From Ribbonfarm, a meditation that explains the Kushner Administration:
So the guru says…
“Go ahead and eat the world, but learn to chew before you swallow.”
Corporations do not want to legislate, let alone enforce, more of humanity’s behavior than they need to. They have better things to do. The universe isn’t going to dent itself. But because they are outpacing traditional governments in their ability to predict & shape human behavior, they walk right into stupidly impossible situations over and over again. Software isn’t eating the world so much as larping it.
The governance problem is not about dealing with governments as such, but about accidentally adopting or creating arenas of human behavior that you then have to govern, with “externalities” that don’t remain external. Starting a ride-sharing service? Congratulations, you’re now an urban planner. Want to disrupt shipping logistics? Get ready to do your part to curb terrorism and slavery.
The problem of governance arises wherever “move fast and break things” runs right into an older saying: “you broke it, you bought it”.
Sometimes things blow up squarely on your turf. Think about what it takes to enforce a social network “real names” policy across hundreds of cultures. One account per person, one person per account, authentic names as used in real life. Zuck’s buddy Calvin can post pictures of himself holding pounds of weed but he can’t use the name he’s known by, Snoop Dogg.
The rule was relaxed a bit after the Real Names Wars of 2014.
To police the policy you rely on automation and crowdsourcing. That sets the stage for an instant ideological slapfight, with brigades of trolls disabling accounts of people they don’t like by reporting their names as fake to a dumb program that doesn’t know any better. Anti-spam tools subverted to enable harassment. Nobody is happy and everyone blames you.
And then there is fake news. From a quick glance at Facebook posts about him, it seems that ol’ Snoop is simultaneously dead, alive, sober, high, recovering from a heart attack, fleeing the country, and under arrest. Where does he find the time?
Jerking people around like that is relatively harmless. But elections are based on the notion that a single sampling of consensus at a pre-set time is a good way to settle important decisions. This turns social media into a battleground for propaganda wars with real consequences. Building a messaging platform? Execute well and your users can topple dictators… or make a reality-show host President of the United States.
Tech companies are stumbling their way into responsibility over big important chunks of the real world. Through the perfect bureaucracy of software they know more, can predict more, and can direct & influence more human behavior than any government dreamed of. They can also data-drive us right off a cliff. Companies are as like gods, so they better get good at it.
And then the priest says…
“Bullshit. We’re running a business here.”