Friday, January 25, 2013

The Threat Of Abundance - A Strategic Model

In their book, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler write a brief over-view of many of the dangers associated with the concept of exponential growth of technology.  This can be found in the appendix on pages 293 through 304 and is imaginatively titled DANGERS OF THE EXPONENTIALS.  They confront the Bill Joy lead balloon along with bio-terrorism, cyber crime, a mash-up of robotics, AI, and the unemployment line and conclude with Unstoppable:
"... putting the brakes on technology just won't work.  As the Bush administration's ban on human embryonic stem cells bore out, attempting to silence technology one place only drives it elsewhere."
  Keeping in mind that the really bad stuff is still in Pandora's Box somewhere (Thanks Lara Croft!), all of the rest seems sufficiently bad enough to be getting on with and we are going to have to do something about it too.

In my post on this book on Wednesday, I wrote:
Diamandis and Kotler seem to be comfortable in the belief that networks of users of technology will accrete naturally.  While true enough, this position leaves the direction of such growth far too susceptible to destructive (or merely oppositional) forces influence.  My belief is that such user networks deserve nurturing and promotion in their growth process; in direction, in speed and in the very nature of that growth.
 I realized at the time this is a bit inflammatory (at the very least of drawing a conclusion based on little direct evidence) and almost certainly isn't an accurate description of the authors hopes.  They were writing a book and there simply must be a limit to what can be included therein (otherwise you have to call it a library).  What follows is an effort to redress that imbalance, as well as to propose a possible mechanism to counter the threats noted in their book's appendix.  With that said, here you go, boys.


There are legitimate concerns about what might also result along with the abundance of opportunity from the projected growth of technology examined in the book Abundance.  Human history being also littered with past efforts at dealing with threat, I wish to suggest a potential example upon which we in this era might base an effort to both develop that hoped-for abundance while simultaneously countering the implicit threat.

What we need is a mechanism - an organization accepting membership by anyone - that encourages development and adoption of technology that satisfies the increasing demands of humanity and also encourages creation of counter-applications to the undesired efforts of those who would apply technology in a harmful or unacceptably destructive way.  I think the example of the Knights Templar might be adapted to fill this bill.

An organization associated with, but not directly a part of, mainstream groups.  An organization with an explicit but multifaceted effort structured around a stipulated membership skill set.  An organization funded by external donations as well as from it's own accomplishments and developed assets.  I can stretch this as far as necessary, but the idea is to create a semi-official but independent organization that is dedicated to the safe development of technology as equally as it is to encouraging the most wide-spread adoption of technology applications (both direct and in response to technology threats) that the membership works to develop.

Actual knighthoods and the like would be silly, but might offer an example of a potential class of "job titles" for this hypothetical organizations members to utilize.  Any organization has its internal hierarchy; the Templars were no different and I suggest that the distinct but loosely defined type of descriptions they utilized would make good sense in this application too.

Like the Templars, members in the organization (a name would be really useful too while I'm about it) would be unpaid but eligible for support by stipulated means; direct contributions toward a specified development perhaps, cash or other material prizes awarded for successful development efforts being another obvious (and I think principal) mechanism.  The important part of this is that the format specifically address how to equitably distribute both prizes and commercialization of developed technology applications.  Perhaps the "badges" mechanism used by Salman Khan to encourage and reward student study efforts might be usefully modified in this circumstance.  Two or three (at most) distinct badges that can denote both level and degree of direct involvement in a given development.  This mechanism would also be used to equitably distribute prize awards as well as commercialization revenues.  Again, this would be consistent with the Templar historical model of knights, sergeants and clerics working together as (social) equals within the same organization.

There would need to be some sort of "executive council", made up of non-members of the organization; perhaps drawn from sources like Diamandis' X-Prize Foundation, NGO's and even governments themselves (as example, the US President's Science Adviser, charged with recommending funding for specific prizes to a Congressional committee perhaps and reporting back to same on current status' and results).  Members of this council (which I think should be temporary appointments) would be responsible for creating prizes as well as determining their being awarded properly of course, but I think this council should be equally responsible for encouraging explicit government efforts to reduce legislative hindrances to adoption of technology application.  The membership themselves act as a self-coordinating effort to encourage popular support for the same freedoms at the political grassroots level as it were.

I envision the executive committee establishing (this would involve soliciting funding as well as supervising the honesty of the award process) a series of prizes ranging from a few thousand dollars to as much as $250,000 for specific technology application development along with aggressive management of application commercialization contracts (also to be developed and supervised by the committee).  Along with this should be a series of prizes directed at developing technology applications that defeat stipulated threat mechanisms (either existing or potential) that members can work to develop; these prizes should begin at the $500,000 level to make clear the importance placed upon developing safeguards as well as increased capability.

The founding document(s) of this organization (much as the US Constitution does, a model I recommend) should make explicit the intent and purpose of the organization, should stipulate a transparent process whereby anyone can determine this principle is being adhered to in practice, should strictly limit the duties, functions and authority of both the executive council as well as the general membership, and perhaps most importantly of all, should explicitly delineate the liability the council, membership and contributors assume for their actions within the activities covered by the founding charter of the organization.  Having this founding charter be formally recognized and accepted as having equal legitimacy with a formal treaty between governments would be the standard sought.

I'm certain I've left out much of importance, but this seems sufficient to introduce my proposal.

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