On November 15, Barbara Carfagna, Rai journalist and author, opened the autumn edition of the 2018 Innovation Talks by bringing the theme of Datacracy to the center of the debate with the Community of BBS. The ‘governance of data’, the risks of new technologies and the future of democracy at the dawn of the third phase of the internet, were some of the issues discussed together with Marco Roccetti, Associate Dean for Digital Technologies at BBS and Professor of Computer Science at the University of Bologna.
“It is always a good idea to stop to reflect and understand, especially when you live an epochal change like the one we are experiencing now,” says Barbara Carfagna, a journalist expert on ethical issues related to scientific discoveries, as well as the creator of the television program Codice: la vita è digitale (Code: life is digital), dedicated to the dissemination of scientific, technological and social issues. “In 2020, we humans will be just 7 billion, while the connected agents will be 50 billion, if not more. This means that if an extraterrestrial will decide to get in touch through the internet with the main active agents in the connected environment, that is in the infosphere, it would communicate with machines, not with us. ”
Not only has the way of communicating and retrieving information altered, but the conception of space and time has radically changed too. We got used to detaching our presence from the geographical location and at the same time we produce more data every day than they have been produced in the last 50 or 100 years, in some way crystallizing our existence in an eternal present.
According to Barbara Carfagna, the revolution we live is not only digital and technological but above all philosophical. “In a sense, we have already discarded time and space and we are living different eras at the same time. Someone still lives in History and does not even have a minimum perception of what is happening. And then there are people who live in data awareness, in the hyperhistory. ”
Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro from the Osaka University, argues that this overproduction of data managed by a limited number of people, can lead to a future where a small portion of the population will not only live in the hyperhistory, but also knows how to dialogue with the machines and manage them, becoming even another species through the integration of technological elements their body. Those who have the skills and the economic possibilities to do so will soon become the next ruling class, followed almost unconsciously by the rest of the population, a biological mass without access to power.
“From an emotional point of view we are going through a new Middle Ages. On the one hand I am happy to be able to live this era with full awareness of the transformation of what other generations believed to be static and still,” continues Barbara Carfagna. “On the other hand, however, it is scary to think that there is no real human project around this new connected world. What is being created is a world that favors the commercial aspect of the machines created for efficiency and not for human well-being.” In fact, in the absence of a human project piloting the recent and future technological development, the greatest worries arise observing the example of countries with a poor attitude to democracy such as the United Arab Emirates, Singapore or China, where the extreme use of data as a form of control is expressed at its highest level. “These countries are able to implement these innovations and experience them directly, without having a whole series of human rights, social or consensus problems, and the result is sometimes disturbing.”
In Singapore, for example, it is the GovTech app that builds algorithms based on citizens’ behaviors and governs their daily lives, but also their existence in a broader sense. When taxi drivers get older, sophisticated sensors detect if they are still able to drive in a totally efficient manner and, if not, they are offered another job or retirement. Or, if they do not want the cars to drive certain roads, they will automatically activate gates with very expensive tolls, connected to a credit card placed in the car. Meanwhile, in a village in China, there is an experiment going on about social rating: the initial 1000 reputational points decrease every time that through webcams, social media or facial recognition is detected an undesirable behavior. When citizens get to 500 points, they are unable to buy a plane or train ticket, until they lose reputation, the ability to find a partner and, in time, even their jobs. The reputation turns out to be a strong deterrent, more powerful than the classic pecuniary sanctions, so that in Singapore those who throw trash on the ground are punished with the obligation to wear a phosphorescent jacket with the word LITTERER on it.
The blockchain is also taking more and more frequently place in the agenda of governments. Dubai, for example, has announced that it will become the first country in the world governed by this system, while in India the blockchain has been applied to real estate, thus strengthening the caste system.
“We see all this as something happening far away, under far-off governments, where the dictatorship allows greater efficiency from the point of view of the use of new technologies. In reality this is happening to us too, more than we are aware of, with the 7 sisters who hold the data of millions of people and possess algorithms that can predict and anticipate our desires and needs. We can say that we are moving towards a different sovereignty, given by the big technological companies that centralize the data and manage them in such a way that the States are losing power and meaning,” explains Barbara Carfagna to the BBS Community.
Traditional governments, especially in Europe, are realizing that the data are creating some kind of real and separate continents. There are also those who see salvation in the blockchain and decentralization, since they go beyond national and digital sovereignties, allowing us to regain control over our data and, in some way, our own mind.
The transformation we are experiencing is then to be considered positive or negative? According to Marco Roccetti, we have become accustomed to discussing the negative implications without giving enough space to the positive ones, which go far beyond the advancement of technology and mainly concern society and the relationships between human beings. “A recent research published in the Economist revealed how the arrival of social networks had a positive effect on interpersonal relationships. For example, there have never been so many interracial relations as in this moment of history and this kind of union seems to be even more stable than traditional marriages,” he explains.
“An operation of good journalism is in my opinion to make people aware of the consequences of the transfer of data. Only awareness can give the right direction to society as a whole,” concludes Barbara Carfagna her speech at BBS. In fact, knowledge has been in history, as it will remain for the future, the main instrument of power and defense of man. And it has never been within everyone’s reach as it is today.
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