New page above

I’ve completed at least a working draft of a new page above – on key themes in understanding what we are:

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Character of Technology – nature of risk

The Character of Our Technology

“We can’t influence the direction of technology, but we can influence its character,” says Kevin Kelly

Excellent piece John, but from my perspective it does not explicitly address the three major areas of concern:
1/ identification of core values;
2/ understanding of systems and complexity;
3/ identification and mitigation of risk.

All three are essential and tightly coupled.

1/ core values

For me, core values are simple:
Individual sapient life, and individual liberty, within responsible social and ecological contexts, applied universally.

In this sense a sapient individual is any individual (human or non-human, biological or non-biological) capable of modeling itself as an actor within its model of reality, and of using language to express abstract ideas.

Liberty in this sense is not a freedom to follow whim alone, but also involves a responsibility to assess the reasonably foreseeable consequences of actions and to avoid, remedy or mitigate any unreasonable risk to the life or liberty of any other entity – applied universally. And any such assessment of risk will be a matter of probabilities, and will involve a test of reasonableness.
More on this and its relationship to the other two areas soon.

2/ understanding systems and complexity.

This comes in three parts also, uncertainty, boundaries, and responses.
A modern understanding of systems and complexity is very different from classical notions of knowledge.
The classical idea that truth may be known, and is the object of human endeavor seems beyond any reasonable doubt to have been disproved.

We now understand many different sources of uncertainty, from simple error, to measurement uncertainty, to quantum uncertainty, to Goedel incompleteness, to maximal computational complexity, to irrational numbers, to chaos, to the fully random, to infinite classes of computational and algorithmic spaces.

Anyone who has seriously looked at the nature of complex systems and understanding itself must admit of infinite classes of uncertainty and unknowability, that reduce all understandings to matters of context sensitive confidence.

So first part is to admit of uncertainty, always – a touch of humility required.

Second part is to understand the necessity of boundaries.

Any form requires boundaries or relationships for its survival (depending on how one looks at it, they are equivalent notions, just expressed differently).

Without such boundaries or relationship, everything decays to a uniform randomness.

Any form of complexity has a minimum set of boundaries (or expressed differently a minimum set of relationships) that are required for its existence.
Maintenance of that set of boundaries, and no more, is a matter of existence.

Freedom must include the notion of being responsible for the maintenance of those boundaries that are actually necessary – and that will involve occasional testing as contexts change.

We human beings seem to be very complex evolved systems, embodying about 20 levels of very complex sets of cooperative systems.

In this sense, evolution is very poorly understood generally.

It now seems clear that the evolution of new levels of complexity requires new levels of cooperation; and raw cooperation is always vulnerable to exploitation, thus requiring sets of attendant strategies to detect and remove cheating strategies – all levels, recursively applied. This leads to something of a potentially eternal strategic arms race, through infinite levels of complexity. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

The common notion that evolution is all about competition is false.

Competition and cooperation are both aspects of evolution, and broadly speaking, competition results in simplicity, cooperation allows for the emergence of complexity. Which tends to dominate is all a matter of where the dominant source or risk resides. If it is within group – then competition trending to simplicity tends to result, if the dominant risk is from outside the group, and cooperation can mitigate it, then cooperation tends to spawn new levels of complexity.

This leads into the third aspect of complexity, the sorts of management responses that are appropriate in different classes of complexity. This is an infinitely complex topic, and David Snowden’s Cynefin framework for the management complexity ( ) is the best simplification of that complexity that I am aware of.
The more complex the systems, the more flexible our management responses need to be.

3/ Identification and mitigation of risk.

When faced with potentially infinite complexity, risk is always present, and the unknown always exceeds the known – eternally.

Being over confident leads to operational simplicity right up to the point of overwhelm and extinction by a risk that was not detected and mitigated. This is the risk that the Amish ignore.

Our explorations of geology and cosmology and biology have already identified sources of risk that may not be mitigated with existing technologies, like comet and meteor strike, supervolcanoes, extreme classes of solar flares, some classes of viruses, etc. So in our explorations of technologies to create effective mitigation strategies to those known risks, we inevitably create new sources of risk we did not previously have to deal with.

That too would appear to be a recursively consistent aspect of reality.

So once again, nothing is certain, except that ignoring known sources of risk is not a mitigation strategy, and will most likely lead to extinction.

So, considering all of that – where does that leave us with finance?

Here, one needs to consider deeply the abstract relationships that are embodied in money.

Money is an abstract measure of value.
It works only because we believe it will work.
It is based in trust and belief.

Markets are reasonable tools for measuring the value of items that are genuinely scarce, but fail to assign any value to items that are universally abundant.

When most things were genuinely scarce, that meant markets delivered a really useful measure of value.

Now that fully automated systems can deliver any information product, and many material products, in universal abundance; markets cannot measure their value.

The response to date has been to create artificial barriers to such abundance, to create/maintain their value in markets.

So in order to make money, we have laws that deny the majority access to that which could be available to them at close to zero marginal cost. All of our IP laws, copyright, patents, most of our health and safety and certification laws – are essentially present to create market value where none would otherwise exist. They are present to prop up a system that is past its “use by” date.

Fully automated systems are absolutely required to mitigate many of the known existential level risks.

Fully automated systems could deliver all the reasonable needs of life and liberty to every person on the planet, but don’t because of the “market incentives” present.

Markets cannot deliver a positive value for universal abundance, yet abundance is a positive value for most humans in most contexts (sugar, and many stimulant drugs being obvious exceptions; air and water the obvious positive examples – and it is always possible to have too much of a good thing).

And markets have performed many other very useful functions, other that simply measuring value and mediating exchange, complex functions involving distributed information transfer, distributed information processing, distributed governance, distributed risk mitigation, the interlinking of distributed trust networks, etc.

These are very complex, multi-level and essential functions.
They can be done with other mechanisms, and those other mechanisms need to be actively developed, tested and deployed.

So it seems that markets have now moved out of the territory they once occupied of being intimately linked to life and liberty, and with the changing context of the exponential development of fully automated systems, are now the single greatest source of existential risk to humanity as whole.

How we plan the safe transition away from market based systems, to distributed systems of trust, governance, and risk management, are the great questions of our age.
Universal Basic Income seems to be a useful part of an intermediary transition strategy.

Getting people to see that the things we have traditionally associated with markets – the things that have supported life and liberty, are not actually attributes of markets themselves, but only have the attribute of traditional association, is not an easy task.

Reality is far too complex for any human mind to deal with in its entirety.

All of us have to make simplifying assumptions.

The simplification that markets equal liberty worked in the past, but for all the reasons outlined above is failing now, and the rate of failure is exponentially increasing.

That failure will be hard for many to see.
Yet the benefits of that failure far outweigh the costs.

The technology that creates the failure of markets allows us to address and mitigate existential level risks that markets cannot, ever.

So we are in a time of profound change.
All change has real risk associated with it, all levels.

And ignorance of risk is not a risk mitigation strategy, though it is an anxiety mitigation strategy.

Never confuse anxiety with risk!

The horses of the Amish will never offer an effective mitigation strategy to super-volcanoes, comet strike, ice age, or super flare. Fully automated systems can, for those and many others.

Posted in economics, Ideas, Our Future, Philosophy, Technology, understanding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Put up a new Page above – Risks and responses

Posted in Ideas, Our Future, Technology, understanding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


January 23-30 ’18 ~ QofDay ~ Responsible for Experiences

Do you think you are responsible for what you experience in life?

Depends very deeply on how one defines responsibility.

It seems to me that there are three major sources of influence in reality.

There are things which are ordered, systems that follow rules;

There are things that are not predictable, and have degrees of randomness;

And there is individual creativity – our power to be an influence in this thing we call reality.

It seems that all any of us can experience is a subconsciously created model of reality, that is our personal individual reality.

In terms of the reality within which we find ourselves, we as individuals are one influence among many.

In terms of our experiential reality, and the meaning we bring to that experience, it seems we can have far greater degrees of influence.

And we are extremely complex entities, highly evolved, with some twenty levels of complex cooperative systems, many with hidden depths.   It seems we are and must always be essentially a mystery even unto ourselves.

And in that context, we can be responsible for a little humility and compassion, and doing what we each can, when we reasonably can, to make life a bit better for all of us.

So it seems we can be responsible for who we be, even if we are not wholly responsible for all that is.

Posted in Philosophy, Question of the Day, understanding | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Shoe Trees

Shoe Tree

If you’ve pitched your shoes in a similar manner, why?

Hi Laurie
We have similar things here in New Zealand, shoes in some, bras in others – or on fences.
As to who started them or why, I have no evidence.
I suspect that it is some aspect of a sense of fun, a sense of daring, a sense of the ridiculous, a sense of starting something that others might follow.

I do find it amusing to be driving in some far flung, out of the way place, and come around a corner to see a fence decorated with hundreds of bras – but that might just be my sense of humour, and a “having grown up in the 60s” sort of thing.

I have never myself contributed shoes, bras or any other sort of clothing item.

A few years ago we had something similar happen with rocks on one of our local rocky beaches.
Someone built a cairn. Someone else built another a bit larger. Within a few months there were thousands of little rocky spires 3 – 4 ft high. They’re all gone now. A big storm redistributed the lot of them.

Posted in Laurie's blog | Tagged | Leave a comment

More of?

Squirrel Handles

What would you like to see more of?

Hi Laurie,

What we need more of:
Awareness, understanding, acceptance, compassion, action, commitment, abundance, security, diversity, creativity, responsibility, fun, exploration, cooperation, …..

Awareness is perhaps hardest, as it means giving up many of the ideas we are most comfortable with about ourselves and the world we live in. It means being willing to question, to try out new ideas and seeing where they do actually work and where they don’t, rather than relying on accepted truths at any level. It means accepting that many things are connected in ways we barely begin to understand, and that some things are random, and that the act of being human is finding that boundary between order and chaos that has a balance between creativity and security that works for us as individuals, for us as members of society, and for us as part of our ecosystem.

Understanding is about accepting our eternal ignorance, and not using it as any sort of excuse to stop learning and testing and building the best understanding we can, even as we accept that it will be eternally incomplete.

Understanding involves seeing both the competitive and the cooperative aspects of evolution, and getting that competition always pushes towards simplicity (from a systems perspective), while cooperation can allow for the emergence of new levels of creativity and complexity. Once one starts to see that, then the need for fundamental change in our existing social and economic structures becomes clear. And cooperation in complex systems always requires complex sets of attendant strategies to maintain itself – to prevent invasion and overwhelm by cheating strategies.

Once one can start to see that every level of structure requires boundaries to allow the form of that structure to exist, then one can start to explore the nature of the boundaries that are actually required and the forms those boundaries make possible. Complex systems can have very complex and very subtle boundary conditions, and as human beings we are very complex systems, with some 20 levels of complex systems embodied in us all.

Don’t expect simplicity where it cannot exist.

Accept that whatever sort of understanding we have (however complex it is) must involve simplifications of something that is vastly more complex than we can possibly comprehend. In this context, eternal ignorance must be accepted, the hubris and certainty of our youth must be acknowledged for what it was – a simple approximation to something vastly more complex.

Accept that security for any of us, anywhere on the planet, must involve security and empowerment for everyone, everywhere. And we are very rapidly developing the technology to make that a viable reality.
At this level of cooperation, predatory strategies are simply not an option, ever.
And that doesn’t mean getting rid of people, and it does mean ensuring that people who were once the embodiment of unacceptable strategies are now embodying fundamentally cooperative strategies.

As a species, we now have the possibility of creating a world that empowers every individual to do whatever they responsibly choose, and that means everyone accepting that freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin, and that we must each be responsible for our complex nature, as individuals, as members of societies, and as members of ecosystems. We are all three, and we ignore any of them to our peril.

We are rapidly developing the technological tools to solve all the very real problems we have, but having the tools does not necessarily mean we will use them wisely.
Tools are neutral.
It is how we use them that matters.
Fire can cook our food or burn down our houses.

Ensuring that we have sufficient boundaries to survive and thrive, without those boundaries being an unreasonable barrier to creativity, exploration, and self expression is the very real challenge we have now, at every level.

We all have our conservative and our liberal aspects.
Each is required, in appropriate context.
Each is dangerous if taken to extreme.
Finding that virtue of the mean is an eternal exploration, and will involve mistakes, and forgiveness.

And our deep history has some deep lessons about the sorts of strategies that work – Jordan Peterson does some great work in that respect.

Posted in Laurie's blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Evolution – Altruism

Response to John A. Johnson comment

Dawkins has always recognized altruism and has provided explanations for it.

Richard disliked the title, but his publisher said it would sell, and it did.

Selfish gene was the first coherent account I read of the evolution of cooperative behaviour in complex environments. Most people criticise it purely on the title without actually reading and analysing the content.

The overriding outcome for me was to realise that if the greatest threat to individuals within a population comes from other members of that populations, then competitive strategies will tend to dominate, and that will tend to drive towards simplicity from a systems perspective.
If the greatest threat to individuals comes from factors outside of the population (on average, over generational time) then new levels of cooperation may emerge and stabilise with sets of secondary strategies, allowing for increases in levels of complexity from a systems perspective.

Posted in Ideas, Nature, understanding | Tagged , | Leave a comment