Pick and Speak – 2. Technology as Regulators

This is an article of the nature, “Well, one thing led to another…and here we are”. So, here we go.

One of my professors told in a passing that a short-story titled, “The Golden Bug”, by Edgar Allen Poe, talked about ciphers and set some interesting ground rules on the basics of deciphering. So I decided to give it a read. Like all Edgar Poe’s stories, it did manage to start with a chilly setting and slowly put everything right its place. The story gained pace soon enough and I happened upon this paragraph, at which point I broke the read and stepped from the Fiction world into the Google world.

“Circumstances, and a certain bias of mind, have led me to take interest in such riddles, and it may well be doubted whether human ingenuity can construct and enigma of the kind which human ingenuity may not, by proper application, resolve.”

“Bias” of mind led me to open another window and search for it, when I came across Behavioural Biases, which says that rational and logical thinking on relevant facts are necessary to make any winning decision. However, ideas and opinion guided by the mind and formed by either recent events (Recency Bias) or anchor points (Anchoring Bias) and various other extraneous factors, all of which combined doesn’t necessarily help one in making the winning decision always.

I then happened upon the concept of Deterrence, which says that an inferior nuclear force, by virtue of its extreme destructive power, could deter a more powerful adversary, provided that this force could be protected against destruction by a surprise attack. Thomas Schelling, the Nobel Prize winning economist, says about deterrence – “The use of the power to hurt as bargaining power is the foundation of deterrence theory, and is most successful when it is held in reserve”. However, when everyone has that power, it is pretty much useless, however, Deterrence is a powerful play on the mind. Click here to see a video on Deterrence.

Mind games have always existed and I believe there sure is no way to go around this inherent / hardwired biases, however, for those decisions that aren’t of “fight or flight” nature, or for those decisions where one has time to study, weigh, process and decide, I think keeping tab on the existence of such biases (both internal and external), and trying to separate out the effect of those biases might help make the best decisions.

As I closed these tabs, I was thinking – “I can write an article on this with the heading – How to never make a bad decision”, when I recollected a friend talking about this at the Drucker Forum. I also recollected a professor of mine talking about it in a talk recently, where he spoke about Shivani Siroya. So I googled her and came across a wonderful TED talk, where she speaks about using people’s contact list and call logs to determine their credit worthiness to lend money in under a few minutes. Here, Phone-Behavioural Analysis was used to grant a loan that could well change the lives of people. Again, emphasising on the point that biases in our behaviour, even when no one is around, can influence others’ judgement about us, so today, being true to yourself is one thing, but working towards making the definition of “True” same across the length and width, with room for as less subjectivity as possible, can sure help chart a successful course. Click here to see Ms. Siroya’s talk.

At this point the title of the article changed to “It’s not about what you think they see, but about what you don’t see that they see”. I felt that whether for the good or bad, the inherent biases in humans are good, these biases help balance the scales, help leave things up for chance and give rise to factors of motivation, persistence, empathy and so on. However, people always strive to minimise their losses, leave little room for pilferage and ensure that it is both convenient and conducive to be as close to perfection / success as possible. The app “Tala” by Shivani Siroya, that focusses on lending money in exchange for data are accepted by people because on a tipping scale or money vs. privacy, in most cases, the scale tips in favour of money, or whatever one might be trading off. Tala is soon to enter India too, and this is what Ms. Siroya have to say, “We are excited to bring our globally proven, customer-driven product to India, where there is high demand for consumer credit and a significant underserved population. Tala’s speed, fully automated borrowing experience, and empathetic customer service will be an advantage in a fast-growing sector”. Click here to read more about Tala.

However, data can be entirely counterproductive, as in the case of the Nigerian Scam, which has taken various forms and evolved over the years. That isn’t the only scam out there, however this example is well known to people and most people have come across these personally at some point, hence the example. The play of heuristics and biases on people’s mind, on even tempting the most stable with the promise of grand reward with a minimal expense and effort is daunting. Even from before the Internet was used as a channel, these scams existed via post, telegram and so on. The problem then was that the number of people taking bait was lesser (to a single / unit of scammer) because of the potential reach and the probability of success (to scammer) was low as the target pool was small. The internet made reach very easy and the scam easier. However, data security assured protection against data theft and, firewalls did a good job at blocking attackers, now with the evolution of data science, and with so many choices that make people’s lives convenient, people are either willingly giving away / trading away their data or making it really easy for manipulations. Click here to check out the scams in Australia this year (not particular to Australia, I’m sure every country has loads of these, it just happened that for my search, this was on top). To know more about the new versions of Nigerian Scam, Click here.

People, who are built with biases are exploited by many with the aid of the all-pervasive technology, is it then imperative for some regulatory authority to step in?

This, on an extreme scale, is something that gives rise to programs such as China’s Golden Shield Project, which is the Chinese nationwide network-security fundamental constructional project by the e-government of the People’s Republic of China. The Golden Shield Project manages the Bureau of Public Information and Network Security Supervision, which runs a sub-program called The Great Firewall of China, which is a censorship and Surveillance project project that blocks politically inconvenient incoming data from foreign countries. The site censors content from news sources that often cover topics that are considered defamatory against China, such as Tianmen Square protests of 1989, Freedom of Speech, Democracy, and sites linked with the Dalai Lama, his teachings or the International Tibet Independence Movement. Click here to read more on this. And this is just the tip of the iceberg,

Projects such as “The Social Credit System, a “National Reputation System” built by the Chinese Government, with an aim to standardise the assessment of citizens’ and businesses’ economic and social reputation by 2020, are really setting an unprecedented real life example of George Orwell’s Thought Police and their way of thinking:

War is Peace, Freedom is slavery and Ignorance is strength

With the stated purpose: “To help Chinese people trust each other again”, China is on a rampage to control anything and everything on its soil.

At the Global Peter Drucker Forum 2018, Dr. Philip Kotler emphasised the point that most nations in the recent past have exhibited traits of growing “inward” and more and more “nationalistic”, which is a bubble waiting to be bursted. So, with this kind of approach, the world is sure to collapse under the weight of the Leaders like Demi-gods and their inward growing ideology.

So, the title in my mind changed for the third time – “Bad decisions made independently is better than someone watching over you”

The ultimate question now is: Humans are biased, which makes exploitation imperative. Governments can turn toxic if given the power to regulate. At what expense then can our decisions, which aren’t just in our control, be made better? Or was it never meant to be any better?

Can technology, which has always acted as a tool to quicken production, enhance service quality or boost revenues, technology must be used to “Regulate”. Can, with the aid of Quantum Cryptography, Blockchain and so on, such “Tech-ulators” be insulated from the dark web? Particular to this article, to Regulate the content posted, in a way that doesn’t curtail the freedom of speech and the right to information that people have, but detect scams, frauds and such toxic elements, while negating the asymmetry of information in order to make people make great decisions.

Thus the final title – Technology as Regulators.

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