International Business Times reporter Ian Allison seemed amused by how we described the Augur prediction market platform as a potential "Borg... a good Borg." We felt it was important to fully explain that choice of metaphor, since it is not one we used lightly. We take our Trek pretty seriously and fully explain below.
The next Star Trek film might be an actual Star Trek film that shows the Star Trek crew actually doing what Star Trek crews traditionally do: exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no one has gone before... and all that good stuff.
....but there are times when one can be a bit too bold. There have been times in Star Trek history when seeking out new life and new civilizations wasn't such a bright idea - when it clearly would have been safer for the Enterprise to timidly stick closer to Mother Earth.
Take one alien encounter, for example: The Borg (no, you haven't drifted onto a Trekkie site and, yes, we will get to the connection to prediction markets soon enough).
Over the course of Star Trek’s 24th century history, they murdered millions, enslaved billions, and wiped out hundreds of planetary civilizations in a cold, merciless, robotic rampage across the Alpha and Delta Quadrants of the Milky Way Galaxy. The goal of their cosmic campaign was to absorb all into The Single Borg Collective Consciousness.
Their simple message, or warning, to every new victim: Submit. Because resistance is pretty Futile – so don’t even bother.
Wreaking galactic devastation on a scale that might give even Terminator’s SKYNET pause, this unstoppable force of un-nature turned one lush green planet after another into dead wastelands of metallic grey. These soulless cyborgs didn’t just take people. They took their knowledge, their memories, their identities, even their skin tone — and downloaded everything worth downloading into the Borg Collective Hive-Mind.
They turned Captain Jean-Luc Picard – our Jean-Luc, our hero, the definitive Star Trek captain (sorry, Kirk)! – into a pale, red-eyed, garishly metal-plated monstrosity of a monotonic node: Locutus. And then they set him loose as leader of the Borg Armada to take advantage of his vast mental library of Starfleet tactics and destroy a good chunk of the Federation’s Armada in minutes, leaving Earth all but defenseless. Star Trek's generally rosy vision of the future had never been this apocalyptic.
To top it all off, the Borg had a bad case of the superiority complex… anyone remember Seven of Nine?
But, hey, nobody’s perfect.
We think the deadly robotic villains of the Star Trek universe are misunderstood. Just a bit. Please allow us to explain — and, yes, we’ll explain the connection to Augur and prediction markets in just a moment (thank you for your patience).
The Borg were motivated (if an algorithm can be self-motivated) out of a twisted perception of the common good. The wanted to absorb the “biological and technological distinctiveness” of every individual, every civilization in the universe, to pool all those resources together into a better coordinated collective consciousness that would benefit all sentient life… or what would be left of it.
The wanted to bring an end to the confusion, the conflicts, the limitations and ignorance that result from not being able to share our thoughts with one another in real time and better coordinate our
actions. They wanted harmony (in monotone). From their perspective, they were philanthropists.¹
You are erratic, conflicted, disorganised. Every decision is debated, every action questioned. Every individual entitled to their own small opinion. You lack harmony, cohesion, greatness. It will be your undoing.
She had a point, and the Commander didn't have a good answer to that one — did he? — but prediction markets do.
The "harmony" the Borg seeked to impose by force is the harmony prediction markets encourage with incentives, through the free will of individuals acting in their own self interest. The Borg bring down down the iron fist; prediction markets try honey.
The Augur prediction market platform allows anyone from anywhere to create, participate in or simply monitor speculation about any future event. Participants buy or sell shares in the pursuit of profit — they profit if they're right and lose if they're wrong and in the process of acting on their own knowledge and in their own interest they move market prices up and down, revealing to the rest of us what they "think".
There are ways of harvesting information in pursuit of a better outcome that don’t involve intimidating people, spying on them, enslaving them, blowing up their ships, destroying their planets, talking down to them (…cough…Seven of Nine…cough) and flashing those scary-looking, red-laser thing-ys into their eyes.
The Borg were right about at least one big thing: we could all do a better job of sharing our unique knowledge with one another and coordinating our efforts for the common good; prediction markets could help get us there.
For those who don’t yet fully understand their virtues (or the virtues of free markets in general), think of them as the Borg with Benefits or the Collective without Coercion – a voluntary cooperative that doesn’t require sensors where a hand used to be or the complete and utter loss of a tan.
Merriam-Webster defines a philantropist as “a wealthy person who gives money (The Borg had tons of accumulated resources) and time to help make life better for other people (the Borg committed 100% of their waking hours to their mission – and a lot of them probably dreamed about their mission in their sleep)” or “one who makes an active effort to promote human welfare”
Wikipedia says philantropy means “love of humanity” in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing and enhancing “what it is to be human” on both the benefactors’ (by identifying and exercising their values in giving and volunteering) and beneficiaries’ (by benefiting) parts.”
That's the Borg in a nutshell (from their perspective, at least).
Main photo by ©2015 CBS and Paramount
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