The World Wide Web, a communication’s system connecting all of humanity with all the information they could ever use! What could go wrong?
By Chuck Woolery, Former Chair,……
Few consider the fact that we already had a world wide web of environmental, health, economic, trade and travel connections. And virtually no means of regulating or responding to the harms that come from each of these irreversible global web of life connections.
Then about 30 years ago the technology genius Sir Tim Berners-Lee creates the World Wide Web. He optimistically intended it to be an open platform allowing “everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries”. Now, nearly 3 decades later he’s increasingly concerned about three ‘new’ trends that we need to be address if the web is ever “to fulfill its true potential as a tool that serves all of humanity.”
His first concern was our loss of control over our personal data. It turns out that ‘free content’ isn’t free. Who could have guessed the cost would be our security? Anyone. Anyone who understands that EVERY technology comes with the same price. Every technology has multiple uses and depending on the intent of the user (and sometimes irrelevant to the user’s intent) every technology can be used for good or evil. Human freedom is a given. We are free to do anything our heart or mind desires. But reality dictates we are never free of the consequences of what we do. If someone wants to abuse it, they will find a way. This is a fundamental universal dilemma with no exceptions. The grand flaw in human thinking is our minds ability to create concepts that have no relation to reality. Such is the concept of ‘independence’. Then, we have the audacity to create government systems and structures based on that flawed concept. What could go wrong? Everything. Literally. There is not a single nation that is not at multiple risks from climate change, pandemics, WMD proliferation, international crime cartels, or global economic instability. And, it just so happens, that the WWW has been exacerbating each of these threats. Why? Because there are so many hearts and minds that have been exposed to the down sides of unregulated globalization.
Our greatest problem now is thinking we can diminish the painful forces of globalization by building walls, emphasizing nationalism, and beefing up our militaries. Instead, we must accept our irreversible global interdependence and acting accordingly to diminish those forces at their origin. The human systems and structures that we humans have created that allow the persistence of poverty, preventable infectious diseases, war, genocide, human trafficking and other obvious injustices. This means finally codifying the fundamental principle used to create the United States originally. The undebatable fact ‘all people are created equal and endowed with natural and God given rights’. The most important being the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This may come as a shock to many but ‘happiness’ does not translate into comfort. That was not the definition of the word when it was written 240 years ago. Equating the two today is a recipe for disaster.
People rightfully have different opinions on the wisdom of Betsy DeVos, our nation’s Secretary of Education. But she recently said something profound; ‘our nation and technology has provided for us with unprecedented comforts’. “But that’s not what we were made for. We were made for greatness!” I have no idea what she was thinking when she said it but I know I’ve never known any Olympic champion, Nobel Prize winner, billionaire, successful singer/actor or parent who achieved success by being comfortable.
His second concern was that the web made it too easy for misinformation. When he was creating the web did he really think the human mind would succumb to logic and fundamental principles instead of persistently defending old beliefs regardless of the millions of lives they have destroyed?
The greatest flaw of the human mind was identified for me by my mentor when in 2005, a year after I went into a prolonged depression after the result of the 2004 elections. My mind could not grasp how a majority of American voters had re-elected President Bush after the invasion of Iraq. My mentor, a NASA engineer enlightened me with the fact that the human mind has the capacity to believe anything! Literally! ANYTHING! There at least 9 other existential flaws of the human mind, anyone of which could lead to our extinction but this one…was the first, and I maintain the worst of a growing list I’ve created files for. If anyone doubts their existence, I can easily share their web links, thanks to Sir Berners-Lee’s creation. But I assure you, it won’t make a difference. Minds are just too damn resistant to change. Thus, our species is extremely susceptible to extinction.
Our minds originally evolved to solve important problems around us. We essentially solved many of the most direct threats. It’s the systemic threats our minds struggle to comprehend. So, most minds habitually protect their long-established beliefs. And the smarter the mind…usually, the more resistant it is to change. The spread of misinformation should have been anticipated, but optimism, another mental flaw, quashed that level of thought.
His third concern was that online political advertising wasn’t transparent. Unfortunately, an engineer’s mind doesn’t work like a politician’s. Engineers design things using fundamental principles inherent in the Laws of nature. Politicians create policy based on alternative principles they invented out of arrogance after being elected by a majority of citizens with little understanding why our government’s systems and structures are fundamentally dysfunctional. Example: Liberals think the problem is with guns and the Second Amendment. Conservatives think the problem is with immigration and lack of border protection. George Lakoff labels this ‘direct causation’ thinking instead of the deeper thinking essential to understand the root causes. He labels this deeper thinking as ‘systemic causation’. There is something profoundly wrong with our culture and our foreign policy that drives these (and other) lethal and often destabilizing elements. Targeting these specific problems without systemic change is doomed to fail.
Some people and organizations are trying to create measures to ensure that politicians are truthful in their advertising. Unfortunately, our freedom of speech and deficiency of citizen understanding of fundamental principles prevents such measures from being effective. Our mind’s defense of flawed concepts at any cost, combined with the accelerating volume, variety, and velocity of misinformation makes their mission impossible. And ‘Deep Fakes’ technology will soon even make it harder.
These problems are only complex if we insist on viewing them as being independent from one another and only have independent government policies to address them. Independent solutions do not exist for real-world interdependent problems. Solutions become relatively simple and obvious if we recognize the value of fundamental principles and the flaws of the human mind in abiding by them. The solutions won’t always be popular. Some may even spark violent rebellion by those with simple minds unable to grasp reality. But failing to accept our global interdependence is a sure path to human extinction.
Woody Allen once said, “Humanity stands at a cross roads. One road leads to utter hopelessness and despair. The other…to complete annihilation. I hope we have the wisdom to choose the right path”. Fortunately, there is actually a third road we could take. It’s been offered at multiple times before. Several times by spiritual leaders over the last 5000 years — each acknowledging the fundamental principle of the Golden rule (or justice for all). And twice in the last century. Both after catastrophic World Wars. And each time, human minds resisted the obvious solution. They simply could not abandon the flawed concepts of ‘independence’, unbridled capitalism, and ‘peace through strength (or disarmament)’. Abandoning them would mean putting the protection of human rights and the environment above the rights of nation states and corporations.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee has now created The Web Foundation. It is “at the forefront of the fight to advance and protect the web for everyone.” He needs to know that it will only succeed if the bigger fight to protect fundamental human rights and a sustainable environment proceeds first over the power of national governments and corporations.