No free sailing?

I’m not free, you’re not free, the Internet isn’t free, lunches aren’t free, and all that free software out there is definitely not free either. You may wish to argue with me. Feel free. But that’s what it is – a feeling.

Technology, especially the Internet, has lulled us into a new sense of freedom. We are sailing recklessly in uncharted waters.

Sailing may not be free, but it feels freeing. So does all this virtual freedom; at least to begin with.

Communication is free – until the monetizing efforts begin.

Information flows freely –  and ends up in the hands of parties we never intended it for, or comes from sources we never wanted it to come from.

There are free apps for nearly everything. We have only the faintest idea of what they do with all the information we allow them access to.

Every other app wants to access my location or my contacts. Now Grammarly (just to mention one) wants to check all my texts – for free. As if there weren’t enough unknown eyes upon them already.

Not to mention the browsers and search engines. Google kindly informs me that it records pretty much everything I do. Most of my time is spent turning off this and that “service”.

We want things to be free of cost. By cost we mean money. So we trade in our privacy instead. This may well be a deal made in heaven, but for whom? For you and me, or “them”?

Who exactly are they, all those parties behind all these free things? How long will they be they, or be sold to someone else? Who are the spider kings and queens of the web?

When I pay a bill, I have some means of tracing who I am paying, at least in theory. I was not happy to find that my latest hotel bill was payable to “Savon Mafia”. Many of you won’t get the Savon part, but Mafia is easy to understand. If you were looking for a hotel in Eastern Finland, would a name like this boost your confidence in the owners?

But I digress. When we download all these free things, we have no idea what the ultimate payment will be. If we’re lucky, we will just be receiving something helpful for free, before it becomes payable; either directly, or indirectly through advertising or some other means.

If we are unlucky, we will get something substandard, or something that proves nefarious in the long run. This is true whether we are talking about technology or content.

Our monies and shares are held in systems that are coded by people like John, Joe, and Jenny (the names have been changed).

I have nothing against them. They are nice people. I could see myself having a drink with them.

But John is carefree to the point of carelessness, Joe has a hacker mentality, and Jenny has been using her credit cards all to freely lately. None of them love coding.They just needed a job, and coding was all there was.

They can’t wait to get away from the office. Or if they work from home, they have a million other things to do while they are coding.

In fact they are a mistake, or something worse, waiting to happen.

None of this is really news to anyone. We just react differently. Some shrug it all off with a “what can you do” and move on. I feel helpless, and I hate the feeling.

It seems so unavoidable that something will go seriously wrong. Almost every piece of software out there has its share of Johns, Joes, and Jennys behind it. Many have unknown, potential “mafias” as owners.

Soon they will have a hand in everything; from my grandchildren’s learning to my health and my legal aid.

My son tells me to go with the flow, to enjoy the ride while it lasts. Worry will get me nowhere. Privacy is gone, free is not free, the risks are there, but what can you do? Sit at home with a tin foil hat on your head and expect the worst?

Others tell me that privacy is overrated. What do I have to hide?

To me, privacy is like wearing clothes. I just don’t want to walk naked. Irrespective of whether there is much to hide or not. My contacts are my contacts, and my location is my location.

I am happy to share a glimpse of the latter with you. This is how beautiful the Finnish archipelago looks in the early evening of a typical “it may rain or it may shine” summer day.IMG_4787

If you see clouds like these, you would be foolish to venture out to sea without your rain clothes, even if part of the sky looks blue and beautiful.

I see virtual clouds gathering, and need some rain clothes for when it rains on my digital parade. Something beyond all those “security” providers that seem to specialise in price increases rather than security.

Better still, I need fire to fight the fire of all things “free” from unknown sources. Which is why I am all for artificial intelligence. Our own intelligence is not enough to keep things under control.

When I say artificial intelligence, I mean a system that exhibits general intelligence and acts on diverse information, learning from changes in its environment. A smart “something” that understands and employs self-governance and best practices. That asks questions in addition to giving answers, and is capable of both novel and surprising solutions.

I am aware of the risks. I grew up on science fiction. I know all about Hal. If you don’t, you might want to check out Space Odyssey. There are many  “what ifs”  involved.

Will the questions this “something” ends up asking be the “right” ones?

Will the data be flawed? Statistical truths are seldom literal truths. The data may well include a lot of hidden biases. There are so many things that can go wrong during the learning process.

Then again, mistakes are made by humans as well as by systems. The latter are, however, often more difficult to spot and correct.

I hope this “something” has a good set of values. Where will it get them from?

If you are going to fight fire with fire, you have to be extra careful. The same is true for the development of artificial intelligence.

In Star Trek good always wins over bad in the end. Who says it can’t happen in real life? It’s all about the choices we make.

Some worry that jobs will be lost. We are losing them already to the predecessors of full artificial intelligence; to the programs and machines capable of learning and answering, but not yet of asking relevant questions on their own. The estimates of jobs affected in Europe alone during the next ten years vary from 25-35%.

New jobs are created as old ones are lost, but not in the exact same places, and most probably not nearly so many.

Which is one of the arguments for some form of guaranteed income for humans; for Someone to see them through this transition.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there will be free sailing on offer in the future. Maybe Someone is neither a she, a he, or an it; maybe Someone is something else.