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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Increasing Value of Peculiar Intelligence

One more sociopolitical/futurist observation ...

If you're not aware of David Brin's Transparent Society concept, you should read the book, and start with the Web page

http://www.davidbrin.com/tschp1.html

His basic idea is that, as surveillance technology improves, there are two possibilities:

  • The government and allied powers watch everybody, asymmetrically
  • Everybody watches everyone else, symmetrically (including the government and allied powers being watched)

He calls the latter possibility sousveillance ... all-watching ...

What occurs to me is that in a transparent society, there is massive economic value attached to peculiar intelligence

This is because, if everyone can see everything else, the best way to gain advantage is to have something that nobody can understand even if they see it

And it's quite possible that, even if they know that's your explicit strategy, others can't really do anything to thwart it...

Yes, a transparent society could decide to outlaw inscrutability. But this would have terrible consequences, because nearly all radical advances are initially inscrutable....

Inscrutability is dangerous. But it's also, almost by definition, the only path to radical growth.

I argued in a recent blog post that part of the cause of the recent financial crisis is the development of financial instruments so complex that they are inscrutable to nearly everyone -- so that even if banks play by the rules and operate transparently, they can still trick shareholders (and journalists) because these people can't understand what they see!

But it seems that this recent issue with banks is just a preliminary glimmering of what's to come....

Yes, maybe there is something a bit self-centered or self-serving in this theory, since I seem to personally have more differential in "peculiar intelligence" than in most other qualities ... but, call it what you will, my peculiar intelligence is definitely pushing me to the conclusion that peculiar intelligence is going to be a more and more precious commodity as the Age of Transparency unfolds...

Obviously, you can also see this phenomenon in financial trading even in a non-crisis time. It's not enough to be smart at predicting the markets to make a LOT of money ... because if you're just smart, but in non-peculiar way, then once you start trading a lot of money, others will observe your trades and pick up the pattern, and start being smart in the same way as you ... and then you'll lose your edge. The way to REALLY make a lot of money in the markets is to be very smart, and in a very peculiar way, so that even if others watch your trades carefully, they can't understand the pattern, and they can't imitate your methodology....

The best trader I know personally is Jaffray Woodriff who runs quantitative.com, and he exemplifies this principle wonderfully: very intelligent, very peculiar (though in an extremely personable, enjoyable way), and very "peculiarly intelligent" ;-)

1 comment:

Michael Bryant said...

Ben, I often wonder what forms of "peculiar intelligence" and synthesized ideas AI will ultimately unearth from our vaults... Unique chimeras of useful thought synthesis that will someday morph into some sort of blockchain unit linked to this original author or that one. Eureka bulb authorship is bound to become blisteringly contentious as we increasingly leapfrog further on the reins of machine intelligence.