Governance of the Attention Economy

  Source: Reddit, Statista

Source: Reddit, Statista

A fascinating piece at Polygon this week takes issue with an aspect of Ready Player One that points to a fundamental question that separates science fiction from our attention economy. In the movie, the protagonist adventures through a virtual reality world, where future society spends the majority of its time. This world has rules and goals, but they are woven into the background. Polygon argues this is highly unrealistic not in its technology, but in its community. Take an existing example, such as VR Chat with its millions of users and a growing online community. What we see in anonymous places like this is an amplification of the edges, extreme opinions and weird behavior becoming louder, and armies of trolls and celebrities emerging.

This has happened repeatedly on the web – from Twitter, to Youtube, to Reddit, to Facebook. Such radicalization can come from either human behavior, or amplification of human intent through propaganda bots. And it is also spilling out in the other direction. Take YouTube. From the thousands of software-created violent and bizarre children’s videos, to celebrity trolls like Logan Paul getting paid millions to act out hijinks for followers, all the way to the tragic shooting at the YouTube headquarters by an erratic personality taking issue with a change in the economic model.

This means that moderation is key. A community with successful moderators is a connected and enjoyable place to be. A community without moderation leans into its edges, and can become hostile and aggressive. See Jack Dorsey and Twitter. But, you know, moderation of an online community is really just regulation, isn’t it? And governance standards for content (or crypto economic activity) are really just government. So in this new wave of technology, all we are doing is re-inventing the same old solutions for the same old human problems -- how to be social animals, how to create successful tribes, how to trade off freedoms and rights. Rights and freedoms in the abstract mean nothing. Only when the right of one person collides with the right of another person (your backyard, our recording drone), do we need intervention to decide how the conflict is resolved.  

As we enter the machine age, the challenge is the scale of what needs to be governed. While humans may successfully moderate human content, they have very little chance of manually moderating the big data tsunami in which we are tossed about. And as augmented reality is layered on top our physical world, expect this issue to get an order of magnitude worse. Thus our new communities, like Facebook, LinkedIn or Amazon, are already governed by artificial intelligences. We may call these things “NewsFeed” or “Recommendations”. But don’t be fooled for a moment. The mathematical selection of content in response to human fashions is the most powerful voice in the world. It shapes opinion, economy and political power. Shouldn’t we at least be allowed to elect our AI overlords? Maybe we can moderate them.

  Source :   MIT/Reddit