Optimizing the news feed

I also expect Facebook and similar products to move gradually in this direction over the coming decade. If they don’t, I think that’s probably a bad sign.

How do you expect this to happen? Facebook actually wanting to be a better global citizen instead of maximizing profits? Government regulation? Some sort of market-based solution (Facebook offering a user-aligned paid option that most people will then opt for, or competition from other social networks)? I'd be quite surprised if any of these happened. Am I missing something?

And why isn't it a bad sign that Facebook hasn't already done what you suggested in your post?

I think at equilibrium services like Facebook maximize total welfare, then take their cut in a socially efficient way (e.g. as payment). I think the only question is how long it takes to get there.

I wonder if you have changed your mind about this at all. Unless I'm misunderstanding you somehow, this seems like an important disagreement to resolve.

1paulfchristiano3yI think there are two mechanisms: * Public image is important to companies like Facebook and Google. I don't think that they will charge for a user-aligned version, but I also don't think there would be much cost to ad revenue from moving in this direction. E.g. I think they might cave on the fake news thing modulo the proposed fixes mostly being terrible ideas. Optimizing user preferences may be worth it in the interests of a positive public image alone. * I don't think that Facebook ownership and engineers are entirely profit-focused, they will sometimes do things just because they feel like it makes the world better at modest cost. (I know more people in Google and am less informed about FB.) Relating the two, if e.g. Google organized its services in this way, if the benefits were broadly and understood, and if Facebook publicly continued to optimize for things that its users don't want optimized, I think it could be bad for the image of Facebook (with customers, and especially with hires). Does this bear on our other disagreements about how optimistic to be about humanity? Is it worth trying to find a precise statement and making a bet? I'm probably willing to give > 50% on something like: "Within 5 years, there is a Google or Facebook service that conducts detailed surveys of user preferences about what content to display and explicitly optimizes for those preferences." I could probably also make stronger statements re: scope of adoption. I think these mechanisms probably weren't nearly as feasible 5 years ago as they are today, based on gradual shifts in organization and culture at tech companies (especially concerning ML). And public appetite for more responsible optimization has been rapidly increasing. So I don't think non-action so far is a very strong sign. Also, Facebook seems to sometimes do things like survey users on how much they like content, and include ad hoc adjustments to their optimization in order to produce mor

Optimizing the news feed

by paulfchristiano 1 min read1st Dec 201613 comments