FIRST PRINCIPLES THINKING – WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN FOR DATA PRIVACY AND POLYGAMY

There are many things people admire and hate about Elon Musk – but there’s one thing that isn’t quite popular about him. Something that is largely responsible for the kind of person he is, that unsettling, going against the trend spirit. Its his way of thinking. It is called First Principles Thinking.

There’s a proper definition for the team which I can’t really remember. But what it basically denotes is this: Reject all previous notions or bodies of knowledge. Take an issue or problem and strip it of all surrounding controversies and layers of discussion. Just consider it for yourself, without taking heed of the external voices.

Let me explain. How did he (Musk) crash the cost of space travel? First Principles Thinking. Why was space travel very expensive? Because the cost of one trip, from manpower to equipment, could run into millions of dollars. Why does it cost millions of dollars? Because most of the components used in building spaceships are not reusable.

Take the rocket for instance. Once it blasts off and lifts the spaceship off the ground, that’s all. You can’t attach it to another rocket to lift off. One rocket, one ship. If you want to lift another ship, get another rocket. And building rockets is well, rocket science. So, if rockets are a major cost point in space travel, how can we make them cheaper (so space travel is ultimately cheaper?).

The answer is very technical but it boils down to how impossible it is, the components are hard to get etc. Its at this point First Principles Thinking kicks in. What are the components of rockets? What are they made of? Why can’t they be reused? In asking these questions, Musk had to literally learn rocket science from scratch.

He has a science background already, but it wasn’t easy either. It was in this process that he hit on a particular element. I can’t remember the name right now, that if it was handled differently, could fuel rockets that are reusable.

Basically, First Principles Thinking is this – when you hit the limits of conventional thinking on a topic, its at that point you should reject everything and learn it for yourself. At times, knowledge is limiting. Ignorance, with a desire to learn, can be freedom. You have no preconceived notions, so your mind is free to consider everything from top to bottom.

I don’t know if this makes any sense. Why did I share this? I’ve seen a lot of stuff lately online, and applying First Principles Thinking, I’ve found that the answer is really quite simple and obvious, but unsettling. Take Data Privacy? What is Data Privacy? Why should I or you care about it?

So, what if Google sells my data? What was I using it for in the first place? They’re giving me everything for free in return. Isn’t that a good bargain? But experts will tell you that its dangerous. You should have a right to how your data is used, how it is processed, identity theft etc.

But if I ask you what your scale of problems are right now, Google using your preference for the EPL over La Liga will most likely not make the list. Are we making a non-issue out of something that is…trivial? If the basic issue is that Google sells your data and makes money off it, maybe we should start paying for everything.

I mean everything. Pay for email. Pay for cloud storage. Pay for Twitter. Pay for Facebook. Pay for every damned service you’re subscribed for. Even if its just N1,000 (roughly $2) a month, I’m sure you see how expensive that would be for all of us. So back to the previous question.

Isn’t it a good bargain? Take my data, sell it, and give me all this cool stuff for free? Maybe the issue is the money. Why don’t we work out a system where we get a small percentage of what Google and co make from our data? Since we created the data, then maybe we should share in the revenue

Another thing is polygamy. Our 21st century thinking condemns it as outdated and yada yada yada. I agree though, but for personal reasons. I come from a weird polygamous background, so its not something I wish to repeat. But there are hard facts that support its evidence. The rate of infidelity, in and out of marriage strongly suggests that we are not designed for monogamous relationships.

I know some of you will find this suggestion offensive, and I fully understand why. Pardon me, but it had to be said. Then when you consider population stats that put women ahead of men in numbers, it further supports the suggestion of accepting polygamy. Maybe, it can help us reduce infidelity and long years of waiting before marriage, but we won’t consider it.

Because some of us are Christians, and some of us are Feminists. Some of you are both (although I don’t see how they can go together if we’re being honest). Maybe there are other solutions to the infidelity and population explosion. But our Christian and Feminist values will not allow us consider them.

This is one limitation of First Principles Thinking. At times, it demands that we put aside our values, if we are to probe things deeper. In everyday circumstances, it’s not likely to happen, but if it does, how do you choose between values and probing issues to the basic level? I don’t know, men.

Just do you.

Analyst/Emerging Tech Lead, Tech Hive Advisory | AI Ethics & Governance Researcher