May 11, 2018

Planning for Social Technology Capability

We are trying to take the craft of social technology from being and undeveloped prescientific art, to being a well understood engineering discipline, ideally scientific. This is the development of a superior capability, the capability to construct social technology, with particular characteristics, those of scientific engineering.

One way to develop a capability is to pick a task in its domain, try to do it or plan how you would do it, and patch the missing sub-capabilities as you find them.

Attempting to actually do something in reality forces a concretization of the idea into the nitty gritty details that could derail you on step 17, substep 5a, which details you simply won’t have the discipline and skill to see from a abstract perspective, especially not before the development of experience with the practical craft. Even if you could see those details from an abstract perspective, divorced from any particular task, the toolbox of detail-knowledge that will solve an abstractly specified class of problems is way too complex to develop entirely in the mind. There will also be edge-case problems which requirely vastly more toolbox sophistication than the bulk.

The superior way is therefore to pick small tasks from the domain, build whatever particular capabilities are needed there, and then organically expand the resulting toolbox by exercising it on more and bigger problems. This yeilds a toolbox of capability that definitely works, and definite solid information on what kind of problems and phenomena exist in the domain.

The downside compared to a hypothetical abstract reasoning approach is that the range of capabilities is not definitely known. This is a problem in that you won’t know whether some new task can be accomlished until its done. This is normal in engineering, though. To the extent that abstract reasoning is possible for this kind of task, it can patch that uncertainty.

That covers the development of a capability.

To develop that capability in a scientific direction, one needs to rigorously theorize in the scientific way about the tools and phenomena of the domain. This will produce some new tools, better explanations of tools, some theory which might become the basis for new tools and explanations, and generally a more solidly interconnected field of knowledge.

So this suggests a plan:

  1. Find some initial social technology exercise to build, which will be difficult enough to stretch our capability, but not so difficult as to be its own huge project.

  2. Build it, and while building it, pay close attention to the tools used and phenomena encountered, with the intent to develop capability.

  3. Review everything afterwards, and study the tools used and phenomena encountered in a rigorous way to turn experiential knowledge into more legible and rigorous scientific knowledge.

  4. Repeat.

So we need to find a suitable social technology or system of social technology as an initial project. We can brainstorm desirable properties that it should have:

  • Basic, without a lot of dependencies on other social technologies, so that there is a finite amount of stuff we have to build.

  • Useful to the organization of the state, but not needing to be the state, so that it contributes to our broader research.

  • Implementable by a small community of volunteers, who we already know or can pull from our network with ease.

  • Actually useful to those people, so that we can interface with their actual motivations and make it sustainable.

  • Actually useful to us, in the sense of building useful resources, so that it is worth our time for more than just the information.

  • Challenging enough that we have to know what we are doing, so that it builds capability and forces us to think things through.

  • Estimated to be within or only slightly beyond our current capabilities, so that we can actually do it.

  • Somewhat outside of the norm, so that people don’t already have the thing or its cognitive patterns on autopilot, so that there is actual work to do.

  • Not too controversial, so that it doesn’t become a primarily political project, and we don’t get bogged down in defending it from the mainstream.

In the near future, we may publish a project that fits these specifications, and make that project and its theory a primary focus for a while.

Edited and curated by Wolf Tivy

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