Rafe’s post on complex systems defending themselves randomly collided in my mind with this post and paper by Robin Hanson on the Singularity to spur a stray thought. What if the Singularity were catalyzed by changes in organizations rather than intelligence or manufacturing?
For those of you that don’t already know, a technological singularity is a point where technological advancement suddenly accelerates, making it impossible to make future predictions beyond that point. The term was originally coined by Vernor Vinge, a scientist and author. (I highly recommend all of his science fiction novels.) As Hanson argues in his paper, humanity has already experienced at least two previous singularities–the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions–and we’re due for a third.
There’s a lot of both scientific and science fiction speculation about the nature of the next Singularity. (For example, see the Singularity Institute homepage.) Typically, the assumption is that some self-improving dynamic will take over, such as intelligence improvements that lead to further intelligence improvements or miniaturization that leads to further miniaturization.
But Rafe’s post reminded me that one of forces that may be holding us back is the tendency of institutions created by humans to attempt to preserve themselves to the detriment of pursuing their original goals. As you already know, I think the UN IPCC is one example of this dynamic. But what if we figured out a way to keep our institutions on track?
This innovation could take many forms. A purely organizational solution might entail a set of organizational rules that help maintain the primacy of the original goal. A software solution might monitor electronic communications, detect counter productive self preservation, and initiate countermeasures. A neurobiological solution might alter our brain chemistry to damp down primate political tendencies that emerge as institutional self preservation. Or some combination of these three approaches plus a bunch more that I haven’t thought of.
In any case, a superior organizational paradigm should allow such institutions to out-compete other institutions in achieving useful goals. Eventually, a large enough population of improved institutions could dramatically accelerate technological and economic development.
I realize this is thought is only partially formed. But it’s yet another reason to try and understand complex systems.