Clickbait might not be destroying our general Intelligence

post by Donald Hobson (donald-hobson) · 2018-11-19T00:13:12.674Z · score: 26 (None votes) · LW · GW · 13 comments

Epistemic status This post is a "plausible conjecture" alternative to Eliezer's take on clickbait. My arrogant epistimology thinks it's substantially closer to the truth than Eliezer's version.

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/YicoiQurNBxSp7a65/is-clickbait-destroying-our-general-intelligence

In the 1950's there were a similar number (order of magnitude) of humans, and they did a similar amount of socializing as today. This would suggest that a similar quantity of memetic optimization was going on then. Any universally popular meme would have risen to popularity. The difference between then and today was that then people usually only communicated with people geographically local to them. With a small number of newspapers being widely read. Whereas today, people communicate with like minded individuals around the world regularly.

Suppose that different humans have different selection criteria when deciding to share a meme. In 1950, a meme had to appeal to a broad section of society to be spread. Not 100%, more like 25%, the small number of different newspapers, and small numbers of local people to communicate with still let memes specialize along a few socioeconomic lines. Eg Catholic memes vs Protestant memes in Northern Ireland, or Liberal vs Conservative memes in many places. Each newspaper had a side, and many of your neighbors were on your side.

Nowadays, memes can specialize to focus onto tiny subsets of the population. Given that a tiny fraction of the population think in a particular and unusual way, they can gather together online, and share memes optimized exclusively to them. This produces many internet subcultures. Within each subculture, the selection pressure isn't that strong, there aren't that many model railway buffs or code golfers or ... But the memes are optimized to a particular way of thinking, not the combination of several.

In some circumstances, Schelling points create an averaging effect in the 1950 case. Suppose an issue, say cats vs dogs, is sufficiently minor that newspapers are not split into a pro cat paper, and a pro dog paper. Then if a newspaper says anything excessively pro cat, the dog fans will call them out on it, and possibly stop reading the paper. Likewise if the paper is pro dog. So the paper finds a Schelling point, where neither side are upset enough to cause a real fuss. Note that this process is only truth seeking to the extent that cat supporters will let valid pro dog arguments slide and call out invalid ones.

The main effect of filter bubbles is increasing the variance in the meme pool. The biologists can stop arguing with creationists, and get down to sorting out the details of kin selection or whatever. The creationists can stop having to pedal creationism to the unconvinced and can get together to work out the difference between micro-evolution and macro-evolution.

Optimizing for a combination of A and B can produce more of both than choosing which to optimize for at random. If we have memes that are (A=10, B=0) and (A=9, B=9) and (A=0, B=10), then the middle one is likely to spread in a world without filter bubbles, but the extremes could spread in bubbles optimizing only A and B respectively. If A=sanity, then the average sanity could fall due to the optimization for sanity being focused into one place, and diminishing marginal returns on sanity for optimization.

Other effects on the quality of discourse could include stupid people having an easier time voicing their opinions. Eliezer says that the quality of internet discussion has degraded from 2002 to 2017. (I wasn't old enough to use the internet in 2002, so can't confirm or deny this.) According to these sources, under 10% of the world was online in 2002, facebook and twitter hadn't started yet. In short, getting on the internet required more technical competence, the hardware was more expensive, and there was less to do there. The typical internet user was moderately well educated and smart. The typical newspaper journalist was also moderately well educated. Any reduction in quality would seem to be from uninformed people being finally able to tell the world why the earth is flat.

If you think that the world needs a few highly sane people, not many slightly sane people, then an aggregation into a few groups of sanity is beneficial.

Under the hypothesis that clickbait is destroying intelligence, the existance of less wrong, and places like it, is highly surprising, under a segregation hypothesis, its expected that the most rational people clump together.

https://www.internetworldstats.com/emarketing.htm

https://www.inquisitr.com/830664/the-history-of-social-media-when-did-it-really-begin-you-may-be-surprised-infographic/

13 comments

comment by Vaniver · 2018-11-19T23:12:50.466Z · score: 8 (None votes) · LW · GW

PSA: His name is spelled "Eliezer."

Suppose that different humans have different selection criteria when deciding to share a meme. ...
Nowadays, memes can specialize to focus onto tiny subsets of the population.

One difference between 'the past' and 'the present' that Eliezer doesn't mention, but which is relevant to the question of selection effects, is to what extent memes are spread by 'thought leaders' (who are typically optimizing for multiple things, and have some sense of responsibility) and to what extent memes are spread 'peer-to-peer.' Whether this improves or degrades selection on the relevant criteria obviously depends on the incentives involved, but with 'general reasonableness' it's clear to see how a pundit is incentivized to appeal to other pundits (of all camps) whereas a footsoldier is incentivized to appeal to other footsoldiers. (One common point among the base of both left and right appears to be distrust of the party elite, which is often seen as being too willing to cooperate with the other side--imagine how they might react to the party elite of a century ago, before the increased polarization!)

And so, if more and more of the political conversation becomes "signalling on Facebook pages" instead of "editorials in the national paper of record", it's clear to see how reasonableness could be modeled less, and thus adopted less.

comment by Viliam · 2018-11-20T23:58:08.103Z · score: 6 (None votes) · LW · GW

This reminds me of a book Gang Leader for a Day, where author describes how leaders of various gangs prefer peace, because that means greater profit from selling drugs (when gang members are shooting each other on the streets, customers are afraid to approach), but footsoldiers prefer war, because that is their best opportunity to increase their status.

Perhaps it is similar with politics. Online, people compete for getting closer to some extreme archetype. That is their only way to increase their status. In office, politicians have to cooperate with people having different opinions, and have to make deals with them. Also, online people can be fragmented into thousand groups, each of them intolerant towards the others; but the politician need to be acceptable to a sufficient number of people to get elected.

Before social networks, politics was mostly "rich people's business". Now ordinary people can compete against each other by posting "edgy" comments.

comment by shminux · 2018-11-19T02:15:02.911Z · score: 8 (None votes) · LW · GW
Eliezer says that the quality of internet discussion has degraded from 2002 to 2017.

Not sure what kind of research there is on this topic, I have been online for over 20 years, and inane arguments have always dominated public forums. Constantly being online is a new phenomenon, though, and it might be changing how people interact, probably a mixture of beneficial and detrimental effects, depending on what one values. For example, it's easy to find a suitable online community/subculture, but there is also more self-segregation since one doesn't have to interact as much locally with those different from them. Whether either of those is a good thing or not depends on one's point of view.

It always pays to compare with similar technological events in the past. Some examples are the proliferation of books, the industrial revolution with its rise of big and dense cities, telephone, automobile... All were hailed as interfering with general intelligence at least by some contemporaries. And maybe it has and the smarter people didn't survive to tell the tale, but it seems unlikely.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-19T05:33:49.095Z · score: 4 (None votes) · LW · GW

I haven't figured out how to quote yet. I apologise for this fact. I wanted to mention that I found this, potentially throw-away, line insightful.

"The biologists can stop arguing with creationists, and get down to sorting out the details of kin selection or whatever. The creationists can stop having to pedal creationism to the unconvinced and can get together to work out the difference between micro-evolution and macro-evolution."

This sort of thing is how we get places like WUWT exposing the flaws in the IPCCs methods, models, and media pronouncements. It's how we get places like suspicious0bservers creating a model for predicting M7+ earthquake locations with statistically significant regularity - to the point that their work is being picked up by the Chinese, Russians, and NASA.

I think it's incredibly useful for finding not just solutions to questions, but questions that we didn't know needed to be asked. The difficult point, and I think this is what Elizer was getting at, is in disseminating these questions and solutions to the public in such a way that social pressure is enough that something gets done about it.

I don't have an answer for that - but that is probably because I haven't spent at least 5 minutes by the clock thinking about the problem first.

comment by Donald Hobson (donald-hobson) · 2018-11-19T23:55:23.425Z · score: 4 (None votes) · LW · GW

My point was that the epistemic correlation between communicators is increasing. Before everyone was talking to everyone else more. Now experts can talk to experts, and creationists talk to other creationists. Homeopaths talk to other homeopaths.

Are you saying this is good, is bad, or is happening?

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-20T03:19:59.022Z · score: 4 (None votes) · LW · GW
Are you saying this is good, is bad, or is happening?

I am saying it is good because it allows experts to focus on their fields. But that I thought that Elizer was pointing out that it can be bad because it doesn't allow for dissemination of those expert ideas to others.

comment by torekp · 2018-11-19T17:12:29.982Z · score: 4 (None votes) · LW · GW
how to quote

Paste text into your comment and then select/highlight it. Formatting options will appear, including a quote button.

comment by Motasaurus · 2018-11-20T03:20:28.265Z · score: 2 (None votes) · LW · GW

Thank you :)

comment by Bucky · 2018-11-19T19:25:11.535Z · score: 2 (None votes) · LW · GW

Is there a way to do this on mobile devices?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-11-19T20:22:06.578Z · score: 4 (None votes) · LW · GW

As an alternative, you can use GreaterWrong to write your comment(s) (where you can either select text and tap the quote button, or simply use the Markdown convention of prefacing a paragraph you want to quote with the ‘>’ symbol).

comment by Raemon · 2018-11-19T20:29:45.601Z · score: 6 (None votes) · LW · GW

To clarify somewhat: on mobile, lesswrong.com automatically uses the markdown editor. (Where beginning a line with ">" works as Said describes)

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-11-19T21:13:29.426Z · score: 3 (None votes) · LW · GW

Yep, on mobile it's Markdown by default, so just start your line with ">",