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"What is the difference between a realist and a dreamer? The realist thinks that someday a UFO will come down and hover over the UN building, and that the aliens will come out of the UFO and offer to share their technology and solve all our world's problems.

The dreamer thinks maybe we can get our act together and do it ourselves."

Russian joke [It's a joke?] cited in William K. Hartmann, A Traveler's Guide to Mars.

17 May 2005

Democracy Doesn't Work

Please see my current blog (at for this post. It's filed under the same name and date in the Archives.

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Blogger pdf23ds said...

Free speech. I have some thoughts on that. I don't think the solution is to regulate it. Regulation doesn't take advantage of the distributed intelligence of the people to select the kind of quality information they want nearly as well as is possible.

Abuses of free speech, like spam and political ads, are such a pest because people have lots of incentives to perfect them and populate the system with them. So they get done a lot, and the best ways of doing them become more well known. It's an evolutionary system. There's not as much of a (individual and immediate) payoff for good speech, though, so there's not enough pressure for the good speech to evolve to keep the parasites at bay.

But we can create systems that are able to defeat the parasitic speech. Just as our bodies have evolved immune systems, so can the human communication sphere create defenses against the parasites. We're at a disadavantage now, because there's such a higher evolutionary pressure in favor of the parasites. But there's hope! A lot of usually pretty dumb actors (scammers and spammers) still can't defeat a very intelligent actor's system. So we need to increase our intelligence--our understanding of the way that social systems can be gamed--so that we can create systems that can't be gamed. Our ability to do upfront design will defeat the parasites' ability to evolve, in the long run, at first in an arms race, but eventually by altering the system so that gaming the system is expensive enough that the problem becomes managable. For an example of that last, take a look at the US Postal system.

I think regulations would just get in the way here.

Why hasn't this happened with TV? The only actors with any power in the system are the self-interested TV companies. The internet is very different. It's important to preserve the point-to-point nature of the internet, the independence of the individual actors, though. If any one actor is able to control the internet--to gain a monopoly on any horizontal slice of it (whether the backbones or the browser or the machines the browser runs on or the IP rights to create web sites or whatever), we've lost. Eventually TV goes away as we currently know it, and it becomes one less system in which to manipulate voters.

10/26/2005 8:14 PM  
Blogger quixote said...

I agree that a self-regulating system is always preferable to external enforcement. I think if we were allowed to self-regulate, the spam problem could disappear in a month.

For instance, I'm currently in a struggle with my post office about refusing mail addressed to "Resident". It's my right to do so, by US Postal Service regulations, but they refuse to abide by them, because the PO makes so much money off junk.

And email spam would stop if we could spam the spammers. Lycos tried to give people the tools to do that. They had to stop because the spam-originating servers drowned under the flood, so it was considered similar to a denial-of-service attack. You want to take these people and shake them. At least, I do. How can they deny me the precious time I have to waste on them, but if I try to return the favor, suddenly it's unacceptable? Ratbags.

Anyway, to get back to your point, yes, I think system design could take care of the problem, but it would have to give everyone the tools to enforce a level playing field.

10/27/2005 11:40 AM  

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