While there are ideas floating around, there are no details on them yet. If we do take the karma points and do something with them, you can bet there will be controls put in place. Think of this as Phase 1.
Phase 2 could have a way of averaging out points to prevent abuses.
Example that was kicked around in a discussion in the office the other day :
Points awarded over the last 30 days divided by some number based on number of posts made.
This means you have to be a recent poster to keep your score. If you leave the site for more than a month, your score basically could be reset. This rewards ongoing participation.
Then there's the division by some number derived from the number of posts you made in the 30 day period. This, to some extent, would encourage people to focus more on meaningful posts beyond "me too!" all over the place. It wouldn't be a division purely by number of posts as that would actually discourage participation as it decreased the score, but it would be some small value that would try and balance out people who would just try to spam the forums for points from friends.
This is of course a massive over-simplification of the idea, but it serves as an example of the sort of things that can be done to counteract any attempts at spamming points.
And of course we could limit you to rating the same person up no more than once per day. We could also slowly devalue the karma points awarded based on how often you rate that person up versus other people. Like if you only rate 3 people all the time, eventually the points you give them become virtually worthless.
I personally see the future of the Karma Points system as a way to identify exceptionally helpful, friendly or interesting people in the forums, and somehow highlight them to the rest of the community. Would a good score give people special forum powers or privledges? No. We will always tightly control who can do any administrative action. Would it maybe give them a pretty "Community Helper" badge under their name? Maybe. Would it give them software for free, t-shirts, or anything of monetary value? Almost definitely not.
The act of recognizing an individual for making a positive contribution does not necessarily encourage conformity. Its not like having 1000 karma points will ever give you something super-special that the guy with 10 karma points doen't get. It's not like withholding a point can be used to punish someone. My saying "I like X" does not in any way devalue "Y" It doesn't punish "Y" for being different from "X"