“Free” computers are creating a very expensive society

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

While people are created equal, computers are not. When people share information freely, those who own the best computers benefit in ways that impoverish everyone else.
Free computers are creating a very expensive society
Those with the best computers can simply take knowledge, wealth and power away from ordinary people.

It doesn’t matter if the best computers run schemes called high frequency trading firms, social media sites, national intelligence agencies, giant online stores, big political campaigns, insurance companies, or search engines. Leave the semantics aside and they’re all remarkably similar.

All the computers that crunch “big data” are physically similar. They are placed in obscure sites and are guarded like the goldmines that they are.

The programs that the best computers are running are also similar.  They started off by the gathering of freely offered information from everyone else in the world.

This might include scanned emails or social media sharing, sightings through cloud-connected cameras, or commercial and medical dossiers; there’s no boundary to the snooping.

The hook might be free internet services or music. The targeted audience eventually pays for these bribes through lost opportunities.

Ordinary people are the providers of the information that makes the big computers so powerful and valuable.

And ordinary people do get a certain flavour of benefit for providing that value.

They get the benefits of an informal economy usually associated with the developing world, like reputation and access to barter. The formal benefits concentrate around the biggest computers.

More and more ordinary people are thrust into a winner-takes-all economy. Social media sharers can make all the noise they want, but they forfeit the real wealth and clout needed to be politically powerful.

The core problem starts with philosophy. The owners of the biggest computers like to think about them as big artificial brains. But actually they are simply repackaging valuable information gathered from everyone else.

For instance, a big remote Google or Microsoft computer can translate this piece, more or less, from English to another language. But what is really going on is that real translations, made by humans, are gathered in multitudes, and pattern-matched against new texts like this one.

A mash-up of old translations will approximate the new translation that is needed, so long as there are many old translations to serve as sources. Real human translators are being made anonymous, invisible, and insecure.

As long as we keep doing things the way we are, every big computer will create a crowd of disenfranchised people.

As it happens, the very first conception of digital networked communication foresaw a way out of this trap.

The first idea of networked digital media included a universal micropayment system, so that people would be paid when data they added to a network was used by someone else.

But this idea is anathema to the current orthodoxy and big business.

As such the more information that you give away about yourself- the more you are actually empowering the recipients and making yourself poorer and weaker in the process.

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