The “Anti-Divisiveness Algorithm”: Calling on Tech to Save the World

I found a new doomsday scenario.

(Isn’t that refreshing?!) Now I don’t know anything about tech. I write about happiness.

But I’m convinced there’s an invisible weapon out there that will cause mass unhappiness — or worse…

The Divisiveness Algorithm (Scissors Statements)

This started last night when I read a disturbing post about “scissor statements”. (If you’ve got 20 minutes and want to be unsettled for a few days search “Sort by Controversial Slate Star Codex”).

Summary — There are algorithms that use deep learning (artificial intelligence buzz word) to design the most controversial statements possible.

How controversial? (According to the post) one of these scissor statements caused the executive team of the company who created it to collapse after the CEO was arrested for firing and attacking his coworker; controversial enough to cause an uprising in Mozambique; and controversial enough to predict things like Brett Kavanaugh, Colin Kaepernick, and the ground zero mosque. And controversial enough to make the author of that post go into hiding and take to drinking.

When I first read this I thought — “yeah sure, but that couldn’t happen to me”. I study psychology and lived as a Zen monk after all. Then I got in my car and turned on Pandora. I hit skip and got “Hawaii” by Old Dominion. I didn’t know what I wanted to listen but that was the perfect song.

And then I realized it. Pandora’s song-liking algorithm knew me better than I knew myself. It just knew.

So couldn’t a more effective algorithm designed to incite outrage and division work just as well? Couldn’t it know what would piss me off more than what I ever thought could piss me off?

I think so…

How Bad Can It Be?

I get that I’m bordering on conspiracy theorist here. There probably isn’t some nuclear-bomb-esque scissor algorithm waiting to be unleashed by a new world order. But the basic idea of algorithms designed to promote outrage and division needs to be addressed. It’s fact that platforms like facebook and twitter use similar algorithms on their users (see reports on FB trials from Business Insider, USA Today, and UK Independent).

Media companies and political interest groups use the same tactics (even if they’re not algorithm based) to generate controversial stories. Outrage is entertainment. Conflict sells.

If you’re still skeptical here’s a meditation you can do. You’re going to take a few deep breathes. Then you’re going to scroll twitter for 2 minutes.(Keep an eye out for most liked and retweeted posts). Then come back to me and write down how you feel.

Go ahead…

If you check in you might feel a little tightening in the chest and neck. You might have a slightly elevated heart rate or feel your mind speeding up. You have a sense of being right. You might feel frustrated, resentful, or outraged. And MOST importantly you might feel an urge to keep scrolling.

That’s the divisiveness algorithm. It’s here. It’s making us feel like shit. And it’s making us hate eachother.

Calling on Tech for an Antidote

I’ll leave you with a call to action and invitation to spread the word. I tried once to be a tech entrepreneur. I ended up burning $100k of govt funding and caused a lot of headaches (whoops). I also don’t know shit about coding, algorithms, or Silicon Valley.

But if it’s possible to build these massively successful divisiveness algorithms, isn’t it possible to build anti-divisiveness ones? In the same way we use AI or deep learning to analyze our human minds and figure out how to maximally divide people — can’t we use it to figure out what brings us together?

Instead of machine generated scissor headlines like “Is It OK to Be White?” or “Is Elon Musk America’s Savior?” could it generate things like “It’s Beautiful to Watch Snow Rest Gently on Pine Trees” or “I Just Want to Love and Be Loved — And So Do You”.

Those are pretty shit examples (which is why we need the anti-divisiveness algorithm!). But it illustrates the idea. Right now the vast majority of influential forces are pushing us towards division, hate, and delusion. That’s by design. And if we look at how this is trending over the last few years I’d say shit is not about to hit the fan. It’s currently in the fan. I repeat the shit is actively inside the fan!

So we need an antidote. We need a powerful force to push back on division, hate, and delusion. We need an anti-divisiveness algorithm.

I’m not capable of making an anti-divisiveness algorithm. I’m not sure it would be profitable. But saving the world (and at the very least saving our happiness) seems like a pretty noble goal.

So I hope this post finds its way to someone who can do something about it!

This post was created with Typeshare




I’m an ex startup CEO and zen monk who created the first Happiness degree. I write and speak about happiness in work and life. 50K+ have read my essays

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Jackson Kerchis

Jackson Kerchis

I’m an ex startup CEO and zen monk who created the first Happiness degree. I write and speak about happiness in work and life. 50K+ have read my essays

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