After the end of slavery, the fall of communism, the tearing down of the iron curtain, WWII, and cold war and the liberation of sexual behavior, mankind has now entered a new and novel era of the global intellectual, cultural and technological progress. It is something even the best futurist and visionaries have not seen coming: the era the Search and the Thumb.
The majority of the world population lives a life of intense searches and thumbing. From birth to death we are forced to search and show – or at least we are dependent on it – the thumb. Our children learn and grow into these social innovations and practices, and some of the loud voices of education explain how the requirements for learning have been totally transformed; no need for rote learning when everything can be found with Google and other search ’engines’. ‘Reading books’ has turned into ‘Talk to Books’ by Google. The phenomenon of thumb-sucking is undergoing a revolutionary change in its cultural and psychological meaning.
Search business professionals, Artificial Intelligence (AI) gurus, and the best mathematical brains of computation have been hired to make sure that the Search & Thumb era will prevail and make the Search and the Thumb even better in serving the future mankind. Our best people are paid to guarantee the survival of this era and make its masters and owners rich.
What is wrong with this? Why worry?
When so large part of the global population takes the thumb and search behaviors as ‘culturally natural’ and useful, it may not be an exaggeration to assume that many also believe it’s the best the intelligent technology and design can offer. Well I for one, disagree with this and see a plethora of better and more human-centric ways to relieve us from the dwarfing and non-human power of the Thumb & Search empire. Because of the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica -episode many are now sharing this worry, perhaps for slightly different reasons about which I will explain here. Many have finally seen the direct and indirect consequences of the Thumb & Search and the unlimited access to their private and public networked life.
I will not explain my own view here in detail since it would mean advertising something I’m right now developing with two of my colleagues in our Reach-project. Instead, I will extend my critical look at the Search and Thumb empire to one more hidden ingredient of this era, its underlying secret: the Networks.
Many of us are familiar with the wonderful work of Lazlo Barabasi on the mathematical and practical properties of networks and then of course the Deep Learning (DL) paradigm, which is based on the collage of artificial neural units capably of amazing, distributed learning. DL is fast entering our life as a part of the AI movement that many believe will soon be all around us, working for us, with us, and becoming more intelligent than we can ever be.
Our networked behavior in social media and consumption is being continuously analyzed and some (mostly engineers, business people and futurists) seem to believe that AI, DL and Big data and the various sensory systems monitoring all our behavior together will soon guarantee that the masters and users of these technologies will soon know us better than we can now ourselves. I totally disagree here, too and not only because I happen to be a psychology professor.
I’m currently finalizing a book “On the Edge of Human Technology” and take the following quotation from it, concerning my ‘unholy’ attitude towards the idea that networks could model our real, human life. It is a short summary on why I see that the network models are not human in their essence:
“Nothing flows between people, but states of both change in complex interaction. No ‘connection’ between individuals or firms, for example, concerns only one property at a time, like ideas, information, persons, material, input features. Life, in its essence is not a multi-layered phenomenon but an organic, ever interconnected and interdependent fabric. What we call links are not channels or connections, but forms of complex and dynamic life. It is time to search for genuine representations and models of life.” From: On the Edge of Human Technology (ms) by Göte Nyman (in preparation).
So, what to do? Some people quit Facebook, many have become skeptical about using digital technology at schools. My own take in this special problem has been to borrow (another) analogy, this time from the string theory in physics; it’s a longish explanation on this context but makes the point: https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/386/The question remains, however, how could human technology design move to a human era with a new dominant design and relieve us from the Search and Thumb empire? What could be the source of such a powerful development when even the best of ideas are not enough? The masters of the Search and Thumb govern us. Any new alternative must be both economically and culturally viable, but we don’t seem to have a new dominant era in our horizons. This exactly why I’m writing this and the book, and participating in a new generation project, hoping to contribute to this inevitable development. Others are on their ways towards a new horizon, too, no doubt. I hope to return to this in more detail later.