Artificially Stimulated Stupidity

The world remains aflutter over Artificial Intelligence (AI), a technology that after a decade plus of promises finally found some credibility with the recent launch of ChatGPT. What people should be focused on, though, is ASS, or Artificially Stimulated Stupidity (pronounced “A Ess Ess,” of course). If AI overtakes humanity, as some seem to fear, it may be due more to ASS than to its own inherent quality.

While stupidity is as old and pervasive as the human species, which over-compensated by calling itself sapiens (the wise ones), ASS is very new. For most of its existence, humanity has sought to reduce its innate stupidity and ignorance through education, training, and relatively reliable methods of generating and transmitting new information. Lately, all have broken down and remain unreformed although eminently fixable. The breakdowns artificially stimulate human stupidity by making it more difficult to engage in rational analysis or discussion.

Government education

At this point, almost all formal education in the US, K-PhD, is government-controlled, even when technically privately provided. It fails most students not only by not helping them to think critically but by filling their minds with falsehoods. As its former centers of excellence rapidly deplete the reputational capital they built over centuries, a nasty negative feedback loop has developed wherein stupid administrators hire stupid faculty to teach stupid students to be even stupider. Some of those stupider students then become even stupider administrators and faculty who move the next generation of students yet another step closer to Idiocracy.

Practical skills

Many online schools promise little in the way of education because they cater to students looking for credentials in business, nursing, or coding. Most of those students have full time jobs already and simply seek a degree, so they do not push for more challenging coursework. Meanwhile, apprenticeship programs languish from a dearth of applicants. Although many occupations amenable to apprenticeship training, like plumbing, pay extremely well, they require people to do physical work. Many find that prospect unappealing. It doesn’t help that many such jobs, like waste management, evoke images of organized crime or, worse, unions, or, worst of all, getting out of bed at dawn. So instead of learning a practical skill, many wallow away the years at university in the hopes of one day joining the leisured laptop class.

News

Turns out that claims about “Fake News” were not fake. Viewers, readers, and listeners understood editorial curation and even political “spin,” but learned during the COVID pandemic that mainstream media outlets were not above blatant fear mongering and even outright lying to protect their advertising streams and/or to promote a favored politician or political party. By 2023, half of Americans believed that national news outlets deliberately tried to mislead them. New or niche entrants into news were not necessarily any better. With no trusted source of information available, audiences began to tune out or, ironically, to believe any “news” story they liked because the costs of investigating on their own simply became too high, especially as it became increasingly difficult to differentiate real news stories from parodies

Government statistics

It is one thing to say that an x percent increase or decrease of some number is not a problem, or to point to a different, better-looking metric, and quite another to intentionally manipulate x. Numbers cannot lie, but the people who produce them might. The variety of ways that government data can be fabricated or massaged is mind-boggling when studied in detail. Manipulation of macroeconomic data is especially difficult to detect, but very easy to suspect because it often boils down to different degrees of wrong rather than correct or incorrect. As with the dearth of reliable news, the lack of widely agreed upon statistical anchors makes it difficult to debate or deliberate on policy matters.

Peer-reviewed publication

Much of the best academic work now appears in an emerging “underground” scholarly ecosystem where empirical merit still predominates. The establishment peer review system, however, broke over Woke. Already strained by poor incentives for reviewers and authors, and the near impossibility of maintaining authorial anonymity, the current peer review system, especially in many social science and humanities fields but even in the sciences, now rewards authors for politically correct conclusions instead of methodological excellence. The result is that many low quality papers that go uncited or cannot be replicated get published while many high quality papers are delayed or perhaps not published in traditional ways at all. Once again, people are left without reliable anchors upon which to assess policy or other real world claims.

The joint effect of ASS can be most easily seen on social media. Although some posts are cogent, thoughtful, or informative, most more closely resemble pablum (baby food) than adult table fare. Most political posts sling mud, or even pooh, like our caged primate cousins do. Even policy discussions often devolve into illogical non sequitur or ad hominem attacks. Many platforms resemble taverns in more ways than one – slurred speech, senseless violence, and lots of sexualized content.

Evidence of ASS also shows up in surveys, like the one where almost a third of respondents under age 30 said they would be fine with the government surveilling them in their own homes. You know, for safety, as if the governments of Detroit and Denver, which take on average over 10 minutes (in 2018 no less) to respond to 911 calls and that rarely find and convict perpetrators caught on increasingly ubiquitous street cameras, could protect people even if they super-glued a webcam to all of our thickening skulls.

What is needed are ways to leverage AI to reduce ASS, or in other words to improve education, skills training, news, government statistics, and peer-reviewed research. That way, people will have empirical anchors solid enough to help them to render informed policy judgements and to eschew all that is asinine.

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This article, Artificially Stimulated Stupidity, was originally published by the American Institute for Economic Research and appears here with permission. Please support their efforts.

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