It is well known that systems in which there is too much feedback and too little reliance on fundamentals become unstable: I believe that this is how nicotine and caffeine and chocolate work in their evolved function as nerve poisons for bugs: excite the neurons to fire more often, and rational coordination breaks down, and the bugs that ate the tobacco leaves die. Here we are the bugs, and social media is our tobacco leaf: Charles Stross: Artificial Intelligence: Threat or Menace? http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2019/12/artificial-intelligence-threat.html: 'Today's internet ads are qualitatively different from the direct mail campaigns of yore. In the age of paper, direct mail came with a steep price of entry, which effectively limited it in scope—also, the print distribution chain was it relatively easy to police. The efflorescence of spam from 1992 onwards should have warned us that junk information drives out good, but the spam kings of the 1990s were just the harbinger of today's information apocalypse. The cost of pumping out misinformation is frighteningly close to zero, and bad information drives out good: if the propaganda is outrageous and exciting it goes viral and spreads itself for free. The recommendation algorithms used by YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter exploit this effect to maximize audience participation in pursuit of maximize advertising click-throughs. They promote popular related content, thereby prioritizing controversial and superficially plausible narratives. Viewer engagement is used to iteratively fine-tune the selection of content so that it is more appealing, but it tends to trap us in filter bubbles of material that reinforces our own existing beliefs. And bad actors have learned to game these systems to promote dubious content. It's not just Cambridge Analytica I'm talking about here, or allegations of Russian state meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Consider the spread of anti-vaccination talking points and wild conspiracy theories, which are no longer fringe phenomena but mass movements with enough media traction to generate public health emergencies in Samoa and drive-by shootings in Washington DC. Or the spread of algorithmically generated knock-offs of children's TV shows proliferating on YouTube that caught the public eye last year...


#noted #2019-12-26

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