3 November 2022
I apologize in advance. We all spend too much time looking at screens, and yet here you are looking at a screen again to read this. We need more human contact than we get, and yet here I am premiering a podcast episode that has only bots in it.
Well, not sorry, actually. Not entirely sorry. It was a challenge, in Episode 01 and 02, to work with bots and humans together in the same audio drama. It was much more challenging, in Episode 03, to work with an all-bot cast. Bots always say their lines the same way. Of course, they are always on time. But they rush things when they read them, they mispronounce words that they haven’t been trained to say, and have a horrible sound that they call a laugh. Getting bots to laugh at each other’s jokes was the hardest part of Episode 03.
And yet, here it is.
In Episode 03, Michel continues his investigation into what he was doing before his memory was erased and reconfigured. He calls in Pyotr, the bot in charge of memory erasure, for a performance review. Michel learns that Pyotr was the very bot who erased him. But, like everyone who comes in for a performance review, Pyotr has a secret to share. A secret that must be kept from System.
In this episode of Your Performance Review, there is talk of cryptocurrency manipulation. Crypto has been marketed as a kind of human-proof currency. No humans can mess it up, so enthusiastic crypto proponents claim, because all transactions must be verified on the blockchain. And yet, in the crypto world, there is widespread cheating, stealing, and scamming. Just look at the Twitter feed of Molly White, or read her newsletter, and you’ll see a geyser of crypto grift. She has plenty of thievery to write about every day.
New technologies always attract opportunists. If those new technologies involve money, some of those opportunists will be scammers. This was the story with PayPal and Craigslist. With crypto, however, the scammer effect is magnified. The amounts of money are much larger. The audience is also bigger. And the Big Lie, that machines will keep people honest, is a bigger lie.
As Safiya Umoja Noble showed in her book Algorithms of Oppression, there is nothing pure about an algorithm, and nothing fair about a machine intelligence. They, the machines and the algorithms, are programmed by people, and we are programming into them all of our flaws and prejudices. Worse still, humans love to exploit weaknesses in systems, whether those systems are voting systems, Supreme Court nomination systems, or the blockchain.
There’s a strategy in cryptocurrency investing called HODL. It means “hold on for deal life.” Crypto fans are buying and holding, waiting for the market to improve. It will be along wait because it’s not the market that has to improve, it’s the underlying systems built on our all-too-human flaws; systems used by humans who live to game them.
Before the blockchain is pure, we’ll get a bot to laugh convincingly, unlike the bots in Episode 03.
Thanks for reading and listening,
(c) Lee Schneider 2022. Take care of each other. Subscribe.