Mining Associative Meaning from t

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					        Why the Global Superorganism
         Must Evolve a        Brain

   Francis Heylighen
   Center Leo Apostel
   Vrije Universiteit Brussel

The Global Superorganism
 Society can be seen as an organism
       an autopoietic, self-maintaining system
        consumes resources (input)
      processes them to produce components
        – people, tools, building, etc.
      components rebuild and develop the system
      exports waste products (output)
 This “metabolism” requires functional subsystems
 These are anologous to those of a body

Correspondence Society-Body

  Function               Body                          Society
  Ingestor      eating, drinking, inhaling        mining, harvesting,
  Conv erter    digestive system, lungs       refineries, processing plants
 Distributor      circulatory system              transport networks
  Producer             stem c ells                factories, builders
  Extruder     urine excretion, defecation,     sewers, waste disposal,
                        exhaling                    smokestacks
   Storage             fat, bones               warehouses, c ontainers
   Support              skeleton                  buildings, bridges...
   Motor                muscles                engines, people, animals
   Society as Network
 Society consists of interacting subsystems
      people, organizations, factories, machines, …
 Subsystems transforms input into output
      output of the one forms input of the next
      each subsystem has its “suppliers” and its “customers”
 Subsystems from one interdependent network

 An Autopoietic Network
Environment                               f
                  c                           e

     I        a                                       O




 Division of Labor
 Components specialize in their “function”
      function = produce output desired by others
      more specialization  more efficiency
      they must specialize to survive competition
 as they specialize, they become more dependent on
      lose other capabilities as they focus on one capability
 Result: differentiation + integration
      more diverse components that more strongly cohere
       the superorganism becomes more complex

 Subsystems become ever more efficient, because of:
      growth of knowledge
      technological support
      natural selection of the “fittest”
  more is produced with less
      more: goods, services, food, information, speed, …
      less: matter, energy, time, space, effort, …
      Example: Moore’s law
        – more processing power, less cost

Reduction of friction
 All processes accelerate
      transport of matter and energy
      production of goods
      delivery of services
      transmission and processing of information
 with less dissipation, noise, waste, …
 Physical constraints vanish
      distance, duration, material scarcity, ...
 Globalization: transactions connect everything to

Positive effects
 Superorganism becomes more efficient
      less dependent on its environment
 Range of options increases
 Cost diminishes, wealth increases
 Indirect increases in:
      health, safety, knowledge, freedom, democracy...
      quality of life
      for most of the population

Negative effects
 Information overload
 Growing complexity / unpredictability of society
 Runaway processes
 Suboptimization instead of global optimization

Information overload
 Individuals get more stimuli to pay attention to
      more documents, messages, services, goods, …
      alll of these can potentially solve a problem
 Information processing capacity is limited
      bounded rationality
      scarcity of attention
 No obvious way to select just the important
      every message may contain a crucial announcement
  Increasing stress
      anxiety, confusion, meaninglessness, poor decision-
       making, difficulties memorizing/ remembering, reduced
       attention span, …                                     11
Growing unpredictability / complexity
 Reduced friction  longer causal chains
      A affects B, B affects C, C affects D, etc.
      high friction  transmission dissipates quickly
      low friction  transmission continues
       many more effects and side-effects must be taken into
 everything affects everything
      seeming improvements may have far-away negative side
 Prediction/control become more difficult

Runaway processes
 Positive feedbacks  chain reactions
      e.g. spread of AIDS, computer viruses, currency runs, ...
      explosive growth
      only stops when resources have been exhausted
 Reduced friction 
      faster growth
      less physical barriers
      more resources
 This makes runaway processes more dangerous
      larger potential impact
      more difficult to counteract in time
The Problem of Suboptimization
 Best for a part is not always best for the whole
 Poverty
      best for the rich: not pay for the poor
      best for society: reduce inequality
 Pollution
      Global side effect of local production
      e.g. best for country: not limit CO2 production
        – best for planet: minimize CO2 production
 A global society needs global optimization
      reduced friction -> increased global side effects
      avoid destructive competition between countries
The superorganism needs a brain
 The central nervous system/brain is a control system
      counteracts perceived perturbations by appropriate
      decides about best course of action
      anticipates and solves problems
 the market is a primitive control system
      goal = satisfying public demand
      action = producing goods and services
      perception = actual supply
 Reduced friction makes the market more effcient
      less delays ->more stable negative feedback
Global Brain

Components of a Global Brain
 Sensor
      collects possibly relevant information
 Interpreter
      processes information to extract meaning
 Decider
      chooses option in light of interpretation and goals
 Memory
      learns and stores patterns or models for reuse
 Effector
      implements chosen action

Global brain can tackle global problems
 Information overload
      a GB can process more information
      collective intelligence to support individual decisions
 Complexity/unpredictability
      develop and use more complex models
      steer process so as to avoid side-effects
 Runaway processes
      detect problems at an earlier stage
      counteract more quickly and more globally
 Global optimization
      develop global world view and system of values
      help detect “cheaters”                                    18
Example: GB-mediated public transport
 Complexity reduction
      computes optimal connections in real time
      constantly advises the individual
      takes over administrative functions such as paying
 Global optimization
      reduces congestion/pollution by making public transport
       more attractive
      can redirect vehicles to better meet demand
      can learn more effective routes
      can control negative side effects
        – e.g. divert transport around hospitals, polluted areas, etc.

How can a GB evolve?
 Spontaneous, bottom-up evolution
      society already has GB-like subsystems
        – markets, administrations, media,libraries, networks …
      natural selection will make those more efficient
        – inefficient subsystems outcompeted by more efficient ones
       better communication, services, administrations, …
 Technological support
      well-designed ICT applications can precipate the
       emergence of the GB
 Top-down governance
      to tackle suboptimizationand prevent “free riders”
      requires global institutions: Kyoto, WTO, UN, ...          20

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