Gavin Sheridan is right to fear the unregulated power of two such massive privately owned companies as Google and Facebook.
I have worked a great deal in recent years with machine learning and artificial intelligence and I believe that science, if anything, will provide the redemption from our ills which neither religion nor politics can give. But AI is useless without data and these companies control all our data.
My work has made one thing abundantly clear to me: the dangers of monopoly and in this specific context, the monopoly over data and communication.
Google and Facebook are the future. Or at least the technical innovations which those two companies are spearheading is the future. But none of us deserve to be ruled by FANGS and that, increasingly, is what is happening whether we like it or not.
Much research in machine learning is open source – and bravo, good news indeed. But the software is useless without the data. And the FANGs own the data.
Scientists have always been libertarians and indeed I was very heartened at first by the supposed “blockchain revolution”.
Here was technology developed by geeks in their bedrooms which was going to give the man in the Congo equal rights to his counterpart on the Clapham Omnibus. It was going to be the 3rd Wave, Internet 3, the beginnings of all things equal and fair and marvellous.
But even there the titans are taking over; the JP Morgan’s and the big banks are realising the potential of the technology. Cryptocurrency and the blockchain is now swamped by “entrepreneurs”, “influencers” and “thought leaders” interested in one thing only: lining their own pockets.
The internet, the machine age, technology was supposed to be about empowering and enriching us all. As ever, it looks set to enrich the few and to enslave the rest.
The mighty kings at the FANGs are the modern robber barons. If we do not restrict their power, split up and abolish their monopoly and put the benefits of technology into the hands of the ordinary man we will be left with a society as unequal, unjust and repressive as any we have ever seen. Perhaps more so.