Archive for the ‘Human Values’ category

Bursting at the Seams

October 16, 2007

Jeffrey Sachs – Speaking on solving global problems at the Reith Lectures. He may be a one-man Club of Rome.

And how can it be, ladies and gentlemen, that we think we can be safe? We think we can be safe when we leave a billion people to struggle literally for their daily survival, the poorest billion for whom every day is a fight to secure enough nutrients, a fight against the pathogen in the water that can kill them or their child, a fight against a mosquito bite carrying malaria or another killer disease for which no medicine is available, though the medicines exist and are low cost, thus letting malaria kill one or two million children this year. How can this be safe? How can we choose, as we do in the United States, to have a budget request this year of $623 billion for the military – more than all the rest of the world combined – and just $4.5 billion for all assistance to Africa and think that this is prudent? One might say it is science fiction that a zoonotic disease could arise and somehow spread throughout the world, except that AIDS is exactly that. How many examples do we need to understand the linkages, and the common threats, and the recklessness of leaving people to die — recklessness of spirit, of human heart, and of geo-political safety for us?

President Kennedy talked about a way of solving problems, and that too will be a theme of these Lectures. We are entering I believe a new politics, and potentially a hopeful politics. I’m going to call it open-source leadership. If Wikipedia and Linux can be built in an open source manner, politics can be done in that manner as well. We are going to need a new way to address and to solve global problems, but our connectivity will bring us tools unimaginable even just a few years ago.

We have new, old, and reinvented tools – online and offline – for generating collective wisdom toward solving complex social problems. What’s missing is the same thing that has always been missing: a bit of vision from the stakeholders, who might be committed to resolving differences among the different holders-of-stakes, to attempt a true dialogue with a meaningful consensus for action.

Dialogic design may be a means for such open source politics. It provides a means of engaging people with a problem in common in an open, democratic, and productive design thinking process. Policy making is a design problem, wherein a large and variable set of unwieldy inputs and voices overwhelm the decision maker, and a sensemaking process ensures to arrive at a decisions that intuitively organize the meanings and needs of the policy into a course of action. This is very hard work for politicians and policy wonks, neither discipline of course, being trained in design thinking. But it is a problem of designing, nevertheless.

In dialogue, you are heard and your contributions are honored, as are all contributions. Wisdom is that which emerges from the common through the exchange, understanding of the problem space, and generation of design possibilities. It is not wikiality – whether online or on-face, its the real deal.

Cylons are in the pipeline

September 19, 2007

The push for strong AI must have a spiritual basis, because after trying and failing to achieve “AGI” from Turing to Neural Nets, most researchers learned something about the human beings they were attempting to model. If it could be done, as Battlestar Galactica warns, we would burn many of our bizarre biases and belief systems into their firmware. Cylons are monotheists, after all, just like people in most other organized belief systems.

The Singular Question of Human vs. Machine Has a Spiritual Side
Wall Street Journal (09/19/07) P. B1; Gomes, Lee

There are people who believe there will one day be a point of “singularity” when human intelligence is overtaken by machine intelligence, and they speculate that a new, super-intelligent organism cross-bred from man and machine could be one of the monumental developments this singularity could bring about. cylon-evolution.jpg

Lee Gomes writes that singularity advocates talk at length about the need for Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which is seen as a key singularity milestone. Yet he says AI researchers have been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to achieve this goal since the 1950s. “There is a schism between the AGI and the AI worlds,” Gomes notes. “The AGI faction thinks AI researchers have sold out, abandoning their early dreams of ‘general’ intelligence to concentrate on more attainable (and more lucrative) projects.” Gomes agrees with this assessment, but while AI researchers insist that the revision of their approach was unavoidable given the naivete of their earlier ambitions, singularists are undaunted in their belief that new approaches will yield AGI breakthroughs.

Gomes entertains the notion “that the discussion of singularity involves a sublimated spiritual yearning for some form of eternal life and an all-powerful being, but one articulated by way of technical, secular discourse,” and he perceives significant intersection between singularists and proponents of “life extension.” He adds that the popularity of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program among singularists reflects a desire for a messianic figure from space, which seems to again indicate that the need for spiritual enlightenment through advanced technology is a running theme among the singularity set.

Full Article

Perspectives on Dialogue: What Matters?

August 23, 2007

In Why the Crowd Has No Wisdom I pushed several issues with the “wisdom of the crowd” idea:

1. What is distributed wisdom? Wisdom can be considered an emergent pattern of meaning from participants in a dedicated search for meaning and guidance.Collective wisdom emerges from a dialogic engagement among observers that have actually pondered a situation. Is Wikipedia “wise” or just really a helpful set of editors sharing what they consider factual and informative?

2. Can the crowd help me with a problem? What is the intention of the group from which we expect to find wisdom or even knowledge? Where knowledge is the entry fee we pay to generate wisdom from the group, it is not the outcome of the group. More knowledge is not what we need, we usually need some sort of contextual direction based on understanding of a situation.

3. Are large groups effective? When generating distributed knowledge from a large, generally unknown group – like a prediction market – can we achieve anything better than a measure of popularity or sentiment? Do we have any evidence that large groups have any better sense of the future, or any consensus toward solving difficult problems facing us? Maybe an individual in the group has a killer idea, but won’t that idea be washed out by too many uniformed participants? If the crowd was right, wouldn’t everyone in stock markets be buying the same stocks?

Margaret Mead and Peter Block hold the small group as the best working unit of wisdom generation. While dialogue circles can scale to large sizes, their effectiveness to make group decisions based on a group understanding diminishes in correlation to size.

There are several demographic studies that compel attention toward a less-informed populace, not more, Internet be damned. Even the French (friends of the intellectual life) have weighed in on their cultural decline – consumer caprice!

School Faced With Consumerist Barbarism

By Philippe Meirieu, Le Monde,Thursday 22 March 2007

In France, debates concerning education are too often reduced to debates about school. Our history certainly invites that: no other country is built through and around its school system more than ours. And if we don’t restore hope in an institution that today has been broadly reduced to a triage center, we will have to face both the explosion of youth and the depression of teachers. When fatalism triumphs and disappointment is the rule among those who incarnate the future, we have something to worry about…. In consequence, let’s celebrate the way the electoral campaign has made a place for scholastic problems.

We are faced with a completely unheard-of phenomenon: caprice – which used to be only a stage in the individual child’s development – has become the organizing principle of our collective development. We, in fact, know that the child always goes through a phase in which he believes he can boss beings and things around. Whether one talks about initial narcissism or infantile egocentrism, one always emphasizes the same phenomenon: the child, enmeshed in desires that he cannot yet either name or register in an encounter with someone else, is tempted to move to action. The educator should therefore accompany the child; teach him not to react immediately with violence, not to rush headlong into a collision…. To take the time to question himself, anticipate, reflect, metabolize his impulses, construct his will. That’s the business of pedagogy.

The bolded sentence advises self-dialogue, an interesting orientation to pedagogy. While not directly supporting a case that crowds are less wise than we may hope, it suggests the selection of population sample (or stakeholders) is very important.

My colleagues have responded with some compelling distinctions.

Dr. Liss Jeffrey of the eCommons/Agora and New Democracy Workshop (see the Netizen News) makes an impressive case:

I would say that I take a more conventionally grassroots democratic view ( as in demos or perhaps ‘demosophy’) as crowd sourcing seems to me an interesting and worthwhile if never infallible or even reliable ‘ bottom up’ approach.Nor do I share your disdain for “the mean” ( this used to be the mass I guess, an equally flawed concept of some kind of abstraction of a person quantified. I have a lot of respect for the common sense of Canadians.I refuse to blame Americans en masse as this position lacks nuance and suffers from obvious contradictions).

I think part of the point is to inform people and provide opportunities for them to inform themselves and others on a given question and topic. I do not always know what matters, (who does?), and anyway it may change.

Dialogue is powerful, but creating the conditions for dialogue so it seems to me takes education, information, lots of hope and many other tactics .That’s where I think the real struggle is situated, nurturing those conditions and building platforms and practices for the dialogue engagement.

Restricting the dialogue to an ‘intentional small crowd’ while this may be practically useful (maybe the room only holds 30) seems to me on principle objectionable.

I do not know on a given day with whom I may need to or may find myself in dialogue, as I make my way through the public part of my life, however surely that readiness for dialogue is part of what we are trying to achieve – those of us who make dialogue part of our practice …

Dr. Peter Pennefather of the University of Toronto suggests a middle way, that we frame any dialogue (online or F2F) well enough so that multiple perspectives are encouraged and accommodated.

Peter Jones responds to some articles cited earlier in this dialogue about blogging and the possible outputs of a million monkeys typing <as well as the above article by Meirieu complaining about the capriciousness of crowds and more specifically of millennials.) This article reflects a common complaint about the capriciousness youth and their lack of commitment to a defined doctrine or a consistent worldview. This seems to have a parallel in a longing for the good old days of insurgency when the battle was over running the nation state in contrast to the fuzzy foes of today’s Brave New Wars who just want to exert influence over a bit of turf they can call their own and will stop at nothing to drive away competitors who compete for that influence.

Unless there is a framing of the dialogue it is difficult to recognize the points of view or perspective that drive elements of the discourse. This is what I think is most important about all the blogging that is going on. Not only are opinions being recorded, but it is now possible to interpret those opinions in terms of the writer’s identity and perspective that can be deduced from other information on the web, often nicely arranged and summarized on their home page.

It’s not the collective knowledge of crowds that is emerging but rather an ability to recognize the collective diversity of perspectives. It is this multi-perspectival view that helps locate information artifacts and to characterizes their nature more completely.

Perspective is developed and usually enabled by “standing on the shoulders of giants” (or monsters). An ability to consider things from multiple perspectives leads to perceptiveness. Perceptiveness is a property generally associated with the culture of ideas. One quality that makes a written text literature is that it is widely recognized as having the quality of perceptiveness. Intellectuals and scholars train themselves to be perceptive and to have the capacity to provide a sophisticated analysis of events. Thus, for focused questions it is efficient to establish a dialogue amongst key informants.

However, in my opinion, all dialogue is useful and increases the overall perceptiveness of the participants. The consensus that can sometimes emerge from dialogue is not a homogenized mean but rather an appreciation of different points of view and a better appreciation of where the uncertainties lies or the level of facticity of the observations bandied about. I agree with Liss that assessing a situation and responding to that situation invokes different cognitive and neurological systems. However, I would not like to separate dialogue from action. It is the coordination of information input and action outputs (including dialogical inquiry to obtain more information) that increases our ability to adapt to what the world throws at us.

The democratic and dialogical principles that should be brought into at play during a staged discourse on a limited platform of ideas aimed at providing long term guidance for the operations of government (e.g. during election campaigns) are different from democratic and dialogical principles that should be applied during a focussed dialogical inquiry aimed at assessing the value of possible solutions to a specific focused but difficult problem. Nevertheless, in both situations there will be common forms of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that will favour participant satisfaction with the process. The skill of being able to inspire imagination in others and the belief in widely dispersed wisdom to be found in the most unlikely places are two such useful elements. These common elements can be developed (taught) through various exercises and must be maintained through continuous use

Is this a middle way between amusing sophisticated discourse by insiders and mindless mass mouthings (typing) of platitudes?

These are all principles of structured dialogue: Demosophia (Wisdom of the People), Framing the Dialogue, Embracing and including multiple perspectives. Thank you for contributing to our shared collective wisdom!

Richard Rorty: A favorite philosopher leaves us

June 12, 2007

You would not have known from the US-based media, but one of America’s most thoughtful, insightful, brilliant minds left us last week. Richard Rorty, at age 75, author of many readable,influential works: Old-school patriotic liberal philosophy (Achieving our Country) and of rigorous probing our ways of being human in the postmodern era (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity).

While the US media has not covered Rorty with sufficiency due this extraordinary philosopher of solidarity, Europe mourns his loss. Living philosopher of Communicative Action reknown, Jurgen Habermas reflects on Rorty’s life and contributions on How did we learn this news? From the Signandsight site, whose editor Naomi Buck was a panelist at last night’s panel discussion held at Toronto’s Goethe Institute. And we are, of course, in Canada. It has taken longer for the word to spread in his own US, but respectful posts have appeared on Huffington.

Rorty is best remembered by witnessing his own words: Moral insight “is a matter of imagining a better future, and observing the results of attempts to bring that future into existence.”

And from his writings, such as Trotsy and the Wild Orchids that Habermas cites:

So much for how I came to the views I currently hold. As I said earlier, most people find these views repellent. My Contingency book got a couple of good reviews, but these were vastly outnumberedby reviews which said that the book was frivolous, confused andirresponsible. The gist of the criticisms I get from both left and right is pretty much the same as the gist of the criticisms aimed at Dewey by the Thomists, the Straussians and the Marxists, back in me 1930s and 1940s. Dewey thought, as I now do, that there was nothing bigger, more permanent and more reliable, behind our sense of moral obligation to those in pain than a certain contingent historical phenomenon – the gradual spread of the sense that the pain of others matters, regardless of whether they are of the same family, tribe, colour, religion, nation or intelligence as oneself. This idea, Dewey thought, cannot be shown to be true by science, or religion or philosophy – at least if ‘shown to be true’ means ‘capable of being made evident to anyone, regardless of background’. It can only be made evident to people whom it is not too late to acculturate into our own particular, late-blooming, historically contingent form of life.

Goodbye Richard, and Godspeed to you, atheist that behaved and advocated all the original Christian virtues. After the fall and renewal of today’s most corrupted institutions, we can hope for a more reflective era where people will understand your clear and much-needed moral advocacy.


In Toronto: Escape from Suburbia

May 25, 2007

OK, first of all Toronto IS our escape from Suburbia – We leave the Dayton area and spend a week or more of every month working in downtown Toronto. I have collaborative projects that have developed over the last year or two, and Patricia works on her book projects. A small-ish work/live studio in Liberty Village suffices for now. Our next door neighbor at the Fraser Studios happens to be Greg Greene, director of End of Suburbia and cinematographer for the Yellow Springs-based (our other neighborhood) project on Community Solutions (How Cuba Survived Peak Oil).

Greg pre-screened the second documentary in the trilogy project, Escape from Suburbia, last night at the No Regrets restaurant in Liberty. Escape from Suburbia shows us the committed, seemingly “early” responses of people followed from New York, LA, and even Portland to their new lives in eco-villages and rural farms. Notice that we, and Greg, remain in the city for now.

Toronto is a wonderful place to live and work, and our future location of choice. But the facts are that the GTA is the 5th largest metro area in North America, and much of it is sprawl. The regional food supply is very limited – as with much of the US, the food is flown and trucked in with about a 2-day supply. Transportation to the city and in the city is problematic – although better than most US cities.

Regardless of how your frame the phenomenon, resource costs and diminished supply are here now. The cheap oil-subsidized illusion of progress and pereptual growth is crashing, in parallel with Peak Credit, Peak Debt, Peak Consumer/Housing, leading many of us to Peak Anxiety. The documentary forces the realization that we are on our own, the governments and corporations are not here to help. We each have to create sustainable communities, wherever we choose – and we have to choose very, very soon or the choice will be made for us. See the trailer – its a witty fist in a reality glove.

The Purpose of Purpose

March 13, 2007

Harvard Business School professor Jim Heskett asks: Is There Too Little “Know Why” in Business? In a commentary-inquiry piece on the HBS Working Knowledge site, a dialogue asks how purpose is recognized and leveraged as a motivator in business. Heskett questions whether executives really know understand the impact of leading by purpose, and notes the paucity of examples of large companies that truly lead by purpose, such as the perennial reference to Anita Roddick and The Body Shop.

Two recent books offer views of the roles of managers and leaders. The first, Know-How, by Ram Charan, sets forth eight behaviors exhibited by managers who get things done. The second, Purpose, by Nikos Mourkogiannis, could really have been titled “Know Why.” It describes four kinds of purpose, “starting points” that govern what great companies do and how they do it. Each of these purposes represents a kind of “holy grail” as opposed to goals (often merely financial), missions or visions, or even a set of values. As Mourkogiannis puts it, “Let others play with ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ and ‘management.’ Purpose is the game of champions.”

According to this theory, truly transformational purpose can be found in: (1) discovery, the challenge of adventure and innovation characterized by dot-com entrepreneurs willing to work 24/7 in search of the new or unknown, (2) excellence, in which high standards are not compromised for short-term performance (as with Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett), (3) altruism, where the primary purpose is to serve (customers, employees, etc.) first and assume that profit will follow (as at Nordstrom), and (4) heroism, typically involving grand plans to change entire industries or even the way we live (Bill Gates and Microsoft).

The argument is that only one of these purposes, if pursued rigorously and successfully, is required for greatness. Putting mere goals, such as primarily making money, before purpose gets us an Enron or a Worldcom. The pity, according to Mourkogiannis, is that true purpose could have enabled these organizations to make even greater “real” profits than those they reported.

How often do we re-envision purpose in our own organizations? If purpose is discussed, is it tossed off as “selling widgets” or “making money.” Do we have the courage of our vision to elevate ourselves and our organizations beyond the economic and the instrumental? Should organizations even have a noble purpose?

I would add to these books Noble Purpose: Igniting Extraordinary Passion for Life and Work by my friend Barry Heermann, whose program by the same name has spread widely, using a dialogic approach to self-discovery. Noble Purpose does for individuals what Barry’s original Team Spirit program does for teams – generating deep commitment to the higher purposes underlying our work and commitments.

When I advise on visioning sessions, the big idea I insist upon is that a vision extends beyond our ability to accomplish, that a true vision is something that encompasses a lifetime or more, its the horizon of our highest intention that pushes us beyond what we believe possible. Vision and purpose are very closely related – purpose is intention and direction, but is not accomplished (as is a mission, or a mission statement). My vision is to create humane futures by revealing and exchanging shared wisdom. While UX research projects and dialogic design may not accomplish this vision, I can intend that wisdom is exchanged and aims toward a more humane future possibility. This is the purpose of purpose – to energize intention and surface the passion that connects everything a person does and stands for.

Architecture as Social Research

February 19, 2007

Critique of Pure Research: A new graduate program at London’s Goldsmiths College explores architecture as a tool of social and political practice.

Metropolis Magazine just keeps getting better – their editorial policy has strengthened their social focus with each issue.

The Centre for Research Architecture is as concerned with politics and human rights as it is with architecture. It dispenses with the practice of building and delves into the profession’s more political and theoretical applications. Eyal Weizman, the founding director, derived his approach to architectural research from his own study of conflict zones in Israel. The laws and restrictions on space were often so vague on paper that they provided no guide to policy; to determine where Palestinians could and could not rebuild after their homes were destroyed, Weizman worked with a nonprofit organization to reconstruct them and see how the government would react. “The law was unpredictable,” he says. “You had to provoke to reveal the government’s internal logic.” At Goldsmiths, Weizman has brought these lessons to the classroom, turning the traditional detached academic perspective on its head. “Practice is not the result of investigation,” he says. “It is the tool of investigation.”

Do we (UX) have any programs like this? And what will it start looking like if UX champions social research as an outcome of practice? Are we improving work conditions, enhancing the humanity of everyday life? (For example, could over-optimized information structures lead to cognitive efficiencies at the wrong levels of use? By levels, meaning organizationally or socially? Have we tested hypotheses that suggest some value in information friction?)