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Controlling our own Algorithms; Cool Vendors in Blockchain Technology

By Avivah Litan | September 07, 2018 | 1 Comment

Last night I heard Yuval Harari, author of three books including “Sapiens”, interviewed in Washington D.C.

My main takeaway: whoever controls our algorithms will control our destiny.

What does this have to do with Cool Vendors in Blockchain Technology? They are working on helping ensure that each individual controls his or her own algorithms and identity data.

Harari pointed out a formidable future – coming very soon — where the algorithms that follow and study us and learn our behavior end up knowing each of us much better than we each know ourselves. That is plain scary, as Harari repeatedly emphasized.

Our just-published Cool Vendors in Blockchain Technology features three vendors, Brave, Civic and Evernym that support a future where individuals control their own algorithms and identities.  User adoption of these and other similar vendors’ technologies is far from assured, but the alternative is more of what we see today which is:

  1. Algorithms that understand what each of us cares about, acts upon, purchases, socializes with etc. are controlled by third party companies, such as mega search engines or social media companies like Google and Facebook
  2. Our identity information that is linked to these algorithms is not under our individual control but is rather spread, copied and shared across large and small service providers, companies, and government agencies that often don’t safeguard it adequately.
  • For evidence of this – just think about the billions of personal information records compromised at data breaches at Equifax, Facebook, Yahoo!, countless retailers, banks, phone companies, U.S. government agencies like the IRS, OPM, State Election agencies, and many more.
  • It’s common knowledge that this data has been sold and resold countless times to all types of bad actors. These range from hostile nation states that maintain databases on national populations for all types of purposes such as manipulating citizens’ political views, to common criminals ripping off our credit cards.

I asked Harari to comment on his published observations that;

  1. Governments can’t keep up anymore with the deluge of information coming at them and the fast pace of change. The best they can do is serve as a custodian for the status quo, but as we have seen, many governments are failing at even that.
  2. AI and algorithms, and the convergence of artificial intelligence with bio-technology is evolving at a rapid pace. For now, large tech companies manage most of this evolution across our societies.

So I asked Harari how he envisions these two distinct forces evolving.   Which parties would have the power, in the end? Governments or technology companies that controlled most of the AI? All he would say is that whoever controls the algorithms will be the ones with the power.

I don’t know about you but I really want to control my own algorithms and identity data.

For now the promise of the blockchain revolution– and its democratized decentralized control and elimination of central authorities — is the only acceptable option I see, however remote its chances of success.

The alternative of having dysfunctional governments or oligarchic technology companies control our future portends a scary future. A blockchain-based future where we own our own identity data and algorithms gives us a way out.

Thankfully we have innovative companies moving us along.

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1 Comment

  • Rene Kolga says:

    Very important discussion Avivah!
    Another good book on this topic is called “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”
    by Cathy O’Neil.