[Liveblog] How Will We Live? Anab Jain explores the near future

How will we live? To live we must survive, and to survive we must resist giving up our power, argues Anab Jain.

Anab Jain, Superflux

Warning: Liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar. This post will be improved over the first 48 hours after publication.

The sudden death of her professor made Anab contemplate her own mortality. She decided to write a letter to her three year old son, that he could read if she died. But what world will he live in?

How will we live? In 30 minutes she can barely scratch the surface of this. What future are we building for our children? How are our visions shaped – and what power do we have to implement them?

The term is “selective exposure” – we pay attention to information that confirms our beliefs and ignore things that don’t. This led to the 2008 banking crash. When we are confronted with ideas that change our behaviour we experience discomfort or dissonance. Scientists continue to warn us about global warming, but we find it hard to change our behaviours like flying less or having fewer children.

The media landscape we live in presents us with singular videos of the future filled with endless glass surfaces. We need to look beyond that.

The Technology is not the goal

Until recently Anab was an Amazon Prime member, and got hooked up in habit-forming behaviours. This is “chunking”, where you take an activity and make it effortless. We’re becoming chunkers, a data producing workforce that find it easier and easier to buy what they liked yesterday. Amazon are shipping things they think we’ll order closer to us.

Ever since she asked Siri where the nearest bridge was, she’s been inundated with anti-depressant spam.

Are we progressing or regressing human agency?

And now we’re surrounding ourselves with things that track us all the time. There are devices for tracking babies through the night. There are fridges that expose your gmail, and smart TVs that listen to you. Should we be using smart devices to monitor our parents from a distance?

Uninvited Guests explores that:

Making technology ethical

Can we find ethical, sustainable business models that empower people to make decisions based on the data we collect. Nation states often start the data collecting process in unsettling ways. China is rating its citizen on social sincerity scores. Law enforcement are trawling data in social accounts to predict crimes – and lower tolerance of suspicious behaviour in some neighbourhoods. Static 99 issued to predict the chances of a sex offender reoccurring. It’s sued to keep people locked up – but the error rate is been 5% and 95%…

We’re heading to a world where you can forget, get lost – or be anonymous. This seems dystopic, but it’s a realistic part of our technology landscape. A technology’s true impact will only be determined by those who use it, not those who make it. And it will always be used in ways we don’t expect. We see Syrian refugees using smartphones. We’re surprised – but before the criss, it was an affluent country, with the ability for many citizens to have a smartphone. And then they become a lifeline when their lives collapse. Soldiers at checkpoints are demanding Facebook passwords to determine loyalty. The Indian government has turned off the internet for millions of people.

Those with the least influence in the creation of technology often suffer its consequences most deeply.

There will be more forms of consumer than we can imagine in the future, Predictions for an AI that exceeds human intelligence? 2061. We couldn’t understand it, and it will continue to improve itself. Global arming could create mad migration as places become uninhabitable, and industries collapse. The future remains uncertain. But Syria could been seen as a microcosm of what could happen. Syria’s agriculture was crippled by climate change, which rammed more people into cities already straining from Iraqi refugees.

How will we survive?

Dystopias foster fear, utopias foster hope. Both foster immobility. We have tools and skills and tactics to influence things. We don’t need to protest in the streets, but instead we can become stealth activists.

Advocate data ownership for consumers. Make friends with climate scientists – and spread their knowledge. Challenge politicians. Hack company roadmaps. Gossip about potential. And that’s just a start. Use creativity and innovation to leverage power.

Orwell’s 1984 was actually about hope – about people having the power to change things. We must to whatever we can to stop human decency being betrayed.