Active Thinking Topic 13 - Will Big Data Eat You for Breakfast?

Monday 30 August 2021, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St · Adelaide (You must buy a drink or something. We are 'renting' the space for 2 hours)

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Focus Questions

1.What are examples of AI and big data making the world a better place to live in?

2.You can buy clothes off the shelf, or you can buy tailored clothes. How might Big Data and AI modify outcomes to fit your personal need?

3. When you are online, on social media, or filling in forms etc, what precautions do you take to limit the information being collected about you?

4. What are examples of AI and big data making decisions on your behalf? Do you feel safe while this is happening?

5. Who should take the blame when automatic AI/big data decisions go wrong? Examples? It is a property of so-called 'intelligent' algorithms that data is recycled within the algorithm until a useful outcome is reached. The person who put in the original information cannot track how the outcome is reached, so has no final control over the answer.

6. How has AI/big data been misused in the past? How might it be misused in the future?

7. It is already possible to hijack and even crash some vehicles remotely, overriding driver control. Would you be happy if police and/or automatic AI systems, using road surveillance cameras, routinely took control of your car no matter what you tried to do?

8. How can limits be put on the social control over citizens used by governments and organizations? Do most people even care? For example, your social media postings are already monitored. At one extreme, PRC China is already rolling out a 'social credit' system where your behaviour is monitored from the cradle to the grave, and you are never 'off the grid'. According to your social credit score you are allowed or forbidden privileges (e.g. ability to buy a fast train ticket).

9. What sort of control should the government (try to) exercise over criminal data collection and foreign influence? Examples? Most data collection is probably more about making a profit, or in the case of Australian governments, providing a service. However, there are also actors in the virtual space who have bad intentions. These can be criminals, or in some cases foreign states trying to influence/control you personally, or to degrade Australian organizations.

10. Do Australian governments actually have the skilled talent available to design, collect and manage vast databases of information about everyone? Their record so far has been pretty poor. How could they attract such talent?

Extra Reading

Domingos, Pedro "The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World". Brilliance Audio, 2017. (eBook $14.99) Amazon @

Valiant, Leslie "Probably Approximately Correct: Nature's Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World". Basic Books, 2013 (eBook $11.99) Amazon @

Gigerenzer, Gurt "Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions". Penguin Books, 2015 (eBook $14.99) Amazon @

Ravi Kant (August 6, 2021) " Spyware scandal sheds doubt on ‘world’s largest democracy’ claim - Amid the Pegasus row, India is looking more like a police state." Asia Times @

Sarah Everts (12 August 2021) "Pores for thought: how sweat reveals our every secret, from what we’ve eaten to whether we’re on drugs - Just one drop of perspiration might soon be enough to identify a criminal or diagnose a cancer. But this fast-moving science could also pose a serious threat to civil liberties". The Guardian @

Toby Walsh (August 13, 2021) "Killer drones decide who lives and dies." The Australian @  [Quote: "Imagine a swarm of kamikaze drones, relentlessly hunting down and attacking dozens of people, without any human in control. Sounds like a bad Hollywood movie. Except it isn’t. According to a recent report from the United Nations Security Council, such an incident took place in March 2020 during the civil war in Libya. The drones were built by Turkey, based on a consumer quadcopter that was packed with explosives and equipped with machine vision to identify, track and dive-bomb targets. ... Only 30 of the 200 or so nations at the UN have come out so far and called for a pre-emptive ban on lethal autonomous weapons. Australia is not one of the 30. Several nations, especially the US, the UK, Russia and Israel are pushing back, hoping no doubt to keep their technological lead on the rest of the world. If the history of military technology tells us anything, it tells us no nation keeps a technological lead for long." Toby Walsh is a Laureate Fellow and Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.]

Russell Brandom (May 16, 2018) "New Toronto Declaration calls on algorithms to respect human rights". The Verge @

David Swan and Chris Griffith (August 18, 2021) "China to pass one of the world's strictest data privacy laws" The Australian @  ) [Quote: "The law will require any organization or individual handling Chinese citizens’ personal data to minimize data collection and to obtain prior consent, according to the latest published draft. It covers government agencies, though lawyers and policy analysts say enforcement is likely to be tighter on the private sector. ... {but} “When the government makes laws about privacy, it’s not necessarily restricting its own access” ]

Stephanie Wood (August 20, 2021) "‘A lot of people are sleepwalking into it’: the expert raising concerns over AI - It’s one of the most profound innovations of our time - and Manhattan-based Australian Kate Crawford wants us to wake up to AI’s inherent risks". Sydney Morning Herald @  [Quote: "If you work in a warehouse or a factory, such as an Amazon “fulfilment centre”, surveillance systems will record your “picking rate”: the rate at which you gather products to meet orders. For Atlas of AI, Crawford visited a mammoth Amazon fulfilment centre in New Jersey. She observed multiple workers with knee braces, elbow bandages or wrist guards. At intervals through the factory, she says, vending machines are “stocked with over-the-counter painkillers for anyone who needs them”. ... Bezos noted that, to decrease work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the company was automating [warehouse] staff schedules using “sophisticated algorithms” to shuffle staff between jobs using different muscle-tendon groups. “They’re resisting unionisation every step of the way and using rampant surveillance technology to try to produce the most efficient mechanism to extract value from human bodies down to the level of muscles and ligaments,” ]

10xDS Team (August 30, 2020) "Top 10 benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) - 1. Automation; 2. Smart Decision Making; 3. Enhanced Customer Experience; 4. Medical Advances; 5. Research and Data Analysis; 6. Solving Complex Problems;
7. Business Continuity (e.g. disaster recovery); 8. Managing Repetitive Tasks; 9. Minimizing Errors; 10. Increased Business Efficiency". 10xDS blog @

Dave Makichuk (August 21, 2021) "Musk touts ‘Tesla Bot’ to a skeptical audience - Humanoid robot will be capable of mundane, everyday tasks, says the South African billionaire". Asia Times @  [Quote: "ElecTrek online reported earlier this month that Tesla has been working with famed roboticist Dennis Hong, who specializes in humanoid robots... But Musk gave no indication of having made concrete progress on actually building such a machine. .. The news left some critics to wonder how a company whose driver assist software is unable to reliably avoid parked ambulances, would soon build a fully functioning robot. What could possibly go wrong?"]

Thor's Brief Ideas - Introduction (1991) "Is Discretion Worth It?" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: The two paths to a quiet life are to say nothing to anybody about anything, or to say everything that comes into your head. The second way is easily the most effective. Sooner or later the absolutely discreet person will be blackmailed or persecuted for something they didn't say. However, the purveyor of utter candour is regarded with mute horror by all dignified persons, and given a wide berth. Thus, like much else on this website, the Brief Ideas have done a great deal to guarantee Thor perfect social obscurity ...."]

Thor's Brief Ideas #274. "Nations of urban peasants" (14 January 2017) The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "Nations of urban peasants: the nightmare that no politician will talk about. You never read about it in the media. Facebook depends upon it, but never gives a hint. Prisons are full of it, unemployment queues are made of it, societies would be utterly different without it. What is this demon that cannot speak its name? Ah, you don’t want to know. It’s not sexy, but I’ll tell you anyway. ILLITERACY. You read this far, so you can read a bit. You are ahead of the pack. Most people can add 2+2, but they find maths hard. Most people can sign their names, but they find reading more than a few words hard, very hard. Half of the people in America, and Australia (and any ‘advanced’ nation you care to name) cannot read a medicine bottle label or a train timetable. Think about that. Most managers want “executive summaries - because they are busy”. The truth is that they cannot take in complex documents. it is a world too complex for the many. Our governments and companies are teetering atop computing systems, many written by 900 blind monkeys, that their principals have no idea how to direct or fix. It’s too hard. You want democracy? - then get yourself a fully literate population. But can that even be done? " ]



Will Big Data Eat You for Breakfast? (c) Thor May 2021 

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