Micro-economics of the End of the World
As I sit contemplating my under-employment and its various causes, it became clear to me that my natural sunny disposition has hampered me. Too much sunshine has always been known to be harmful, incidentally.
Consider the doomsayer, a man who leads a charmed life in our culture. The doomsayer has a natural advantage over his more sanguine colleague. If he is, like most are, an academic, he writes a grant with the title, “The Calamity That Awaits Us When The Climate Changes.” The granting agency is skeptical, but they reason: “Although the probability of calamity is low, if it does occur the effects will be calamitous. Therefore, our doling out this meager sum is nothing compared to what it would cost us if the calamity occurred.”
Meanwhile, the other man writes a grant entitled, “People Worry Too Much: Life Is Pretty Good” which attracts no funders.
The doomsayer, sitting in his newly appointed office, writes his speculative papers which, when joined with the output of his nervous brothers, become authoritative because of their sheer number, just like ghost stories.
Worse, when it comes time to promotion the doomsayer can point to his steady stream of grants (which employ administrators) and papers, while the other man can only point to failures in these areas. The effect on the system is obvious.
“What is your ideal job? In the best of all worlds, tell me me what you see yourself doing?”
“I see myself winning the lottery.”
Pause. “Do you know the odds of that happening?”
“It’s because I know the odds that I’m sitting here!”
We’ll see if I get a call back.
The US government is offering private intelligence companies contracts to create software to manage “fake people” on social media sites and create the illusion of consensus on controversial issues.
The contract calls for the development of “Persona Management Software” which would help the user create and manage a variety of distinct fake profiles online.
Jerry Pournelle writes that “I recall that in China there is the ‘fifty cent party’ of some 200,000 paid bloggers and commentors whose job is to make up a consensus of approval of the government and Party.” Various companies pay marketers to do similar things here, like touting for snack crackers, but with little success.
The Persona Management Software is not this, and is instead meant to be an Eliza-like system which will fool real people into thinking they are talking to other real people and not bots. The bots will feed real people whatever propaganda its masters deem important. The system must be opaque, so that if suspicions are cast on the bots, it can offer “powerful deniability.”
Given the context and content of the vast majority of on-line communications between real people, particularly through Facebook, Twitter, and the like, the influence of any such software package is likely to be minimal at best.
The Patriot Action Network is rightly worried, but I see it as the computerized equivalent of dropping leaflets, a practice that has almost never worked, except in the rare instances the leaflets announced that your house is right under the planned bombing route.