Life in the search bar

Technology is changing our speech and our thinking. But freedom of speech is more than just politics. This is what makes us human …

Life in the search bar

Original material

'Cat food … Cat food … Cat food …'. Recently, an acquaintance of mine who does not have a cat repeated this phrase over and over, while doing an online search from his phone. His theory is that the phone constantly monitors what he said – and all of us – and he tries to prove it by loudly speaking unrelated text. He believed that if, at some stage, ads for cat food or anything related to cats began to appear on web pages or his feeds in social networks, then this serves as evidence of the existence of some kind of trigger that triggers advertising of what is said in close proximity to the smartphone. After a few weeks, he never saw any food advertisements, but noticed one related to cats.

He is not alone in his suspicions. People think back to times when they talked about a product – or literally just thought about it – and immediately advertised it on their phone. Even with me this happened. A friend was telling me about a children's film, which he would take his daughter to the cinema. I had never heard of the film before, let alone looking for information about it. Later that evening, an advertisement for this film appeared in my feed Instagram.

Life in the search bar

The author's spelling is preserved. Source – Leprosorium

All these incidents have plausible explanations that differ from the version with smartphones tracking our speech. A friend's cat-related ad in his browser might have caught his eye as a result of an unknown algorithmic computation. There are a number of factors that could 'tell' the algorithm that my friend might need this product. The movie advertisement that the tape 'showed' me Instagram could have appeared there because my friend was googling the session time when he was visiting me, and the program 'decided' that the owners of the devices are most likely nearby can join the view.

It's still difficult to rationalize this behavior, especially when there are stories describing the constant tracking of our conversations by modern digital assistants (Google Home, Amazon Alexa / Echo) and in some cases repeating this information without our knowledge. Last week, a married couple discovered that the smart column Amazon Echo had randomly identified a keyword that she interpreted as a command to “record the conversation.” Echo then 'heard' another phrase, which she used as a command to 'send the recording to my friends', which she did in good faith. Amazon called this a bug and reassured consumers that it was an 'unlikely chain of events'.

Life in the search bar

What is so frightening about these episodes?

Over the past few years, a massive debate about free speech has begun in the West. Without going into the details of the dispute, suffice it to say that although the speech indirectly concerns freedom of speech on technological platforms, but, by and large, the emphasis is on political rhetoric. For example, accusations Facebook that the platform's current news topics were opposed to sources or materials close to conservatives. Or accusations Twitter of over-supporting the liberals or the libertarian party – depending on the day and the offended side – based on what people say on the platform.

By focusing on whether such platforms restrict certain political rhetoric or not (which in itself is a rather controversial topic with a certain political agenda), we have distracted from thinking about other kinds of restrictions that technology has placed on our freedom of speech, which may affect us further. stronger.

Life in the search bar

In 2016, Google's 'Year in Search' research was accompanied by an ad campaign that overlaid a familiar search string over images of the past year's hot topics: protesters near Standing Rock, photographs of David Bowie, people holding 'welcome refugees' posters, and so on. . The same was shown in the accompanying video.

Google's obvious intent was to find a way to summarize how the service helps people assemble a jumbled stream of images into a coherent narrative, positioning itself as a unique tool to expand their horizons and gain new knowledge. For a reason, images extend beyond the search eye. In truth, modern technology often leads us to believe that there is nothing that we cannot recognize or see when connected to these devices.

But boundaries are important. As we gradually learn what the microphones around us are 'hearing', we test and explore new boundaries for our speech. As a result, we find that our speech and the way we think and what we think is more and more positioned and fits within the framework of the mentioned Google advertising campaign and becomes similar to a search query.

Life in the search bar

Soon, conversations will no longer be an exchange of ideas, but will become a series of statements and sentences that can convey a thought and at the same time bypass voice prompts to activate computer commands. Some words will no longer appear side by side in a sentence. Some phrases will no longer be used before or after others. And this shift is not due to politics. And not social progress. And, of course, it will not help in a deeper understanding of each other.

This is completely different. It is an unauthorized imposition of boundaries on language that some companies in Silicon Valley have created. This is a change in which there will be no thing to which the language has adapted and on which it developed: humanity. Rephrasing of speech and recontextualization of words by computer programs occurs as we change our lives in software. We regularly download information and statistics about our sleep patterns, steps, and meals, thus showing natural human behavior for a world ruled by machines, and adjusting ourselves to them in order to achieve optimized goals and performance levels.

We not only began to think of ourselves as computers, but, faced with new barriers in communication, we are already starting to think like them, or at least in a way that could provoke a response from a computer, and not from a person.

If you turn the situation around, you end up with an even more alarming scenario. As computers and humans get closer, it may turn out that before we walk, eat, sleep, or talk, we will soon be constantly thinking about how to perform this or that action in order to look and sound human.

Cat food … Cat food … Cat food …

By Colin Horgan

Another round of conspiracy theory, or is it really a topic for thought? As with many points, the point here is how to look at the problem. For some, this is not a problem at all, but someone is ready to wrap the phone with foil and write on birch bark that Chinese special services are listening. We do not think about what information and to what extent we provide applications and services. Then it’s worth realizing, but it’s too late, and some characters drive themselves to a mental frenzy, trying to expose an invisible enemy.

In my opinion, it is still far from widespread thinking about search queries, but everything can be, some say on hashtags. There is no doubt that we are gradually beginning to think differently, long-term memory is being replaced by the ability to quickly look at something on the Internet, fix it somewhere and forget again until it is needed. The author correctly says that it is necessary, as in everything, to remain human. Otherwise, science fiction scenarios threaten to move into real life.

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