A new religion
Dataism declares that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing. You may be wondering whether I am going to start talking about the Illuminati, UFOs or 9/11 conspiracies. Dataism is not some eccentric theory lacking evidence or support, it now dominates science as we know it.
Two scientific breakthroughs spawned the creation of Dataism. Charles Darwin and his fellow biologists have translated organisms as biochemical algorithms. Similarly, Alan Turing and his fellow computer scientists have learned to engineer increasingly sophisticated electronic algorithms. Dataism found a crucial link between the two disciplines, harnessing mathematics to decipher how both biochemical and electronic algorithms could be united under one hegemony. Animals and machines as one, until eventually the machines take over.
Capitalism or Communism?
I have now put you in charge of the UK economy. Sitting at your bespoke vintage desk with a pen and paper, what do you focus on first? What are your main objectives? What do the people want? All of these are tough questions and require some deep thinking, so you decide to go for a walk in Central London. Luckily for you, the announcement of your tenure will start tomorrow, so you can roam freely for now. After traversing a few blocks, your mouth begins to salivate and your heart rate accelerates. A sweet aroma caresses your senses and your instincts takeover, you are guided to a small bakery and there they are: smouldering, giant, chocolate-chip cookies.
You buy one and almost devour it whole. Once the sugar reaches your bloodstream, you feel revitalised and remember the questions you were thinking about earlier. How did the baker decide how many cookies to bake? How did the baker know what price to charge? That is the capitalist secret of success. Not one person or entity monopolises all of the data on London’s cookie supply. Market forces determine the price of cookies and how many to produce each day. The information flows freely across millions of people, including you, me and the baker. We can understand economics through data processing alone.
Free market capitalism and state controlled communism can be reduced to competing data processing systems. Capitalism uses distributed processing, connecting all producers and consumers to one another and allowing them to exchange information freely and make decisions independently. On the other hand, communism relies on centralised processing. Though no country ever came close to complete communism, as described by Karl Marx, the Soviet Union came as close as it could. All information flowed to a single location in Moscow where all of the important decisions were made. Prices and quantities were set by the government exclusively.
Capitalism won the Cold War because distributed data processing works better than centralised data processing, at least in periods of rapid technological change. To consider why something like Facebook could not be created in a communist society, watch Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of the senate or ask your Dad to explain Snapchat to you. Old people just don’t get it. The Soviet Union was run by old people that were good at producing nuclear weapons, but not an Apple or a Nike.
Homo Sapiens vs. Chickens
What is the advantage of humans over chickens? Humans allegedly have deeper emotions and superior intellectual capabilities. We assume that chickens can not feel love and would get bad exams results. We conclude that humans have better algorithms for processing data than chickens. Humans are the iPhones and chickens are the Blackberrys. Stay with me on this smartphone analogy because what if we could create a data processing system that can assimilate even more data than a human being, and do it more efficiently. What if as humans we are stuck at the iPhone 5s level, and we manage to create an iPhone X. A superior being or entity. A singularity. That new creation would be superior to us as we are superior to chickens. Just a thought, what have you done with your old iPhone or smartphone? Would a superior system treat us with equality and compassion or would it use us like farm animals? Or even just discard of us altogether?
A source of meaning
We all want to merge with the data flow because it makes us part of something omniscient and omnipotent. Traditional religions have stressed that your thoughts and actions are valuable because God acknowledges them. We now no longer need a God to acknowledge us when we can seek validation from those closer to us. Dataism requests that we only record and connect our experiences to the great data flow and the algorithms will discover their meaning and tell us what to do. I am at Wireless Festival, Drake bursts out on to the stage and the crowd goes ballistic, bodies flying everywhere and the ground is trembling. There is one action, however, that is synchronised across the thousands in the crowd. The action of reaching for one’s phone to record the moment and share it with others. Every upload and share is a prayer towards Dataism.
What will happen to society, politics and daily life when the non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?
Yuval Noah Harari
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