Re: [unrev-II] OHS Overview

From: Eric Armstrong (
Date: Wed Nov 22 2000 - 14:31:23 PST

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    Hi, Henry.
    Thanks for your thoughtful replies.

    I seriously wish that I was enough of a diplomat to have found
    a less negative and confrontational way to express my thoughts.
    But I am strongly motivated by a desire to see this project
    succeed, and when I see the mistakes of the past being replicated
    over and over, I get too frustrated to contain myself.

    The first question to ask is: What is the audience for this
    document? Is it aimed at people who might want to become part
    of the project? Or investors who might want to contribute to
    it? If so, then it must explain what the proposal *is*, and
    motivate them to take some kind of action.

    The questions I asked were rhetorical. I know that human
    systems will evolve in the presence of new technological
    systems, they always do. But that is not what makes them
    appealing, and it is not an *essential* part of the proposal.

    Example: It is 1701, or thereabouts, and we are talking about
    a new-fangled steam locomotive.

      First Approach:
         To make railroads work we're going to need cities
         out in the desert where no one lives now, to act as
         refueling stations. We're going to move people out
         of the slums and put them into suburbs where they
         can start commuting to work. They'll commute a couple
         of hours each day (we just lost the workers) but
         they'll stop paying all their wages to slumlords (we
         just lost the potential investors).

      Second Approach:
         This train will deliver your products in a fraction
         of the time (just got the investors), and on weekends
         it will take folks out to the beach (just got the

    You see what I'm saying? The goal is to *motivate*. You
    do that by focusing on tangible benefits that are
    achievable in the short term.

    It is quite desirable to predict in advance the changes
    in the culture that the technology will precipitate.
    And people will gradually grow accustomed to environments
    you could not have paid them to live in at the outset.
    But if you (we) are talking about a technology, then
    those changes are *not* part of the proposal. They are
    a derivation of it.

    And if you (we) are *not* talking about a technology,
    but something that does include some nebulous picture
    of a "human system" then:

       a) It's high time that picture became more

       b) I sincerely wish everyone all the luck in
          the world, and I hope beyond reason to be
          proved wrong, but I don't give it a chance.

    Again, I've reverted to emotional language. But I
    really see the talk about "human systems" and
    "accelerating our ability to improve" as truly
    counter-productive. It is not part of the primary
    proposal, it takes attention away from the real
    proposal, and it scares the hell out of people who
    may otherwise be motivated to contribute time,
    energy, or resources.

    Like I said: I really want to see this project
    happen. I think the world needs it. But to see it
    shoot itself in the foot this way, time and again,
    year after year, is to simply take away the hope
    I held.

    Henry van Eyken wrote:
    > Allow me struggle through this a little with Eric's questions before
    > me
    > having to move on to other things.
    > About human systems "naturally" evolving and "pushed to evolve," some
    > notions:
    > Evolutionary psychology holds that underneath new culture lies old
    > psychology. Humankind has adapted to changes in culture (see first
    > word of
    > this sentence) and artifacts. I don't think there is much quarrel
    > about this
    > part.
    > Next part, "pushed to evolve" or stimulating evolution. When we send
    > out
    > children off to school, aren't we stimulating them to evolve? Isn't it
    > the
    > school experience in addition to natural maturation giving them a
    > different
    > outlook on life, behave differently, more quickly and more
    > self-assuredly
    > adapting themselves to societal life, and in some way gaining some
    > control
    > over their relationship between self and family and friends and
    > larger
    > social circles? Aren't school and work, visits to new places, and
    > meeting
    > new people experiences that add value to the human system in the sense
    > that
    > it can perform better? ren't education and experience giving us better
    > tools
    > in hand and in head? In a way, aren't human systems to a large extend
    > tool
    > systems as well? (Maybe we are contemplating a bit too sharp a
    > dichotomy
    > between human system and tool system. When we "get hold of ourself,"
    > we have
    > a human system acting on the very self as a tool system. Company's
    > employees
    > are largely paid for because of their "tool status." When I took my
    > dose of
    > Economics 101, I resented labor being treated as part of a
    > demand-and-supply
    > system.)
    > Creating a "working dichotomy" between human system and tool system
    > seems to
    > me very useful when looking at human beings enhancing their talents
    > with
    > computers. At this point, I feel compelled to first think of the human
    > psyche as part emotional, part rational. I further understand that
    > incoming
    > signals to the brain may follow two rather distinct kinds of pathways:
    > one
    > via our emotional center, another bypassing it. Cognition has an
    > emotional
    > component. Fine-grained cognition will have grains in them with
    > different
    > blends of the rational and the emotional. That's the nature of the
    > beast.
    > Hence, when we seek to augment with computers, this realization calls
    > for
    > extra care because the human organism may revolt at facing the truth.
    > Truth,
    > logic can be devastating.
    > There is little doubt in my mind that we can augment the rational
    > aspect of
    > humans so as to stimulate it to perform at higher levels of the
    > cognitive
    > domain. Or maybe I should say that it will "waste" less time on the
    > lower
    > levels (doing longhand division, for example) and thereby become more
    > productive. Doug's Air Force" proposal of 1962 has computers
    > stimulating the
    > mind in faster, more productive action by replacing a slow proces of
    > people
    > internally creating a picture by having computers concretize it for
    > them -
    > showing them the effects on a display terminal. The evolution is not
    > so much
    > in the human system as it is in how the human system performs. That is
    > an
    > evolution that, methinks, can be stimulated by purposeful design. (If
    > you
    > have the patience and time, may I refer you to
    > where, without knowing
    > even the
    > name Engelbart, I essayed on just a little part of all the things Doug
    > has
    > been saying. And this sort of thinking is why I feel at ease with
    > him.)
    > One more word here. Doug's purposeful design is not one that takes big
    > risks
    > by making big leaps. No Big-Brother Masterplan putting everyone at
    > risk. His
    > notion is to tread carefully, but decisively with as continuous a
    > feedback
    > as possible so as to avoid breaking the dishes.
    > Back to Eric's questions:
    > 1. Q. Will the human system go on as before unchanged?
    > A. Quick answer: that old psychology remains unchanged, but as a
    > working
    > agent adapts to forever changing LAM/H for survival. (LAM/H is Doug's
    > synopsis for language, artifacts, methods in the human system.)
    > 2. Q. Will the human system evolve naturally in the new environment?
    > A. That old psychology will only over those long periods that are part
    > and
    > parcel of natural evolution. Don't expect any change here over the
    > next
    > century or so. But the way the psychology lets us behave will, and
    > fast
    > (think of "crazes," for example, or oppressive regimes for another;
    > the
    > effect of masses' conduct on individual behavior and convictions).
    > Q. Eric continues the question with "If so, the evolution that will
    > take
    > place is worth mentioning in a companion piece, but it is not an
    > integral
    > part of the system that is being proposed."
    > A. Going back to my point that the human system is partly also within
    > his
    > tool system, that makes it an integral part.
    > 3. Q. Is the proposal seriously attempting to change human systems
    > simultaneously with a change in technology?
    > A. I believe the question is less of "attempting to" than "expecting
    > of."
    > Then the answer would be "yes."
    > Sorry, Eric, my philosophy is darn uncultured, but, I like to believe,
    > still
    > a cut above clax bovis.
    > Henry
    > Eric Armstrong wrote:
    > > It has the same difficulty as the colloquium,
    > > in my view -- it covers way too much ground to
    > > be a practical recommendation for anything.
    > >
    > > When it begins talking about the "human system",
    > > in particular, it reflects the colloquium. Like,
    > > the colloquium, the specific impact on the
    > > "human system" is never adduced. Three possibilites
    > > spring to mind:
    > >
    > > * Will the human system go on as before
    > > unchanged? If so, it scarcely needs
    > > mentioning.
    > >
    > > * Will the human system evolve naturally
    > > in the new environment? If so, the
    > > evolution that will take place is worth
    > > mentioning in a companion piece, but it
    > > is not an integral part of the system
    > > that is being proposed. The only significant
    > > relationship to the human system (as far
    > > as it leads to acceptance) is what *benefit*
    > > will the system have on the human system.
    > >
    > > * Is the proposal seriously attempting to
    > > change human systems simultaneously with
    > > a change in technology? If so, what is
    > > going to be different, and why is there
    > > any reason to believe that the effort
    > > will be successful? (I suspect that any
    > > such effort is fore-doomed. I'm willing
    > > to be convinced otherwise, but have yet
    > > to see a convincing argument.)
    > >
    > > Analogy: What we really need is a
    > > transportation system that allows your
    > > personal auto to become part of a "train".
    > > That allows efficient, hands-off travel
    > > while preserving the benefit of autonmous
    > > travel at your destination. But that
    > > requires everyone to change everything,
    > > all at once, and it just ain't gonna happen
    > > in this lifetime...
    > >
    > > Toffler pointed out that new technologies first
    > > replace the preexisting models. Only later are
    > > they expanded into new territories. It seems
    > > clear to me that a system which provides immediate
    > > benefits comes into use. The co-evolution that
    > > occurs in system functionality and human use then
    > > produces even greater benefits.
    > >
    > > But to speak of the "human system" as anything
    > > other than a naturally evolving system is to
    > > defeat the project before it gets started.
    > >
    > > If the evolutionary hypothesis is accepted, then
    > > the only significant aspect of the system is how
    > > it will make your life better today -- before you
    > > change anything at all about the human systems
    > > you are used to.
    > >
    > > Again, I believe the document you've constructed
    > > accurately reflects the issues as they have been
    > > formulated to date. I just believe that the
    > > particular formulation we've all seen has always
    > > been, and will continue to be, an "impossible sell".
    > >
    > > Believe it or don't, use it or toss it.
    > > Them's my thoughts.
    > >
    > >
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