Is Our Reliance on Technology Creating a New Dark Age?

James Bridle believes our reliance on data to explain the complexity of the world will lead to a new dark ages.

In the current modern landscape, you can not make it a few days without people discussing the coming artificial intelligence revolution, with AI even taking center stage at a lot of the amazing presentations at this year’s TNW’s international technology conference.

However, author, James Bridle, sang a different tune at TNW, eloquently discussing the potential issues that pop-up when society becomes more reliant on the power of blindly trusting computation; issues that could potentially usher in the next dark age. Where do we go from here, and how do we properly approach a world almost completely driven by data?  

James Bridle made a few recommendations at Amsterdam’s TNW.

Are We Becoming Too Reliant on Data?

This question may seem counterintuitive; however, it is not there to trigger you or troll you. Bridle is not pessimistic about technology. The New Dark Age author, wants us to radically rethink these powerful tools brought about by the technological revolution.  Bridle’s argument centers around a potential dangerous fallacy.

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The author believes that this idea that we both model our mind on our understanding of computers and believe they can solve all our problems, if we provide enough data, and make them fast enough to deliver real-time analyses is problematic. This mentality is the basis for the coming AI revolution, with the belief that with enough data, we can better understand the world.

However, is this true? In fact, Bridle believes that the opposite is true and believes that there is a paradox, insinuating that the more information people tend to know and have access to in this automated world, the less rational people behave.

As stated in his book, New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, “The abundance of information and the plurality of worldviews now accessible to us through the internet are not producing a coherent consensus reality, but one riven by fundamentalist insistence on simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics.”

Automation Bias and Information Overload

To further explain the challenges we face in a data-driven world, Bridle cites automation bias during his presentation. For the uninitiated, automation bias is the propensity for humans to favor suggestions from automated decision-making systems and to ignore contradictory information made without automation, even if it is correct.

In his presentation, Bridle makes a point to highlight that even the most highly trained pilot is susceptible to automation bias explaining that these same pilots are 90% more likely to go against their intuition if a “proven-data system” offers an alternative.

However, it goes even deeper than that, with Bridle warning of the magic of “big data. “This is the magic of big data. You don’t really need to know or understand anything about what you’re studying; you can simply place all of your faith in the emergent truth of digital information”, says the author.

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“In one sense, the big data fallacy is the logical outcome of scientific reductionism: the belief that complex systems can be understood by dismantling them into their constituent pieces and studying each in isolation.”

In short, Bridle believes that by not properly understanding these emergent technologies, we are in fact opening ourselves up to a new dark age.  So what is the proposed solution? Again, Bridle is not pessimistic about technology but rather cautious. He believes that the powerful computations that we use should be more about asking better questions rather than telling us how to think, create, or even live.

Who is James Bridle?

James Bridle is an artist and writer who has been exhibited in Europe, North, and South America, Asia and Australia. His writing on literature, culture, and networks has appeared in newspapers including  Frieze, Wired, Domus, Cabinet, the Atlantic, and the New Statesman.

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If you want a more in-depth insight into is argument today at TNW, be sure to pick up a copy of his book, New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future.

Interesting Engineering will be following Amsterdam’s TNW.

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