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#71- What is Technology Doing to Us? A conversation with Tristan Harris

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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14 April 2017 19:34
 

In this episode of the Waking Up Podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Tristan Harris about the arms race for human attention, the ethics of persuasion, the consequences of having a ad-based economy, the dynamics of regret and other topics.

What is Technology Doing to Us? A conversation with Tristan Harris

This thread is for listeners’ comments.

 
Jb8989
 
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15 April 2017 07:13
 

Cool podcast.

I’m not sure there needs to be language that breaks down the subtle differences between influence, coercion, persuasion, manipulation, suggestion etc. The point seemed to be the sheer veracity of it in aggregate, especially when it’s being regulated by people on the other end of the algorithm who have sales games in mind. The part about it being in the process of creating a sort of new complacency with regret and rage that’s socially and emotionally maladaptive was good. I’d like to hear more about how counterproductive from an individual level it’s becoming. One comment would be that we’re probably never going to be as a population self-aware enough to overcome how compelled we are to allocate time and energy to be attention-seeking. The web is increasingly proving that it’s most people’s source of motivation. And it might actually reinforce itself, too. I liked the way they sort of conceptualized the media giants as creating a bubble city. It seems like what you’d want to get across is that what we want isn’t what we click, share or even half-read anymore, but rather what we want is slowly becoming what we click which is statistically becoming what someone else wants us to waste our time doing. Because they don’t give a shit about “us.” Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but the thought occurred to me that you don’t need to be hyper vigilant to overcome that, just occasionally extremely oppositional. After all, that’s what all that talk was about when you he kept talking about the phone in the morning; just sort of a general more frequent removal from screens.

Sam, I also reviewed this podcast and the thought came to my mind that you have an extremely poignant microcosm example of exactly what was being exemplified on that podcast. Do me a favor, if you ever read these things, which you probably don’t, go check out the thread The Dump. In it, we’re talking about people who are actually probably a step up from the general population’s intellectual capacity who have showed an inability to avoid spending their time regretfully.

[ Edited: 15 April 2017 07:27 by Jb8989]
 
 
plaxico89
 
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16 April 2017 17:52
 

Really enjoyed this podcast, a much needed conversation.

Was anyone else surprised to hear Tristan speak positively about the organic foods movement? I get what he meant with using it as an example of creating a more expensive product that presumably provides higher value but it certainly seems like a controversial example, given that there’s no evidence that organic foods provide health benefits and certainly a lot of disagreement on its environmental benefits. Perhaps he was only endorsing the idea behind the movement, not its actual impact. What do others think?

 
ejdalise
 
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19 April 2017 01:01
 

I had the same concern regarding the organic food example. If something like that happened, we would be replacing one flawed system for another and — carrying the metaphor forward — one that is still opportunistic and predatory. Then again, we might be all smug and self-satisfied with this “organic Internet.”.

As a general comment, I enjoyed the podcast but questioned Tristan’s optimism that something can be done. It’s at a point that it may be out of the hands of the providers and feeding on itself.

In many respect, I see it as equivalent to any other addiction; people will gladly continue with a self-harming behavior to the point that it will kill them.

 
Jb8989
 
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19 April 2017 16:47
 

The other thing I was thinking was about cross referencing. Did this come up? Our clicking habits and patterns are one thing, but when cross referenced with personally identifiable information that we share digitally it can really chip away at privacy for the sake of psychological manipulation. To spend time and buy. A lot of people don’t know that either through a purchase or some sort of access we grant with the terms of and online contract-wall, a lot of company’s like apple, Facebook, Priceline and even much smaller ones take our personally identifiable information and share it. It’s the reason why when you’re searching for a vacation, the same hotel that you researched an hour ago is now in an advertisement for a company that isn’t even a parent or sister company for the website you used to search for it in the first place. The laws used to regulate this are like the wild west because they’re so under litigated. Things like purchasing habits, traveling frequency, tastes in food can be found through click patterns, but when cross referenced with your zip code, ethnicity, religion, race and purchasing power ( or lack there of), they’re going to need a new word for it all. Maybe malicious persuasion. Self-induced nefarious coercion?

 
 
Jb8989
 
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19 April 2017 16:49
 
ejdalise - 19 April 2017 01:01 AM

I had the same concern regarding the organic food example. If something like that happened, we would be replacing one flawed system for another and — carrying the metaphor forward — one that is still opportunistic and predatory. Then again, we might be all smug and self-satisfied with this “organic Internet.”.

As a general comment, I enjoyed the podcast but questioned Tristan’s optimism that something can be done. It’s at a point that it may be out of the hands of the providers and feeding on itself.

In many respect, I see it as equivalent to any other addiction; people will gladly continue with a self-harming behavior to the point that it will kill them.

I liked his optimism too, but when you consider how large the “community” of these digital corporation’s is, change boils down to a full blown social media paradigm shift.

 
 
dagome
 
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19 April 2017 19:27
 

Was anyone able to find that youtube video that was made that makes Sam appear to say some garbage stuff ?
I can not find it, my google-ing skills are not up to par for this task :(
thanks

 
ejdalise
 
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19 April 2017 19:40
 

I found a video on how the technology works . . . pretty scary:

http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/make-videos-say-what-you-want-face2face/

 
Wanderer
 
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20 April 2017 01:37
 
Jb8989 - 19 April 2017 04:47 PM

The other thing I was thinking was about cross referencing. Did this come up? Our clicking habits and patterns are one thing, but when cross referenced with personally identifiable information that we share digitally it can really chip away at privacy for the sake of psychological manipulation. To spend time and buy. A lot of people don’t know that either through a purchase or some sort of access we grant with the terms of and online contract-wall, a lot of company’s like apple, Facebook, Priceline and even much smaller ones take our personally identifiable information and share it. It’s the reason why when you’re searching for a vacation, the same hotel that you researched an hour ago is now in an advertisement for a company that isn’t even a parent or sister company for the website you used to search for it in the first place. The laws used to regulate this are like the wild west because they’re so under litigated. Things like purchasing habits, traveling frequency, tastes in food can be found through click patterns, but when cross referenced with your zip code, ethnicity, religion, race and purchasing power ( or lack there of), they’re going to need a new word for it all. Maybe malicious persuasion. Self-induced nefarious coercion?

I recently did some research (and a podcast of my own) on this exact subject and it’s roots.  When Tristan mentioned Cambridge Analytica, my heart skipped a few beats. 

CA was heavily involved in the last election and they are quite well-versed in the study of “psychometrics.”  To be fair, Obama had a somewhat primitive form of psychometrics in place for the 2012 election, but nothing like Trump (and, early-on, Ted Cruz).  These are powerful psychological tools that are deployed by companies after they receive enough data to build a psychological profile of you (using the OCEAN method).  This is actually one of the scarier applications of AI, if they can build more and more accurate profiles (and their best method is getting your “Like” data from Facebook) and are able to simulate different approaches, they are effectively developing brute force brain hacks in a simulation that they can then apply.

All of that is tin-foil hat level right now, but it’s not all that far-fetched if they’re able to put something substantial together.  Right now, they have a very detailed profile and it only becomes more advanced with more information given - think browser history, credit card purchase history, television viewing habits.  All of these things are for sale and limiting who can get that stuff is harder than most of us would like.

-mC

 
 
ejdalise
 
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20 April 2017 01:55
 

I was under the impression CA’s claims were a bit exaggerated (maybe much exaggerated).

At least for me, it’s much easier accepting the fact that a general dissatisfaction with established players led to an outsider winning. That, and a strong showing by people who thought Hillary was selling baby parts (literally, what the mother of a friend of mine said was her reason for voting Trump). Oh, yeah, also people who did not see the benefit of globalization, saw their insurance premium double (at the same time that deductibles increased), people who see what’s happening in Europe as a warning of what could happen here, and that ever-present fringe right that finally saw a kindred spirit in a position to win.

Also, I was not particularly impressed by the Clinton campaign nor by the candidate herself. The Democratic Party miscalculated the amount of baggage she carried.

Let’s see . . . did I leave anything out? Nope, I think that covers it.

Seriously, Occam’s Razor is a useful tool when it comes to figuring out why stuff happens. I also think there is a huge difference between predictive tools and tools that can force a desired outcome. I could be wrong, of course, but then, one has to imagine the same tools would be available to both sides unless one side is so incompetent as to not deserve to win or even contend.

 
Wanderer
 
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20 April 2017 02:02
 

Alright, I think you’re assuming that I think CA was the only reason Trump won.  There’s a load of nuance to cover.  Occam’s Razor applies to the large amount of voters that bring the race to the assumed number of 50/50 between candidates.  In all honesty, no one cares about convincing half the willing voters to vote for them.  There’s a predictability to how people will vote provided you don’t completely offend their sensibilities.

The targeting is meant for a very specific group of people and the psychological effects are understood well enough to know how they could affect those voters in a relevant way.  For instance, specifically targeting people in Little Haiti with ads and stories about the Clinton Foundation’s inability to respond to the earthquake there.  It doesn’t have to have his name on it and in fact is far more effective if it doesn’t.  But these people hear about it and while it doesn’t make them vote for him, it certainly makes them less likely to vote if they see two terrible options.  And nearly all of us were saying “who is the shiniest of two turds” for the entire election.

But more specifically, the effect on the election is of far lesser interest to me than the effect on peoples’ buying behaviors.

 
 
Ryan7
 
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20 April 2017 03:50
 
plaxico89 - 16 April 2017 05:52 PM

Really enjoyed this podcast, a much needed conversation.

Was anyone else surprised to hear Tristan speak positively about the organic foods movement? I get what he meant with using it as an example of creating a more expensive product that presumably provides higher value but it certainly seems like a controversial example, given that there’s no evidence that organic foods provide health benefits and certainly a lot of disagreement on its environmental benefits. Perhaps he was only endorsing the idea behind the movement, not its actual impact. What do others think?


_____________________
Reply to plaxico89:

I don’t really understand how anyone can state ‘there’s no evidence that organic foods provide health benefits’.
Is your comment regarding personal exposures to pesticides from residues on produce, or nutrient content of organic vs conventional produce? If ‘yes’, please also consider the following:

there are clear health and environmental benefits for organic farming over conventional farming for:
a) farmers who live on farms
b) farm workers who are often not provided adequate personal protection equipment nor encouraged to wear PPE
c) wildlife near farms
d) persons who drink from ground or well water contaminated by run-off from farms
e) persons who eat non-farmed large fish (lipophilic pesticides bioaccumulate in fat)

Much of the harms caused by conventional farming practices (versus certified organic) is not from pesticide residue on produce, but from contamination of nearby water sources with pesticides from run-off post application. After reaching nearby surface water sources like livestock lagoons, ponds, lakes, etc, some pesticides can even be deposited by precipitation to ‘pristine’ or pesticide application-naive sites like the Arctic, Antarctic, Great Lakes.

a+b) see ‘publications’ link on ‘Agricultural Health Study’ page (https://aghealth.nih.gov/news/2015.html);
farming as an occupation & exposure to pesticides associated with significant risk increases in:
-Parkinson’s Disease
-renal disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
-lung cancer


c) US Fish & Wildlife page on Pesticides & Wildlife: https://www.fws.gov/ecological-services/habitat-conservation/pesticides.html

d) USGS regional map of pesticides contaminating water sources:  https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/circ1133/pesticides.html

d) USGS summary contamination of pristine/pesticide application ‘naïve’ sites by atmospheric pollution, pesticide deposition by precipitation (hydrologic cycle, see fig 1):
https://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/pnsp/pubs/fs152-95/atmos_2.html

e) Catalina Marine center image on DDT & PCB biomagnification http://cimioutdoored.org/bioaccumulation/

 

 
Jb8989
 
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20 April 2017 06:29
 
Wanderer - 20 April 2017 01:37 AM
Jb8989 - 19 April 2017 04:47 PM

The other thing I was thinking was about cross referencing. Did this come up? Our clicking habits and patterns are one thing, but when cross referenced with personally identifiable information that we share digitally it can really chip away at privacy for the sake of psychological manipulation. To spend time and buy. A lot of people don’t know that either through a purchase or some sort of access we grant with the terms of and online contract-wall, a lot of company’s like apple, Facebook, Priceline and even much smaller ones take our personally identifiable information and share it. It’s the reason why when you’re searching for a vacation, the same hotel that you researched an hour ago is now in an advertisement for a company that isn’t even a parent or sister company for the website you used to search for it in the first place. The laws used to regulate this are like the wild west because they’re so under litigated. Things like purchasing habits, traveling frequency, tastes in food can be found through click patterns, but when cross referenced with your zip code, ethnicity, religion, race and purchasing power ( or lack there of), they’re going to need a new word for it all. Maybe malicious persuasion. Self-induced nefarious coercion?

I recently did some research (and a podcast of my own) on this exact subject and it’s roots.  When Tristan mentioned Cambridge Analytica, my heart skipped a few beats. 

CA was heavily involved in the last election and they are quite well-versed in the study of “psychometrics.”  To be fair, Obama had a somewhat primitive form of psychometrics in place for the 2012 election, but nothing like Trump (and, early-on, Ted Cruz).  These are powerful psychological tools that are deployed by companies after they receive enough data to build a psychological profile of you (using the OCEAN method).  This is actually one of the scarier applications of AI, if they can build more and more accurate profiles (and their best method is getting your “Like” data from Facebook) and are able to simulate different approaches, they are effectively developing brute force brain hacks in a simulation that they can then apply.

All of that is tin-foil hat level right now, but it’s not all that far-fetched if they’re able to put something substantial together.  Right now, they have a very detailed profile and it only becomes more advanced with more information given - think browser history, credit card purchase history, television viewing habits.  All of these things are for sale and limiting who can get that stuff is harder than most of us would like.

-mC

They’re especially on the sale in US. Back in the day before the internet moved so fast and companies realized that collecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) was so lucrative, we developed HIPPA, COOPA and the Fair Credit Act because the government felt like information in certain documents needed to be able to be shared quickly and efficiently for people looking to buy a house or settle a health claim, or something benign like that. Fast forward to today, most people click through online contracts so quickly that they don’t read which types of information they’re willingly consenting to disclose. With just a click. The malicious part about it is that we now know that the company’s are aware of how little people read dauntingly long contracts. Nobody really revisits privacy policies of the websites they’re frequenting. And the PP’s aren’t even that long anymore. 

California tried to make a state law to force company’s like Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and the likes to allow users to request a copy of their own PII stored with them. And if a user had been injured by a company’s negligent or reckless use of thier PII (e.g. identiy theft or missapropriation), that there be an option for a user to request their information be destroyed from their data bank. Sounds simple enough, right? (1) Can I see what you know about me?, and (2) if you screw me, I can delete the information you use or share about me? Well it faced about the heaviest hedge fund opposition ever and was struck down fast

 
 
Jb8989
 
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20 April 2017 06:39
 

Here’s some of the language that the cali litigators tried to use to conceptualize the information they found being mined by the big online companies.

Personal identity information including, but not limited to:

(A) real name, alias, nickname, and user name.
(B) Address information, including, but not limited to, postal address or e-mail.
(C) Telephone number.
(D) Account name.
(E) Social security number or other government-issued identification number, including, but not limited to, social security number, driver’s license number, identification card number, and passport number.
(F) Birthdate or age.
(G) Physical characteristic information, including, but not limited to, height and weight.
(H) Sexual information, including, but not limited to, sexual orientation, sex, gender status, gender identity, and gender expression.
(I) Race or ethnicity.
(J) Religious affiliation or activity.
(K) Political affiliation or activity.
(L) Professional or employment-related information.
(M) Educational information.
(N) Medical information, including, but not limited to, medical conditions or drugs, therapies, mental health, or medical products or equipment used.
(O) Financial information, including, but not limited to, credit, debit, or account numbers, account balances, payment history, or information related to assets, liabilities, or general creditworthiness.
(P) Commercial information, including, but not limited to, records of property, products or services provided, obtained, or considered, or other purchasing or consuming histories or tendencies.
(Q) Location information.
(R) Internet or mobile activity information, including, but not limited to, Internet Protocol addresses or information concerning the access or use of any Internet or mobile-based site or service.
(S) Content, including text, photographs, audio or video recordings, or other material generated by or provided by the customer.
(T) Any of the above categories of information as they pertain to the children of the customer.

If a company can retain this information and cross reference it with clicking habits and patterns, we’re going to have some form of thought control. And you’re right, maybe I have my tin foil hat on, but at some point the answer is no longer going to be “well just don’t do anything illegal and you’ll be fine.” There seems to be a huge middle ground nobody gives a shit about.

[ Edited: 20 April 2017 06:45 by Jb8989]
 
 
RHC
 
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20 April 2017 10:16
 

The problems of persuasion discussed here are rooted in the incentives of the reward feedback loop that has become the one dominant value of our society, ie Maximize ROI in as short a term as possible.  Google and Facebook, no matter what they are momentarily persuaded to do, will inexorably be drawn back to maximizing value for their shareholders because they are forced to by the relentless darwinism of for-profit markets.  Any government regulations or cultural movements that are counter to a society’s primary reward feedback loops fail because the incentives to figure out a way around or remove them never go away.  A society’s primary reward feedback loops are much bigger and stronger than the intentions any group of individual players.  Worse they are positive not negative feedback loops.  They feed on themselves and self-optimize usually way past their initial usefulness to outright mindless destructiveness.  I would suggest the Capitalist form of market economy in which only capital has any power and the only incentive is to accumulate capital has reached that point.  To change a society you have to change basic level reward incentives.

 
Jb8989
 
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20 April 2017 11:19
 
RHC - 20 April 2017 10:16 AM

The problems of persuasion discussed here are rooted in the incentives of the reward feedback loop that has become the one dominant value of our society, ie Maximize ROI in as short a term as possible.  Google and Facebook, no matter what they are momentarily persuaded to do, will inexorably be drawn back to maximizing value for their shareholders because they are forced to by the relentless darwinism of for-profit markets.  Any government regulations or cultural movements that are counter to a society’s primary reward feedback loops fail because the incentives to figure out a way around or remove them never go away.  A society’s primary reward feedback loops are much bigger and stronger than the intentions any group of individual players.  Worse they are positive not negative feedback loops.  They feed on themselves and self-optimize usually way past their initial usefulness to outright mindless destructiveness.  I would suggest the Capitalist form of market economy in which only capital has any power and the only incentive is to accumulate capital has reached that point.  To change a society you have to change basic level reward incentives.

I don’t disagree about the larger social problems with economic incentives. But if a person’s intention is autonomy and “free will,” and the people making the codes’ intentions are to use a technology to seduce usage behavior (and perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use) in order to determine intentions for use, the actual subject matter of the discourse then becomes who will win the battle over a user’s own discretion to desire, intend, plan a goal, and take an action.

[ Edited: 20 April 2017 11:22 by Jb8989]
 
 
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