Saturday, June 02, 2007

21st century deception and the evolution of the emergent mind

I had two (or is it one?) idiosyncratic talents as a wastrel youth. I had a knack for great boondoggles, and I could, upon a cursory book reading, write a persuasive this-is-connected-to-that high school English essay.

This is one of those connectionist essays. I'm going to claim that many of the themes of this blog, such as
are fundamentally related to the quintessential human activity - the detection and execution of fraud and deception [1]. Quintessential, because it is likely that deceiving and detecting deception played a central role in the evolution of human mind and culture.

My hunch is that each transformation of the human landscape, either by technology or culture, opens new avenues for fraud and deception. I suspect, for example, that if we looked closely we'd find that widespread adoption of printing and reading led to a vast array of newly effective cons and schemes. Print must have been very persuasive in those days; anything that was printed would bypass the fraud detection measures of the pre-print era.

We live now in another golden age of fraud. It's not just the obvious spam driven stock manipulation, the raging identity theft, Hilary's friends at InfoUSA, or even fake gluten, medications, glycerine, and surgical supplies. It's also the vast array of extremely unreliable consumer goods that are so cheap they've eliminated the alternatives, incidentally creating a deceptive inflation picture.

There's a bright side - I hope. We're overwhelmed at the moment, but our children will grow up in this world. They will spot the Bush/Rove cons their parents missed, they will resurrect the concept of a brand reputation and push the fakes back into dark alleys, they'll recognize the limits of "caveat emptor" and resurrect the FDA. Best of all, just as deception detection upgraded brains tends of thousands of years ago, so too will "social" deception detection raise our emergent IQ. Maybe just in time to respond to Sachs call for a new enlightenment.

So I am an optimist, after all. True, the glass is half empty. True, the contents are poisoned. Nonetheless, we will live to quaff again ...

[1] I need to here credit my 1994 UMN cognitive science professor - Paul Johnson. I thought harder and read more in his class than any other in far too many years of education. Dr. Johnson's research focuses on the cognitive science aspects of deception.

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