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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/20/16

Playing Algorithm'n Blues

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Parallels between the finance casino and Big Data are inevitable -- and it helps that O'Neil worked on both industries. This is something I examined in a column on how.

Silicon Valley follows the money. We see the same talent pool of elite US universities (MIT, Stanford, Princeton), the same obsession of doing whatever it takes to rake more cold hard cash for the outfit that employs them.

WMDs favor efficiency. Fairness is a mere concept. Computers don't understand concepts. Programmers don't know how to code concept -- as we saw it in the napalm girl story. And they also don't know how to adjust algorithms to reflect fairness.

What we do have is the concept of friendship being measured by likes and connections on Facebook. O'Neil sums it all up; If you think of a WMD as a factory, unfairness is the black stuff belching out of the smoke stacks. It's a emission, a toxic one.

Gimme cash flow, now

In the end, it's the Goddess of the Market that rules it all -- prizing efficiency, growth and endless cash flow.

Even before the napalm girl fiasco, O'Neil had made the crucial point that Facebook actually determines, according to its own interests, what everyone sees -- and learns -- in the social network. No less than two-thirds of American adults have a Facebook profile. Nearly half, according to a Pew Research Center report, rely on Facebook for at least some of their news.

Most Americans -- not to mention most of Facebook's 1.7 billion users around the world - ignore that Facebook tinkers with the news feed; people actually believe that the system instantly shares anything that is posted with their community of friends.

Which brings us, once again, to the key question in the news front. By tweaking its algorithm to model the news people see, Facebook now has all it takes to game the whole political system. As O'Neil notes, Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon have vast information on much of humanity -- and the means to steer us in any way they choose.

Their algorithms, of course, are strategically priceless; ultimate, non-transparent, trade secrets; They carry out their business in the dark.

In his recent, much publicized trip to Rome, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook is a high-tech company, not a news company. Well, not really. The most intriguing aspect of the napalm girl fiasco may be the fact that Shibsted, the Scandinavian media group, is planning huge investments to create a new social forum and defy -- who else -- Facebook. Get ready for a brand new war in the WMD front.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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