The page has not been written yet.
However, we have some notes for now:
Some of the characteristics of a Cybernetic Economy:
You’re taking the bus to work. Get a little beep, indicating that you get credits if you pick up the package just half a block away, and carry it on the bus with you. You get off the bus, and chirp chirp, there’s the GPS equipped bike courier, ready to carry off with the package. This concept lends legitimacy to the concept that AlternativeCurrencies will bust out very, very soon, as well as the concept of OrganizedCulture.
Combine with SoftSecurity, and you get a SoftEconomy, where people watch the transactions flowing like we watch RecentChanges, to spot dangerous patterns, and adjust reputations. This feeds the image of the cyborg, as people form intimate relationship with the electro-mechanical economic piping, just as we bond with the idea and technology of wiki.
The article "Google Image Labeler, the ESP Game, and Human-Computer Symbiosis" by tim on September 03, 2006 brings together several things we’ve been talking about. I find the phrase “harnessing humans to work as program components” is a little disturbing. Am I feeling what people who don’t like the name “HiveMind” feel? But learning that “in 2003, 9 billion hours were spent playing solitaire. By comparison, it took only 7 million human hours (6.8 hours of solitaire) to build the Empire State Building, and only 20 million human hours (less than a day of solitaire) to build the Panama Canal.” changed my perspective.
The idea is to make somehow make stuff that I need to get done more fun for someone else to do (we still disagree on whether this is possible at ProgrammingAtWorkIsLessFun), which seem to be the basis behind the ESP Game, Mycroft, and the Amazon Mechanical Turk. If that were possible, then since time spent in game-time is so huge (as we discussed at AndasGame, SecondLife), if we can persuade even a small fraction of solitaire-playing people to play my game for a small fraction of their solitaire-playing time, then my stuff gets done, and people doing it have fun, and it doesn’t take any time away from them – it’s a win-win situation. I suppose this could somehow relate to “a completely different kind of money” that some people talked about at CommunityWikiBank.
This “turn it into a game” only seems to work for stuff that can get done under an hour, the time it takes for a couple rounds of solitaire. (Where did we discuss “ramp tasks vs. step tasks”?)
I’ve seen a new twist on this idea in the Monde Diplomatique (available to subscribers only):
Lazuly uses examples from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Rent A Coder, and other sites to show that most of the jobs offered are boring — eg. given a selection of three albums from a particular band, which do you like the best? Presumably this kind of information is fed into the marketing of products — and very badly paid. And yet, many people earn a meager living this way. Lazuly’s point is that this is another aspect of the neo-liberal globalization. Offshoring of services to parts of the world, where prices are low, to people that are not unionized, avoiding the costs of social security, paid holidays, health care, and job insurance.
Basically, the people in the cybernetic economy are far from being the strongest element. It’s a new way of exploiting cheap labor. And that’s why I agree with Tim’s negative catch phrase — and in fact I think he should have been more overt about it: “Harnessing humans to work as program components” is just half the misery.
I’m not sure how these issues can be resolved. The first step, however, is in acknowledging them. Once we’ve done that, we can look at similar problems such as the textile industry and business process outsourcing. One key difference is that these low-income or disguised-as-entertainment jobs are profoundly individual. How to organize people in this situation? Another option would be to destroy these markets by taking money out of the equation. A lot of good is being done for fun and fame and for the greater good of all, eg. Wikipedia, Free Software, etc. I feel weird for taking away jobs from the already poor, but I think that’s a key issue: You can’t help the poor by giving them badly paid jobs. You need well paid jobs and a wellfare system that deserves the name in order to change society for the better in this respect. And I think the same is true on a global level.
So, what would I like to see for the cybernetic economy? I’d like it to hook into games on a far more subtle level. Just as polls and newspaper articles influence politics, just as webserver logfiles and other statistics serve as input to webmasters, so could games people play serve as information sources for third parties. The key part is that this data gathered should be protected by good privacy laws and be available to everybody. Implement the good aspects of the TransparentSociety — enabling amateurs.