Warning: There Is an Algorithmic Version of You on the Internet

Warning There Is an Algorithmic Version of You on the Internet

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An algorithm is a formula for collecting data about you to make your life better, so they say. It’s a collection of data bits that reflects your Internet habits; it’s a cyber-reflection of you. In marketing, an algorithm on a person helps sellers target specific demographics and individuals, which is why they have created an algorithmic version of you in cyberspace. The tech gods want to know about you so they can help you, so they say.

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Algorithmic Upside

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.

Algorithmic Downside

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.

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Predicting You

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?

Resistance Is Futile

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).

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It’s Not Hopeless

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.

Call to Action

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.

  1. Don’t click on everything that comes across your screen. Ask God to give you discernment and self-control. Resist temptation, and perhaps a fast or “cutting the cord” are better options if it’s too much.
  2. Learn what clickbait is and don’t fall for it. You may forget the nugget that tempted you to click on it, but your algorithm will not. Guard against daydreaming, time-wasting, and those weak moments where you’re mindlessly navigating endless streams that don’t provide redemptive outcomes.
  3. If you are receiving ads that you don’t like, you have clicked on something they add to your algorithmic self. Be aware that the cyber-dust is collecting, and it’s a picture of you.
  4. Let others see your history. If you or other family members keep a clean history, you need to investigate why. It does not have to be wrong to keep a clean slate, but don’t assume that is the case. Christians don’t live in the shadows.
  5. Use a resource like Covenant Eyes to bring some accountability to your computer usage. Ask a friend to receive your data daily so someone is looking over your shoulder.
  6. Share your computer with others, e.g., your spouse, parent, or child. Situate your computer screen where your friends or family can easily see it.
  7. Let others have your passwords, which gives them instant access to what you can see and explore. If spouses are not in a “one flesh” agreement over this matter, there is some work for them to do. (I realize some jobs have confidentiality issues, but those are the exceptions.)
  8. Spend more time with your friends or reading books than being on the Internet. Create rational rules for computer and device usage. E.g., do not bring a device to a meal, whether in the home or a restaurant. When talking with someone, turn your mobile device face down so that you can give your undivided attention to the person in front of you.
  9. Be an active participant in your community rather than a passive receptor of the information age. Get off Facebook and get a life! Too much surfing and consuming are passive exercises where the individual is not an active participant. The word “amuse” means “without the mind.” Do not do mind-void things.
  10. Take control of your algorithm by clicking only on things that truly represent you. If it’s the person you want the cyber-gods to know, then be that person who is the same in your real-world relationships. If your cyber self and real self are different, something is wrong.
  11. Find websites, organizations, and ministries that provide you with the information you want rather than getting the same information from platforms that want to harvest your cyber-dust. E.g., become a member of our community where you can access millions of words, thousands of podcasts, and videos. Spend your time in Christian communities.

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