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[liberationtech] Brace for the Quantified Society

Alfonso De Gregorio alfonso.degregorio at
Fri Jan 16 06:58:30 PST 2015

Dear Rafal,

On Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 9:15 PM, Rafal Rohozinski
<r.rohozinski at> wrote:
> What is the Quantified Society? Quite simply, it is the unblinking,
> unrelenting and uncensored exposure to systems and devices designed to
> monitor and measure every aspect of human existence. In some ways it is like
> Bentham’s Panopticon wherein we eagerly volunteer our information in return
> for access to (near) total awareness. It thrives on our smart phones, smart
> scales, GoPros and Fitbits. It digests the digital shadow of our loved ones
> on social media. It follows our teens and their online tribes. We tolerate
> the quantification of ourselves for very human reasons: vanity, a sense of
> belonging, and convenience.

With the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita based on purchasing
power parity (PPP) steadily increasing year-on-year [WorldBank],
citizens are more and more motivated to satisfy --- and have the
ability to pursue --- those needs that are positioned higher in the
Maslow's hierarchy [Maslow1, Maslow2]. That is to say that vanity
(understood as a need for attention [NBL]), belongingness, and
convenience are working as incentives in the global zettabyte economy.

Hence, as we transition from the surveillance state to the Quantified
Society, we are compelled to reconsider our role in it --- again.
Jonathan Zittrain famously remarked that whenever we are observable,
we are not the customer, we are the product [Zittrain]. But all of
this assumes a passive role. Whenever we purposely expose ourselves,
we are not longer the product, we are also quantification apparatchiks
and investors. As apparatchiks we hold our quantum of liability bag.
As investors we have our interests at stake.

> A quantum shift in technological change is underway that makes the debate on
> metadata surveillance look antiquated. The breathtaking fusion of the cloud,
> big data, genomics, robotics, artificial intelligence and wearables is
> changing the rules of the game. Consider that within five years the human
> race will collectively generate more than 40 zettabytes of data a day. To
> get your head around this figure try counting every grain of sand in the
> world and then multiply them seventyfold. We are moving from the
> surveillance state to the Quantified Society.

We are moving from the surveillance state to the Quantified Society
and the data are moving along with us. Dan Geer summarized the trend
better than I could have hope to do it [Geer]:

As you well know, more and more data is collected and more and more
of that data is in play.  The general, round-numbers dynamic of
this trend are these: Moore's Law continues to give us two orders
of magnitude in compute power per dollar per decade while storage
grows at three orders of magnitude and bandwidth at four.  These
are top-down economic drivers and they relentlessly warp what is
the economically optimum computing model.  The trend is clear; the
future is increasingly dense with stored data but, paradoxically,
despite the massive growth of data volume, that data becomes more
mobile with time.

As mobility of data is crucial for global surveillance, I am reminded
of Zuboff's Laws of digital age.

If interested to discuss this topic at greater length, then please be in touch.

With thanks as ever,

-- Alfonso     @secYOUre


[Geer] Geer Jr. D. E., (2013), Trends in Cyber Security, NRO,

[Maslow1] Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation.
Psychological Review 50 (4) 370–96. Retrieved from


[NBL] Netemeyer, R. G., Burton, S., and Lichtenstein, D. R. (1995).
Trait aspects of vanity: Measurement and relevance to consumer
behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 21, March: 612-626.

[WorldBank] GDP per capita, PPP (current international $), The World
Bank Group (2015),

[Zittrain] Zittrain, J. (2011) Meme patrol: “When something online is
free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”

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