The 21st Century Digitized Panoptican

Humanyze is a data analytic company. Its mission is to monitor employee’s work day through the use of digital technology. Designed at MIT, The Humanyze Badge Platform allows employers to monitor their employees every second of every minute of every hour whilst employed in their company, collecting all kinds of data related to their work and personal and professional communications. Humanyze’s ideas are nothing new. The digitization of Taylor’s flawed theory of ‘scientific management” is already used by corporate technology companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook etc.) to gather personal data, bother them with annoying, irrelevant advertising as well as to monitor their employees. But now it has gone mainstream in the workplace.

Taylor (1856-1916) was a determinist who believed that everything a human is and does can be measured or quantified. Taylorism attempted to analyze and measure workflows in the early days of manufacturing and corporate industrialism. I recall it in the 1970’s while working in a company who instituted a “Time and Motion Department”.  It wasn’t to monitor the washrooms. Its main focus was on measuring product output and meeting targets-if the target was met employees were doing their job-if it wasn’t the people from the ‘Time and Motion’ Department marched in with their clipboards, observed the means of production, took copious amounts of notes, then departed. A week or so later a new machine or a few more employees appeared or disappeared.

While Taylorism diminished as a theory in the quarter half of the 20th century, other theories grew around it-these incorporated the deterministic ideas of scientism along with behaviorism, logical positivism and a crude form of rationality theory.

Humanyze has taken these de-humanizing theories and turned them into a kind of digitized quasi- moral argument for protecting both employers and employees through “a commitment by a company to continuous improvement” (Humanyze, 2016) while in reality it is the intrusive monitoring of employees in the workplace.

Humanyze’s Badge platform, by its own admission “is at its most powerful when adopted company wide” (Humanyze, 2016) It is a somewhat naïve and cynical argument to claim that the badge “empowers employees to benchmark themselves against career path goals and take actions to achieve those goals” It is misleading. In actuality all kinds of data may be collected about employees without their full knowledge and informed consent. They may not know the nature of the data collected and how it will be used.

Humanyze is the digitization of the Panoptican (Bentham 1748-1832). The concept of Humanyze’s design is to allow all employees of a company to be observed and monitored by a single person or piece of technology without them being able to tell whether or not they are being observed or monitored.

In Bentham’s time it was physically impossible for a single person to observe and monitor everyone at once, the fact that those in the Panoptican could not know when they were being observed or monitored meant that everyone had to act as though they were being observed and monitored all the time. Humanyze’s product allows for the continuous monitoring of employees and the mass accumulation of data on every single employee of a company. The sinister ‘buy in’ sought from employees according to big data analytics, is that they have access to their data. However, they’ve no control over how their data is to be used.

Humanyze’s products are marketed “to leverage internal digital communication and to identify risks within their organization” (Humanyze, 2016). This is simply the obfuscation of the real goal which is to gather employee data and use that data to bring to realization the Orwellian concept of compliant citizen workers. The risks to an employee’s privacy are subjugated to the crude theories of managerialism whereby “Managers can proactively understand disruptions to their teams or can be warned of potential project failures based on communication gaps and  senior leadership can understand the behavior profiles of high performing teams and target training to raise the performance of all teams” (Humanyze, 2016). The potential misuse of data and the ethical consideration which should underpin the mass gathering of employee data (or anyone’s for that matter) are missing.

Humanyze declares unashamedly the extent to which an employee’s privacy will be invaded: “As part of the Digital Platform, Humanyze offers fully automated extraction services to enable ease of deployment. Our extraction tool, DGGT (pronounced “dig it”), will allow your technical staff to configure and automate extractions for most major email, calendar, and chat platforms (Humanyze, 2016).

Humanyze hasn’t considered all  the legal and ethical implications of its products. For example there’s the potential for discrimination. The use of data analytics by the public and private sector may be used by governments and companies to make determinations about our lives and our own right to self-determination. The use of predictive analytics makes decisions and judgments about people and will have a negative impact on individuals because it is devoid of any value based social communicative process. Humanyze potentially and in all likelihood legitimizes covert discrimination of employees through its data analytics. It will be very difficult for any employee to detect and prove they are being subject to any kind of discrimination based upon their age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status or socioeconomic status.

In addition there is the potential for massive breaches of personal data. Already we’ve seen the exposure of millions of employees and private citizen’s personal details through hacking.  (Armerding, 2014).

There is also the risk of big data being used by second and third parties for research purposes without legal and ethical consent from those whose data has been collected. It isn’t possible to securely anonymise all data. Individuals and groups can always be identified.

If Humanyze’s products are to have integrity then individual employees should have control over what data companies collect on them and how it is used.

Unlike Europe and the UK, data protection in the United States is complex when it isn’t used randomly by Government agencies and their surrogates. Sotto and Simpson describe US data protection laws like a ‘patchwork quilt” (Sotto & Simpson, 2014) and reading through the complex laws at a federal and state level it seems that “…in regulated contexts…individuals are provided with limited choices regarding the use of their information”. This is perhaps something everyone knows-but a digitized Panoptican isn’t going to reverse this or for that matter change anything in favor of the individual in the foreseeable future.

 

 

 

 

References

Armerding, T. (2014, December 8). The 5 worst Big Data privacy risks (and how to guard against them). Retrieved from CSO: http://www.csoonline.com/article/2855641/big-data-security/the-5-worst-big-data-privacy-risks-and-how-to-guard-against-them.html

Humanyze. (2016, September 14). Humanyze: How It Works. Retrieved from Humanyze: http://www.humanyze.com/products.html

Sotto, L., & Simpson, A. (2014). Data and Privacy Protection. London: Law Business Research.

 

 

 

Technology: How much is too much?

One of the more comic technology items introduced in 2013 was the iPotty. A simple device was attached to a toilet training potty for very young children. They could play with apps and Google away while waiting for nature’s call. Now in itself it may seem harmless, yet the problem is that this key developmental stage in an infant’s life has a lasting impact on their personality. Harsh punishment during toilet training create a submissive personality. The theory being if we can control little children biologically, they’ll be equally submissive adults and seek out authority figures to tell them how to live their life. There’s some evidence for this view. In the former East Germany toddlers in State run crèches were all sat upon a toilet training bench and required to toilet on cue. Later they became submissive citizens of an authoritarian state. The theory goes that an iPotty creates co-dependence on technology. As the child grows and develops, every time it answers the call of nature, it would need access to an iPad. One doesn’t want to over analyze here, but there are obvious developmental issues as the child grows into adolescence and adulthood. In fact I’ve often wondered why so many people enter public conveniences with an iPad or digital device in hand.
There’s no doubt that the iPad and its multiple applications, along with other mobile devices have brought additional resources into the daily lives of everyone. Yet most of us are conflicted. On the one hand we argue for creating more civilized societies, becoming interconnected and building a better world; while on the other hand we embraces technologies some of which have the most devastating and alienating effects on families and communities and undermine the very concept of nurture and a duty of care towards one another.
For example, there’s evidence to suggest people behave more rudely and aggressively online. Psychologists call this the dis-inhibition effect- a name for bad-mannered, anti-social behavior. It is suggested that people feel less inhibited when not seen and can express themselves more freely and without feeling vulnerable to criticism. But the result of this kind of reasoning put into practice can have devastating and tragic consequences. One of the cruelest examples of online anonymity and the dis-inhibition effect is the tragic and untimely death of 13 year old Megan Meier. Megan began receiving nasty messages from a boy a few weeks after she met him, via her MySpace account. After many messages of kindness and support she received one telling her the ‘world would be a better place without you’. Megan believed she had been rejected by the boy and committed suicide in her home. However, the boy never existed. He was a virtual character created by Lori Drew, a 47 year old married woman and a mother herself, who lived four houses down the street. Whereas parents were once the bridge between home life and the social interaction of their children, today technology is taking on that role. The once strong, stable pillars of family and community are being replaced by bridges of aluminum and fiberglass courtesy of Apple Inc., Samsung and Microsoft et.al.
For the most part I can fully appreciate and understand the gains to humanity through the development of technologies which assist and aid us in understanding and improving the human condition. Yet, on occasion events occur which cause me to pause and reflect on where we are heading. Such a moment occurred after reading a BBC news report about a company which markets neuroscience educational kits for children. It developed a very small electronic device which is glued to the back of a cockroach. This can be controlled through a downloadable app on a mobile phone. The child is able to control the movement of the creature. The company argues that allowing children to dissect another creature, place electronic devices into it and control its movements is giving them a 5-10 year head start on those in graduate schools studying neuroscience. They further claim they are aware of the shortcomings of the kinds of experiments their peculiar equipment enables kids to perform on other creatures, but suggest they are justified due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current primary, middle and secondary school curricula. It is by all accounts a misleading and false argument.
Those of my generation learned a lot in primary school about neuroscience without being asked to cut-up another creature. I recall wonderful teachers who would take us for walks and lets us smell the earth, flowers, sea, and explain why we had such a painful reaction to accidentally standing on a broken shell, or nail or piece of glass-it was all quite wonderful, intriguing and followed up with diagrams and drawings of humans and other creatures showing how the brain and central nervous system functions. It was an interactive, highly sociable communicative process which instilled in us a lifelong love of science and a mutual respect for all living creatures-even those we didn’t like-the cockroach, spider and ants to name a few. We learned their role in the wonderful complex Eco-system called life, along with the importance of a human being’s necessary moral relationship with other creatures.
To argue that allowing children to capture and mutilate then insert electrodes into the head and body of another creature will ‘create the next generation of neural engineers, scientists and physicians’ is fabricated nonsense. Humans and other creatures have an equal interest in maintaining an Eco-system – even in the digital age-which ensures the survival of all species. Humans and other creatures matter a lot. It is this key relationship between ourselves and other living things we need to understand in the digital age. So, how much is too much technology? Today we’ve gone beyond an answer to such a question. A more meaningful question is whose brave new world do we want to live in, our own or one belonging to someone else?

Education, Power & Wealth

The subsummation of 21st century education into an advanced capitalist framework reaches its Zenith in Jose Ferreira’s recent polemic on The Hollywoodization of Education. Ferreira is CEO of Knewton, a self-described ‘adaptive learning company’. It’s actually a euphemism for edutainment in education rather than any serious attempt at marketing the pedagogical understanding of how children learn and what kinds of knowledge and skills they need to acquire in the 21st century.
His opening observation adulating the large amounts of money that Harvard Business School Professor’s make set the tone for his comments. Yet, he purposefully ignores the average monthly teacher salaries, and the terms and conditions of teachers in countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh to name a few of the developing countries with outdated, and under resourced educational systems (and poor internet/online infrastructures). He also neglects other more developed countries like New Zealand, Australia and Ireland where teachers seldom earn up to $50,000-60,000 annually.
Ferreira offers no coherent argument in affording celebrity status to online teachers and his views and opinions tend to reflect other well-meaning (but misguided) Digital entrepreneurs who preach with an evangelical zeal that the all children (including the 70 million who do not get an education) will be better off if they are schooled via an online medium or through a digitalized curriculum. Ferreira’s claims, like so many other well intentioned, non-educationalists that the internet and other digital tools will bring about ‘star quality teachers’ whose salaries will equal that of movie stars and other notable (and unknowable) celebrities. Quite a claim to make given the lack of evidence over the last 20 years of online learning and educational technologies in our schools and universities
His polemic is a bit of a ramble because he uses the language of education without really understanding what it means. For example he says that a ‘teachers effect on learning outcomes will be much more difficult to measure than that of materials’. It’s a confusing and unreliable claim to make given the multiple variables in measuring teacher effectiveness per se. On the other hand his claim that ‘teachers do much more than textbooks do’ is correct. Teaching and learning is by its very nature a social communicative process, and requires human, 3 dimensional, interpersonal interaction, NOT of the virtual reality kind.
He bases his claim on the very shaky, popularized notion that online and digitalized learning will create a kind of neo-classical, digitalized Mr. Chips (computerized of course!) He argues that “with online courses comes a new yardstick: popularity. Acting ability is only one part of being a movie a movie star: charisma, luck, and project selection matter too. Similarly, teaching ability will only be one part of being a superstar online teacher…showmanship, clarity, mass appeal, production values, etc. will all matter too”
Popularity is a highly questionable quality in the teaching profession today-some of the best teachers we ever learn from may not be popular because they do their job-those that are popular often are not the best teachers.
His claim that the “Hollywoodization” of teaching will facilitate the distribution of “star teachers” and that they will receive salaries of “ millions of dollars” is a fantasy born out of the Hollywood movie tradition about a mis-guided educational experience-we know some them: ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, ‘To Sir With Love’ ‘Dead Poets Society, Black Board Jungle, to name a few. His ideas may attract the “Bad Teacher” type AKA Cameron Diaz, but in the day-to-day life of teaching and learning, the good to great teachers will continue to be motivated out of their own passion for learning and for making a difference in the lives of the children and young people they teach. They will develop in them a critical awareness of the false promises and sophistry of the profiteer entrepreneurs of the 21st century who seek to exploit education for their own gains.

Are we as mad as hell and are we going take this anymore?

While a UK regulator is investigating whether Facebook broke data protection laws when it conducted a psychological study on users without their consent, another more serious ethical issues resides in the behavior of the two Universities who collaborated with Facebook.
Cornell University and the University of California at San Francisco seemed to have by-passed their own ethics committees while participating in the study. Any undergraduate, Master’s or Ph.D candidate knows and understands the rigorous process undertaken to get permission to conduct research which involves human subjects and/or animals-especially in the social sciences and psychology and medicine/psychiatry disciplines.
Cornell University has a 17 page document outlining a set of ethical standards to be followed while conducting research, while The University of California at San Francisco has a human research protection program in place.
The disinhibtion effect is a lack of regard for social and ethical standards in personal behavior while online and it seems to have infected the ethical standards of the two learning institutions that collaborated with Facebook. In flaunting their own ethical guidelines while collaborating with the social media website, the universities have let down their respective student populations and may have undermined their own credibility as research based institutions. Unsurprisingly, the social media website seems to have missed the ethical issue all together by wondering what all the fuss is about given that people’s data wasn’t compromised! We all should be mad as hell!

Is Facebook Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

The illusion of anonymity which surrounds online activity and social media has been shattered in a recent US court ruling. Facebook has had to comply with a court order and hand over data to assist investigators seeking evidence in a social welfare fraud case. Hundreds of people were claiming disability pensions when in fact their face book accounts revealed that they were perfectly healthy. Fraud has been around for eons, but Facebook hasn’t. The court subpoenaed data which included private messages, pictures and personal details.
The judge defined Facebook as a ‘digital landlord’; a rather clever definition really because the company controls vast amount of personal data from over a billion users world-wide, as well as drawing income from those who use its websites and server facilities. The court defined the social media website as “as a digital landlord, a virtual custodian or storage facility for millions of tenant users and their information… the search warrants authorizes the search and seizure of digital information contained within the Facebook server.” (Miller, 2014)
While the seizure of the data will have ‘free-speech’ and privacy advocates up in arms, the fact is no-one’s personal data on Facebook, or any other social media website is completely private. Facebook trawls its own user database daily for profiteering purposes, which many users could define as the “unreasonable seizure” of their personal data, and so Facebook crying foul under the fourth amendment is somewhat hypocritical.
But, it’s the legal definition which is intriguing and perhaps will wake-up the digital vox populi to the reality of living a life in someone else’s data-base, and within the strict confinement of a digital landlord’s server. Those who choose to live their personal and social lives through any kind of digital medium have very few rights, but clearly a number of legal and ethical responsibilities along with any number of unseen, or unknown legal liabilities. It seems that 21st century living in a cloud holds anything other than a silver lining.

References
Miller, J. (2014, June 27). BBC News Technology. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28055909

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, world!

Trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) sounds like it’s straight from the laboratories of a mad scientist-well in some respects it is. The exclusive, somewhat secretive world of psychiatry has used electricity as a form of ‘therapy’ for decades. Through applying electrical current directly to the brain Psychiatrists attempt the reconstruction of reality as experienced by their ‘patients’. The late Professor Thomas Szasz, himself a psychiatrist was a fierce opponent of such practices arguing that mental illnesses are not real diseases, except for those with quite specific physical symptoms like Alzheimers and Dementia. He claimed-rightly so I think-that there are no objective, verifiable approaches to identifying whether a mental illness is present or not. It is almost impossible to falsify the research findings of psychiatry, for the most part they become lost in a maze of data and statistical analysis with meaning hard to locate when applied to standardized views of acceptable human behavior.
Most if not all psychiatric diagnoses are based upon a perceived understanding of what is real and what is considered acceptable thinking as acted out within the realm of private, personal and social behavior in a culture or society. In his classic book on self-development and independence, ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him’, Sheldon B Kopp tells the insightful, witty and perceptive story about a man dressed in a white sheet and a funny pointed hat, speaking gibberish, being arrested by the police in a US town. He is taken off to a psychiatric institution, evaluated and assessed as quite mad. The following morning a dozen or so other similarly dressed persons appear at the institution while speaking the same strange language and seeking their lost friend. The captive man was eventually released into their custody. The moral of the story, according to Kopp, is that one man exhibiting strange behavior is a lunatic while a group of them represent an acceptable, if not slightly odd, community. And this seems to be the ever present danger within 21st century humanity today.
A recent online report (Young, 2014) claims that neuroscientists are able to change the brain function of healthy people through electric shock stimulation. Furthermore, the US military are testing this on their soldiers to improve and enhance their ability to react especially under stress and when deprived of sleep (Young, 2014). Researchers into this brave new world of mind-body manipulation observe the reactions of the brain through infra-red imaging. They stimulate the motor cortex and inhibit the prefrontal cortex to manipulate human cognitive processes and the accompanying physical responses. It is claimed that the results are extraordinary and improving performance and researchers maintain the effects last long term. According to the report researchers are also investigating ultrasound and laser light to manipulate brain wave patterns. This kind of research on human subjects raises serious ethical as well as medical concerns, especially around the long term effects and whether or not as the subjects age any long term damage will emerge. And whether the very essence and nature of a human being-our consciousness-should be manipulated to the extent that our actions are predetermined and we lose our capacity to exercise our free will. Perhaps we’ll find out in a similar fashion as we did when we had humans observe those nuclear tests in the deserts of the US and Australia during the 1950s when a horror was unleashed on humanity. It really is a mad, mad, mad, mad world!

References
Young, E. (2014, June 3). BBC Future. Retrieved from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140603-brain-zapping-the-future-of-war

Now I see through a Google Glass Darkly

Nothing is more perversely voyeuristic than the vox populi paparazzi edging their way into the scene of a crime, a horrific accident or a social event and recording it, uploading it to the web and holding out longingly for their few minutes of fame.
I recently gave a presentation at an international conference on the use of technology in education and before I began I asked that mobiles be put on silent and that there be no photographs, videoing or recording of my presentation. In return I offered a copy of the presentation and also gave out the name of the journal in which the paper was soon to be published. A gentleman raised his hand and said “why are you anti-technology?” I said I wasn’t that it was simply my right to protect my privacy, I didn’t want my talk uploaded to YouTube, nor did I want my picture taken and uploaded on the web without my permission. I asserted my right to privacy and my right to own and protect the copyright of my material. There was a round of applause, but not everyone was happy. Another person suggested I was not sharing my information freely, and that I was part of the great conspiracy to with-hold knowledge and information and make money from people; however neither remark is true. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I simply hold the view that my privacy is a value I uphold and have a right to, and that my copy-righted work is available and can be accessed and used at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place.
Where has the idea come from that it’s a free for all with modern technology when it comes to intruding on our lives? Who are the people responsible for undermining this basic principle of civility, which endorses the inalienable right to a private life? After all if it’s good enough for royal families and celebrities to lay claim to, it is good enough for the majority too.
In the 21st century Google and Facebook in particular have produced technologies that have eroded our personal and private lives. Their invasive technologies marketed as de rigueur for 21st century youth and for 21st century living are a lie. Their products are troublesome if we are to learn anything from the recent NASA scandal. But the debate and argument about privacy is an old one.
During the trial of Sir Thomas More, in 1535, Cromwell asked him if he had anything else to say in his defence; More replied “‘What you have hunted me for is not my actions, but the thoughts of my heart. It is a long road you have opened. For first men will disclaim their hearts and presently they will have no hearts. God help the people whose Statesmen walk your road.” (Bolt, 1990) How true this prophecy has become.

The digital age has seduced people into disclaiming their hearts and selling out to the latest gadgetry and ignoring their rights, but embracing ‘terms and conditions’ of which they have very limited knowledge. Google’s latest techno product-Google glasses- allow its users to see through them darkly-they choose a sinister, augmented, constructed reality over what is real. In addition they are allowing companies and corporation to deny the basic dignity of an employee-treating them instead like robots. Google, along with Amazon and Facebook are among the IT corporations that regards themselves as people, and vociferously protect their privacy, yet promote the use of these invasive technologies, and in doing so prevent a global population from living lives that a full, experiential and free from surveillance.

References
Bolt, R. (1990). A Man For All Seasons. London: Vintage Books.