Trust in an Online World: Very Heisenbergian Issue

September 12, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Digital information works a bit like a sandblaster. The idea is that a single grain of sand has little impact. But use a gizmo that pumps out a stream of sand grains at speed, and you have a different type of tool. The flow of online information is similar. No one gets too excited about one email or one short video. But pump out lots of these and the results is different.

9 12 red sofa

The sales person says, “You can this this red sofa for no money down.” The pitch is compelling. The sales person says, “You can read about our products on Facebook and see them in TikToks.” The husband and wife don’t like red sofas. But Facebook and TikTok? Thanks, MidJourney, continue your slide down the gradient descent.

The effects of more than 20 years of unlimited data flow, one can observe the effects in many places. I have described some of these effects in my articles which appeared in specialist publications, my monographs, and in my lectures. I want to focus on one result of the flow of electronic information; that is, the erosion of social structures. Online is not the only culprit, but for this short essay, it will serve my purpose.

The old chestnut is that information  is power is correct. Another truism is that the more information, the more transparency is created. That’s not a spot on statement.

Poll: Americans Believe AI Will Hurt Elections” explains how flows of information have allegedly eroded trust in the American democratic process. The write up states:

Half of Americans expect misinformation spread by AI to impact who wins the 2024 election — and one-third say they’ll be less trusting of the results because of artificial intelligence…

The allegedly accurate factoid can be interpreted in several ways. First, the statement about lack of trust may be disinformation. The idea is that process of voting will be manipulated. Second, a person can interpret the factoid as the truth about how information erodes a social concept. Third, the statement can be viewed as an error, like those which make peer reviewed articles suspect or non reproducible.

The power of information in this case is to view the statement as one of the grains of sand shot from the body shop’s sand blaster. If one pumps out enough “data” about a bad process, why wouldn’t a person just accept the statements as accurate. Propaganda, weaponized information, and online advertising work this way.

Each reader has to figure out how to interpret the statement. As the body of accessible online information expands, think of those items as sand grains. Now let’s allow smart software to “learn” from the sand grains.

At what point is the dividing line between what’s accurate and what’s not disappear.

Net net: Online information erodes. But it is not just trust which is affected. It is the thought process required to determine what is synthetic and what is “real.” Reality consists of flows of online information. Well, that’s an issue, isn’t it?

Net net: The new reality is uncertainty. The act of looking changes things. Very quantum and quite impactful on the social fabric in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, September 12, 2023


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