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Network critic James Bridle: You do not understand the Internet? Good for you!


Computer scientist James Bridle says algorithms set up a "devastation" in our thought system. He demands that man makes himself independent of the net - is that possible?

The cloud has made history as a nebulous metaphor: in the Middle Ages, a "cloud of non-knowledge" hovered over Europe. God does not understand reason, wrote an unknown English mystic in his writing "Cloud of the Unknowing" in the 14th century. He advised therefore to turn off rational thinking - to find more "peace and quiet".

Today, the cloud embraces us as a global IT network: Data buzzes as a complex network in virtual space. Outside, the network often looks intransparent like a black box, as permeable inside as Big Brother.

Two years ago, the British writer and computer scientist James Bridle warned in an essay before a "dark time" in which the technology turns against the people. Networks and search engines - a "dark art in their own right," according to Bridle - were based on automated algorithms. They are thus disconnected from any human logic. Therefore, according to Bridle, they created a "devastation" in our thought system.

More knowledge is no solution

He has written a book about this devastation: "New Dark Age" - in fact, the content is less pessimistic than the title suggests. The cloud describes Bridle as a "greedy industry", which takes over from us more and more control. Even daily processes such as news, purchases or banking would be more and more incomprehensible: Warehouse workers drive at the Amazon on the instructions of barcode scanners through the halls, tourists suddenly land in the sea by car. Guided by a navigation system.

So are we permanently mentally fogged by a cloud? In fact, for Bridle, in the apparent discrepancy between the net and the mind, the solution is that network thinking often does not fit into human thinking. The Internet logic is therefore already a problem. Bridle, in his book, recommends recognition of ignorance, much like the medieval mystic.

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James Bridle
New Dark Age: The victory of technology and the end of the future

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"Ignorance is strength": In George Orwell's novel "1984" that was still the propagandistic slogan of a surveillance dictatorship. Bridle, on the other hand, sees ignorance as a chance to free oneself from certain patterns of thinking: the basic problem lies in the idea of ​​enlightenment that more knowledge automatically leads to better decisions. The cloud as a combination of knowledge has thus developed into a "global system of enormous power and energy". Nevertheless, wrong decisions have often been made. Bridle calls nuclear bombs, misguided aircraft crews. The conclusion: more knowledge is not a solution. "What should actually enlighten and enlighten the world darkens it in practice."

In this book, Briden succeeds in radically turning perspectives: knowledge becomes faith - ignorance of knowledge. Ignorance can be "productive, even exalted," writes Briden. Even revelations like that of a whistleblower Edward Snowden challenges Briden as driven by "fear and paranoia." Not the cloud itself is dangerous - but the "uncritical, unthinking belief" in its truth.

But this is where Bridle gets stuck in his argument. If the truth is not in the cloud, where is it? If the cloud can not be understood by humans, how should we know that it is different from human thinking? The author demands a human thinking that is independent of the net. But how is man supposed to liberate himself from a system of thought which he himself has produced?

One of these deadlocked thinking systems was shown by Bridle himself in his video "Autonomous Trap 001" in 2017. In a parking lot he tried how a self-driving car can be captured with a few color strokes. In a parking lot, Briden painted two circular lines. The outer dashed, the inner pulled through. The car drove into the circle and could not get out. The reason: The inner solid line prevented the autopilot from driving on.

Bridle called the installation a "trap" in an interview. It shows how machine intelligence differs from human. But you could also say that the autopilot acted as humanly wrong as it was programmed. In the cloud, that would mean: transmission errors.

Source: spiegel

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