Friday, September 18, 2015

Communication breakdown?

As the sort of person who frets about the loss of individual languages (having been gripped by Mark Abley's book on the subject), I was horrified to be confronted with William Davies' vision of a near future in which language has atrophied away altogether. Surveying recent technological developments and preoccupations, Davies argues that a primary goal of so-called "smart" technology is to understand and predict what users might want based on their previous and current behaviour, and that this is seen as a more reliable guide than what they would actually say. Traditional verbal communication is thus under fire, as a source of accidental confusion and a means of being deliberately dishonest or disingenuous. Non-verbal "brain-to-brain communication" is the new ideal.

However, as Davies implies, it's not as though such views are entirely innocent. Ultimately, companies are driven towards developing such predictive technologies to understand what people "really want" in the hope that this will enable them to better meet those needs and desires and thereby increase profits. What's more, he points out that verbal communication can't be owned by anyone (much to the chagrin of corporations who try to trademark terms), whereas alternative means of communication can: "Industrial capitalism privatized the means of production. Digital capitalism seeks to privatize the means of communication." A bleak future indeed.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

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