Friday, March 29, 2002

Trust and Communication

Over at blogtank, the tankies are meditating on online Trust. The Non-zero perspective is that Trust and Communication are strong catalysts for non-zero-sum activites, such as markets, conversations, and weblogs.

Gaspar mentioned the Prisoner's Dilemma, and Appendix 1 of Nonzero discusses Axelrod's iterated Prisoner's Dilemma experiments:
By showing how cooperation could evolve without formal communication, Axelrod had shown how reciprocal altruism could evolve in animals that don't do much talking—including chimpanzees and vampire bats. He had also shown how stable, cooperative relationships could form in a very small society of humans without much explicit discussion; so long as the same players encounter each other day after day—as in a small hunter-gatherer society—trust could develop even with little explicit commitment.

Of course, through cultural evolution, the settings for non-zero-sum games have gotten much less intimate than a hunter-gatherer society. Chances are you've never met the person who made your shoes. In fact, chances are that any one person who had a hand in making your shoes has never met all the other people who had a hand in it. A key feature of cultural evolution has been to make it possible for such non-zero-sum games to get played over great distances, among a large number of players. And in these kinds of situations, typically, there does need to be explicit communication (however circuitous), and there do need to be explicit means of sustaining trust. Hence the importance of evolving information technology in expanding the scope and complexity of social organization. Hence, too, the importance of evolving "technologies of trust" (often, though not always, in the form of laws enforced by a government) in helping to realize the non-zero-sum potential that new information technologies (and other technologies) create.

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