Running on escalators

Ideally, automation would yield a Star Trek reality of increasing leisure and quality of choice and experience. Why isn’t this our experience? An article on Medium offers insight into why this is not occurring on any significant scale.

Evolved behavioral strategies explained by the prisoner’s dilemma damn the majority of humans to a constant doubling down. We exchange the ‘leisure dividend’ (free time) granted by automation for opportunities to outcompete others.

Apparently, the sort of reciprocal social learning that could lead us to make healthy choices with our leisure opportunities depends on us and our competitors being able to mutually track our outcomes across consecutive iterations of the ‘game’. That ‘traceability’ quickly breaks down with the complexity inherent in vast numbers of competitors. When we conclude that any viable competitor may use her leisure dividend to further optimize her competitive position, rather than to pause to enjoy her life, we tend to do the same. Each assumes the other will sprint ahead and so chooses to sprint ahead. Both forfeit the opportunity to savor the leisure dividend.

The prisoner’s dilemma shows that we (most humans) would rather be in a grueling neck-and-neck race toward an invisible, receding finish line than permit the possibility a competitor may increase her lead.

Any strategy that’s so endemic must have evolutionary roots. Thoughts?

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Paul Watson
Paul Watson

The iterated prisoner’s dilemma has been used to see what algorithmic strategies do best in repeated inter-individual interactions involving reciprocity. Tit-forTat, in which the individual starts out cooperating (on the first move or iteration) and then just imitates it’s partner’s behavior from then on turns out to be a pretty successful algorithm, better than many others that are far more complex in computerized face-to-face contests. The success of Tit-for-Tat showed that basic reciprocity could evolve without huge CNS sophistication. Guppies can do it. I am not sure how the prisoner’s dilemma game is being applied in the cited paper. I’ll… Read more »

Paul Watson
Paul Watson

PS: In the prisoner’s dilemma, there can be no information transfer between parties within a round. Also, unless there is a high probability of a repeat interaction, the best strategy is always to defect.

Bottom line is that organisms are deeply designed to strive toward increased lifetime inclusive fitness. Natural selection only uses pleasant and unpleasant experiences as carrots and sticks to relentlessly drive organisms on toward this singular ultimate goal, unto death. — Paul

Paul Watson
Paul Watson

From the article: Yuval Harari may have put it best in Sapiens: “One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.” I would say that this phenomenon should be understood as a direct and simple extension of the never ending evolutionary arms race to solve more and more reproductive problems as effectively and efficiently as body-mind-environment-culture will allow, pushing the… Read more »