The Donald Trump Presidency increasingly looks like the unintended side effect of an advertising algorithm that doesn't have a shut-off switch.
Here's the argument:
1) Advertising works. People can be influenced to make decisions based on what they see and hear, and frequency is very, very important.
2) Online, what people see and hear is curated by algorithms (also known as artificial intelligence). These algorithms are constantly being optimised to keep people hooked - and generate ad dollars.
3) In Twitter's case - 'outrage' has become the most effective 'hook' and the de-facto tone.
4) Traditional news media increasingly takes its lead from what's trending on social media.
5) Any leadership candidate that optimises a message for outrage - would dominate the medium, and have an outsize influence over some of the population.
I'm arguing that we have created a society-wide experiment, where we are just one part of the computer programme. Our clicks and engagements are a 'high score' to be achieved by a deep learning algorithm - just like a computer game, Jeopardy, 'Go' or Chess.
We have ceded influence to a machine that is optimised for outrage and tribalism. One natural outcome of this barrage of information is to influence how we choose to vote.
In a vote this close, it seems clear to me that the Donald Trump presidency is likely a second order effect of an algorithm run beyond its needs.
It's impossible to argue that Trump was, and still is, anything but a magnetic presence on Twitter - he won the presidency using this as his primary communications medium.
To be clear, this is not an argument for or against Donald Trump. My point is that his message; whether intentional or not, sparked outrage and tribalism - and that is a major advantage when our main communications media optimise for these same attributes.
This election is the canary in the coalmine for AI.
If you know the Nick Bostrom argument about runaway AI turning the entire known universe in paperclips - this is a very similar argument. We have enslaved our democratic levers to an Ad revenue generating algorithm.
We need to be much, much more sensitive to the types of societies we want to create when designing society-wide experiments.
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