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HPPR Arts, Culture & History

Radio Readers BookByte: Dataism - Good, Bad & Ugly

Artificial Intelligence Elon Musk, Hawking
Wikimedia Commons

Data Yoda says, “the greatest sin would be to block the data flow.” And with missionary zeal, we are told the “great web of life” requires that everyone and everything must be connected, want it or not.

Data Yoda tells us we will live only so long as data flows freely. No flow, we die. The greatest good, therefore, is freedom of information. This, Harari says, is Dataism.

Harari writes that dataism began as neutral science but “… is mutating into a religion that claims to determine right and wrong.” Elsewhere he writes, “… the universe consists of data flows,” which he calls the supreme value.

Harari’s deployment of “Dataism” is a direct expansion of a new coinage by David Brooks in the New York Times, February 2013 and a book by New York Times’ tech writer Steve Lohr.

Brooks wrote, “If you asked me to describe the rising philosophy of the day, I’d say it is Data-ism.” Lohr, Brooks’ colleague at the New York Times, published his book “Data-ism” in 2015.

(Notice the hyphen by both writers between “data” and “ism.” Harari removes the hyphen.)

2017’s “Homo Deus,” moves “Data-ism” as philosophy to “Dataism” as religion. Although it is a little hard to be sure whether Harari is really calling dataism a religion or is using “religion” as a metaphor for a philosophy. His use of metaphor sometimes sounds very literal. And he argues for the missionary zeal of dataists to connect all things possible. We already have IOT (Internet of Things) and Harari extends that to an Internet of All Things (IOAT).

Harari previously argues that Homo Sapiens is not only an algorithm but a more efficient data processing system than previous humans. Now, with dataism, he says, dataism’s “output will be the creation of a new and even more efficient data-processing system, called the Internet-of-All-Things. Once this mission is accomplished, Homo sapiens will vanish.”

Harari posits humans as the seed starting a flow of data which moves outward into the entire universe. “This cosmic data-processing system would be like God,” he says. Humans will merge into the system.

Maybe. As someone who wrote his first computer program in 1966, I have to wonder whether he has ever coded. I’ve watched magic-computer sales pitches for decades. Computers are great tools. But the uses of data remain the same for the owners and rulers of the data companies, to gather more and more data thinking that more means better.

Lohr states that he adopted his New York Times colleague David Brooks’ term “data-ism” because, he writes, “it suggests the breadth of the phenomenon.” Big data, says Lohr, is creating a new level of measurement promising efficiency and innovation in the economy.

Done well that is true, otherwise it is a bit like making more and more lines and intersections in an astrology chart (I used to do them in a long-gone past). Geometric intricacies by themselves tell you nothing. They are just so many lines. Like too much data.

“Data-ism” by Steve Lohr, published 2015

“The Philosophy of Data” by David Brooks, Feb 4, 2013

Technopedia “What is Data-ism” – short definition and attribution