February 11, 2009

Opaque preferences in transparent skulls

Klein Bottle Generalisations IVPractical Ethics: Transparent brains: detecting preferences with infrared light - I blog on the possible problematic consequences of the cool study that demonstrated that one can detect preferences using infrared scans of the frontal lobes. The basic problem is that this is prime material for neurohype that ignores that real preferences are pretty complex. Simple scanning methods invite wider use than complex ones, so I see a real risk that this result will be used in a lot of stupid ways.

However, it is an interesting question how a society with transparent preferences would work. Right now we have one where preferences can be partially inferred (and a lot of people *think* they are good at discerning the thoughts and preferences of others - often wrongly).

If some groups can see the preferences of others but they cannot look back, then the information balance is going to be problematic. So clearly a transparent preference society needs to be two-way transparent to be just. Similarly it needs to be highly tolerant in order not to become highly conformist. The same problems as for any transparent society, really.

Preferences likely need to be elicited to be perceived. So I will notice that somebody checks whether I prefers Coke over Pepsi, boys over girls or armiphlanges over unclefts. The elicitation process is likely to introduce noise or bias, so this would be the weak point in trying to figure out my real preferences. Beside the complexity itself of preferences: I suspect most real preferences are strongly situational and nontransitive.

But would the extra preference information make the economy more efficient? It might certainly make advertising a bit better and more personalised, but in many markets the benefit of personalised information is smaller than the cost, especially if preferences are naturally muddled.

An interesting application might be to check one's own preferences. How much do I *really* like that painting? I'm experiencing some doubts, but my brain response was pretty clear... aha, it is my elitism that makes me hide that I actually do like rainbows and unicorn paintings. Might be useful, might just be a way of setting up a rationalizing feedback.

Posted by Anders3 at February 11, 2009 02:06 PM