Joseph Fridman in Aeon:
The machine they built is hungry. As far back as 2016, Facebook’s engineers could brag that their creation ‘ingests trillions of data points every day’ and produces ‘more than 6 million predictions per second’. Undoubtedly Facebook’s prediction engines are even more potent now, making relentless conjectures about your brand loyalties, your cravings, the arc of your desires. The company’s core market is what the social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff describes as ‘prediction products’: guesses about the future, assembled from ever-deeper forays into our lives and minds, and sold on to someone who wants to manipulate that future.
Yet Facebook and its peers aren’t the only entities devoting massive resources towards understanding the mechanics of prediction. At precisely the same moment in which the idea of predictive control has risen to dominance within the corporate sphere, it’s also gained a remarkable following within cognitive science. According to an increasingly influential school of neuroscientists, who orient themselves around the idea of the ‘predictive brain’, the essential activity of our most important organ is to produce a constant stream of predictions: predictions about the noises we’ll hear, the sensations we’ll feel, the objects we’ll perceive, the actions we’ll perform and the consequences that will follow. Taken together, these expectations weave the tapestry of our reality – in other words, our guesses about what we’ll see in the world become the world we see.