Addicted to Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, etc? Based on my weekend experience I reckon that it’s quite a tempting habit to lean back and let them entertain us. A lot of fun in fact.
I however refuse to undergo this type of addiction. And I will resist it so long as I can. And will not prefer it to any other type of digital hook, be it computer games, Facebook or other social media, and even porn. It’s far more dangerous, and here’s why:
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Netflix was an only-distribution company up until they started to use Big Data to predict and recommend the success of the actors and the roles they could play. After machines could successfully predict the success scenarios to maximize the popularity of the shows through in-debth content analysis, they were not only distributing contents. They started to make their own!
At the time there were a few eyebrows raised about how far they can go to use algorithms in creating in-house contents and what scary potentials this new paradigm holds. I think it was in 2012/13 with their “House of Cards” and those concerns were mostly ignored or looked down at, as paranoid conspiracy theories. I doubted those critics myself.
Now I think that not only such concerns were relevant and spot on, but also not enough of them were expressed.
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Netflix is a data-driven company. Entirely. It doesn’t use AI only to recommend, rank or price contents. They don’t only look at search, browse or click behaviour. And they don’t stop at the completion rate of the movies or the retention rate based on the time between two episodes of a series. They are now into using algorithms to create contents. And we should understand what it can potentially do.
What they know about our taste, the technology they own and their vision put them (and their competitors in the entertainment industry) in a very powerful position that no state or corporate has ever been before.
For half a century thinkers have written about social engineering and mass manipulation through media outlet, the uniformification through the print culture, manifacturing consent and so on.
Forget about them. The power of traditional news corporates compared to what these new firms can potentially do in subliminally hijacking our minds is close to nothing: The power of in-debth content analysis and manipulation in the information warfare.
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So far it’s tech magazine rumour and common knowledge that Netflix looks into when you pause, rewind or skip. Or that they match their recommendations with local events, seasonal trends and weather so that contents suit our moods. The estimated social class and demography based on zip code and the device we use, etc., are of course among the basics. Every firm does it these days and it’s not an edge any longer.
As time goes by and they sample the subscribers longer, faster and deeper, creating a digital profile of every one and their estimated psychometrics is not really sci-fi. They would be bad at their job if they don’t already do it, while they can.
Now looking at the fast pace of their interdisciplinary growth and where they can be in five years from now, should this start to get us worried? Worried not about the potential power of such companies, which is obvious, but about their intent: Their willingness to shape public opinions in the ways never possible before.
Of course we should!
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Here I would like to cite mr. Murphy with a little modification:
Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong…
… if there’s enough money at stake!
And there’s enough money at stake. Lots of money. Can you imagine any business more profitable than manipulating people’s minds?
If you have the most optimist world view about human individuals, you should still be skeptic about the outcomes of the human collective behavior and its mallicious emergent properties.
When persuing shareholder profit is the main rule of the game, and this realm is not [and can not easily be] regulated, what else do we expect? For the boards of the corporations to be nice and cute, and to regulate themselves away from manipulating their own customers when much more profit is there to be made? Perhaps that they should stop showing guns or violence because it’s not good for the kids?
With the current rules of the game if you appoint the most caring, descent and honorable humans to the board of advisors and directors of these companies they will still soon enough attempt to do all of these: shaping public opinions, rigging democracies, justifying wars, gamifying exploitation of resources, igniting and guiding conflicts, and anything needed to lead the world population to a desired direction that pays off.
It’s natural for these trends to happen and it’s naive to think otherwise.
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And if you think such companies will never use their potential to inject suspicious political agenda, or that they will never attempt to take political sides in controversial bloody conflicts or co-branding with potentially terrorist groups and so on, I would like to remind you that The White Helmets are still featured on Netflix!
I don’t have any first or second hand information about what’s taking place on the ground in Syria. I just smell something fishy when I see their content featured among a load of entertinment. To me it’s a red flag.
And I expect more of this to appear on our screens.
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And if you are still subscribed to Netflix, watch “Black Mirror”‘s episode “Men Against Fire”.
My point is that manipulating people to see other beings as zombies or roaches in order to guide conflicts doesn’t require cheap implants!