Thursday, July 9, 2015

Meeting Challenges With Logical Institution of Adaptive Change ... or ... Continually Accelerating End Runs Around Institutional Momentum

"All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection*, except of course for the problem of too many indirections." David Wheeler

More usefully ...
These and other statements about indirection are actually concise summaries of the theory of adaptive evolution. Sure we have plenty of old & new challenges, every year, if not every day.  How do we meet and survive them?

Name your problem.

Fiat currency budgets? White Collar Crime and banking? Tax rates? College loans? Unemployment? Military Industrial Congressional Complex? Police Brutality? Blue Collar Crime? Trade Policy? Excessive Regulations? Slow Moving Bureaucracy? Pollution?

All of these can be easily solved, by teamwork and organized teams. Most will acknowledge that organized teams can do amazing things, and have been doing so for ~4.5 Billion years on planet Earth.

What's to stop us now?

If that's the case, how do we actually take arms against a sea of self-generated problems, and by organized opposition, overcome them? Here is an observable framework, which we've already been doing, for millions of years.

Key concepts:
Successive, Transient Contexts.
"Social" organization
Over-adaptation as Institutional Momentum.
Coordination & coordination rate.
Cost of Coordination.
Return on Coordination.
Communication & communication rate.
Selecting signal from noise or "parsing."

Reducing frictions.
Outcomes vs methods vs perceptions.
Tuning & tuning rate, for components & the whole.
Adaptive Quality (including tempo) of Distributed Decision-Making = Adaptive Rate
Aggregate Interactions & Interaction Rates.
Aggregate Context Awareness.
Perceiving the Sum of [Aggregate Actions + Diverse Component Actions]
Survival = Optimizing the Sum of [Aggregate Actions + Diverse Component Actions].

1) Successive, Transient Contexts.  People learn, as they grow, that the life of a person, a family, a tribe, a corporation or a nation state involves not just one, but multiple challenges occurring as a succession of transient contexts.

2) Toolkits.  In the long history of planet Earth, we continue to unravel astoundingly diverse examples of how physical aggregates, biological species and whole ecosystems survive succeeding contexts through slow accumulation of increasingly diverse toolkits. The more complex a system is, the more ways it can adjust to changing context (not that it always does). There is a fundamental difference between how most people define efficiency and resilience. Efficiency commonly refers to performance in a given context, while resiliency refers to outcomes across multiple contexts.

3) Recombination. Recombination is the outcome of pursuing another level of indirection. When the sticks used by ancient hominids weren't long enough to make a lean too adequate for their growing band, they started recombining them together in novel forms, to make better, faster, cheaper nests or homes. Once you look, recombination is everywhere, including physiological, chemical, biological, sexual recombination of genes, tools & toolkits (even snowmobiles!), behavioral (dance? music? art? sports?) and on to the cultural recombination we call changing business systems and legal systems. We're now facing demand for supra-cultural recombination among multiple nation states. Don't expect the United Nations to go away. It's what comes next that you should be pondering.

4) Social Organization. It's fundamentally useful to remind all citizens that social species rule because of their ability to scavenge all their diversity, and keep it in their toolkit for recombination and re-purposing ... as succeeding contexts demand. Social species outdo all others, and dominate the Earth, because those characteristics, which confer overwhelming increases in resiliency.


5) Over-adaptation as Institutional Momentum. History certainly implies that it is usually death to over-adapt to a transient context. Today's "winner" is always today's Dinosaur and tomorrow's history ... UNLESS ... that entity can unwind and recombine the very institutional momentum that allowed it to be the MOST efficient today. Going too far has implications for your survival statistics, once the direction of the adaptive race changes.

6) Coordination & coordination rate.  If over-adaptation to any one of a series of fleeting contexts is dangerous, what's the fall-back strategy? It's quite obvious, actually. Just like the runners in a multi-lap footrace may or may not be rewarded by "winning" a particular lap, they all share the goal of staying in the race and positioning to lead WHEN NECESSARY. They typically do that by hanging around the leaders, and "staying within striking distance." And what if the race never ends? What if our adaptive race through history keeps changing direction, by changing context? In that case, our survival strategy is to survive and stay in the race. Hence, the ultimate tool in our already complex cultural toolkit is skill at coordination and cooperation.
  Is it better to be biggest? Strongest? Fastest? Not for our purpose. Rather, it's safer and "better" to assume and discard any and all attributes and skills, when & as needed. Grow fur? Humans don & shed clothing instead. Muscle mass? Humans use levers & machines instead. Fangs? Humans use knives instead. Physical speed? Humans use tools, domestic animals, bicycles, cars, boats & planes instead. In short, humans survive via recombination, adaptation and evolution. We're constantly shedding whatever holds us back, and domesticating ourselves to be resilient over time, rather than over-adapted to any particular, transient context.

7) Cost of Coordination.  Yes, there is a cost to coordinating. Just look at the practice & training time any organized team has to put in ... to learn and express aggregate coordination.
  Walter Shewhart famously remarked an obvious truth, that "In all complex systems the biggest [ongoing] cost, by far, is the cost of coordination." Coordination requires an effort, in order to broadcast, receive, sample, analyze and respond to constantly increasing amounts of information from a growing number of teammates doing increasingly diverse things. Can you imagine the challenge for basketball players and coaches if basketball teams went from 5 players to 6 on successive days, then 7, 8, 9, and 10? And what if the rules, court and equipment also all changed? That's life! It's also why sports can be initially useful, but quickly becomes an exercise in form over adaptive function. Ditto for music, choreography and theatre. They don't change as fast as our world does, and hence have become useful to fewer and fewer of our expanding populous.

8) Return on Coordination.  The most immediate corollary is so obvious that Shewhart left it unstated. In all complex systems, the highest return, by far, is the return-on-coordination. In fact, the return on coordination is the only return that exceeds the cost of coordination. If evolution occurs among others who are coordinating, then we have only one choice, to die out, or keep coordinating on a bigger/faster scale, so that our team outcompetes and absorbs, all other teams. What then? What if there is one day a United States of Earth? Long before that, our own complacency and un-directed personal habits and Institutional Momentum will become our greatest competitor. How do we compete with ourselves, and thereby maintain our adaptive rate? Obviously, just by staying alive. Our current challenge is to change everything and adapt fast enough to survive ourselves. A hundred years after Wallace & Darwin, even some literature majors eventually recognized that. "Everything needs to change, so everything can [appear to] stay the same."

More Implications.

9) Communication & communication rate.  How do social, coordinating species invest in coordination, so that the return always exceeds the cost? Despite what a sitting US President foolishly claimed, evolving species do "Nuance."
Those social species (and nations, and democracies) that survive:
  Exchange more information, faster and more widely.
  Practice more, and perceive more.
  Parse more context from the expanding sea of data they generate.
  Recognize and explore more aggregate options ... faster.

10) Selecting signal from noise or "parsing."  What does an adaptive signal look like, for an aggregate constantly re-orienting to a context that is changing yet again? Basically, one that allows a 2-stage optimization task.
S = Sum[A+B], and not Sum[A] + Sum[B].
  That's how a whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It's also how the USA wrote a Constitution and set out to "form a more perfect union."
  Both "A" and "B" have many parts, but they're used here to mean "keep the components alive AND adequately provisioned" (A) plus "grow the system" (B). Neither citizen component nor nation can sacrifice too much, nor gain excessively, if the whole is to exceed the sum of its parts. Yet between those tolerance limits we have tremendous freedom to operate and express distributed plus collective ingenuity.

11) Reducing frictions. This is both trivial and sublime. Any mechanic or race car tuner knows that reducing friction between moving parts is key to enhancing performance of a system. That's why we have oil, grease, ball bearings and precision carving or machining. Yet how many realize that the same thing applies to all the human moving parts in a social system? Much of successful military science and Officer Training comes down to systematically finding ways to reduce frictions among teammates, and making it hard for people to work at cross purposes. That's how social species allow themselves to leverage their increasingly diverse talents.

12) Autocatalysis.  How do social species actually do all these things? How do they simultaneously increase diversity, increase options and decrease frictions, so that they can explore their emerging options, and do so faster than others? The whole package is called autocatalysis, when each component catalyzes all other components to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts. That's the same way the combination of an egg cell and sperm cell catalyze the rapid growth resulting in a new, unique human, in a self-driving cascade of reinforcing triggers.
  First, everything has to be connected to everything, so everyone can see - or be frequently reminded - of dangling tasks. Then all data streams have to interact or discuss, so that analysis preserves the 2-stage optimization mentioned above. Finally, a bias to ADAPTIVE action must be present, which both triggers activity AND tempers it per the preserved connectivity. "Do no harm" gets to be a longer and longer list, as your number of co-citizens grows.

  The result is a massively-parallel calculation that is always impossible for participants to predict, in part because so many of the terms keep changing before the calculation can be completed. As an aggregate, we have zero predictive power, yet unlimited adaptive power, so far. It's up to us to figure out how to adapt, through continuous indirection.

Keys to adaptive autocatalysis.

13) Outcomes vs methods vs perceptions.  How do we keep our eyes on the prize, when the context never stops changing and the "prize" is continuously redefined? Answer, by trial and error discovery of unpredictably subtle adjustments. We redefine the "prize" as ability to survive and thrive, and we keep our eyes on that drifting outcome, whatever it takes. That means maintaining a determination to break any abandon or modify any tradition or break any taboo, as necessary, aka, practice Cultural Recombination.

14) Tuning & tuning rate, for components & the whole.  Our proverbial mechanics and racing enthusiasts understand the concept of tuning. If they're involved in automotive decathlons or fleet management, they also understand the concept of tuning for resiliency rather than breaking down before completing a multiple-race circuit. However, it's a comical commentary on narrow thinking that there are so many teams of expert "tuners" who stubbornly fight for years on end, and insist on tuning everything except their own interactions. Biology is chock full of examples of molecular, cellular, endocrine, muscular and behavioral functions that are systematically tuned to create a marvelously flexible whole, with the tuning based upon long lists of subtle, "if-then" variations on a basic theme. Just think of how many ways you can tap your finger, or move your tongue, just to start with trivial examples, before moving on to more complex examples such as speech, multiple languages and teamwork. Our survival depends on how fast we can readjust countless processes, and re-adapt them in novel ways, for novel purposes when and as needed. That means adding nuance, not avoiding it.

15) Adaptive Quality (including tempo) of Distributed Decision-Making = Adaptive Rate.   The reality of social tuning is that aggregate success follows the quality (including tempo) of distributed decision making. The tempo of trial & error learning is what biologists call Adaptive Rate. Those aggregates that can make adjustments faster, will outlast those that can't. Further, not that those who perceive possible outcomes earlier, and identify emerging options, can start making changes and reducing frictions sooner.

16) Aggregate Interactions & Interaction Rates.  In practice, this all feeds together in a constant, self-catalyzing or autocatalytic social loop.
Interactions drive awareness (personal + aggregate).
 Awareness exposes options.
  Options demand coordinated actions.
   Coordinated actions drive further interactions (restarting the autocatalysis).
Note that this reinforcing cycle occurs only IF:
Interactions remain diverse, and
 Feedback remains diverse, sent and received.
  Tempo remains high-energy.
17) Aggregate Context Awareness.  Note that an alert, aware and responsive aggregate occurs only if new components (kids & grandchildren) are quickly aware of the latest challenges motivating their nation, not just the old ones.

18) Perceiving & Exploring Aggregate (& local) Options.  All of the above only KEEPS happening if kids and grandkids remain aware that yet another context WILL inevitably appear, requiring yet a a bigger perspective to master. That way they will fully expect that challenge to appear, & will go looking for it. In the process, they will also keep building bigger perspectives on where they are and what new options are appearing, & will consider HOW to generate utilize ever more diversity (a bigger toolkit). All this will, quite coincidentally, lead them to practice coordinated use of their social+technical toolkit on an even greater scale. This is, incidentally, what humans have always done. We've just grown so quickly that we've temporarily forgotten the most fundamental lessons that our ancestors knew. Quite literally, we can't see our context for our details, precisely because there are so many of us and we're not staying as connected as we could and should be.

19) Survival is the Sum of [Aggregate Actions + Diverse Component Actions].  We can now reiterate an old truism. Making a whole greater than the sum of its parts involves a cascade of cooperative adjustments in order to achieve a shared, Desired Outcome. That's what coordination means.

20) Sustainability.  What has kept the universe, Earth, biology and humanity going all this time? It is common to say that adjustments occur only after challenges. Yet it is also true that those that survive challenges are those that had already started or continued preparing to make even more adjustments. If we are going to survive by continuously expanding our adaptive rate, then we need to make accumulation of coordination skills become our primary Desired Outcome. Ultimately, that's the best way to ensure that we'll be able to go anywhere and become anything .... regardless of the challenge.
  How do we achieve sustainability? Don't stop doing #'s 1-20, above. Add #21. 

If America only knew what Americans know ... we wouldn't have to worry about our sustainability, or the prospects for the 7th generation yet unborn.


* Indirection, an alternate route to the same place; i.e., if the front door is locked, crawl in through a basement window in the back of the house. There are multiple paths for bypassing every obstacle.