The Social Power Generation Challenge
The main problem with a nuclear weapon isn’t that an atom gets split and energy gets released. It is that, in the process, highly energetic particles get released that then go ahead and split other atoms in the neighborhood. This creates an explosive chain reaction that quickly goes out of control. So much out of control that it has the potential to bring the whole world to the brink, and even before that, empower rogue elements to create unmanageable chaos.
There is a way to keep the world from not getting to the brink and enjoy just the benefits of the energy being released. It is called control rods. They absorb a lot of the energetic particles released in the atomic reactions and prevent it from “going nuclear”. Not just that, but once the reaction can be controlled, the energy released from it can be captured and converted into useful, stable, reliable, and long-lasting power for many beneficial purposes.
Silicon Valley, or the venture investment industry in general, has fetishized “scale”. And probably the best way to achieve that is to create some such “atomic reaction” that spontaneously leads to 2 or more similar atomic reactions, which then quickly goes out of control and takes over the world. Whatever you are working on, if it doesn’t have “scale”, they lose interest pretty quickly.
Of course, you can argue that that’s just how it is. If you don’t want to work on something that scales, and scaling is possible, then someone else will scale anyway. So why not you?
Fair enough. But, if you have scaled fabulously and benefitted immensely from it, don’t you think it is time to focus less on the scaling and more on the control rods and the power generation?
At present, we have many such highly scaled “nuclear reactions” going on in many industries, enabled by technology. But very little work is being done on “control rods” or the “power generation” aspect of it. I believe it is time to focus on those things for a while – otherwise, we won’t just get to the brink but actually go over it. And of course, when that happens, what good does all your success from all that scaling do for you?
In particular, in social media and news media, the problem of fake news has become an epidemic. It is starting to tear society apart, lead to unscrupulous people getting into power, and people generally starting to lose trust not just in news organizations but public institutions and even each other. The “atomic reaction” in this case is that people basically want to believe lies and spread them, which is, unfortunately, a natural human tendency. This tendency has always existed, but due to technology, it has been concentrated and sped up and is able to spread all over the globe. We all know the old adage that a lie can travel all the way around the world while the truth is still tying its shoelaces. Truth by its nature travels slowly. So, when you invent some technology that allows information to travel faster, it benefits lies more than the truth. Since we haven’t put in place sufficient numbers of “control rods”, it is being used by unscrupulous and predatory elements of society to gain power. Going back to the nuclear power generation analogy again, isn’t it time to put such control rods in place and also ways to harness this “social energy” for beneficial purposes? Simply blowing up such a special resource, not to mention allowing predatory elements in society gain power through that, seems dumb, right?
This is what I am calling the challenge of Social Power Generation: mechanisms to control the spread of information on social and news media and harnessing the social energy generated for beneficial purposes.