RE: [unrev-II] Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?

From: Garold L. Johnson (
Date: Wed Dec 20 2000 - 10:02:23 PST

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    I am going to try to trim this drastically and refactor it in another

    Another issue is that competence in science (as it is classically
    practiced in academia, as a certain type of inquiry based intellectual
    pursuit within a single domain) does not translate to competence in
    human affairs. The two are not necessarily exclusive -- just different
    [Garold L. Johnson] Fully agree. A common error is the belief that expertise
    in one area qualifies one as an expert in other areas.

    > If there is a promise for the future, IMO, it lies in the fact that
    continuing growth in computing capability makes it
    > possible for small teams to tackle and accomplish feats which only a few
    years ago were possible only to major
    > corporations or governments.

    I think this is the crux of why what we are doing might make sense. You
    put it very succinctly here. And as Margaret Mead said something like
    "Don't underestimate the power of small groups of committed individuals
    to change the world, in fact, that is the only thing that ever has."

    [Garold L. Johnson] This is part of where the issue of scale comes in. More
    on this later.

    > [Garold L. Johnson] Unfortunately, we can start that debate and expend all
    of our energy on it and get nothing
    > accomplished.

    You have another good point. I won't say I completely agree with it, but
    it would be good to see how we could turn what might otherwise be an
    energy absorbing thing into something productive. Perhaps creating the
    infrastructure to have such discussions?
    [Garold L. Johnson] My suggestion precisely. More on this later.

     However, my purpose in writing the original email was to prod again on a
    topic I brought up before (basically "bootstrapping for what") because I
    think it important for individuals to keep this in mind even without a
    joint statement of purpose.

     I'm sure one can find similar statements in various other religious
    traditions which are statements of core value apart from specific dogma.
    My point is that when we ask "bootstrapping for what?" we should at
    least have a nebulous positive answer involving the worth of the human
    experience, rather than "just to make things go faster".

    Perhaps too big a can of worms to open...
    [Garold L. Johnson] Agree. More later.

     Well, I agree with the sentiment, but information on organic agriculture
    (and the problems with pesticides) has been available for a long, long
    time. Rodale press goes back to the 1940s.,1874,1-7,00.html
    In the 1930s biocontrols were becoming widely used (before being
    replaced by petrochemicals). What perhaps is newer is to see additional
    drawbacks to conventional agriculture (which never had the burden of
    proof of safety) such as breakdown components as estrogen mimics leading
    to developmental problems. [I was program administrator about ten years
    ago for the NOFA-NJ organic farm certification program.] However, if
    what you mean is widely of interest, then yes, interest in organic
    farming does seem to be following an exponential growth curve and
    interest is now becoming noticeable.

    [Garold L. Johnson] My point here was 1) organic agriculture is growing as
    it becomes profitable, 2) all knowledge of how to make it popular
    contributes to its adoption.

    My point is simply that meeting core human needs are often cited as a
    reason for increasing (bootstrapping) the rate of technological
    progress, so a clearly delineating the two seems important.

    [Garold L. Johnson] Agreed.

    > We need the ability to manage knowledge in much greater volume much faster
    than we can today before we can
    > even think meaningfully about why it is that the conditions we decry exist
    and what can be done about them in
    > human terms.

    Well, I think this point is subject to some debate, given the above. If
    we have created an ever more complex set of processes, twisted supply
    chains, and so forth, justified by claims that this is to meet core
    human needs, perhaps part of the solution is to find a way to simplify
    all this so core human needs can be met. I'm not saying that is
    necessarily possible without further innovation in organizing
    manufacturing technology (say, providing each village with a flexible
    machining center, or a $5 self-replicating food box).

    I think the point you raise here is interesting, and gets at the core of
    justifications for "bootstrapping" as the Bootstrap Institute defines
    it. Still, one may question which problems are the ones requiring that
    level of knowledge management. For addressing the issue of people
    starving in Africa (or the US) I think such a technology would be nice
    but it not required. For addressing the issue of dealing with
    self-replicating machine intelligence, perhaps such tools are required.

    [Garold L. Johnson] This scale is not required for the technical solution.
    It may well be required for the socio-technical solution.

    Hopefully, one of the areas to be addressed is to make the problems more
    manageable. For me, this at a start comes down to asking, how self
    reliant can a group of 10000 people be, for example. I think this issue
    is worth addressing not because people ideally may want to live like
    that, but because the problem is more tractable than solving "world

    [Garold L. Johnson] One benefit of studying the question of “what is the
    minimum size of a self-sustaining groups under different circumstances” is
    to enable small groups of people to support themselves while doing research
    that doesn’t have other financial support.

    > [Garold L. Johnson] That is consistent with what I have been saying, but I
    > that the issues for this forum are of the nature of “what factors involved
    > problems of the scale of human social and political interactions impact
    > requirements and design of the knowledge tools that we propose to build to
    > assist in solving these problems?” That brings the effort into one of
    > requirements elicitation in order to build an information management
    > of sufficient power and scope to allow it to be used to address such

    Fascinatingly complex sentence starting with "what factors...". I agree
    with the sentiment, although as above, I may question just how large
    scale the systems modeled have to be (or what simplifying assumption can
    be made regarding things outside the system...)

    OK. Although, I'd go beyond this. It has been said "never attribute to
    malice what stupidity or incompetence can explain". That seems close to
    you point. But still, we must accept that decisions are made based on
    values. If the decision makers have values (i.e. staying in office)
    different than those of the people decisions are made for, then the
    results may not be desirable even if they are made intelligently. This
    is the flaw of "cost/benefit" analysis because the issue is who pays the
    costs and who gets the benefits.

    [Garold L. Johnson] It took me quite a while to come to grips with that.

    > [Garold L. Johnson] How can we seriously expect governments to provide the
    solution when they are the major
    > source of the problem?

     Actually, I think many corporations may become less and less relevant.
    Most of them are involved with producing goods and services which
    someday (soon) might be unneeded or might come from a "replicator". Not
    to be too Star Trek, but if nanotechnology or similar larger scale
    processes are capable of flexibly making on the spot most items from
    basic raw materials, the need for a supply chain of organizations goes
    away. Yet, most corporations exist to make certain goods (or related
    services) that fit into this supply chain.

    [Garold L. Johnson] Bureaucracies are marvelously flexible in surviving.
    They will change the entire nature and scope of the problems they claim to
    address in order to stay in place. I see corporations moving form the
    creation of hard goods to creation of software, KM tools, and information
    products of various sorts. The activities that they currently engage in will
    wither away, but I fear that they will simply adapt.

    One must distinguish between "social planning" and "dictatorship" and
    "how things are produced". If things are mainly produced locally
    (replicators, supplied with little more effort than indoor plumbing for
    water) then social planning will be done on a very different landscape.

    [Garold L. Johnson] Buckminster Fuller used the term “ephemerization” –
    doing more and more with less and less. We produce more food in the U.S.
    with 3% of the population and shrinking than we used to with 97% of the
    population involved in agriculture. A similar shift is happening in
    manufacturing as we move toward an information economy. I expect the same
    shift away from information to whatever comes next.

    There is not (not much) market for air. The market for tap water is
    fairly specialized. The market for love is unusual. The point -- there
    are essential things not managed by conventional markets. We must ask
    ourselves specifically what markets are now getting us, as opposed to
    say local on-demand production from raw materials.

    [Garold L. Johnson] There are no markets in the things you mention since
    they are not created by human organizations. Markets adjust the allocation
    of resources to competing purposes. One of the major problems in any market
    mechanism is that the ability of the individuals that make it up to predict
    demand tends and to connect results to time-distant causes is so poor.

    We don't live in a pure capitalistic society in the U.S. That's one
    reason we pay taxes -- for the public good. Trillions of dollars of
    taxes each year. They should be spent efficiently for the public good.

    [Garold L. Johnson] I am opposed to taxation as a mechanism for this. So
    long as it is being done, the energy should be used efficiently and
    effectively. Unfortunately there is more motivation in keeping the problem
    in place to keep funding coming that there is to solve the problem. What you
    reward you get more of. So long as we arrange it so that organizations
    survive by working on problems rather than by solving them, we will continue
    to have organizations that don’t solve the problems that they address.

    >It seems that you are advocating
    > dropping everything and solving these basic human needs.

    Not quite. I am advocating distinguishing between meeting basic needs
    and dealing with exponential growth of technology -- really to an extent
    two separate things, even though the first is often used to justify the

    [Garold L. Johnson] Agreed.

    Still, we need to be very careful for specific problems of not saying
    "because the political problem is so hard, I will hide my head in the
    technical sand". However, obviously there are situations where a
    political problem can be resolved by a technical innovation (need
    examples here -- anyone got one?)

    Most humans have circuitry in their brains that helps them function as
    social organisms. It has been selected over many tens of thousands of
    years for some basic level of cooperation and values. Most corporations
    have few such built-in limits, except to the extent humans are in them,
    and in that case, we are talking about human group behavior, which is
    different from human individual behavior.

    [Garold L. Johnson] I think of this somewhat differently as “because the
    technical problem is so hard, we must plan for a system that can scale to
    handle it.”


    Garold (Gary) L. Johnson

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