Electronic Brainwashing

The tweets came days after Facebook was caught in the middle of accusation that the social media giant secretly provided the UK based Cambridge Analytica analytic and data mining firm access to 50 million profiles without the consent of users. The privacy breach incident was exposed by a whistleblower Christopher Wylie who worked on the project while working for Cambridge Analytica. In return, Facebook suspended Wylie’s Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp accounts.

The breach started when Cambridge Analytica, conducted a survey in Facebook on 270,000 people which somehow gave access to not only the profiles they were conducting the survey on but all the profiles in their friends list. At the end, Cambridge Analytica had access to over 50 million user accounts and were developing profiles on them.

Cambridge Analytica is a UK based Analytics company which specializes in political consulting which combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for electoral process.

Now having the user data (What a person likes, eats, ideologies that he/she believes in ..) of 50 million people, the firm can now — using it’s advanced AI algorithm — develop plans to change our political views and make it’s client manipulate their voters to vote for them. Their clients include The Donkey President Donald J Trump, Rahul Ghandhi and almost most of the winning candidates all around the world. We know this works because people actually voted for Trump and Trump admits it in TV that he’s using third party agencies ( not Russia ) to make strategic plans for elections.

Here's how Trump administration used Cambridge Analatica to rig elections, Admitted by the Spray Tan God, Donald Trump.

Now if it would have been a basic ‘sell them that stuff’ breach where the firm would have made us buy stuff to increase some company’s sale, we’d be fine with it at some lengths, but changing our political ideology and reforming our whole mindset to vote for a person is not. This is basically a Hypnosis without consent, an Electronic Brainwashing.

Now here Facebook is much more to be blamed on, not only they had allowed the breach to take place under their noses, but also they had not come to public about it and made the data mining to continue. Facebook’s employees have said that there’s a tension between the security team and the legal/policy team in terms of how they prioritize user protection in their decision-making.

The problem with Facebook is not *just* the loss of our privacy and the fact that it can be used as a totalitarian panopticon. The more worrying issue, in my opinion, is its use of digital information consumption as a psychological control vector. The world is being shaped in large part by two long time trends: first, our lives are increasingly dematerialized, consisting of consuming and generating information online, both at work and at home. Second, AI is getting even smarter.

These two trends overlap at the level of the algorithms that shape our digital content consumption. Opaque social media algorithms get to decide, to an ever-increasing extent, which articles we read, who we keep in touch with, whose opinions we read, whose feedback we get Integrated over many years of exposure, the algorithmic curation of the information we consume gives the systems in charge considerable power over our lives, over who we become. By moving our lives to the digital realm, we become vulnerable to that which rules it — AI algorithms

If Facebook gets to decide, over the span of many years, which news you will see (real or fake), whose political status updates you’ll see, and who will see yours, then Facebook is in effect in control of your political beliefs and your worldview. This is not quite news, as Facebook has been known to run since at least 2013 a series of experiments in which they were able to successfully control the moods and decisions of unwitting users by tuning their newsfeeds’ contents, as well as prediction user's future decisions.

In short, Facebook can simultaneously measure everything about us, and control the information we consume. When you have access to both perception and action, you’re looking at an AI problem. You can start establishing an optimization loop for human behavior. A Real Life loop. A loop in which you observe the current state of your targets and keep tuning what information you feed them, until you start observing the opinions and behaviors you wanted to see. A good chunk of the field of AI research (especially the bits that Facebook has been investing in) is about developing algorithms to solve such optimization problems as efficiently as possible, to close the loop and achieve full control of the phenomenon at hand. In this case, us.

This is made all the easier by the fact that the human mind is highly vulnerable to simple patterns of social manipulation. While thinking about these issues, I have compiled a short list of psychological attack patterns that would be devastatingly effective. Some of them have been used for a long time in advertising (e.g. positive/negative social reinforcement), but in a very weak, un-targeted form. From an information security perspective, you would call these "vulnerabilities": known exploits that can be used to take over a system.

In the case of the human mind, these vulnerabilities never get patched, they are just the way we work. They’re in our DNA. They're our psychology. On a personal level, we have no practical way to defend ourselves against them. The human mind is a static, vulnerable system that will come increasingly under attack from ever-smarter AI algorithms that will simultaneously have a complete view of everything we do and believe, and complete control of the information we consume.

Importantly, mass population control — in particular political control — arising from placing AI algorithms in charge of our information diet does not necessarily require very advanced AI. You don’t need self-aware, super-intelligent AI for this to be a dire threat. So, if mass population control is already possible today — in theory — why hasn’t the world ended yet? In short, I think it’s because we’re really bad at AI. But that may be about to change. You see, our technical capabilities are the bottleneck here. Until 2015, all ad targeting algorithms across the industry were running on mere logistic regression. In fact, that’s still true to a large extent today — only the biggest players have switched to more advanced models.

It is the reason why so many of the ads you see online seem desperately irrelevant. They aren't that sophisticated. Likewise, the social media bots used by hostile state actors to sway public opinion have little to no AI in them. They’re all extremely primitive. For now. AI has been making fast progress in recent years, and that progress is only beginning to get deployed in targeting algorithms and social media bots. Deep learning has only started to make its way into newsfeeds and ad networks around 2016. Facebook has invested massively in it. Who knows what will be next. It is quite striking that Facebook has been investing enormous amounts in AI research and development, with the explicit goal of becoming a leader in the field. What does that tell you? What do you use AI/RL for when your product is a newsfeed?

We’re looking at a powerful entity that builds fine-grained psychological profiles of over two billion humans, that runs large-scale behavior manipulation experiments, and that aims at developing the best AI technology the world has ever seen.

Personally, it really scares me.