Technology, Social Media, AI- Good for Society? An Analysis.

Avi
11 min readDec 25, 2021

Hello my fellow inspirational authors. I start my piece with two quotes that have stuck with me through the years. They have helped anchor me to see things for what they are and to always not take myself too seriously.

“In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of “world history”- yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

and

“Control, it’s all about control. Every dictatorship has one obsession and that’s it. In ancient Rome they gave the people bread and circuses. They kept population busy with entertainment but other dictatorships used other strategies to control ideas, the knowledge… how do they do that? Lower education, they limit culture, censor information, they censor any means of individual expression and is important to remember this, that this is a pattern, that repeats itself throughout history.” -(Source: Movie ‘Enemy’ 2013) Jake Gyllenhaal as Anthony

I am sure you will agree they are quotes that inspire. I also admit feeling hypocritical that my personal belief about using a quote even before you have written anything is highly unoriginal, narcissistic and lazy. My reasoning for this is because even before you start write you are attempting to create an association with the author of a quote and trying to look well-read and interesting. However, I am using these quotes as examples of my thoughts as I write. What I do find hilarious is when I read articles that write quotes attributed to an author, who is not the quotes author. For Example: “The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.” ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching. Sounds plausible as an ancient saying right? However, the origin of this quote is from the movie “Blade Runner” (1982) Tyrell: “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long — and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.

I believe this phenomenon of misquoting is partly an impact of social media and their self-appointed gurus, wanting to sound intelligent and not just an attractive face. The pursuit of narcissistic goals such as the acquisition of likes, subscribes and validation of your worth from millions of unknown people is not an easy goal if you just seem two dimensional.

The funny thing is the validation we seek is us trying to compare and feel good that we tick x number of boxes with our peers. It is also about competing with yourself by making new posts that supersede in quality and novelty of your previous posts. Therefore, social media uploads on wise advice, selfies, and so on is us competing with ourselves. We all agree that nobody is as well acquainted with ourselves as … ourselves. Ergo, the need for your validation will likely depend more on social media for that validation than you otherwise would. It must be said that social media is not the root cause of the lack of self-validation. But it can serve as a delay or distraction, e.g., like a drug, from the fact that you don’t validate yourself in the first place.

This is why I love the first quote at the top of this page by Nietzsche. It keeps me grounded when we consider our fleeting existence on a cosmic timescale. This perspective also encourages us to vigorously pursue the important things in life. For me it defined my purpose from the pursuit of wealth accumulation, cars and a hedonistic life, to one where I now spend caring for my family, read as much as I can and being there for anyone. I turned from the need of being ‘someone’ to the freedom of being ‘no one’ with a deeply fulfilling purpose.

The second quote from the movie enemy is also of great significance to me. In the UK I was the last batch of students to receive full Government funding for undergraduate studies (1997). After this was taken away by the Government, Universities cut courses that were not considered value for money for the student. For example, many arts courses were cut for the benefit of IT and business orientated ones. I feel this decision was like stabbing the heart of the pursuit of education to better oneself. The joy of studying, because you are passionate about the subject. The fees introduced now also served as a barrier to entry for those who could not afford it.

I question whether these are an effect because we could be living in a benevolent dictatorship or at best a weak democracy. I say this from my observations on cultural and societal changes over the last couple of decades. It certainly feels this way as the second quote from the film Enemy suggests “Control, it’s all about control. Every dictatorship has one obsession and that’s it. In ancient Rome they gave the people bread and circuses. They kept population busy with entertainment but other dictatorships used other strategies to control ideas, the knowledge…” and the second half “how do they do that? Lower education, they limit culture, censor information, they censor any means of individual expression and is important to remember this, that this is a pattern, that repeats itself throughout history.”

It seems very much like contemporary Britain with Governmental funding for undergraduates taken away, courses being culled by universities as they were concerned about the ROI for the student and attracting both local and learners from overseas to their places of education.

A useful insight into how far we are used by powerful organisations or the Government is in Edward Bernays book “Propaganda” (1929). A nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays was the first to theorize that people could be made to want things they don’t need by appealing to unconscious desires (to be free, to be successful etc.). For example, he increased Tobacco Company Sales by increasing adoption of smoking by women. He used tactics such as reframing what it meant for women to smoke in public, linking it to the liberation movement for women claiming cigarettes were really “torches of freedom” that symbolised independence and rebellion against their oppression by men. He also used a campaign that suggested women instead of reaching for candies or desserts should switch to smoking because it had ‘slimming benefits.

I now shudder to think what techniques they employ with the technology and propaganda vehicles available to exploit perception in real-time through the incredible speed at which media and information travels and is disseminated.

A key area that has me concerned for the youth of today going forward is Facebook pivoting into providing a ‘Metaverse’. This seeks to provide a fully immersive experience for interacting, conducting business, playing games using the Oculus Headset. It may interest you that the term ‘metaverse’ was first coined in the novel “Snow Crash” (1992).

Although Mark Zuckerberg, does not have a fully formed explanation of the scope and expanse this metaverse will have, he does indicate that it will be a technology-driven bridge between the virtual and real worlds. You can create the best ideal Avatar of yourself, build the ideal home and even upload your real items to use in the metaverse. This is disturbing, as anxiety and mental health issues related to social media are already growing exponentially. So, imagine if you build an ideal world to live in during the day, with a perfect Avatar of yourself and a dream home- how will coming out of this reality, facing the real you in the mirror, living in a less than an ideal apartment to the one in the virtual world, play on the psyche of an individual?

We are also said to be fast approaching what is known as the singularity by creating a super-human artificial intelligence (AI). An AI of a level of IQ of say 15,000 and growing could conceive of ideas that no human being has thought about in the past, and will invent technological tools that will be more sophisticated and advanced than anything we have today. Equally, we could not know what this God like creation would think like, just as an ant could imagine our qualia, motives and how we think.

As AI grows in intelligence it would need ever increasing level of electricity, resources and we could be seen as an impediment to its growth. It may develop misaligned goals to our own and choose to eradicate us. With the ability to self-replicate and make decisions for itself, an AI with misaligned goals and intelligence is a significant threat as all it needs to co-ordinate its plans just an internet connection.

With ‘AI powered drone swarms’ already a reality and autonomous weapons systems under development, dystopian future scenarios such as one depicted in the Terminator, Blade Runner and the Matrix could become a reality. AI could mean human autonomy and agency are at risk as it exerts greater pressure on all members of our societies to live according to what ‘the system’ will tell us is ‘best for us’ to do and not to do.

A terrifying scenario is Human-AI collaborations that benefit new elite and form the creation of a neo-feudalism. We can already see this deployed in China with cameras and AI powered facial recognition with various pilot projects use AI to give people a “social credit” score, punishing some for certain behaviour and rewarding others for what the government considers good citizenship. Totalitarian states could control their population and mould behaviour to what the ruling elite consider acceptable. With the increasing adoption of and conversion of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC), a dictatorship could control the populations or individuals’ access to finance at the touch of a button.

However, even though I have given tech and social media a beating while painting a dystopian picture against the machine that preys on us by influencing techniques in both overt and subtle fashion, I must acknowledge the positives.

For example, social media can be a change for good with like-minded individuals gathering from across the world in real-time to work on solving issues, sharing experiences to guide those who need them. It democratises information and importantly acts as a great equalizer against Organisations and Governments. For example, a single tweet about a negative experience someone had with an organisation gets near-instant real-time attention and action from that organisation. Atrocities committed by a government in a country you may never have heard about is seen across the world in images and videos. It has made individuals to take mass action and solve important problems regardless of geographic location.

Social Media and Financial Tech (FinTech) is also creating new models of business and also defining how people earn a living, sometimes exclusively from generating content on social platforms. Social Media also acts as a tool to learn from, exchange ideas and make visions, such as tackling climate change, happen with ever greater speed. It is a vehicle that is being used to effect positive change. FinTech advances is also democratising finance and allowing participation for individuals who previously would have found entry and other costs a barrier to investing in the traditional financial markets.

Educational Platforms exist that provide Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC’s) for no expense (except for small cost if you need a certificate). Organisations like coursera.org and edx.org provide access to universities and courses from across the globe. These universities which have institutes of academic excellence such as MIT, Harvard, HSE, help people from every level of society to gain skills and knowledge which can open opportunities and increase knowledge and skill with proper academic foundations.

As we also slowly transition to a society with a focus on more leisure as AI and robots change and takeover human labour, the creation of tools such as Facebooks Metaverse could become the norm and important part of our leisure experience. When AI reaches our level of intelligence and autonomy and then grows exponentially to a God-like intelligence, rather than a Terminator-style doomsday scenario, it may see us an essential microbiome, like the bacterial microbiome in our body. It may solve all problems that we cannot solve due to our bounded rationality and limited brain capacity as a partnership. As actors as an AI’s microbiome and living in a leisure-based society life may become more egalitarian and all people become truly equal, with hierarchal systems no longer being relevant.

The ability to transfer consciousness to merge with robotic bodies may become a reality. A benefit is that it makes space travel more efficient. For example, with robots so miniature with negligible mass or integrating our consciousness with Von Neumann probes we could travel speeds near that of light and colonise the galaxy a lot faster. Alternatively, creating exotic material (for fuel) without difficulty and on-demand, then Faster Than Light (FTL) Travel via an Alcubierre ‘warp’ Drive suggested by Dr Miguel Alcubierre may become a reality. Then the colonisation of our galaxy and interstellar travel becomes significantly easier.

What also gives me the most hope is the attitude of the younger generations to solve global issues, take chances on building sustainable focussed businesses. Furthermore, the demand for sustainable financial portfolios has increased and investment firms offering robust and diversified portfolios which help rather than harm the planet. This demand is a significant shift in thinking and positive risk-taking, as the investors may never realise an ROI. They are taking a chance to help the earth with a financial downside risk as many sustainable companies fail.

Furthermore, travel to distant locations globally has become affordable for most of the population. Experiencing different cultures has broadened the younger generations perspectives and developed new skills, cultural agility and flexibility. These cultural contacts have also created a more tolerant attitude among the youth to their global cohorts. Technology such as video conferencing, mobile phones with many facilities has made the ‘global world’ a more ‘local one’.

Overall, I feel hope for future generations. They ask more questions and want to innovate for positive solutions that solve a real-life need. They care and want to continuously improve the outcome and take pride in their contribution to something bigger than themselves. They are smart, tech-savvy, and resourceful, they have an inherent ability to grasp the important facts, see the interrelations, and brainstorm big-picture solutions. When they see a compelling purpose in their effort, they pursue their goals with tenacious intensity. I believe the negatives and deltas from technology are negligible when we consider the positive future it can help create.

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Avi

My biggest fear about becoming a zombie is all the walking that I’d have to do :) …..Stay Golden. Let’s dance :-D