What is a world without data

Thinking Versus Data: How We Humans Lose Control

Yvonne Hofstetter, Friedrich Graf von Westphalen

Digitization is changing society so fundamentally that we humans will soon no longer play a role in it.

EnlargeAre people making themselves superfluous with digitization?
© Fotolia / Weissblick

“The machine has its own soul”: Even in the 21st century, Karl Marx is as present as ever. That could be due to digitization and its social consequences.

"Marx reloaded" - the phrase that has been heard frequently lately not only indicates that Karl Marx would celebrate his 200th birthday in 2018. Rather, it seems as if his economic analyzes are still up-to-date in the 21st century. In particular, they appear like a warning sign in front of our mind's eye when there is talk in Germany of Industry 4.0 and globally of the “Second Machine Age” (Brynjolfsson / McAfee).

Nobody would deny that today mankind is equally facing the opportunities and risks of an epoch-making upheaval and is already grappling very tangibly with the economic and political consequences of a globally expanding digital network.

But the Internet connoisseur Jaron Lanier brings with his sober clarification “You are not the customer of the Internet companies. You are their product “really to the point, what Karl Marx recognized as the product of human labor?

While the American rightly criticizes the fact that technology giants have created the "human creation" ( Lanier ) quantify, select and reduce their value to a simple number, a strategic score, Marx's vision - who is surprised, it greets the collective - goes beyond the individual: It is not the individual pile of data, not the online caricature of people The product of the digital profiler, but rather the “machine system”, the network itself - as the work of everyone working together in society.

Jürgen Neffe, author of the current Marx biography "Marx. The Unfinished", describes the clairvoyance of Marx's machine fragment from 1857/58, in which Marx uses one of his greatest intellectual tricks: Not the sheer labor power of the The individual alone is a product, but rather the achievement of all as an outflow of social interaction for "one and the same purpose" ( Marx ).

So the product of the first industrialization is not the individual work of the worker. The product of the digital era that is now dawning - the fourth industrial revolution - is not, however, batch size one from the manufacturing industry, a single pile of data or an individual user profile.

Instead, they are replaced by the globally democratized knowledge of mankind, their creativity, technological innovation and, last but not least, the financial investments of all those working on and in the network who create "the machine (...) that has its own soul" ( Marx ). To a certain extent - and in fact the technologists will agree with this statement - the network is alive and well. It swirls like an artificial brain made of neurons, the data nodes, and their synapses, the data superhighways, and thus remains constantly in motion.

The most tangible and lasting expression of its own life is artificial intelligence, which without interaction and data has no more vitality than an academic exercise. In fact, however, it has already begun to become independent. At least that, so serious scientists tell us, could become the inevitable threat to Homo sapiens in the further course of this century.

It's not just that artificial intelligence, the silent power from the cloud, is ruling our lives more and more dominantly and inevitably. Their most astonishing quality is their autonomy, hence their self-sufficiency and independence from our inputs. Autonomy, asynchrony and the ability to learn are also what lead us to expect a high degree of automated cognitive and thus formerly human work in the future.

Techno control through artificial intelligence is not limited to optimal driving strategies for industrial plants or infrastructures. Much more decisive is that in humans it makes no difference at all between person and thing.

It may well be that we are victims of the machine system. But we are also perpetrators. We ourselves are busy producing on the “master system as a collective work of humanity”, that man-made power “that makes the individual smaller with every step” ( nephew ), because his individual contribution to the master system congeals more and more into technology that makes people superfluous. This is how exploitation becomes widespread.

The transformation of society through the master system

You hardly do any violence to Karl Marx if you throw his well-known phrase into the debate at this point: “It is not the consciousness of people that determines their being, but, conversely, their social being that determines their consciousness”.

So have the structures of our consciousness, our thought patterns already changed due to digitization? Are there any signs of this?

The fact that the signatures of digitization have already changed “social being” to the extent that a metamorphosis of the bourgeois communication culture can be ascertained is hardly arguable; Publishers and the print media can tell a song about it.

At the same time, there is an erosion of the truth in social media and their “newsfeeds”, which confuses subscribers and leads them to make “wrong” or “bad” decisions. With the help of the Internet, the scales of “truth and lies in politics” (Arendt) have now leaned towards lies; What excites and arouses goes viral, and that is rarely the dreariness of reality. Brexit and Catalonia bear sad witness to the social upheavals that can be expected when the media are used for propaganda purposes.

But that's not new. The military strategists call this "psychological warfare", and it is very old practice to unsettle the enemy through gray operations, the Gray OPS. In the meantime, it is no longer just the military, i.e. the state, that have an easy game with the Internet. Everyone is allowed to play, with their own intentions and their own personal interests. Players, game strategies and tactics are completely opaque. Perhaps they have not been transparent in the recent past, but in a world of two blocs from East and West, psychological warfare was more transparent.

The detachment of online users from reality intensifies the filter bubbles and echo chambers of social media. Personalization is the magic word. "Put on your Beatsx headphones, switch on your Apple Music Stream, and make this world your world" is a current Apple advertising slogan, which expresses very precisely that your world is not mine or his world. Anyone who isolates themselves in this way can hardly identify with group goals. For this reason, too, the political parties, as the transmission belts for the formation of political and democratic wills, are losing massive amounts of influence. Liberal democracy is facing an unprecedented test.

Thinking versus data

Andreas Rödder, the Mainz contemporary historian, already sees clear signs of changes in modern thinking: Networked, linear thinking, which is strongly promoted by the Internet and its constantly available hyperlinks, is increasingly replacing the thinking that was handed down through the Enlightenment with its logical hierarchies and prioritizations, anchored and proven primarily in the categories of the humanities.

Cause and consequence are no longer the authoritative thought structures that separate the important from the unimportant, because the seductive link to the next - new - thought step is only a mouse click away. The kaleidoscopically networked - one is inclined to say: disordered - knowledge comes into its own.

The mass of data and information that is readily available on the Internet on demand makes it easy to forget. Bulimia learning dominates the scene: eat, throw up - that's it for today. Marx couldn't have said it better. The notebooks in which he stored his immense knowledge day after day in his daily study in his London library no longer have any function.

Andreas Rödder can wholeheartedly join those scientists who still use their theories analytically - without any data! - develop. Because today empiricists hurl the sentence at them everywhere: “We are data-driven!” We are data-driven, we only make informed decisions when we have collected a sufficient amount of data - big data.

In view of this proposition, the theorist thinks two things:

First: The empiricists seem to believe that the theorists are becoming unscientific because they work without data and instead only with analytical acumen, pencil and paper. After all, that would not only offend a philosopher like Karl Marx, but also scientific greats like Newton or Einstein.

And secondly: if you have to wait until a sufficiently large amount to make your decision - mind you: more historical! - Past data is collected, no innovation can be expected in the future. Innovation results not least from discontinuity. Anyone who records a data series can analyze its history - but not explain it - calculate the status quo and the current situation. As for the prognosis of the situation and the near future, the series continues with a probability distribution around the last data point. That way you hardly get any big breakthroughs.

Nevertheless, the theoretical knowledge is hardly sung nowadays, especially rarely by higher educational institutions. They train scientists in the MINT subjects