Dataism is eating the world: information flow at all costs
17 June, 2021 - 5 min read
I recently reread the book Homo Deus by Noah Harari. Reading it for the first time about two years ago, I was fascinated by the biochemical mechanisms that expose us to manipulation. However, when I reread it a few days ago, I learned about Dataism and found myself amazed and questioning my most fundamental philosophical belief systems.
Religions like the humanistic religions, e.g., philosophies (Capitalism, Humanism, Communism), uphold the human experience as the highest good. Dataism's highest good is the flow and freedom of information.
It states that the universe consists of data streams and that the value of an entity in the universe is measured by its data processing power. This means that a human is more valuable than a fruit fly because it can process more data. Therefore, the goals are to increase the number, variety, and connectivity of processors and the flexibility of connections.
Practically, this means increasing the number and diversity of humans and devices which process information. It also means improving our communication and transportation infrastructure and, for example, communicating with other people all around the world.
Next to pointing out some of its weaknesses, I'll investigate Dataism's goal of increasing information flow and how much of an influence it had and will have on humanity's progress.
One interesting critique against the adoption of Dataism might be the recent developments around privacy. Events like the Cambridge Analytica data scandal have made it clear to consumers that their data is valuable and can be used to manipulate them. However, this uproar mainly resulted from the sudden whistleblowing of this practice and not from a sudden shift in behavior. It's also arguably a tendency to see it less in younger people who grow up with those data economies.
To understand Dataism from a systems thinking perspective, let's view economic productivity and the rate of progress of different humanistic religions through a dataistic lens.
We can view capitalism as decentralized processing by people and computers that are part of the economy. The decision to produce or buy a good is by millions of individuals. Communism, in turn, can be seen as a centralized data processing, in which a central government orchestrates supply and demand. Dictatorships (Fascism) are centralized too and have shown some superiority in the past, one example being the Roman Empire. Another example is a company in which a single CEO decides on the resource allocation of the whole organization.
As it stands today, a democratic, capitalistic policy is levering the invisible hand of the market. This invisible hand, in our terms, is a decentralized computation system. It shows clear superiority in creating a happy and productive society by leveraging people's drive to build wealth for themselves. As Ayn Rand phrased it, "the magnificent progress achieved by capitalism in a brief span of time the spectacular improvement in the conditions of man's existence on earth is a matter of historical record." However, recent developments in China have shown that this superiority is not set in stone. A fascist, free-market manipulating economy can show never seen growth.
As centralized systems become increasingly powerful, taking more data at once as input, producing more accurate predictions, we will see the described superiority of capitalism challenged.
The Price of Anarchy is a crucial phenomenon that helps us to think about the potential paradigm shift that could occur. It is a concept from Game Theory and measures the extent to which competition approximates cooperation, i.e. how the efficiency of a system degrades due to the selfish behavior of its agents.
We know that non-centralized (transportation) systems are 33% less efficient than centralized. This means, for example, if a country accomplishes building a centralized computed and routed autonomous vehicle network, it will gain 33% in efficiency and a strong economic, competitive advantage.
If a country accomplishes building a centralized routed autonomous transportation network, it will gain 33% in efficiency and a strong economic competitive advantage.https://t.co/TVlpfTmjmf— Moritz Wallawitsch (@MoritzW42) June 17, 2021
We already know that many religions share a common ground. Moreover, as we will see, connectivity and information exchange are already hugely important pursuits, especially in intellectual parts of society.
For example, in his book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shurky describes the massive waste of cognitive resources (i.e., processing power). In the first chapter, Shurky illustrates this by comparing the two hundred billion hours Americans spend watching TV every year to the two thousand Wikipedias that they could have created with this surplus, i.e., creating a societal value and furthering information flow.
Those values might be why we got 140 characters and not the flying cars that we were promised. In their debate at the Milken Institute Conference in 2013, Mark Andreessen and Peter Thiel list many reasons why this is the case. Andreessen makes the point that we got instant global publishing and that "The whole basis of our civilization [...] is communication. Without communication, we would all be sitting in caves by ourselves."
Dataism has not only provided the most efficient organizational systems for the economy but also concurred big parts of the scientific establishment by creating a combined framework for understanding biochemical and electronic algorithms.
Those examples show that information flow is already one of the prime optimization goals of our society; its innovation and will only become more prominent in the coming decades. Our Humanists agenda is often that of a dataist.
Dataism has not only provided the most efficient organizational systems for the economy but also concurred big parts of the scientific establishment by creating a combined framework for understanding biochemical and electronic algorithms.— Moritz Wallawitsch (@MoritzW42) June 17, 2021