Where There's A William

there's always aweigh

Strategy Policy

Via Glen Reynolds we learn of the important question; “FOREIGN CHEESE: Threat, Or Menace?”

From my years of reading Sun Tzu (not to forget 4 years of high school PE followed by another 4 years of “close quarters habitation defensive training” in the US Navy), I would say it would be more a matter of who cut the cheese rather than the source there-of and, most importantly, precisely how upwind I can remain from the event immediately thereafter.

Who said classical strategy doesn’t have pertinence to the modern world?

A World Transformative Opportunity

Confused by the plethora of technology choices you daily find yourself confronted with?  Want an easy-to-learn technique to help you answer all your questions?  Can’t help you.  However, if you have the least interest in taking advantage of the near-endless opportunities our steadily (and increasingly) changing world offers, you should be listening to tonight’s edition of The World Transformed, 10pm Eastern, 7pm Pacific.

Oh yeah, Phil and Stephen try to make sense of some guy ratcheting on about strategy, too.

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.

A Rights-Based Strategy Of Exponential Technology Change

There exists in the USA an energetic (and more than occasionally vituperative) debate into the nature of rights.  Their source, their expression and, perhaps most vehement of all, the acceptable limitations on that expression.  What follows will draw example from a limited selection of that rights discussion with the express purpose of arguing the applicability of the fundamental principles of human rights as that concept might apply to developing a strategy to accommodate the exponential development of technology on human society.  This post is not intended to be all-inclusive and the hope is to stimulate thought toward arriving at a considered position available to be applied as circumstance makes desirable.

Since the topic is exponential change in capability, I will take the fundamental position that the principles delineated in the 9th and 10 amendments to the US Constitution are the most supportive of people having the broadest authority for developing and using technology.  Additional to this, the principle that restriction of the exercise of rights (specifically, the right to learn about and individually seek to advance the development of technology in a specifiable application) by those other than the legitimate owner(s) of a given technology (in a word; government) are subject to specific and quite limited circumstance (as example, see the entire Bill Of Rights to the US Constitution).

There has recently been an effort to counter the question of an individual exercising certain rights without reference to the general concept of rights.  I think this entire line of reasoning is most pertinent to dealing with the effects of exponential growth on human society.  To wit; that rights cannot be selectively denied without destroying the very concept, and that rights can be mutually limited in specific and stipulated fashion and degree.

Rights are the universal condition of the individual human (alright, the individual intellectual entity).  Their exercise can be denied, but they can only be temporarily extended to some other voluntarily (regardless of the duration of the agreement).  If this be true generally, then applying the same principles to encourage and normalize change becomes a mere extension of established principles and it’s application subject to the established mechanisms for dealing with disruptive circumstance.  Should it come down to a matter of law, I’m thinking a Federalist model; a unifying but expressly limited structure within which a variety of different standards are available to individual choice.  Freedom of movement between the different areas is guaranteed as is personal responsibility for the effects of one’s actions.

In their book Abundance, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler seem to ignore the effect of network development on the ability of people to adopt technology changes in a fashion that allows for exponential growth of their ability to accommodate the effects of exponential growth on their societies and selves.  What I am suggesting in this post is that a principle of ethical and mutually beneficial standards be developed, specifically in response to the numerous changes the two men make so prominent a part of their book.  We can make such an effort a central part of our effort to adapt to and incorporate exponential change into our lives, or experience yet another set back in the course of human development – an experience they go to some effort to point out that human history is “littered with”.

The two men make the point that humanity has been improving the human condition throughout the course of recorded human existence.  Why not make doing so successfully a prominent part of a conscious strategy to achieve a continuation of that historical trend?

Strategy Principles In Abundance

This isn’t really a book review, more an observation on the ideas expressed by the authors of the book, but I encourage everyone to buy this book and study what it has to offer.  Not just read it; we all need to figure out how to personally apply as many of the concepts briefly examined there-in as we ultimately prove able to.  It’s that important.

In the book, the following statement is made:

“… global living standards will continue to improve regardless of the horrors that dominate the headlines.”  A Note From The Authors, pg X

Stripped of its context, this is a re-statement of a basic strategic principle that can be expressed in a digital context as information =/= knowledge.  Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler are making the explicit point that the examples of failure notwithstanding (and however horrible in practice), humanity is – and they contend has historically always been – on an inexorably rising trend of improving conditions of life.  They make this point in support of the concept of exponential growth applying to more than just our tech toys; that all of human existence is improving on the identical, inter-connected and interdependent scale as well.

In Chapter 1, Our Grandest Challenge; The Lesson Of Aluminum, pg 3-4, they make the observation:

History’s littered with tales of once-rare resources made plentiful by innovation.  The reason is pretty straight-forward; scarcity is often contextual.”

 A more intuitive explanation of the strategic principle of “position” I have trouble imagining.  Advancement of position is always measured against both your present condition and that of others too.  From this it can be seen that position is also always an unstable and temporary condition; a momentary measurement of a fluctuating placement within a dynamic and unceasing process.  The author’s contention that this is a context that is much more subject to direct individual influence – and that our steadily improving technology only increases that degree of influence – is potentially sufficient to justify the cost of the book all in itself.

“… one of the better responses to the threat of scarcity is not to try to slice our pie thinner – rather it’s to figure out how to make more pies.”   Chapter 1, Our Grandest Challenge, The Limits To Growth; pg 9

 In rhetoric, there is a technique I’ve seen identified as framing the argument.  By delineating the boundaries within which discussion is limited, the outcome of the exchange can be predictably controlled.  Classical strategy has it that you must control the context of possibility as to which positional advancement tactics are permissible.  Strategy has an internal ethic, but this is as akin to morality as a kiss is to rape (they’re both inter-active human behavior, but …).   Holding up the potential for less pie per capita may well be ethical behavior, but the more moral positional advancement is to actualize the capability for more of us to make pies instead (hopefully so as to offer some to us all at less cost per bite).

“One reason abundance remains hard to accept is because we live in an extraordinarily uncertain world, and decision making in the face of uncertainty is never easy.  In a perfectly rational world, when given a choice, we would asses the probability and the utility of all possible outcomes and then combine these two to make our call.  But humans rarely have all the facts, we can’t possibly know all the outcomes, and – even if we did – we have neither the temporal flexibility nor the neurological capacity to analyze all the data.  Rather, our decisions are made based on limited, often unreliable, information, and further hampered by internal limits (the brain’s processing power) and external limits (the time constraints under which we have to make our decision).  So we have developed an unconscious strategy, a problem-solving aid for just such situations: we rely upon heuristics.”  Chapter 3, Seeing The Forest Through The Trees, Cognitive Biases, pg 29

 In the world we actually live in, some 3,500 years ago someone developed a methodology that assumed both uncertainty and the absence of complete (or even reliable) knowledge upon which to base decisions.  Upon occasion I have the amusing conceit to think that Sun Tzu may well have been simply the most observant guy of his fellow humans behavior to have ever existed, and that his famous treatise may in fact be the oldest surviving example of an effective job application known to human history.  That bit of hubris notwithstanding, I do know that the principles of strategy he recorded offer a far more consistent and broadly applicable standard upon which to base decision making then any possible format of qualified guesses possibly could reliably achieve.  I’m not dismissing heuristics, knowing what you don’t know is valuable; maybe a conscious strategy would be a better choice, that’s all.

I firmly believe that we are capable of developing technology that deliberately applies the principles of classical strategy to our knowledge base so as to vastly improve our individual capability to quantifiably apply that to our decision making process as a matter of routine.  If all of our major choices (those which we spend time and effort deciding – the ones not having an intuitive answer immediately apparent) were the result of a data search of all pertinent information, ranked by a series of hierarchies to arrive at a select number of choices with predetermined probabilities of result, then we all become much more capable of providing for our individual wants and needs through our own arrangements.  This presents an obvious source of conflict of course.

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.  People should be be made aware of the increased possibility for their personal development, be directed to the means of doing so achievable from their circumstance and taught the philosophical values and standards appropriate to the safe usage of technology.  I will write more on this in another post, but I believe Peter Diamandis in particular needs to re-evaluate his apparent position on the development of networks, both in light of the individuals safety as well as the effect such networks have on peaceably …, err, encouraging political hierarchies to modify existing legislative structures so as to better allow for ease of technology advancement that undeniably disrupts historical technology-based social and economic arrangements.  I submit that such networks can provide a reinforcement of the efforts exerted by organizations such as his own X-Prize Foundation in achieving positive societal change.

Transformative Strategy

I received an email from Phil Bowermaster the other day in which he pointed out what he saw as similarities between my views on classical strategy, the evolutionary developmentalism concept John Smart writes about and the Prosumer concept I first became acquainted with in an Alvis Brigis blog post shortly after our mutual Future Blogger days.

Any of these ideas would make for a complex discussion on its own.  The idea of trying to summarize and present them in some combined form as a classical strategy holistic (I really don’t like that word, but it does seem to sum up the non-linear process Sun Tzu formalized back when) presentation is an enormous challenge, one I just don’t think can be clearly presented in a strictly verbal format.  To wildly mix the metaphors, it requires too much spade work to form up the foundational concepts that permit erection of the assumptions necessary to format the context from within which to extrapolate possible choices to select among so as to make an informed decision whereby to advance our individual position within the more general strategy that we are pleased to call “civilization”.

In other words, this post is about calling a spade a context, or some such nonsense claptrap brilliant insight as that.

The expression “accelerating rate of change” (sometimes called exponential change) isn’t really directly applicable to social constructs like “prosumer” (though it is to economics more generally), for all it has a measurable economic effect.  Intellectual constructs like economics are external to the individual person; the prosumer concept is one of individual, personal self-perception that informs how we each view the economic and other societal structures we inhabit and interact within.  I share the belief that a fundamental change in our personal and societal image of ourselves (such as that implicit to the prosumer concept) will likely be necessary for humanity to successfully adapt to the social instability caused by such a dynamic experience as an exponential rate of change would cause.  The immediate problem as I see it is to convince people that they should examine the set of personal and societal changes necessary to begin making such a transition will require, and then set about organizing to effect the process.  My personal belief as to how one might begin the former can be read here.

Moving on,  I have to say that the whole evo-devo concept John Smart (and others) writes about isn’t all that compelling a proposition as of yet.  I’m convinced (indeed I would be astonished that it might ever become otherwise) that there are physical interactions and processes in this universe that humanity isn’t even aware exist, never mind understand.  It doesn’t strike me as unreasonable to suggest such unknown processes are expressed in such a manor as to mimic a deliberate design intent, but I think this more an effect of our ignorance of the physical universe and its controlling principles than it is of anything else.  There are lots of facts and a good deal of correlation being presented, but the absence of anything resembling measurable causation leaves me certain that this inquiry needs more development before it will begin to become useful as a factor in strategic consideration.

Phil’s summation of my views as “… trying to advance one’s position” gives me hope that I’m not such a desperation choice as an interview guest as I have only half-jokingly suggested in the past.  Not only is “no man is an island” a poetic truism, it’s also another way of stating a strategic concept; all human beings (all independent intellects despite planet or source of origin for the more cosmic-minded reader) are unique positions within the strategic construct we are pleased to call “life”.  Each such individual position has the capability to exercise independent choice as to action taken, but does so from within an interactive social construct of other positions each also acting independently (if occasionally in mutual cooperation) together.

Confused yet?

Classical strategy is the premise that we must make semi-informed choices of action, which we base upon the sometimes-measurable effects of the physical universe within which we exist.  Strategy never has offered a certainty of result, nor can it ever do so; what strategy does is provide a matrix of measurable cause-and-effect relationships upon which the individual can develop a course of action and re-action having a predictable outcome somewhat more likely than that allowed for by pure chance.  The more we each can know about our universe (both in total as well as in detail – the macro as well as the often seemingly contrarily structured micro/nano levels if you will), the better we can make use of the principles embodied in classical strategy.  The more our technology advances, the better we might become at predictably applying those principles.

Classical strategy doesn’t offer any answers to our questions.  It does offer a proven platform by which we can determine the best answer we are capable of, given our limited knowledge and less-than-perfect ability to process what we do have.  It also offers a means by which to measure our belief in the reliability of the conclusions we draw based upon that known-to-be incomplete knowledge base.  Classical strategy offers proven standards by which to both acquire, and judge the trustworthiness of, newly acquired knowledge.  Unlike the practice of heuristics, which always assumes ignorance of the subject (so as not to rule out any possible answer), the principles of classical strategy provide a structure within which to itemize all known data and from which to create and validate the network effect used to advance position, which is built upon that knowledge by yourself as well as others.

From all of the foregoing, I hope to have the opportunity to talk with Phil and Stephen (and, through Erykah, my fellow members of The World Transformed commentariat)  about how modern technology might help us apply the 3500+ y/o principles of classical strategy to the problem of adapting to the demands of an exponential rate of change as well as a possible methodology to make that as seamless and un-disruptive a process as existing dominant positions will permit.

That’s an interview topic I think would fit the constraints of The World Transformed interview format and in which I have some hope of holding up my end of the conversation.

Strategy Is Amoral (which is why it works so well)

Via Aaron Clarey’s Captain Capitalism blog comes notice of this Seattle, Washington news story presented by NBC TV network affiliate King5.

“No pictures taken; no questions asked”, regarding who turned in the gun to the police-run collection point being the relevant point of interest here.

Got an annoying neighbor or co-worker?  Ex-spouse working you over in the courts?  You get the idea, I’m sure; here’s your chance to be a criminal mastermind with the Seattle PD’s willing assistance!

Some effort on your part will be necessary of course (it’s strategy, not socialist economic policy).  There’s the whole delicate issue of timing to be considered, not to mention the basic premise of there being no direct witness to the act (and if you can’t arrange matters thus and so, the word you want is “fantasy” not strategy), but if killing someone and getting away with it is an as-yet un-crossed off entry on your personal bucket list, then January 23 – 25 next in Seattle, Washington is your destination of choice.

Wash well after the fact, present your anonymous self to a collection point with a well-wiped down (and unloaded) gun the morning of the 26th January, and the evidence vanishes into the police supervised smelter directly thereafter.

Celebrate your success by giving the gift card to some smelly beggar deserving poor person on your way back home.  If it needs to be said, Amazon is putting up the seed money along with the gift cards; do you really think they can’t associate a particular card to a specific customer transaction should SPD make inquiry later?  Come on, Moriarty!

Strategy works.  It works in pretty much direct correlation to the degree of minimal intellect and attention span you can bring to any outcome you work to achieve.  To stretch a metaphor only slightly; tools are often not up to the task to which they are put … and whose fault is that?  Getting a Seattle (or virtually any other, really) politician to admit to their strategic mistakes, however, is a matter for another post entirely.

All you proto-Dexters rejoice and start planning your itinerary.

Past Performance Is Not A Guarantee Of Future Behavior …

.., but it is the safe way to bet when politics are involved.

I think David Gregory, the not-quite-yet-late commentator for the NBC News organization, might want to give serious – and fairly immediate – thought to catching a flight back to ‘ol Blighty in the very near future.  There’s still plenty of room under the Obama bus, and him going to jail for embarrassing Obama and the Democrats violating DC gun laws on national TV could be usefully spun by his erstwhile colleagues into less politically damaging support for additional gun restrictions legislatively.

Food for thought.

Update (12/30/12):  And, of course, strategy works both ways.  🙂

Aging Strategy

Maria Konovalenko (whom I took mildly to task on a different issue here and this same issue here) has a recent post up on her blog about the relationship of human aging to disease and the research funding process effects on healthy lifespan extension and traditional disease treatment therapy research processes.

She writes:

Aging is not considered to be a disease at the moment. There is no such indication as aging, therefore one can’t register a geroprotector drug, the one that slows down aging. This is one of the major hurdles in aging research. Even though there are some substances that are proven to slow down aging and protect from diseases, researchers can’t make drugs from these substances. This has to be changed if we want to live longer and healthier.

A perfectly valid observation, marred by her curative prescription:

I think it’s horrible that the NIA people are propagating this idea that aging is not a disease. They are rejecting the opportunity with their own hands. If they fought for persuading the healthcare officials to accept aging as a disease, a lot of problems would be gone instantly.

Let’s be blunt here; the people staffing the US NIA are perfectly ordinary Americans trying to perform their job duties as well as they can in the job environment they occupy.  I expect they by-and-large are well-meaning people who genuinely want to improve other people’s lives medically (and I’m confident Maria herself would not disagree with this observation).  The problem being, the people staffing NIA aren’t free to make funding grant decisions based solely upon science – they work for the US government and so are funded by the US legislative branch of government and directed by the US executive branch of government, both of which are frequently subject to pressures from conflicting points of view.

Basically, having the .gov fund your research virtually guarantees you won’t have much say in the direction your research follows and you will always find your efforts being held up as example of how wrong-headed government funded research is (if only by someone whose pet project/topic of interest isn’t getting funded as well as desired).  The problem isn’t a lack of funding, it’s the funding regulation process itself that’s having such an inhibiting effect on aging treatment research.

In her comments I wrote (in part):

Relying for research (or any other, really) funds from people who are themselves reliant upon the common perception that their opponents can create about them to portray them in a negative light will always result in a tightly constrained and medically questionable (at best) research and development (or pretty much any other, I suggest) environment. Much better, I think, to develop a different model of research funding that minimizes individual influence and maximizes transparency of research process. Government would still have a desirable role in the production and distribution process of medical treatment after all.

My thinking here is influenced by my experience with Khan Academy.  Salman Khan began his education “business” as a series of YouTube videos to tutor his niece who lived in a different city here in the USA.  Serendipitously, he chose not to make the videos private, and others soon found them and began commenting positively about them.  Eventually, financial backing was arranged and Khan Academy became the non-profit education establishment it is still in the process of becoming.

Maria Konovalenko occupies a position from which she is uniquely able to replicate that experience – not for education as such, but for creating a healthy life extension non-profit to fund research into therapies as well as educating people around the world about healthy life extension.

This would not be a quick process (Sal Khan spent 6 years building his teaching model and portfolio to arrive at the formal organizing stage), but she has the credentials and access to the researchers to begin the development process that Sal Khan himself has demonstrated.  An open-ended series of instructional YouTube videos (in as many different languages as Maria can contrive to produce – I’m guessing she isn’t the only multi-lingual hottee of her personal acquaintance – but at least in both Russian and English to begin with) that explain the various principles and research efforts, and maybe some interviews of researchers themselves when possible, would make a good beginning.  Once she has a program of research direction(s) defined “on tape”, she begins the process to attract funding for a non-profit, non-governmental entity to fund research into age-related effects on disease and treatments for aging aspects of (ultimately any) disease or health condition, entirely independent of government or corporate investment in similar types of research.

Maria is quite correct that present research efforts are being artificially limited, both in scope as well as direction.  I hope my comment at her blog will lead her to this page and that she gives these ideas some consideration.  I’m not getting any younger myself, after all.  Yet …

Yesterday Was Proof Positive

Barack Obama and the Democratic Party really are the Masters of the Universe; even the End Of Time Apocalypse was a failed policy.

Alternatively, it was just one more iteration of one of the earliest known examples of the apparently-not-all-that-progressive practice of recycling.

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