Crowdsourcing Utopia

The Problem: Suffering

Suffering comes to the human race in various forms. Physical sickness and pain, mental pressure, rejection, loneliness, war, famine, disease, persecution, natural disasters, poverty etc. No nation or class of people is exempt. Black and white, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, all suffer.

Every day:

  1. 16438 kids will die of starvation
  2. 158904109 animals will die in factory farms

Imagine your last years.  They could be spent in a nursing home in constant pain.  Approximately every 83 minutes, one adult 65 years of age or older commits suicide in the United States.  

Beneath all the politics, the basic objective of everyone to minimize the amount of suffering in the world.  (Notable exceptions include Skeletor from He-Man and that jerk with the mustache who’s always tying ladies to railroad tracks in old movies.) Whether we think about it consciously in those terms or not, that is the reason for everything we do.  Happiness is the carrot our genes use to induce us to engage in the behaviors most likely to perpetuate their existence.  Pain is the neurochemical stick that punishes for acting in a fashion which decreases the likelihood of successful replication.

Why Suffering Persists:  The Failure to Effectively Allocate Our Vast Resources

Technological innovation has ushered us into an age of abundance.  However, this vast wealth is still being irrationally allocated using archaic, emotion-based neural structures. Currently, governments allocate around half of the world’s resources. Ideally, they would allocate these resources to maximize the general welfare of society.    

However, in practice, politicians are beholden to campaign contributors. So they primarily just funneling money from overall society to the corporations and special interests that got them elected. The United States, for instance, is twice as rich as it was 30 years ago (GDP is double what it was then). Yet, the median wage is exactly the same as it was 30 years ago. This is because the government has set up an economic system that funnels almost all of the increased wealth resulting from productivity growth to the richest 1% in society. In addition to just blatant corporate subsidies from the government, the Federal Reserve prints new money and loans it to giant financial institutions at rates as low as 0.25%. These financial institutions then loan it to consumers at rates as high as 22%. This amounts to trillions of dollars of new money printed and essentially given to large financial institutions. This is why the financial system continues to consume a larger share of GDP than any other sector of the economy.

Human nature is the primary obstacle to optimal resource allocation.  The vast majority political discourse consists predominantly of the vestigial remains of tribal warfare.  Our evolutionary history took place on the savannah characterized by scarcity of resources over millions of years.  There, the greatest threats to propagating your genes were other humans outside your familial or tribal group.  In such an environment, those with the instinctual urge to engage in tribal warfare were the most likely to attain the resources necessary to survive and pass this trait to their offspring.  Those concerned with minimizing global suffering were typically exterminated.  Thus militaristic genes crowd out the traits of utilitarian rationality.

Warfare is the best example of this misallocation of resources with respect to the happiness produce per dollar spent.  Instead of focusing on curing natural death (which is guaranteed to kill every single one of us), the government spends about a trillion dollars trying to prevent terrorism which kills fewer people than lightning does.

Solve All the World’s Problems in 3 Easy Steps!

These 3 steps are to learn, decide and act.

Step 1: Learn

Learn as much as you can about all relevant public policy issues. This requires that individuals ignore partisan warfare and focus on hard data. This step will be facilitated by the crowd-sourced and gamified public policy data repository known as the Think by Numbers Project. Anyone may contribute their own articles . Since there will be lots of spam and garbage submitted, posts will be ordered using a democratic voting system. This will give the best content the most focus. It will encourage friendly competition among authors incentivizing them to produce their best work. Creation a sister wiki-version of each post that may be edited by any member of the site. The wiki versions will be much more thorough, detailed, accurate, and objective that the original posts. However, it’s likely that they will be bland and less entertaining than the original posts. That’s why we will allow the original author to maintain full editorial control over their version.

Identify and thoroughly understand the details of the problems reducing the net happiness of the world is the necessary first step to solving them.  We all need to work together to find the truth (i.e. facts and statistics) about every issue.

It’s easy to feel like you know enough about a political issue to have a strong opinion on it.  But I assure you that you don’t know what you don’t know. I certainly know that I don’t know what I don’t know, don’t you know?

Political Labels = Intellectual Prisons

Political labels only serve to divide us and pit us against each other even though we all share the same fundamental goal that drives our civic life and action.  Allowing disagreement about solutions arising from dogma instead of data leads to poisonous and paralyzing animosity. Arguing about solutions before we’ve even arrived at the basic truths underlying issues is a recipe for a dead world.

How to Overcome This Obstacle = Think By Numbers

Our cognitive flaws can be overcome by using our prefrontal cortices to focus on hard facts and think by numbers.  The intent of this site is to pull everyone out of their distorted and dogmatic political worlds. Once we’re all in the same reality and everyone understands the underlying truths of the issues, we can finally move on to step two.

The Future of ThinkByNumbers.org

We are currently working on the creation of a much more advanced version of this site aimed at harnessing the power of crowdsourcing and gamification to build a massive repository of public policy data in an easy to consume format. This basically means turning the site into a crowd-sourced citizen education platform. You can contribute!

The Wisdom of Crowds

On the new site, anyone may join and submit data-based articles.  All articles will have an automatically created wiki sister version that anyone can edit or add to.

The beauty of the wiki system is its ability to aggregate massive amounts of accurate data.  The flaw of the wiki is that mixing up the thoughts of many people is like mixing up a lot of different colors of paint. Vivid colors and interpretations are diluted eventually producing bland brown or gray copy.

How to Obtain Eyeballs

It would be ideal if humans could just come to our site and look at spreadsheets and graphs full of objective data, absorb the data, and use it to inform their opinions. Unfortunately, human brains are wired such that they require some degree of subjective analysis to activate their neural reward systems. So the original author will retain full editorial control over their version allowing them to use the literary tools like satire to make the data palatable to the unwashed masses.

Preservation of satire is also important because it can sometimes prevent activation of the sympathetic stress response if the reader sees something that contradicts their current views (this disables the prefrontal cortex inhibiting rational analysis and receptiveness to new data).

Gamification as a Motivational Tool

Gamification is another means of working within the constraints of the kludge known as the human brain.  A point system will be used to incentivize contributors to maximize the objectivity, information density, and entertaining nature of their submissions.

Each article will be scored using an algorithm that considers the number of unique hyperlinks to sources in an article, the quality of the sources, the number of images, the number of hyperlinked statistics, and user ratings.  The articles will be sorted on the site from the highest scores to the lowest scores. This friendly competition for the top position among authors will hopefully incentivize them to produce their best work.

This sorting system has the added benefit of allowing the best content to float to the top, while the crummy content sinks out of sight. This is a critical function when crowdsourcing content because the freedom given to contributors opens up the door to a lot of spam and garbage being submitted that we don’t want to drown out the good quality content.

VOTE!

I encourage everyone to use the voting system to vote up comments containing facts with sources. I also encourage everyone to vote down ad hominem attacks directed at anyone.  We all share the same goal of minimizing the amount of suffering in the world.  Name-calling is completely unproductive.  Ad hominem attacks cause to the emotional limbic system to steal the cognitive reins from our rational prefrontal cortices.  This process makes primates out of philosophers.

Step 2: Decide

Identify the Most Effective Solutions

Next, we brainstorm to come up as many potential solutions as possible. Figuring out which solution is best is the hard part. Ideally, we would use the scientific method to conduct experiments by:

  1. Implementing an experimental public policy change (independent variable) in one “experimental society” which is hypothesized to reduce the level of suffering in the society.
  2. Allow some time to pass until the resultant societal impact (dependent variable) from the experimental public policy change (independent variable) has stabilized.
  3. Measure the degree of suffering (dependent variable) in this “experimental society” through some sort of Gross National Happiness index.
  4. Measure the degree of suffering (dependent variable) in a “control society”. The “control society would be identical to the “experimental society” in every way aside from the absence of the experimental public policy change (independent variable).
OBSTACLE = WE DON’T HAVE A CONTROL SOCIETY

Unfortunately, the scientific method would require an identical control society in which the experimental policy is not implemented. There’s no way to limit experimental variables to just one.  In the real world, there are an infinite number of independent variables influencing the outcome of your experiment. This makes it rather impossible. You can partially overcome this by implementing experimental public policy in some states and comparing to the average outcome to the same metric averaged from the states which have not implemented this experimental policy.  However, there are so many other random variables that you need a very large number of states so that the random variations cancel each other out.

HOW TO OVERCOME THIS OBSTACLE

Decide which problems cause the most suffering and which solutions are most cost-effective. This was not previously something that could be quantified due to their inherent complexity. However, there is a new tool call crowd-sourcing which could be used to facilitate this. Two examples of effective crowd-sourcing provided by James Suroweki in The Wisdom of Crowds were guessing the weight of an ox and finding a missing submarine.

Cost-effectiveness calculations will be accomplished using an online database where users can see a list of all the major problems in the world. A problem is just an issue or situation that causes suffering. The user can then submit their estimations of the magnitude of the suffering (either using a dollar figure or a unit of pleasure called a util or hedon) caused by each major world problem using the Jeremy Bentham’s Felicific Calculus. All submissions are then averaged and problems are ranked according to the degree of suffering caused by each.  There are many potential pitfalls to crowdsourcing, primarily evidenced by our electoral system.  However, all of these problems can be overcome using advanced statistical methods.

Users can also submit ideas for possible solutions. Then everyone can submit their estimates on how much each solution will cost and how much suffering it will reduce. Then the amount of suffering eliminated divided by the cost of the solution will give you a value representative of the cost-effectiveness of that solution. This step is known as the Crowdsourcing Utopia Project.

Utilize the wisdom of crowds to perform a quantitative cost/benefit analysis on all significant public policy options and current endeavors.  Use this information to guide public policy in allocating its limited resources in such a way as to maximize cumulative universal long-term happiness.

This data may then be run through an algorithm known as the Felicific Calculus to determine the net happiness produced by various public and private policies (resource investments).  The cost (potential or known) would also be determined.  The magnitude of happiness produced by pursuing each option would then be divided by the cost of pursuing each option.  The options with the lowest rates of return could then be eliminated and those with the highest rates of return could be pursued.

Cost-effectiveness calculations will be accomplished using an online database where users can see a list of all the major problems in the world.  A problem is just an issue or situation that causes suffering.  The user can then submit their estimations of the magnitude of the suffering (either using a dollar figure or a unit of pleasure called a util or hedon) caused by each major world problem. All submissions are then averaged and problems are ranked according to the degree of suffering caused by each.

Users can also submit ideas for possible solutions. Then everyone can submit their estimates on how much each solution will cost and how much suffering it will reduce. Then the amount of suffering eliminated divided by the cost of the solution will give you a value representative of the cost-effectiveness of that solution.

How does one quantify suffering?

  1. Magnitude In a specific individual
    1. Poll to determine how much the average person how much money they would pay to alleviate it for a defined period of time.
  2. Number of Victims of this Type of Suffering
    1. See how often web searches are performed to find a way to alleviate this suffering
  3. Cumulative Suffering in Society
    1. The Amount of Money Spent on Alleviating this Suffering

STEP 3: ACT

In the final step, a charitable foundation will acquire and direct resources towards realizing the most cost effective solutions. This might be called the Charitable Foundation for the Abolition of Suffering. It is hoped that this will take over many functions that government is currently supposed to be fulfilling, but is not due to incompetence and/or corruption.

INITIAL FUNDING

To fund the Abolitionist Project, we are creating QuantiModo.  A platform that will facilitate citizen scientists to combine, visualize and analyze life-tracking data from a variety of apps and devices.  This will allow individuals to improve their lives (reducing suffering on a microscale) by identifying the factors that most influence their health and well-being. It will also benefit humanity on a macro-scale in that it will allow users to anonymously donate their data which will be used to crowd-source cures for many types of mental and physical illnesses. If you would like to learn more about the Abolitionist Project please sign up for our mailing list.

Utilitarian Crowdsourced Database to Optimize Public Policy through Cost-Benefit Analysis

This would require two primary database tables.

  1. Problems (Types of Suffering) Table
  2. Solutions (Remedies to Eliminate Specific Types of Suffering) Table

Suffering Table

  1. Identify each significant cause of suffering.
    1. Quantify the cumulative amount each form of suffering in society using the
      1. Intensity of a Given Type of Suffering in the Average Sufferer
        1. Potential Ways to Quantify and Determine This:
          1. Monetary Value
            1. Online polling to determine how much money the average suffer would pay to alleviate it for a defined period of time
          2. Pain Scale
            1. Online polling to determine how the average suffer would rate their suffering on a numerical scale
      2. Number of Victims of this Type of Suffering
        1. Ways to Determine This:
          1. Tally Number of Web Searches
            1. Use Google Trends to See how often web searches are performed to find a way to alleviate this suffering
          2. Average Crowd-sourced Guesses
            1. Use Online polling of accumulate the guesses of Random Individuals to determine how the average suffer would rate their suffering on a numerical scale
          3. Existing Online Data
            1. Cull data from existing
      3. Time Duration of the suffering in the average affected individual
        1. Ways to Determine This:
          1. direct online polling
      4. Cumulative Suffering in Society
        1. Ways to Determine This:
          1. The Amount of Money Spent on Alleviating this Suffering
          2. Multiply the Magnitude in Average Sufferer by the Number of Sufferers by the Cumulative Lifelong Duration of Suffering in Average Sufferer
    2. Rank each type of suffering in order by cumulative total magnitude
  2. Determine all potential ways to alleviate each type of suffering
    1. Determine cost of each method and probability of its success
  3. Divide the amount of suffering by (the cost of each method x the probability of success)

Outline for Database of Innovations Intended to Reduce Suffering

  1. Determine all potential ways alleviate each type of suffering
    1. Determine cost of each method and probability of its success
  2. Divide the amount of suffering by (the cost of each method x the probability of success)

Qualities of suffering:

  1. physical or mental.
  2. intensity, from mild to intolerable.
  3. duration and frequency

Components of Website:

  1. Data Accumulation
    1. Data Aggregator
      1. Google Trends
      2. Innovation Futures
    2. Individual Polling
  2. Data Analysis
    1. Cost Calculator
    2. Felicific Calculator

Qualities of suffering:

  1. physical or mental
  2. intensity, from mild to intolerable.
  3. duration and frequency

Causes of Suffering:

  1. Emotional Pain
    1. Causes of Emotional Pain
      1. Physical

 

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©2017 Mike P. Sinn

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