The Biology of Disinformation: Interview with Rushkoff, Pescovitz, and Dunagan

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I am reminded of the “Artificial Inanity” program mentioned in Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem:

“Early in the Reticulum-thousands of years ago-it became almost useless because it was cluttered with faulty, obsolete, or downright misleading information,” Sammann said.

“Crap, you once called it,” I reminded him.

“Yes-a technical term. So crap filtering became important. Businesses were built around it. Some of those businesses came up with a clever plan to make more money: they poisoned the well. They began to put crap on the Reticulum deliberately, forcing people to use their products to filter that crap back out. They created syndevs whose sole purpose was to spew crap into the Reticulum. But it had to be good crap.”

“What is good crap?” Arsibalt asked in a politely incredulous tone.

“Well, bad crap would be an unformatted document consisting of random letters. Good crap would be a beautifully typeset, well-written document that contained a hundred correct, verifiable sentences and one that was subtly false. It’s a lot harder to generate good crap. At first they had to hire humans to churn it out. They mostly did it by taking legitimate documents and inserting errors-swapping one name for another, say. But it didn’t really take off until the military got interested.”

“As a tactic for planting misinformation in the enemy’s reticules, you mean,” Osa said. “This I know about. You are referring to the Artificial Inanity programs of the mid-First Millennium A.R.”

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