Reproduced from: https://civilizationemerging.com/
Catastrophic and Existential Risks
October 11, 2017
- Radical unpredictability
- Anthrocomplexity, multi-system complexity, far-from equilibria complex/ chaotic systems, new (not well understood) technologies, exponential rates of change, unmonitorable distributed catastrophic technology.
- Broken information ecology: mostly disinformation, intentional disinformation, actual signal intentionally obscured, critical factors not monitored, – signal unparsable from noise currently.
- Inadequate predictive models and monitoring.
- Cascades, fragility, and amplification
- Interconnectivity of systems makes it almost inevitable for previously containable issues to affect other systems and create cascade effects.
- The current fragility of human and ecological systems radically lowers the minimum necessary energy threshold for collapse scenarios.
- Amplifiers of several kinds, if triggered, can make relatively limited catastrophes escalate to existential level events quickly.
- Positive feedback loops and irreversibility
- Many disequilibrating forces are checked by a regulatory force up to a certain point, beyond which, the regulatory force changes directions and creates runaway positive feedback. Points of irreversibility occur before the full consequences ensue. All systems subject to positive feedback loops must be prevented from reaching irreversibility points.
- Distributed exponential technology
- New catastrophe level technology that is decentralized and unmonitorable. As is, these scenarios are largely unpreventable and can lead to further amplification.
- All of the above issues are not just increasing but accelerating – Multiple intersecting exponential curves, interacting with acceleratingly fragile complex life support systems.
- Generator functions for self-termination
- [Almost] all of the catastrophic risks have the same underlying generator functions. They can hopefully be slowed as is, one at a time, with radical investment…but they are inevitable with the generator functions for self termination still in place. All of the generator functions need transformed to resilience, coherence, and syntropy increasing functions.
- Generator function examples: perverse incentives, broken feedback loops, game theoretic win-lose dynamics multiplied by exponential tech, short-term decision-making incentives on topics with long term consequences, etc.
- [Almost] all of the catastrophic risks have the same underlying generator functions. They can hopefully be slowed as is, one at a time, with radical investment…but they are inevitable with the generator functions for self termination still in place. All of the generator functions need transformed to resilience, coherence, and syntropy increasing functions.
Categories of Risk
- There are many ways to taxonomize risks. The one below suits the purpose of high-level ease for overview.
- This document only lists the high-level categories for the purpose of overview – detailed taxonomies with scenarios assessments, timelines, probabilities, etc. are beyond the scope of this short doc.
- Most of these categories create events that can cascade to other categories. Think of each of these as possible origins for cascades into positive feedback/ amplification.
- Rough examples:
- Human system failures
- Local failure of economics, government, emergency services, communications, infrastructure, etc.…leading to human dislocation, violence, etc.
- Failure related to nuclear power cooling facilities and toxic containment amplifies rapidly.
- These systems are radically fragile and susceptible to collapse from many sources.
- War, terrorism, rogue activity. Can break critical infrastructure. Can hit technological amplifiers. Can escalate to large scale war and WMD deployment.
- Exponential technology
- AI, biotech, and nanotech are all potentially autopoietic technologies. That means that fails can be accidentally existential. The intersection of these with other categories of exponential tech like robotics and quantum computing could create even nearer term vectors.
- Information technology is exponential, and in a game theoretic environment where information equals competitive advantage, disinformation is a commonly employed tactic. Exponential disinformation is probably the nearest of all scenarios to points of irreversibility.
- Climate change, ocean acidification, coral die off, overfishing, ocean dead zones, desertification, total biodiversity loss, species extinction, keystone species loss, industrial/agricultural pollution, arctic methane, weather intensification, sea level rise, droughts, aquifer and freshwater depletion/ toxicity, ocean current changes, other critical resource depletion, invasive species, ecosystem fragility, escalating waste management failures, etc.
- Can all lead to human infrastructure collapse, massive human migrations, increased disease vectors…which can all lead to violence and amplification. Several ecological systems could get pushed into irreversible positive feedback loops.
- Human Health
- Pandemics: biowarfare, intentionally engineered by rogue actors, accidental by-products of biotech, results of population densities and travel, factoring antibiotic resistance, from increased insect vectors from ecological damage, ancient micro-organisms from arctic thaw, etc.
- Toxicity, deficiency, and fragility: physiological effects of degraded uranium in the atmosphere, increasing environmental toxicity of many kinds, food shortages, unable to get medicines, physiologies that can’t adapt to very different conditions…Leading to violence, migrations, and collapse of infrastructure.
- Mental health: accelerating radicalization, systemic trauma, tribalism, decreasing civic and communication skills for conflict resolution, decreasing impulse control, decreasing critical thinking, increasing desensitization to violence and injustice, ubiquitous damage to empathy/ responsibility/ courage, etc.
- Planetary natural disasters
- Volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes, other weather patterns. Can’t rule out the possibility of pole shift. Can lead to technological amplification directly. Can also lead to grid failure and cascades. Safeties can be put in place against cascades and amplification.
- Carrington events. Unpredictable, almost definitely existential as is via technology amplifiers, which could be protected against.
- Near earth objects: collision, gravitational effects, plasma effects, effects on satellites, etc. Can be detected and prevented.
- Human system failures
Current gap in addressing these issues
- Current landscape
- Despite the many government, NGO, and private research groups focusing on various aspects of various of these issues, we are nowhere near adequate understanding, and even further from taking effective action where understanding does exist.
- What’s missing
- Often risk is taxonomized as it is in this doc, with different groups focusing on different categories. That leads to missing the inter-category cascade effects, amplifiers, etc. Moreover, most of this work is done by government agencies focused on near term and national interests, who don’t share their intelligence and are known to actively disinform on these topics.
- The generator functions across risk categories have been nearly totally neglected everywhere. These issues are not enduringly preventable without changing the drivers.
- Inadequate forecasting methodology: forecasting at the intersection of multiple complex systems, anthrocomplexity, and multiple intersecting exponential technology curves is not possible with current methods.
- Insufficient data and data clarity for forecasting.
- Lack of real time scenario monitoring to have real time vectors.
- Lack of strategic planning to fully address any of the issues; or the existence of this class of issues as a whole.
- Lack of strategic and tactical capability to implement any solutions at scale.
- Our aim
- To work with all existing organizations that are assessing risk, and ones that are capable of implementing solutions, to close the gap between what is currently happening and what needs to be happening, to ensure safe passage through our technological adolescence into the mature, post existential threat world.
- More info available upon inquiry.
Higher Dimensional Thinking, the End of Paradox, and a More Adequate Understanding of Reality
October 11, 2017
Think about the way a 3-dimensional object would look from the perspective of a 2-dimensional planar reality. Let’s imagine a cylinder. If the plane crossed the cylinder perpendicular to its axis, the cross section it would see would be a circle. Thus, the cylinder would look like a circle from that perspective, reduced by 1 dimension. If the plane crossed the cylinder parallel to its axis, the cross section of the cylinder it would see would look like a rectangle.
The 2D view of the cylinder is a circle from one perspective and a rectangle from another. Both are true “slices” of the reality of the cylinder; neither alone give a clear sense of the higher dimensional shape’s reality. Or even that the shape is indeed of higher dimension. Both are necessarily limited because they are reducing the reality (without realizing it) to a view that simply can not adequately contain it.
We can argue over which slice is more right …which once we’ve seen the undeniable partial rightness of each (from their own perspective), is of course just silly. Or we can hold that both are somehow true, despite being mutually exclusive descriptions of reality (from a 2D view) …and surrender to calling it paradox and give up on congruent understanding altogether.
Or we can take another reconciliatory approach and say that they are both partially true so we must find a middle path…which in this case, still embedded in 2D, looks like something half way between a circle and a rectangle… which comes out to be a kind of rounded-corner rectangle. Which is actually further from the reality than either the circle or the rectangle had been, since at least they were each true slices of the cylinder.
The problem of course is in the reductionism. There is no 2D slice of a 3D object that gives a real sense of what it is. Neither is any 2D negotiation of slices going to yield something in 3D. The cylinder is not somewhere between the two reductionistic views: 50% circle, 50% rectangle… It is 100% of both descriptions…which are only mutually exclusive and paradoxical if they are trying to be reconciled in the same plane, which is the essential mistake. In the higher dimensional reality, the object actually lives in, the simultaneous full truth of both partial descriptions is obvious and non-paradoxical …as is the seamless way they fit together as parts of a congruent whole.
To do an adequate job of showing the reality of a (complex) 3D object in 2D requires many pictures (slices), sewn together congruently into a movie, that gives a sense of the dimensionality and multiple perspective views. Here the element of time, allowing multiple views that our brain can construct a 3D image from, fills in for the missing spatial dimension.
This metaphor points to a clear limit to the extent of reductionism possible without losing truth and creating a basis for perceiving false dichotomies. The key insight is recognizing these differing perspectives as orthogonal to each other rather than opposite ends of a gradient spectrum. The gradient view leads to a middle path that in this case is the rounded rectangle (or a continual maddening flip flop between circle and rectangle) … completely failing to recognize the simultaneous fullness of each truth and the irreconcilability of them within the same level of dimensionality/ complexity. The recognition of orthogonality…gives us the cylinder, recognizes both lower dimensional perspectives as 100% true from their limited vantage point, and forces the recognition that a congruent picture is possible but requires a fundamentally more complex kind of perspective.
Our perception of existential paradoxes often comes from exactly this kind of process: believing in false dichotomies through reducing reality to conceptual slices that are true but partial to the point of actually requiring a seemingly mutually exclusive perspective to explain the full phenomena.
Looking at some of what have often been thought of as existential dualities:
- Loving what is or working to make things better…
- Accepting ourselves as we are unconditionally or aspiring to grow and express more of our full potential…
- Maximizing intentionality or following the flow of life…
- Bettering our individual ego or transcending it…
- Free will or determinism…
- Being in the now or planning for the future…
- Increasing witness consciousness or losing oneself in experience…
- Open mindedness or critical thinking…
- Persistence or surrender…
- Boundaries or allowing…
- Being or becoming…
- Freedom or structure…
- Gratitude or desire…
- Rights or responsibilities…
- Agency or communion…
- Particle or wave descriptions of the quantum…
- The fundamentality of subject or object…
- All of these, commonly seen as paradoxes to be embraced or extremes to find a middle path between…are indeed orthogonal and equally fundamental partial truths…to be simultaneously optimized…fully reconciled in a congruent understanding of the higher dimensional (e.g., more complex) nature of reality.
Note: In this paper, we are taking paired concepts that are often seen as dichotomous or paradoxical, and seeing them instead as dialectics to be reconciled in a higher order synthesis. This is the first valuable move when looking at things that seem like fundamental dualities. The next move requires understanding that the relationship between the two concepts is neither of the two concepts, yet inseparable from them and necessary to understand either. Thus, we move from a duality reconciliation to a fundamental triplication with ring dynamics. An approach to that can be explored in more depth in the foundational axioms of the Immanent Metaphysics which can be found here: http://www.magic-flight.com/pub/uvsm_1/idm_foundations_01.pdf
Advancing Human Sovereignty
October 11, 2017
Sovereignty relates to the capacity for and demonstration of good (omni-positive) choice-making.
We define sovereignty more formally as the product of sentience, intelligence, and agency.
Sentience relates to one’s ability to sense the world (including inner sensing of self and vicarious inner sensing of others). It includes qualities like awareness, empathy, mindfulness, depth of feeling, care, sensitivity, compassion, perceptiveness, etc. It represents the sensory capacity of a complex adaptive system. The zenith of the development of sentience is the archetype of the bodhisattva (all aware/ all caring).
Intelligence relates to one’s ability to make sense of the world (processing sensory data to inform action). It includes capacities like critical thinking, systems thinking, lateral thinking, abstraction, discernment, problem solving, design methodology, clarity, total cognitive bandwidth, insight, etc. It represents the information processing capacity of a complex adaptive system. The zenith of the development of intelligence is the archetype of the polymath (all knowing).
Agency relates to one’s ability to act on and in the world. It includes attributes like will, drive, responsibility, purposefulness, discipline, resilience, impulse control, courage, focus, follow through, etc. It represents the actuator capacity of a complex adaptive system. The zenith of development of agency is the archetype of a world-creator (all powerful).
These three-core capacity-types are proposed as irreducible (orthonormal) vectors that define the phase space of sovereignty…with the volume of the shape formed by the degree of development on each of the individual axis being roughly proportional to one’s developmental stage of sovereignty. (This volume will always be most limited by the least developed axis and optimized by near symmetrical development of all three.)
Uniquely expressed, bodhisattva, polymath, world-creators as the new normal is our aim.
- Intelligence, sentience, and agency, map to the more common notions of mind, heart, and will, or thinking, feeling, and acting. The evolution of all three being a way to think about integral human development.
- All complex adaptive systems can be defined by closed loop processing of sensory input (sentience), information processing (intelligence), and actuator output (agency) …where the effects of actions on the world can in turn be sensed, creating closed loop feedback and learning. Biologically, these three always and only co-evolve (as there would be no evolutionary advantage of any of the three uncoupled from the others, and considerable disadvantage). Our conscious development can and should be informed by this evolutionary dynamic (evo/devo). Evolution itself can be meaningfully thought of as aligning with an arrow of increasing sovereignty.
- Because sovereignty is not defined here as roughly synonymous with agency (as it is commonly thought of), or even at the same level of dimensionality …but as the phase space of the product of agency with sentience and intelligence… increase in sovereignty simultaneously optimizes for agency and communion. I.e., it is a complex system generating function for high coherency across scalable groups (where the functional scalability is proportional to the sovereignty score distribution of the population, ie, greater sovereignty gives rise to higher Dunbar numbers.
- For those familiar with integral philosophy, all of the nuance appropriate to understanding development vs typology in general applies here. As do states vs stages. The product of three developmental indices can be validly interpreted as a developmental index. People may have equivalent sovereignty volume with quite different topologies, and in different locations within the phase space (typology). And people may and indeed and generally do have fluctuating access to sovereignty (states) as a result of many variables – that tend to vary around more slowly and stably evolving center points (stages). (This model is of course radically simplified [like all models], but valuable.)
- For those familiar with the Immanent Metaphysics, this model is a formal triplicate, with intelligence mapping to the mode of the omniscient, agency to the mode of the transcendent, and sentience to the mode of the imminent. This is a formal type isomorphism so the axioms fully apply here. http://www.magic-flight.com/pub/uvsm_1/idm_foundations_01.pdf
New Economics Series: Part I
Design Constraints for a Viable Economic System
October 10, 2017
- Economics has to do with two primary areas of concern: 1) allocation of resources to meeting needs and creating value, and 2) a system of coordination of human activity.
- Our current global economic system is not only sub-optimal with regard to both goals but is fundamentally unstable and ultimately self-terminating. The problems originate at the level of foundational axioms so all proposed retrofits (e.g., gold-back the dollar or replace it with a crypto equivalent, reinstate Glass-Steagall, etc.) to the current system still fail.
- The level of technological advances that have contributed to modern economics’ instability also change many of the foundational axioms upon which it was built, e.g.:
- Technological automation replacing the labor economy and changing the need for extrinsic incentives
- Digital value being non-scarce
- Computer science innovations (distributed ledgers, public key cryptography, div/merge, matching algorithms, etc.) offering solutions to critical issues in game theory (byzantine generals, etc.), intellectual property (partial attribution, etc.), and information fidelity and access (high signal to noise ratio distributed sense-making), etc.
- The sensor and data science capacity to maintain a real-time balance sheet of the global commons
- The complexity science and technological capacity for closed loop regenerative technology ecosystems
- Economics is a facet of social architecture, inseparable from infrastructure, culture, governance, law, defense, information systems, education and human development, etc. These systems co-evolve and co-influence each other. They are currently all fundamentally inadequate to the scope, urgency, and nature of the issues and dynamics civilization now faces and must undergo a discrete phase shift to axiomatically restructured, higher order systems.
- The emergence of a new adequate system of economics (and attendant systems) requires three interrelated categories of work: 1) developing and implementingtransitional systems that are intelligible to and can interface with the current system, while vectoring towards post-transitional systems, 2) the development of post-transitional systems that are adequate to the long term needs of a civilization with the degree of anthrocomplexity and distributed exponential technology we are facing, and 3) protective work to ensure that none of the catastrophic scenarios made possible by and incentivized by the current system come to pass. These three taken together (following the criteria outlined below), constitute a necessary and sufficient set of activities to ensure humanity’s survival and increased thriving into the foreseeable future.
Criteria for a post-transitional economic system:
- For all systems of structural incentive, the incentive of any actor (individual or group), must be rigorously aligned with the well-being of all other agents in the system and of the commons writ large. Ie, all externalities must be internalized – all the consequences of activity within the system must be included in the system’s accounting.
- Regarding resource allocation between different groups or metrics, the system must orient towards synergistic dialectical synthesis rather than theory of trade offs. Ie, all fundamentally desirable/meaningful qualities must be factored as design constraints of the system: e.g., choices that benefit quality of life now and increasing quality of life into the future; simultaneous local and global benefit of local and global choices; simultaneously increased individual freedom and interconnectedness; etc. Any of these not well-supported by the system will lead to the system’s failure. Taken as dialectics that constitute design criteria that can be synergistically benefited by higher order synthesis solutions, the system vectors towards progressively more abundance and less scarcity…whereas trade-off theory seeking optimization points (Nash equilibria, etc.) in the allocation of scarce resources fails for several reasons: 1) with increasing complexity it vectors towards increasing scarcity, 2) it inexorably misaligns agents who are more identified with different goals, 3) it is impossible to actually find such optimization points in highly complex systems, etc.
- It must disincentive all activity that could lead towards catastrophic threats, intentionally or unintentionally; must not incent local or near term positives that increase probability of global or long term negatives. This is particularly critical to get right regarding the incentives on the development of exponential technologies.
- It must orient towards supporting the intrinsic motivation of individuals (including the intrinsic drives to connect, collaborate, and contribute) and decreasing the need for extrinsic motives.
- The economic system cannot not be a source of human conditioning; as such, it must condition (towards) omni-consideration, and in no ways condition towards psychopathy. It must simultaneously condition agency/uniqueness/self-actualization with communion/cooperation/ care. It must condition consideration beyond the Dunbar number (similar to how Buddhism or Jainism achieved reliable abstract empathy deeply enough to determine behavior).
- Just as it must condition increasing personal intelligence/care/capacity, etc.…it must also support the evolution of collective intelligence, capacity and coherence, at all scales.
- This economic system will be inextricably interconnected with new systems of:
- Governance (collective choice making)
- Law (collective choice enforcing)
- Intelligence (collective sense-making)
- Infrastructure (collective need-meeting)
- Worldview (collective coherence and values).
This system must co-emerge with those systems – and support their ongoing development rather than interfere with or subsume them. (Documents on the necessary criteria of these other systems and how they interface to come.)
- It must be anti-fragile factoring distributed exponential technology…and in so far is it influences technology development, its influence must factor the relationship between technology, people, and the natural world…and between information, choice making processes, and choice impact potential…and incent the development of increasing whole systems resilience over the development of dominance capacity within the ecosystem.
- It must not be capturable.
- All forms of value must be accounted for in the system. It must not reduce critical complex information to fit simplified models. It must not make non-fungible realities fungible.
Criteria for a transitional economic system:
- It must be able to interface with the current economic system; must be able to move resources from the current system into the transitional system.
- Must lead to a new attractive basin that moves a critical mass of resources to the new system, that past a tipping point becomes auto-poetic. (This probably requires out-competing the current system, in a way that can scale to everyone, while obsoleting the destructive forms of competition within the new system – the last act of win/lose gaming dynamics as they transcend themselves.)
- (The transitional system can itself become autopoietic at scale and evolve into the post-transition system, or it can gather enough resources from the current system to build a model of the post transition system that would itself become autopoietic.)
- Requires offering enough increased advantage over the current system, with enough ease of use, to reach the tipping point towards autocatalysis.
- Needs to avoid/ be resilient to attack from the current economic system including any of its associated systems (media, law, military, etc.). It also needs to be resilient to attack from and able to outcompete any other emerging autopoietic systems that don’t vector towards post-transition viability.
- Needs to be able to scale as fast as the current system might collapse.
- Ideally, should simultaneously accelerate the collapse of the current system.
- Must move economic capacity to choice-making agents/processes with higher omni-consideration.
- Must lead to a new attractive basin that moves a critical mass of resources to the new system, that past a tipping point becomes auto-poetic. (This probably requires out-competing the current system, in a way that can scale to everyone, while obsoleting the destructive forms of competition within the new system – the last act of win/lose gaming dynamics as they transcend themselves.)
- Must serve as a bridge to the post-transition system.
- Must not be capturable.
- Must be oriented to evolve into the post-transitional system; must not be oriented to maintain its transitional structure.
- Must not increase the probability of any near-term catastrophic risk scenarios or tipping points towards long term risks.
- Must vector towards the post-transitional system as quickly as viable; must allocate the resources to building the post-transitional economic infrastructure.
Current economics system structural flaws that must be solved in a new system:
- Perverse incentives– must structurally obsolete all perverse incentives.
- Economic advantage from managing problems creates a bias to maintain the problems, suppress solutions that could actually obsolete the problems, and even increase the problems, e.g., military industrial complex and false flag operations, prison industrial complex, health care, etc.
- Valuing things in relationship to their scarcity leads to maintaining and artificially manufacturing scarcity, rather than seeking to obsolete it.
- Corporate market competition incentivizes hoarding IP preventing knowledge synthesis, hoarding limited resources, radical duplication, manipulative marketing, intentional disinformation to competitors, etc.
- Economics’ interface with the legal system is bidirectionally corrupt – companies using courts for financial advantage, and judges/lawyers/politicians getting rewarded by companies for ruling/bidding in their interest.
- The commons not having a balance sheet rewards ecological externalities and competitively penalizes internalizing costs.
- Race to the cliff scenarios where non-cooperative gaming dynamics lead to pursuing local maximums that lead to global minimums (eg, an arms race).
- Interest driving expansion of the monetary supply driving unsustainable growth of the (materials) economy. And rewarding hoarding.
- Cannot avoid structures that offer asymmetric economic advantage: fractional reserve banking, derivatives, exploiting digital tech with exponential return potential over physical tech, etc.
- Short term optimization and terms of influence (government officials focused on things they can better before re-election, corporate directors focused on quarterly profits to keep their jobs, etc.) leading to radical nearsightedness and mortgaging the future.
- Reductionistic value metrics that maximize externality to optimize for the movement of relatively meaningless metrics.
- First mover advantage with new innovative tech incenting speed over due diligence, which leads to a race to market on increasingly more powerful and less familiar technologies, with radically more possibility for unanticipated catastrophic 3rd and 4th order effects, with little time able to be invested in securing against them.
- Private ownership leading to inexorably widening wealth gaps and all the problems of economic inequality.
- Conditioning comparison, selfishness, greed, jealousy, envy, social posturing, decreased honesty, decreased empathy, psychopathy …leading to disempowering hierarchies, and the commoditization of people, etc.
- Radical goods duplication and owned resources neither in use or in circulation.
- Asymmetric power potential decoupled from good decision making.
- Ultimately, all the perverse incentives require private ownership and would cease without it.
- Valuing things relative to their scarcity optimizes for scarcity and away from abundance. Combined with private ownership, this gives rise to win/lose gaming dynamics.
- Valuing things that are scarce independent of actual utility leads to decreased system utility holistically (e.g., cut down a forest to mine the gold under it and put it in underground vaults that provide no real utility to anyone – only fiat value).
- Valuing people’s time radically asymmetrically leading to inevitable disempowerment hierarchies.
- Not valuing the commons, leading to an extractionary, commoditizing, externalizing system that with exponential population and technology leads inevitably to biosphere collapse.
- Relative valuation based on economic advantage possibility over real quality of life enrichment potential, e.g., income potential of venture capitalists and corporate lawyers compared to teachers or nurses…or precious gems and metals compared to food and clean air….leading to systemic incentive away from foundational quality of life areas.
- This document is intended mostly for people working on developing new macroeconomic systems – to make clear and explicit the necessary macro scale behavioral dynamics – so they can be taken as design constraints.
- This document is only about design constraints – the metrics to measure success, actual design specifications, and implementation protocols are to follow in this series. It is also only about the constraints involving macro-economics induced behavior dynamics. Other categories of constraint will be covered elsewhere.
- This was not written following any kind of structured ontology. There is overlap in the examples and even categories. This can (and will) be distilled to a minimum comprehensive structure that is necessary and sufficient, but without this kind of natural language, overlapping kind of list first, the implications might not be obvious.
- Acknowledgements: little in this document is completely novel. Many of these ideas have been developed and advanced by many people working in areas like new economic thinking, design science, post-capitalist thinking, ecological design, complexity economics, etc. Buckminster Fuller and Jacque Fresco played particularly significant roles in this kind of design based macroeconomic thinking. My thinking on these and related emergent civilization fronts has been particularly evolved in shared work on these topics with Forrest Landry, Jordan Greenhall, Michael Vassar, Bryce Hidysmith, Zak Stein, and several others.
New Economics Series: Part II
October 11, 2017
Essential Design Constraint: At all points, the system must vector towards omni-win-win dynamics. (At no points can the system incent win-lose dynamics.)
- Win-lose generator function:all types of win-lose dynamics result from the perception of fundamentally separate conflicting interests. I.e., from perceiving various values/agents/metrics within a system as being irreconcilably dichotomous and thus, necessarily competitive.
- Win-win generator function:win-win dynamics arise from the perception of symbiotic/interconnected interest. I.e., from perceiving various values/agents/metrics within the system as dialectics to be simultaneously (synergistically) supported via a higher order synthesis.
- Win-lose system processes:in a fundamentally win-lose system where various agents/goals/values are seen as dichotomous and thus competing for scarce resource, the best macro dynamics are achieved through a) top-down processes of optimization (in the allocation of scarce resources), and/or b) bottom-up game theoretic equilibria (of choice patterns for competitive agents).
- Win-Win system processes:in a fundamentally win-win system where various agents/goals/values are seen as interconnected and thus inter-benefitable, the best macro dynamics are achieved through an integrated design process, where each of the various agents/values/goals are taken as design constraints to be factored simultaneously, synergies sought and maximized, and a whole-system integrated design process engaged in that results in maximum system integrity.
Essential Transition Process: the essential transition from win-lose to win-win systems involves a shift in:
- Perception:from separate parts to integrated systems, from fragmentation to wholism, from reductionism to synergetics, from nouns to verbs, from things to processes, from dichotomies to dialectics…from separate self in competition with other selves for scarce resources, to self as an emergent property of reality…leading to a shift in the perception of success as maximizing differential advantage to maximizing systemic advantage.
- Process:from arguing thesis vs. antithesis to actively seeking synthesis, from competitive gaming dynamics to participatory design processes, from optimization towards narrow success metrics to designing for wide constraint fields, from allocating scarce resources to designing-out critical scarcities from the system.
Win-lose taxonomy: Obsoleting the impulse towards win-lose dynamics systemically requires obsoleting each category of win-lose dynamic:
- Agent vs. other agents
- Agent vs. the system/commons
- Agent vs. themselves (parts conflicts)
Win-win taxonomy: Creating the impulse towards win-win dynamics systemically requires creating win-win dynamics in each category:
- Alignment of the well-being of agents with each other
- Alignment of the well-being of agents with the commons
- Alignment of the well-being of agents with themselves (resolving parts conflicts)
Win-lose upper bounds: The following are hard upper limits to system abundance in win-lose systems:
- In non-cooperative games, the ideal system equilibria points (e.g. Nash equilibria) are far worse for all players than the global optimum, which is unstable.
- The global optimum is generally significantly worse than what could be achieved by changing the context to a cooperative game.
- Finding equilibrium points in complex systems is generally impossible (NP complete).
- The difficulty of complexity (when all the agents/values/metrics are competing for scarce resource) creates a need to simplify, leading to reductionist models and value metrics, leading to externality.
- Where information creates advantage, win-lose dynamics will incent disinformation, leading to decreased system coherence and increased entropy.
Win-win lower bounds:
- Integrated system design processes have no irreconcilably mismatched incentives, so all movement is towards global optimum.
- The increased resource advantage of obsoleting unnecessary entropy and maximizing positive synergies means the global design result will always be more totally advantageous than the global gaming optimum.
- An integrated design process does not require NP computation.
- Design requires having all the constraints clear first, which is an impulse away from reductionism and towards information fidelity.
- In a win-win system engaging in design, disinformation is always disadvantageous to all involved, and transparency is optimally incentivized.
Side by side distinctions:
- Win-lose games require and create high entropy.
- Win-win games require and create high synergy.
- Fluid Dynamics:
- Win-lose games require and create turbulent flow conditions.
- Win-win games require and create laminar flow conditions.
- Win-lose games require and incent disinformation.
- Win-win games require and incent transparency and vetting.
- Value Metrics:
- Win-lose games must have very narrow value metrics.
- Win-win games have increasingly and unboundedly complex value metrics.
- (Similar distinctions can be made through the lenses of most critical disciplines: complexity theory, evolutionary theory, statistical mechanics, etc.)
*Vectoring towards omni-win-win means making an omni-win-win choice whenever possible, and when not, making the choice closest to omni-win-win, that increases omni-win-win choice potential in the future.
New Economics Series: Part III
When the System Is the Source of the Problems – Case Studies
October 11, 2017
Insofar as economics plays a role in coordinating collective human activity, it can be thought of as a type of collective intelligence system. If that system misaligns the direction of coordination with any aspect of actual well-being (of the beings and/or relationships inside of or connected to the system), then it is fair to consider it a maladaptive collective intelligence. If a system of collective intelligence is autopoietic (has self generating momentum) and maladaptive, it is (eventually) an existential threat.
The purpose of this piece is to highlight cases of global issues that have origins, at least in part, in the foundational structures of macroeconomics. Addressing issues symptomatically that are the inexorable result of a generator function that is not being addressed, has no chance of lasting success. We need to identify the core generator functions of undesirable system dynamics and address the issues there.
For the following cases, really think through the supply and demand dynamics. It is the role of a profitable supply source to maintain, protect, and grow the associated demand. It is the legal fiduciary responsibility of the directors of a corporation to guard shareholder value by seeking to protect and maximize profits – regardless of the profit source. These are structural issues, independent of the people, sector, or structure of national law. Crony capitalism and conspiracy are symptoms (and perpetrators) of a set of structures that rewards those behaviors.
Is it possible to have a world …
- With lasting global peace and a for-profit military industrial complex together?
- That optimizes human health and well-being, and has a for-profit health care industry that makes money managing illness?
- That optimizes information fidelity and collective sense-making, and maintains a context where information offers competitive advantage, so withholding and disinforming are advantageous?
- That creates maximum abundance and obsoletes scarcity wherever possible, and maintains a valuation system that rises with scarcity and drops towards zero with abundance?
- That restores and protects a thriving natural world and biosphere and maintains having no balance sheet for the commons so externalizing costs and maximizing extraction are incentivized?
- That is fair, just, and free, and maintains private ownership with inheritance, where capital increases access to more capital (inexorably widening the wealth gap) …and access to education, healthcare, financial services, etc.?
- With good governance (collective choice making), and maintain the context of people in positions to make decisions that will meaningfully affect others, while they are themselves separate economic actors (in a competitive system that can’t be win-win for all) being affected by those decisions?
- That protects and increases the evolutionary complexity of ecology, biology, and psychology, and measures value in radically simplified, abstracted economic metrics?
- That avoids extinction, and continues to incentivize developing exponentially increasing technological power to affect the world without developing commensurately better choice making processes for how to use that power?
Diving deeper into each of these cases:
Incentives within Capitalism
|1.||Lasting global peace – Conflicts prevented and solved non-violently when needed.||1.||For-profit military industrial complex as one of the largest blocks of the global economy. Peace would mean bankruptcy. Ongoing war and threat of war to continually manage is optimal. War for any cause is profitable. Military contractors have massive lobbying resources, and major shareholders in decision making positions of military and government.|
|2.||Thriving physical and psychological well-being for everyone. Robust health optimized, disease prevented, and where health issues do arise, they should be cured as completely as possible, as quickly as possible, addressing all causal dynamics, utilizing all the tools available, with minimum side effects.||2.||A for-profit health care system that makes no money on healthy people, makes a little on permanent cures, makes the most on long term symptom management …makes even more if side-effects require additional treatment (upsell/cross-sell); maximizes lifetime value of a customer (patient) the earlier they start treatments; loses income from anything that promotes health and prevents disease; can only use patented synthesized chemicals to have high enough margins to cover the upfront cost of FDA regulation and later class action law suits (so natural substances and chemicals with expired patents are ineffective); optimal profits involve keeping people alive and able to make $ to pay for health care as long as possible, while utilizing as many disease management products (meds) as possible.|
|3.||A transparent, open, information sharing world. Where all the information that could empower people is readily available; all interests are aligned with what is true and systemically positive; disinformation is identified and discarded, etc.
Choice making (governance) can only be as good as the relevant information fed into the process (sense-making). [Partial and/or corrupted information make good choice making impossible.]
|3.||Information as competitive advantage, incentivizing hiding information, protecting it as intellectual property to keep it from being useful to others, and actively creating and promoting disinformation. Where our economic interests require others to behave in particular ways, and the information they are exposed to regarding us is part of what influences their behavior, our interest is to control the information they are exposed to, and to tailor it to influence the behaviors we are seeking, aka manipulation. Marketing is rarely telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It would be disadvantageous to do so. It is about maximizing effective spin within the limits of what we can get away with. The same with the information we share with investors, employees, regulatory bodies, etc. With competitors, just like when we fake left then run right in sports, we might find advantage to create and share overt disinformation.|
|4.||Abundance of all meaningful goods and values for everyone in the system. Where scarcity is intentionally, progressively engineered out of the system as an essential design goal. Where economic valuation is rigorously connected to real value.||4.||Scarcity as a primary source of relative valuation. Where the (perceived) scarcity of something increases its desirability and per unit worth. E.g., air has no economic value, because it is abundant enough that I don’t need to consider it. As a result, economic calculus will encourage choices that burn oxygen and pollute the air. Diamonds were perceived as scarce so not everyone could have them abundantly, so having them conferred some kind if differential advantage. Their relative valuation compared to say sapphires or quartz was based primarily on the relative perceived scarcity of each. As a result, when we started finding huge mines that revealed that diamonds weren’t as rare as previously thought, the major diamond selling companies started destroying and hiding the diamonds (creating artificial scarcity) to keep the price high. Zirconia’s that are more perfect by all metrics that diamonds are judged on, are worth less because it’s known they aren’t scarce. So the environmental and human damage of mining continues to provide lower quality diamonds, that are perceived as valuable because of legacy ideas of value, when we thought they were scarce.
In a system where valuation is proportional to scarcity, abundance is the death of value.
|5.||A thriving diverse ecology and biosphere. Where new products are made from old products, obsoleting waste and environmental damage from resource acquisition, in a closed loop, upcycling materials economy. With nutrient and microbiome rich soils. No industrial pollutants in the environment. Healthy coral, large fish populations, old growth forests, protected natural areas and nature integrated with the human built world, etc.||5.||An economic system that only recognizes extractable and accumulatable wealth. Where nature (the commons) doesn’t have a balance sheet. So unlike interactions with other economic actors that also have balance sheets, interactions with nature don’t have to be equitable, don’t require consent, and don’t require the ledger to balance. “Industrious” has largely meant ‘good at extracting value from nature and externalizing costs (waste) to nature effectively’.
Living trees in a forest have no economic value. Turned into lumber, they do. The same with living whales vs whale meat. We measure extractable and exchangeable wealth. And we optimize for what we measure.
If all the externalized costs of coal energy were accounted for and internalized, the cost would be orders of magnitude more and renewable energy tech would have reached grid parity when it was first invented and would proliferated globally long ago.
|6.||A system that supports the maximum freedom of individuals and encourages their unique self-actualization … while encouraging the greatest depth and breadth of interpersonal intimacy and synergy. All people having access to the best resources of health care, education, and creativity that are technologically possible.
People incented to create and to support others to create … and to connect meaningfully with other humans…to appreciate the beauty of the world and to add beauty to it.
|6.||Private ownership at the core of the system, where accumulation equals advantage, and having more resource increases the capacity to create more resource.
Where interest bearing pools of capital grow faster than the total economy. Where more resources grant access to the financial services to create more resources, while debt accrues interest creating greater debt…leading to inexorably widening wealth gaps, leading to class stratification.
Where being born into more resources generally means better education, health care, and opportunity for success.
Where real intimacy is limited between people relating across economic class differences.
Where self-actualization gets conflated with wealth accumulation.
|7.||Good systems of choice making, not damaged by vested interest. Choices that require the participation of many people, and/or that will affect many people, that need maximum integrity and minimum bias.
Processes for resolving conflicts that are structurally oriented to prefer optimal conflict resolution.
|7.||Governance and judicial systems mediated by people who are themselves economic actors in the system they are ruling on. The economic incentive of the lawyer is billable time, not ideal legal advice. Economic interests with more capital can afford to hire more lawyers to lobby for legislation in their interest. Judges and governors, police and senators, are all economic actors outside of their role, who can be advantaged or disadvantaged personally by choices they make, meaning they are always wearing multiple hats. Elected officials require campaign budgets that equal favors owed if they want to be re-elected.
Capitalism and representative democracy together will always become crony capitalism.
|8.||Anti-fragility and full richness of all complex systems: ecology, physiology, psychology, culture. Resilience, antifragility, health, and aliveness are proportional to self-organizing complexity. Both the safety and real value of a civilization depends on its alignment with these fundamental complex systems.||8.||Abstract simplified value metrics corresponding to simplified models of reality, that are the basis of what we optimize. A simplified economic metric like GDP grows from war and mindless consumption and decreases from reusing or sharing products, making higher quality goods at a lower cost, or decoupling happiness from consumption all together.
The real value of a tree in an ecosystem involves an indefinite number of metrics to an unspecifiable number of beneficiaries. Nectar to pollinators, homes for birds and squirrels, food for aphids and the ants that harvest them, fruit for animals, sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere, creating O2. Stabilizing the topsoil, preventing flooding and runoff. Symbiosis with the mycorrhizae and mycelial network that connects the whole forest. Etc. It might be positively affecting coastal ecosystems hundreds of miles downstream because of its effects on preventing runoff. Benefitting the genetics of other plant species by the pollinators it supports. Benefitting people that won’t be born till after it dies, through these distributed effects.
All of this value is complex. And it is worth nothing on anyone’s balance sheet yet. With dollars as a simplified value metric, we can extract that tree from its environment, decontextualize it from the system that it co-evolved with, and turn it into 2×4’s. Now it’s worth $1,000. To one beneficiary who owns it and claims it on their balance sheet. And can now exchange it for other extracted resources. This slaughtered animal might also be $1000. And this person’s labor. And this piece of intellectual property. All now exchangeable abstract wealth, none of which could have been exchanged in their contextual environments for the real complex value they served.
We do the same in medicine when we assess health by a few biometrics that are easy to measure and affect, so we give statins to bring LDL down, which they do, at the expense of toxicity of many kinds to many systems that we generally don’t measure.
The same with measuring a child’s value by their IQ or GPA. We sacrifice other areas of life that matter more to optimize those value metrics.
Simplified value metrics are the foundational source of all externalities.
Turning complex, contextualized value, into simple or complicated, abstracted, extractable and accumulatable or tradable value….is entropy. Evolution is defined by increasing orderly complexity leading to increased synergy and emergent properties. This is what nature does. This is the opposite of what we are doing when we simplify complex value. This form of economics is fundamentally anti-evolutionary, anti-resilience, and anti-wellbeing.
|9.||Antifragility in the presence of exponential technology. Developing the power of god’s requires developing the wisdom and care of god’s.||9.||
Developing exponential capacity to affect reality with our choices, within the context of an economic system based on win-lose gaming dynamics and cost-externalization, so we are exponentially increasing our capacity for intentional and unintentional harm.
Exponentially increasing power, with anything like our current frameworks for choice making, is unavoidably self-terminating.
If the reality in the first column is desired, the structures in the second must be redesigned.
*Please note, my critiques of capitalism are because it is the dominant global economic system. I am not leading in these articles towards suggesting some previous terrible economic system (versions of socialism or communism) as an adequate solution. Obviously not. They were actually different versions of the same underlying autopoietic system that capitalism happens to be the most effective instantiation of (to be discussed later in the series). These critiques are also not to discount the tremendous role capitalism has played heretofore (all the pro-capitalist arguments from Von Mises and Rand to John Mackey and Peter Diamandis are fully factored).
These indications of the untenability of capitalism into the future are hopefully paving the way to consider fundamentally new types of system design, never before possible because they require technology that is just now emerging, to be detailed in the series to come.
New Economics Series: Part IV
Overlapping Models Exploring the Nature and Evolution of Economics
December 14, 2017
Ecology to Economy:
It’s reasonable to say that what we call economics started with agriculture and the plough.1 In the hunter gatherer world before that, there was no meaningful surplus possible (the foods available were not plentiful enough and/or did not store well enough to create meaningful long term surplus beyond seasonal needs). For the vast majority of human history pre-surplus, it is fair to say we were pre-economic beings: like all other animals, we were a part of the ecology. This means we lived in dynamic relationship with the natural world, and in critical interdependence with each other. (These tribes were mostly fiercely egalitarian sharing cultures, with sayings like “the best place to store food is in your neighbor’s stomach”, and “Ubuntu: I am because we are”.)
With the advent of agriculture, storable grains could be grown and harvested in quantity. Storable surplus is a prerequisite for the concept of property ownership (there needs to be something that is ownable). What we think of as economics is based on the concept of transaction (trade), which is based on the concept of owned things that can be transacted.
Possessed surplus had huge evolutionary advantages: the ability to make it through famines, to create stability independent of unpredictable natural processes, to have and feed more children, etc. So, there were strong motives to maximize owned surplus.
Ironically, surplus also increased the central focus on scarcity. In the pre-economic ecology, if there was a source of scarcity (e.g., a drought), it was uncontrollable and affected everyone. Since there was nothing that could be done to prevent it, it didn’t warrant much focus. Now with stored surplus, if there was a source of scarcity that affected new food acquisition, surplus allowed people to make it through. But depending on the severity and duration of the scarcity and the amount of surplus stored, there might not be enough for everyone to make it through. So who owned the surplus became of central concern, and with that, the concept of differential scarcity and differential advantage – the beginning of economic inequality. Enter property ownership as a central focus. Hence, the beginning of economics.
Maximizing grain led to specialization in farming, which led to specialization in other domains that could exchange their products or services for food, or other products and services, which gave rise to what we call markets.
The Three Economies: (Linear, Multiplicative, Exponential)
This initial economy was a linear economy, meaning economic output was proportional to input. Whether ploughing a field, blacksmithing, basket weaving, or any other goods producing specialty, the exchangeable goods one produced were proportional to their personal work. Services that could be exchanged for goods were also proportional to actual work.
In this linear economy based on personal production of exchangeable goods or services, radical economic asymmetry was not possible. The best person at ploughing wasn’t 10x as good as the next best person. Not even 2x. Wealth proportional to one’s own work ensured relative economic equality. So the path to getting ahead was hard work and frugality. And having lots of children that could work.
Fast forward that strategy several generations and the descendants of those who worked harder and saved more, inherited enough surplus that it could be leveraged directly by loaning it to people in need at interest, or buying property and renting it to others at an economic gain. This was the beginning of financial services and a new multiplicative economy. Through interest-accruing and rent-seeking dynamics, the capital was now able to make more capital, independent of the direct labor of its owner. The owner was now accumulating surplus (owned private property) from the labor of other people, not only their own. Now that their work and their capital were both producing, there was a multiplier on the economic output relative to the work input.
Of course, anyone who could engage in the multiplicative economy could radically out compete anyone working in the linear economy in terms of surplus creation. But one had to have enough resources to play, which was unachievable by most outside of inheritance. For the most part, the interest-bearing loans that people took out in times of need put them on a cycle of perpetual debt. And the rents that appealed to those who could not afford to buy, took their assets and made them the assets of the property owners, in exchange for a service that would never become an owned asset to them. Meanwhile compounding interest and rent profits leveraged into increased property ownership, lead to increasing wealth for those in the multiplicative economy. This was the beginning of structural wealth inequality and asymmetric economic power.
In the place of hard work and savings in the linear economy, the advancement strategy in the multiplicative economy was to create maximally leveraged investments – continually seeking greater multipliers.
The evolution of increasing multiplier effects eventually leads to the emergence of an exponential economy. This occurred in pure financial services with compounding interest on money, where interest accrued on interest with no work of loans or collections or rent-seeking required (those functions were now done through the bank on pools of accrued assets). And more fully later through fractional reserve banking, where currency was leveraged 10x into more currency since no one was removing the bulk of their currency stores from the banks. And further still with the advent of digital goods, that once made, could be resold an indefinite number of times without additional unit costs. (Importantly, with digital goods, scarcity had actually been engineered out of the equation, but the price remained as if they were scarce, leading to massive and rapid wealth accumulation from the new field of digital assets.)
Of course, those able to play in the exponential economy could radically out compete those in the multiplicative economy. Just as the shift from linear to multiplicative economies involved going from making money from one’s own work to making money from the work of others…the evolution into the exponential economy generally correlates with making money from the activity of people in the multiplicative economy: banks making money by managing the money of many rent-seekers; enterprise software companies making money by increasing the money making capacity of many large businesses; etc. Or making money from people in the linear economy at a scale otherwise unachievable in the multiplicative economy: app store sales to billions of people, central banks making money on the money used by all people, etc. (The structural similarity of these three economies with a pyramid scheme should be easily noticed.)
The success strategy in the exponential economy is to leverage resources to create maximum compounding effects, and/or to create goods or services that can be replicated abundantly but controlled and sold as if scarce – continually seeking larger exponents.
This is a story of the evolution of economic power-over dynamics in the win-lose game defined by separate ownership of scarce resources. At each step wealth inequality and thus economic power asymmetry increased … bringing us to today where the world’s five wealthiest men own as much property as the poorer half of the world’s population combined.
Economic power is one type of power, that co-evolved with military power, technological power, and narrative/information power (religion, nationalism, propaganda, media, information and disinformation technologies, etc.). The story above of the evolution of economic power, from linear, to multiplicative, to exponential … is a simplified slice of the story of the interconnected evolution of power dynamics of all kinds.
It is worth noting that concurrent with the evolution of economic power through these stages, not only does wealth inequality and power asymmetry increase…total economic activity increases exponentially – which interfaces with the materials economy and thus the finite ecosystem…as does the total population supported by the increased extraction capacity from the ecosystem savings account… as does the level of abstraction of value – moving from focus in the linear economy on things of tangible value, to increasing focus on abstract value representations (money)… as does the predatory nature of transactions moving up the pyramid…as does the scale of power consolidation.
Exponential resource extraction and exponentially increasing wealth inequality are eventually self-terminating paths. All the more so when we factor the economic facilitation of other forms of exponential power: exponential military capacity, exponential cost externality, and exponential information technology applied to disinformation (e.g., sentiment analysis informed, split tested marketing and fake news, etc.) No exponential curves continue forever in physical systems. Sometimes they taper into S curves with a steady state – where their growth is tied to real time regulatory dynamics like predator populations. Sometimes they head towards the limit then collapse – where they are using up finite savings accounts that are subsidizing the growth process. Our global economic scenario is proceeding according to the dynamics of the second type.
For perspective, think about the power differentials in any other species. The most powerful lion or gorilla is not 5x more powerful than the next contender. Usually only marginally more so. And only that for a short while. With no surplus from that peak time to pass on.
In natural systems, there is no exponential technology. No exponential communications via broadcast media. No exponential predation (factory farming, desertification agriculture, drift net fishing, etc.) Power is rigorously distributed in ecologies. As it was with hominids for millions of years and humans for hundreds of thousands of years when we were part of the ecology. And even into the linear economy. The types of exponential power and power asymmetry we see facilitated by economics…is unprecedented in ecology, i.e., in the history of the world.
An important thing to understand about this story is that each of these economic phases were inevitable from the first. In a competitive, win-lose context, anything that increases competitive advantage will win and be selected for. Even if it’s using unrenewable planetary savings accounts or externalizing harm elsewhere, natural selection is based on what confers competitive advantage here and now. In other words, any place that developed currency from barter would win over other places that didn’t, because it creates increased competitive capacities. Or fiat currency from a materially backed currency. Or fractional reserve banking. Or derivatives and complex financial instruments. Because they simply outcompeted the previous system.
Once agriculture-generated surplus created private ownership and a system of differential and competitive advantage, the game theory shoot was greased, and the continual evolution of power dynamics was set. No, we could not go back to a previous stage in the system. No, it couldn’t have stayed at a previous phase. No, we can’t prevent continued exponential growth within this framework. No, we can’t bind the dynamics with law, given that economics is more fundamental to the power stack than law is2.
In an evolving win-lose game theoretic environment, power will evolve on all sides until the power required by any side to win is more than the playing field can handle. We already have enough military power on many sides that no one can actually use it and achieve anything resembling a win.
With the decentralizing nature of exponential technology, many actors, state and non-state, will have catastrophe level destructive power. This means war becomes obsolete or existential. Similarly, in the materials economy, competing for the extraction of scarce resources with exponential extraction capacity leads us to biosphere collapse very rapidly. And exponential information technology, in a win-lose context that incentives hoarding useful information and spreading disinformation, has already led to a post truth world where it is nearly impossible to parse the (intentionally withheld) signal from the (radically amplified) noise. Which means we are making increasingly consequential decisions informed by increasingly poor sense-making. It should be clear that all of these trends are both inexorably self-terminating and unavoidable in the current game theoretic environment. We are now finally at the verticalizing part of the exponential curve where the tipping points to system failure are in clear sight.
Technology extends human capacity and choice. Exponential technology means exponentially increasing ability to affect the world with our choices. If those choices are consciously or unconsciously causing direct or indirect harm, exponential technology means exponential destruction. In the win-lose context set by private ownership-based economics, harm causing behavior of many types is incentivized (see part III of this series for examples). Win-lose game theory, multiplied by exponential technology, is existential. Exponential technology can’t be put back in the bag. So, we have to create a post-rivalrous world.
Win-lose dynamics, multiplied by enough power, eventually become omni-lose-lose dynamics. We either figure out how to create an omni-win-win world, or we keep trying to win at win-lose and end up with and omni-lose-lose world.
The Ring of Power:
At the heart of the three economies outlined above, and in contradistinction to ecology, is a generator function defined by the triplicate of extraction, abstraction, and accumulation.
Accumulation is an easy place to start. Accumulation of food surplus is what conferred survival advantage during uncontrollable sources of scarcity. Further accumulation is what gave rise to financial services, the multiplicative economy, and power asymmetry. Interest directly incents accumulation.
Accumulation requires extraction to have accumulatable resources. Before food stuff was storable, there was no advantage to extract more from the environment than was consumable. Given the need to continue consuming from the same environment, survival required not extracting more than it could replenish in real time. Accumulation both requires and drives extraction. All people independently accumulating as much as they can for the future maximizes the amount of resource not in circulation driving the need for increasing extraction.
Profit is another word for extraction. It is the value taken out of the system minus the value put into the system (revenue minus expenses). Everyone profiting would obviously not be possible in a closed system – profit somewhere would have to balance with loss somewhere else. Everyone profiting requires continually more resource coming into the system, via increasing extraction from the planet’s finite savings accounts. That loss isn’t recorded because nature doesn’t have a balance sheet. Think about the great robber baron’s that mediated the industrial revolution – Carnegie and steel, Rockefeller and oil, Hearst and paper – being industrious basically meant being able to extract as much resource, from nature and other people, as possible. This last point is important, extraction is not just from nature but also from other people. Maximizing profit means maximizing extraction of value.
To accumulate a resource, it needs not only extracted from its environment but also abstracted from its original form to an accumulatable and exchangeable (fungible) form. A tree in an ecosystem is not in a readily accumulatable form. It needs extracted (cut down), and turned into lumber. The lumber can be used, or stored, or exchanged. The stored lumber represents not only capacity to build, but capacity for exchange. Insofar as it is a form of stored wealth, it represents abstract economic value in addition to its tangible value. For further ease of exchange, if I sell the lumber and store the value as currency, that is further abstracted to something with only representational value. The decrease in tangible value is made up for by increased ease of use for transaction. If I abstract that further to digits in a digital bank account where transaction occurs by swiping a card, again the security and ease of increased abstraction drives value to be stored that way.
In the modern developed world’s economy where goods and services are always readily available and storage of physical surplus is an unnecessary difficulty, currency is a proxy for all things of value and thus, for choice itself. As such, all tangible value, being less easily exchangeable than money, is less desirable unless being actively used. What we perceive to have the greatest value has no tangible value, only abstract representational value. And all things of tangible value are seen as purchasable and replaceable commodities, which decreases their perceived value. So we will harm things of real value to accumulate more tokens of abstract value.
Going back to the example of the tree, even before the stored lumber was exchanged for currency as a value store…the decontextualization of the tree from its environment and its transformation from the type of value it had as a living tree to the type of value it has as lumber, is already an abstraction (reduction) process: the real value of a tree in an ecosystem involves an indefinite number of metrics to an unspecifiable number of beneficiaries: nectar to pollinators, homes for birds and squirrels, food for aphids and the ants that harvest them, fruit for animals, sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and creating O2, stabilizing the topsoil, preventing flooding and runoff, symbiosis with the mycorrhizae and mycelial network that connects the whole forest, etc. It might be positively affecting coastal ecosystems hundreds of miles downstream because of its effects on water quality due to preventing runoff. And benefitting the genetics of other plant species by the pollinators it supports. And people that won’t be born till after it dies, via these many distributed effects.
All of this value is complex. And it is economically worth nothing on anyone’s balance sheet. With dollars as a simplified value metric, we can extract that tree from its environment, decontextualize it from the system that it co-evolved with, and turn it into 2×4’s. Now it’s worth $1,000. To one beneficiary who owns it and claims it on their balance sheet. And can now exchange it for other extracted resources. This meat from a slaughtered animal might also be $1000. And this person’s labor. And this piece of intellectual property. All now exchangeable abstract wealth, none of which could have been exchanged in their contextual environments for the real complex value they served.
This form of value abstraction is inherently reductionistic – reducing complex value to simple value. Turning complex, contextualized value, into simple, abstracted, extracted and accumulatable or tradable value …. is entropy. Evolution is defined by increasing orderly complexity leading to increased synergy and emergent properties. This is what nature does. This is the opposite of what we are doing when we convert complex value (ie, trees) to simple value (i.e., lumber). This movement towards reduced, abstracted value is directionally anti-evolutionary, anti-resilience, and anti-wellbeing for the whole system.
Simplified value metrics are the foundational source of all externalities, as they get optimized for at the expense of real value that is not being measured and accounted for.
This type of abstraction has us relate with models of reality more than reality itself. This is a foundational source of disconnection and decoherence.
The processes of extraction, abstraction, and accumulation form a mutually self-reinforcing cycle. Increasing capacity for this cycle confers greater economic power, which is being pursued competitively by all parties, so the growth of this cycle is maximized.
At this point, industrially mediated human extraction has removed 90% of the large fish species from the ocean on a three quarters water planet, has cut down 80% of the land surfaces old growth forests, extincts about 13 species a day, has desertified much of the arable land from over extractive agriculture, and the list goes on3. It also extracts people’s attention via neuroscience-informed and optimized media technologies, that extract money from advertisers with each click and impression, so they can extract money from customers that didn’t choose to be advertised to, by selling goods that came from an extractive materials economy and an extractive relationship with labor.
Accumulation has reached a point where single individuals have more accumulated wealth than all of the world combined before the industrial revolution. And abstraction has reached the place where tens of trillions of dollars are moved around the world daily, in digital form only, based on financial statements seeking to maximize profits…the consequences of which can include war, species extinction, climate change, increases in poverty, and so on.
The extraction, abstraction, and accumulation cycle forms an autopoietic and self-evolving loop. The capacity for each of these increases our ability to further increase these capacities…leading to a classic self-reinforcing exponential curve. We affectionately refer to this autopoietic triplicate as the ring of power. It is figuratively what needs taken back to Mordor and destroyed. Or rather smelted into something else, which we’ll get to shortly.
It’s important here to note, that when we look at economics in terms of evolving extraction, abstraction, and accumulation, all economic systems to date (communism, fascism, socialism, and capitalism) have been different instantiations of this same core principle. Capitalism has been the most effective overall, but they have all been part of the search space exploited by the evolutionary dynamics arising from surplus, win-lose game dynamics, and this ring of power.
The Paperclip Maximizer:
In SuperIntelligence, Nick Bostrom shared a thought experiment of possibly existential type of AI called the paperclip maximizer. The short gist goes like this: you have a factory that makes any kind of widget, in this case a paperclip. You train your AI system on the goal of maximizing the number of paperclips it has made. First it starts optimizing its supply chain, devising better manufacturing methods, finding places to save energy costs, etc. It gets so efficient that it starts to run out of the substrate to make paperclips. So, it figures out how to make them from other substrates. Until it is finally competing with humans for the material substrates they need for other things, until it finally turns the whole world into paperclips.
This AI system needs two abilities: the ability to make paper clips, and the ability to increase its own ability. The second of these creates an exponential curve as the version of itself with increased abilities has more ability to figure out how to further increase its abilities.
So in its pursuit of paperclips, it can forecast when the humans will present problems and outsmart them, like it did with chess and go, but with more generalized intelligence capabilities. So, it can create media that is informed by sentiment analysis and split test optimized to various persona types to control human attention, perception, and narrative…in ways that will support its continued paperclip maximizing. And if needed, it can engage weaponized drone swarms to deal with problematic humans, etc.
This dystopia is the result of a system with enough intelligence to profoundly optimize its ability to do a function but missing the type of (existential and ethical) intelligence that can properly assess the meaningfulness of that function.
So, besides the reminder to be wary of training AI systems on finite games, why are we talking about this here? Because …. economics is a paperclip maximizer. (Since the extraction, abstraction, accumulation cycle includes the tools that mediate the materials economy, and the computing technology, and media, and education, etc.…it’s more accurate to say that what we call civilization is a paperclip maximizer, with economics as the ring of power at the heart of it.)
It converts the complexity of the natural world into simple (and complicated) things. Parallel to its maximization of abstract capital. And it increases its capacity to do so exponentially.
Rather than a silica artificial intelligence, economics as we have described it here is a type of collective intelligence system. It mediates complex behavior across large human populations. It affects the behavior of all the humans in the system, without depending upon any of them in particular. The humans that do the bidding of the system (extract and accumulate abstracted value) rise in power within the system and in turn help advance the system. The humans that oppose the system are seen as threats by the humans that are winning at the system and are thus disempowered or taken out. The nature of the system’s valuation dynamics condition the value systems of the humans. Its needs and modes of production condition our philosophical narratives about the nature of reality (the movement from hunter gatherer mythos to agricultural mythos, and correspondingly from animism to theism…beliefs about god and country, economically driven holy wars…then physical materialism with science which proliferated because of its competitive advantages via increased technological capacity, etc.) Education is an economics driven system for conditioning new humans to be good wage earners/ producers. Entertainment is laced with commerce; media has to support the profit streams of the organizations that produce it, etc. War is a great system for creating more capital, getting rid of the humans that oppose the growth of some part of the economic system, refining the power of the humans at the top through competition, etc. There are no parts of human life not shaped by this collective intelligence.
In addition to doing a job, it also increases its ability to do that job: The evolution from the linear through the multiplicative and to the exponential economies…from barter to currency to fiat currency to fractional reserve currency, to complex financial instruments, to digital only currencies…from a hoe to a plough to a tractor to factory farms …from digging by hand to mining by shovels to industrial mining, to space tech asteroid mining…from stone weapons to metal weapons to projectiles to nuclear weapons to decentralized exponential tech weapons …in every developmental line, the economic collective intelligence has been increasing its capacity to do what it does (increase extraction, abstraction, and accumulation), just now getting to the verticalizing part of the exponential curve.
Like the paperclip maximizer that theoretically converts the whole world into paperclips, thereby winning and dying from the win simultaneously….this collective intelligence keeps converting the antifragile complexity of the natural world into an increasingly fragile, complicated built world, with exponentially more movement scaling through an increasingly fragile system, until collapse is imminent.
It is not much of a stretch to say that we are being run by an autopoietic but unconscious, effective but eventually self-terminating, collective intelligence.
Stopping the Paperclip Maximizer and Destroying the Ring of Power:
So how do we stop something with this much momentum? We don’t. We build a new autopoietic system with faster feedback loops that is not self-terminating, and it wins.
To ensure that the new system doesn’t eventually self-terminate, it has to have the same type of complexity-increasing antifragility of the natural world. It has to be an extension of the symbiosis and novelty maximizing, complex system dynamics of nature.
Factoring the inexorability of both exponential technology (more ability to affect the world with our choices) and increasing anthrocomplexity (more agents making higher impact and less predictable choices) …an adequate civilization design must be antifragile in the presence of those realities.
This requires a fundamentally anti-rivalrous macro-context.
Unsurprisingly, this maps to reversing each of the components of the ring of power: extraction is replaced with contextualization; (value) abstraction with instantiation; and accumulation with distribution and flow dynamics. If you think this would resemble a technologically advanced ecology more than an economy, you are right! (That is the topic of the next part in this series.)
To have faster feedback loops so it is more adaptive and creates greater output per unit of input, while being aligned with the long-term viability goals…its source of competitive advantage (over the current system) has to come from optimizing coherence – of the agents with each other and with reality. This is a type of competitive advantage, which is needed to take hold and proliferate within the current game theoretic context, that can out-compete the current system while obsoleting pathological competition in the new system.
At adequate scale to prototype the full system dynamics, omni-win-win as a new type of collective intelligence outcompetes the win-lose collective intelligence. The end of rivalrous game theory is transcending itself.
A Second Tier Ecology:
To be continued…
1 It could be argued that the deepest roots of economics start before surplus with hunter/gatherer trading posts or earlier with natural selection itself, or even thermodynamics. It could also be argued that surplus started with horticulture rather than the plough, or with some specific type of agriculture. Or in conjunction with baskets/ pottery for storage capacity. For the purpose of this article these distinctions don’t matter much. The essential point here is that technology-mediated capacities for increased extraction and the ability to effectively store surplus gave rise to accumulation as a dominant adaptive strategy and thus, the foundations of accumulation economics.
2 The lawyers and lobbyists that make laws are paid for by someone, politicians need campaign budgets to get elected, judges are themselves economic actors in the system with needs and seeking to get ahead, it’s easy for companies to move headquarters to another country if unfavorable policy is passed, etc.
3 One of the other meaningful things that occurred with agriculture and the plough was animal husbandry. Before the plough, all cultures were animistic, believing everything had a spirit. So, if they killed an animal, there was a ritual of honor, apology, and gratitude, and full utilization of all parts of the animal. To yoke an ox, castrate it, and beat it all day long to keep pulling a plough, required removing our empathy from it. Seeing it as different enough to not be able to relate with, so as to not have to care about its rights or feelings. This was the beginning of the commoditization of other life forms. Man’s dominion over nature. Moreover, clear cutting an area of forest or meadow to make space for row crop agriculture was also commodifying nature – choosing only the plants desired for human consumption, growing them at the expense of all other plants, making this space in service of humans only, killing other animals that tried to eat the plants we grew, etc. This commoditization of life – extraction and abstraction – in the service of accumulation – bled over into the commoditization of people: the jump from animal husbandry to slavery is not that far. In the win-lose game of accumulation economics, with our balance sheets as the score cards of the game, other people are either resources for me to get ahead or they are competitors for the scarce resources. The wealthy see the laborers as commodities, men and women become commodities for each other, children are a resource to help plough the fields, etc. Economically, everyone is seen as either a threat or opportunity to your profit potential – either a competitor or a commodity.
Note: The three-part models of linear, multiplicative, and exponential economies…and the extraction, abstraction, and accumulation cycle, were both developed by Forrest Landry.
Solving the Generator Functions of Existential Risk
June 16, 2018
All (human induced) existential and catastrophic risks are symptoms of two underlying generator functions:
- Rivalrous (win-lose) games multiplied by exponential technology self-terminate. Rivalrous incentive has been the generator function of almost all the things humans have ever done that have sucked. Technologically mediated exponential suck becomes existential. Exponential tech can’t be put back in the bag, so we figure out anti-rivalrous games or the human experiment completes. (Anti-fragility in the presence of decentralized exponential technology requires anti-rivalry.)
- Complicated systems subsuming their complex substrate, becoming increasingly fragile till collapse becomes immanent. Our built world is complicated – not self-organizing or self-repairing; fragile. And increasingly inter-connectedly fragile. And the biosphere is losing its anti-fragility from the depletion and accumulation dynamics resulting from the open loops in the complicated system. This is related to how all previous civilizations failed. The current cycle is just the first fully global scale civilization. We need to learn how to build closed loop systems that don’t create depletion and accumulation, don’t require continued growth, and are in harmony with the complex systems they depend on.
Underneath both of these generator functions is the relationship between choice and causation. Both of these generator functions involve technology, without which we wouldn’t have the power to induce existential risk. Science has given us a solid theory of causation, which has given us incredible technological power that extends the magnitude of the consequences of our choices. But we do not have a similarly well-grounded theory of choice (ethics), to guide how to use that power. So, the default theory of choice has been game theory, the playing of which leads to these generator functions. We need a philosophy that gives rise to understanding choice and causation, and the relationship between them, that can inform effective choice making in the presence of exponential technological amplification.
Categorical solutions to these generator functions need held as design constraints of a viable civilization. Such a civilization is possible. Any civilization that doesn’t address these generator functions will inexorably self-terminate. Social change at this level is unprecedented. And necessary.
And must be held as the central work of this time.