Jaron Lanier, godfather of modern virtual reality
Glen Weyl, principal researcher at Microsoft; coauthor of Radical Markets with Eric Posner
One of the best things in life is seeing a younger generation emerge. It’s like a little taste of the future. When WIRED asked me to choose a next-generation trailblazer, I realized that I was lucky enough to have a very, very hard decision. There are so many people who make me optimistic for our future. But getting the economics of the information age right will be the foundation for getting any of it right. My Microsoft colleague Glen Weyl, coauthor of Radical Markets, is tackling the core issues: What does human dignity mean in a highly automated future? How can we regain agency over the data we produce? If these don’t sound like economic questions, then get ready to encounter the future of economics. We can’t just complain about how tech is transforming our world; we need to invent the transformation. —Jaron Lanier
3 Radical Paths to Equality
“Our proposals can seem challenging because they make implicitly unfair systems more explicit,” says Glen Weyl. “But the book is fundamentally about breaking up concentrations of power and giving equal resources and influence to everyone.” Here’s how the economist proposes to fix the future. —As told to Nitasha Tiku
The Problem: Companies Don’t Pay for Our Labor
As tech giants move from advertising to AI, they need high-quality data to power facial recognition and digital assistants. They encourage users to supply that data by prompting us to tag photos or share emotions, while disguising that work as social media entertainment.
The Proposal: Radical Labor
Companies should pay users instead of obscuring the labor they need. Jaron and I believe people could have some bargaining power with the platforms through “mediators of individual data,” or MIDs, union-like organizations that would negotiate payment on behalf of users for small tasks that furnish high-quality data. For example, if you’re tagging someone in a photo, Facebook could show a pop-up question asking how you know the person.
The Problem: The Limits of One Vote
In most elections, people vote for the lesser of two evils. The “one person, one vote” rule also fails to reflect people’s priorities on issues—like same-sex marriage or protections for religious groups—that disproportionately affect minorities.
The Proposal: Radical Voting
Quadratic voting solves those problems by giving everyone an equal number of credits in a given election, which can be converted into votes of the individual’s choosing. Voters with a strong preference can vote multiple times on a single issue or candidate by abstaining from other votes, but the cost of doing that goes up quadratically: One credit grants one vote, four credits grants two votes, but 400 credits only grants 20 votes.
There are private-sector applications too, like rating Uber drivers. Right now, there’s little reason to trust in reputation systems that try to measure how consumers feel, like Airbnb, Amazon, and Yelp. We only hear how loudly someone shouts; quadratic voting allows us to adjust the volume, creating more reliable signals.
Problem: The Benefits of Immigration Are Unevenly Distributed
Some workers in the US oppose immigration because they don’t experience the immediate benefits that, say, private employers like Google see from H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, or that upper-middle-class families enjoy with J-1 visas to hire au pairs. The benefits of migration aren’t tangible to ordinary people. The left is perfectly happy to say that benefits from technology have not been evenly shared, but the same thing is true of migration.
The Proposal: Radical Immigration
The process could be democratized by letting any individual sponsor a migrant, who would then pay about $6,000 a year to the host, rather than send the money as a remittance to their family back home. (The amount is negotiable. For instance, the migrant could work for the host or give the host a share of outside income.) To make the economic incentives work, migrants’ take-home pay may end up below minimum wage, but the sponsor would be held legally responsible if they’re abused, as can happen with J-1 visas.
When we first shared our idea, people said it sounded like indentured servitude because the migrant is so tied to one family. But a system like this already exists in Canada, just in a narrower way, with private sponsorship for childcare and eldercare providers, as well as refugees—and immigration there is widely accepted. Go talk to a Canadian about how provocative my proposal is. They say, ”‘No, no, no. That works perfectly.”
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