Data and algorithms will they become our new gods?

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By breaking away from divine laws, modern man had gradually built himself up as free and master of his destiny. This free will is now threatened by the advent of new gods: algorithms and the cult of data. This is what denounces in this column one of our readers,  Ezekiel Takam , who calls for maintaining "  an ultracritical relationship to techno-liberalism  ", to avoid the drifts of technologies that have become unavoidable.

Following  historian Yuval Harari , we can see two great shifts in what could be the history of human free will. 

The first is a shift from God to man. Decision-making authority was once attributed to divine laws, and maintained by religious narratives. With the arrival of modernism, this authority migrated from divine laws to man, this under the framework of liberal narratives. God, the fascinating and terrifying, the one to whom all human hopes and fears were transferred, has been lost in authority and influence, because of science and its advances. These have been able to resolve human fears (like microbial diseases ...) and explain the fascinations / misunderstandings formerly attributed to God (explanation of the water cycle and the origin of the rains; discovery of others elements of the universe; Darwinian evolution etc.). This decrepitude of divine authority is illustrated in particular by the theological attempts to restore and perpetuate its myth.I am thinking in particular of Anglo-Saxon natural theologies: God saw himself reinvented in Organizingprinciple of the universe according to Newtonian natural theology; in the  end  of science according to the natural theology of Robert Boyle; or again, in  supreme intelligence  according to the movement of  intelligent design  carried by Micheal Denton, Micheal Behe ​​etc… [1].

Dataism and G-MAFIA

Nowadays, we are gradually witnessing a second shift in authority from humans to algorithms related to Big Data. It is a symptom of what David Brooks called on February 4, 2013,  dataism [2] . It is about this doctrine which perceives the universe and what composes it, as a set of data, likely to be captured, analyzed, interpreted in order to better understand the past, the present, and predict the future. In this  dataism,  all the characteristic elements of a religion can be found:

The divinity has become the inseparable binomial of data and algorithm: without data, the algorithm is blind, and without the algorithm, data is in vain.

The prophets are digital evangelists, bearers of transhumanist and solutionist narratives: technology will solve all our ills.

The holy land is Silicon Valley, and the temples are the giant technological platforms represented by G-MAFIA: Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, Apple. 

As for us, the faithful (billions of daily users), we become products of a reductionist techno-liberal system. We are reduced to an encrypted whole that can be analyzed by a code. This is the phase of pushing "over-modernity" developed and decried by the philosopher Marc Augé: it is about the transformation of man into a number, into a passport number, into a registration code, etc. observed and decrypted, our actions and actions, our behavior, our reactions, our emotions and personalities are analyzed or even calculated, the resulting data are interpreted in real time by intelligent algorithms, in order to determine in return the decisions or actions that we must take .

This is how, thanks to this great capacity for calculating and analyzing our bodily, emotional, neurological, political data, etc., algorithms will be able to choose better than us our political candidates, our entertainment, our professional careers, our academic orientations. , our health care, our partners (the "matches" on Tinder), our feeds, the verses and biblical teachings that would suit our theological sensibilities and our spiritual expectations, or shall I say, neurotheological: it is the birth of total dependence on the Data-Algorithm Gods.

This growing dependence invites us to define an ultracritical relationship to techno-liberalism. My position is clear. As Jacques Ellul feared, the sacred has been transferred to this new intelligent technology, and enslavement is underway [3]. Our critical role is not aimed at suppressing this technocracy. It seems utopian to me. The sole function of this critical exercise is to reduce it, to limit its harmful aspects. This involves, for example, encouraging and working with digital societies, for the development of algorithms as tools to help human decision-makers, and not decision-makers. It is a question here of entering into a dialogue with the evangelists of the digital world, of proposing a counter-discourse which puts forward the harmful aspects of the technique, according to the principle of responsibility of Hans Jonas: always privilege in the ethical debates the aspect harmful technological creations. Build and insist on fear, not a fear that advises against acting, but a fear that invites to act responsibly [4] .

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