continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 4.4 / 2015: 94-96

Data driven narcissism

Thomas Raab, Sylvia Eckermann


  1. Alan Turing adopted a pragmatic view of intelligence. If one cannot tell a behavioral (e.g., linguistic) difference between the results of human vs. machine intelligence, the latter finally has been achieved by definition.

  1. In a similar vain social, today’s web macro-entrepreneurs simply define intelligence as giving “right” responses. The computation of these responses is best be achieved by machine “learning” and massive “big data” statistics.


  1. Yet, introspective research shows that human intelligence functions entirely different. Its kernel is the creative construction of deterministically predicting models of, albeit subjectively carved out, domains in the world. However well a statistical prediction, it can in principle never provide a theory of man. But of course it can exterminate psychology.

  1. As is also true for many older technologies, big data statistics “reverse-engineers” the demands of the people who use their outcomes. It mirrors not only taste preferences but also memories we may have long hoped to forget. By thus constraining the input to our “selves” they further constrict our behavior repertoire thereby improving our predictability still further.



  1. We may thus become the uncreative drones, the Web 2.0 protagonists already conceive us to be. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy statistical behavior prediction will produce the objects it already describes.

  1. And yet, although our predictability will be maximized, so will our sense of individuality, because computing the combination of “character items” mirrored back on us will effectively single each of us out for control and consumer purposes.



  1. Let us further assume that a society consisting of such drones is stable because it only needs technical and administrative engineers. We live in our narcissistic data suits feeling free and happy. The ultimate question will then be: Is such a social end state heaven – or is it hell?



Artwork: Sylvia Eckermann, SINGULARIUM, 2015. 
Interpassive sculpture, sound. Polystyrene sheets and mirrors, 4 loudspeakers, monitor, camera, computer, 160 x 160 x 80 cm. Composition of voices: Szely. 


Thomas Raab, 2015. Data Driven Narcissism: How Will “Big Data” Feed Back on Us? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 22 (9-10), 215-228.

Thomas Raab, 2015. Die Netzwerk-Orange (The Network Orange, a SF novel). Wien: Luftschacht.