In the coming year The Machine Zone is broadening its scope to examine how digital technology is affecting our lives and wellbeing. We look ahead to possible futures in the next couple of years and beyond.
We continue our work around digital gambling at beatthefix.com . In many ways the subject of digital gambling is an encapsulation of the wider social and cultural impact of digital technology. Like so much in rapid technological development it has shown the inadequacy of old ways of thinking. Governments and regulators are ‘catching up’ with an unanticipated development (unseen, for instance, in the liberalising framework of the 2005 Gambling Act). More broadly, Professor Rebecca Cassidy argues in her 2020 book, Vicious Games: Capitalism and Gambling :
An experiment which began in the 1980s ((financial deregulation, neoliberalism)), to shift the burden of risk from the state to the citizen, has increased inequalities and changed the ways in which we imagine wealth is created and shared. Gambling has been at the heart of these shifts: in the City as it deregulated and embraced riskier, increasingly complex and opaque ways to make money, becoming less and less accountable as a result, and in government itself, which encouraged citizens to become self-sufficient individualists.Vicious Games: Capitalism and Gambling
We now live in a world where we are strongly encouraged, ordered, commanded to see ourselves as self-sufficient individualists’. Thus, our ill or well being is seen as a matter solely of personal responsibility and choices. We are seen as isolated atoms, disconnected from not only each other but also disconnected from the power of business (for instance products, marketing and advertising), immune from vast social inequalities, disallowed from understanding that things like poverty or poor education may influence who we are. We must ‘stand on our own feet’.
Digital machinery turns us into data which is controlled and manipulated by powerful bodies. Increasingly, decisions of public welfare make appeal to population-level data and rarely to actual, living human beings. There are, fortunately, dissidents. (Staying with gambling, for instance, real individuals campaign about real human stories). ‘People not Data’ could be a battlecry. We see a healthy increase in citizens working together to bring the voices of real people to the fore.
Big Data follows us wherever we go. Algorithms keep us under constant surveillance. Facial and other biometric technology turns our bodies in real time into data. Data is bought and sold for enormous sums.
One huge expansion of digital technology is ‘digital health’. This is being promoted as ‘A Very Good Thing’ – not only by companies vying with each other for huge profits, but within the NHS, governments and Third Sector health organisations. We’ll look more closely in the coming months at what ‘digital health’ means. It ranges from record keeping to mental health apps, from thousands of ‘nano robots’ introduced into the body to fight disease to personal monitoring equipment. At its most spectacular it merges with the visions of such futurists as Ray Kurzweil who prophecy the end of illness and the defeat of death. (At one time in recent history ‘genomics’, the manipulation of genetic material, made similar wonderful claims that sadly failed to materialise).
We’ll examine digital health as part of the digital world, but we can only do this in a cursory way. There is an enormous number of academic research bases devoted to digital life and digital futures. Many universities have new departments devoted. Military and medical corporations are big players. Everything we touch these days is connected to digital machinery. Education, health, leisure, shopping, the ‘internet of things‘. Yesterday (28 August 2020) Elon Musk announced the successful implantation of a chip into a pig’s brain: the research is related to enabling control for people with a brain damaged, for instance, by stroke. (There’s a backround paper by Musk here). Others, with much broader enthusiasms, think on the possibility of ‘uploading’ a human mind into digital storage.
The digital world is invisible, like gravity. We only see its effects. At the level of a person, stripped of much personhood and what makes for a healthy and flourishing life, digital infrastructures become an extension of the nervous system. Even without wires and brain transplants, many are ‘hooked’ into digital social media, digital friends, digital games, digital scrolling, digital addiction, digital shopping, digital entertainment, digital distractions, a careless giving of information to digital surveillance. Digital gambling is but one manifestation and the purveyors are happy to take not only money but minds.