4 min read

#26: The Extractive Mindset

#26: The Extractive Mindset

A small taste

Algorithms have changed everything. Literally everything. And not for the better.

To be clear, this form of artificial intelligence is inevitable. Big tech's desire for data has gone beyond the point of no return. But how it affects us, as individuals, is what alarms me.

I should say, how it affects me. I'm immune to the ads that appear on various websites. In fact, I'm kind of comforted that the goods out there in the world are the ones that I've looked at for whatever reason. Rarely am I tempted by a new product, simply cause I'm too lazy.

But I have realised that I'm not immune to the temptations of the algorithms. Over the summer, I watched Netflix's series 'Drive to Survive'. It is a behind the scenes look, with almost unrestricted access to the teams and drivers of Formula 1.

What got me started was seeing how they portrayed the 2020 Australian Grand Prix. Just hours from starting, it was all cancelled because of Covid. As with Netflix, the only way to get out alive is to binge. Rip the band-aid off and give away eight hours of your life.

At first, I was interested in the storytelling. They were telling discrete stories about a specific driver or a team, within a larger context of a year's worth of racing.

I was fine with watching all four seasons.

But then YouTube got wind of my awareness of F1. And I found myself watching videos about the upcoming season, and the changes to the cars, and the politics.

How the fuck did this happen? I have never been interested in car racing. But now I've watched the highlights of the first two Grand Prix's of the season.

And I'm not alone. The upcoming Australian Grand Prix, the first since 2019, has sold more tickets than ever before.

Obviously Netflix and YouTube make money by gluing my eyeballs to the screen, like that scene in the Matrix where the machines sustain themselves on the energy of the humans stuck in the artificial womb.

The Matrix: Using humans as a power source wouldn't work in the real world  | SYFY WIRE

The AI has correctly pegged me as someone likely to have access to a Netflix account. It would have started with a single temptation. A small video that I can't even recall what it was. Just a taste.

AI is not the first incarnation of this mindset. We did it thousands of years ago with animals. A stray bone, or exclusive access to a pastured field, tempted our first domesticated animals. We give them a source of energy, and then we extract an energy we can use. We can't eat grass, but we can eat cows.

This is who I have become. And I don't fuckin like it.

The Extractive Mindset

When thinking about any new idea, it is often advisable to define what is not part of the idea. This opposite will often shed new light on what you had in mind.

The concept of an extractive mindset is plaguing civilisation and will cause our demise as a species.

The antonym of extract is relinquishment, to give ourselves to a bigger goal. Psychology refers to this as a collectivist culture and is typical in Asian societies.

The antithesis of suppressing what is best for a society is to act in accordance to what is best for the individual. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England and the US are individualist cultures, valuing independent and individual views.

Think about how much we spend on things that literally didn't exist twenty years ago. I subscribe to a music service that now curates all my listening. I pay money to watch what was once free, or actually go to a cinema for the experience of watching a movie with friends on a big arse screen. I have access to every single book ever published.

I pay money for the devices that give me access to those services. Apple is reportedly crafting a subscription model for iPhones.

All up, it can amount to thousands of dollars.

This is not the way the world worked. Everything is about how I can extract as much value out of the need to pay attention to things that normally didn't interest me.

Relinquish control

As a tiny experiment, I kept a VPN on for the day. Suddenly I there were PSAs on gun control and brands of crisps I've never heard of. In fact, I'm not sure what a crisp is (a biscuit or a chip?)

I felt freed in some weird way. The AI lost sight of who it thought I was.

A colleague asked me how to stop YouTube showing menopause commercials as she was showing videos to her classes. She wasn't technologically literate, and didn't understand the concept of different profiles, a kind of detente between the individual and the algorithms. So, it forced her to spend hours searching up monster trucks and beer just to send the AI off her hormonal tracks.

This is how the world ends

It won't be with a bang, but with a software upgrade. We can not tackle the climate change emergency whilst our eyes are engaging with the algorithm. It isn't in Big Tech's interests. The need for growth and revenue, the need to extract as much value now, will always outstrip the need to relinquish those profits for the greater good.