And so a week has passed since news broke about Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and the initial on-camera interviews with Christopher Wylie, an IT head honcho turned public whistle-blower, eager to spill the goods on exactly what happened.
Completely unreported seems to be what I feel is a wathershed moment in humankind and computer technology.
To my knowledge,
This is the first time in humankind history that computer systems have been used to purposefully and maliciously victimize human beings, and this was apparently done on a large scale.
To properly evaluate what happened,
You first have to understand how Big Data Analysis is commonly used, and this is without future advancements applying independent thought (my definition of Artificial Intelligence). Today, Big Data Analysis is commonly used to identify individuals and groups who can be used to further business objectives. This is what has generally been done for political campaigns, marketing campaigns, and customer retention programs for instance.
But Cambridge Analytica took those benign Big Data results and did something else… The data was given to a Psychoanalyst who created Personality models that identify personality flaws and weaknesses and then ran the data through those models. Individuals might have been known not by name but only by their characteristics and virtual address were then fed information designed to prey upon their specific flaws which might have included such things as susceptibility to suggestion, predilection to conspiracy theories and specific bias.
The result is a possibly fully automatic flow where a computer system searches and identifies flawed humans and purposely and maliciously victimizes them.
Those victimized humans never had a chance.
Today, there is talk about blocking the attack vector by eliminating Cambridge Analytica’s main data source, but it’s likely that is insufficient and effective only in the immediate future, there are too many alternative sources like competitive social media, government census and geo data, shopping clubs, infrastructure critical nodes, practically everything we touch today, we are swimming in an abundance of data around us and it’s unlikely shutting off any single or few sources will have any lasting effect. Facebook as a source is only a convenience and not likely the only available source for the data used. Besides, the abundance of data can also be used for good and will likely benefit humankind beyond anything we can imagine today so data transfer restrictions might have the opposite effect(harming prospects for a better tomorrow).
Some who might have read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy (pub ~ 1942) will note that it described a mathematical practice called Psychohistory based on macro data, then by an invisible hand guide the evolution of civilization across eons, led by the eminent Hari Seldon. In those books, similar in some ways to what Cambridge Analytica did, numerous psychological manipulations happened both benevolently and malevolently.