People tell themselves unfortunate stories about technology.
Take, for example, the recent news that machine vision can infer sexual orientation by analyzing people’s faces.
Or the recent news that AI will soon identify protesters with their faces partially concealed.
You may say these are good things.
This is camp #1: technological progress is innately positive. You probably live in Santa Clara Valley, or have a financial stake in “disruption”.
You may say these are bad things.
This is camp #2: technological progress is innately negative. You may be a Pennsylvania Anabaptist, an unrepentant luddite, a stevedore, or simply over the age of 50.
You may say these are neither good nor bad things, it just depends on how you use them.
This is camp #3: technology is only a tool. You probably have very nuanced, on-the-other-hand opinions.
Doesn’t matter though. In each case you would be wrong. Your opinion of technology has no effect on how technology works. And how you use technology has no bearing on the ultimate social consequences of that technology. Technology just makes everything move at its speed.
It just amplifies things. And in the process, it rearranges human interactions to accommodate it.
To take one example: trains.
Trains didn’t change the development of cities across America thanks to the varied intentions of the coal miners, homesteaders, and forty-niners who rode the rails, but thanks to the carriages and railways themselves. There were always coal miners and homesteaders and men carrying bindle sticks searching for gold; the train just made it happen more quickly and in different places.
Or radio. Radio didn’t create American mass culture thanks to the varied intentions of the radio station owners, but thanks to the harnessing of Hertzian waves themselves. Radio remade America in its image by moving information further and more quickly.
Same with Facebook. Facebook didn’t change the way we associate thanks to our individual intentions — posting innocuous baby pictures or sharing the most dastardly of fake news — but thanks to how Facebook, itself, works.
Which is to say, it connects by atomizing.
Which, in turn, makes Facebook more or less like T.S. Eliot’s opinion of the television: A thing that lets millions of people listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.
To put it another way, and famously: the medium is the message.
If the medium is artificial intelligence, then the message is that we treat everything like data.
That includes people.
Have all the opinions you want about that while the camera scans the confused look on your face.