When professionals–editors, academics, journalists–are running the show, we at least know that it’s someone’s job to look out for such things as accuracy. But now we’re depending more and more on systems where nobody’s in charge; the intelligence is simply emergent. These probabilistic systems aren’t perfect, but they are statistically optimized to excel over time and large numbers. They’re designed to scale, and to improve with size. And a little slop at the microscale is the price of such efficiency at the macroscale.
But how can that be right when it feels so wrong?
There’s the rub. This tradeoff is just hard for people to wrap their heads around. There’s a reason why we’re still debating Darwin. And why Jim Suroweicki’s book on Adam Smith’s invisible hand is still surprising (and still needed to be written) more than 200 years after the great Scotsman’s death. Both market economics and evolution are probabilistic systems, which are simply counterintuitive to our mammalian brains. The fact that a few smart humans figured this out and used that insight to build the foundations of our modern economy, from the stock market to Google, is just evidence that our mental software has evolved faster than our hardware.