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

From: Eric Armstrong (
Date: Thu Dec 21 2000 - 18:42:59 PST

  • Next message: Eric Armstrong: "Re: [unrev-II] Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?"

    I switched to HTML editing so I could quote some of the great
    points that Garold has been making. Apologies to anyone who
    has difficulty working with the HTML.

    (Arghh. This mode might be good if it worked, but the quoted
    message has a ton of small yellow tags, I'm finding it impossible
    to intersperse my replies.)

    "Garold L. Johnson" wrote:

    > ØIn complex systems, the obvious is not always correct. In fact, in
    > most complex systems, many properties that seem obvious are simply not
    > correct.
    > ØThe penalty for answers based on incorrect models of the way the
    > world works is failure to solve the problem. It is possible to
    > hypothesize solutions that are simply unworkable if the model is
    > incorrect.
    > oe.g. it is possible to establish certain chess checkmate positions
    > that cannot be achieved in the sense that there is no possible
    > sequence of legal moves that result in the position.
    > oI read a book (I think it was “Wasted Wealth” by ??? Smith – I’ll
    > check it) in which the author makes some very good arguments that the
    > amount of work that needs to be done is improperly allocated among the
    > people doing the work. His thesis was that about 50% of the work being
    > done was taking twice as many people as possible just to provide
    > individuals a slice of the economic pie. His basic observations were
    > sound, but his implicit assumption was that (some unspecified sort of)
    > central planning would allocate work more equitably and efficiently
    > resulting in phenomenal increases in efficiency and productivity. The
    > only problem is that the rearrangement that he recommends has no way
    > to be accomplished in anything he recommends nor in any way that I can
    > see working. People are not arbitrarily reassignable to tasks as the
    > statistical approach would indicate.
    > ØIn social and political debate there is a very strong tendency to
    > assume that anything and everything that is in pursuit of a “good
    > cause” is in fact possible simply because the cause is “good”. Supply
    > your own definitions. The problem is that this is not true. What
    > determines the workability of a solution is dependent on the nature of
    > reality and the correspondence of the solution with reality. The merit
    > of the cause is no guarantee that a proposed solution can be
    > implemented. The tendency, however, is to brand anyone who suggests
    > that a proposed solution is unworkable is opposed to seeing the
    > problem solved and is therefore (clearly!) in favor of continuing the
    > problem and therefore evil. While this mechanism tends to be more
    > evident on the left, it has no monopoly. Until we can get a handle on
    > the fact that reality is not malleable just because it is
    > inconvenient. There was a story, likely mythological, about a
    > legislature trying to pass a law setting the value of pi to be exactly
    > 3 because the current value was too terribly inconvenient. It is
    > difficult to credit that even legislators could be this dumb, but
    > other proposed legislation ignores truth in less obvious ways.
    > If this is a correct assessment, political and social problems are not
    > totally independent of the ability to understand complex systems,
    > particularly social systems. There was an attempt to replace a series
    > of “water temples” that were the traditional mechanism for allocating
    > irrigation water with a “scientific” system. The eventual discovery (I
    > don’t know whether it was before or after the temples were displaced)
    > was that the temple system came closer to an optimum solution than any
    > software mechanism they were able to devise.
    > Therefore, I contend that the problems that are social or political
    > rather than technical may well require that we understand more about
    > the nature of the social or political systems that have to be modified
    > than we ever have before, and *that* is a KM problem of magnitude. The
    > solutions to the social an political problems are not going to happen
    > just because it would be convenient.
    > We don’t have models for even the most obvious issues. Consider the
    > way polarization on a problem work, for example.
    > ØA problem is stated as being a major issue.
    > ØOne or several solutions are proposed.
    > ØNobody bothers to define what the desired outcomes really are or
    > whether there is any set of outcomes upon which agreement can be
    > reached.
    > ØForces polarize on the nature of the solutions, some adamantly
    > opposed, other adamantly in support. The other viewpoint is
    > characterized as benighted, misguided, and (eventually) evil.
    > ØAt this point, any attempt to investigate either the validity of
    > proposed solutions or of actually workable solutions is attacked by
    > both factions.
    > ØAt this point, there is no chance of arriving at any workable
    > proposal because only those in one faction or the other are ever
    > heard.
    > If we can’t find a way around this problem, the chance of solving
    > other social and political problems seems to me to be vanishingly
    > small.
    > We don’t understand how groups organize or what contributes to their
    > success or failure. There are all sorts of explanations for business
    > failure rates, for example, but the only things that can be said with
    > any definiteness are:
    > ØEvery enterprise that fails does so because there are one or more
    > things that were essential to their survival that were not
    > accomplished correctly or to an adequate level. This is a tautology,
    > and yet it gets lost in the myriad of “single point” explanations.
    > ØWe still haven’t identified a workable set of success factors for
    > organizational success.
    > ØAs a result, every new organization begins in ignorance of whatever
    > success principle there might be, and ends up having to discover the
    > success factors by trial and error, and the search for success factors
    > is not even explicit in the group.
    > ØWe are having similar problems with this forum. We have little
    > agreement on what we are trying to do, why we are trying to do it, or
    > even how to frame these questions in a way that stands a chance of
    > arriving at answers rather than endless, largely pointless debate.
    > In short, I contend that certain technological advances are essential
    > to the solution of some social and political problems, and that among
    > those advances are tools that allow people to collaborate effectively
    > and to investigate the working of complex systems. Without this we
    > cannot form successful groups that can
    > ØFormulate problems in ways that permit of solution
    > ØAllow self-organization of individual efforts
    > ØEvaluate proposed solutions for actual workability, resulting in
    > workable programs for achieving the solution.
    > ØSee that solutions are implemented effectively, and are modified when
    > (and only as) necessary when reality contradicts preconceived notions.
    > We can’t accomplish this in the relatively simple case of defining and
    > implementing a set of software tools. Let’s not even consider the next
    > larger problem of how to organize efforts to develop successful
    > software systems (any candidate definitions for what it means for a
    > software development project to be successful?). Just how does anyone
    > suggest that we go about tackling world scale problems of vastly
    > greater complexity when we can’t begin to handle such a small scale
    > endeavor?
    > >2) The exponential growth of technology is both a threat and a
    > blessing,
    > and at this point is a given, and like fire we need to do what we can
    > with it for good ends (however we define those, where we may not
    > agree).
    > Here I agree. There are some forces that we aren’t going to be
    > successful at opposing no matter how we view them. The best that I can
    > see is to try to find ways to attack problems of interest to us while
    > the rest of the world does what it will.
    > Realize that as bad as things may appear, we have more people having
    > more energy that doesn’t have to be devoted directly to survival, and
    > more tools for them to work with than at any time in history. A cynic
    > would say that this results in too many people with too much time on
    > their hands.
    > While the remaining problems may indeed need solution, it is necessary
    > to maintain some degree of historical perspective. In short, a far
    > greater percentage of humanity has a higher standard of living that
    > ant any time in history, and that seems to be improving. Even that
    > supposition can’t be evaluated with currently existing KM capability.
    > Certainly just stating that there is a problem and then that any who
    > disagreed with the currently proposed solution, workable or not, known
    > to be workable or not, are somehow part of the problem is not going to
    > get them solved.
    > >3) To an extent the exponential growth of technology may help meet
    > human
    > needs of the disenfranchised through reduced costs it may seem
    > desirable, but it is not required to do so. This means people driving
    > technological innovation, including the Bootstrap Institute, should be
    > clearer about what it is they are trying to accomplish. Is it simply
    > to
    > escalate the infotech arms race, is it to make charity more effective,
    > is it in some belief in "progress", or is it for other reasons?
    > If you don’t believe that the tools will support the efforts that you
    > consider socially worthy, don’t support them.
    > The intent of building a tool of the generality of the KM solution is
    > such that I don’t see how the use of the result can be constrained by
    > anything but its lack of capacity. I don’t see better tools for
    > collaboration and helping groups manage their efforts is in any way
    > detrimental to the accomplishment of social agendas.
    > How do you build a system of the generality being proposed that can be
    > used only for “good” uses or that cannot be used for “good” uses?
    > I can see no way to force such constraints on a system like this
    > except to build it on models of authoritarian management, or to
    > develop a solution that is so limited that it cannot manage efforts of
    > the scale of social or political solutions. Since I can’t see how we
    > can possible create a system that has the problems that are supposed
    > for it, I can’t see how this debate is useful
    > If we really want to see that the evolution of such a system is
    > appropriate to the sorts of problems that we want to tackle, we need
    > to look at requirements on the system that are levied by the nature of
    > the efforts required to address problems of the complexity that we
    > face, not the specific problems, their proposed solution, or the moral
    > benefit to be derived from their solution.
    > As a simple example, a tool that would allow proponents to create
    > proposals that are at least self-consistent and make some attempt at
    > completeness. Take a look at any piece of legislation as a document,
    > and it is clear that we need better ways to evolve and organize
    > knowledge and information. This is completely aside from whether you
    > agree with the legislation or can even understand what it proposes.
    > If we could add some ability to model at least some of the possible
    > effects of implementing these proposals, we could advance dramatically
    > the ability of people to achieve the ends they agree upon and organize
    > to achieve.
    > *Then* we might have tools that would allow a debate such at this to
    > be more than an exercise in using bandwidth.
    > Thanks.
    > Garold (Gary) L. Johnson
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    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Dec 21 2000 - 18:54:14 PST