Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Modeling and Covertly Manipulating Societies at London Tech Conference

I presented a paper at the Science and Information 2015 Conference in London last week.
The provocative title Decoding, Hacking, and Optimizing Societies: Exploring Potential Applications of Human Data Analytics in Sociological Engineering,both Internally and as Offensive Weapons caught a fair bit of attention.
Pictured: You
Providing an overview of current research on extrapolating personal data, forecasting actions, modeling large groups, and subtly influencing behavior, the paper lays out how the data that we give off every day through passive methods could be used to build up models of societies and then covertly nudge them into convenient formations. Though this has many applications for many different groups, the paper particularly focuses on how this could provide governments with new tools to mold their societies (potentially increasing economic productivity, improving social harmony, reducing crime, or--more ominously--fostering obedience to the government) as well as covertly influencing other societies. (After all, that's the most eye-catching application.)
Suffice to say, it's concerningly close to what generations of tinfoil hat-wearers have been warning us about.*

If you can't slog through the excitingly dense academic prose, then don't worry, as I came up with an analogy for my presentation that explains it all rather neatly (with pretty pictures!)
I'll post it at a later date, but here's a teaser: You are a billiard ball.

*Bonus tangential ramble: amusingly enough, conspiracy theorists would be just as effective tools for societal manipulations along these lines as anyone else, possibly more so in some circumstances such as spreading paranoia. (Just check out how RT/RussiaToday loves them!)


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