Is it possible that in a not too distant future concepts such as friendship, growth, or rebellion and the words connected to them, have to be bought to be used?
It depends on the pressure that three great forces are exerting on knowledge: datafication, commodification, and privatization.
With the assimilation of thoughts and ideas into the paradigm of information theory, it is possible to understand each thought and idea as a particular quantity of information, and many forms of knowledge are getting progressively quantified, commodified, and datafied.
The new frontiers of Artificial Intelligence make possible, in a not too distant future, to quantify individual thoughts and ideas, and NextMind as well as other companies in the field of Artificial Intelligence are working to decode and understand in real-time information from the brain.
If business ideas are already regulated by costs and benefits and their use is bounded by profit criteria, thoughts and ideas used in everyday life can still be freely used. However, we can hypothesize that the day in which the collection of data and their processing will allow to have every possible correlation between the use of a single idea and its payoffs, the barrier towards the commodification of the cognitive world of individuals will risk falling.
For every thought, an algorithm could calculate its probability of success. For example, if a person uses the concept of friendship in 2% of his thoughts, an algorithm with data according to which successful people use it in 3% or 1% of his thoughts could suggest or impose an increase or a reduction of them.
For a date, a guy could have a calculation of the best words to use for each girl’s profile, as today through google trends it is possible to know the success of certain words in the search engine.
Once an adequate quantification has been achieved, ideas could also be estimated according to the costs, energy, and time needed to be created, maintained and reproduced.
Each idea, each word, could be associated with an economic value and everyone could know the value of the concept of love, profit, struggle for survival, competition and any other concept of the cognitive world. The ideas would probably be grouped into packages for different uses. We can imagine packages for students interested in average grades, for managers of large companies, for hunters of beautiful girls or guys. One package could have words like friendship, exchange, and honesty while another package could have more useful words for profit-oriented environments. The packages would be no different from how subscriptions are designed today for the use of the internet or pay-TV.
In the beginning, these packages would have almost only new concepts and words in the last frontiers of business, science, and technology, but nothing prevents common concepts such as memory, art, future, buying, and over time the entire conceptual spectrum, from being commodified.
When knowledge will be completely commodified and datafied, the privatization process that has characterized the maturity of the traditional economy could also manifest itself in the access economy (Rifkin 2000).
What could make real a scenario in which the use of common concepts becomes the object of private sale?
At present we have copyrights and access rights for commercial, artistic, and industrial ideas and the acquisition of certain ideas is accessible through enrollment in university courses, or through the purchase of books and magazines. Knowledge is also paid to the extent that it provides a competitive advantage and it is considered fair that those who have had the financial possibility to take a certain course, have opportunities inaccessible to others.
in this perspective, the idea that one has to pay to acquire and maintain a certain knowledge and that those who possess this knowledge have legitimately more opportunities than others is already legal and social practice.
As in the traditional economy, there is a form of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 2004), it is possible to imagine a future society where most of the knowledge will be datafied and commodified, privatization and dispossession of common ideas.
This could happen in two ways. Through Artificial Intelligence the mind could be controlled remotely and the use of certain thoughts could be inhibited if the rights for their use were not paid, as today is the case with copyrighted ideas or scientific journals.
Another modality could be linked to the expansion of virtual reality as in the Metaverse in which the use of particular concepts and words might be subject to restrictions.
What is missing from the materialization of this scenario are three crucial elements.
First, the technical possibility of creating ideas and transmitting them in the form of uploads.
Second, the technical and legal impossibility of seizing the entire cognitive universe of a man and then being able to resell it fragmented and commercialized.
Third, a way of preventing the individual from using common concepts and words for which he has not acquired the rights.
Harari (2017) well explained the relationship between future scenarios and the probability that they will become reality. We are not in a position to establish the probabilities that such a scenario will become reality, however, we can say that the three limitations we have listed are a much lower wall than it might seem. Many companies such as Neurable and Kernel, in addition to the aforementioned Neuralink, are constantly working on creating a close relationship between the brain and the computer and many advances in Artificial Intelligence were science fiction until a few years ago.
It is interesting to ask what narrative could be at the basis of the privatization process of the cognitive world.
The rhetoric of common interest, efficiency, and increased productivity, at the basis of extreme forms of privatizations in traditional capitalism, could very well be used for the privatization of thoughts and ideas.
The ideas of the individual are rarely in line with what the individual needs and often there is a deep rift between what the labor market requires and what the individual studies and knows. The affirmation of this narrative could allow platforms capable of expropriating ideas and thoughts the necessary political and legal force to operate the dispossession of the cognitive world.
When humans will have alienated their own mind and their own thoughts, if it is true that man is a rational animal, what will remain will be post-human.
Cukier, Kenneth; Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor (2013). The Rise of Big Data. Foreign Affairs (May/June): 28–40. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
Harari, Y. 2017 Homo Deus, a brief history of tomorrow, Harper Perennial.
Harvey, D. 2004. The ‘new’ imperialism: accumulation by dispossession. Socialist Register 40: 63-87.
Rifkin, J. 2000. The Age of Access: The New Culture of Hypercapitalism, Penguin.