Agency

Practical Artificial Intelligence

There’s an old saying in computer science circles that when we have no idea how to make a piece of software do something smart we call it “Artificial Intelligence” but once it’s solved we look back with 20-20 hindsight and say it was “Software Engineering”.  A computer becoming the world chess champion is the quintessential example of this.  Once considered a holy grail of AI, by the time Deep Blue actually dethroned Kasparov, the computing world yawned, “Oh it was just brute force computing power, nothing truly intelligent is really happening”.

Beating the world champions at Jeopardy was slightly more interesting because we acknowledge the vast range of knowledge and language understanding involved.  But ultimately, since Jeopardy is just a game, we are left with the feeling, “so what?”  How does this affect my life one way or another?  Enter, Siri, the voice recognition system integrated into the new iPhone 4S.

When I heard about the feature and saw what it claimed to do, …

What is Fear?

Based on an informal assessment and polling I’ve done recently, here’s what we fear:

  • Identity
    • LOSING ONESELF
      • Death / Pain / Insignificance
    • BEING WRONG
      • Self-Exploration / Failure / Change
    • INAUTHENTICITY
      • Being Found Out / Self-Expression / Lying
  • Control
    • EMOTIONAL
      • Power / Anticipation / Fear-Itself
    • OTHERS
      • Intimacy / Just Doing It / (Lack of) Freedom
    • THE UNCONTROLLABLE
      • Disaster / Crisis / Unknown-Unknowns
  • Authority
    • RIGHTS
      • Being Unworthy / Unmet Expectation / Meaninglessness
    • MORALITY
      • Unfairness / Inequality / Injustice
    • RULES
      • Doing it Wrong / Shame / Guilt

Each of us has a unique profile of what fear is depending on how we related to various value dimensions (intrinsic, extrinsic and systemic).  For me the scariest are: (1) Unknown-Unknowns (2)  Power (3) Being Wrong (4) Self-Expression (5) Injustice

How about you?…

How to Be a Good Representative

Are you someone who has been given (and accepted) responsibility for someone else’s well-being?  Maybe you are an elected official?  A board member? A parent?  A friend?  If so, you may resonate with the following realization I just had about my own successes and failures in the role of Representative.

I used to believe that what a Representative does is to act and react as if they were the one being represented.  I felt like my job was to get inside their head, and channel them, sort of like a medium or a conduit.  The problem with this though is it always ends badly.  Why?  Because it’s an impossible job.

Nobody can speak for you, as if they were you.  Sure, if you know one another really, really well, then at times it can seem as though they read your mind, know what’s in your heart.  But the times I have been most frustrated in any relationship is when the other person believes and acts …

The Age of Radical Transparency

On Tuesday I went on Annie Duke’s internet TV show to talk with her and Jason Calacanis about Wikileaks and what the implications are for the future of privacy.  I made some radical claims:

  1. Privacy is dead: it’s only a matter of time now before we all have to face this eventuality.
  2. In a radically transparent society, personal willingness to share everything is a source of power/wealth; unwillingness is a personal liability.
  3. In a world with strong privacy rights, the exact opposite is true.
  4. We’re all better off in a radically transparent world than one with strong privacy rights; this is true whether you look at the individual, the corporation, or the sovereign nation.
  5. Worse than both extremes is where we are now, in transition, where some have privacy and others don’t.
  6. Those who insist on having privacy will have to pay an increasing price for it; and because of #5, this is a good thing.
  7. In the mean time, as the walls of privacy

The Pattern

The wind was flapping a temple flag. Two monks were arguing about it. One said the flag was moving; the other said the wind was moving. Arguing back and forth they could come to no agreement.  The Sixth Patriarch said, “It is neither the wind nor the flag that is moving. It is your mind that is moving.” — Zen Koan

“The belief in an external world independent of the perceiving subject is the basis of all natural science.” — Albert Einstein

Does a whirlpool exist in the same way that a rock exists or that energy from the sun exists?  For something to exist it either has to have always existed, or there must have been a time prior to its existence.  Leaving for a moment the possibility that everything which exists today has always existed, let’s consider that it came into being at some point.

If something came into being, then not only must there have been a point in time prior to its existence, …

Convergence

As readers of my blog posts know, I talk a lot about evolutionary systems, the formal structure of cooperation, the role of both in emergence of new levels of complexity, and I sometimes use cellular automata to make points about all these things and the reification of useful models (here’s a summary of how they all relate).  I’ve also touched on this “thing” going on with the system of life on Earth that is related to technological singularity but really is the emergence or (or convergence) of an entirely new form of intelligence/life/collective consciousness/cultural agency, above the level of human existence.

From The Chaos Point. Reproduced with permission from the author.

In a convergence of a different sort, many of these threads which all come together and interrelate in my own mind, came together in various conversations and talks within the last 15 hours.  And while it’s impossible to explain this all in details, it’s really exciting to find other people who are on …

Comments on Human Cultural Transformation

This is a followup to Ben’s post on Human Cultural Transformation Triggered by Dense Populations.  Too many links for this to be accepted into the comments directly…

In thinking about these questions, it helps me to remind myself of the difference between evolution and emergence. Evolution happens whenever you have a population of agents with heritable variation and differential reproduction rates. There are at least two types of emergence, both of which can create new types of agents. Various self-reinforcing mechanisms lead to stronger and more stable agency. We may not even recognize the emergence of nascent agents for what they are until said agency (or coherence) becomes strong enough. For instance, many people have a hard time wrapping their head around cultural agency of any form.

Obviously none of us on here have a problem with the concept of non-human agency, but as Alex and Ben collectively point out, cultural agents depend on human agents for their very existence.  Yet …

A Theory of Scalability

One of the hidden themes of The Feast this past week has been how to scale successful social ventures.  This has been on my mind a lot recently as I have been working informally with both Self Enhancement, Inc. (SEI) and Decision Education Foundation (DEF) on this puzzle.  SEI is extremely successful in the Portland locale where they began 25+ years ago, achieving 98% high school graduation rate (working against hard socioeconomic realities).  Like with many models that are very successful “in the small”, the biggest challenge is to translate that same success to larger scales (e.g. all across America, or all around the world).  DEF is attempting to build scalability into its model from the start, and has found that this is extremely challenging.

In thinking about this I am reminded about a duet of innovators who spoke at the Pop!Tech conference last year about scaling.  Both Bunker Roy and Paul Polack have some profound lessons to teach us about scalability.  You will …

“Bad people do bad things”

In listening to this account of Hemant Lakhani, convicted in 2005 of illegal arms dealing, I was reminded of another This American Life episode about Brandon Darby.  Underlying both stories are accounts of seemingly incompetent, misguided, would-be bad guys who were actualized on a path of evildoing by law-enforcement agents during sting operations.

What I found most interesting was the quote in the title of this post, said by the prosecutor in the Lakhani case.  This was his justification for why it was okay to have the U.S. military supply Lakhani the weapon that he was convicted of illegally dealing.  (If you listen to the story you will learn that Lakhani had been making promises to the informant of being able to procure weapons for a long time and he’d been unsuccessful on his own).

While it seems on the surface that “bad people do bad things” — i.e. that’s how bad things get done, they require a bad person to do them — renowned Stanford …

Stability Through Instability

A friend pointed me to a doubly prescient talk given by George Soros in 1994 about his theory of reflexivity in the markets.  Essentially Soros notes that there’s feedback in terms of what agents believe about the market and how the market behaves.  Not groundbreaking, but he takes this thinking to some logical conclusions which are in contrast to standard economic theory:…

The Vanguard of Science: Bonnie Bassler

The import of this talk goes way beyond the specific and stunning work that Bassler and her team have done on quorum sensing.  In my mind, this is the prototype for good biological science:

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Military-Industrial Complex Redux

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Superfoo

Response to Superorganism as Terminology.

I was actually about to post something about terminology, so I’m glad this came up. It’s just so difficult to choose words to describe concepts that have little precedent, without going to the extreme of overloading on the one end (e.g. “organism”) or the other extreme of being totally meaningless (e.g. “foo”). I have tried to use terms that are the closest in meaning to what I’m after but there’s no avoiding the misinterpretation. I can only hope by defining and redefining to an audience that is not quick to make snap judgments but rather considers the word usage in context, we can converge to at least a common understanding of what I am claiming. From there at least we have a shot at real communication of ideas and hopefully even agreement.…

Response to "Superorganism Considered Harmful"

This is a response to Kevin’s post responding to my post.

Rafe makes an analogy to cells within a multicellular organism. How does this support the assertion that there will only be one superorganism and that we will need to subjugate our needs to its own?  Obviously, there are many multicellular organisms. Certainly, there are many single-celled organisms that exist outside of multicelluar control today.  So where is the evidence that there will be only one and that people won’t be able to opt out in a meaningful sense?

Superorganism and Singularity

There is an aspect to The Singularity which is not discussed much, an orthogonal dimension that is already taking shape, and which is perhaps more significant than what is implied by the “standard definition”:

The Singularity represents an “event horizon” in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future may cease to give reliable answers, following the creation of strong AI or the enhancement of human intelligence.  (Definition taken from The Singularity Summit website)

Autocatalytic Systems

autocatalytic-automata

The above is a self-replicating dynamic structure from a class of systems called cellular automata (click here to run the simulation).  Below is a self-replicating dynamic structure from a class of systems called “life”:…

Complex Systems Concept Summary

I figured it was time for a reset and so the following is a summary of much of the foundational posting that I’ve done on this blog so far.  As always, a work in progress, subject to refinement and learning……

TED Talk: Susan Blackmore

Memes and “temes”

Apropos of Kevin’s post yesterday on the “Singularity“, we need to be taking more seriously cultural agency (which includes technological and socio-technological agency):…

Complex Systems Defend Themselves

I’ve talked on here about the importance of taking seriously the notion of agency as it applies to systems other than biological.  In reading a recent Wired retrospective on what they called wrong, I was struck by feeling that their error was the same in all three cases, and that is underestimating the degree to which complex systems will defend themselves in the face of attack as if they were living, breathing organisms.…

TED Talks: Al Gore

New thinking on climate crisis

Notes from TED

Here are some notes that I took at TED 2008.  I have a bunch more on each of the speakers individually which I may post as time permits.  Let me know if you want me to expand any of the notes below into a full post.

Coherence

I posted earlier on emergent causality. One aspect that needs to be elaborated on is the concurrent, self-interdependent nature of emergence, or in other words the chicken and egg problem.…

Three Kinds of Cooperation

Ecologists speak about two types of cooperation — mutualism and commensalism — which distinguish whether both or just one of a pair is benefiting. I’d like to look at a different dimension of cooperation that has to do with communication. There are at least three different types of cooperation along this dimension, though perhaps you can distinguish more (if so, please post a comment!)…

Genotype, Phenotype, Schmenotype

The distinction between “genotype” and “phenotype” is an artificial one that obfuscates understanding past a certain point. As Dawkins points out in his selfish gene argument, from the standpoint of the gene, the gene is the phenotype and the organism is the genotype. This is not to say that we should go overboard and anoint the gene as supreme. “Genotype” and “phenotype” are concepts. From a complex system’s standpoint, they are two frozen snapshots (stages) in an ongoing autocatalytic cycle. Other stages between could be singled out and studied (e.g. ontogenesis), but we are not good at conceptualizing dynamic processes and prefer to look at relatively stable forms. We forget that these stable forms are a part of the autocatalytic process, which is ongoing.…

The Logical Necessity of Group Selection

There has been a long-standing debate about the notion of group selection, the idea that populations of organisms can be selected for en masse over competing populations.  The Darwinian “purists” claim that natural selection (NS) only acts at the level of individuals.  But if that’s true, then how can multicellular organisms be subject to NS?  After all what are multicellular organisms if not a group of single cell organisms?…