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The upside to having an algorithmic version of you in cyberspace is that a business can save time and money by targeting people that they know will like their stuff. It’s a safe bet; they do not have to wonder what you think about them or their product. From a business perspective, it removes speculation. You can perceive the value of this because you are like this, too.
How many decisions have you made where you wished you knew the outcome before you stepped out “in faith?” We all have been there: “Lord, I want to trust you, but if you could give me some objective assurance of the outcome, I would feel better about making [this] decision.” Of course, that is not faith, but an individual who wants to know the end before they begin.
I would like to know what my children are thinking (or I think I would like to know). On its face, it sounds like a good idea, but we intuitively know that having information that obliterates all privacy cannot be good. Though trusting God about the mysteries of life (or about others) cuts against our natural instincts to know more, it’s best to have a few fig leaves in our lives.
The downsides are apparent. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) presumes too much. They think they know you, but they don’t. They can gain cyber snapshots and snippets about your life, but they can never know all of you. Ironically, in the cyber world, they are more likely to know the worst parts of us because we’re more likely to Google our secrets while presenting a better representative of ourselves to our real-world friends.
To give us a false sense of security, Safari introduced a private browsing feature, which was enhanced by other browsers as an option for their customers to choose if they want to leave traces of cyber-dust where they have been on the Internet. The Christian community sent up flares because this created a cyber backdoor to go porn hunting with impunity—a legitimate concern.
I’m not sure if the creators of private browsing had the pornographer in mind, but I’m sure they were thinking about the advantages of not being watched by big brother, something we all can affirm to be a not-so-good thing. For example, if you’re on a job you dislike, you can spend your break surfing the net for other employment opportunities with less concern of discovery. Whether prying eyes in the workplace or cyberspace, there can be wisdom in not having every byte of your life under the scrutiny of others.
The Safari engineers could not have known how this feature would eventually go to war with the world’s AI developers. For example, Google aims to use AI to predict what you want before you even know you want it. That is their 300-year plan, as reported in the book, Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Google has already conquered less futuristic and more reachable goals: They can tell you what you’re looking for as fast as you can type the first few letters in your browser.
I do like that feature. When I type “R” in my browser, it immediately tells me that I am looking for my website, RickThomas.net. My browser has memorized some of my habits. I wish you could type the letter “R” into your browser, and our ministry would populate the browser faster than you could type whatever you had in mind.
Self-populating options on-demand to fit your preferences have a significant upside, but what about the downside? Suppose you went for one of those Facebook clickbait ads that took you to something that was not only dumb but not representative of your real interests. Or what if you landed on a gossip site because there was a tidbit that you could not resist?
You immediately jump off that site, never to return. Good for you, but that one click becomes part of the algorithmic version of yourself. Later, you accidentally click a Viagra ad. That, too, becomes part of the algorithmic version of yourself. Every click, no matter what it is, creates your algorithmic reflection. The cyber gods want to “serve you,” so they work hard to predict your next move.
AI will not go away, and neither will our desire to crave one more thing. Humans have always wanted to be self-reliant since they walked away from God in Genesis 3:6. Give a human a brick, and he’ll build a mountain to the heavens. Give them the power to control your mind, and there is nothing that will stop them—unless you determine to educate yourself and make different choices.
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them (Genesis 11:5-7).
My goal is not to scare you unnecessarily, but I must warn you about this new world, which is unlike any other time in our history. You can defend yourself. Private browsing is one option. Purchasing a VPN security service like Express VPN is another possibility. It’s an encrypted security service that masks your IP from search engines. Having secure password protection is essential. We use LastPass. Of course, there are protective companies like Covenant Eyes.
Some of the biggest culprits are Google, Facebook, and Twitter, as far as the data they collect, the direction they can guide you, or the information they provide. Most folks are aware of the mind control that Google implements to drive elections, as one example. If you were to type tech’s favorite political candidate into their browser, they would give you a list of positive news sources that promote their person.
If they do not want a candidate to win an election, they set up the algorithm to give you negative information about that candidate. You can verify this by typing the most recent presidential candidates. One will have the first page with positive reviews, and the other will have negative information. If you’re on the Internet, you cannot remain ignorant about these matters.
Your best bet is to use your computer wisely. Steward this common grace the Lord has given to you. Here are a few suggestive tips for your consideration. I hope it will encourage you to fortify yourself against the tech gods.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).