such as the journalist Bår Stenvik, who comes up with suggestions for a cure. Separately, Hareide and Stenvik have written two of Norway's most important non-fiction books this autumn.

A new era

Why such an imaginative introduction, based on how the trilogy Lord of the Rings (1954–55) by JR Tolkien (1892–1973) ends? Yes, because we are actually facing a new era. Today's technological quantum leap is happening much faster than before, and we do not have enough time to grasp the social, political or cultural implications. Both Hareide and Stenvik shout such a strong warning that I am shaken deep inside the margin.

Let's start with Dag Hareide. He is not a man of convenience, but a well-educated generalist. Over the past four years, he has traveled, sought and facilitated the most important technological breakthroughs of this century and analyzes what these mean for the human body, mind and society. Hareide has interviewed over 200 experts and read more than 200 books and hundreds of publications.

Hareide is positive to technology and believes that around 80 per cent of the technological breakthroughs are good, and that possibly 20 per cent can be classified as negative. But it is precisely the latter that can be fatal. Why? Because we're heading into a big, unknown experiment, with a lot of manipulation. Hareide quotes historian Yuval Harari as saying that "bodies, brains and minds will be the most important products of the 21st century".

In the time of algorithms

The first 150 pages of Hareide's book are devoted to social change. He is, for example, involved in the authoritarian surveillance that is spreading in China and algorithmsnes ability to trigger our emotions and ergo control our preferences.

Bår Stenvik also writes about the latter in detail. Every time we search for something online, we give technology companies the opportunity to combine more and more data points and predict more of our behavior so they can make money on us. We are categorized according to which emojis we use and the speed I read with (that is, what catches our attention). Therefore, cases will be arranged for me, I am "stimulated" to develop certain preferences. The algorithms "smell" when I'm tired, and are ready to distract me with a trailer for a new Netflix series, Stenvik writes. Our "attention" is thus captured and turned into a profitable action, or what Stenvik calls a prediction of our future preferences on which various interests can make money. In other words, we are much less free than we think. This is a bit reminiscent of Wonderful new world by Aldous Huxley, from 1932 (1948).

Much of this is familiar material to those who follow along and who may have read Shoshana Zuboff and her monumental book The age of surveillance capitalism (2020). Also the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma shows us how we are governed, prepared and made receptive to both commercial and political interests.

Hareide is not just content to describe and problematize that we live in the time of algorithms. He takes us into Silicon Valley's grandiose dreams of unlimited technological development, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and further into cyber warfare and killing robots.

His chapter on murder weapons and the military-industrial complex, which today has been expanded with the digital complex, brings out the drops of sweat in me. War becomes clinical when most things will eventually happen via drones and killing robots. When we are no longer facing an enemy we can see, we are blunted and go into "game mode". This is science fiction realized right before our eyes. Without us debating it sufficiently in advance.

The danger is that we prefer impressions that can be digested quickly, and that can be quickly shared and shared.

«Innocence» of social media

Both authors are concerned that Facebook's innocence is a myth. The danger lies in the fact that we demonstrably prefer impressions that can be digested quickly, and that can quickly be liked and shared. It may be a short way from there that we are tempted by more extreme content. Also has Facebook automatically sluice users to more of the right-wing Qanon groups (right-wing conspiracy) but now promises to delete such groups. Through its platform, Facebook has also been indirectly co-responsible for the genocide of Rohingya in Myanmar. We are all affected by the pressure chamber created by many of the new social platforms. But they would rather not take responsibility for it, as long as more clicks are generated so that advertisers and others still pay for access.

Personally, I find it difficult to understand that our flagship, NRK, constantly away invites people who have posted something "sharp" on social platforms, to Dagsnytt 18. This is usually click-bait to create emotions and ergo a higher position in the news feed. Should NRK be involved in such a development?

Hareide's will to the world

The next main part or 150 pages of Hareide's book shows many pages devoted to potential changes in what it means to be human. He pulls out the Pandora's box of technology. It is almost inexhaustible. We visit artificial insemination, egg donation, uterus for sale, and a 72-year-old woman who has given birth to a healthy baby. We gain insight into transhumanism's dream of eternal life and zero pain and other new scenarios with so-called cyborgere, a mixture of human and machine. This is where we enter the struggle for our human "I", where the possibility of future "upgrading" of ourselves is limitless.

We are facing a new genetically engineered upper class.

In a world where money and power are very unequally distributed, we are facing a new genetically engineered upper class, writes Hareide. Yes, dear reader, you can shrug your shoulders and say that this is overworked stuff. But no, Hareide has done his homework, and everything he writes is covered with sources. These can of course be followed up and interpreted in a different light. You're welcome. Aschehoug should have treated himself to a register, which would have made reading easier for those who now want to write a sequel to Hareide's work.

He has given us an analysis of power at the bottom, which is absolutely necessary. Technology is basically neutral and can be used well or badly, but who owns the new technologies, who is behind it, who pulls the strings? We get to know the big ones that are based in the USA (such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet), but also a number of others, including the new super companies in China (Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu).

Constant happiness is dehumanizing

I read this book as Hareide's socially engaged and intellectual testament to the world. It is the humanist who writes to us - he discusses with himself the big questions: What is a life? What is the good life? What is happiness? What is meaning?

The book thus becomes a powerful showdown with the techno - powers' notion of constant happiness. Constant happiness is dehumanizing, in the sense that it conflicts with other values ​​such as freedom, love, hope and justice. Transhumanism must therefore be met with a new awareness of values ​​and morals.

Both life and our consciousness are something that is given to us as human beings, writes Hareide. From this we have created the concept of "human dignity". It is this human dignity that is now threatened by what the techno-powers are doing. Human rights and representative democracy are a result of the human value we have managed to create for humanity, and we must defend it.

Dag Hareide has both ethos and logos, and is not afraid of using a lot of pathos.

Digital work

Dag Hareide has both ethos and logos, and is not afraid of using a lot of pathos. In light of his long career and many important deeds and book publications, this is not a problem. Bår Stenvik, as a sober journalist, uses no pathos, but certainly has enough ethos and logos. Although he does not use words like "human dignity", he is still no stranger to airy reasoning that "art should be a mirror, stories and metaphors that allow us to see the world with new eyes" and that therefore "we must not be fooled to automate creativity ».

Stenvik's book complements Hareide's masterpieces in some areas. Where Hareide in the end almost seems exhausted after traveling the world, the web and various meetings, books and magazines around, and puts a line without having a surplus to come up with any concrete solutions, Stenvik steps in: It is about taxing the use of our data, and that we in this country must build our own models and schemes for data collection and use, and not just rely on international giants. In the middle of the book comes a page called digital work. This is Stenvik's small manifesto for good computer use and politics.

While we in Norway over the past 40 years have moved away from collective solutions, the specific data dangers we now face can help the public sector "to strike back", Stenvik believes. Data harvesting from Norwegian citizens must, as far as possible, be organized so that the collective value is returned to all of us. Public supervisory authorities must be able to demand openness and insight into algorithms and source codes to ensure that Norwegian data is used in a responsible and ethical manner.

And while you and I pay 33 percent tax, Google pays one per mille, even though they had two billion in advertising revenue in Norway in 2015. We therefore need a ground rent tax on digital services.

The techno powers are some monsters. They do not exist in a fictional world à la Lord of the Rings. Gandalf Hareide's and Frodo Stenvik's contribution in the fight to preserve our soul and our human identity is worthy of a magnificent party with fireworks, both in Hobsyssel and where you are. Do not just like and share - run and buy!

Some of the Norwegian data bids from Bår Stenviks The big game:

  1. Data harvesting from Norwegian citizens shall, as far as possible, be organized so that the collective value of the data is returned to the citizens in the form of better services and tax revenues.
  2. Public supervisory authorities must be able to demand openness and insight into algorithms and source codes to ensure that Norwegian data is used in a responsible and ethical manner.
  3. The state shall coordinate Norwegian interests within the Norwegian technology industry and the public sector, and build a Norwegian integrated research environment with a national and international focus.
  4. Norwegian solutions for data collection are established in a way that ensures trust. Citizens must have a real influence on the use, privacy must be respected through encryption and anonymization where possible, for both public and private bodies.
  5. Public solutions must be coordinated through a separate ministry that has fresh funds and a mandate to create cross-sectoral solutions and coordination, in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of work and waste.
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