Thursday, November 23, 2017

Welcome to Data-ocracy

Exploring the intersection between politics, data and the medium of storing information, by John Vather, marketing manager at BroadGroup.

In the 5th century BC the Greek City state of Athens developed a unique system of producing decisions.

Rather than one person deciding on an issue, the larger group of ‘citizens’ (read as ‘men’) voted in what was a radical departure from the norm.

To understand how the unelected rulers of other Greek city states must have felt about this catalytic advance in human society, simply recall that feeling when you were first introduced to Netflix and realised your costly assembled DVD collection was on an irrevocable journey to worthlessness.

In many of these assemblies the Athenian citizens would scrawl a name on a piece of pottery and place it in an urn.

Is it possible with the age of data we are living in for me to labour a comparison between these two time periods?

A tenuous link has never stopped me before. This system worked for a time in Athens with the general Pericles winning elections like a soupedup 1990s Tony Blair on steroids.

This new arrangement was named democracy, the genesis of the word loosely combining the ideas “people” and “power”.

The novel arrangement made a significant break with, for example, monarchy and oligarchy. This system has been on a progress march until now, (pause for the allegorical pay-off you have been waiting for) – Welcome to Data-ocarcy.

An era of ‘data power’ is now a reality. Our lives play out in the online sphere, every click we make, every term we search, every purchase, every Wikipedia trawl for information about democracy in Athens, all combine to create a remarkably accurate profile of us.

These algorithms have helped us acquire the information we desire exponentially quicker, however, this also has a more dangerous edge; who we vote for.

Online targeting has moved from a discussion of conceivable jeopardies to a prescient realty facing us today.

Firstly, the advent of ‘fake news’ and the targeting of people with sham content has had a significant bearing upon elections worldwide over the past 12 months.

Secondly, when our intake of news mediated by the data profile of ourselves, everything we are shown becomes inherently political.

Who controls the data and the information about ourselves is the key question underlining Data-ocarcy.

Curiously, during a 1937 exaction of the Acropolis, 190 pieces of pottery used for voting were discovered hidden with handwriting similarities suggesting voter fraud.

In the 5th century some of the citizens of Athens placed the shards in the pot for counting but the words were already written.

In 2017, through profiling and targeting perhaps the data does the writing for us.


This article originally appeared in the Data Economy magazine. To read more on data centres, cloud and data, visit here