Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Technium is getting more interesting

Way back here I was critical of Kevin Kelly's Technium concept.

Okay, so I am not going to retract those comments but it is time to amend them.
Kelly continues to work on the idea and it is getting more interesting as he add addition concepts.
You can listen to the talk with the link below or if you go to the Long Now you can watch it on the web.

So these are the big new addition to the Technium concept.

1) Big math of “zillionics” ---beyond yotta (10 to the 24th) to, some say, “lotta” and “hella.”
Basically Kelly's point is that we do not have words in the language for the numbers that digital technology is generating - global digital memory capacity, web scale etc.

2) New economics of the massive one-big-market, capable of surprise flash crashes and imperceptible tectonic shifts. 
The more autonomous, the more that either the machines will make unexpected choices or individuals will work out ways of gaming the system. Kelly claims in the talk that nobody knows the cause of the flash crash. However, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission of the U.S. claims that a single individual was significantly responsible. Link.

3) New biology of our superorganism with its own large phobias, compulsions, and oscillations. 
With new organisms come new illnesses. Look at the problems viruses can cause or cyber attacks. Perhaps Kelly goes to far, but he could be right. It is certainly an interesting thought experiment to seethe global economy from this perspective - new strengths and new vulnerabilities. We think we know what the economy is but perhaps alongside the World Bank, we need a World Economic Health Organisation.

4) New minds, which will emerge from a proliferation of auto-enhancing AI’s that augment rather than replace human intelligence. 
Kelly nicely makes a case for weak AI and against strong AI. But even weak AI will drive change  which we can't imagine.

5) New governance. One world government is inevitable. Some of it will be non-democratic—”I don’t get to vote who’s on the World Bank.“ To deal with planet-scale issues like geoengineering and climate change, “we will have to work through the recursive dilemma of who decides who decides?” We have no rules for cyberwar yet. We have no backup to the Internet yet, and it needs an immune system.
Big thinking, and we are falling further and further behind where the technology is.

What I like about this talk is not the details, its the the big thinking, it is a few sketches on a napkin but industry, government and academics are limited by their institutional histories. Only someone of Kelly's statute can get a conversation like this going. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Macro Innovation 13 (final): Ecosystems

In the last of my macro-innovation series I want to just mention the increasing use of the 'ecosystem' as an emerging term particularly in relation to entrepreneurship. just google "entrepreneurial ecosystems".

I do not actually dislike the analogy to ecosystems but what I find problematic is the use of the term (a) as though everybody intuitively understands what the term means and (b) that there is only one 'ecosystem' framework.

The key question you should ask whenever you read (...) ecosystem is what are we talking about.


The first thing to consider is that the study of ecosystems is incredibly complex with a huge variety of sub-topics - boundary definitions, to ecosystem types (forests, deserts and marine etc), tropic levels, food webs system productivity, disturbance and resilience etc etc.

So parameters matter?

  1. energy into the system (sun) and water converted into other matter (plants)
  2. biomass - accumulation of living matter
  3. productivity - conversation of energy
Trophic structures

Miller & Levine Biology

Food webs and chains.

Miller & Levine Biology

A food web is entire food structure within a given ecosystem, but within the web there are specific chains - individual tropic levels.

Entrepreneurial ecosystems.

What are we talking about, is it population ecology - a critical mass of similar enterprises and the conditions under which they survive or fail?

Are we thinking ecosystem ecology - energy into the system and then a tropic level of success?

Generally, I think it is a nice fuzzy term where the interactions in the system don't need to be explained - we just have an ecosystem. 

I think there are really useful concepts that we could learn from ecology we just aren't.