Let’s start this discussion with a simple question:
Is data privacy still a thing and should we even care?
To answer this question, I will provide a description of an alternative civilisation from Cixin Liu’s masterpiece. His description of Trisolaran civilisation states that by design the representatives of this civilisation are unable of deception and lies, as all their thoughts lay bare for any observer. In fact, Trisolaran civilisation managed to advance much faster than humanity, precisely because of this feature. Human mind, however, has been constructed in such a way that we are able to have one thing on our mind and another – on our tongue. This means that if at least one human being can have their real thought and intentions hidden, all others should be able to do the same. If one person has data privacy, so should anyone else. Pure game theory.
Thus, as much a question of ethics, data privacy is a matter of physical survival.
It is in fact of a paramount importance, and we should care about it a lot.
Ok, great. We do care about data. Now let’s discuss how data can be used for the Technological Advancement of Human Civilisation. Can it? Should it?
As a Transhumanist I mainly advocate the advancement of human species and stress the importance of tech & data to serve this purpose. Data should be used to help us and improve our lives. We need to be cautious not to put data at the top of the pyramid. Dataism (the worship of data) is a philosophy directly opposite to Transhumanism and should be avoided at all costs. However, we need to accept that it is data that has allowed proper development of AI & Machine Learning.
These are large amounts of agglomerated data & leaps in silicon storage capacities (Moore’s law) that have allowed the development of AI. Make no mistake – AI can and will solve most of humanity’s issues. Thus, the proper usage of data for the advancement of AI is paramount for the development of humanity.
What is a proper usage of data, then? Let’s go back to AI and usage of data – AI, like any creation, reflects the world view of its creators. What is the profile of an AI engineer? A handsome white guy in his 30s based somewhere in San Francisco. While quite simplistic, this description highlights how skewed AI and data research is towards white males. This leads to numerous cases of discrimination based on data fed into the system. Numerous reports indicate that when searched for a doctor we are usually presented with images of men, while when you are looking for a nurse, we usually find female images, clearly indicating the perceived representation of authority based on someone’s sex.
There are, obviously, much more outrageous experiments, like those showing black people when searching for apes, and reverse.
Another issue with AI is that unsupervised learning often leads to the problem of garbage-in, garbage-out results. Do we know what data is being fed to the system? Do we know how this data is being used? How are neural networks being created and trained?
Obvious solutions to those would be ensuring that Data & AI Usage and creation is more inclusive, both in terms of sex and in terms of ethnical varieties. Equally, audit of neural networks should be allowed.
Talking about data privacy it is worth checking various Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) & their role in enabling data sharing and research. Web3 & Blockchain can play a role of such technologies. If we think about the world today, we have already passed the era of web 2 (Internet & social media) and are now living in web3 (crypto, DAOs etc), where people own their data and can monetise their content. When it comes to Data Privacy, however, we are living in the age of TV (one way communication. Only thing we are being presented with is the option to opt-in or opt-out of cookies and accept or reject a user agreement. We as users get no say at all! One way of progressing in this field is by using trustless architecture (privacy by design). Google Key-Chain style interface where your data is shared through a blockchain base can provide you with true transparency & visibility over how and where your data is being used.
This layer of protection will create a barrier between yourself and all external actors where:
- You can opt in and out on certain features
- Choose what you feel comfortable sharing
- Can easily filter companies and organizations by what type of data you feel comfortable sharing
- Have a two-way communication with data collectors where you can say which data you want to share in exchange for which services
Probably, hundreds of entrepreneurs and scientists are working on the issue of data privacy. Key thing to note here is that data privacy, as much as it carries technical importance, is also the issue of morality and ethics. And there’s no textbook on how to be a moral compass of the world. Nevertheless, when it comes to such an important topic as data privacy, we need huge efforts from all walks of life to determine the morality and ethical boundaries. Everyone deserves Data Privacy – this statement seems an axiom.
- Shall we keep private the data of child pornographer or a terrorist if sharing this data can help save lives?
- Should we share the data of opposition leaders or protests organizers as per government regulation if this can lead to their imprisonment and tortures?
These questions are up to each of us to answer for ourselves.