Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Trans-Turing Trains Silly Monkey Brains

hackernoon  |  At the heart of digesting online information is the evolutionary propensity to mine all input as social cues or signals. In the case of the “trending news,” Facebook was presenting a manufactured image of the social world which more closely resembles a world which the curators would approve of, than it does the actual world we live in. This manufactured world is then presented as social reality. No matter what side you come down on, this is no trivial thing.

We humans are built to use attention as a cue for status. We then use status as a signal of mastery for which we are constantly on the lookout to apprentice under. Joseph Henrich and Francisco J. Gil-White, while at the Universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania respectively, describe a theory of “information goods.” They show that humans, unlike chimpanzees, use “relative prestige” to assign status, and then use that status as a signal of what to believe and emulate.

The challenge is that this evolutionary mechanism was developed long before mass media. It developed through direct observation. The hunter getting the most attention is likely the fellow who most often comes back with the biggest kills. Thus, trusting the attention of others to point you in the right way was adaptively useful. The Internet is particularly adept at scrambling these signals. We are built to believe that seeing others give their attention to somebody, or something, signals the ability for that someone to teach you something useful. Therefore we implicitly connect attention with prestige and prestige with expertise.

Granny Goodness President Trump, who has an objectively terrible track record with the truth, provides one example of this. A giant swath of the nation, I assume mostly reasonable and well-adjusted people, describe her him as trustworthy, despite what the other half, which I assume are also mostly reasonable and well-adjusted people, feel is obvious and damning evidence to the contrary. Her His supporters are surrounded, physically or digitally, by others who are paying attention to her him. Therefore, some basic, even primordial, part of their brain signals to them that this is someone who deserves attention, emulation, and trust. They believe in him, at least in part, because of his ability to attract attention signals of trustworthiness. When each of President Trump’s tweets, to his 40 million followers, and now to the whole world, receives hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets, we shouldn’t be surprised that he didn’t need to actually do anything to earn that trust. He just needed to attract attention to himself, and then claim that he deserves the trust. The attention supports claim.