Garold L. Johnson

Tue, 19 Dec 2000 18:09:39 +0000

From:   Garold L. Johnson


Subject:   Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?

I am new to this group, and I hesitate to step in here as it looks a lot like a mine field. That is clearly not enough to stop me!

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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".

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, PCBs=ignorance).

[Garold L. Johnson] While what you say is true, I believe that there are some points being missed.

The expansion of technological ability continues to outstrip our ability to make use of it, to reason about it, to deal with the values and desires issues. While this is true, it is nothing new. This has been going on for a very long time.

It does so because those who can think have allowed those who don't to set the values agenda. Since science agreed to stay out of certain aspects of knowledge in order to keep from being destroyed by the church, science has refused to deal with any of the "soft" issues. The result is a strong tendency for those in the soft issues (hardly sciences) to be unqualified in science and for those who are qualified in science to avoid the soft sciences.

Ability to think better empowers those who think and does very little for those who won't.

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.

As we develop the tools and techniques for organizing knowledge into accessible information and increase the possibility of learning supported by better information tools, we begin to break the stranglehold that governments have on education, and the dependence on large organizations of all sorts.

When a small group of individuals can perform the research required to bring about some of the goals that you consider important, there is a chance of it getting done. If the future relies on our ability to convert bureaucracies or mass humanity to any better way of doing things, we are indeed doomed.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

  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.

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

I would prefer that we create a set of tools that make it possible for those who will to investigate the mammoth amount of knowledge required to investigate the major issues that you raise. Part of the reason for staying out of the soft areas is that the amount of information that has to be understood and manipulated to deal with even the simplest of social issues continues to outstrip the abilities of those who would do so. Until we can begin to understand and model how we work together to achieve any goal, it seems unlikely that we will have much impact on it.

I believe that we are at a point where we need to begin to take charge of our own intellectual evolution or perish. If we allow our next set of institutions to develop with no more thought than the current set, we are indeed headed for trouble.

However, the view that all of our problems would be solved if only others saw the issues as clearly as we do is a self-defeating viewpoint. All utopian ideas are basically "all that has to happen is for human nature to change to the way I would like it to be." It isn't going to happen.

If social goals are going to be met, it will be done by people, who already have such goals, develop the necessary tools and abilities to accomplish those goals, and set about getting it done.

As a consequence, developing the tools that make it possible and providing them to the small groups that have the values and the desire seems to me to be the only realistic road out.

I submit that our problem isn't so much too much technology as an inability to martial the knowledge necessary to apply it well. As we get more information on how natural systems work, for example, such things as organic farming which works with natural systems to produce more food better and without massive amounts of chemicals provide the possibility of bypassing the large dinosaur systems that currently have to provide the chemicals. If there is going to be a $5 box that will power a village it will far more likely be the result of a small group working to solve that problem than it will because the existing system decided to build such a device. This is knowledge and research which is just now becoming available to groups small enough to care.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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.

[Garold L. Johnson] I agree that there needs to be some energy devoted to the problem of exponential growth if only to address the technical issues of data inflow overwhelming all attempts to organize it with whatever tools and for the answer to be obsolete by the time you discover what they are. Addressing exponential growth with any view that any efforts we take are going to change it is wasted effort -- it isn't going to happen. The best we can hope for is to empower those willing to make a difference in the face of the growth.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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.

[Garold L. Johnson] This is true, but not terribly relevant, I am afraid. We have had the technological ability to carry out nearly any set of goals that we could get sufficiently widespread agreement to tackle for years. To the extent that there is hunger in the world, for example, it is held in place by governments and those in power to whom their power is all that is of importance. This is lamentable, but it is a fact. Continuing to lament it isn't going to change it. What will change it is empowering those with the will to do something more than talk about it. This is where the efforts we are discussing can have value.

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.

Very few people think in any measure. Even fewer think clearly to any degree. We have yet to devise the tools and techniques for dealing with human values and motivations in any meaningful way. There is no agreement about how to reason about issues of values, since reasoning about values has almost never been done in human history. It is a new area of discovery. We don't have any rules of evidence, nor any concept of what proof means in this context.

Additionally, when we enter the realm of social interactions, group dynamics, social mechanics, evolution of organizations, etc. there is no way to model the massive problems that arise. This is the entire area of "widked" problems -- problems where what we think of as independent variables are mutually independent. This is an area for philosophical inquiry, certainly, but it is also an area in which the ability to model systems and make the information available is of utmost importance. This was Buckminster Fuller's focus, and that effort has yet to succeed.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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.

[Garold L. Johnson] That is consistent with what I have been saying, but I believe that the issues for this forum are of the nature of "what factors involved in problems of the scale of human social and political interactions impact the 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 technology of sufficient power and scope to allow it to be used to address such problems.

In my youth, I believed that what was needed to improve the world was a way to allow those who make decisions that impact the rest of us to have the relevant information and knowledge to make those decisions in a informed manner. It took several years for me to realize that until we did something about the unwillingness and the inability of those decision makers to think, and to think about the value systems they used to address the problems, just more information or better organized information wasn't going to solve the problem.

I know believe that this is a task that can only be accomplished without asking for or expecting support from the existing institutions.

That happens by making it increasingly possible for individuals and small groups to live independently (or at least more so) of the existing institutions.

For example, IMO, our entire educational system is beyond redemption as the basic underlying belief structure is mistaken. Trying to get education to fix itself is not going to solve this problem. It won't even be solved directly by private or home schooling, since the technology for both comes from the same pool that has caused the problem. If we can make it possible for individuals and families to learn, to educate themselves, and to discover things for themselves, then the educational system can be bypassed and allowed to wither. The vast majority of people wouldn't use such a system if we had it, but some would, and they might be able to make a difference.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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.

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.

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

The problem is not so much with the organizations as with the way that we as humans think or fail to think – organizations reflect that failure magnified. “The mind set that got us into this mess is not the mind set that will get us out of it.” (loosely) Einstein.

Expecting the organizations and thought processes that brought about the current situation to resolve that situation is simply not reasonable. We need better ways of approaching knowledge and thinking. We need ways to model human behavior and human social systems far better than we can currently. Just decrying the fact that the current reality isn't to our liking doesn't move us closer to changing that reality. Complaining about corporations pursuing profit is pointless, as it is an essential of what they have to do to survive. The way they pursue it is possibly open to change, but the fact is that the organization that doesn't survive doesn't have any chance of making a difference, as well meaning but non-functional organizations demonstrate repeatedly. Example, we once had major problems with corporations spilling all sorts of smoke related pollutants into the atmosphere. The places where I saw it resolved most quickly were those that discovered that the minerals and materials that could be extracted from that smoke were of more value than the cost of installing equipment to clean the smoke. If you want corporate behavior to change, change the profit picture. It is here that small scale research has some real potential.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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 collapsing.

[Garold L. Johnson] We should be so lucky that they will just collapse. They will get a lot worse before that happens.

Worse, we have no better options to offer as a replacement.

The problem is that the organization of the corporate social form as well as all our other social forms was completely undirected by any coherent human thought. Our problem remains that the evolution of social forms is far too slow to handle the expected rates of change, and that all attempts to devise a better scheme than "just let it happen" have been such uniform disasters -- social planning has been a major disaster nearly every time it has been tried.

Is this failure because we lack the tools to model systems of this complexity, because we lack any way of thinking about the problems in the first place, or because we haven’t yet stepped up to expend the effort, energy, and thought necessary to address these problems.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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.

[Garold L. Johnson] KM will be useful whether GE uses it as you would like them to or not, it will be more useful to others who cannot currently offer any viable alternative to the GE's of the world.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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

[Garold L. Johnson] The human cost is high, yes. The problem remains that we haven't yet demonstrated any system that can accomplish "unsanctioned human ends" with a lower human cost.

The human cost of all other such efforts has been incredibly higher than the one of markets and corporations.

While it is true that markets and corporations appear to be inefficient in many ways, we haven't yet devised any system that works better.

I think that devising and modeling such a system would be a great thing to do. We need useful KM at the individual level even to attempt that.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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

[Garold L. Johnson] I have heard this endless times. If you think that capitalism is inefficient at distribution, try any other competing system and see how efficient it is at either production or distribution.

Capitalism needs improvement, to be sure, but it is still the best that man has ever done in terms of the general well being of the population. Don't be too quick to discard it.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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 people.

[Garold L. Johnson] If you want certainty, you are in the wrong universe, sorry. What stands a chance is ways that improve the individual's ability to cope with the world as it is evolving and to assist individuals in creating successful groups that can survive while accomplishing other worthwhile goals.

The growth of computing has come closer to offering that than ever before in human history. What we could use is a way to leverage that development for worthwhile goals.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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.

[Garold L. Johnson] True, but not relevant.

As you say, they are (somewhat) different problems. However, I don't see that there is any way to solve these problems with the mind set that created them. It seems that you are advocating dropping everything and solving these basic human needs.

Not only will that not happen, I think that it is exactly the wrong direction. Well meaning individuals and groups have been pushing for this for decades and the situation remains. Provide those people with better tools, and maybe they can build a door in the wall instead of continuing to beat their heads against the wall.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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.

[Garold L. Johnson] How would you suggest that the development of knowledge tools can be accomplished in such a way that only those of good social conscience can make use of them?

Since I know of no way to do that, the best that I see that we can do is to aim our requirements at the scale of these major social problems.

If we develop anything less, it will help those with lesser goals without providing what is needed by those who would tackle problems of this scale. We would provide those we oppose with tools that they can use without gaining the tools that we need. It seems to me that if we are ever to tackle problems of the scale of human social systems, we are going to need tools and techniques that are far beyond what we currently have. That is what this effort seems to me to be all about.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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, infotech).

[Garold L. Johnson] Perhaps so, but without tools that can handle problems of the level of social systems, we aren't going to fix it either.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

Rod Welch wrote [on November 19, 2000...]:

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).

[Garold L. Johnson] This is exactly the sort of approach that I think has merit. The better the tools that you can have to build such a library, the more useful the result can be because of the design of the system, and the degree to which it is possible for you to accomplish this without government or corporate support.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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.

[Garold L. Johnson] The first step is to take it seriously. The second is to investigate what can be done about it. That is what I see going on here.

Paul Fernhout wrote on December 19, 2000...]

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 setting.

[Garold L. Johnson] I think that it is important to discuss how bootstrapping can support the goals and values that we bring to it, but primarily as a source of requirements for the technology itself. These issues are all part of the reality into which we wish to introduce bootstrapping, and they need to be taken into account. The issues themselves are part of the motivation of the effort. Attempting to solve these problems directly rather than developing the tools with which to address them is an invitation to more pointless debate and no accomplishment.

Either you will meet with agreement regarding your social views, in which case you are preaching to the choir, or you won’t, in which case we will just expend more effort on the debate and still not have what we might develop that might make a difference.

This is the reason that I haven't commented on any of the social views you express -- my views or yours on any of this is, IMO, relevant only to the extent that we need to strive to evolve tools that will allow us to investigate the true nature of the problems and to model proposed solutions to see that they do what we intend rather than have some dramatically other result because we try to solve the problems (again) with inadequate tools and techniques.



DYNAMIC Alternatives

Garold (Gary) L. Johnson