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We’ve been migrating to the Borg since computers were invented — integrating our lives ever more deeply into our machines. It’s not a trend that can be stopped. Instead, as Kevin Kelly suggests, we have to ‘civilize’ it.

The immediate problem is one of alignment — the business models driving many of our machines are misaligned with our collective interests. The issue only becomes more pressing as we begin adopting AI-driven personal assistants. The more we rely on machines, the more certain we need to be that they are acting in our interests. With platform coops, we aim to align interests to foster that certainty.

Exhibit A — asymmetric data-tracking

The Migration began inside corporates. We started gluing resource-planning systems together in the 1970’s, and have long since moved to patching the entire enterprise into a coherent whole. Over the last decade, integration has begun to jump the corporate fence as it has pushed up the supply chain. But, while the ubiquity of the chip may promise interactive access to each of us, integrating with customers has proved elusive.

This is why Customer Relationship Management systems still offer about the same value as a library card — they are more archives than platforms to exchange value. Most corporates remain once removed from their customers.

The response to this problem has been to develop data-tracking. This is an attempt to better understand us by collecting our data exhaust and following our movements through the world, both virtual and real.

Tracking by corporates is asymmetric. Data is collected in the shadows, under conditions that are at best tacitly agreed to in never-read terms-of-use-tomes. Corporations know this, which why they hide their activities rather than being transparent.

In short, tracking creates a surveillance economy, not a sharing economy.

Transparency leads to choice

The crazy thing is that we humans are keen on sharing. We want customised interactions with business and government. We hate spam and poorly informed conversations. And we understand that a corporation must know who we are to give us what we want. The opposite is that we remain a statistic, a number that gravitates to the lowest common denominator as scale increases.

So there is another way corporates could respond to the problem. They could just ask — chances are we will be willing to share. It’s about being transparent. If it’s clear what you’d like us to share, then we can agree to it, even if it is tacitly.

This is the type of approach that the proponents of Vendor Relationship Management espouse. “VRM tools provide customers with both independence from vendors, and better ways of engaging with vendors.”

Aligning interests

Logically then, those that use tracking are worried that we won’t agree to share. If they hide their activities, they’ll get away with them. There is something fundamentally wrong with this proposition.

This is one of the reasons why platform coops are so important. Where the customers are the owners there is a self-regulating system to protect the interests of users. As our technologies are working for us, we can be confident that they are not leaking data we may not want to share. Conversely, we are motivated to develop tools that make sharing simpler and more effective — as that is what our customers want.

Our view is that the tipping point for shifting from surveillance to sharing will be relatively low. All it takes is a successful alternative to demonstrate its value and the tracking approach quickly becomes uneconomic for any type of enterprise.

So if we are to cross the final frontier, let’s do it on our terms. That way we can be confident that when we are rubbing virtual shoulders with a personalised corporate avatar, they aren’t fleecing our pockets too.


 

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