Truth with a Capital "T"
I. The Murderous Ship
A thought experiment.
You’re the captain of an 8-passenger spacecraft. Each crew member’s brain has a neural prosthetic chip that, among other things, can record everything you do. One morning, a crew member turns up dead. And guess what?
Despite reviewing the victim’s neural prosthesis and the ship’s data, everyone is still a suspect. To exonerate themselves, three crew members consent to a neural prosthetic search. That leaves the other three. As captain, you could brute force your way into their brains. But should you?
II. The Chinese Drone
If we transported the leader of China, Xi Jinping, into the future aboard our murderous ship, could anything give him pause before brute forcing his way into the minds of half the vessel’s population?
It’s no secret that the Chinese Social Credit System is the most advanced mass surveillance system on the planet. While outsiders frame it as a gross violation of privacy and control, it’s promoted entirely different from within.
“Based on a cross-regional survey… more socially advantaged citizens (wealthier, better-educated and urban residents) show the strongest approval of SCSs, along with older people. While one might expect such knowledgeable citizens to be most concerned about the privacy implications of SCS, they instead appear to embrace SCSs because they interpret it through frames of benefit-generation and promoting honest dealings in society and the economy instead of privacy-violation.” src
Let’s say the Chinese SCS were opt-in only to quell the privacy concerns. In other words, you’re cloaked by default. Then people who wanted to be seen benefiting society and making it better could be rewarded for it by the government. And when a person wanted privacy, they could easily switch back to being cloaked.
Help an elderly person cross the street +25. Volunteer at the animal shelter +70. Give someone a ride to a job interview +400. Rat out a dissenter +1k. Scalp a (insert ethnic group here) +50k.
If that seems like a leap to you, just watch this Vice interview where a Chinese lawyer points out the two prerequisites to keep the SCS from going astray.
Those prereqs are Chinese morality and the Chinese legal system.
If you’re imaginative, give this a try. Replace the plus signs(+) with dollar signs($) for the values above. Now sprinkle in some brain chips that can read your thoughts and put it in the oven at 375 degrees. You’ll know the hive mind is ready when you start to hear a feint buzzing sound that seems to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.
III. Ministries of Information
When you register to vote in the United States, your personal information is added to a voter list. A voter list is a public record of who can vote. Its intended use is to keep track of voting on election day. By knowing who has voted and who hasn’t, we can prevent people from voting twice.
Thanks to advances in technology, political campaigns have been leveraging these lists to keep track of voters year-round. After the state harvests the data from registered voters, they turn around and sell it to political campaigns. Here are some of the fields being tracked:
- party_affiliation (current)
- race, ethnicity (in Florida and North Carolina) src
Society has decided in this case that the benefits of sharing the data outweigh the costs of its misuse.
Rewind to the 2016 U.S. presidential election when a Russian influence campaign managed to reach over 100 million Americans. A major facet of this campaign was targeted advertising on Facebook. The Russian group developed 3,500 different custom ads, and then paid Facebook $100,000 to distribute them to American voters src. The Zuck has decided in this case that the benefits of distributing the data outweigh the costs of not letting it flow freely.
This is why if we transported Mark Zuckerberg aboard our murderous ship he wouldn’t hesitate to brute force the minds of his crew. At least that’s what I think. Tell me what you think The Zuck would do, call 773-839-2747 and use extension *10. And Mark, if you’re reading this, feel free to call in. I’ll embed your voicemail below this paragraph.
To avoid instances of dishonest political advertising on their platform, Twitter decided to ban political ads. Spotify followed suit and is suspending political ads as well. Here, both platforms decided that the benefits of distributing the data did not outweigh the costs. Spotify justified their decision in a statement saying, “At this point in time, we do not yet have the necessary level of robustness in our process, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content.” src
Misinformation, dishonesty, and ignorance aren’t going anywhere. Just between the media, our friends, and our family, there will never be a shortage. And you’ll be waiting a long time before Spotify’s systems and processes start judging what’s true or not, because Truth with a capital “T” is decided by society. It was True that the Earth was the center of the solar system. It was True that doctors didn’t need to wash their hands before surgery. It was True that black people weren’t people at all, but animals, to be treated as livestock.
So how can we possibly expect to make informed decisions with so much noise obfuscating the truth? The purest solution would be a perfect information society. A practical solution would look like more communal discussions, with each discussion filling in knowledge gaps along the way, inching us closer to a Truth we can all accept. The more inclusive the Truth, the wider its range of application.
IV. A Scent of Deceit
Over the last decade cities have been trending towards providing data portals for public access to information the cities gather. Earlier this year Chicago published an extensive dataset about the people who drive for ride sharing companies. The city regularly boasts about its openness and transparency (in contrast to its sordid history). Its previous mayor pledged to run “the most open, accountable and transparent government that the city of Chicago has ever seen.” src
While sharing information and being open can build trust, being clumsily transparent can just as easily destroy it. That’s what happened on November 8th in a rural community college when the Democrats attempted to be transparent. With the legalization of recreational marijuana less than two months away, Illinois state senator Toi Hutchinson was resigning from office to become the state’s first ever pot czar.
Appointing a replacement senator to serve out the remaining 11 months of her term was the Democratic party’s responsibility. Four candidates were interviewed publicly by a panel of judges. After all candidates were interviewed, the judges went into a back room to deliberate. After about twenty minutes, they returned. I know this because I was there. And upon hearing the announcement of their decision, I saw a lot of surprised faces.
A Politico article quotes one attendant as saying, “If you were there, you would have wondered how that gentleman got that seat.” src Another guy that was there posted a story to his Instagram later that night that amounted to “fuck whitey” in response to the appointment.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Near everyone in this audience was civically engaged. By hiding the final decision-making process, the Democrats eroded public trust. And everyone’s a cynic. At least in American politics, according to a FiveThirtyEight article titled, “In American Politics, Everyone’s A Cynic”. src
Like myself, President Donald Trump also believes political leaders should “do the right thing”. But the “right thing” is like beauty. It depends on what you see. 👁️