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Confused News C2 (2)

How to make BIG dollars from BIG data – FAST

Steal As Much As You Can author Nathalie Olah takes us on an acerbic journey to a dystopian future via Cambridge Analytica and Woking’s Pizza Express

It's the twentysomethings and current affairs so often feel like sophisticated, horrible, science fiction. Exploring the boundaries of the real and the imaginary, Confused News is a literary series which takes real-world news into sci-fi territory. Taken from the spring 2020 issue of Dazed.

Are you tired of having to come up with responsible ways of generating cash? Is the decline in levels of consumer spending stifling your entrepreneurial spirit and leaving you bereft of ideas? Then might we suggest turning your attention to an emerging market ripe for the picking? It’s called democracy. Once the purview of bores and Trots with nothing bet- ter to do than stand on picket lines defending the rights of the most vulnerable, now a shiny new digital ecosphere where misinformation and manipulation run amok. Democracy is already making early adopters extremely rich – those who the losers and virgins of this world have unfairly dubbed our ‘tech overlords’ – and you could be next. All you need is a bit of ingenuity, drive and 12 trillion petabytes of computing power.

Take the case of Cambridge Analytica, a modest outfit with a big dream: to harvest the data unwittingly supplied by social media users for the purposes of goading them towards electoral outcomes of suicidal proportions. Genius! The more we clicked, vented and shared, the more they harvested. Feeling done in by a free-market system that devalues human life and pits each of us against one another in a race to the bottom? Get it off your chest! Swayed by a tabloid culture of rampant bigotry that seeks to scapegoat immigrants? Type that shit out. All that sweet data can be used to create hand-crafted targeted ads that are always bespoke to the user – there’s nothing mass-produced about this model of voter manipulation.

Of course, you won’t be able to achieve success on the scale of Cambridge Analytica by acting alone. Friends in high places will serve you well in this industry, and don’t worry if you haven’t already bonded with them over a pig copulation ritual at the Piers Gaveston. Rich people with a vested interest in achieving power are easy to befriend, provided that you know what you are doing. Mill around long enough in the foyer of the Presidents Club or the hallways of Epstein’s mansion with a bagful of the white stuff and they will soon come flocking. Just wink and nod and say you’re a staff member from the Woking branch of Pizza Express. They’ll know what you’re talking about.

Then just sit back, relax and enjoy the Mar-a-Lago invites as they pour in. Together with your new friends, you can start to push the electorate towards a succession of outcomes they neither want nor need, convincing them with a flimsy line about trickle-down econom- ics (don’t worry, no one reads the fine print). With the funding of the billionaire boys’ club, you’ll hire an army of machine-learning grads capable of building you a super-algorithm that will soon take on a life of its own – and that’s when the real fun starts. Ring in those dollars as the system works its magic, and marvel at the beast you’ve created whose tentacles will slowly work their way along the tubes of our communications infrastructure, tweaking and turning the knobs of public opinion.

“Sure, you’ll have sold out the cornerstones of civilisation, but it’s a small price to pay for the jetpack you’ll now be able to enjoy from the safety of your pool”

Soon it’ll be the billionaire boys’ club who want to befriend you! But choose carefully when inviting people to your mansion in the south of France, where you will be found relaxing pool-side with a fine Chablis in one hand and a wad of lawsuits in the other. Savour the sweet fragrant notes of a 2009 grape safe in the bosom of your armed security team, and watch as your skin sizzles to a light taupe under a Mediterranean sun, while those no-hopers at The Guardian work overtime to try and slander you.

Sure, you’ll have sold out the cornerstones of civilisation, but it’s a small price to pay for the jetpack you’ll now be able to enjoy from the safety of your pool. (Your security team has advised you never to leave the safety of the compound.) It will create a nightmare flooding situation for your staff, but then, part of the fun is seeing them doused with water while you display your matchless back- flip and nose-dive skills – talents you could never have even dreamed of acquiring had you been stuck in the same kind of dead-end job as everybody else. Offset the exercise by having some of those high-powered friends of yours arrange a foot massage from one of the women they know. Gagging orders are essential and easily arranged. Make sure to install a system that automatically destroys their phones upon entering the property.

It’s going to be fun. Enriching. And who cares if in the meantime, under an oligarch class solely concerned with protecting its own wealth, the Earth and everyone in it is reduced to a state of hunger and abject deprivation? With the help of your Oculus headset, that can be ignored. Escape to a time and place where people don’t spit in your face as you walk down the street. I hear 1970s Aruba is nice at this time of year.

As you saunter from the safety of your Tom Dixon enclave by the sea, a cannula of Valium in your right arm to keep things mellow, your creation – that many-tentacled beast worming its way along the channels of the broadband network – strangles what last vestiges of reason and good sense exist in the zombie society, where trees exist solely as recreations in museums.

“It’s going to be fun. Enriching. And who cares if in the meantime, under an oligarch class solely concerned with protecting its own wealth, the Earth and everyone in it is reduced to a state of hunger and abject deprivation?”

As pollution levels soar and famine grips the developing world, you resist the urge to be dragged into petty showdowns with journalists and policymakers – the people who are always trying to stifle the forward march of technological progress. What do they know anyway, you ask, while striding along the Aruba beach past a clutch of flamingos, the blue waters that lap the shore setting off a brilliant light show where a beautiful woman in a thong bikini waves to you. Her face is warm and open with round eyes and a smile that seems to say come hither, while far away the frenzied whelps of your staff can be heard through the virtual world’s melodic sound of a calypso beat. Joyous trumpets and soaring trombones contend with the sound of the glass walls surrounding the pool area shattering into a million tiny pieces, as the wall of water hurtles towards the house. But still you keep on walking towards her, the woman with the round soft eyes, while the Aruba sun burns down fiercely on your face.

You take her hand. It is a hand you recognise, whose supple fingers gently caress your own. This is your mother. As she reaches out an arm, you look up and into her face to meet eyes that are a deep, gentle brown. She says she loves you. Emotions so distant you have no idea what they mean any more, and as the house implodes and your body is thrust against the debris and carried inland by a force so great you can no longer breathe, you cling to her and let those supple hands hold on to you tight as if you were a baby.

The salty fluid fills your throat, seeping into your lungs that swell inside your chest, pushing against your ribcage with a blistering pain. The headset leaves you, and your flotsam body swirls along with the trees and cars and beach loungers in a maddening gyre whose end-point looks nothing much like Oz. 

These are the final moments and, as you drink them in, your body weak and deprived of oxygen, you raise your fist a few centime- tres towards what you assume to be the sky. Success, baby, you gargle.