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Home / Brad Delong, Berkeley / How do we write regulations that constrain aggregators that want to hack our brain and attention and empower platforms that enable us to accomplish what we prudently judge our purposes to be when we are in our best selves?: Ben Thompson: Tech’s Two Philosophies

How do we write regulations that constrain aggregators that want to hack our brain and attention and empower platforms that enable us to accomplish what we prudently judge our purposes to be when we are in our best selves?: Ben Thompson: Tech’s Two Philosophies

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OK, Ben: how do we write regulations that constrain aggregators that want to hack our brain and attention and empower platforms that enable us to accomplish what we prudently judge our purposes to be when we are in our best selves? How was it that printing managed to, eventually, generate a less-unhealthy public sphere? Young Habermas, where are you now that we need you?: Ben Thompson: Tech’s Two Philosophies: “Apple and Microsoft, the two ‘bicycle of the mind” companies’… had broadly similar business models… platforms. …Google and Facebook, on the other hand, are products of the Internet, and the Internet leads not to platforms but to aggregators…. The business model follows from these fundamental differences: a platform provider has no room for ads, because the primary function

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OK, Ben: how do we write regulations that constrain aggregators that want to hack our brain and attention and empower platforms that enable us to accomplish what we prudently judge our purposes to be when we are in our best selves? How was it that printing managed to, eventually, generate a less-unhealthy public sphere? Young Habermas, where are you now that we need you?: Ben Thompson: Tech’s Two Philosophies: “Apple and Microsoft, the two ‘bicycle of the mind” companies’… had broadly similar business models… platforms.

…Google and Facebook, on the other hand, are products of the Internet, and the Internet leads not to platforms but to aggregators…. The business model follows from these fundamental differences: a platform provider has no room for ads, because the primary function of a platform is provide a stage for the applications that users actually need to shine. Aggregators, on the other hand, particularly Google and Facebook, deal in information, and ads are simply another type of information. Moreover, because the critical point of differentiation for aggregators is the number of users on their platform, advertising is the only possible business model; there is no more important feature when it comes to widespread adoption than being “free.”… Google and Facebook have always been predicated on doing things for the user, just as Microsoft and Apple have been built on enabling users and developers to make things completely unforeseen….

Google and Facebook are fundamentally more dangerous: collective action is traditionally the domain of governments, the best form of which is bounded by the popular will. Google and Facebook, on the other hand, are accountable to no one. Both deserve all of the recent scrutiny they have attracted, and arguably deserve more. That scrutiny, though, and whatever regulations that result, must keep in mind this philosophical divide: platforms that create new possibilities—and not just Apple and Microsoft!—are the single most important economic force when it comes to countering the oncoming wave of computers doing people’s jobs, and lazily written regulation that targets aggregators but constricts platforms will inevitably do more harm than good…. Companies like Apple and Amazon can, as I noted, win in the long run by offering a superior user experience, but more importantly…. Discontent is a greenfield of opportunities to build new businesses and new jobs alleviating that discontent. For that we need platforms on which to build those businesses, and yes, we will need artificial intelligence to do things for us so we have the time.

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Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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