Seeing Like a Data Structure

Essay by Barath Raghavan and Bruce Schneier: “Technology was once simply a tool—and a small one at that—used to amplify human intent and capacity. That was the story of the industrial revolution: we could control nature and build large, complex human societies, and the more we employed and mastered technology, the better things got. We don’t live in that world anymore. Not only has technology become entangled with the structure of society, but we also can no longer see the world around us without it. The separation is gone, and the control we thought we once had has revealed itself as a mirage. We’re in a transitional period of history right now.

We tell ourselves stories about technology and society every day. Those stories shape how we use and develop new technologies as well as the new stories and uses that will come with it. They determine who’s in charge, who benefits, who’s to blame, and what it all means.

Some people are excited about the emerging technologies poised to remake society. Others are hoping for us to see this as folly and adopt simpler, less tech-centric ways of living. And many feel that they have little understanding of what is happening and even less say in the matter.

But we never had total control of technology in the first place, nor is there a pretechnological golden age to which we can return. The truth is that our data-centric way of seeing the world isn’t serving us well. We need to tease out a third option. To do so, we first need to understand how we got here…(More)”

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