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

From: Paul Fernhout (
Date: Tue Dec 19 2000 - 06:46:39 PST

  • Next message: Garold L. Johnson: "RE: [unrev-II] Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?"

    Rod Welch wrote:
    > Paul,
    > As usual, I am impressed by the depth of your analysis. In this case, however,
    > your point is not clear.


    First let me summarize: there is more to living than "intelligence".
    Intelligence doesn't call one to act, "desire" does that. "Intelligence"
    doesn't define why one should do one thing rather than another, unless
    one already has "values". One can make a rational choice, but the desire
    and values that cause that choice to be made and acted on are to a large
    extent outside of the realm of "intelligence". As an outgrowth of
    "intelligence", knowledge management will neither lead to choices or
    cause actions in the absense of "values" or "desire". We are talking
    about putting ever more powerful "intelligence" in the hands of
    organizations that have already shown themselves capable of building
    50,000 nuclear warheads, letting close to a billion people starve, and
    dumping PCBs in water bodies and resisting attempts to clean them up.
    One must question the desires and values of such organization, even if
    to an extent some of those decisions may have also been due to faulty
    reasoning or lack of knowledge (i.e. nukes=MAD, starvation=racism,

    To clarify my point (if I have one beyond rambling :-) in the context of
    your questions:

    > Can you sum up by stating the two or three things you advocate should be done,
    > that are not being done, or that should be done differently?

    1) Value Affirmation. There should be an affirmation of core human
    values and humane purposes in a statement of purpose for "bootstrapping"
    as defined by the Bootstrap Institute. In elaboration, it is not enough
    to say we will teach everyone how to do what they do better, as this is
    in effect a small mammal sixty million years ago saying "we will teach
    dinosaurs to be better dinosaurs" or "we will teach sharks to be better
    sharks". The point is that to isolate competence from purpose and values
    invites trouble.

    2) Understanding Exponential Growth. To the extent the colloquium still
    operates and desires to discuss issues that will have great (possibly
    negative) impact over the next few decades, the colloquium needs to have
    a focus on dealing with this problem of rapid exponential change itself
    and what it is leading towards. This is specially true in considering
    the implications of machine intelligence. It is also true in considering
    the implications of the increase of destructive -- and constructive --
    capacity via nanotechnology and biotechnology.

    3) Accepting the Politics of Meeting Human Needs. Addressing human needs
    (beyond designing an OHS/DKR) was one of Doug's major goals and
    something that occupied many presenters in the Colloquium. The
    colloquium needs to accept that there are effectively no technical
    issues requiring extensive innovation related to supporting contemporary
    society that are of any significant importance. This is in part due to
    an abundance of material resources, as well as since our technological
    infrastructure is effectively obsolete compared to what is in the labs
    or in limited deployment. (The only exception to that is the need for
    organizing and distributing what we already know...) That is, the
    presentations in the colloquiums on imminent world problems (energy
    crisis especially) are effectively already out of date. It is true
    California is short of electricity, we will run out of oil in 100+
    years, 840 million people people are starving now, but these are not
    directly technology problems since the technology and material abundance
    exists to solve them all right now, but what is lacking is the political
    will (or social consensus). One might call these organizational
    problems, requiring perhaps innovation in a practical (deployment)
    context (which an OHS/DKR might help with). I think improved technology
    could help with these issues in the sense of making the costs to
    solution even smaller (i.e. a $5 box the feeds a village forever) and so
    lowering the bar for political action, but the deeper issues are ones of
    fairness, compassion, and so on (which includes the fact people don't
    get research funding to make that $5 food box even if it was feasible).
    If resource distribution is grossly unfair, even the $5 to keep a
    village alive forever will be spent on lipstick instead. So to the
    extent the Colloquium wants to focus on current issues (world hunger,
    California electricity crisis) it needs to support tools more related to
    dealing with politics or social consensus.

    Incidentally, my wife and I support the Heifer project, which is the
    closest we know of to any organization delivering self-replicating
    (exponential) technology at a low cost to make impoverished people's
    lives better.

    > How does your
    > analysis today impact the big picture of moving from IT to KM?

    It is orthogonal to that.

    If corporations now doing IT have the major goal of profit as opposed to
    "meeting unmet social needs" (to quote William C. Norris)
    then corporations whether they do IT or KM are irrelevant to human
    survival. They are effectively machine intelligences with their own ends
    (the ethic of profit maximization, or "bucks is beautiful") to which
    humans are only relevant in well defined "roles" to the extent they are
    currently required for service or markets. If they could be replaced at
    less cost by automation, they will be -- nay, by the corporation's rules
    in a competitive landscape, they must be (except union jobs?). The only
    hope to resist this is some form of government intervention or worker
    (individual or union) resistance. These decisions will all be made in
    bits and pieces, each one seeimgly sensible at the time. Consider the
    starting replacement of telephone support people by voice recognition
    The corporate social form has had little time to evolve (a few hundred
    years?) so there is not guarantee that contemporary corporate
    organization forms will be capable of doing more than exhausting
    convenient resources (passing on external costs when possible) and then

    Obviously, to the extent KM could transform an organization like GE into
    one that makes good on their corporate slogan "if we can dream it we can
    do it" and deliver on their implied promises in their 1986 Disney Epcot
    center pavilion (underwater cities, space habitats) then KM will be
    useful. It is always "Knowledge about what?" For an alternative to a
    world view producing organizations that refuse to clean up PCBs they
    dumped in the Hudson, consider The Venus project's world view:

    There is one obvious exception to saying KM won't change the direction
    of organizations, which is to the extent humans as individuals in
    corporations have access to KM tools and might see the bigger picture
    and act as individuals. The only other hope is that a general increase
    in organizational capacity in large corporations or governments will let
    some small amount leak through for unsanctioned human ends (but the cost
    in human suffering to that approach is high -- witness as one example
    the 840 million people now in hunger.) But be very clear, this secondary
    effect is not the reasons organizations will adopt KM. They will adopt
    KM for competitive advantage in business as usual (barring a cultural
    shift for other reasons.)

    As I saw this weekend on "DebatesDebates" with a debate on "Is the Good
    Corporation Dead?"
    one of the debaters made the point that even if capitalism is good at
    generating wealth, it is not good at distributing it. That is why I say
    capitalism without charity is evil. Taken to an extreme when machine
    intelligence is possible on a human level, capitalism as we now know may
    leave (most) people behind, while at the same time owning or controlling
    all the resources, preventing most people from earning a living
    ("shading them out"). Historically, this has happened many times before
    -- for example, the enclosure acts driving the English peasantry
    (initially) into poverty and starvation.
    Or, as was the case in Africa or North America, where in both places an
    indigenous population with ways of life related to the land was
    displaced to make way for corporate activities (plantations, farms, and

    I hope the situation does not come down to this, and that in the end
    charity will win out over avarice and a mentally disturbed need for
    excessive power. But it is by no means certain charity will win out,
    given the power of technology to amplify both the best and worst in
    > For example, I am advocating a culture of knowledge, as the big objective to
    > accommodate a new world order of faster information resulting from IT that
    > increasingly overwhelms human span of attention,

    Rod, what you are doing is worthwhile, as is what Doug is doing. But the
    deeper point is simply that dealing with overwhelming complexity due to
    rapid change is a different issue than meeting basic human needs right
    now. Both are important, but they are different issues.

    The technology and material resources to feed and educate all children
    (and adults) exists right now. There is enough to go around right now.
    The reason this does not happen is for political and social reasosn --
    not technological. Technology could and will make some of the choices
    less hard (i.e. when $5 can feed a village forever instead of a few
    people for a few days) but still the issue is not primarily a
    technological one.

    On the other hand, the "new world order of faster information" issue has
    more in common with the implications of the rise of machine intelligence
    and nanotechnology and the arms race. In effect that "new world order"
    is arising out of a corporate arms race involving infotech.

    > [snipped details]

    > I propose a single, breakthrough, solution by enhancing alphabet technology
    > using a continual "intelligence" process that turns information into knowledge,
    > thus the goal to move up a notch on the cognitive scale from IT to KM. You seem
    > to suggest today that bootstrapping, while intending to solve complexity, might,
    > in some respects, be said to compound the problem it seeks to solve.

    I am not leveling this criticism directly at "bootstrapping" as the
    Bootstrap Institute and Doug tries to define it. What I am trying to say
    is that "bootstrapping" in terms of exponential growth of technology
    (which enables more technology etc.) is already happening. Bootstrapping
    is the given. So the issue is, how do we use related exponential growth
    processes to deal with this? To the extent Doug's techniques are used
    just to drive the technological innovation process faster, in no
    specific direction, they are potentially just making things worse. To
    the extent such techniques are used for specific human ends (example,
    dealing with world hunger, making medical care more accessible, ensuring
    children don't grow up in ignorance and poverty, reducing conflicts and
    arms races) they make things better. The thing is, in a world where
    competition (the arms race) has moved from physical weapons to infotech
    (both corporate and military), simple saying you will speed the arms
    race is not enough. In my thinking, it is the arms race itself that is
    the potential enemy of humankind, and the issue is transcending the arms
    race (whatever grounds it is fought on -- nuclear, biological,

    > I think
    > there is another way to explain bootstrapping that avoids this conflict, but you
    > seem to be arguing against it. Can you clarify?

    I don't have a conflict in thinking about an OHS/DKR or working towards
    one. I accept the possibility that this bootstrap process may end badly
    for most of humanity. It is a shame, and humanity should try to avoid
    this looming disaster, and may well, but I have accepted that one can
    not save everyone.

    For over a decade I have wanted to build a library of human knowledge
    related to sustainable development. I as a small mammal am using the
    crumbs left over by the dinosaurs to try to do so (not with great
    success, but a little, like our garden simulator intended to help people
    learn to grow their own food). I spent a year hanging around Hans
    Moravec's Mobile Robot Lab at CMU, and I turned my back on
    self-replicating robotics work -- not because I thought it was sci-fi,
    but because I saw it was quite feasible, and wanted to do something else
    that was more likely to ensure human survival (self-replicating
    habitats, for space, water, and land). I also did not want to speed the
    process along. Now fifteen years later, this process is effectively
    unstoppable, so I have fewer qualms about doing a little that might
    hasten it if the payoff might be some type of refugia for humans.

    The way to put it is that "bootstrapping" has linked itself conceptually
    to an exponential growth process happening right now in our
    civilization. Almost all explosions entail some level of exponential
    growth. So, in effect, our civilization is exploding. The meaning of
    that as regards human survival is unclear, but it is clear people are
    only slowly coming to take this seriously.

    As one example, lots of trends:
    Lou Gerstner(IBM's Chairman) was recently quoted as talking about a near
    term e-commerce future of 10X users, 100X bandwidth, 1000X devices, and
    1,000,000X data. Obviously, IBM wants to sell the infrastructure to
    support that. But I think the bigger picture is lost.

    Even for seeing the "trees" of individual quantitative changes, the
    "forest" that these quantitative changes would have a qualitative change
    on the business or human landscape is ignored. Or if people see it, it
    is the "elephant in the living room" no one talks about (well obviously
    a few like Kurzweil or Moravec or Joy). More of everything yes, but
    always business as usual.

    To be relevant and of goof for humanity, Bootstrapping must address how
    this quantitative exponential growth will lead to qualitative changes,
    at what point if any an "S-curve" effect will set in, and how
    "bootstrapping" as an intellectual concept will do good amidst this
    > Thanks.
    > Rod

    Thanks for the comments.

    -Paul Fernhout
    Kurtz-Fernhout Software
    Developers of custom software and educational simulations
    Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator

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