Fake everything

According to one estimate, two in five visitors to the Internet are now “bots.” The proportion is growing, quickly. Advertisers (has gentle reader noticed I have none?) sometimes complain about the multiplication of them. Unlike the backward old print media — that were banking up carbon in the world’s landfills to save us all from global warming — the Internet now conceals how many eyeballs they are reaching. Bots cloud and pad this information, that could once be guessed by checking print-runs and so forth. Bots are no use to these advertisers; only human consumers buy their goods. But bots can now fake clicks, mouse movements, logins, and do everything except place the orders, although they are starting to do that, too: fake purchases that result in real invoices to the human recipients of unwanted goods.

Something similar has been happening on the world’s stock exchanges. Markets shoot up and down, but thanks to machines working on algorithms, the buy and sell decisions are greatly magnified, or sometimes “microfied,” by these non-, or inhuman actors. There may be spikes and crashes that have nothing to do with demand or supply.

I refer to a dimension of fakery unique to our times, though as I often argue, there are other dimensions. In politics, administration, academia, media, the telling of “just so” stories — plausible but untrue — is among our oldest tricks. The lesser animals fake, as a means to survival; we tell lies for self-aggrandisement and sport. Power requires the manipulation of “perceptions.” Leaders need followers, and storytelling is used to keep them in line. Rivals must be slandered, to prevent people from considering alternatives. Guilt by association replaces reasoning. Still, I prefer the warmth of human falsehood to the intersteller coldness of machines; until the two modes combine in a conniption of science, technology, and moral evil.

Human motives lie behind them, but the bot contingents add what cannot be foreseen. While there will never be “artificial intelligence” in the sense provided by science fiction writers — machines capable of personal malice, or able to do more than mimic human consciousness — there will be, as there have always been, machines that go haywire. A fully-integrated, automated environment is, as it were, programmed for catastrophe. Charity, too, requires human overrides, and a system that cannot be shut down, then put back under human eyes and hands, is ultimately neither sane nor practical.

Bots, without the slightest intention in themselves, are nevertheless subverting this. We come to depend on them, as we have come to depend on government intervention to save us from ourselves. We lose, by increments, control of our own lives, and our facility for intelligent thinking. We no longer know what the bots are doing, for it is beyond the ability of any individual to comprehend who put them there, and why. We are travelling blind, through a very busy landscape, and will surely hit something we did not expect.

One of my proofs of a loving God, is in the provision of catastrophes, especially those man-made through lapses of prudence. We learn from experience. Or we don’t learn, in which case we have the benefit of catastrophe, again. One generation replaces another, and perhaps we never learn; but the potential is always there.

The bottom-up arrangement of distinctly human family, neighbourhood, custom, religion, remains as a return to the default position. The human soul can relocate itself, after it has strayed into no-man-land, by means of an innate cosmic “GPS.” All we need do is disable the false indicators. But with their multiplication, this becomes hard.

Indeed, we should be working on this all the time, as a balance to our technical innovations. We must keep coming home from work, in order to stay married to reality.