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This book was written by the same authors as the blockchain book I recently read.  I enjoyed their writing style and the layout of the first book so I decided to give this one a go.  Learning about technology, or anything new, keeps my mind sharp and allows some semblance of a connection to my prior life.  Big tech plays a large role in all our lives and it was helpful yet scary to learn how integrated they are with literally everything one does.  Ironically, with the exception of me right now.

As expected, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft come up frequently.  Basically, everything is connected, everything you do is tracked, and the data we put out on a daily basis is immensely valuable to those who know how to use it.  You learn how information flows throughout the internet, the backend behind Amazon Web Services, and how Target has so much data on consumers that in some instances they can predict pregnancies.

I also learned why many retailers offer free wi-fi.  Which in the past, made no sense to me.  Why would I need to use the internet if I’m shopping at a clothing or grocery store?  Apparently, if you have multiple routers set up throughout a store you can tell exactly where a customer is at all times, how long they spend in each part of the store, and what advertising may push them over the edge into a purchasing specific items.  Nothing is private anymore…this was a discouraging part of the book.

Another nerve wracking portion involves something which came to light in the last year or so.  Deep Fake videos.  I was aware of them but not how they are made and it is intimidating what two computers can do when they work together, but against one another.  These videos are created by general adversarial networks.  Think of trying a new recipe.  Once dinner is ready and you eat those first bites you may think to yourself, “next time this needs more spice, more butter and less salt.”  You repeat this process until you have the perfect dish.  This feedback loop, in the human brain, is called a neural network.  In a general adversarial network you create neural networks on two computers and they battle one another.  One creates, the other judges.  For example, one makes the recipe better and better.  The other (if computers could eat) grows to become more opinionated and have a more distinguished palate.  They learn from each other, back and forth, until they are creating incredible recipes.  Or in this instance, extremely compelling fake videos. 

I think a large takeaway that the book doesn’t cover is how we need to be in control of our thoughts and reactions to the near constant barrage of hyper targeted advertising that comes our way.  Consumerism is running rampant and there is a reason data is more valuable than gold or oil.  These companies can make us feel we need things we don’t and spend money we should be saving.  I am not saying they are completely evil – the technology they have created helps us all in a multitude of ways but much like I learned from Sapiens, in certain cases all of our progress doesn’t result in us being any happier or better off.  Like most things in life, it’s easy to blame someone else (these companies) but the power is in our hands as well.

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