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“Freedom is when the only thing you do is stare at your phone”

What is freedom? What does freedom mean to you? These are existential questions that we don’t always have an answer to, right? But no problem. If an answer doesn’t spring to mind, O2, Apple & co. are there to help us out. In an advertisement campaign at the end of 2017/beginning of 2018, O2 defines freedom as follows:

 “Freedom is when the only thing you do is stare at your phone… When you are constantly distracted… Freedom is when you blindly follow your GPS… when you have to be reachable 24/7…
Freedom means something different to everyone, what does it mean for you?”

Hearing these words from a male voice resound in a dark cinema theatre or a darkened living room or bedroom whilst the viewer sits listening in a relaxed state is reminiscent of the process of hypnosis.

And after we are told in the advertisement what freedom means, at the end of it we are free to pick our answer from one of the above options. Let’s have a closer look at these options:

  • Only staring at our phones is the equivalent to being dependent and not noticing what is going on around us
  • Being constantly distracted is the equivalent to having an attention deficit (ADHD)
  • Trusting our GPS blindly is the equivalent to surrendering responsibility for our own path
  • Being reachable 24/7 is the equivalent to pure obligation and stress

Independent, not suppressed or imprisoned

Wikipedia defines freedom as follows: A state of being independent, not suppressed or imprisoned. Has Wikipedia got it wrong?

This is very unlikely as one thing is for certain: Freedom is existentially important for us humans. We can’t bear it when someone encroaches on our freedom and this has been the case since time immemorial. In human history countless uprisings were held in virtually all cultures to defend, extend or win back our freedom.

Abraham Lincoln risked his life when he fought for the liberation of four-and-a-half million slaves. Mahatma Gandhi dedicated a large part of his life to the Indian struggle for independence from Great Britain. Likewise, countless other individuals have put their lives on the line in the name of freedom.

During the French revolution the famished people took to the streets and demanded “freedom, equality, fraternity”. What are the exhausted people of the western world demanding today? We stand in line to buy the newest iPhone X with face recognition.  Oh yes – I remember why: “Freedom is when the only thing you do is stare at your phone.”

Will face-scanning be the norm?

We can expect that thanks to its integration into the new Apple smartphones, face recognition will begin its triumphant sweep through the mobile world and will become the norm should this Apple generation prove a success. And it will only prove a success if we decide to buy this generation of smartphone. So it’s literally in our hands.

This would mean that other identification methods like PIN codes or fingerprints will disappear in the long term, even in other areas too. We are happy to justify this arguing that this technology offers us better security and convenience.  Apple has developed a deep recognition system using an infra-red sensor which cannot simply be outsmarted with photos, as is the case with the technology used by other manufacturers.

What does face recognition mean for our freedom?

But the more normal it becomes for us to prove our identity using our face, the more our reservations against increased mass surveillance using this technology wane.  What’s more – every time we use our phones, our faces are scanned and users’ emotions can easily be detected and stored in the process as huge progress has been made in face recognition over the past few years.  And since this technology is based on Artificial Intelligence, it is capable of learning new things about us.

Today retailers even in Germany are already testing face recognition to target their customers with customised advertisements. If these images are linked to personal data, the “glass consumer” will finally become a reality. And then it is only a small step to the next phase, where it will only possible to pay in supermarkets with face recognition or to board a flight using this technology.

What does freedom mean to us in the age of Artificial Intelligence?

Is this how we define freedom? Or is it the technology companies that are taking the liberty to dictate to us what our idea of freedom should be?

Technology should be used to aid us and to not turn us into dependents. But what if dependency comes in the guise of freedom? Johann Wolfgang Goethe once warned us: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

If we don’t define ourselves what freedom means for us, there are thousands of companies out there waiting to give us their very clear ideas of what it should mean. So let’s choose for ourselves, and let’s choose very carefully!

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