From Kauffman’s Investigations:
History enters when the space of the possible that might have been explored is larger, or vastly larger, than what has actually occurred…. Precisely because the actual of the biosphere is so tiny…and because autonomous agents can evolve by heritable variations that induce propagating frozen accidents, … the biosphere profoundly contingent upon history.
The econosphere (Kauffman’s term), however, is not constrained so. We can revisit the “frozen accidents” of our past and set ourselves on a different path. We can dip back into the vast space of the possible, even the possibles from the past that we had previously bypassed, to work our way toward a desired future possible.
We need to be careful, though, not to try to prematurely prestate our desired future possible. The space of the available future possible is much too expansive to unnecessarily limit ourselves to a “frozen prediction.”
I’m currently reading Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy. Quite relevant to the idea of thinking in bits.
From Bill Gates’ discussion on his book blog:
If you want to understand why this matters, the brilliant new book Capitalism Without Capital by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake is about as good an explanation as I’ve seen. They start by defining intangible assets as “something you can’t touch.” It sounds obvious, but it’s an important distinction because intangible industries work differently than tangible industries. Products you can’t touch have a very different set of dynamics in terms of competition and risk and how you value the companies that make them.
From The Simple but Ingenious System Taiwan Uses to Crowdsource its Laws, a story about using online networks to not just change conversation about important topics but to actually allow for conversation. Instead of simply answering a question, providing the opportunity to explore, learn about, convince, and be convinced.
This suggests people had concluded that, in fact, “To cane or not to cane?” was the wrong question to ask. That kind of realization, and solution, wouldn’t have emerged from a traditional online petition that only gives people the option of voting yes or no.
While these online petitions and networks aren’t binding on the government (yet), they provide some great insight into what is possible.
A friend recently recommend an article posted by Bill Gates to LinkedIn, Not enough people are paying attention to this global trend. What is this trend, you may ask?
Unlike the goods that powered our economy in the past, software is an intangible asset. And software isn’t the only example: data, insurance, e-books, even movies work in similar ways. The portion of the world’s economy that doesn’t fit the old model just keeps getting larger. That has major implications for everything from tax law to economic policy to which cities thrive and which cities fall behind, but in general, the rules that govern the economy haven’t kept up. This is one of the biggest trends in the global economy that isn’t getting enough attention.
This – intangible assets – is of course at the heart of the tib(na) labs mission, and understanding how these types of assets will impact economics, among many other aspects of life and how the world functions, is one of our key goals.
In the article Gates recommends Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy, which I have recently begun reading. The focus of the book is, as far (near?) as I can tell, about how to best account for intangibles in the existing economic structures of capitalism (hence the title), but I think it will provide some excellent insight into how we might understand and address intangibles as an important part of our economic, and probably governance, systems.
The Political Education of Silicon Valley
The scholars Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles argue that the tech sector has actually stumbled into attitudes that approach a more coherent ideology than it would initially appear, one they have called “liberaltarianism.” Lindsey, who is vice president for policy at the Niskanen Center—a think tank that supports liberaltarian policies—describes the ideology as one animated by “the idea of a free-market welfare state, which sounds like an oxymoron to most people but sounds to us like what good 21st-century governance looks like, combining significant redistribution and social spending with go-go competitive markets.”
On Being: angel Kyodo williams- The World is Our Field of Practice
But we are at a time, so incredibly unique in human history, where there is a meaningful number of us that are not driven by mere survival, and we are not defined by the work that we do or the place from which we come. We are able to be transient. We can move around places. We can create meaning out of things and ways of being and work that we choose to do. And we can recreate it, over and over again. We’re not defined by where we are or what we do. We can make meaning out of it, but we are not defined by it in a way that former cultures and societies that were limited in transportation and had a necessity to be able to put food on the table, and so we farmed, and so we did a whole bunch of things that were about fundamental necessities.
We are running into the conflict between people that inhabit an inherited identity with the place that they are — coal-mining country, and the work that they do as a result of the place that they are — up against people that have values and ways of perceiving the world that have shifted because they are not identified by their place and the work that they do in the same way that location and a fixed place tells you who you are and how you be in the world.
We are in this amazing moment of evolving, where the values of some of us are evolving at rates that are faster than can be taken in and integrated for peoples that are oriented by place and the work that they’ve inherited as a result of where they are.
And who are in survival mode as a result of that, and so our values and what’s acceptable to us — enough of us — is shifting at a pace that is just outside of some of our ability to even take in. And the problem is — that’s always been true, but the problem is, now we have a meaningful number, a substantive number of people that have those rapidly evolving values in confrontation with people that are, understandably, still working with the location-, survival-based orientation.
Not long ago I was sitting with my friend Valerie on the porch of a cabin at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, AR after a great day of climbing talking about life, the universe, everything. I had recently heard a talk at a LaunchCode event about their expansion to Miami and other places where they mentioned the importance of being in urban areas, places where there were plenty of tech talent and jobs already, and couldn’t help thinking, “What about everyone else; the people who could really benefit from something like this live in the areas where this doesn’t already exist.” Val is a programmer and volunteers with LaunchCode and CoderGirls, and spends quite a bit of time outside the city, so our conversation made its way around to how could we get programs like that to rural areas, places where there isn’t necessarily great internet connectivity and definitely no ready made tech infrastructure. How do we more evenly distribute the future that is already here? What difference would it make for the people in those communities? The world at large?
At the end of his book will “Scale”, Geoffrey West writes:
One final point: The IT revolution is our most recent great paradigm shift, and like all previous ones it is driving us toward a ‘finite time singularity’…. It was enabled by the invention of a startling assortment of extraordinarily ‘smart’ devices that are producing enormous amounts of data. And, like previous major paradigm shifts, it has predictably resulted in an increase in the pace of life. In addition, it has metaphorically brought the world closer together with instant communication anywhere across the globe at any time. It has also led to the possibility that we no longer need to live in an urban environment to participate in and benefit from the fruits of urban social networks and the dynamics of agglomeration, which are the very origin of super-linear scaling and open-ended growth. We can devolve to develop smaller, or even rural, communities that are just as plugged in as living in the heart of a great metropolis.
Does this mean that we can avoid the pitfalls that lead to an ever-accelerating pace of life, finite time singularities, and the prospect of collapse? Have we somehow stumbled upon a way to avoid the ironic quandary that the very system that led to our great socioeconomic expansion of the past two hundred years may be leading to our ultimate demise, and that we can have our cake and eat it to? This is clearly an open question.
West doesn’t seem to think the answer to these questions is yes, as he closes the book with the following.
…I suspect that life will continue to speed up and urbanization remain the dominant force as we head toward an impending singularity. How this plays itself out will determine much about the sustainability of the planet.
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I’d like to find out.
We can make the choice to invest over the long term. We can make the choice to call out problems on our platform and acknowledge them when we see them, without the fear of our market diminishing. I think that that grants a tremendous amount of freedom and hopefully integrity that allows us to be honest with ourselves, and honest with our users, and accountable to our users in the spirit of continuous improvement.
A conversation with Katherine Maher about Wikipedia’s nonprofit structure and what incentive-based media models lack.
Welcome to tib(na) labs, one lab among many in the School of the Possible. Our purpose here is to explore the adjacent possible available to us today by thinking in bits (not atoms) and start the journey down the most promising paths.
We’re just getting started here so keep an eye out for updates, we’ll be posting more information soon.