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Suppose there really were a plot to take over the world?

Big Silicon intends to provide Internet access to the whole world as part of the effort to harvest the intellectual resources of billions. Facebook’s 10 year plan for example, is centered around giving Internet connectivity to everybody – on its terms. There’s a clear business case for doing this. Sixty percent of the people on the planet are still unconnected to the Internet, predominantly in the 3rd World. Relatively few have access to mobile broadband. If the social media market can solve the problem of connectivity it can expand its base by billions.

Facebook and 6 companies aim to bring the world affordable Internet access with a catch. The Free Basics program will let consumers access certain websites that meet the Facebook's criteria, a kind of closed garden, for cheap. Facebook’s “Free Basics” will not be the only one of this type but it is the most publicly discussed. Google has a similar effort called Project Loon which will deploy a high-altitude balloon network operating in the stratosphere, where the position of the balloons can be controlled by adjusting only the balloon's altitude. This could allow countries to avoid using expensive cable thereby greatly increasing Internet usage in developing countries in regions such as Africa and Southeast Asia.

This strategy has been criticized as nothing more than a scheme to target the poor by providing restricted Internet access through a Silicon giant gatekeeper and violating net neutrality. All the same, who can resist free? Especially when the alternative is waiting for corrupt 3rd World governments and their crony companies to do the job, which they might never get around to, net neutral or not.

Ironically Big Silicon clearly stands to gain a lot from "free". First they can potentially listen to everything you post or say and understand it all on a scale that only computers can achieve. Mark Zuckerberg told US Congress that Facebook would increasingly rely on artificial intelligence to catch hate speech spread on the platform. But it can only do this by understanding speech in general.  With the 10 year plan they can do it to the whole world.

Facebook already employs 15,000 human moderators to screen and remove offensive content, and it plans to hire another 5,000 by the end of this year, Zuckerberg said. But right now, those moderators can only react to posts Facebook users have flagged. Using AI to identify potentially offending material would make it faster and easier to remove.

Second, the "free" highway can empty the contents of billions of minds on the planet into their machine learning systems. Machine learning is a field of computer science that gives computers the ability to "learn" (i.e., progressively improve performance on a specific task) with data, without being explicitly programmed. Data is the key. At the dawn of the field of artificial intelligence its founders thought achieving machine vision would only take a summer. They were off by half a century. Some evidence suggests that many major AI breakthroughs have actually been limited by the availability of high-quality training datasets, without which algorithmic advances would have nothing to work upon.