But that general principle — that we’re not treating people well enough with digital systems — still bothers me. I do still think that is very true.
Well, this is maybe the greatest tragedy in the history of computing, and it goes like this: there was a well-intentioned, sweet movement in the ‘80s to try to make everything online free. And it started with free software and then it was free music, free news, and other free services.
But, at the same time, it’s not like people were clamoring for the government to do it or some sort of socialist solution. If you say, well, we want to have entrepreneurship and capitalism, but we also want it to be free, those two things are somewhat in conflict, and there’s only one way to bridge that gap, and it’s through the advertising model.
And advertising became the model of online information, which is kind of crazy. But here’s the problem: if you start out with advertising, if you start out by saying what I’m going to do is place an ad for a car or whatever, gradually, not because of any evil plan — just because they’re trying to make their algorithms work as well as possible and maximize their shareholders value and because computers are getting faster and faster and more effective algorithms —
what starts out as advertising morphs into behavior modification.
A second issue is that people who participate in a system of this time, since everything is free since it’s all being monetized, what reward can you get? Ultimately, this system creates assholes, because if being an asshole gets you attention, that’s exactly what you’re going to do. Because there’s a bias for negative emotions to work better in engagement, because the attention economy brings out the asshole in a lot of other people, the people who want to disrupt and destroy get a lot more efficiency for their spend than the people who might be trying to build up and preserve and improve.
Q: What do you think about programmers using consciously addicting techniques to keep people hooked to their products?
A: There’s a long and interesting history that goes back to the 19th century, with the science of Behaviorism that arose to study living things as though they were machines.
Behaviorists had this feeling that I think might be a little like this godlike feeling that overcomes some hackers these days, where they feel totally godlike as though they have the keys to everything and can control people
I think our responsibility as engineers is to engineer as well as possible, and to engineer as well as possible, you have to treat the thing you’re engineering as a product.
You can’t respect it in a deified way.
It goes in the reverse. We’ve been talking about the behaviorist approach to people, and manipulating people with addictive loops as we currently do with online systems.
In this case, you’re treating people as objects.
It’s the flipside of treating machines as people, as AI does. They go together. Both of them are mistakes
Source: Read the extensive interview at Business Insider