Will big data algorithms soon control our lives?

By Stephan Manning.

Just a few decades ago it was unthinkable that a computer could ever be as smart as a human. But in 1996, the super-computer Deep Blue beat world champion Gary Kasparov in chess, and in early 2017 Google’s AlphaGo defeated the best human player in Go. In his fascinating new book Homo Deus, Yuval Harari argues that the combination of big data and self-improving algorithms will soon outsmart humans entirely and make human decision-making obsolete. Even today, it just takes 150 Facebook likes for psychometrics software such as Cambridge Analytica to know your needs, fears and hopes better than your parents do, and just over 300 likes for such software to know you better than you know yourself.  All based on analyzing your likes against Millions of other likes and profiles. No wonder the Trump campaign made effective use of that software last year to better target their voters. But this is just the beginning: Recently, researchers from Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, were able for the first time to directly link a human brain to the Internet – creating the first ever ‘Brainternet’. Based on increased connectivity, smart algorithms may soon be able to monitor and analyze all our biological functions, thoughts, interactions, and purchases, and know much better what we want and what makes us happy than we do. Harari argues that in the end humans may delegate all important decisions – choices of careers, partners and places to live – to algorithms that exceed our brain capacity manifold. So will big data algorithms eventually control our lives?

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Deskilling 4.0? How Office Jobs Look Like in 2020

By Stephan Manning.

Not long ago, many in the U.S. and Western Europe feared the loss of white-collar jobs through offshoring and outsourcing. Now, experts predict the replacement of office jobs worldwide through smart technology. According to a study by World Economic Forum (WEF), which was prepared for the annual meeting in Davos last weekend, around five Million office jobs across major economies will be made redundant by 2020 through advanced technology. For the same reason, new tech start-ups will require less and less staff, according to WEF founder Klaus Schwab. Some call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the fusion of technologies, and use of artificial intelligence to process the internet and big data. To illustrate, twenty years ago, preparing for legal cases would require law firms to process masses of legal documents by their own staff. Ten years ago, some of that work would have been gradually outsourced to legal process outsourcing firms in India and other developing countries employing lower-cost skilled labor. Now, legal documents are increasingly analyzed by data processing software semi-automatically. Are we seeing a new wave of ‘deskilling’ – the devaluation of human labor through technology? While many jobs might be replaced entirely, affecting in particular the developing world, the WEF report suggests that also two Million new jobs will be created, especially for high-skilled software engineers. But that may not be the whole story. I discuss another type of ‘job’ that is likely to emerge – the semi-skilled ad-hoc office worker who cleans up the mess smart robots leave behind.

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