… using – or being used by algorithms …

The morose question of whether to be or not to be has moved on to whether to appear or not to appear. Appearances can deceive according to context. Or as my spiritual friend, Fazal Inayat Khan used to say, ‘Form is a relic of eternal potential.’ Things that have lost their former function have joined the archive of icons, metaphors.

Could the function of our individuality become no more than a statistical entity during our lifetime?

Today’s institutions and corporations share knowledge, advice, wisdom, stipulate laws, or instill fear via alerts. Ultimately, they accumulate information but are not necessarily held accountable for how this information is used. Priests used to claim this power in the name of God, as well as sorcerers and witches, who made it their business to converse with spirits. Many people project power onto an all-knowing agency, though today’s most consequential agency has moved on into the next clan of power holders – those who collect and control data … our data, our location, movements, activities, political leaning, looks, habits, likes and dislikes.

Our existence is being whittled down into digits that tumble about in a sea of algorithms, and wherever they perk up in statistics they could fix our fate, since temporal data can be adjusted to any setting a bureaucracy chooses as being predictive. This, mainly unchecked, development is running into problems, with the recent U.K exam result fiasco only being the latest example. Bless our young people for revolting.

Power of information equals control, for your own good, maybe, depending, of course, on who is in charge. Distorting and withholding knowledge, be it intentionally, through ignorance or through expediency, endangers democracy when used unchallenged as manipulation tools by governments. At worst, it enables profit seekers to accelerate the exploitation of earth’s resources, maintaining poverty around the globe.

Those involved in research, students, scientist, and writes, know the challenges of filing and stacking information. My own filing mirrors the ad hoc workings of my brain. To find stuff again is a matter of focus, luck and intuition. While occasionally frustrating, I trust my larger self and the collective unconscious. It is my oracular method, circumventing any too strict measurements promoted as our new saviour, algorithms. I value rationality, just not when it discounts spontaneous human creativity, heart felt compassion, and the inspiring moods of nature.

Belonging has never been easier – not belonging has never been more difficult. How does one evade the pressure of countless unfair impositions our systems prescribe via algorithms? In Walt Whitman style one could say … every ‘digit’ belonging to me as good belongs to you …  But wait, there is vast space in the One, space between atoms, between digits, between the many of us, where one can belong and be eccentric and separate at the same time.

Where do algorithms lead? How do they influence our values? Yuval Noah Harari in his book Homo Deus, describes ‘dataism’ as a new religion, a potential digital dictatorship that could shape our reality. Who would aspire to such a stagnant future?

I was fascinated and encouraged by a recent discussion between Yuval Noah Harari and Taiwan’s digital minister, Audrey Tang. (click here for the YouTube video coming up on a separate page)

They discuss code, including, at the start, the issue of non-polarized gender, going on to the negatives and positives of human hacking and the democratic fairness that can potentially happen when transparent data sharing and plural viewpoints are allowed.

Audrey Tang says,

‘Technology should be utilised to promote freedom, democracy & human rights.’

In Taiwan, this hugely influential young trans woman is making this happen.


Filed under Blog

16 responses to “… using – or being used by algorithms …

  1. What a world we live in. Impossibly complex. Intended and unintended consequences abound. I never heard of Audrey before, but I hope she helps to move societies in positive directions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We’re a bit or a byte or a piece of code.. thanks Ashen I’ll check out the lass from Taiwan. I also hear good things from Taiwan.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A digital dictatorship – the thought makes me shudder and want to go entirely offline!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rob

    Many thanks for this thought-provoking piece Ashen. I probably should have heard of Audrey Tang but I hadn’t and I am grateful for this introduction. I’ve watched the first 15 minutes of the video and will certainly watch the rest later but already I am impressed by Audrey. Her talk of a “post-gender” reality seems to have quite a bit to recommend it.
    Earlier this week I saw that a study by the University of Reading has found that of the 194 countries surveyed, those with female leaders are handling the covid crisis “better” than those with male leaders. OK this is “correlation” which is not synonymous with “cause” and I do not know which variables the study claims to measure, but the thing is that I found that I did not feel surprised at it’s finding.
    Everywhere I have traveled I have generally found women to be holding the world together rather more more than men….with our manifestly greater tendency to frail, overblown egos, hubris and narcissism.
    Third World microloan agencies have long ago learned that if they make a small business loan to a woman it is much more likely to bear fruit than if the lend to a man.
    Notwithstanding covid and other diseases of the body being on the “A” list of threats to human well-being….diseases of the soul like sexism and racism should be right up there too.
    The only doubt I have about women is that many of them all too often seem willing, even now a days, to take the passenger seat!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for dropping in, Rob. Please find the time to see the whole discussion, the gender issue only being the preliminary. It’s impressive what Audrey does with digital technology in Taiwan.
    Re: Gender. Not that long ago women could not attend university, vote etc. – so considerable changes have been achieved to address the imbalance of masculine and feminine energy (of either sex) employed in all areas of life.
    One could call it a huge beneficial evolutionary step.
    Much more to be done. For women to take the metaphorical passenger seat can still be a matter of survival.
    I’m often confused about what pronoun to use for people who fall out of the conventional gender frame, but it’s refreshing to see that legal allowances are made for any kind of partnerships.
    Sexism and racism, I agree, should be up there as a major threat to human well being. Education, tolerance and love are the kind of vaccination needed for this deep running virus.


  6. This country and it’s institutions have never (in my mind) taken diversity into consideration. I remember when studying Piaget’s theory of children’s developmental stages when I was doing my degree studies, considered that we assimilate and accommodate information at a certain stage of intelligence. Well I for one never assimilated or accommodated maths at this particular stage. It made no sense to me at all. It was only later in my studies that I learned we are all intelligent in our own ways. Intelligence in reaching a developmental stage does not happen to all children. Just because we can’t do maths does not make us unintelligent.
    The same can be said of being different in whatever way. Of course we would all come out different in an algorithm test. We are not clones! Our individuality is what makes us interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I do like that Fazal Inayat Khan quote, ‘Form is a relic of eternal potential.’ I have a feeling I’m going to be meditating on that for a long time.

    Algorithms? Recent events seem to confirm all of my prejudices about mathematics and statistics. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I much prefer finding doors that open to having them closed in front of me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Cath. Another of Fazal’s saying was – ‘we are not meant to agree with each other, we are meant to create beauty.’ 🙂
      Statistics – I’m in awe of people who can write code, and algorithms have become essential for modern life to function. But human values can be flattened by simpleminded coding, there lies the danger. It’s why I admire what Audrey Tang is implementing in Taiwan. The video as a whole is worth listening to, if you find the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Such a beautifully written piece of thought that is deeply thought provoking. Data, data everywhere but no where to find the nugget of wisdom. We have strangulated our wise ways of thinking. We have become miser in our ways producing prudent thoughts.

    We are drowned in the ocean of data and the deluge of data is keeping us in a state of deep delusion. Data is sheer business. The business of data is to monetize by grossly productizing and commoditizing human habits, feelings and behaviors.

    Our freedom have been drastically curtailed and the dramatic role play of machine learning algorithms are playing their parts, they are being trained in the past data to predict our future course of action – we are merely a part to follow the instruction and we have been pushed apart from our own self.

    The very thought of “digital dictatorship” is scary but we have become crazy with the way we have bonded ourselves with the dictates of data. Thanks for a thought stirring idea.


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