I am become Data, the destroyer of Conventions."
thought I had exhausted my views on the accumulation and application
of data, which I definitely regard with a mixture of love and hate
but I've felt a certain shift in the balance over this last year,
probably because of the involvement and impact it's had during the
COVID-19 pandemic. Data stepped up another gear everywhere and everything
seems to be reliant on instantaneous, continuous update now – a
sort of all-encompassing mindfulness. And it's made me contemplate
even more what power is, who has it, or “owns” it and how it is
used. After all, almost anything can be measured and stored as data,
they're just statistics compared against specific values. This is
census year in the U.K., a collection of data recorded once every
ten years, it takes data from the adult population for comparative
measurements on certain specifics, which we're told takes only 10
minutes to fill in. As I filled mine in it struck me that the average
person is probably providing 100 times more data of various types
every day - from passive CCTV and phone use to actively supplying
it to Facebook, Twitter and innumeral other Apps – and for no particular
reason or reward. But of course we've been told many times that
if we use a free service then it's us that's the product.
Take the wheel, although a constantly occuring shape in nature it still had to be “discovered” and through innovation, its early uses made it a ubiquitous techology employed in everything from ox carts to Pyramid building. The inventiveness and uses has continued of course, evolving through the era of pulley and gear systems to the first factories powered by water wheels – now we don't give wheel technology a second thought: they're just wheels...used everywhere – even on the Mars Perseverance Rover.
naturally occuring curiosity was something first noticed thousands
of years ago in fish that gave a shock when touched and lightning
bolts that appeared to be the same sort of energy of immense intensity
- but it took until the 19th Century for serious experimentation to
begin and then around 1880 Edison harnessed electricity for lighting
in a commercially viable way. Then, as they say - the rest is history:
because once electricity and how to generate it was understood, electrically
powered innovations exploded going from a lightbulb to the very same
Mars Perseverance Rover in only 140 years. But the point is that every
single electrically powered device ever invented is reliant on the
same knowledge of electricity for its power source (open knowledge
like the wheel) - so no matter what the energy source the power created
is identical. And so production and supply of electricity whether
it is converted from coal fired steam, from oil, or nuclear it is
generally available to most of the planet wherever there is a source
of energy that can be exploited and converted into electrical power.
This of course has given rise to - and been the root cause of - a
lot of the global problems in the last 140 years because of the struggles
and conflicts fought over who controls the sources of energy. After
all it is what it “says on the tin” - POWER. (Not long ago names like
King Coal and Black Gold were used). So the history of elecricity
is just as evolutionary as the wheel and has been the dominant universal
power for 100 years or more. But every power has its reign and already
the more traditional, monolithic power companies and their installations
have become more fragmented and dispersed – on top of windy hills,
out at sea or over acres of solar panels. And there's something I
only realised quite recently with these new generation wave, wind
and solar powered generating companies they are starting to resort
to the term energy - “clean energy” - and that made me think!
I suppose brings me to the crux of this piece - and about the title.
So it's just my observation of what power really is but specifically
the power which is now in the ascendant – raw data. As with these
examples of other fundamental discoveries – the wheel and electrical
power - once identified and harnessed, their uses are limited only
by the imagination and invention. So now if the new base unit of power
is data - already having a profound influence on the planet and still
at the embryonic stage – then structures setting up to harvest and
process these unimaginable quantities of raw data are basically the
true power-brokers of today.
They are able to “hoover” up and utilise almost any information they choose from their customers, exploiting their desires and their weaknesses, be it for goods, services, communication, entertainment or whatever. And it isn't just their customers they exploit, they do exactly the same with their competitors: or just gobble them up whole, straight from their inception (hence the Pacman imagery). They can initiate or clone a new virtual or online based version of almost any business they choose. Some can even conjure new businesses up out of empty space – in empty space - almost overnight! Which is brilliant of course, but it begs the question in every case – how did they grow so quickly - what are these behemoths consuming? It's as though they're taking some sort of growth data-steroid. Well part of the answer of course has to be the spark of innovation or opportunity which someone has seen in utilising this new power source of raw data. Then with a novel or specialized use of data it can very quickly construct or attract a new marketable product – all it needs then is the right amount of ready investors to jump on board. Something else just struck me as interesting – considering where most of these Big Tech companies are located – is this just the same as the gold rush? Anyway, growth usually starts slowly but through specialisation (or being first in its application) it can easily propel it to the top of any specific food chain very quickly where they then get to keep picking the “biggest, ripest fruits” before anyone else gets to them. Some recent examples of the power they now wield (rightly or wrongly) are search engines blocking undesirable competition, Presidents blocked from communication facilities, whole countries blocked out from newsfeeds etc. and of course these are only the “big” headline stories we get to hear about...ironically reported by the very same organisations that are doing it. I have to put in here that I'm only refering to so-called “free” democratic systems - we can't even imagine the other 99.9% that's going on in the whole of “data-land”.
all I can say about the power of currencies is that they are only
symbolic constructs and have always been manipulated: but in the words
of Bachman Turner Overdrive – “You Ain't seen Nothing Yet”.
Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagavad Gita when he saw the raw power of a nuclear explosion...Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of worlds.
Of course I'm not actually likening it to the same or similar situation...but Quantum computing is coming next!
..................But even then...there will still be the “Ghost in the Machine!”