Many of you know that I went to graduate school at Stanford to study computer science and later did research in artificial intelligence. In the last issue of the Stanford Magazine, a feature article about various recent applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in China painted a chilling picture.
Do you realize that a great deal of information is constantly being gathered about you all the time — from your movements (gathered via your cell phone location and credit card card charges) to your shopping choices, from your email contents (think Gmail) and social media posts to the words you speak? I hope you also know that those “dots” or listening-devices you bought and sprinkled around your house are actually listening to everything you say all the time. How else can they know when to respond to you when you say “Alexa” or some other keyword?
All of this information is now being combined and analyzed statistically to infer quite a lot of surprising things about you. And many of these inferences may not even be true. Unfortunately, countries like China are already using these conclusions about who you are, what you’ve done, what your personality is like, and what you are likely to do next, to silently blacklist its citizens.
Gone are the days when the secret police had to knock down your door and bodily haul you off to some unknown prison for some unknown reason. Today, all that needs to be done is to flip a digital switch. Suddenly you may not be able to use your credit card, buy a plane ticket, or get medical treatment. You’ve become a virtual prisoner with no recourse. And it’s already happening in China. What next?
Back in the day when I was doing AI research, it was all a very different kind of thing. We were trying to encode human knowledge and reasoning abilities, not draw conclusions from huge data sets about people. This was long before smart phones and social media appeared on the scene, and that kind of data wasn’t even available. In fact, most of the early efforts at AI were generally considered to be a colossal failure. Today, however, AI is all about gathering lots of information from all the devices in our lives and making educated guesses about what it means and what can be inferred from it. For example, that’s how Google and Facebook know which ads to display to you — it’s based on guesses about what you are likely to buy. It works too.
Most people fear that the danger of AI is the sci-fi horror story: robots becoming conscious and imprisoning or killing us. The truth is, we are very far from that kind of thing. It may never happen. However, the real danger of AI is that we will trust these statistical algorithms too much; that societal forces will use all of the information that we ourselves have blithely made available — even paid to make available — and use bogus inferences to make some serious decisions. In other words, the real threat is that governments and other authorities will use statistically derived guesses to control us. And it isn’t just happening in China.
Google, for example, changed its search algorithms in June to essentially “disappear” from their search results pretty much every website that provides information about alternative approaches to health and diet. Just think about how Google searches control world opinion and behavior. As a result of these very recent changes, formerly top-ranked websites like Mercola.com, GreenMedInfo.com, and even the websites of organizations like the National Center for Homeopathy (HomeopathyCenter.org) or my own websites, have essentially dropped from view. Personally, I stopped trusting Wikipedia years ago, but I still trusted Google search results enough to use it many times a day. Now I’ve switched to a new and increasingly popular search engine, DuckDuckGo.com. It seems pretty much just as good as Google, it doesn’t collect information about your searches, and sites like Mercola.com and Homeopathycenter.org still appear on the first page when you do a relevant search. Check it out!
So what’s my message here?
Wars with guns and bombs may be on their way out. They are being replaced by information-based control over our movements, thoughts, beliefs, and access to services like airports, hotels, stores, the internet, banks, hospitals, schools, and more. As many of you know, children who are not fully vaccinated cannot attend any school in California or New York and possibly soon Florida. States are even trying to eliminate or severely curtail medical exemptions. What’s next? When your entire medical record is placed on a chip embedded in your body (people are already voluntarily embedding credit payment chips in their arms in Europe), how will it be used to curtail your freedoms?
So what can we do? Is all hope lost?
First, we can learn some lessons from the past. Even when the KGB was bugging (and likely is still bugging) apartments and following the movements of people in the Soviet Union, people were still able to find some personal forms of freedom. They only spoke in private to those they trusted. They maintained outward appearances of conformity. They played loud music to block the bugging devices.
Similarly, in our own private lives, we can still maintain various forms of control. We can turn off our smart phones and unplug those “dots”. We can stop using Google and Facebook and be a bit more discreet about who we share our beliefs with (although I realize I’m violating that dictum just by writing this article and making it available to you online). And there are plenty of people who care about preserving their freedoms. We just need to find them and work with them when we can.
There are also reasons for hope.
Clearly, our world is becoming increasingly polarized. Not just politically anymore. More and more people, for example, are seeking out medical and food alternatives. That may be the reason for the recent clamp down and media control over alternative health information — the corporations are getting scared. In fact, Google is now getting into the Big Pharma business itself. Perhaps that’s the reason why they changed their algorithms.
But increased polarization is also a sign that big changes are coming. That’s why things get polarized — one side wants the change, and the other side is fighting tooth and nail to stop it. So the increased polarities might mean the shift is getting nearer. It’s darkest before the dawn!
Another reason for hope lies in the power of the people. Despite the fact that so many of us are being lulled into complacency by entertainment and addictions, when enough people are suffering, they will not put up with it anymore. When people can’t physically survive anymore, big revolutions occur. In the past it was access to food. That’s what finally sparked the French Revolution. Today it is the scourge of chronic illness that is even affecting our children.
A final reason for hope is that the true revolution and the true power lies within.
Remember: even in a prison camp, even in Siberia, people still have their own internal beliefs and thoughts. And the more control we have over own beliefs and thoughts, especially via practices like the meditation and manifestation techniques I described in Active Consciousness, the more power we have to manifest change in the outer world.
Folks, I truly believe that we can collectively change the world — not just using our outer actions, but by using our minds and consciousness. Ultimately, the revolutionary action is within. It begins there and then moves outward into the world we experience around us. Let’s focus our collective beliefs and attention on a positive vision and make it happen!