‘Sinister’ computers know us better than we know ourselves, ex-spy boss warns

Computer algorithms know us better than we know ourselves, Britain’s former spy boss has warned.

Sir David Omand, the former director of Britain's spy agency GCHQ, described the development as “slightly sinister”.

He also blamed online "filter bubbles" for dividing society as people are no longer “talking the same language” as each other.

The ex-spy chief added: “We are no longer seeing the same images, we are seeing the things that are tailored for us and our prejudices.

“We have got to get used to that world.

“The internet is here to stay and we are completely dependent on it.

“We have got to learn to live safely with it.”

He told the Media Masters podcast: “We have this targeting of ourselves as individuals.

“It’s a bit scary – the machines know more about me than I probably know about myself.

“Because they can, using some very smart algorithms, infer my deepest likes and desires from my browsing habits, from my spending habits.”

This can be a good thing when you’re shopping as it’s “a very quick process to call up information”, he said.

  • Spy chief warns 'internet giants know more about people's lives than MI5'

Sir David added: “But it becomes slightly sinister when you realise that while the price bracket you may be offered is just a little bit more than you might have wanted to spend, because you’re being nudged into spending a bit more.”

He said this means “your unconscious has been read by the machine”.

Sir David added: “That’s the direction of travel.

“As the algorithms get smarter and smarter and the processing faster and faster, this is the world we’re going into.”

He also blasted stars for spouting out their take on everything despite being clueless.

Sir David, the first UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator, said: “One of the problems about social media is we have people blogging and celebrities are pining on things that actually they don’t know enough about to give an opinion.”

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