Keynote – Digital Technology and the Fight for Values

Sarah Spiekermann of the Vienna University of Economics and Business held an unscripted keynote at the Big Brother Awards 2018. This is her pre-written abstract.

Digital technology has given us a lot of good, and changed our world for the better in many ways. But we find ourselves at a point in digital and thus social development where the positive effects of digital technologies on our world and our values are changing towards the opposite.

While digital contacts on Facebook were once a wonderful way of keeping friendships alive, they have now become a gigantic surveillance and freedom-restriction machine. The idea that Alexa would play music for us felt like a nice service, meanwhile it has turned into an unpredictable Trojan horse.

The promised values that we expect from digital technology are on a slope towards the negative. But what determines the tipping point? Where does it become a negative?

In my talk I will hypothesise that the digital as we experience it today is subject to a gigantic illusion: the Big Data illusion.

The Big Data illusion is the idea that machines could be able to understand the realm of values and thus the larger part of the human realm. I will show that that is not the case. It is an illusion because machines will never be able to sufficiently measure the invisible realm of human values in its infinite contextual variety. They do not have the sensory capability for that. They only have second-hand data.

What is worse, while they lack a sensory capability for values and mostly rely on bad data as well, they are being portrayed as world champions in “intelligence”. Even today people believe that given Alexa’s existence, Ex Machina can not be far away – and that both would be far better than those silly, small, irrational humans.

Entangled in this transhumanist delusion and unrealistic ideology of the Silicon Valley legions, we are drifting into a cold world where our values are destroyed because we believe in machines that do not know them.