The Language of Shoshana Zuboff

“Every threat to human autonomy begins with an assault on awareness.”


Behavioural futures markets

A new kind of marketplace for behavioural predictions.

Behavioural surplus

Raw data that is scraped or extracted from human experience and fed into a variety of manufacturing processes.

Big other

The transformation of the market into a technologically enabled project of total certainty and control that is unimaginable outside of the digital milieu and surveillance capitalism.


Method of inducing behaviour change. Encourages use of ‘schedules of reinforcement’ that are used to reliably shape behavioural routines.

Data exhaust

The ‘spare’ or unused data that in the very early days clogged Google’s filters and had little value but later became available for extraction and use.

Digital dystopia

A condition of society in which the imperatives of technical development have overtaken and overwhelmed those that promote human and cultural development. Utilitarian impulses (such as efficiency, prediction and control) become widely applied to human beings and ways of life. Supports misguided and untenable association between technical change and social development. Becomes incoherent since such phenomena effectively constitute different worlds. Also contains the seeds of its own failure by ignoring, or seeking to eliminate, in-built human requirements for autonomy and freedom from oppression.

Economies of action

Brought into play as a consequence of new methods that go beyond tracking, capturing, analysing and predicting behaviour.

Economies of scale in surplus accumulation

The consequence of automated systems that track, hunt and induce more behavioural surplus.

Economies of scope, scale, variation and volume

Required by more powerful prediction products. Occurs along two dimensions: extension (across a wide range of activities) and depth (of predictive detail within each activity).

Extraction imperative, the

A dynamic that became established as ‘machine intelligence’ increased the ability to produce ‘better,’ ie. more effective, prediction products.


 A common form of mass manipulation that relies on controlling key elements in peoples’ immediate context. Enables remote orchestration of human situations, forecloses alternatives and shifts behaviour in specific ways toward desired ends.

 Means of behavioural modification

Machine processes, techniques and tactics designed to shape individual, group and population behaviour in ways that continuously improve their approximation to guaranteed outcomes. Also see tuning, herding and conditioning.

Prediction imperative

Became a strategic necessity as increased competition drove supply challenges to new levels.

 Prediction products

Fabricated data that is used to predict what you do now, soon and later.

Two texts (1) the forward text

Those aspects of the on-line world that users can see, use and be consciously aware of. They include software interfaces, design features of compelling websites, ‘like’ buttons and related devices to support user engagement Otherwise known as ‘the bait.’

Two texts (2) the shadow text

The vast hidden world of dedicated machine intelligence that facilitates the ‘extraction imperative.’ Comprised of a vast network of AI applications that exclusively serve the owners of the system and are devoid of broader oversight and regulation. Contains depth knowledge about users but is unseen by, and unavailable to, them.

Puppet and puppet master

The ‘puppet’ is a device such as a mobile phone, security camera or other ‘smart’ device (such as a TV) that appears to operate according to its proximate owner’s bidding. But it actually operates according to the ‘designed-in’ dictates and hidden imperatives installed by the ‘puppet masters’ who ‘pull the stings’ in remote and unseen ways.


A process in which something is formed out of something else that is previously given. Also refers to the way the original is transformed to something else in the process. Applies to all human products, needs and processes that are subject to the competition for surveillance revenues.

Right to the future tense

Based on the freedom of will, the openness of the future and the notion of civilisation as a ‘moral milieu.’

Right to sanctuary

Elemental human right to be free of oppression and invasion. Aligned with right to justice. Under extreme and sustained threat from big other’sdigital dystopia’ and the rise of untamed and unregulated conditions.

Surveillance capitalism (SC)

A mutant form of capitalism that unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material.

 Surveillance revenues

Extremely large sums of money generated within the hidden economy facilitated by ‘surveillance capitalism’ based on the extraction and use of private information for unlimited exploitation and use. A kind of ‘parallel economy’ that exerts hidden, mostly malign, pressures on ‘real’ economies based on the tangible exchange of goods and services. Similar in many respects to the parallel ‘negative economy’ of speculative financialisation and with equally disturbing real-world consequences.

Social media

Electronically enabled and thus highly attenuated interactions between people at a distance. Highly attractive, especially to the young, at superficial levels. Has become increasingly dangerous and divisive. For example, facilitating the invasion of private lives, demonising individuals, ethnic and other groups, facilitating the rise of disinformation, hatred and extremism. A classic case of applying a technology far too soon before its wider costs were properly appreciated.


The use of subliminal cues designed to shape the flow of behaviour at specific times and places for maximum influence. Closely related to Nudging and Choice Architecture, both of which refer to situations designed to alter people’s behaviour in predictable and pre-programmed ways.


Contributes to ‘economies of action’ by leveraging the wealth created though ‘behavioural surplus’ to pre-empt and foreclose other alternatives. Replaces the indeterminacy of open-ended social processes with pre-programmed machine processes, thus undermining human autonomy. Hence represents the annihilation of contract per se.



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