Mad Dreams of Equality

The internet is not a giant open space where equals meet. It's a place where symbols of equality serve the concentration of power and wealth. The owners of an antigora don't send in tanks to flatten the lumpen, but still fatefully gain an information advantage that tilts events in their own favour, even though it is from an arms-length, almost inert position.

The method is perfectly and precisely boring. Gradually, those who have entered the antigora come under the influence of algorithms. There is no brute force, but instead the micromanagement of choices presented.

A constant stream of suggested behaviours are placed in front of people, and on a gradual, statistical basis, the crowd acquiesces. It is not possible to look at a million options, so the recommended ones become the only ones. The vastness of the internet becomes its narrowness.

Sex partners are specified, but more to the point, products are sold, loans are made, votes are cast, attention is directed. Giant financial meltdowns (mortgage backed derivatives, automated trading) occur on autopilot, no one at fault, the public holding the tab. Wages don't rise because algorithms figure out how to manipulate people into freelance arrangements where they are on call and unable to plan a career. There are many flavours of systemic information asymmetry, but at heart they are all similar.

Token numbers of commoners in the antigora are thrown bones, like a way to maker a respectable amount of money by self-publishing a romance novel, driving people around, or posting a funny video. This spurs mad dreams in the rest.

A slight — but cumulative and compounding — imbalance turns into a gigantic gap in wealth and influence. Off to the side, those who spy quickly become ultra-billionaires and dream of immortality. A few of the kinder ones float ideas for keeping the masses from starving once the robots get good. A basic income model? Humanity as a kept species.

From an essay by Jaron Lanier in The Future of Public Space