Tighter regs could make Face­book more prof­itable

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - Jonah Gold­berg is a fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute and a se­nior editor of Na­tional Re­view. gold­bergcol­umn@gmail.com

“I think the real ques­tion, as the in­ter­net be­comes more im­por­tant in peo­ple’s lives, is what is the right reg­u­la­tion, not whether there should be or not,” Zucker­berg re­sponded.

Many are fo­cus­ing (un­der­stand­ably) on Zucker­berg’s stance on the count­less and com­plex free-speech is­sues raised by Face­book’s dom­i­nance and reach. Zucker­berg kept sug­gest­ing that ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence could soon solve most of these prob­lems by polic­ing “hate speech” and per­haps “fake news” faster than hu­man mon­i­tors ever could.

Let’s as­sume Zucker­berg is cor­rect. In the fu­ture, much of our speech will be po­liced by our ro­bot over­lords.

As Zucker­berg hinted more than a few times, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers will need to get in­volved in the reg­u­la­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tion of how these AI sys­tems will work. We’ll prob­a­bly set up some new agency or a new di­vi­sion of the FCC to pro­vide over­sight.

And which com­pany will have the loud­est voice in the draft­ing of these new rules? If his­tory is any guide, the ob­vi­ous an­swer is ... Face­book.

The stan­dard story of the Pro­gres­sive Era, taught to high school kids and col­lege stu­dents alike, is that the gov­ern­ment has come to the res­cue time and again to cur­tail the ex­cesses of ir­re­spon­si­ble, self­ish or oth­er­wise das­tardly big busi­nesses. Up­ton Sin­clair, in his book “The Jun­gle,” fa­mously ex­posed the abuses of the meat-pack­ing in­dus­try, prompt­ing the gov­ern­ment to im­pose new reg­u­la­tions on it.

Left out of this tale of en­light­ened reg­u­la­tion is that the meat-pack­ing in­dus­try wanted to be reg­u­lated — some­thing even Sin­clair ad­mit­ted.

“The Fed­eral in­spec­tion of meat was, his­tor­i­cally, es­tab­lished at the pack­ers’ re­quest,” Sin­clair wrote in 1906. “It is main­tained and paid for by the peo­ple of the United States for the ben­e­fit of the pack­ers.”

The fa­mous trusts were no dif­fer­ent. In 1909, Andrew Carnegie wrote a let­ter to the New York Times sug­gest­ing “gov­ern­ment con­trol” of the steel in­dus­try. The chair­man of U.S. Steel, Judge El­bert Gary, lob­bied for the same thing.

Famed lawyer Clarence Dar­row is­sued a report on the New Deal’s in­dus­trial “codes” and found that in “vir­tu­ally all the codes we have ex­am­ined, one con­di­tion has been per­sis­tent. ... In In­dus­try af­ter In­dus­try, the larger units ... have for their own ad­van­tage writ­ten the codes, and then, in ef­fect and for their own ad­van­tage, as­sumed the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the code they have framed.”

Ti­tans of cap­i­tal­ism wel­come reg­u­la­tion be­cause it is the best pro­tec­tion against com­pe­ti­tion. It sta­bi­lizes prices, elim­i­nates un­cer­tainty and writes prof­its into law — which is why AT&T con­vinced Congress at the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury to give it a mo­nop­oly over phone ser­vices.

I sus­pect one rea­son Zucker­berg wants AI to be es­sen­tial is that Face­book can af­ford to make AI es­sen­tial while po­ten­tial com­peti­tors can’t.

When all is said and done, Face­book will look more like the 21st cen­tury AT&T of so­cial me­dia.

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