However, Facebook is trying to get eyeballs on ads, as is Twitter, as is Google. To do this, they fine-tune the content they show you to make it more attractive to your eyes—and by ‘attractive’ I do not mean pleasant. We humans have an evolved automatic reflex to pay attention to threats and horrors as well as pleasurable stimuli: consider the way highway traffic always slows to a crawl as it is funnelled past an accident site. The algorithms that determine what to show us when we look at Facebook or Twitter take this bias into account. You might react more strongly to a public hanging in Iran than to a couple kissing: the algorithm knows, and will show you whatever makes you pay attention.
Pointer from Tyler Cowen.
Trigger warning: lots of smug rhetoric presuming that the left is correct on climate change, net neutrality, financial regulation, etc.
Looking ahead, Stross writes,
Your phone will be aware of precisely what you like to look at on its screen. With addiction-seeking deep learning and neural-network generated images, it is in principle possible to feed you an endlessly escallating [sic] payload of arousal-maximizing inputs. It might be Facebook or Twitter messages optimized to produce outrage, or it could be porn generated by AI to appeal to kinks you aren’t even consciously aware of. But either way, the app now owns your central nervous system—and you will be monetized.
One key point on which I agree with Stross is that I am surprised and disappointed that of all of the possible ways to pay for content on the Internet, the advertising model dominates. I understand why micropayments did not take off–Clay Shirky diagnosed the “mental transactions costs” involved. But if the subscription model (what I called “clubs” in my essays from twenty years ago) were dominant, then the interests of consumers and content providers would be better aligned. With the advertising model, the relationship is necessarily adversarial. The content provider needs to grab and hold your attention, whether that works to your benefit or not. Bad consequences follow.