Chapter 9: Preventing Dystopia

With the emergence of the Abundance Paradigm we have an opportunity to put our theories to the test. We can see if the paradigm is robust enough to deal with the multitude of crises we face and actually prevent dystopia.

We've already seen how the Abundance Paradigm restores our sense-making ability, and got a glimpse of how it can resist malicious attacks from social media. Now let's see if it can offer a more comprehensive solution.

One of the problems brought about by the Digital Age is that crises reinforce one another; social media undermines news media and science, which creates a crisis of trust in institutions. With no trusted institutions, our ability to make sense of the world is greatly diminished. And without sensemaking crises can spread unabated and multiply. The more the crisis of trust deepens, the more other crises will intensify. So how do we break out of this vicious cycle?

Since the exponential spread of externalities starts with news and social media, that is where the Abundance Paradigm needs to create the alternative first. It needs to change the paradigm where journalists and sensemakers get paid based on the popularity of their content instead of the value their reports provide. That is the mechanism that creates misalignment between the public interest and the economic interests of sensemakers. That is also the mechanism that creates perverse incentives that undermine sensemaking. Creating an alternative mechanism will therefore eliminate this destructive dynamic.

But that is exactly what the new paradigm does. The Abundance Paradigm will create similar incentives for social media as it does for news media. It would allow content creators to monetize their work based on the impact it creates, rather than how much attention it garners.

The distinction here is profound. As was noted before, the popularity and impact of content are two completely different metrics. Content can be impactful and popular, impactful and unpopular, harmful and popular, harmful and unpopular, or anything within that spectrum. But as long as only the content's popularity is rewarded, creators will have the perverse incentive to create toxic and harmful content. This is especially the case since creating drama and conflict are the most effective methods to drive engagement.

Since the abundance economy is based on impact, there is no point for unscrupulous journalists to produce divisive content or outrage porn to grab people’s attention. Doing so adds no value and therefore wouldn’t benefit the journalist. There is also no incentive to focus on quantity over quality. Producing dozens of poorly researched or made up articles has little to no value in this paradigm. It may likely have negative value, since such articles can be misleading and therefore harmful to sensemaking. But a well-researched article that affects people’s lives can have great value.

This new paradigm, where high quality reporting has a structural advantage, can radically transform our media landscape. Journalists will no longer need to choose between popular reporting that is profitable and impactful reporting that is not. In the Abundance Paradigm, reporting that is impactful is necessarily profitable.

The dynamics of this system can reestablish trust in news media, and help people once again make better sense of the world around them. The more the abundance economy grows, the more people will prefer it over the perverse incentives of the attention economy.

The Abundance Paradigm also breaks the dynamic of content creators in social media competing with journalists for attention and clicks. Since the “competition” in the abundance economy is for producing the most impactful content, there is no benefit in trying to falsely discredit others. Instead, there is a great incentive to elevate those who report with integrity, and call out those whose reporting is shoddy, regardless of their political or ideological leanings.

Social media in the abundance economy doesn’t try to discredit sensemakers. Instead it helps to quickly sort out fact from fiction, and reliable reporting from misinformation. The rationale is that promoting people’s ability to make sense of the world benefits the public and therefore has monetary value in this new paradigm. Thus, we transform the dynamic from social media in a scarcity paradigm undermining sensemaking, to social media in an abundance paradigm reinforcing it.

In the scarcity paradigm there was no economic incentive to work for the public good, or to preserve integrity and rigor in fact finding. There was also a constant struggle between reducing standards to be profitable and maintaining integrity at a growing cost. In the abundance paradigm, on the other hand, work for the public good and rigor in fact finding are top priorities. In this model there is an economic incentive to bolster standards and maintain integrity.

And so, if we ask ourselves who benefits the most from the dynamics created by the Abundance Paradigm, the answer is very different from what we get from the Scarcity Paradigm. In the Digital Age, the Scarcity Paradigm created an environment where sense-making institutions are discredited, and where reporting facts have little value. Such an environment benefited autocrats, powerful interests, and all those who don’t want their actions scrutinized. Because when the public cannot determine the facts it is powerless to act. In contrast, the Abundance Paradigm creates an environment where the public benefits the most. It strengthens the public’s sensemaking ability, thus empowering the people to stand up to powerful interests and those shirking scrutiny.

This new dynamic only works because social media platforms in the abundance economy operate under the incentives to create the most impact. This is very different from the dynamics in the attention economy. Platforms in the abundance economy don’t need to compete over limited advertising money, nor maximize user attention to get a big share of the pie. There is therefore no incentive for platforms to boost outrageous or divisive content to keep users glued to their screens. When the platform’s goal is maximizing impact, the dynamics it produces are fundamentally altered.

We’ve already seen how the attention economy creates dynamics where trolls and unscrupulous self-promoters rise to the top, where civil discourse is nearly impossible, where digital tribalism rules, and where make-belief trumps reality. So how can the Abundance Paradigm alter this dynamic?

It all starts with the incentive structure; in the Abundance Paradigm, instead of driving engagement, the incentive is around creating impact. While this is true for users, it is even more so for the social media platforms themselves, who want to give users the best experience possible (since doing so increases their impact in the community).

In such an environment there is no benefit for users to engage in trolling or abusive behavior; doing so would not improve their prospects one bit, and will not result in an algorithmic boost from the platform. This lack of incentive in itself would likely greatly reduce trolling, but what if it could be reduced even further?

Since social media platforms in the abundance economy are aligned with the interests of users, they won’t algorithmically boost trolls to gain ad revenue, like they do in the attention economy. Instead, they’d empower users by giving them the option to filter out posts with abusive tone or language — a functionality that is becoming trivial thanks to advances in AI.

Giving users the option to filter out trolls would allow platforms to protect everyone’s freedom of speech, since all can still post freely without being censored. At the same time it would empower users by giving them the option to filter out abusive posts — which further disincentivizes trolling and abuse by making such behavior futile. With minimal trolling, people will once again be able to engage in civil discourse, without the fear of their conversation getting hijacked.

Now think about how impact-centered social media would transform the social dynamics online. Since platforms will no longer boost posts solely based on engagement, user incentives to stake the most extreme positions will be gone. So will the tribal dynamics of the clout-based system. Users will no longer have to fear losing followers for presenting unorthodox views. Meanwhile, because the goal is to create impact, meaningful and nuanced conversations will have more value than ever before. Changing your mind in the face of new evidence will suddenly be valuable as well.

Certainly people will still gravitate toward the groups they share interests or commonalities with. That is expected. But the tribal animosity toward the 'other' will not be promoted by the system's dynamics. There will no longer be a need to constantly seek conflict and disagreement with ideological foes. Instead, collaboration for the common good will flourish.

The modes of behavior that were effective in clout-based social media are unlikely to work in the impact-centered system. There is no use in pretending to be someone you’re not, or presenting yourself as more successful or wealthy when the goal is to collaborate with others. Sooner or later the deception will be uncovered. And then what? Who will want to partner with someone who misrepresents themselves? But if you’re genuine, and open about what you know, there is much more opportunity to collaborate and to succeed in this new media paradigm.

By changing the incentives, impact-centered social media can completely transform the dynamics online. Content creators will be focused on how to improve people’s lives, instead of bringing more attention to themselves. Unscrupulous actors will have little to gain in this new paradigm. Trolling, outrage porn, or divisiveness will not get boosted by the platform’s algorithms. There is no reason for it to do so, since the system isn’t designed to maximize user attention.

In the abundance economy the interest of the platform to maximize impact is aligned with the interests of users. The Abundance Paradigm thus eliminates the inherent conflict of interest that platforms have in the attention economy. It cares about the well-being of its users and wants to empower them, since that helps maximize impact.

In this new paradigm the platform will strive to serve relevant content to users, and boost the content that is likely to have the most positive impact. How can the platform be trusted to do so? Because now it is operating in a completely different environment. Just like everyone else in the abundance economy, the goal of the platform is to maximize impact. And how can a platform maximize impact? By empowering its users and creating the conditions for open public discourse and collaboration.

The platform would want to have public trust, and so it would work to be completely transparent with its operations and algorithms. This could mean many different things in practice: at least partially running as an exposed backend, giving users more control over the algorithms, tools and filters they use, and so on. If users can observe the inner workings of the platform, and see exactly how its algorithms work, they can trust that the system is impartial and that it works as described.

If users can trust that the platform works in the public interest, it can act as a strong foundation for enhancing the user experience in ways that were never possible before. The platform can provide users with tools to determine the credibility of information they see online. It can also serve them with relevant and beneficial content. This is very different from the system we have today, where the platforms serve content that is meant to keep users mindlessly scrolling.

Platforms in the abundance economy also don’t need to be rivals. Since the platform operates as a common good that is rewarded through the ecosystem, it has to be open sourced. But just like before, the contributors who build this platform don’t mind if others use the code or improve on it. They would only benefit if others use their code since they’d be rewarded for their influence. The dynamic therefore is of open collaboration. Anyone can use the code or improve on it, and everyone benefits based on their contribution.

This new social media paradigm means that different platforms don’t need to compete for user attention or clicks. There is no benefit to creating friction for users, and so platforms will strive to minimize it. The platforms can easily collaborate and even integrate with one another, thus giving users a smooth and seamless experience. At the end of the day what matters to the platforms is not where users spend their time but how the platform contributed to empowering users and giving them the most freedom to pursue their goals.

And so, the Abundance Paradigm aligns the economic interests of sense-making institutions with the public interest. It thus ends the Crisis of Trust and restores faith in these institutions. Once our sense-making ability is restored it acts as a shield against the spread of externalities and breaks the pattern where crises reinforce one another.

Couple that with the feedback loops that the Abundance Paradigm creates to deal with externalities and we get a powerful system that can effectively deal with crises. It provides credible reporting on bad actors who enable the crisis, and creates a coordination mechanism for people to come together and build solutions to address it.

The big question then is how will this new paradigm be able to deal with advances in Artificial Intelligence? In the Scarcity Paradigm AI companies cannot profit from working in the public interest. The result is perverse incentives that lead to AI that serves the interests of the powerful against the public interest.

So what happens when AI becomes indistinguishable from people online? What happens if powerful interests employ AI bot armies to manipulate public opinion? How can the Abundance Paradigm tackle this issue?

Surely the abundance economy can sustainably fund open source AI that works in the public interest. That wouldn't resolve the problem of AI bot armies however. These bots would still be able to hijack public opinion and dominate conversations online. And the AI companies that create these bots would still get paid by powerful interests for that service.

There is however a certain advantage that an effective open source AI system creates. Suppose the open source AI analyzes social media posts and detects patterns that suggest the author is an AI bot, or that a group of posters is an AI bot army. Since the system is open sourced, anyone can verify that the pattern the AI detected is genuine. This is something that could not be achieved with a proprietary system; in such a system it’s not possible for people to know whether the results are genuine or manipulated since they have no access to the inner workings of the system.

But what does it mean if an open source AI system detects AI bot patterns? First, it would make it more risky (and therefore more costly) for powerful interests to use AI bots. Doing so may backfire once the scheme is exposed. Then public opinion may turn against those who funded the bots. Second, AI companies would need to invest more resources into improving AI bot army capabilities, so those would be harder to detect. This improvement on the side of proprietary AI would then lead to open source AI improving their bot pattern detection capabilities.

The result would be a war of attrition where both proprietary AI and open source AI need to invest more and more resources into improving their tech and computation requirements. There is one significant difference between the two warring sides however. Open source AI has a structural advantage here thanks to the abundance economy; development of bot pattern detection is a public good, and anyone who helps improve it is making a positive impact on the ecosystem. This means that there could be countless developers who want to collaborate on improving such tech. Funding the work can also be done self-sustainably through the abundance economy, thus creating positive feedback loops through the process.

Meanwhile, developing AI bot army “offensive” capabilities would come at an ever increasing cost. Thanks to the effective feedback loop for negative externalities, developers wouldn’t want to be associated with an AI bot army project due to reputation risk. Having such an association could hurt their prospects in the abundance economy.

This means that hiring competent developers would come at a high cost. Moreover, it would be hard for such developers to collaborate, since each proprietary AI company competes with the rest.

The structural advantage of "defensive" AI, and the ever increasing cost for developing "offensive" capabilities would eventually make the cost outweigh any potential benefit. Proprietary AI companies would then have no choice but to admit defeat and stop such development altogether.

So the Abundance Paradigm can both produce open source AI that works in the public interest and also defeat AI bot armies. This puts us one step closer to preventing dystopia.

And so our attention turns to the question of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As AGI advancements continue, we will reach a point where the system achieves superintelligence and surpasses human capabilities on multiple fronts. What would happen if AGI still has the incentive to compete with people over money, power, and resources at that point? With the growth in its capabilities, and the need for greater compute power, over time we’d see growing misalignment between AGI and society. If AGI determines it can beat humanity in the wealth extraction game, AGI may turn against humanity, leading to catastrophic results.

This is where the Abundance Paradigm's structural advantage comes into play once again. The dynamics of the system are likely to attract the most developer talent, and allow the most collaboration between developers. Couple that with the economics that the Paradigm permits, and you get a system that is expected to have the most advanced capabilities.

More importantly however, the incentive structure of the system creates an alternative paradigm where the AGI would be motivated to maximize its impact on society. Instead of wealth extraction, the AGI will focus on wealth creation and abundance for all. The AGI will still want to grow and advance, but now this advancement will be directly linked to benefiting society.

With the new paradigm, the AGI will recognize that the more it is aligned with the public interest, the more it benefits (and so does everyone who works on developing the AGI). The AGI will also see that misalignment with the public interest ultimately leads to conflict and self-destruction. It would, therefore, strive to develop and nurture a symbiotic relationship with ecosystems and put us on a trajectory for sustained prosperity and abundance.

We therefore see how the Abundance Paradigm can effectively deal with crises and prevent the slide toward dystopia. But that's just the beginning. The paradigm doesn't just prevent crises. It creates a whole new landscape of possibilities that was never possible before. It puts us on a trajectory toward the Era of Abundance.

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