thanks for sharing your thoughts with the F3. Your questions are very interesting, indeed. And the answers probably depend on what you think about when you mention a “Utopian society”. In fact, one of the main purposes of Fractal Future is to find out what a “Utopian society” is supposed to be, and what it should look like.
For simplicity, let’s just assume that it just means we have solved the most pressing problems like poverty, diseases, environmental degradation, catastrophic risks, and so on. In addition to that, people are pretty much free to do what they want. How would a social network fit into such a world? Let’s consider some essential features of social networks for that:
Staying in contact with people
This merely requires a channel for contacting those people and finding out about those channels. You would need something like a “search engine for people” that spits out that information.
Finding the people you want to find
You may also want to search for people with specific attributes, for example shared interests, or certain skills. Again, what you would need is a search engine for people, rather than a social network. Such a search engine would probably curate the information that people spread about themselves, or other people, whether intentionally or not, automatically. Profiles for each person will be generated automatically. Imagine the information that the NSA has about everyone would suddenly be available to everyone, and combine that with the best AI tools imaginable. That would certainly be a scary prospect from the point of privacy, but it would actually be pretty hard to avoid that such a scenario becomes reality eventually.
Commenting and discussing
I imagine that the best way to serve these functions is implementing a specific internet protocol for those. Every node on the internet would have a “commenting layer” on top of it (think Discouse forum software plus Google Docs comments on the side or something like that), that would be customized for each user, so that she will mainly see the comments added by her peers. That would most certainly fix the mess that people are commenting on stuff on all kinds of platforms, and not (only) on the site they are referring to.
Checking out the activities of your peers
Perhaps this is the function of social networks that is hardest to “outsource” to other systems or platforms. It requires a way for people to broadcast their activities to the internet, or a way for an internet service to track the activities of people, or both. With advanced AI solutions it would seem likely that individual users will have a broadcasting policy that lets them share certain activities with the internet automatically, while being silent about other activities. And if there is this “search engine for people” and it tracks what they do (at least if they allow being tracked), then you would probably be able to get automatically created time lines of latest activities for certain people, or even whole groups of people.
Have I missed another important function of social networks?
Anyway, I think the main differences between the social networks of today and their successors in the future is that while today AI works for the social network platforms, later on people will have their own AIs that they can train and configure for getting a perfectly customized internet experience. Also, I think it’s likely that something like a mixture of search engines and social networks will appear, something like a “search engine for people”, probably with lots of extra functionality.
Maintaining privacy in such a world will become increasingly difficult. It may be the case that most people will eventually say: “Ok, I give up, let’s just get rid of privacy entirely and make everyone and everything transparent.” Such a shift would be a momentous revolution for our society. An opposing vision would be to grant everyone the ability to make other people and organisations forget specific data about them. That would require a very intrusive network or nanomachines that interfere with the function of our memories. Perhaps we will even witness a weird mixture of both scenarios. It’s hard for me to believe that things will remain similar to what they are today, at any rate.
It would be good, if we could actually predict the future of privacy, so that we plan for that future, but that’s not so easy. My own expectation is that people will shift their attention from protecting privacy to enforcing transparency, as privacy get increasingly difficult to maintain, given the increasing capabilities of corporations and secret services to track everything we do, given the likelihood that people will be able to 3d print micro-drones that track everything in the environment, and given that the emerging Internet of Things will collect so many pieces of data anyway, that keeping all of them private will become an increasingly insurmountable task. In a future that has basically given up on privacy, it will be very likely that there will be very powerful “search engines for people” that allow everyone to find out very much about virtually anyone, whether they like that or not – and irrespectively whether they actually have accounts on social networks, or any other platform.
The importance of AI
In any case, it should be clear that AI will become increasingly widespread and important. Companies who use AI extensively will outcompete those who don’t. Therefore it’s important to integrate AI into your considerations from the start, and not merely treat it as an afterthought. It will also be important to find out how to make AI work for everyone. AI needs to become as easy to use as a toaster.
Can the internet be made less distracting?
Well, probably people will eventually use their own AIs to filter out things that they would likely to consider a waste of time. Maybe the strength of those filters will even factor in your momentary mood.
Don’t try to make a platform, try to find a way to make AI work for everyone. At least, if you are in for the long run.