AI's Echo Chamber

Search and select – big tech nudges

In July 2019, Robert Epstein (PhD) testified before congress in relation to research he has been conducting since 2012 on Google – specifically on their power to suppress content, and manipulate thoughts and behaviour of those who use the search engine.

This PDF is an updated and expanded version of his testimonial, where he lays out the results of his research and suggestions not to disband the search engine or to make it a public entity, but rather to ‘encourage’ the tech giant to share its index with other entities (i.e. or it to become a public commons) while still retaining ownership and control thereof. Google already does this, to some degree, but Dr Epstein argues that making it available to all will encourage greater competition without weakening the infrastructure of the work already done. 

A previously released article from Bloomberg Businessweek (from page 37 of the PDF) provides a shorter summary of his arguments.

Although a lot of the research is around the search Engines ability to influence USA elections, a few highlights of his main points are worth noting:

  • ‘The rise of the internet has given these companies unprecedented power to control public policy, to swing elections, to brainwash our children, to censor content, to track our every move, to tear societies apart, to alter the human mind, and even to reengineer humanity’ – to reiterate this point, he links to a 2018 The Verge article on a leaked 2016 Google video to top execs highlighting their desire to resequence human behaviour to better align with Google’s values. 
  • ‘Google’s corporate culture revolves around the idea that we’re here to create a better world, where “better” is defined by the prevailing company values. If you doubt that, check out the leaked PowerPoint presentation, “The Good Censor“… the algorithms determine what more than three billion people around the world can or cannot see.’
  • ‘If you have been using the internet for a decade or more, Google has collected an equivalent of about 3 million pages of inormation about you…Google services are not free. We pay for them with our freedom’
  • An existing body of research suggests that these new, often invisible, ways of changing people’s thinking and behaviour are likely to have a much bigger impact on children than on adults. And who is more attached to new tech devices than anyone else? Our children, who are often unattended when they are immersed in social media or playing games or communicating with other people on their computers or mobile devices? 
  • ‘In January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the possible rise of a “technological elite” that could control public policy without people’s awareness…The elite now exists and they have more power than you think. Democracy as originally conceived cannot survive Big Tech as currently empowered. It is up to our leaders – and to every one of us as individuals – to determine where we go from there.