C. Thi Nguyen


Value capture occurs when an agent’s values are rich and subtle — or developing in that direction. The agent enters a social environment that presents simplified — typically quantified — versions of those values; and those simplified articulations come to dominate their practical reasoning. Examples include becoming motivated by FitBit’s step counts, Twitter Likes and Retweets, citation rates, ranked lists of best schools, and Grade Point Averages. We are vulnerable to value capture because of the competitive advantage that such crisp and clear expressions of value have in our private reasoning and our public justification. But value capture poses several threats. First, value capture threatens to change the goals of our activities, in a way that often threatens to undermine the value of those activities. Twitter’s scoring system threatens to replace some of the richer goals of communication — understanding, connection, and the mutual pursuit of truth — with the thinner goals of getting likes and going viral. Second, in value capture, we take a core process of our autonomy and self-governance — our ongoing deliberation over the exact articulation of our values — and we outsource it. That outsourcing cuts off one of the key benefits to self-governing deliberation. In value capture, we no longer adjust our values and their articulations in light of own rich particular and context-sensitive experience of the world. Our values should be carefully tailored to our particular selves and particular communities, but in value capture, we buy our values off the rack.