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We can be thankful for The Limits of Social Engineering. The world would be a drab place if extensive data collection, or “reality mining,” was used to “optimize society,” continuously tracking our actions and manipulating our decisions. This is to say nothing about its real feasibility, but if it were feasible on the scale imagined by advocates, “social control” would be a more apt description.

I know first-hand that data and computing power can improve many processes. However, social-engineering fanatics promote far-reaching and intrusive use of such technologies. They seem to lack an appreciation for the efficiency, flexibility, diversity of experience, and personal freedom made possible by voluntary social cooperation through markets. More than anything else, “big data” social engineering is all too compatible with statism. It is a prescription for stasis and ultimately a pathway to a less affluent society. My favorite quote from the article: a data-driven society would “encourage us to optimize the status quo rather than challenge it.” Uh-huh…