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Swarms

| 20 Comments

Folks, before reading this short contribution from me this week, I humbly ask that you stop what you are doing, and back-up your email. I didn't do it for two years, and I am now paying the price. My entire Entourage database corrupted and is unrecoverable. Two years gone. Among the many things I lost were countless drafts for essays, since I do most of my writing in Entourage. Don't be dumb like Cicero, lost in Roman technologies of wood and bronze. Back it up!.

Mark Pesce, futurist creator of VRML, has recently published an essay entitled Piracy Is Good? Mr. Pesce's article points out the folly of the current media empires that are under siege by technologies that route around their ability to control and distribute media. His article extends beyond big media's present challenges to where human evolution is headed.

Everywhere centralized, managed systems appear to be at odds with the most innovative, pervasive and viral trends of this era. As Mr. Pesce points out, news media is being supplanted by blogs; VOIP is overcoming fixed-line telephony; social networks are changing marketing and relationships. Shrink-wrapped, retail distribution of software, music, movies and everything else captured with bits is being supplanted by Gnutella, Limewire, Acquisition and BitTorrent. If an idea is loosened into this robust hive of interconnections, it can take flight if it has merit; it can be amplified, improved-upon, and refined if a swarm develops around it and makes it into a meme.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about patriotic Neoconservativsm seems to be at odds with swarming's cultural and political effects.

Mr. Pesce made reference to Kevin Kelly's seminal work, Out of Control.

Mr. Kelly's book discusses the move away from mechanized industry to one based on organic models that mirror nature's productivity and patterns of growth. In a nutshell, Mr. Kelly says it will be better to grow things than to build them. His book concludes with The Nine Laws of God on how to make something from nothing. His First Law is intriguing:
Distribute being. The spirit of a beehive, the behavior of an economy, the thinking of a supercomputer, and the life in me are distributed over a multitude of smaller units (which themselves may be distributed). When the sum of the parts can add up to more than the parts, then that extra being (that something from nothing) is distributed among the parts. Whenever we find something from nothing, we find it arising from a field of many interacting smaller pieces. All the mysteries we find most interesting-life, intelligence, evolution-are found in the soil of large distributed systems.
The organic structuring of industry, business and society has the potential to erode the meaning and viability of the borders that define present-day cultures. I am not proposing that we can or should curtail human evolution away from mechanical societies to biological ones -- that would be impossible. But I do recognize that the idea of distributed being on a global scale will defy our notions of what binds societies in ways that are, for now, quite incomprehensible. Distributed being will challenge identies of caste, clan, class, patriotism, creed, even family.

I can't be certain, but nationhood quite possibly is in the breech, no matter how high we hoist our flags. I'm as skeptical as many of you are about EU-style transnationalism, which is largely a top-down organization that promises the dull thudding of the human spirit -- deeply centralized systems excel at that. The organicization of the human experience will make our current politics irrelevant over time, if Mr. Pesce and Mr. Kelly are correct. Transnationalism still only conceptualizes nationhood, albeit on a grand scale. Nationhood might very well be in the descendent and give way to organic, post-national social identites.

Like nationalism and transnationalism, the UN, which has a self image of global nationhood, might be made irrelevant by globalized, robust hives comprised of swarms that have so much inertia that they can affect greater change without the lumbering top-down structures of an institution invented in the 1920s, starting with the League of Nations. Any system that is centralized is facing irrelevance to the organic changes that beset them, much like the RIAA is today, or Newsweek and CBS.

In other words, today's politics of the Left and the Right look irrelevant when considering an organic future.

Ironically, Islamofascists have grafted their religion somewhat successfully to organic swarming by extending Islam beyond nationhood to a kind of virtual ummah, utilizing the Internet:
The Internet provides confused young Muslims in Europe with a virtual community. Those who cannot adapt to their new homes discover on the Internet a responsive and compassionate forum. “The Internet stands in for the idea of the ummah, the mythologized Muslim community,” Marc Sageman, the psychiatrist and former C.I.A. officer, said. “The Internet makes this ideal community concrete, because one can interact with it.” He compares this virtual ummah to romantic conceptions of nationhood, which inspire people not only to love their country but to die for it.
The Internet is the key issue -- it erases the frontiers between the dar al-Islam and the dar al-Kufr. It allows the propagation of a universal norm, with an Internet Sharia and fatwa system, administered by the clergy. Now one doesn’t have to be in Saudi Arabia or Egypt to live under the rule of Islamic law. Anyone can seek a ruling from his favorite sheikh in Mecca. In the old days, one sought a fatwa from the sheikh who had the best knowledge. Now it is sought from the one with the best Web site.
So, in respectful deference to Mr. Pesce and Kelly, who bravely proffer a largely positive future resulting from swarming and organic evolution, we can see that there are negative alternatives as well. Radical Islam dovetails very effectively with an organic, hive-based organizational structure, in spite of it's medieval creed. Many obscure manifestos will find legs, wings and stingers when empowered as swarms. And with such sweeping change on the human landscape, the cynic in me figures that many millions will be swept aside in the process.

There are a lot of positive aspects to the topics that Mr. Pesce and Mr. Kelly touch upon; they point at how evolution can spawn a revolution that can transform humanity to a higher place. Revolutions are a part of human history. For me, they're also troubling, since I know that many of the rules that govern life as I know it will be changed. It has me wondering if I will be groping to understand the fundamentals of a world that has passed me by.

20 Comments

In a decentralized world, there are still evolutionary advantages to a nation state.

Multinational corporatism is not the answer. Corporations have spent the last 30 years reminding us, rightfully I'm afraid, that they're loyalty is to the shareholders. Employees can count on no loyalty from them. I'm not ready to give up my constitution for that.

Even if the idea is the disolution into amorphous social networks, there's still the point of security. What's keeping another collectivist entity (like a nation state?) from forming, and basically annexing, by force, the bits of these amorphous networks that are within reach?

And having done that, why wouldn't it just continuine unopposed until something makes it stop, like another collectivist entity maybe?

Given this, the nation state is far from dead. The same dynamics that brought their creation still exist. This will remain the case until smaller groups or networks can command true loyalty and patriotism, and there is no advantage to consolidated wealth and power.

A tipping point is possibile given the ever expanding power of WMDs. It's a certainty when true doomsday machines are plentiful and cheap. Of course, that is just as likely to be the end of civilization as a new beginning.

Good essay. Keep 'em coming!

Cicero--
Meme plagues, toner wars, memetic surf, all that is coming.
Organic models are the strongest, look at genetic algorithms and neural nets in cosci, evolutionary game theory in econ. Social network theory and evolutionary psychology and population genetics in history.

Everything evolves. ;)

"administered by the clergy"

The virtual ummah is not organic in the sense you are using it. It is centralized, has a single vision, demonizes diversity and independence. It is closer to Catholicism than Protestantism in this sense and perhaps a polar opposite of the ideas of emergent social order.

All of the references you cite miss the most important aspect of networked culture. There will be swarms but they are ad-hoc and task oriented. They do not endure, and thrive on internal diversity. Such ad-hoc groups having true functional diversity, whose members have varied heuristic frameworks, will beat the snot out of competing groups since they are so superior at problem solving.

Cicero
Don't worry too much. I for one am not. The beauty of the internet is it has been the beast that couldn't be tamed such as that of all humans. We can let it take its' course or we can shut it down. The latter I am not so sure about. In a sense you could say I see the internet in much the same light as I see nuclear powers. The Genie is out of the bottle and I for one don't see anyway of putting it back in. The big kicker is although virtual my substitute for reality it is not reality. At least not reality as we know it today and was noted in the articles it certainly isn't going to replace reality any time in the near future.

Separating virtual from real is the key and unless they can become one and the same (of which I see no possibility of at this time although Jinnderlla may disagree) then I will begin to worry.

Cicero
I forgot one thing. We are Borg resistance is futile.

No, we are not Borgs, we are free to decide, and now it is within our reach much more information. Today ideas are globally free. We have much more elements to build our opinions.

USMC!
Of course i disagree!
In another hundred years or so, we'll be able to code ourselves into neural imprints with quantum computing, protect the imprints with quantum unbreakable codes, and beam ourselves to the farthest reaches of known space. ;)
Are you ready?

This David Boxenhorn post offers the best descriptive model of the internet i've seen.

From The Industry Standard's Review of The Talmud and the Internet
Somewhere near the roots of modern Western culture lies the belief that there are unbridgeable gaps between religious and secular, sacred and profane. Rosen counters that the Internet's gaudy melange of politics, porn, commerce and soap-box-preacher nuttiness suggests that everything is part of the same graceless totality. Jesus insisted on an either/or when he booted the money-changers from the Temple, but the Talmud, like the Internet, "talk[s] about God one moment, sex the next and commerce the third."

Far from "a broken-down state of affairs," this strikes Rosen as "astonishingly human and therefore astonishingly whole." By relating absolutely every idea from all possible angles, without passing final judgment on correct or incorrect, relevant or irrelevant, the Internet and the Talmud each invest their shattered, centerless cultures with a kind of mosaic unity. The Internet, like the Talmud, becomes "not merely a mirror of the disruptions of a broken world," but something that offers a kind of disjointed harmony. No matter how ridiculous or vulgar the parts, the whole cannot help but make sense.

Perhaps the Internet is an organic model itself? A mirror of humanity?

Not sure you do Jinn - you're talking reality dealing with matter. That I understand not an issue for me. It is when virtual and reality become one and the same. Then who is to say I absolutely exist?

As for the Borg comment it was meant as sarcasm / humor maybe I should have designated it as such. Somehow things are not as funny to others as the are to me. Your points are well taken Joe.

Jinn Actually you wont.

Dont mean the machines wont get better, but machines dont have hormones, they wont cut you off in traffic in the way those creatures with externally mounted gonads do.

If it did that programming would be corrected.

Now, I want you to ponder the kernel of what I just said, its a light scratch of that which expands to millions of books and covers at least, all the known history of writing on what being is.

Along the way, are a few dicoveries, and a few reality checks, and I probably understand the tech behind it at least as well as you do.

Emergent systems. I've written about them on The Glittering Eye and IIRC so have AL and Joe.

USMC, couldn't a neural imprint move around on the internet as a virtual entity?

((((Raymond))))
don't be scared.
if we can achieve the granularity, we can model anything. even hormones. ;)

Jinn, what I think will come, is the ability to have a really immersive experience of remote robotics, once they get good enough, spacewalks with real humans are better done by their artificial extensions, on mars you wont drive the bulldozer you will almost become the bulldozer.

The people themselves can stay in the habitats.

Thats a far better prospect than having my balls removed with a software edit, and finding out the result leaves me worse off than a point of view gun struck Vogon.

Raymond, sure, that too!
And your neural imprint will be a copy.
An immortal copy?
that could be mapped into a blank clone?
live forever. ;)

Scientist A studies twenty years to develop his craft, sacrificing along the way. He has an inspired idea about how to cure some types of cancer. But he reasons, "If I'm not to be rewarded for my work, why bother?" Why, indeed?

Some will do it just for the credit, but in the meantime, he has to eat, the drug company that put food on his table may get something in return, might not ... he needs a place to work, lights ac gear and consumables, his benifits, pension the debt on the place the taxes ,,, all so some democrat can pass a generic drug law that removes all reasons they would ever fund his work ?

As I said, many do it just for the credit, but even then ... your talking big bucks ..

but the Talmud, like the Internet, "talk[s] about God one moment, sex the next and commerce the third."

They are all the same thing, if he dont know that, he just dont get it.

Something you should ponder too Jinn. as you ponder what life without flesh would be like, or even if thats life at all.

"Well, if droids could think, that would be the end of us now woulnt it" -- said Obi Wan Kenobi, to his four armed friend.

"Open the pod bay doors please HAL"

The Prime Directive of the Blogosphere is: Link to your sources.

God, sex, and commerce are all the same thing. Excellent, Ray. Funny how ideologies try to compartmentalize reality.
Mistaking the model for reality is a real problem for many techies. Look at the mess the climatologists have gotten themselves into. It is the Club of Rome squared. So many true believers marching with locked minds deeper into the dead end rut.
The nation state vs. Ghengis Khan. Ghengis won for a while until his swarm dissolved rather abrubtly. The resilience of the nation state is based upon geographical factors and the ability to centralize wealth (through taxation) and supply of vital services including security. If you negate geographical limitations and provide for decentralized supply of vital services there is little reason for the nation state.

Rafael,
If you negate geographical limitations and provide for decentralized supply of vital services there is little reason for the nation state.
This adresses the wealth question. What about the security and patriotism questions?

Rafael

Funny how ideologies try to compartmentalize reality.

America was founded and grew based on decentralised everything, govt power was mostly local, and most of your food was grown nearby.

The fed was responsible for forien policy and defense and little else.

What bound america together was in idea, freedom.
Something still in short supply around the world.

Capitalism is a means not an end, the ChiCom capitalist roaders have that. Capitalism isnt freedom

A free man will trade, so he will be capitalist, or he isnt free, but it isnt trade that is the value, but the freedom.

And the way we secure that freedom is with the nation state, and it was the only reason America founded a central authority at all.

It mission priori is to secure and defend our freedom.

Currently, we have discovered, the hard way, that we cant remain free while certain others live in hate factories.

So we will topple the hate factories, and remove the threat. and they too, will value their new nation state, to preseve their freedoms.

The reason people grant power, and the reason tyranny wants power, are enemies of each other.

Leftist Tyranny, Autocrats, Despots Sultans Kings Tsars, From Stalin to Kim Jong.

America found a better way.

Is American power too central ? Yes, because the fed is in violation of the constitution.

But that is a temporary condition, our Martin Luther has nailed his notice on the door, and the people are reading the consitition for themselves again, and first, no more commi-leftist judges.

And all the leftist social planners will be out of a job, as the life work of them and all that came before them are undone.

For a large part, a major portion of the worlds nation states only exist to spit at us because we protect them for free.

Its time they did that on their own. our own defense is expensive enough without paying for most of the the entire free world.

We could save a few bucks perhaps. pull out of germany seems like a good idea. they have gone nazi again, and hate us anyway.

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