Who Can You Trust? by Rachel Botsman

Who Can You Trust? by Rachel Botsman

Author:Rachel Botsman
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Published: 2017-11-01T04:00:00+00:00

Once again, life mirrors art. The system is strikingly similar to an episode of Black Mirror, the critically acclaimed dystopian sci-fi television series. Each episode has a different cast, a different setting, even a different reality, notes Charlie Brooker, the creator of this darkly witty series. ‘But they’re all about the way we live now–and the way we might be living in ten minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.’27 Meaning if we do not carefully handle new technologies, they will pull us into a strange future much sooner than we expect. Indeed, many of the imagined scenarios have since become reality, including a chatbot that mimics deceased relatives (yes, this now exists–it is called Replika) and an obnoxious TV character who runs for political office to shake up a corrupt system. Not to mention a British PM who is forced to perform an insalubrious act with a pig on national television.

‘Nosedive’, the first episode of the third season, envisions a world in which each of us continually chases after a desirable rating that sums up how people feel about us in real time. Your score, out of five stars, is affected by everyone–family members, friends, co-workers and anonymous passers-by–and is used for everything, no matter how trivial. Did the barista pour a nice swirl of milk on your coffee? You can reward him for that. Did a woman look you up and down the wrong way in your thirty-second elevator ride? You can make her pay for that. Be warned, though, your own rating might fall if she returns fire and rates you negatively.

The main character, Lacie Pound, lives her life constantly trying to please everyone in exchange for a few precious points. She has to work hard to maintain her solid but not outstanding 4.2 rating. She even practises her fake smile in the bathroom mirror every morning. Her value in this world is equivalent to her points, which she checks obsessively after every tiny interaction.

What does Lacie’s life tell us about the way the world is moving? Luciano Floridi, professor of philosophy and ethics of information at the University of Oxford, and the director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, has an interesting way of framing it. Many make the claim to be an expert on ‘digital disruption’, but Floridi is the real deal. He is currently serving as the only ethicist on Google’s advisory committee on the European Union’s ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling. It’s a role that has seen him crowned ‘Google’s Philosopher’.

According to Floridi, there have been three critical ‘de-centring shifts’ that have altered our view in self-understanding: Copernicus’s model of the earth orbiting the sun; Darwin’s theory of natural selection; and Freud’s claim that our daily actions are controlled by the unconscious mind.28

Floridi believes we are now entering the fourth shift in our world, as what we do online and offline merge into an onlife. He asserts that as our world increasingly becomes an infosphere, a mixture of physical and virtual experiences, we are acquiring onlife personality–different from who we innately are in the ‘real world’ alone.


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