Monday, February 18, 2013

life in a networked age...,

globalguerillas | Here's some idle thinking for a sunny afternoon at the end of winter. 

To access it, let's make a simple assumption that economics, politics, and warfare are all a function of the dominant technological substrate.

A technological substrate is the family of related technologies that we rely upon.  In the 20th Century, we were clearly reliant on an industrial substrate.   

The challenges posed by industrial age technologies dictated the development of two management forms:  bureaucracy and markets.   Bureaucracies and markets are both decision making systems. These management forms dominated economics, politics, and warfare for centuries. 

Neither system of management is sufficient as a solution for industrial economics, politics, or warfare.    

Democracies use market decision making to determine leadership over a nation-state bureaucracy. Capitalism uses markets to determine leadership/control over corporate bureaucries.  Education uses bureaucracy to manage its institutions and a combination of markets and bureaucracy to allocate students.  The modern age was dominated by market based warfare (think: Wallenstein) but it is now firmly bureaucratic. 

Although ideologies have been built and wars have been fought over the mix of bureaucracy and markets, neither system has proven dominant.  .

This simplification is useful when we shift the technological substrate.

In the last thirty years, we've seen a shift in the technological substrate.  This new susbstrate is increasingly a family of technologies related to information networks.

As this new substrate begins to take control, we're going to need new management forms.  Both bureaucratic and market systems are proving insuffient solutions to the challenges of a networked age. 

In both cases, the emergence of a global network is eroding the efficacy of bureaucracy and markets as solutions.  How?  One reason is scale. 

A global network is too large and complex for a bureaucracy to manage.  It would be too slow, expensive, and inefficient to be of value.  Further, even if one could be built, it would be impossible to apply market dyanmics (via democratic elections) to selecting the leaders of that bureaucracy.  The diversity in the views of the 7 billion of us on this planet are too vast. 

In terms of markets, a global marketplace is too unstable.   Interlinked, and tightly coupled markets are prone to frequent and disasterous failures.  Additionally, a global marketplace is easy for insiders to corrupt and rig, as we saw with the 2008 financial melt-down.   Given instability and unmitigated corruption, markets will fail as a decision making mechanism. 

So, what's going to replace bureaucracy and markets?

We don't have digestible names for them yet.  However, let's just call them platforms and P2P systems.   Platforms are run by a few people and delivered to a great many people.  P2P systems allow ad hoc interaction between indepedent individuals. 

Both have value.  Both have problems. 

Companies like Google and Facebook run as platforms.  The core business is so automated, it could be run by a handful of people.    P2P networks are systems like BitTorrent, Wikipedia and open source software/hardware projects.

There's definitely a need for both platforms and P2P management systems.  However, both currently operate badly.  We haven't learned how to use these systems to produce meaningful results for humanity yet.  We will, but the path will likely rocky, particularly as the older approaches of markets and bureaucracy deteriorate and fights between the systems break out.

Note:  In warfare, we saw battles between a bureaucracy and open source opponents in the last decade, and open source did very well.  We saw it in Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Afghanistan etc.


umbrarchist said...

There was nothing to prevent the bureaucracy from making double-entry accounting mandatory in the schools 50 years ago.

Regardless of the technology power games depend on the control of the distribution of RELEVANT KNOWLEDGE. Is learning Shakespeare's plays Relevant Knowledge? But the call it education.

So now we have networks but when do they explain von Neumann machines?

So how has California wasted tens of millions and can't get their DMV computers going?

John Kurman said...

"The modern mouth basically exists in a permanent disease state."

A metaphor for our times:

CNu said...


CNu said...

but some symbiogenetic factors remain constant irrespective

Ed Dunn said...

I cannot believe someone said this - "Note: In warfare, we saw battles between a bureaucracy and open source opponents in the last decade, and open source did very well. We saw it in Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Afghanistan etc."

Open source did not do anything, they were protected by the military coup. It was the military who took over in Tunisia and Egypt and Afghanistan and Iraq was the American military industrial complex. What was the person who wrote this smoking?

CNu said...

I think John Robb begs the question of whether or not a single one of these military takeovers has proven itself successful or sustainable - even just over the very short run. The reason I always beg the question of whether or not these Internets and their sundry associated open source cultural manifestations has taken over, is the obvious dependency that these manifestations have on underlying privately and state-owned infrastructures.

Dale Asberry said...

Although that particular posting makes no mention of it, the open source and openly available tools were external to those governments. In Egypt in particular, there were group leaders who had access to non-Egypt-controlled satellite phones which they used to tweet goings-on from the people the kept in contact with and which they used to see updates from their larger cell.

Also, Robb makes some distinctions about the power of open source (and P2P) that we as software developers are already very familiar with... the power of using code someone else already wrote to write something new and more powerful than the original code. He applies the same thinking to weapons, distributed C2, etc. Minor improvements to existing code allows for geometric improvements in features (in this case, lethality) rather than logarithmic improvements (decline actually) by writing from scratch every time.

Ed Dunn said...

Yeah, but open source haven't work in Syria and definitely didn't work in Iran either..the military was still on the side of tyrants in these countries.

In Libya, they had to go to guns and Obama drones. Without the military on the people side, it is just a pipe dream. Those with the guns make the rules....

CNu said...

No doubt, and that is definitely the case as long as those with the guns are still receiving their paychecks..., I'm not so sure how that holds together once the paymaster has nothing left in his $$$ pot..., particularly when the guns may have to be pointed at fellow citizens, friends, and possibly even family.