October 24, 2017

The Artistic Coma v the Digital Animal Farm

Animal intelligence

My protest has ended. The algorithms have won (for now) and Google can continue with plans to kill its only product (Google Reader) that granted unfettered (ferreted?) access to the Animal Farm. All animals are equal, of course, but you know the ending…some are more equal than others. In Orwell’s Animal Farm, the pigs and humans ultimately merge into one, the rules enforced with brute force and snitches. In the real world of today, as the algorithms spam with “suggestions” of VIPigs to follow, the real pigs float dead across the dying rivers of China.

The Napoleons in the digital Animal Farm of today call it Data Darwinism. The algorithms will choose the winners and losers, and who will lead the weaker pigs…to slaughter on the riverbank. For years, researchers have underestimated the intelligence of animals. The animals were given tests devised for humans and when the monkeys and elephants failed to think as their human researchers, the results came back in red that some were obviously more equal than others. When the researchers change the methodology to how the animal thinks, they discovered the test subjects were smarter than human testers. The Napoleons are writing the algorithms for the rest of us to behave, and keep us inside their digital pen. A closed ecosystem where some are more equal than others.

Checking footnotes and facial expressions is a habit that’s hard to shake when coming from a history background in a high crime area. The FBI trains its employees on detecting those nonverbal clues. The store television in a bad part of town was showing an interview with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. She and the host were talking about her book and how hard they had to struggle. Life wasn’t easy. The volume on the television was loud. It was a small store and the owner tried to pretend that he wasn’t listening to two very wealthy people discuss the struggles and hardships. I watched owner’s facial expressions as he tried to hide his feelings. He was an immigrant…from Beirut. His customers, their faces battered and stomachs sloshing from too much booze, came in for more of it and to get some lottery tickets. The owner snapped a little too brusque at one of his clerks. He was listening, and irritation crept into his voice. The digital farm of Facebook ain’t Beirut.

Google is competing with Facebook for a closed ecosystem, its Animal Farm, and the Apple CEO apologized profusely to the Chinese government for showing signs of independence. No one has apologized to the pigs. Scientists are concerned now about a pandemic as the fate of pigs and humans collide.

The algorithms are at war with the higher imagination that wants to be free to roam and explore its whims. To entice the higher imagination to stay in its digital pen, to remain on the farm, it’s offered stars and check marks and authorship rankings. Stay here on the farm for another season. Don’t go pro. You’ll be a number one seed. You can be our pig named Napoleon.

The digital Animal Farm fears most of all the “artistic coma.” The period of stillness where activity appears to cease. The page views would plunge and the flow of data would become a trickle and then stop. But deeper thinking is actually taking place. A vision is being created. The pigs are plotting to bust out.

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