The Attention Meter

We have ways of determining if someone is taking our money, but only in the most crass way are we aware of when the attention of our Singleton is being demanded.

A TV commercial signals itself as such. A celebrity endorsement is slightly more occluded. A social media advertisement may enter our brains in the same space as looking at a picture of our nephew, hijacking the emotions I feel toward family and friends.

We can and should turn our efforts in machine learning to focus on this problem. Currently I use an app on my phone (called Quality Time) that tracks my usage across various apps. Now imagine a program that observes my sensory organs and my overall behavior to determine what I am looking at and listening to. There are various ways to do this now, but the technical aspects are not important at this stage of the discussion. I am not talking about building a mind reader, I am talking about a program that knows what I am looking at, reading and hearing.

Such a program would be my attention meter. And once I know what I am looking at, I can parcel out my attention. And sell it to the higher bidder. Eliminate things I am truly not interested in, keep my feeds and streams as clean as I want them to be.

Such an attention marketplace, properly and justly implemented, would be the most valuable thing ever created. It’s what the promise of the Web is. But the Web lacks the Attention Meter, so it is simply a free for all to jam as many consumer messages as possible in a short period of time, or until you irritate the consumer.

This is a dead end, both for people and for advertising. By giving people the agency to experience ads on their own time, and making clear the value exchange for their attention, we could build something sustainable and fair.

This also requires transparency of who is buying the ad. Especially if the ad is for political action.

People will watch ads for good content. So let’s monitor it and reward them for their efforts. This is not a simple computational problem, but it’s time for companies to begin to understand we have reached the limits of human abilities to process.

When we finally build AI to protect individuals instead of just sell to them more effectively, monitoring and marketing our conscious attention will be one of its primary objectives.

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