2013: Wishes and predictions

Here are my wishes and predictions for 2013. Have a wonderful New Year’s and may we make great progress in 2013.

Dying

Centralized media: Not just corporate media but also celebrity livestreamers and bloggers, collectives, leak platforms, book publishers, etc. Media now belongs to everyone, news will come from those it is happening to, every person will be a news outlet.

NGO’s: After centralized media, the next institutions to go should be NGO’s. Society’s challenges are for society to deal with directly. If people are in need of assistance, they can ask the world directly.

UN: See above. We can speak to each other now. In the future, epistemic communities, farmgate importing and shunning can replace UN sanctions and resolutions.

Intellectual Property: Credit must be given and compensated, but intellectual property rights must die. The sooner copyrights and patents are gone forever, the sooner we can get on with creation and health, knowledge and prosperity will be available to all.

Institutions: Officially designated institutions will eventually be replaced by open, transparent, idea and action driven systems.

Group affiliation: The root of all evil in society, the cause of wars, the justification for human rights violations. ‘Othering’ must end.

Immigration: See above. All people need the basic human right to move freely and live and work where they choose. People are not illegal.

Still here and growing

Anonymous: By any other name, Anonymous as an idea and a system of collaboration will continue to create new society.

Resource states vs corporations: Governance by user groups will take over governance by corporations, resource corporations will continue to be nationalized and then control will be fought for locally. Communities will reclaim their homes and agricultural land from corporations and states.

Twitter: for better or for worse, Twitter and other social media tools will become global society. We need to replace them with free, secure, p2p software now.

Celebrity: More powerful for more meaningless reasons than ever in history. We need to think of how to manage celebrity influence to not create a new strange oligarchy.

Paranoia and xenophobia: In all times of great change, many people panic, stockpile weapons and fear and loathe ‘others’. Hate has reached intolerable levels as we have already seen in the numbers of people happy to condone baby killng and torture.

Tolerance: will also reach unprecedented levels as we find the society we have been deprived of for so long and begin to communicate.

About to appear

Justice: Laws founded on principals for the benefit of society, consistent social contracts, and a consistent, unbiased, accessible system of enforcement.

Women: Anonymous since forever, photoshopped out of all history and current events, women have been behind revolution and change in every country in the past years. Decentralized media has given them a voice for the first time in history; this will make this revolution very different from all the ones in the past. ‘Women’s issues’ are about to become mainstream issues, women’s solutions will start to be heard over men with guns.

Makers: Every 20 years or so, people’s innate drive to create overcomes consumer advertising, and we are due for this cycle. Time to bring back free stores, hacklabs, neighbourhood commons gardens and more; this time let’s make it last and become the integral part of society it is meant to be.

Me the people: No representatives, no hive mind, we are ready to hear from the individuals.

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Stigmergy

Kind people have stigmergically translated this article into German, French, and Spanish.

This article is part of a series now incorporated into : ‘Binding Chaos’.

Stigmergy is a mechanism of indirect coordination between agents or actions. The principle is that the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a next action, by the same or a different agent. In that way, subsequent actions tend to reinforce and build on each other, leading to the spontaneous emergence of coherent, apparently systematic activity. Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, seemingly intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even direct communication between the agents. – Wikipedia

A personality based system can never allow for mass collaboration on a global scale without representation such as that seen in organizations like the United Nations. If the world is to move away from representation and allow all voices to be heard, we need to find methods of collaboration which work with idea and action based systems. Concentric user groups with epistemic communities and knowledge bridges may work for idea based systems; for action, stigmergy may be the best option.

Currently, the typical response to a situation which requires an action is to create a noun, in the form of a committee, commission, organization, corporation, ngo, government body, etc. Far too often, the action never appears at all as the focus is always on the organization and the personalities involved instead.

Most systems are now run by competitive organizations. Competition creates redundancy, is slow and wastes resources on idea protection, advertisement, and more. Competition also requires secrecy which blocks progress and auditing and causes lost opportunities and ideas. Patents and copyrights further limit speed and the potential for mass input of ideas. Collaboration between the people with the greatest expertise does not happen unless they are hired by the same project.

The alternative to competition has traditionally been cooperation. This is most effective only in groups of two to eight people. For groups larger than 25, cooperation is agonizingly slow, an exercise in personality management which quickly degenerates into endless discussion and soothing of ruffled feathers, is extremely vulnerable to agent provocateurs, and in large scale groups very seldom accomplishes anything of value. Cooperation traditionally operates on the democratic principle that all voices are equal, so it does not allow for leaders, or users with greater expertise, energy or understanding to have greater influence than those on the periphery. Cooperation wastes a great deal of time and resources in both discussing and discussing the discussions. In an action based system, this discussion is rarely required as the opinion of those not doing the work is probably of little value unless it is solicited advice from a trusted knowledgeable party.

Cooperation and consensus based systems are usually dominated by extroverted personalities who make decisions to control the work of others and are justly resented by those doing the actual work. Most workers do not enjoy a hierarchical system as shown in the chart below, as they lose autonomy, mastery and creative control over their own work; the feeling at the bottom is no different whether there is a horizontal or a hierarchical structure making the decisions. Cooperative systems frequently use consensus or votes to make decisions for the entire group; these methods may not produce the best results as many people may not understand the work if they are not actually doing it, and they may demand things they would never be willing to do themselves. Consensus based systems are also prone to the ‘hive mind’ appropriation of credit for individual ideas and labour which causes further resentment.

Hierarchical System

Screen shot 2012-12-23 at 5.35.06 PM

Consensus Hierarchy

Screen shot 2012-12-23 at 5.35.28 PM

In the Stigmergy chart below, all workers have full autonomy to create as they wish; the power of the user group is in the ability to accept or reject the work. Since there is no officially designated person to perform a task the users are free to create alternatives if they do not like what they are offered. Workers are free to create regardless of acceptance or rejection; in the chart below some work may be accepted by the largest group, some alternatives for a different user group, some only by a small group, and sometimes the worker will be alone with their vision. In all cases the worker is still free to create as they wish. History has shown no drastically innovative ideas that received instant mainstream acceptance and history also shows that radically new ideas are most often the result of solitary vision; to leave control of work to group consensus only is to cripple innovation.

Stigmergy

Stigmergy chart

In a competitive environment, a new idea is jealously guarded, legally protected and shrouded in secrecy. Great effort is expended in finding supporters for the idea while also ensuring that the idea remains covered by legal protections such as non-disclosure agreements. The idea remains inextricably bound to the creator until it is legally transferred to another owner and all contributors work for the owner, not the idea. Contributors must then be rewarded by the owner which further limits the potential for development and wastes more resources in legal agreements, lawsuits, etc. Contributors have no interest in whether the project succeeds or fails and no motivation to contribute more than they are rewarded for.

If the idea is instead developed cooperatively, it must first be pitched by the originator, who will attempt to persuade a group to adopt the idea. The group must be in agreement with the idea itself and with every stage of its development. The majority of energy and resources are spent on communication, persuasion, and personality management, and the working environment is fraught with arguments and power struggles. Because the project is driven by a group, albeit a cooperative one, the group is still competitive with other similar outside projects, and still wastes resources and energy on secrecy, competitive evangelizing, etc. Both competitive and cooperative projects will die if the group that runs the project leaves and both will attract or repel contributors based on the personalities of the existing group. Both are hierarchical systems where individuals need to seek permission to contribute. Both focus on the authority of personalities to approve a decision instead of focusing on the idea or action itself.

Stigmergy is neither competitive nor traditionally collaborative.

With stigmergy, an initial idea is freely given, and the project is driven by the idea, not by a personality or group of personalities. No individual needs permission (competitive) or consensus (cooperative) to propose an idea or initiate a project. There is no need to discuss or vote on the idea, if an idea is exciting or necessary it will attract interest. The interest attracted will be from people actively involved in the system and willing to put effort into carrying the project further, not empty votes from people with little interest or involvement. Since the project is supported or rejected based on contributed effort, not empty votes, input from people with more commitment to the idea will have greater weight. Stigmergy also puts individuals in control over their own work, they do not need group permission to tell them what system to work on or what part to contribute.

The person with the initial idea may or may not carry the task further. Evangelizing the idea is voluntary, by a group that is excited by the idea; they may or may not be the ones to carry it out. It is unnecessary to seek start up funding and supporters; if an idea is good it will receive the support required. (In practice, that is not true yet, as few people have the free time to put into volunteer projects because most are tied to compulsory work under the existing financial system. Additionally, we still live in a personality driven system where only powerful personalities are heard.) Secrecy and competition is unnecessary because once an idea is given, it and all new development belongs to anyone who chooses to work on it. Anyone can submit work for approval, the idea cannot die or be put on hold by personalities; acceptance or rejection is for the work contributed, not the person contributing it. All ideas are accepted or rejected based on the needs of the system.

Responsibility and rights for the system rest with the entire user group, not just the creators. There is no need for people to leave the system based on personality conflicts as there is no need for communication outside of task completion and there are usually plenty of jobs with complete autonomy. As no one owns the system, there is no need for a competing group to be started to change ownership to a different group.

Stigmergy provides little scope for agent provocateurs as only the needs of the system are considered. Anyone working against the system’s functionality is much easier to see and prevent than someone blocking progress with endless discussion and creation of personality conflicts. Because the system is owned by all, there is also no one leader to target.

Nodes

As work progresses and core team and members grow, more interested and dedicated personalities emerge which begin to steer direction. Specialties are formed around the core team’s interests as the core team produces the most work and the work most valued by the rest of the user group. Systems beyond a certain level of complexity begin to lack coherence as the group’s energy and focus moves from broad to narrow, following the interests of the core team and the availability of resources; parts of the original system may be left undone.

As more members are added, more will experience frustration at limited usefulness or autonomy. Some of these members will have an interest in the work left undone and they will create a new node of like minded members and new people to take care of the undone work. Alternatively, casual users and observers of the system, who lack the desire or expertise to be a more active part of the original system, will see a different need created and start a new node. Rather than the traditional corporate model of endless acquisition and expansion, stigmergy encourages splintering into different nodes. Because each individual is responsible only for their own work, and no one can direct a group of workers, expansion means more work for the individual, a self limiting prospect. As a system grows, the additional work requires either additional resources or splintering; as communication is easier and there is more autonomy in smaller groups, splintering is the more likely outcome of growth.

Communication between nodes of a system is on an as needed basis. Transparency allows information to travel freely between the various nodes, but a formal relationship or communication method is neither necessary nor desirable. Information sharing is driven by the information, not personal relationships. If data is relevant to several nodes it will be immediately transmitted to all, no formal meetings between official personalities are necessary.

Any node can disappear without affecting the network, and the remaining necessary functionality of that node can be taken up by others. Nodes which find they are performing the same tasks will likely join, or one will be rendered obsolete by lack of use. New nodes are only created to fulfill a new need or provide greater functionality; it is inefficient to have the same task performed twice, and that only occurs if a second group discovers an alternative method that the first group is unwilling to adopt. In that case, the best system will win the most support from the user group, the other will die or remain as a valued alternative. Any user can contribute to the node which best matches their interests and abilities, or contribute to multiple nodes.

The future

A new system of governance or collaboration that does not follow a competitive hierarchical model will need to employ stigmergy in most of its action based systems. It is neither reasonable nor desirable for individual thought and action to be subjugated to group consensus in matters which do not affect the group, and it is frankly impossible to accomplish complex tasks if every decision must be presented for approval; that is the biggest weakness of the hierarchical model. The incredible success of so many internet projects are the result of stigmergy, not cooperation, and it is stigmergy that will help us build quickly, efficiently and produce results far better than any of us can foresee at the outset.

Idea and action driven systems

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

“Turing believes machines think. Turing lies with men. Therefore machines cannot think.” – Alan Turing

Personality driven systems

Representative democracies are part of a personality driven celebrity culture where people are encouraged to support their chosen personalities or groups in any action they take. This has changed from recent history, where celebrity culture existed but was moderated because people were encouraged to choose principles they supported and ensure those principles were met by any action, regardless of the actor.

The advantages of this system to those in power is obvious. When any criticism of an action taken by person A is met by cries that you must then support person B, we are dealing with a personality driven system. When similar actions that make Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe a war criminal make the US’s President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize winner, we are dealing with a personality driven system. When no action taken by a person ‘you support’ must ever be criticized, when we are encouraged to just trust an authority with no knowledge of their actions, when we are given the opportunity to vote for a person instead of actions, we are dealing with a personality driven system which allows us no real control over our governance or the actions taken by our society at all.

Where once soldiers were regular civilians who left their everyday lives to fight in defense of their societies, and were therefore worthy of the highest honour and gratitude, those civilians are now called ‘terrorists’, ‘militants’ and ‘unprivileged combatants’ and we are informed they have no right to fight in wars and are in fact war criminals for doing so. The people who deserve honour we are told, are professional paid killers, willing to do anything they are told, not in defense of their society but in offense to any country they are paid to attack. Our laws have been twisted to grant impunity to those we once reviled as mercenaries and make war criminals of those we once celebrated as heroes.

The world once had a system of laws which was written to apply equally to all people in all cases. Many states have been attempting to circumvent those laws by reclassifying people as ‘terrorists’ or ‘terrorist groups’ and pretending these groups are not allowed the same rights as others (in direct contradiction to the underlying principles). ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’, once a commonly repeated cliché, is now never heard, it is accepted that wrongs towards some people in some cases are ‘necessary’. If instead of categorizing groups of people as above or not worthy of the law we used the law as it was intended, to equally judge the actions of all, these situations could not exist.

The new power of personality driven systems is being illustrated in wars where all effort is expended trying to cloud or identify who is behind each group of fighters, seen horribly in places like Syria and the DRC. The effort to identify groups is meant to aid allegiances and guide people in supporting one group of men with guns committing atrocities or another. An action or idea driven system would reject all who commit atrocities equally and support those building society. That is an incredibly simplistic statement when applied to the two cases above, but the root evil of investing in men with guns instead of people building societies is recognized in all areas of the world which suffer permanent ‘instability’; the solution of just identifying ‘the good guys’ or deciding ‘there are no good guys’ was created and is continually promoted by those selling the weapons.

The disease of personality driven systems extends to entire groups, where the same action taken by one is terrorism, by the other is self defense. Most extreme are those who feel killing babies is justified if Israel is killing them, or those that feel the US NDAA’s provision for indefinite detainment of US citizens is horrifying, the US Patriot Act’s same power over everyone without US citizenship not worthy of notice. The faults of personality driven systems have been called by many names, racism, sexism, ageism, nationalism and more, but all of those -isms mean the same thing; people are being judged as nouns instead of verbs. If instead of supporting nouns, we supported ideas and actions, it would be far easier to follow our chosen principles in all cases.

Idea and action amplification

The groundbreaking social theorists Anonymous have attempted in the past years to create a hierarchy of information, an oligarchy of ideas, in an attempt to escape the pitfalls of personality driven governance. Memes are a perfect example of concise ideas being shared for the value of their information with no need of further authority. Memes can also be used to circumvent censorship such as Sina Weibo users talking about May 35th and other dates to mean the June 4, 1989 Tiannanmen Square anniversary. China has the fastest moving memes of anywhere in the world due to the speed of their censors and have developed ingenuous idea and action driven systems to avoid retribution on personalities. The Sunday stroll of the short lived Jasmine Revolution is one of many examples of gamified mass protests which everyone can play without direct instruction from an authority.

The promotion of ideas also allows great ideas to be evaluated and fact checked on their own merits rather than accepted or rejected based on the acceptance of the source. This is the best method of impartial evaluation since bad data can come from good places and vice versa. It is also the only way to be heard for voices which are marginalized otherwise. An idea based culture, where seeming majority opinions are rejected in favour of facts and individual assessment, is also the only real defense against astroturfers and persona management software.

Stigmergy is the action based twin of an idea based system. If there are no official authorities, anyone can act and it is up to the society or user group to accept or reject the act.

Personality based systems have been fought for several years by citizen journalists who rejected the idea that only official news was ‘trustworthy’ or ‘safe’ and have largely won that battle. There are still many battles ahead before people cease to be considered above reproach or failure and ideas are accepted for consideration blindly. In many ways, we are moving into more entrenched personality based systems, an idea to be discussed along with its pitfalls in Concentric groups, Knowledge Bridges and Epistemic Communities.

Credit and the role of the user group

Copyright and patent laws which are structured to ensure fame and profit for those that can afford the fees and are the quickest to file forms have created a society and a history filled with people celebrated for creations they did not originate and filled also with creative people who died in poverty and anonymity because they did not have the gift of self promotion. The user group has a key role to play in ensuring that credit is given where appropriate.

This may seem out of place in an argument against personality driven systems, but it is essential. While ideas need amplification from those with the power to do so, stealing credit for ideas creates resentment, discourages sharing and most of all, creates power where it should not exist. Unlike copying, which is not theft, taking credit deprives the rightful owner of it and is theft. The frustration felt by those who know they will never receive credit discourages sharing and open discussion and destroys the joy of creation. A true idea driven culture is one where it is not necessary to be an extrovert with millions of Twitter followers and public speaking skills to receive not just recognition of an idea but of the real idea originator.

Credit theft is a severe impediment to equality. In a world where media with global reach is controlled almost exclusively by western men, from owners to reporters to the 85% male Wikipedia editors, the result is women and others are photoshopped out of every important story. The news creates the fame which feeds the awards and recognition which perpetuates the cycle of exclusion. Where ideas translate into potential careers, credit theft is even more reprehensible. It is as common now as ever for a person with access to powerful forums to pick up an idea from a person unable to reach the public and use it to enhance their own reputation. This is frequently brushed off in groups fighting for societal change as ‘the hive’ owns the idea, everyone does the role they choose, and it just so happens that the role most suitable to those in power (western men) is interviews, public speaking, books, etc., while the silent and unrecognized work is more ‘suitable’ to the introverted or those without the power to take the stage. Any criticism or resentment is met with outrage that the originator cares more for their own fame than ‘the cause’. It is time to call an end to this practice which has existed far too long. There is no longer any pretend need for an extroverted man to present every idea, in these days of internet communication even a disabled, impoverished single mom does not need anyone else to say her words. The practice of making every public appearance by a woman an opportunity for sexual intimidation or sexual assault is an attempt to prolong idea theft and prevent women (and other marginalized groups) from ever holding power. It needs to stop.

Idea credit theft is even a problem in cases where the origin wishes to remain anonymous. It is very common for anonymity to be lost because the originator or their friends see an outside person claiming credit for an idea they know came from elsewhere. Just as free software and creative commons licenses allow anyone to use an idea but not claim ownership of it, there should be an attempt to protect ideas which are released for all from being claimed by one. If this seems silly, observe many cases where people are wrongly claiming credit for starting protests and even revolutions, promoting themselves to become the voice that is amplified when others are trying to find out goals and characteristics of the movement.

Idea credit theft is unfair to listeners who may wish clarification, or are interested in more ideas from the same source. False claims of origins usually result in ideas being improperly explained and the loss is to the user group. In a world where the user groups made every effort to find the original source of ideas, creative people would receive credit without being made to take a public stage or engage in public relations battles with extroverted people whose gifts are in marketing and self promotion.

While intellectual property rights need to be abolished as they are inhibiting progress and being used as a tool of inappropriate permanent economic control and intimidation, idea credit rights need far more recognition and need to start being applied to the originator, not the copyright or patent holders.