– by Gry Hasselbalch, May 14 2015
Our destiny is a product. Fate is developed upon and innovated with. Fate is part of an actual machinery. It can be sold and traded with. Fate is something the Destiny Machine produces.
Over a very short period of time there’s been an acceleration of the integration of “destiny machines” in all areas of our lives. A complex and advanced machinery that leads, guides and defines our lives. The destiny machines are technologies, businesses and organisations designed to predict our behaviour based on the accumulation of our data and act on these predictions. They are machines developed to produce, create, act on and define destinies – an obsession increasingly embedded in ordinary organisational practices of state business, private industry and even in civil society organisations.
Every day algorithms predict our behaviour based on what we do now and what we have done before. Our lives are framed and we are pointed in specific directions. That’s what Destiny Machines do. They are developed and used to produce machine readable people and spit out destinies on the other side of the production line. And they are developed in invisible contexts of powerful interests that ask us to accept our personalized destinies without questioning their motives.
Accepting the algorithmization of our lives with no oversight or understanding of the interests embedded in these, is like accepting Fate as the governing principle of society and people. In 44 bc Cicero said:
“By ‘fate’, I mean what the Greeks call heimarmenê – an ordering and sequence of causes, since it is the connexion of cause to cause which out of itself produces anything. … Consequently nothing has happened which was not going to be, and likewise nothing is going to be of which nature does not contain causes working to bring that very thing about. This makes it intelligible that fate should be, not the ‘fate’ of superstition, but that of physics, an everlasting cause of things – why past things happened, why present things are now happening, and why future things will be.” (Cicero, On divination 1.125–6, trans. Long and Sedley 1987, 55L, from Keith Seddon, 1999 )
Cicero is rejecting ‘superstition’ as a governing principle. But by his mere insistence on the concept of fate (that of science and physics), he is at the same time accepting a restraint on free will. Direction in life determined by the accumulation of past events. A cause and effect movement that restrains the will of the individual. A philosophy that ties individual life to direction and prediction.
Throughout history there’s been several decisive moments where we’ve been asked to accept different conceptions of fate and destiny. Life confined by a destiny decided by e.g. metaphysics justified in the unsearchable reasoning of the Gods or justified by the laws of physics and a promise of objectivity. We are in one of those moments now.
But for the first time, fate and destiny is not just a concept. Fate is also a product. Fate is developed upon, innovated with. Fate is part of an actual machinery. It can be sold and traded with. Fate is something the Destiny Machine produces.
The Destiny Machine
We live in a society run by Destiny Machines. A Destiny Machine is one that uses machine readable people to produce destinies. It is an ‘industrial metaphor’ that mines and processes the “new oil” of today. The cause and the effect is the material of the machine. The destiny is the product. The Destiny Machine reads the bits and pieces of the machine readable people as causes that lead to specific effects. It looks for the cause and effect and in this way also produce the cause and effect. It processes, it explains, predicts and defines. “Why past things happened, why present things are now happening, and why future things will be.”
We might be able to find a way to live with that. If there is transparency in the machinery, if the individual has the power to fine tune the machinery, if there are neutral actors running and developing the machinery, if the driving force is the interest of the individual, if the algorithms are developed by and as angles etc. But the algorithms currently employed in all aspects of our online lives today to predict and ‘guide’ us are embedded with interests and these are not the interests of man.
The Algorithmic God (s)
The Destiny Machines are embedded with the interests of contemporary Gods. And we are asked to accept their religion of innovation without questioning. They are Gods, because they have power over people just by a mere reference to faith. We are asked to have faith in them, just because that is ‘the way the internet works’ (the ‘trust economy’), and even when they fail us dramatically, they ask us to trust them, just because. And we are asked to help rebuild trust in a system that is fundamentally broken (by practically every politican and policymaker in the world), just because.
Fate is in this way by itself a product of the destiny machine. These Gods (you know who) have built their Destiny Machines on a definition of innovation that entails the exploration and processing of personal data, the datafication, prediction and anticipation of human behaviour.
The Destiny Machine is described as a simple tool, designed to help us. Its powerful algorithms use historical data to help us make “informed decisions”, help us to e.g. “personalize content, predict user activity, filter reviews, listen to social media, analyze free text, and recommend items”. It is a type of innovation that wants to datafy every human quality from our very identities, desires, feelings and needs (the social media profile) to knowledge and creativity (The Watson computer).
This is the norm of the algorithm today. One that promises objectivity, but is actually embedded with interests. The result is the predictable human and thus a more manageable human.
Our last stand as humans is to seek unpredictability, to seize free will and rejection of produced destinies.