There's no guessing at Big Tech's fortune in 2023
The curtain draws to a close in 2022. As a tumultuous year for the digital economy ends, we find ourselves on a cliffhanger. Second acts on many developments are only still playing out.
Will the Metaverse see a new lease of life in 2023?
Will Elon Musk succeed in driving Twitter to the ground completely?
Will the Tech industry survive its badly dented fortunes at the stock market?
Is it time to bury crypto once and for all?
A changed policy landscape also awaits us in 2023, with the EU’s Digital Market Act and Digital Service Act both having come into force over the course of November. These new frameworks are part of the EU’s efforts to shore up its own digital economy, and to challenge current dominance of American and Chinese tech giants. It will be worth tracking their fare in action, as other legislative processes with similar intended objectives pick up steam across various jurisdictions. Furthermore, we are likely to see greater momentum in the coming year on critical initiatives such as the UN Global Digital Compact.
Dear reader, we have no spoilers to share. It remains to be seen what forces will prevail in the months to come. Dismantling Big Tech power though is not a short-term goal. It is crucial that progressive actors continue to question, challenge and resist, as well as stay tuned to the ever-shifting frontiers of digital justice. As always, DataSyn strives to be a tool of knowledge, awareness and conscientization in this aim.
In this year-end issue, we spotlight key areas and debates that need our attention as we commence 2023. Reflecting on the need to move beyond privacy as we fight Big Tech’s encroachment into healthcare, carefully unpacking the tensions and synergies between environmental and digital justice, and tracing the contours of a novel ‘digital Taylorism’, our essays deliver a wealth of critical analysis to keep you engaged through the holiday season.
Also check out our sins and synergies new-year edition, curated with recommendations from the wider IT for Change team.
The Datasyn Team
THE NEW DIVERGENCE
Big Tech Makes Political Choices About Our data: We Should do the Same
Barbara Prainsack & Seliem El-Sayed
As Big Tech’s influence over healthcare accelerates, and platformization moves to disrupt and reorganize the sector around digitally-mediated technology, one of the most important issues with respect to governance is that of sensitive health data. Barbara Prainsack and Seliem El-Sayed argue that we need a thoughtful and critical approach to this problem, one that transcends the concern for safeguarding privacy and centers agency over our data.
THE BIG EXCESS
Digital Justice is a Matter of Environmental Justice Or at least it Should be
The two most significant macro-level challenges that affect our world today are climate change and digitalization. Yet there is little discussion that interrogates the obvious but still overlooked relationship between them. Cédric Leterme seeks to rectify this gap through an incisive piece, where he traces the contours of the synergies and tensions between the movements for justice within the two fields and the role of Big Tech therein.
The Human Labour of Automation
The discourse around automation is often being mired in apocalyptic scenarios that are both alarmist and easy to completely dismiss at the same time. More nuanced perspectives of this phenomenon are harder to come by. In his piece, Moritz Altenreid surveys the emerging configurations of AI and human labour, and points to the emergence of new kinds of ‘Digital Taylorism’.
The Sins & Synergies Lounge - Special Edition
To mark the end of 2022, we bring to you an extended Sins & Synergies Lounge, courtesy of our colleagues at IT for Change. From fiction that swoops you away - albeit briefly - to a tech-utopia, to incisive reports on the unscrupulous nature of Big Tech, our colleagues have picked out some recommendations that spoke to them the most this year.
In an age where cultural criticism is a social media staple, foraging beyond TikTok videos and YouTube vlogs to understand the pulse of the generation is unusual. Jia Tolentino returns to the medium of paper for her essay series titled Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion where she meditates on the experiences of a millennial’s life as refracted through the prism of social media.
Using examples of science fiction-inspired hyperbolic predictions that tech-gurus vouch for, Teresa Heffernan’s talk on AI and a Post-Apocalyptic Imaginary reaffirms the need to separate science fiction from scientific realities. Without a critical lens that picks apart the promises made by Big Tech, she says, we only continue to proliferate the savior-narrative that tech companies use to justify their capture of power.
When some researchers of SumOfUs entered Meta’s VR platform in May 2022, they were taken aback by how quickly they encountered the virtual counterparts of sexual assault, grooming, homophobia and racism. In their report, Metaverse: Another Cesspool of Toxic Content, they warn us of a darker and more toxic environment that awaits us in the next iteration of internet, calling for governments across the world to implement more stringent Big Tech regulations.
As affective computing becomes more eerily effective in gauging the complexities of human emotion, the boundaries between human and machine only continue to become blurry. Kazuo Ishiguro in his novel Klara and the Sun introduces us to the idea of “Artificial Friends” and explores what it means to be human and what it means to love.
Reflecting on the future of AI-ethics, Timnit Gebru speaks to Design Better, elucidating on the need to have equity-driven design thinking in the construction of AI tools. She delineates on the myriad of ways in which bias seeps into popularly-used AI tools because of an industry-wide ignorance of inclusive design.
Education technology (EdTech) swept the world during the pandemic as a seemingly viable alternative to classroom learning. Human Rights Watch’s timely investigation found that in a rush to connect children to online classrooms, governments across the world have put millions of children’s privacy at risk by integrating unregulated private EdTech software into their online education tools.
In an era where brain-computer interfacing is slated to become reality (re: NeuraLink), re-visiting the fictional imaginaries of the past century can offer us some tools of prediction. Read Ted Chiang’s seminal novella collection, Stories of Your Life and Others where he introduces us to the ups and downs of his tech-driven future, and analyses what it means to wade through the phantasmagoria of tech-mediated sociality.
2022 saw the Google-LaMDA controversy enter popular discourse, along with several Big Tech companies pledging to uphold “AI-ethics”. This thoughtful anthology shows us how industry participation in ‘ethical AI’ research has created a new ‘economy of virtue’ revealing how an investment in ethics as a service and product is ultimately a step towards regulatory capture.
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