Guest post: The impossibility of ratings and necessity of addressing Psychological Incentives
100% on board with this mission, which is very close to my heart.
1. Regarding ratings
All ratings are manipulated.
In 2015, Reddit accidentally revealed its users are being manipulated. The #1 entry under “Most Addicted Cities” on this now-deleted blog post is Eglin Air Force Base, a major hub for domestic propaganda and online manipulation programs.
Here is a paper funded by Eglin about online social control and information suppression: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1402.5644.pdf
Meanwhile, if there are reputation systems involved to enforce a standard for raters, or different kinds of raters — they. will. be. gamed. (see Why Reputation Systems are Bad Incentive Design — 3 min read: https://medium.com/@harmonylion1/why-reputation-systems-are-bad-incentive-design-1314d792f4b1)
The problem of Identity
If you want to maintain data on raters, identity is key. Even blockchains aren’t prepared to help with this yet—anyone can create multiple crypto wallets and pretend to be multiple people.
KYCing all raters by collecting passport photos doesn’t seem like an option. (Also, governments can make new passports whenever they want.)
Until a breakthrough occurs in the Identity area, sybil attacks are inevitable if something so powerful as public opinion is at stake.
2. Psychological Incentives
The problem of centralized knowledge authority is mirrored by a problem of incentives among information consumers.
We naturally seek “authoritative sources” in order to outsource the responsibility and burden of independent thinking while saving face with our communities. (After all, if the New York Times says it, how can you be blamed for believing it?)
These psychological incentives pervert the knowledge-seeking endeavor and make it possible for centralized knowledge authorities to control public opinion. These psychological incentives are engrained over millions of years, and are not going away anytime soon.
Psychological incentives are exploited by centralized knowledge authorities to memetically engineer the public in ways that benefit themselves — news outlets polarize their audiences so they’re less likely to leave, magazines publish clickbait to compel attention, and Wikipedia patrols encyclopedia entries to enforce official narratives and taboos.
The only way to liberate ourselves from the psychological incentives that make us vulnerable to (hungry for!) centralized knowledge control is to introduce new incentives on top of them.
How can we do this?
When seeking knowledge, we seek authoritative sources like the New York Times. But when seeking investments, we seek undervalued opportunities. We look for what has been overlooked by the authorities.
This is how knowledge can be enabled to advance.
By imbuing the search for superior truths with the same incentives as the search for superior investments, we can simultaneously 1) liberate ourselves from our psychological incentives to seek authoritative sources and 2) democratize the concept of authority.
Without creating something that reforms the public’s relationship to knowledge, the public remains vulnerable to information manipulation, no matter how sophisticated (or “democratized”) the new technologies are.
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