A New Kind of Social Ordering
Autonomous Trust and P2P Parity
John Henry Clippinger, Ph.D.
Technology has become the singular vehicle for re-imagining and re-designing Humanity and Nature. This impossible and imposed charter is something for which neither technologists nor policy makers are equipped. One vital challenge to this new mandate is to rethink how human identities are to be defined, assigned, authenticated and institutionalized. The position advocated in this paper is for decentralized algorithmic institutional designs that are architected as Peer to Peer networks, where each individual and group controls their own identities and data, and where there is parity of privileges among all members of the network. Crypto-currencies and distributed ledgers (blockchain) offer the opportunity for new, global, decentralized and autonomous social and economic institutions and infrastructures. These represent a fundamental, if not lethal challenge to many current institutions and authorities. Our position advocated here is that technologies embody human intention, and hence, are neither politically nor culturally neutral. Accordingly, bitcoin is seen as embodying classic “free market” and Libertarian principles that are premised on one time, zero sum games, and do not favor cooperation nor the economics of increasing returns. A complement to the bitcoin currency and protocol is advocated, called a “cooperative currency” that utilizes, identity, different proofs of consensus protocols and rewards information sharing and liquidity. This cooperative crypto-currency in combination with decentralized autonomous authorities implemented through smart contracts can enable peer to peer production and counter some of the adverse social equity effects of “power laws economics, ” which are the natural outcome of a bitcoin protocol. It is also argued that new forms of democratic governance are possible through distribution of deputized “citizen -sourcing of governance functions. The additional advantage of a cooperative currency is that it is based on “repeat games”, is relational, and utilizes reputational metrics that could sustain artisan economies. The paper also argues for institutions and identity and verification credentials that are based upon context and human uniqueness. This approach not only is more human centered, but also provides more secure credentials than those that attempt to homogenize, decontextualize and standardize identity and credentialing.
A. Architecture is Policy: Some Considerations for Decentralized Identities, Currencies, and Authorities.
What is strikingly different about Technology today from just a decade ago is that it has become a vehicle for human re-imagination, a kind of Promethean God for re -inventing and transforming the Human Condition. The reality confronting all technologists – synthetic biology, neuroscience, nanotech, space sciences, ecological sciences and Internet – is that as engineers, they are woefully ill prepared for their new charter, generally uneducated in the humanities and uninformed what it takes to make technology human. Technologists solve technical problems, write specifications, protocols, and build things. Now these things – “autonomous techniques” are new life forms, organs, surveillance system, machine learning, nano-materials, autonomous robots, drones and vehicles, as well as new kinds of institutions and techniques for social and economic ordering. This change in charter presents an unprecedented challenge and responsibility for the technologist.
In the design of novel Human Artifacts, Art and Technology, artist and technologist become combined. An undeniable bond exists between the character of the engineer as creator and his or her creations. Just as character is destiny in people, so too is architecture “character” for technology, and eventually, destiny for humanity. There can be no separation of policy from architecture, because inherent in any design is a human intention about how some thing- biological, digital or mechanical- should be and act.
Nothing is more elemental to being human than identity. It is the first question to all origin myths; the cornerstone to any social ordering. Where did we come from? Who are we? How do we name ourselves, who has the right to assign names, and what those names, titles, categories, permit or deny is foundational to all cultures. It is at the heart of the most intimate and foundational of human invention, kinship systems, whose roles, duties and prohibitions are the starting point for all forms of human social, economic and biological organization. As the great anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, and others have shown, the fabric of categories for self, social and environmental classification define the very scope of possibilities for all cultures and their members. Much like Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (1953) metaphor of the “fly in the bottle,” where the fly only knows it is in a bottle having escaped it, all cultures are captive to their own categories, and the scoping and assignment of identity is the foremost vehicle for unlocking or confining cultural possibilities.
Identity assignment is also a critical source of institutional power. Identity is not just a technical, security, privacy, or economic matter; it is fundamentally a political matter, a choice over what kinds of institutions, stated or implied, should have what powers and authorities. With these authorities come great privileges and the capacity to amass wealth, influence and power. It is at this juncture in social-technical design that seemingly arcane technical choices become significant political and cultural commitments.
Today there is a rush among “identity providers” (banks, governments, schools, health services, insurance companies, social media, telcos, religions, advertisers, search companies, et al.) to issue and control the mobile digital identity credentials of their customers. As one senior executive at a major credit card company put it, “he who enrolls controls”, and no one is more aware of this than Facebook. It is offering those in the developing world free Internet if Facebook can become their defacto identity provider. Each authority wants to own their customer and strives to exert their own silo of control so as to ”extract rents” by providing identity services.
If there were ever an argument for individual sovereignty and autonomy, it is in for the control of individual identity. Indeed, self-determination of identity is that most basic of freedoms upon all others depend. It is foundational to any free and open democratic society. Contrary to prevalent industrial age practices that seek uniformity, the most secure identity services depend upon individual uniqueness, idiosyncrasies and secrets. Fortuitously, in this instance, political freedoms and the security requirements are perfectly aligned, as the less uniform an identity credential is, the more secure it is. Centralized, technical monocultures, such as Windows OS, corporate customer databases, are “honey pots” for identity hackers and thieves.
The argument is often be made that the State or private enterprise can be a trusted steward of individual identity. However, giving any State or enterprise a God’s view of peoples’ identities and data is equivalent to giving them God like powers. Like Tolkien’s myth of the “ring”, control over identity may be a temptation to power beyond any mortal’s self -restraint. A more skeptical view is subscribed to here and is grounded in Lord Acton’s dictum, “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”. Indeed, over time, the guards cannot guard the guards, and they too become co-opted. Governments become their own stakeholder, and in a classic example of the “principal – agent dilemma”, where the agent is mandated to act on behalf of the principal, but succumbs to serve in their own interests instead. Hence, the design perspective taken here is that States, authorities, and principals will eventually become co-opted by the physics of self-interest What is needed, therefore, are different kinds social, governance and institutional technologies whose very architecture prohibits such outcomes and abuses.
B1. Self-Sovereignty and Self Assertion of Identity
The principle of self-sovereignty holds that an individual be able to self-assert their own identities and credentials without recourse to enrollments by a specific State, or other authority. The stand-in for the State or banking authority, in this case, is a set of open source protocols that prescribe the requisite “ceremonies” that an individual would have to got through to get their own initial identity “name” or pseudo-name and credentials – that can be verified or attested to by some third party – be it a bank, NGO, clan members, friends, or some designated Decentralized Autonomous Authority (DAA) that would test an individual’s self-assertions against some testable criteria and issue a token of verification.
This approach to identity and personal data has been articulate in The Windhover Principles was developed during a retreat at Windhover Farm in 2014 held by ID3 (www.idcubed.org), and since then, has been endorsed by over 25 digital currency companies and nominated by the American Banker as one of the most important ideas for banking in 2015. Recently, Dr.Thomas Hardjorno of the MIT Kerberos Internet Trust Consortium, James D’Angelo, and John Henry Clippinger of MIT Media Lab and ID3, sought how to develop a protocol whereby any individual, regardless of their economic means or any governmental support, could self assert their own identities on the blockchain in a sufficiently robust, and verifiable manner that relying parties, would accept those credentials for high risk transactions and access privileges. The following diagram illustrates how this might be done.
Hacking Surveillance: I Am My Own Big Brother:
There is no escaping the fact in the very near term millions of devices will be collecting data on us, beginning with our mobile phones, our watches, our automobiles, home appliances and media, security cameras, etc. We already can be autonomously recognized and categorized by our faces and facial expressions, voices, movements, social and purchasing patterns, and social graphs. There really is nowhere to hide.
There may, however, a potentially good side to this. If one can have access and control over data collected about them, then there is the opportunity to use that data to give very strong identity and attribute credentials without having to rely upon external authorities. My face is something that is uniquely me and is publically shared and recognizable. It is a “credential” that I carry everywhere and which everyone knows how to assess. It is the first thing that people use in verifying that they are whom they say they are. Given the ubiquity of camera and video on mobile phones globally and the increasing prevalence of surveillance cameras, it is becoming increasingly easy to verify the time and place of someone’s presence and provide an enormous chain of evidence of one’s existences. By taking pictures one’s own pictures or relying on the GPS and time stamp of other cameras or videos, one can verify one’s existence at a place and time that is verified on the blockchain. Similarly, just as Google Now uses ones GPS data and movement patterns to infer work and residence, so too is it possible to assert and verify a residence over time. Social media and call record and payment data are also used to provide credit scores to provide immediate loans up to $500 for consumers in Kenya. Whereas in developed countries, such as the U.S,. it is relatively easy to verify assertions about DOB, residence, SSN, gender, criminal record through access to public databases, in the developed world, new kinds of authorities are needed when there are often no credible governmental credentials. Hence, for instance, one member of a group who has a credible credential can vouch for others and offer a bond to secure “flight or fraud” risk. Likewise, trusted NGOs can develop “ceremonies” and processes of verification that reflect local knowledge and themselves act as identity and attribute authorities by verifying certain assertions and placing them on the blockchain. One can think of such credentials as passwords whose strength increases with used by trusted parties and additional data.
C. Free Market Currency Design and Incentive Mechanisms
Perhaps the most singular achievement of bitcoin was how quickly and globally it was able to create an autonomous, incentive mechanism for miners to verify bitcoin transactions and place them on the blockchain. It is the premiere example of an independent and open source protocol being able to launch a self-reinforcing and autonomous process at a global scale without the involvement of any third party or State actor.
Bitcoin itself is also a new kind of asset class – to be regulated by the U.S. Commodities Commission as “a demand backed asset” which performs like “bit gold” (Nick Szabo’s term) in that it has finite issuance, (21 .5 million) and is deflationary and rewards hording and speculation. The incentive mechanism behind bitcoin is based on a competitive, private goods model, (one-time, zero sum games in Game Theory terms), where each miner competes to maximize his own interest by acting wholly in his own self interest. It is founded on classic Chicago School “Free Market Economics” principles, where a price mechanism determines the generation and allocation of bitcoins. In the bitcoin world, everything has a price and is a quasi-anonymous, impersonal transaction. Accordingly, this protocol is not “policy neutral”, but rather embodies very specific economic and political policies and values. In this case, individual effort and successful competition are rewarded as a social good. It is classic Libertarianism, where the “good” of a “common good” is seen as the sum of individual “goods”. There are no incentives for cooperation or any “commons production”, group identities, or trusted identities. As a result, the bitcoin protocol needs a very costly consensus mechanism for “proof of work” in order to prevent spamming, “double spending,” and fraudulent claims about the verified blockchains. Such a “free market” protocol or architecture has well known social, economic and political costs and weaknesses (Piketty, 2014). Furthermore, it is subject to “Power Law” effects, where over time, disproportionate gains accrue to first movers through a process of “preferential attachment”, in short, where the “rich get richer, and the poor get poorer”..
Advocates for this free market protocol, find legitimacy in this argument through the invocation of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand “ as a kind of omniscient natural law governing the fair and just allocation of social economic resources. Evolutionary arguments, are summoned as well as a means for providing a “scientific validation” for asserting that the individual unit is the sole unit of selective pressure, value creation, and evolution. In evolutionary biology this is commonly known as the “Central Dogma” and is best exemplified by Richard Dawkins work and his vigorous espousal of the “selfish gene” as the sole unit of selection. (Translated into Wall Street terms, “greed is good” even at the level of the gene!)
It is worth pointing out, however, that neither Adam Smith (1759) nor Charles Darwin (1871) subscribed to such a purely individualistic notion of natural selection or “market selection”. Recently, evolutionary biologists, Martin Novak (2012), E.O. Wilson (2013) and other evolutionary biologists and sociologists, have challenged the Central Dogma by arguing for “group selection” and for the superior evolutionary fitness of cooperation over competition. That and the role of “epigenetic effects”, where external environmental effects can trigger specific forms of trait selection, have shown that the forces shaping evolution are highly contextual and nuanced and cannot be attributed to individual selection alone. Research in evolutionary neuroscience (Paul Zak 2014, Ernst Fehr, 2013) has further shown that evolutionary fitness for highly social species such as human beings is tied to having a strong capacity for empathy and “shared theories of mind” to enable coordinated action and trust building. Indeed, the human brain secretes the neurotransmitter, Oxytocin, to reward behaviors of intimacy, mutuality and trust. Hence, in many circumstances, but not all, evolution has favored Evolutionary Stable Strategies (ESS) that use cooperative strategies that are not transactional, but rather depend upon “altruistic reciprocity”, shared theories of mind and empathy. Martin Nowak (2012) has also argued, that such strategies of trust and cooperation are essential for more complex forms of social organization, coordination and collective learning and problem solving.
B2. Peer to Peer Architecture and Agreements to Enable Equitable Access and Exchange
While it is hard to argue with the success of the bitcoin protocol, that success today does not mean that its “free market” incentive mechanisms, miners and proof of work, are necessarily the only protocol or eventually the most appropriate protocol. One can think of the bitcoin protocol as a kind of Wild West Protocol – where one has to assume that anything goes, there is no Sheriff , no one can be trusted, and there are no rules other that survival of the fittest. When working in the Wild of the Internet, where no one can be fully identified or trusted, the bitcoin protocol and blockchain are a godsend in providing verifiability without having to trust a third party. However, as in the case of the evolution of the Wild West, (wonderfully played out in HBO’s Deadwood series) certain forms of authorities (Federal Marshals, laws, “hanging judges’) and boundaries (barbed wire fences) start to surface. Moreover, cooperation and trusted identities themselves start to emerge as critical and sought after resources that enable sociality, commerce, and new levels of social ordering. This is likely to characterize the next evolutionary phase of the Internet and would argue for more cooperative forms of currency designs and incentives mechanism. These new currencies would complement rather than replace bitcoin as a currency and social economic architecture. (See Bernard Lietaer on currency design and complementary currencies. 2013)
In addition to evolutionary biology and the neurosciences providing new design criteria for crypto-currencies and governance mechanisms, there are also are insights from research into peer to peer networks and open social systems (Yochai Benkler (2006, 2011) and Michel Bauwens ) that could significantly inform the design of next generation digital socio-economic networks. A simple but profound insight is that every node on a peer to peer network is indeed a “peer” and as such, there are no privileged nodes in the architecture. Hence, it is initially fair and inclusive by virtue of its inherent architecture. This is a potentially important factor in countering the inequities of Power Law effects, noted earlier, whereby some nodes become super nodes and gatekeepers, and through “preferential attachment. ” become aggregators of value, and privileged super node hubs. If, on the other hand, each edge node is an autonomous entity that has control over its identities, computation, and data, then they, as a “class of nodes” become the distributed aggregation point, and as a class, are the point of preferential attachment. In this case, the edge node is the “principle and the agent”, since it has access to every other node. Such an architecture would need to be enforced through a Peer to Peer Terms of Service agreement enforced by a “smart contract” or Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO). Such a self enforcing contract would ensure that an individual end node would have the same rights as an enterprise or group end node and could not abrogate or assign those rights to a super node. By rendering the aggregation point the class of all end nodes, such an architecture and agreement makes the “class” the target for “network effects” “the aggregation point through “preferential attachment”. In this case it is not a single individual node or group of nodes that benefits from “Power Law Effects” but the “class of all edge nodes” that are individuals. This architecture has the added benefit of creating a more secure and privacy preserving network in that all data can be physically distributed and encrypted but centrally accessible logically.
Such an approach would not resolve the issue that some nodes might contain more and better data, and hence, would be more sought after and accumulate greater value. But there would be nothing architecturally that would prevent other edge nodes from adding value to their data or realizing value of that data in having to go through some gatekeeper or toll taker. Expressed in social policy terms, there are some forms of poverty or disadvantage that are structural whereby individuals and groups are categorically and structurally precluded from participating in a society or economy. A P2P architecture, on the other hand, is inherently inclusive, provides equal access, and puts everyone on the same footing. However, such an architecture does not resolve the issue of disparities in value of data or competencies to exploit data or relationships. So, there will always be those that perform and benefit greater than others, and perhaps, that may be an unavoidable consequence of evolution and natural selection.
B3. A Cooperative Currency Design
Bitcoin as a currency was designed to counter the inflationary policies of Central Banks. As we noted, it is the very embodiment of Free Market ideals where everything is priced and transactional. Given some of the recognized shortcomings of deflationary currencies, there is a need for currencies that incent interaction – liquidity – and collaboration. Such currencies would not necessarily replace bitcoin, but complement it by enabling those who do not have assets to grow assets through those activities that create social value. Such currencies are not based on impersonal, zero sum transactions, but are personal and relational in nature, multiple, repeat games as it were, where the goal is to build trust and increase the creation, and circulation of goods and services among all the members of the networks. Such a currency architecture does not try to standardize through a price mechanism, but rather to contextualize and value differences in individuals, goods, and services. It is a post-industrial currency predicated on finding and sharing value across non-comparable, unique offerings and contexts.
This is possible today because coordination costs are near zero thanks to digital technologies, and the fact that information sharing does not have to be a zero sum game; My giving information to another does not entail its loss to me. Brian Arthur (2009), the complexity economist, was one of the first to argue that the value of information and knowledge increases with its circulation and use. Hence there should be a 21st century currency and digital assets whose value increases with their use and circulation. The Open Source software and hardware movements are astounding examples of the power of this principle. It runs totally counter to the impulse to hoard and protect knowledge, expertise, software, and yet it is unquestionably one of the greatest drivers of innovation and value creation in the world economy. Hence, there should be a currency that is designed from the get-go for the digital economy – not an industrial age economy -which in effect is what bitcoin still is. Bitcoin achieves value through scarcity – and the ability to speculate and hold. That is wholly contrary to the way in which information, expertise and reputation build value individually and socially. A currency appropriate for an information age is inherently relational and non rivalrous. It is an artisan currency that can value what is unique not what is uniform, and what is human and trusted, not what is impersonal and deceitful. Such currencies entail a different kind of social contract, in which “external costs” are not foisted on the weak, the unsuspecting, or for that matter, the environment. Rather relational currencies reflect the full costs of sustaining long term renewable relationships and resources because they are designed to include – not exclude, and therefore naturally capture those costs, that transactional currencies attempt to off load.
B. Digital Institutions, Citizen Sourcing, and Governance Through APIs
We begin with a fundamental question: What social purpose do institutions serve?
Institutions are necessary, because, absent violence, human beings acting alone, cannot resolve significant conflicts by themselves. We need the “fiction” of an independent Third Party that is not beholden to either contending party. Institutions are necessary social inventions in which people assume abstract roles that prescribe specific behaviors and outcomes. These roles and outcomes should not be subject to an individual’s personal agency to influence or control. That is why institutions are traditionally thought as “impersonal”. When people act in an institutional capacity, they are expected to perform tasks that benefit the institution and not themselves. For example, the judiciary is a fundamental social institution that is needed to resolve conflicts between individuals. Individuals who agree to be bound by a Third Party – judicial decision- agree to give up their “personal authority to act to that of the institution. Someone acting in the judicial capacity is expected to act impartially and to make their decisions based upon the merits and facts of the case. The benefit to all is that there emerges predictable set of norms and rules that if people abide by, can result in a more predictable and conflict free social order. Hence, the role of the institution in this case is to encourage the internalization of norms that reduce the need for law enforcement and judicial decisions.
So, as the “Wild West ” of the Internet becomes more civilized, there are less shootings, less need for Sheriffs and hanging judges as everyday people begin to learn and internalize the norms. By this analysis, institutions should be designed not to perpetuate themselves, but to go away by having the citizens internalize codes of conduct that allow for more effective and just social and economic order. This, of course, will never entirely happen, but it does argue for a form of institutional design and incentive mechanisms that prevent institutions from being their own stake holders and to distribute many of their functions to their citizens – as a kind of “citizen sourcing”. Put in more traditional terms, there is a need for an Athenian Democracy model where every citizen, even the aristocrats, have active, required, accountable participation.
This line of reasoning raises an obvious question: To what extent should certain governance functions be performed by people, and to what extent should they be performed by algorithms? Why shouldn’t human actors, (third parties), be replaced by digital actors or algorithms? Institutional roles require that people act in impersonal and impartial ways that are not always natural. It is almost against human nature to act consistently in an impersonal and selfless manner. Judges, politicians, policemen, regulators, magistrates, inspectors, all should act independently and not be subject to bribes, influence peddling, or intimidation, but in practice, they all are only too human. What is so compelling about the promise of the blockchain, smart contracts, and DAOs is the hope that we can have digital actors – algorithms – perform tirelessly and blindly those third party tasks that so sorely tempt and confound humans. Hence, the goal is not to eliminate third parties or institutions, but design them in a way that they can be provably trustworthy and act in a public interest. To do so, however, requires a change in mindset that accepts the fact that human beings need to delegate some authority to digital institutions that can act autonomously on their own behalf. This shift to reliance on autonomous vehicles, algorithms or “bots” is already being socialized through the inevitable advent of driverless vehicles, drones, auto-appliances, and other autonomous processes, and therefore, in five years or more may not seem so alien.
Deputize Citizens: Citizen Sourced Governance and Services for Small Good Governments
In the foreseeable future governments will not go away. They are necessary institutions arising from the failure of people to resolve conflicts or coordinate activities on a one to one basis. Yet the governance function of governments need not be concentrated in a formal government, but conceivably can be distributed throughout a network of vetted citizens. As social and economic networks become increasingly complex and interdependent, there is a corresponding need to have more complex governance functions. The trend to date has been for the size and involvement of the formal government to scale with the size of the socio-economic networks. Hence, big networks bring big governments, and as noted previously, governmental institutions become their own big stakeholders and self-interest groups.
Rather than scale the government or regulatory function with the size of the network, why not, instead, decompose the government functions and redistribute them into a “vetted citizen networks”. This is in the original spirit of American and Athenian Democracy that “de-professionalizes” governmental and political functions and retains a volunteer and public service ethos. In other words, the goal is not to create or protect governmental “jobs” or functions, but if not eliminate them, re-invent, improve and redistribute them. From an institutional design perspective, the goal is not to bolster the oversight institution itself, but rather reduce the need for the oversight institution by decentralizing certain roles and having individuals and groups internalize new rules and codes as personal – peer to peer forms of conduct. Hence, rules become distributed and self-enforcing, rather than dependent upon top down coercion by a large oversight authority that can encourage costly legalistic actions, empty ritualized processes and arbitrary sanctions.
This is NOT an argument for the privatization of governmental or public services, because as was discussed in the prior section, market mechanisms and bitcoin like currencies reward private actors acting in their own self interest, and that does not translate to the public interest. In this case, value is not created through increased participation and value sharing, but through profit capture through induced supply and demand disparities. What it does argue for is thinking of traditional governmental functions as open source platforms where there are rules and rewards for contributors to jointly produce goods and services to some standard that can be valued through the allocation of cooperative currencies. Such currencies could be used to purchase or qualify for certain social benefits, services or privileges, enhance social prestige (Heraldic Model), or even pay taxes or get parking privileges.
Decentralized identity, authority certification and governance services offer the prospect of more fully democratizing and disrupting virtually all “hub and spoke” institutions and third party functions. They challenge the very premise that certain institutional forms and functions are sacrosanct and immutable. In the near term, decentralized blockchain services will deconstruct many legacy institutional functions into component services than be rendered in new ways. They will unlock pent up demand and innovation and provide for new forms of social and economic liquidity by reframing and recalculating risks and rewards. (On a far smaller scale this is similar to what Michael Milken did in re-risking corporate credit and junk bonds in the 1980s.) .
Like information, which is an increasing returns asset, a collaborative currency should reflect the “physics” of digital exchange value and increase in value as its dispersion increases. The dispersion of valued knowledge and learning can be associated with different kinds of digital asset classes and measured quite accurately in social networks as function of the dispersion of social learning. (Acemogolu, Dahleh, et al, 2008) Therefore, there is the prospect for having data driven algorithms for governance oversight in the issuance of cooperative currencies based up the number of nodes of a network, that is set by the number of individuals, and by how widely information-learning is distributed throughout a network. The entropy measure is the upper limit of how much value can be created and dispersed throughout the network. It is in effect, the natural limit to the supply of an information asset.
C. Human Centric Design: Uniqueness, Texture, Participation & Dignity
While the power of “big data” and the ubiquity of machine learning has opened the door to many new forms of data analytics and prediction, it has also surfaced some fundamental weaknesses in data sampling methods and statistical inferencing techniques. In short, through machine discovery methods, it is easy to find correlations and patterns in virtually any large data set. What this finding has highlighted is some inherent methodological “holes” in statistical hypothesis testing and experimental design. It is hard to know a prior what should be the control variables and the extraneous variables without understanding in some fundamental sense the underlying mechanism being tested. For example, unlike other amphibians, the gender of a Mississippi alligator is determined by the temperature of the nest – an exogenous variable to the reptile itself. Especially in genomics or neuroscience, the complexities of interaction are so interdependent structurally, chemically, and temporally, and in some cases activated by complex “triggers” that is virtually impossible to isolate what is in or out of a particular system or mechanism. Observations are embedded in time, space, social context and observational intention. They are not situated on an independent “objective” Archimedian perch above of what they are observing and measuring.
These distinctions are critical when designing new human artifacts and socio-technical institutions. Under the guise of scientific “objectivity” there can be an impulse for objectification, simplification and reductionism. That is, to take a complex human or biological process out of context and reduce its operations to a singular mechanism. That is a kind of sampling bias in that the actual process or mechanism may be far more complex than what was revealed during the time of the sampling or modeling period, and it could have been embedded in other processes – not yet understood or known.
Evolutionary biological and neuroscience research has taught scientists a deep humility about how much they don’t know just at that moment they thought they knew so much. What is required in the design of human social technical systems is an openness and a humility, and a recognition that insights and designs will often “emerge” in unexpected ways. The process of design is more one of discovery, more like an artistic process, one of construction rather than deconstruction, where one allows the creation to emerge from the materials and the acts of creation. Human socio-technical artifacts can be living, self reflective, self-modifying “subjects” not just material objects, and though, they are subject to scientific laws and mechanical processes, they may also have an indeterminacy about them. This is not to say that there cannot be artifacts such as smart contracts, multiparty computation, zero knowledge proofs, and other algorithmic processes that should not be provably complete. Indeed, certain kinds of systems need to perform robustly with reliability. But there are aspects of social-technical systems, and institutions, that are evolving systems that interact with, shape and are shaped by human experience that need to maintain a certain amount of openness, even randomness and diversity in order to be robust. Contrary to industrial and classic economic design criteria that seek uniformity and fungibility, human system design should follow biological model where there is real survival value in the uniqueness of each individual and species. Hence, the more intimate and unique an individual is the more secure their “secrets” and the less vulnerable to outside attacks. The role of Evolutionary Stable Strategies in natural selection is to preserve a balance certain characteristics so as to make a species less vulnerable to the “invasion” of certain kinds of predators or free riders. Similarly, the Law of Requisite Variety applied to complex systems shows that the survival of a species or complex system depends upon it being able to match the variety or variation of its “environment” and an internal representation of that environment. Otherwise, the system will lose its autonomy and become dominated by the “environment” or the larger system to which it is coupled.
A related important design constraint is to forever preserve and extend human dignity. This means finding value in individual differences, variety in cybernetic terms, and thereby, allowing for greater resiliency. This design point also entails greater redundancy or inefficiency classic industrial economic terms. Again, this points out the clash between currencies that favor scarcity, efficiency and fungibility- such as bitcoin – and those that favor interaction and difference, such as the cooperative currencies we discussed earlier. Therefore, is not surprising that artisan currencies and economies favor human dignity over those “free market” currencies and economies favor efficiency. Systems that are optimized for efficiency, on the other hand, lack resiliency, and therefore, often fail catastrophically. However, as John Maynard Smith noted in his advocacy of ESS, it is often necessary to have a mix of the two characteristics – hawk and dove – so select out excessive redundancy which itself can be a source of maladaptation.
D. Optionality and Oversight: Freedom to Join, Leave, and Innovate
According to the Objectivist Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Freedom is “To ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.” In the Libertarian tradition the individual is the amoral, autonomous atom, beholden to nothing or no one. It is, however, an anomaly or rather, impossibility of Nature as all forms of “independent” life are beholden to one another and a constancy of physical and chemical states. Objectivism sees society and Nature as a zero sum game where the winner takes all since society like Nature is rightfully and efficiently ruled by the objective laws of Survival of the Fittest. Here the most fit are the most affluent, that race or class, whose current prominence is seen as testament to their superior breeding, discipline and virtues. Hence, by this definition, freedom is measured by lack of constraint lack of obligation on those who are naturally fit.
That is NOT what is meant by freedom here. There is both freedom from and freedom to, but unless there are genuine choices, the right to choose is empty. One is free (uninhibited) on a desert island but wholly constrained to act. Freedom entails the ability to act upon certain human needs – individual and social. It entails substantive choices that enhance human dignity and values uniqueness and quality of effort. Freedom in the sense used here is the freedom to be humane, express what is unique in oneself and others; to grow, learn and express.
Freedom is not an absolute right. We are not free to invent our facts or theories free of any evidence or principles. We are not free to harm, destroy, incite, or degrade. We should be free to question, challenge, fail, disengage, protest, and resist. Freedom requires responsibility and accountability to principles, themselves, challengeable and testable. Freedom is not the absence of sociality or lack of obligation, but rather the opposite, a complex series of social conversations, indeed, commitments, among the living and the dead, experiments in new modes of living, thinking and feeling. Freedom entails continuously choosing to live with and without certain forms of social constraints and different truths. Freedom is inevitably tied to continuously learning and unlearning, and therefore, requires optionality and mobility of identity, participation and commitment.
As societies and economies continue to become more interdependent and volatile, their citizens will not want to be beholden to immutable and ineffective institutional structures. Rather they and their institutions will be continuously learning, seeking out alternative forms that can adapt to the challenges before them. This is why we see the rise of parallel institutional and governance structures and “citizen -member networks” that will compete with existing governmental structures and authorities. These innovations will challenge the very legitimacy of current institutions through the more effective provisioning of services and their ability to accommodate new identities and forms of production and economic exchange. An example of this is the Bologona Regulation which is s a year-old innovation by which the Bologna city government in conjunction with the LabGov of LUISS University invites citizen groups to form “pacts of cooperation” with the city government to perform specified services. According to David Bollier, who has an extensive blog on the topic, there are now nearly 100 such pacts, and many other Italian cities are hoping to emulate this model. In this respect, the role of traditional governments may evolve to become meta-governance bodies that oversee the continuous experiments in new forms of institution building and more local governance. Cities may well become the focus of real institutional innovation and governance reform.
The ironies of ironies may be that governance should become a locus of continuous innovation and become an exponential generator of new value. This should not be totally surprising since poor governance has been since a massive inhibitor to value creation, and hence an inevitable focus point for leveraged innovation. If the innovations of socio-technical learning can transform governance, from a black art into scalable technologies that mimic the rate of productivity of Moore’s Law, then indeed, we will have moved into another phase of human evolution that may not be as dystopic as many have feared.