I knew it the first time I saw the original Terminator from ’84. It’s still one of my all-time favorite movies to this day and I rewatch it at least once a year. When I saw Netflix’ latest documentary The Social Dilemma last weekend, it made me think about Skynet.
The speed – another great movie by the way – by which technology is evolving is absolutely mind blowing. I had a very nostalgic conversation with a colleague of mine about the flip phones I used while I was studying at the university and the Bacardi Breezers everyone used to drink and threw up immediately after drinking. And all this was only 10 years ago.
Then the conversation got derailed to Taio Cruz’s Dynamite, but that’s not the main point I’m trying to make.
For a while now, I’ve been getting more and more agitated by the state of digital advertising.
In the course of the last two weeks, I was targeted with apparel that can only be described as a SM-fetishist’s dream, a dominatrix face mask and a dating agency using Dragon Ball Z’s Master Roshi as their poster boy. A recent series of academic studies on ad fraud shows that targeting accuracy varies between 7% and 77%. I guess that would be the reason why I was targeted by very dubious penis-dolls and amorphous Russian statues turned into dolls, in the months preceding. And not only was the content borderline traumatizing, the quality of the ads I got was just appalling and made me want to scratch my eyes out (who ever uses comic sans in an ad need to be severely punished).
With Facebook business manager, everyone can launch their own campaign, and it seems that everyone did.
Back to The Social Dilemma and Skynet.
While the public debate on body positivity, gender- and race equality rages, the oh so advanced technology seems to be leading a life of its own and pushing us in the other direction. Polarizing groups of individuals and reinforcing gender- and other stereotypes and biases at a higher pace than we could ever stand up against.
Besides the aforementioned disturbing ads that I’ve received, the majority of the ads that I got were some of the most misogynistic garbage that you can think of: other than the traditional make-up and jewelry, I got served ads for hair removal, anti-aging miracle cremes, very – and I mean very – skimpy bathing suits, yoga vitamins, beauty vitamins,…sure enough, perhaps these were also targeted towards men, but we know from a fact that data and technology is biased to begin with.
Only last week, a series of tweets called out Twitter’s algorithm to be prejudiced against black individuals in favor of white middle-aged men. Google’s speech-recognition software was found to be 70% more likely to accurately recognize male speech than female. And even image databanks such as Google, have been found to be reinforcing gender bias. When looking for “CEO’s”, Google returned an even lower rate of female CEO’s depicted than the already grim reality.
I’m a big fan of technology, but when data becomes a commodity and the foundation of your business model, it’s not in your best interest to take any demanding and qualitative measures that can lead to lesser data.
While we’re rallying for everything that’s right, technology is undoing the same progress. It’s a catch-22. Unless the people in charge of the technology changes the way they use their means.
Luckily, there are some encouraging signs. Anti-vaxxers will be hating, but Bill Gate’s philanthropy doesn’t need any introduction and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is also doing his part by opening tuition-free schools for underserved children. But when I see Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg being grilled by AOC, I see a scared little boy. Someone who’s immensely unaware of the size and magnitude of what he created, an unstoppable and insatiable virtual monster feeding off of personal data, leading a life of its own.
I wonder if Mark’s ever seen the Terminator.