Hindsight bias or hindsight bias, in the absence of a better translation, helps to explain why something that happens is felt by us as more likely and possible than it was before it happened. Why it was difficult to imagine a smartphone 20 years ago as today it is difficult to imagine the world and the future without them. Or democracy. And we will see if the same will not happen with the control systems and traceability of movements and contacts of citizens.
Democracy has not been the most common form of government throughout human history. Even looking at the world today, most people do not live in countries with consolidated democracies and even Democrats are its critics. Still, as Churchill asked, is there a better model for organizing society?
In fact, democracy develops as a preferred form of government in the more developed countries, largely because of the need for information control. The great technological and scientific development of the 20th century brought greater complexity to the lives of people and communities. It can be argued that the roots of valuing the individual lie in the French revolution. Strictly speaking, however, the great development of democracy happens much later because before the twentieth century, few dominated all knowledge, so few dominated many. The history of the world was thus constructed with the domain of fear and from a great asymmetry of knowledge and the possibility of access to it.
With technological development and the increasing need for specialization, it has become impossible for few to master all information. This was the great opportunity for a form of government in which everyone, in some way, participated, because the needs and accessibility to knowledge dictated it. It was the great opportunity for democracy and a significant majority of developed countries until the beginning of the 21st century created and consolidated democratic regimes. However, also because we take democracy for granted by the bias described above, there has been a progressive weakening of it in some countries, and it seems that something is changing.
With the great development of communication technologies, artificial intelligence and progress in the big data area, it has been possible to obtain and work with an ever greater amount of information, in an increasingly efficient manner. Without a broad and participatory reflection of the implications of these processes, very few seem to be able to dominate most of the world's information again and, it is expected, to dominate the world in this way. Few and with very different motivations. Some, simply due to ‘power for power’. Others, with clearly economic objectives. And still others because, dangerously, they believe they are the most capable of defining the best for everyone. As much as the latter seem more legitimate, they can be the most harmful because, as science informs us, believing in this more easily makes others believe the same.
Humanity's wealth is in its diversity, so no one owns reason when it comes to the good of everyone and therefore of each one. But today, with the control of information, with a certain 'data dictatorship', we begin to believe that it is, that there is a right answer for everyone and that it is therefore legitimate to promote it, for the good of all. It is urgent that we distrust those who are sure about everything and that we are very critical and reflective in relation to the idea of constantly providing data to a few, with purposes not clearly defined and / or legitimized. We therefore have to find ways to manage the data.
Forms that, at the outset, prevent the data obtained in the most diverse ways from being used to enhance the impact of any particular interest. This has been particularly visible in the results of several elections in democratic countries, with those who have less scruples and who dominate this type of communication more, gaining an advantage over others through their use and not through the debate they make about their proposals. And ways that prevent the exponential polarization of opinions. People assume more and more certainties and extremism in their positions by accessing more and more information that supports their beliefs and desires, giving a false sense of truth and unanimity in relation to them. Paradoxically, with the increase in the information potential, we are more focused on absolute truths, on left / right cleavages, right and wrong, in short a world of many colors that is increasingly reduced to black and white.
In addition to these two great dangers for democracy, there is the more than likely development of technologies for tracking movement and citizen contacts. This technology already exists and there is talk now of its possible implementation in countries with consolidated democracies. Reasons aside from its use, there are some questions regarding this technology. The quality and quantity of data about each one of us will be higher, providing greater potential for direct influence on our tastes, choices and opinions. It is also for this reason that the potential power of some over many will be greater and, consequently, the potential emergence of a certain absolute majority that may jeopardize the diversity of opinions and condition individual freedom and autonomy, which are the bases of the ethical model of our society, society and society. democracy and even the balance of our current world.
That is why we believe that debating whether the pandemic we are facing can justify the use of these screening measures is fragile. Opinions will be more or less positive due to the greater or lesser perceived danger with the evolution of the virus and disease. But we well know that, in a tomorrow perhaps closer than we expected, in addition to the illegal attempt to use it for economic purposes or to limit the privacy of some people, someone will wave this technology to be able to control people with certain characteristics, stop a murderer, prevent terrorist phenomena or guarantee the safety of someone or a place. As it becomes part of everyday life, it will be increasingly difficult to disagree with its application. We therefore have to worry immediately about preventing data misuse and promoting its protection, ensuring that it can only be used in the best interest of its owners: each one of us.
In this sense, we have already proposed and insisted on the creation of an entity totally independent of States and economic groups, composed of democratically elected personalities and with technical competences suited to needs – cybersecurity, ethics, law, psychology and other social and health sciences. This entity would centralize and manage all the data collected, using them in accordance with the principles of libertarian paternalism as Richard Thaler proposes – the possibility of institutions influencing a behavior but only and only respecting the freedom of choice and the behavior of the resulting citizens.
Democracy and citizens need information management algorithms that allow freedom of choice and give citizens access to the adversary, contrary to what has happened. Algorithms that also show b and c even if you just look for (and end up choosing) a. We need algorithms that promote the different colors of the world and not force black or white. The best interest of each of us, the true owners of our data, is to be helped to be more like ourselves and not more like what few would like us to be. Only and only this legitimizes the use of our data and may result in the best interest of each and every one.
Tiago Pereira – Coordinator of the COVID-19 Crisis Office of the Portuguese Psychologists Order
Miguel Ricou – Professor at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Porto; CINTESIS
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