Zuboff, writes Prof. John Naughton in the article, changed our perspective on automation back in 1988
and has since incubated this much more ambitious description of the effects of digitisation and networking. She was one of the first female Harvard Business School professors to hold an endowed chair, and is now painting the picture of our lens through which to view Google, Facebook, et al - that of their spawning an entire new variant of capitalism.
"“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”
Naughton writes that from this perspective, "the behaviour of the digital giants looks rather different from the roseate hallucinations of Wired magazine" - hallucinations we often popularise in our minute way in this newsletter. "The combination of state surveillance and its capitalist counterpart means that digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers (invisible, unknown and unaccountable) and the watched." It has profound consequences for our democracy. Without regulatory oversight of the private sector, these consequences will be (are?) intolerable.
Prof. Naughton is one of the three professors that host the Wolfson-HAT Symposium on the Digital Person, an event which will return on the 30 April 2019 at Wolfson College, Cambridge. We shall have to see if Prof. Zuboff is available as well.
Yours in HAT,