Power & Market

A Search Engine That Respects Users Will Usher In Narrowcast Media and Freedom

For most of my life, twice a week everyone would get free newspapers that ran stories but that existed to sell ads.

That’s the business model of all current search-engine businesses. Their customers aren’t us, their customers are their advertisers.

Current search engines work the way they do because Google saw an opportunity to create new technology, got there first and best, and sells ads. No current search engines do the best their technology could do to produce the results that users want.

Those free newspapers? We always had better sources of stories, so twice a week we just threw those newspapers away. They’re not delivered to houses anymore. I could pick one up in the grocery store, but I don’t. Chances are, you don’t either.

That business model used to work for advertisers, but it never worked for us.

Information and Freedom

Search engines address an age-old need and want: Every person’s time is scarce, and every person wants to use some of his time efficiently to get the information that’s the most valuable to him.

Artificial intelligence has crawled many sources but has delivered scattershot quality. People, including parents, teachers, librarians, and colleagues, have always been the highest-quality curators of information.

And information is tremendously valuable.

The printing press brought individuals the Bible, which greatly increased individuals’ faith in Jesus. Faithful individuals soon stood up in large-enough numbers to make life, liberty, and property more secure from legacy churches and governments. The result was a sudden, breathtaking leap up in productivity that brought us the modern world.

Current search engines, in contrast, don’t advance individual freedom. Google skews its results to favor big advertisers, big medicine, and bigger governments. Now even DuckDuckGo is skewing its results.

These aren’t bugs, these are features. Skewed outputs are the inevitable result of current search engines’ skewed inputs.

Engines that Listen and Deliver

The streaming music service Pandora offers a straightforward picture of what’s feasible technologically.

Pandora’s recommendation engine tailors its outputs based on a user’s inputs of likes and dislikes and on a user’s mode selection of either my station, crowd faves, discovery, deep cuts, newly released, or artist only.

No comparably-clear inputs are used by any current search engine.

Pandora also delivers a constant stream, just like broadcast media. Search engines have the potential to likewise deliver tailored, streamed, narrowcast content—video, print, other visual content, or audio—that fits the wants of an individual user or of a gathering of individuals.

Search engines sooner or later will listen to users well and will deliver the information that users want the most. When they do, this will relegate mass-market broadcast media to the garbage heap of history.

Information that in this way is further tailored to individuals’ wants will leap further up in value. And this will further affect not just the valuable, isolated development of individuals but also the valuable social securing of freedom.

The extent that freedom is made secure by governments depends on the structures of the governments and on the structures of the major parties. Parties in turn eventually get joined by politicians who jump on the bandwagon, but initially are started by activists and media.

Once voters get information that’s sourced from the universe of finely-tuned, narrowcast information and that’s curated to match each individual voter’s needs and wants, voters will very-effectively bypass the current gatekeeping of the major parties and of their mass-market broadcast media cronies.

This will change the candidates and parties that voters will choose. Voters will finally be empowered to nominate and elect the candidates they prefer, who offer the most freedom.

Gatekeepers’ Structures and Incentives

Keeping individuals’ freedoms secure will require suitable limits on governments, on at least one major party, and on at least one major search engine.

For governments, the Constitution defines separated powers, limited enumerated powers, and offsetting powers. This design will need to be followed in all jurisdictions. For political parties, The Constitution Needs a Good Party applies this structure to a major political party. For search engines, this structure will need to be applied to a major search-engine business.

The resulting nested, recursive overall structure will have the advantage that as the organizations get smaller, they will more easily be ultimately controlled by voters and users. Plus, the lessons learned in the smaller organizations will be readily scaled up and used in the larger organizations.

Each organization’s structure will provide a very ingenious incentive: to succeed, ambitious people will need to limit other ambitious people. This incentive will tend to limit each organization.

Search-engine businesses have already shown that they need an additional incentive: their users must be their customers.

Here again, the way is shown by Pandora. Pandora users can stream music for free with ads, but they also can go on to subscribe. Since a small fee is worthwhile in exchange for curating streamed music, a small fee will also be worthwhile in exchange for curating streamed, narrowcast content—video, print, other visual content, or audio—that helps users learn efficiently and vote well.

This structure and these incentives will keep a search-engine business’s customers in ultimate control of the search engine.

Once users are in ultimate control of at least one major search engine, this will put voters in ultimate control of at least one major party, and this will put voters back in ultimate control of governments.

The time is ripe for our next giant leap up in freedom.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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