Monthly Archives: October 2017

What is Social Cooling?

Social cooling refers to the idea that if “you feel you are being watched, you change your behavior.” And the massive amounts of data being collected, especially online, is exaggerating this effect. This may limit our desire to speak or think freely thus bringing about chilling effects on society—in other words, “social cooling.”

Here’s a summary of how this works:

1.  Your data is collected and scored. Then data brokers use algorithms to reveal thousands of private details about you—friends and acquaintances, religious and political beliefs, educational background, sexual orientation, reading habits, personality traits and flaws, economic stability,  etc. This derived data is protected as corporate free speech.

2. Your digital reputation may affect your opportunities. Facebook posts may affect job chances of getting or losing a job, bad friends may affect the rate of your loan, etc. These effects are independent of whether the data is good or bad.

3. People start changing their behavior to get better scores which have disparate outcomes. Social Cooling describes the negative side effects of trying to be reputable online. Some of the negative effects are:

a) Conformity – you may hesitate to click on a link because you fear being tracked. This is self-censoring, which has a chilling effect. You fear choosing freely.

b) Risk-aversion –  When physicians are scored, those who try to help sicker patients have lower scores than those who avoid such patients because sicker patients have higher mortality rates.

c) Social rigidity – Our digital reputations limit our will to protest. For instance, Chinese citizens have begun to get “social credit scores,” which score how well-behaved they are. Such social pressure is a powerful form of control.

4) As your weaknesses are mapped, you become increasingly transparent. This leads to self-censorship, conformity, risk-aversion, and social rigidity becoming normal. No longer is data a matter of simple credit scores.

All of this leads to questions like: When we become more well-behaved, do we also become less human? What does freedom mean in a world where surveillance is the dominant business model? Are we undermining our creative economy because people fear non-conformity? Can minority views still inform us?

5) The solution? Pollution of our social environment is invisible to most people, just like air pollution and climate change once were. So we begin by increasing awareness.  But we should act quickly, as data mining and the secrets it reveals is increasing exponentially.

(Example – I have an advanced degree. This simple piece of data predicts that: I’m unlikely to be a Republican; I know the difference between the journalistic standards of the New York Times or the Washington Post and those of Fox “News,” Breitbart, etc.; I don’t believe in alien abductions or faked moon landings; I know that evolution and climate change are true beyond any reasonable doubt; I’m less likely to be religious; I probably don’t drive a truck; etc. All that from just one bit of data, and some of those inferences might be mistaken. Imagine what else others know—or think they know—about you and me?)

6) Conclusion 

a) Data is not the new gold, it is the new oil, and it damages the social environment.

b) Privacy is the right to be imperfect, even when judged by algorithms.

c) Privacy is the right to be human.

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My resource for this brief summary is https://www.socialcooling.com/index.html. The site has this note: “Feel free to re-use content, it’s all under a CC-BY 4.0 License.”

A Graph of Cognitive Biases

Every Single Cognitive Bias in One Infographic

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist – (To view, click on the link above.)

This is the most complete graph I’ve ever seen of cognitive biases. It is especially timely as the mechanisms for social and political control grow ever more sophisticated at manipulating human behavior based on an understanding of how poorly our brains work. Hopefully, an increased awareness of our many brain bugs will help us to differentiate between truth and falsity.

In fact, our very survival probably depends on combatting the influence of our reptilian brains and the medieval institutions they created in a world of increasing technological power. Unless we can find a way to enhance our moral and intellectual faculties, our extinction is likely if not inevitable.

Let us face up to what we really are, and transform ourselves.

Review of Phil Torres’ “Morality, Foresight & Human Flourishing

Phil Torres has just published an important new book: Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks. Torres is the founding Director of the Project for Future Human Flourishing, which aims to both understand and mitigate existential threats to humanity. Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom Martin Rees writes the book’s foreword, where he states that the book “draws attention to issues our civilization’s entire fate may depend on.” (13) Continue reading Review of Phil Torres’ “Morality, Foresight & Human Flourishing

Summary of Feminism on Human Nature

(This is my summary of a chapter in a book I often used in university classes: Thirteen Theories of Human Nature, by Stevenson, Haberman, and Wright, Oxford Univ. Press.)

Traditionally theories of human nature are conceived of by men and seem to equate human nature with male nature. Some of these thinkers believed that women were just different from men; others that they were inferior. Continue reading Summary of Feminism on Human Nature