Government: The killer app?
Jon Bosak. 1.*
- unedited transcript -
I work for
Microsystems. I am delighted to be here today. Partly because this is the
first presentation that I have given in forty years that isn't about S&L.
I said during one of the sessions here, a proposal had been made for the
beginnings of doing a dynamic knowledge depository group. I said hey, I
have an application in mind for this. Doug and Marcel had been kind enough
to give me a soapbox on which to talk about this. The seed for this
idea that I am about to spin out for you is by a fellow Ken Klemmens of
Foresight Institute, a senior associate. We met at a nano smooze. I had
come from a trying day of a session of an organization that I work
for called Oasis and the United Nations. We had assembled a hundred and
fifty of the top electronic people in San Jose. I had staggered out
of this meeting saying give me something else. I sat down with Ken. Here
I had spent several years in what you would consider an improvement
community. In W3C and this other one in OASIS and the UN, developing this
thing called S&L. Ken had spent a similar amount of time in this
organization called IEEE developing 802.11, an incredibly complex application
of wireless networking. So, we were comparing war stories about this.
The idea of how you actually get standards to work and people to agree
on things. He came up with this idea, which you are about to see
the result of. I went home, and it kind of cooked. I give Ken the credit
of what came out good in this and take the blame for the more bizarre
aspects of what I am going to suggest. I am chiefly interested in the idea
of collective IQ. I have seen it work, it works, and it's a wonderful
thing. Groups of people can come together and come up with things that
are beyond one person. That is my idea of collective IQ. Doug has pointed
out in this colloquium that we have a number of problems. We are
going to use collective IQ to solve this problem. I believe that is true
and it has an effect on all of us. Solutions that have been proposed
revolve around the idea of better information. I think that better information
is necessary, but I would like to start with my observations about
that. My observation is not all disagreements are due to misunderstanding
and lack of information. Probably the most obvious example is the
abortion debate. People disagree with each other on this subject. They
are not going to stop disagreeing if you provide better information
to them. A social policy problem that is not going to be solved by better
information and more communication. My observation is that a lot
of the problems share this property to a large extent. We spend a great
time earlier about the energy problem. Anyone who listen to the man
who explained the size of the energy problem and then went off and though
about it for a few minutes, I think would come to the concluding that we
are going to solve the energy problem by using less of it. How are
we going to do with less energy? There are two ways to go about it. Are
we going to share what is left fairly or will we let the rich people
use up what is left?
So, I mean the basic question are we or are we not going to get people
out of driving big cars and on to the bus or not? That is not a question
that is going to be solved completely by information alone. So, I would
like to talk about augmenting the DKR itself. Dynamic knowledge repositories
are essential to what I am going to propose, but I would like to say is
that they are a necessary but not a sufficient part of the solution. The
big problems are not going to just require us to design solutions
but we also must agree to be bound to the solutions. We are gong to have
to be able to take someone who will not get on a bus and drag them
on. If we are going to solve the energy problem. It is not enough to say
that now you know this is the answer. We are going to have to compel
that. How do we facilitate the process of making legally binding decisions?
How do we do that? We have a traditional answer to this problem.
We have a process. I brought some examples. Here are the standing orders
of the house of commons of parliament. This will solve large problems.
This is not new, pieces of this go back four centuries. It's called the
parliamentary process. In the U.S., we have a standard form of this
thing. It's Robert's Rules of Order.
How many people are aware of the Robert's Rules of Order. How many people
know about Robert's Rules of Order, I didn't say love it. This is how Ken
and I got started we both happen to be working for organizations that are
run by Robert's Rules of Order. If you go look, you will see that this
thing is deeply woven into our legal and social structure. Pretty much
every corporation, university, all 87,000 governments are run based on
this or some interpretation of this. So, we have a process. What
is wrong with it? It is slow; it is complicated and worst of all it does
not work on-line. I will not get into it. We don't want to deal with
this. Instead, we go to consensus based solutions. We will just develop
a consensus and do this. The problem is that consensus based processes
won't deal with the problems when people just do not want to agree on things.
I don't want to give you my consensus, what are you going to do about
it? Consensus is not going to work for a lot of these problems. If only
our parliamentary process worked on-line. There are some really good
things about this ancient thing. It is the epitome of democracy. When we
say democracy in practice, we are talking about Robert's Rules of
Order. That is what majority rules this amounts to when you work out all
of the corner cases.
It's comprehensive, it's fully documented. You can go into any bookstore
in the country, and get a copy of Roberts. You can order it on amazon.com.
It is thoroughly debugged. The reason that it is seven hundred pages is
that they finally figured out all of the hard problems. There is a
solution in there somewhere. Surprisingly, it is capable of bootstrapping
itself. You can take a Robert's Rules of Order. It starts with a group
of people milling about in a room and turns it into what is called
a deliberate of assembly. That is pretty amazing.
The heart of the problem is that mail is too slow to conduct a real
parliament process. You can conduct pieces of it. You can hold mail ballots,
but you cannot amend motions. The cycle is too long here. The solution
is not to simply transpose the traditional process isomorphicly into e-mail.
We need a different way of looking at this. I will suggest to you
a different way. My observation is as follows. Any process that is set
up according to Robert's is a state machine. I
A traditional parliamentary process constitutes a state machine. I am
not saying it could be, it is. What is its state? It is the information
that gets saved when we adjourn. So, if you say at any moment in a deliberate
of assembly, we are adjourned, you move from state to state. We move from
state to state in a determined way. The parliamentary motions (84)
can be seen as commands to the machine, the instruction set. Perhaps we
can instantiated such machines in software. Interesting idea, where
does it go?
Ken and I came up with this thing called the Parliamentary Assistant. Let's think about one of these machines running on a web server. The server takes care of all of the procedural details, and maintains the document base, so it is doing a great deal of work here. Interaction with this machine takes place through the forms
that the server generates to the user. Not unlike ordering a book at
amazon.com or working with a game. If we can make this thing work fast
enough and interactively enough, the social dynamic of such a thing could
start to resemble the social dynamics of a multi user game. Perhaps we
could take technology that we are using for electronic commerce and
technology that we are using for D&D and put it together to actually
make a framework by which you could actually make decisions.
Here are some of the benefits of this thing. First, all the procedure
is handled by the server. All seven hundred pages of impossible to follow
nits can be handled by the machine. One of the consequences of this, I
know all of you have had experience of a Robert's process where some jerk
got into the process and started raising points of order. You can't
have a point of order; you can't do it because you are not offered any
choices that are not legal. There goes that whole bunch of stuff
that is no longer a problem. You can't have priority conflicts between
speakers. Most of the machinery of traditional parliamentary procedure
is saying, " You have the floor" no, " you have the floor". It's about
people not interrupting each other, but in this kind of a setting,
you can't have people interrupt each other. Something comes in one millisecond
later, and it is later. It is not a problem deciding what the prorate
is. The key to this if it works, is if it is properly implemented it can
be substituted for exiting processes. I am not talking about something
that would be cool in helping us out. I am talking about taking the
school board down the street, or General Motors Corporation, or the state
of California, or the Bishops of the Lutheran Church, or any of those
organizations that is run by Robert's or something close to it. Tomorrow
you can start using this environment that is fun. And a lawyer says that
it is legally equivalent to what you were doing before. If we can't do
that the idea doesn't work, so that is the idea.
If you start thinking about the Parliamentary process as a machine,
you can start applying some of the concepts of a machine. For example,
the compete of recursion. The traditional process is saturated with the
concept of computer recursion. When you amend something, you make a motion
to amend, and then you make a motion to amend the amendment. At each
stage, you are calling the same process. In fact, Robert's says the language
they use is said to reoccur. A related concept is the idea something
multitasking. Which is another layer of recursion in the sense when People
are getting together to do this process are getting together to form
a committee, they are spawning a child process. They are creating an automaton.
In implementing this thing you are getting a lot of efficiency that
we say once we have the machinery handling a motion, or any stack of motions
once we have the machinery for setting up one of these things, we
have the machinery for setting up any level of subcommittees. Optimization.
We can start thinking about machine level optimization. One of the
things that really slows us down is that you can only talk about one thing
at once. For example if a motion is before us and at the same time,
you want to talk about shall we stop debate on the motion? We have to stop
debate on the motion to talk about if we should stop debate on the
motion. Because the motion to stop debate on the motion is not itself debatable,
there is no reason you have to do that. In a machine, you could have
the motion to stop the debate in the background, on another track from
the thing you were talking about. You could start collapsing some
of the time frame. You could extend the thought to say let's separate the
main motion and it's amendment to discussions about when we will
hold the next meeting or shall we remove somebody, things that are administrative.
Robert's actually makes this distinction in language that you have
to work really hard at to figure out that that is what is going on.
We could have user interface. We could use current user interface engineering
to create a different kind of environment. All of the machinery that we
are currently using to do business can be used for this purpose. Fill-in
forms, menus, this kind of thing. And notice that the form that is
generated for any user at any instance in this process has only the legal
options available for that moment. You don't have to remember what it is
that you have to do. It is like ordering, the only to be presented
with things that you are able to do at that point. I think a really slick
interface to that kind of thing, would not only show you what is
legal to do, but it would show you a preview the state of the machine if
you did it. Basically, what you could do, the thing Ken and I were
observing is that Roberts works really good once you understand it, once
you have studied up on it. In fact, if that were not true, we would
have labor uniting and church groups, and sewing circles, and popular forms
of this thing work. They way that they do it is appoint one of their
people to be an expert and call that person the parliamentarian. What we
are saying is that you don't have to do that anymore. This process
will hold you hand. One of the best things I like about this is the remaining
function of the human chair.
It is the chair that slows this ordinary process down. If the chair doesn't have to decide for every conflicts of who has the floor, if the chair doesn't have to declare what the procedure is and if the chair doesn't have to doing a bunch of things it does. You have cut a lot of latency out of the operation of the machine. However there are going to be some things that are real problems. Setting agendas, I don't know how to get around that one. Checking lexical form. Robert's says that you cannot say I move that we do not move this. You have to say I move we do X. That is a classic example of something that is brain dead simple for a human being to decide, and really hard for a machine. The problem that what is relevant to a discussion this is a problem. I am not trying to say that this has completely been thought through I am saying that more work needs to be done.
If this could be done, it will have potentially revolutionary implications
I think that the distributed yet synchronous but legally binding proceeds
would make possible global decision making by people who are distributed
in space and time. Local decision-making. I would like my neighborhood
to decide what the speed limit is going to be on my street. And everything
in between. All 87,000 thousand of those governments can be implemented
this way. If it works, that remains to be seen. This could be a viable
way to solve the big problem we are facing. There is a lot of promise here
and a lot of working out to do. This is the first group I have shown this
idea to. I think that it is directly related to the idea that we are talking
about which is the improvement of process and decision making. It is going
to take some work to find out if there is going to be anything to
it. The first reaction I had from someone was a very smart person that
I work with at SUNN. He could not decide if this was insanely great
or greatly insane. I don't know either and it is going to take some groups
to figure that out.
The relationship here is that these parliamentary assistants assume
the existence of a dynamic knowledge repository. This is an AP for a DKR.
You have to be able to handle large bodies of data and cruise around in
them. And say where were we last week. That all has to be in place before
this idea can work. There is another thing, like in this course,
where we are in the layers of abstraction. We have improving things and
we have the process of improving the improvement process. If this
is practical, this would be a way to do the kind of work that Ken and I
do. Which is where we came from in the first place. Gee wouldn't
it be great if in our committee work, we had something like this. This
could provide governance as well as being an improvement process.
The development of this idea, if I am able to find enough crazy people.
We will work with in OASIS. (Organization for Advancement of Structured
Infrastructure Standards) It is easy to join, under two fifty a year, and
it is using Roberts. So, we will use the process itself to develop
the process that we are using. There is a certain neatness that appeals
to geeks about that.
If you are interested in this, you can look at two URLs that are on the screen. One is the proposal itself, which is in much more detail than what I have just said and a preliminary plan of action. Both URLs begin with the string http://metalab.unc.edu/bosak/pa. The only difference is one is /pa.htm\ and the other one is /pa-act.htm. You can also contact us by mail with the address at the bottom of the screen. This slide will be on-line. Basically, when you read these plans of actions, Ken and I will be checking around whom else thinks that this is to put some time into. If you think it is interesting enough after reading these two documents, then get back to us. Thanks.
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