The Moral Economy

It’s a long holiday this weekend in the U.S. Here are a couple of excellent articles about the “Moral Economy” to keep you busy during your travels and parties. What’s the moral economy? Well, read them. They aren’t just smart, they are well written and often humorous.

The Moral Economy of Tech by Maciej (of fame):

As computer programmers, our formative intellectual experience is working with deterministic systems that have been designed by other human beings. These can be very complex, but the complexity is not the kind we find in the natural world. It is ultimately always tractable. Find the right abstractions, and the puzzle box opens before you.

Then shortly after:

But as anyone who’s worked with tech people knows, this intellectual background can also lead to arrogance. People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.

This is something that I think is sinking Silicon Valley’s attempts at “science.”

Kieran Healy slices the same topic slightly different and manages to reference Oscar Wilde and Dr. Seuss along the way:

Either way, these technologies continue to hoover up vast quantities of data for collection, maybe for analysis, destined eventually to be shared, breached by hackers, or otherwise abused in some way. If, like McBean’s machine, the thing really works, then we have one set of implications for our future—a future where individual tastes and and potentials are accurately and predictably sifted from gigantic datasets in an ongoing flow of profitable mutual co-ordination and anticipation. If it doesn’t really work, another future presents itself—one where technologies are more like (in Maciej Cegłowski’s phrase) “money laundering for bias”, or ritualized applications of nonsensical or procrustean methods. We may face some version of Oscar Wilde’s dilemma, where the only thing worse than the moral economy of technology working as advertised is the moral economy of it not working as advertised.