First Web Page By the Author On Social Technology

This post was a former home page for the author.  It says almost nothing about me, which is rather odd for what is supposedly a home page.   Much of what is written here was first made visible as part of my very first web page, uploaded in June, 1998, and so it contains a lot of material that has since found a newer and better home.

This material is about an idea , a very important idea, the biggest and best idea I have ever met, and  I’ve met lots.

I’m an intellectual vacuum-cleaner, who vacuums up every idea in sight.

“And the Intellectual that I’ve been,
is the only Vacuum I ever have seen”.


Yes, I’m an intellectual vacuum-cleaner, and let me tell you,  I really suck.


Technology to Solve Social Problems
and Make a Better World

These first few paragraphs are from a very old home page , even more obsolete, but which still has some good links to interesting pages on this site and other interesting pages on the web . Some of those links have died, and have not yet been replaced.  Sorry about that.   The real news is to be found at SocialTechnology.ca .

  • Imagine a future world in which it is easy to find a good job.   Easy.  Not just easy for you, but for everyone, all at the same time.  That makes this a combinatorial matching problem, NOT just one of the usual “search-engine” types of problem, so the Monster.Com approach is simply not good enough.   A fine book on problem-types is Steven Skiena ‘s The Algorithm Design Manua l, (see also the corresponding website, The Stony Brook Algorithm Repository .   Traditionally this problem is the “Assignment Problem” (or one of them), and it is perhaps the second most famous combinatorial optimization problem known, after the notorious Travelling Salesman Problem.
  • Imagine a world in which it is easy to find good long-term friends.  Again, easy.  Not just for you but for everyone, all at the same time.   This is, therefore, another combinatorial matching problem, almost the same as the above. (Normally, and perhaps ideally, each adult person is employed, and employed in approximately one job, which would often [but not even usually] be outside the home.   But having more than one friend is quite common.  But nobody should have too many friends — not even politicians.   Whereas solving either problem is outrageously difficult for “everyone” in a world of over 6,000,000,000 people, solving both of them at the same time is more or less impossible, since simultaneously solving two or more independent combinatorial matching problems is an NP-complete problem.  For problem-type difficulty nomenclature, see Skiena, op cit., or here, or wrt games, here .
  • Imagine a future in which it is easy to find a truly compatible spouse or sexual partner.   For the sake of this page and most of the other ones on this web site, it will be assumed that each person is to be matched to (approximately?) one person of the opposite sex (or whatever sex he or she considers appropriate).  Throughout these pages the genealogical viewpoint is assumed.  So far, except in science fiction, each person has exactly one biological parent of each sex.   Couplings for non-reproductive purposes are important, but are not considered here.   Try over there , instead.
  • Imagine a world in which it is easy to find the best possible places to live, go to school, work, and raise a family.  There are a finite number of universities on this planet, for example, and each can hold only a finite number of students.   Enrolling each student in the best possible college or university,without overcrowding any of these schools is a combinatorial optimisation problem like those discussed in many different places such as these .

While you’re at it, you might as well imagine:

  • a future world without crime
    • since people with good jobs, good friends, and a compatible spouse or partner rarely commit crimes
    • a future world that is affluent and prosperous, without poverty
      • precisely what one would  expect of a world where everyone has been able to find very suitable work.

    Traditional futurists have described worlds with humanoid robots and flying automobiles, but the world I dream about is one in which love and friendship are abundant, along with truly satisfying work in good jobs that are easy to find and keep.

    This vision is one of the results of my long search for genuine solutions to social problems. By genuine solutions I mean solutions that are practical, affordable, and can be proven to work.

    Far too often attempted solutions to human problems are only “band-aid” solutions, which at most treat the symptoms rather than the underlying illness, and often serve only to cover up those symptoms.  Homeless shelters and food banks don’t treat the underlying causes of homelessness, just the symptoms. Welfare and unemployment insurance don’t treat the underlying causes of unemployment and poverty, just the symptoms. Indeed, some of these social programs probably make the illness worse.

    I am not completely opposed to treating symptoms; sometimes it is necessary to do so. I don’t want people starving or freezing to death while we work on the underlying causes of social problems, but I insist that it is possible to cure social problems at the source, and I want you to at least look at my proposals.

    I offer something new, something original.  What I suggest comes neither from left nor from right. Both left-wing and right-wing ideas have been around a long time — if either had genuine solutions to offer, don’t you think we’d have figured that out by now?


    My name is Doug Wilson, and  I live on Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, not far from the city of Vancouver, where I was born and raised.

    I have written these pages to tell you about some ideas that I have been working on for many years.   I think these are extraordinary ideas that could help to make human society work better and improve all our lives, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

    At the core of this material are ideas and results about linguistic technology, information retrieval, and combinatorial optimization — all very technical stuff.

    Some Links

    I think that what I am trying to accomplish in these pages could happen without any further contributions from me, if  I could just get certain groups of people talking to one another.  For example,  I’d like to get experts in sociometry, people who draw graphs called sociograms to describe existing social connections, talking to graph theorists and experts in combinatorial optimization who know about algorithms for matching nodes and for maximizing network flow.   And I’d like to get both of those groups of people talking to futurists and others concerned with the way the world is likely to change.

    To encourage such discussions I will be adding an annotated page of links to follow, but I until that is ready, here are just a few such links:

    • The world today faces many problems, and a good place to start is by listing them. World problems is one of many pages devoted to the collection and analysis of information about world problems, especially the causal relationships between problems. Of particular interest is description of causal loops in which current social problems reinforce each other.
    • Will humanity solve any of those problems? One serious attempt to predict the future is the deep future page , by J.R. Mooneyham.   This futurist predicts a world with lots of technical advances in robotics, aviation, space travel, and so on, but nothing new in the area that I call social technology — and therefore, it is a future of social unrest and unhappiness.
    • Requiem is Jay Hanson’s pessimistic look at a future in which almost everything goes wrong because of corporate greed, political weakness, and other problems with what I think of as old low-tech social technology. He calls his website “www.dieoff.ca”, which pretty much summarizes his message.
    • A much more optimistic view can be found in Factasia , a fascinating blend of utopian thinking with educational material about mathematics, logic, philosophy, and engineering, by Roger Bishop Jones — a person whose interests are very similar to my own.   But there the comparison stops, for he has put an enormous amount of work into his pages, which are depressingly impressive, better than anything else I’d seen on the web until recently.
    • Perhaps the most interesting parallel to my own work on social technology is the Global Ideas Bank of the Institute of Social Inventions. They have also published books full of good ideas, which I have ordered from them and will review as soon as possible.
    • The journal Social Networks ,  includes material about Social Network Analysis, and the people who study that topic form a network, the International Network for Social Networks Analysis (INSNA) .
    • Social Network Analysis has applications to business management, and there are a few professionals consultants specializing in it, such as Valdis Krebs . I think such services could be genuinely beneficial, but I am more skeptical about the willingness of management to facilitate the collection of good data and to properly implement the resulting advice. I regard most businesses and their management structures as as rather archaic forms of social technology that should be replaced with something much more sophisticated, not just supplemented with advice from technically advanced consultants.
    • Combinatorial optimization was the subject of the recent conference of the ECCO : European Chapter on Combinatorial Optimization , and figures prominently in this list of useful optimization software .

    What’s New?

    I am trying to expand my collection of web pages to include other topics, such as computer programming languages, operating systems, and politics , and will add such links occasionally — so please check back here from time to time, to see what’s new.   I should have a “What’s New” page, I guess, but for now I’ll just add links to the new stuff here, where it will stay until linked in with existing text.

    Here is what is new as of  Saturday, January 9th, 1999:

    A page about the Global Ideas Bank at the Institute for Social Inventions and the prizes they offer for the best new ideas.

    Two ideas from Nicholas Albery, chairman of the Institute for Social Inventions and editor of  “The Book of Visions” and “World’s Best Ideas” and other ISI publications.

    Here’s what was new as of Sunday, Dec. 20th, 1998 —

    An easier and less controversial matching problem, matching people for communication on the web or by e-mail, is described on a page I call ” Net Net Baud Rate “, (a silly play on words).  The material there is not actually very technical, despite the name.

    For the sake of communicating with a correspondent who takes objection to my attempt to reduce the whole of  human communication to “net baud rate”, I am putting up here an essay on reductionism.

    I’ve added a page about my educational background , to supplement the one on my academic interests posted earlier.

    Here’s what was new as of Friday, Dec. 4th, 1998 —

    The Acronymic Language — some more fundamental ideas about the ideal language project discussed elsewhere .

    Corporations — ideas about changes to corporate law to reduce the undue influence of large corporations by discouraging predatory behaviour (instead of rewarding it).

    Academic Interests — some of my educational background (the whitewashed version).

    The Sailboat Metaphor — a discussion of free will and determinism.

    The Particle Accelerator Metaphor — an alternative to the sailboat metaphor that emphasizes matching.

    Social Network Optimization (SNO) Prototype — an old name and old project described here for reference only — it includes some old plans for implementing some of my combinatorial optimization ideas at the Frontiers online learning community.

    Towards a Free Simulation of the World Economy — I plan an incrementally-expandable simulation of the world economy to be made available to anyone who wants is under the GNU public license  —  and I don’t want to do it all myself, so please help.

    Here’s what was new as of Monday, Nov. 2nd, 1998 —

    The Video Store example , an example of some of the methods that can be applied to provide people with useful suggestions.

    Business Applications , which addresses more general  business applications of these methods, including team formation by matching co-workers in a business and using carefully matched teams of co-workers to estimate important numbers such as project costs or even stock prices.

    Crime and Punishment spells out why the future world I describe will have almost no crime, together with ideas for dealing with today’s prisoners and the very few criminals which may exist in the future.

    Here is what was new as of Monday, Oct. 26, 1998 —

    The Social Technology Mailing List has just been started.   Why not subscribe?  It’s free, easy to use, and will contain lots of news and new ideas.

    The Social Technology Page is a new title for the page formerly called “The Idea of Social Technology”, and it contains new content as well, including the anchors for the above two links.

    These pages were new  as of Monday, Oct.19, 1998 —

    The Role of Requirements Analysis in Social Technology

    What is combinatorial optimization? What has it to do with jobs?

    Power and Influence Structures

    Points of View

    Below is an old version of my own advertising banner, which once appeared occasionally on pages around the world in exchange for banner ads that was a the top of an earlier version of this page — I belonged (and may still belong) to the Link Exchange network, (since purchased and renamed by Microsoft) which (supposedly) promote my site if I promote others. It only works if people actually visit my site, so please stop by occasionally — I keep adding new pages and updating old ones, and I promise interesting ideas on every page.    What do you think? I tried three banner creation services before finally doing it myself with Microsoft Paint and PhotoStacker Plus. I’d like to animate it, a bit, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

    The ideas described on these web pages won the Institute for Social Inventions £1000 Best Social Innovation award for 1999, and are the focus of ongoing development.

    Social Connections

    For human society to prosper almost everybody should be well integrated into the social network, with suitable work to do and strong social relationships.  To make that possible it should be easy to make good social connections.

    It should be easy to find a good job.  It should be easy to make good friends.

    And it should be easy to find a truly compatible heart gif spouse or sexual partner.

    But in our society today none of these things are easy, and most people end up settling for very imperfect connections — whatever they can find.

    mismatched jigsaw pieces Look carefully at these jigsaw puzzle pieces and you will see a people trying to make do with whatever relationships and connections they happen to find. No, the pieces don’t fit together. I just put together the ones that fit the best out of a small handful of pieces. That’s what we do in our society, we try to make the best connections we can out of the small handful of people we know.

    All of this may soon change with the introduction of new social technology which holds out the promise of near-perfect social connections for all of us.   Think long and hard about how people actually solve jigsaw puzzles and you may be able to anticipate how some of this new technology will work.   It involves a lot of careful search-tree pruning.

    In the hope that a new technology will emerge sooner rather than later,   I have started a mailing list (that link is obsolete) for the discussion of social technology, and created a web site with the domain name SocialTechnology.ca to promote it.  (See above for the most recent mailing list subscription instructions).

    What would your life be like if it was easy to find a good job, a compatible spouse, and good friends?    You may already have these social connections, so you might imagine your life would be much the same,  but try to imagine what your life would be like if everybody else had the same good fortune.  That would be a very different world from the one you live in now, a world without loneliness, poverty, or homelessness, a world of much happier people.   And so your own life would be much better than it is now, regardless of how fortunate your social circumstances are now.

    Traditional futurists have described worlds with humanoid robots and flying automobiles, but the world I dream about is one in which love and friendship are abundant, along with truly satisfying work in good jobs that are easy to find and keep.

    This vision is one of the results of my long search for genuine solutions to social problems.  By genuine solutions I mean solutions that are practical, affordable, and can be proven to work.

    No Bandaids Allowed Far too often attempted solutions to human problems are only “band-aid” solutions, which at most treat the symptoms rather than the underlying illness, and often serve only to cover up those symptoms.  Homeless shelters and food banks don’t treat the underlying causes of homelessness, just the symptoms. Welfare and unemployment insurance don’t treat the underlying causes of unemployment and poverty, just the symptoms. Indeed, some of these social programs probably make the illness worse.

    I am not completely opposed to treating symptoms; sometimes it is necessary to do so. I don’t want people starving or freezing to death while we work on the underlying causes of social problems, but I insist that it is possible to cure social problems at the source, and I want you to at least look at my proposals.

    I offer something new, something original.  What I suggest comes neither from left nor from right. Both left-wing and right-wing ideas have been around a long time — if either had genuine solutions to offer, don’t you think we’d have figured that out by now?

    On my old home page (just one of many old home pages), I began much the same way, by asking readers to imagine a future world  which would be better for everyone, a world in which it would be easy to make good social connections and find suitable work.   Without giving people much help in seeing this vision, I immediately went on to argue that such a world would be an affluent one, without poverty, and one with almost no crime.   People with good jobs, good friends, and a compatible spouse have a much more satisfying life, and are therefore much less likely to commit crimes.

    concrete All true, I maintain, but a bit too much for most people’s imaginations, so I’m adding here a lot more explanation and some concrete plans.

    Briefly, social technology is technology for making society work, technology for the creation and maintenance of social structure.    See below for a more thorough definition.   The material on this page tries to address the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’ questions:   Why is new social technology needed?    How will it work?

    Why We Need New Social Technology

    In our society most people somehow find some sort of job, and most people marry, eventually, to someone. Most people have a few friends.  But few of us find a really good job, and few of us stay happily married.  Friends come and go, but lots of people don’t have good long-lasting friendships.

    This is not a satisfactory situation.   It is unacceptable.   Human beings need work to do. Human beings need compatible people to associate with.  If deprived of these social needs people are damaged and lead incomplete lives — and they are also less productive members of society, poor parents to any children they may have, and much more likely to commit crimes.

    fight gif Far too many people never find a good job, and are either on welfare, begging on streetcorners, or stuck in a dead-end job they hate.  Far too many people never find a truly compatible spouse and are either lonely and embittered, move from one unsatisfactory relationship to another, or are stuck in a marriage with someone they’ve grown to hate.

    I believe society must provide a reliable mechanism that people can use to find good jobs — jobs they will enjoy and learn from, or at very least jobs that compensate them well for their time and effort.  This requirement is not met by existing employment services, but I have been designing something that will meet it.

    I believe that society must provide a reliable mechanism that people can use to find compatible husbands and wives, or sexual partners without stressful “dating” between strangers.  This requirement is not met by any of the current dating-services, but again I have been designing something that will meet it.   I also believe that society must have appropriate mechanisms for finding (or growing) good long-lasting friendships. I place much more emphasis on this than is common in our society, and it was the first concern I addressed when designing solutions to these problems.

    time passing gif It’s Only a Matter of Time

    Personally I have no doubt whatsoever that human society will come to realize the importance of social technology and the wisdom of ensuring that each person has the basic necessities of life.  It’s only a matter of time.

    A Guarantee for the Necessities of Life Human society must guarantee that each person has clean air, clean water, nutritious food, a safe place to live, health care, education, liberty, and justice, together with a good job, a compatible spouse or sexual partner, and good friends.  Note, the image of a certificate is only an illustration, not part of any real plans.

    Those who would disagree with this most likely mistake my intention.   I do not mean that government must provide these necessities of life, and I do not mean that they should be provided freely without any expectation of return.   I am distrustful of governments and don’t like what welfare does to people, but those issues are secondary and I try not to prejudge them either way.   In systems engineering terms, I am stating requirements here, not doing design work.   The design stuff comes later.  (Now, four years after that sentence was written, considerable design work has been done, and some rapid-prototyping, as well).

    Whether it be through government, private enterprise, non-profit non-governmental organizations, or spontaneous grassroots activity, “human society” must somehow ensure everyone has the fundamentals of human life,  including the basic social necessities:  love, friendship, and meaningful work.   Even a single person who wants these things but has been unable to obtain them can wreck terrible harm on the rest of society by “going postal”, shooting former friends and co-workers, or fellow high-school students, or worse.   We must not ignore or neglect any person who wants to be an integral part of society, as almost everybody does, even me.

    All of my work on these problems is part of the new discipline of  social technology .  Briefly stated, social technology is the collection and study of tools and techniques used to make society work.  It is the technological counterpart to the social sciences and draws on the knowledge they have collected.

    The Internet and WorldWideWeb have often been described as social technology, but my particular interest is pure social technology, technology that is intrinsically social, not merely a social side effect of better communication and transportation. 99% pure social technology  The purest and most interesting form of social technology is that which involves the creation of social relationships such as the relationship between employer and employee or husband and wife.

    We do have some mechanisms for creating social relationships, such as the “Help Wanted” and “Personals” sections of classified ads in newspapers, but as social technology these are truly paleolithic inventions, not worthy of consideration.   What I am advocating is “hi-tech” social technology which makes good use of all the social survey data laboriously collected by sociologists over the past few decades and uses sophisticated algorithms from graph theory for analysis.

    Social scientists have been collecting social survey data for many years, but it has been used mainly for research by those same social scientists, who have written many academic papers about their findings. Now it is time to make proper use of all that data by making it the foundation of a new high-tech industry.

    The Future of Social Technology

    People who follow the stock markets hear a lot about ‘information technology’ and may have been told that the dominant technology of the new millenium will be some form of information technology involving the Internet.   I certainly don’t deny the importance of information technology or its social side effects, but I think the future belongs to pure social technoloyg, technology that is intrinsically social, not merely a social side effect of better communication and transportation

    If I’m right about the eventual impact of this new technology, it will transform our world beyond recognition, perhaps making the business sector less about making money and more about serving human needs.   But in the next few years, as this process gets underway,  many businesses will be set up to exploit social technology and some people will makes lots of money from doing so, as always happens when new technology is introduced.    I prefer to look beyond that to the future society that will result from it, so my own plans do not include any attempt at commercialization.

    I left that last sentence as it was when I wrote it four years ago, but actually a strange person from Boston convinced me it was worth at least considering commercial applications .   There is now a new page for Computer Aided Social Activity , which exists in anticipation of such commercial activity.   Personally I’m not a commercial sort of person, and could never organize a successful company of any kind, but the idea of an Internet combinatorial matching service is provocative, and I’d like to see someone try it.

    SocialTechnology.ca

    Much more about social technology will follow here and on other pages, but I think it important to sketch out the plan I’m working from and provide a few of the most essential technical information.  A key part of this plan is the creation of a non-profit society to prototype new social technology and promote its use.

    Let me be clear about my own role in this.  My own list of personal heroes does not include Bill Gates or anyone else who has made a large fortune from exploiting information technology — instead it includes people like Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation and Linus Torvald, who wrote the Linux kernel and started the remarkable global development effort that made Linux a success.  So I am trying to create a non-profit society, SocialTechnology.ca , to do research and develop free software aimed at social change.  It will also promote social technology and help people make use of it.  I have no objection to people making money from social technology and plan to encourage people who want to do that, but I am not one of them myself.

    (In fact I am totally incompetant when it comes to money and couldn’t make a penny from social technology even if I spent the rest of my life trying).

    Last year (what was last year, once, i.e. 1998) I started the SocialTechnology mailing list, and I began this year (1999) by registering the SocialTechnology.ca domain name and putting up a preliminary home page for the organization.  Now, in 2002, I have several other websites and mailing lists.   See below for details.

    I spent much of last year (1998) writing about social technology and putting up web pages about these ideas, but this year (1999) my emphasis has shifted to data collection and the development of new software.

    Social technology includes many things, but on this page I want to concentrate on my own plan for pure social technology, the creation and maintainance of social structure — the realization of that utopian future world I’ve written about, or something like it.

    Because this is a plan meant to be taken seriously and acted upon, it is somewhat technical in places — the kind of people I most want to communicate with will want to see some technical details up front. If that doesn’t include you, please jump to a non-technical overview page.

    The first technical point to make concerns the underlying mathematics, and the word ‘mathematics’ will immediately make some people turn away from this page. But please note that the eventual software products will hide the mathematics from the end users (unless they want to see it — anything I produce will be open-source). To write this software people will need to know some Discrete Mathematics, particularly Graph Theory and combinatorial optimization, but the end-users won’t need to know what a triangle is.

    The word ‘optimization’ is again a provocative word which will displease many people for whom it suggests “Big Brother”, centralized organization, and all the other negative connotations of what was once called “Social Engineering”. I emphasis the phrase ‘Social Technology’ instead because I envision the creation of tools and techniques, and explicitly reject all authoritarian attempts to “optimize” or “engineer” society.

    Some of the tools and techniques to be created will indeed use combinatorial optimization methods, and in a larger sense the development of social structure is clearly a combinatorial optimization problem, but nothing authoritarian is intended. On the contrary the new social technology will permit society to be much less centralized and will encourage new freedoms.

    Discrete mathematics is involved simply because people have only a limited capacity for social interaction. Today most people have one or perhaps two jobs, if married have only a single spouse, and live in a household with an integral number of people. Friendship is less restrictive and may shade from slight acquaintances to much closer bonds, but it is still best modelled with discrete links between people.

    Sociologists have been using graphs called sociograms for many years, and discrete mathematicians have been working with similar looking graphs for many years, but somehow the obvious connection has never materialized.

    — Sociologists describe small sets of mutual friends as “cliques”, and indeed discrete mathematicians talk about “clique detection algorithms” for finding mutually interconnected vertices.

    — A familiar combinatorial optimization problem is the bipartite matching problem, which mathematicians sometimes refer to as the assignment problem, since bipartite matching algorithms could be used to match workers to job assignments.

    — Another familiar mathematical problem is the so-called “stable marriage problem” which addresses the problem of creating a stable solution to a bipartite matching problem amongst mutually attracting couples.

    But still, the obvious connection has never materialized. Combinatorial optimization is not used to match workers to jobs or generate stable marriages. I can assure you, having spend many years trying, that it is very difficult to get anyone to seriously consider applying such mathematical techniques for anything involving real human beings.

    “But wait”, you might ask, “what about computer dating?”

    Someone always asks that.

    A “dating service”, whether computerized or not, is something I don’t like at all, for several reasons:

    • most dating services are scams aimed at making money from other people’s lonely desperation
    • dating services involve a small pool of people, but the quality of matching depends on the pool size (there may be a lot of fish in the sea, but not many in pothole-size puddles)
    • as far as I know most dating services that claim to use computers don’t use computers with any real understanding of either human personality or discrete mathematics, and certainly don’t use social survey data
    • dating is a terribly high-pressure experience that makes true communication between people unlikely
    • my own personal experiences with dating are mostly unpleasant memories, even though I already knew the people I dated
    • most important, to me, but hardest to explain, dating services attempt to find people “best matches”, equivalent to the use of a “greedy” algorithm and that kind of algorithm just doesn’t work for bipartite matching.

    People who truly understand combinatorial optimization recognize that most good algoriths are equivalent to “local search” in an appropriate space.  Defining the space is the key problem — it is really a kind of phase space, not unlike those used in thermodynamics, a space of possible configurations, which may indeed occur sequentially.  Local search is the search for a configuration which is very similar to the current one, but better. If you find it, then you search for another one, also similar-but-better.

    What does this mean in the real world?  I can give you my answer, and of course I will give you my answer, if I can persuade you to listen, but the real solution will involve lot of discussion and careful analysis. All I am seeking to do right now is get your attention. I want you to participate in this discussion and analysis — I don’t want you to pay too much heed to my own ideas.

    For me, the answer is a progressive enrichment of each person’s social environment, so that each person is brought together with more and more compatible people over time, and can therefore spend less and less time with incompatible people (or working at unsuitable jobs).

    I am not just talking about potential “dates”, I mean people of all ages, potential friends, potential co-workers, and so on for all possible types of social relationship.

    Here is a little exercise for the reader: Take a piece of paper and write down all the people you spend time with on any regular basis, family, friends, rivals, supervisors, co-workers, and so on. Write down how many minutes or hours you might spend with them in a typical week or month. And beside each number, write a quick guess at how compatible you are with that person — on a scale from 1 to 10.

    In the ideal world I dream about anyone you spend more than a few minutes with should get a high number, or at least a passing grade. I can remember a few glorious months when that seemed almost true for me. It wasn’t real or didn’t last. “Six billion people in this world, and I have to spend every day working with him??!!” “Billions of women in this world, and I end up in bed with her!!??” Oh, the nightmares!

    Elsewhere in these pages you will find some discussion of a simulation of the world economy. That’s also social technology, and yes I am working on such a simulation, but for me it is all part of the same problem.

    To properly simulate the economy, you need to simulate human society, and to simulate human society you need to be able to make predictions about human social behaviour. In fact we can predict human behaviour quite well already, on average — on a statistical basis. We can make decent predictions about groups of people. It’s just individual people who defy prediction, partly because we all want to defy prediction.

    I can’t change that, and certainly don’t want to change it.  Who would want to live around completely predictable people?  But that’s OK. Statistical predictability is just fine.  I never want “society” to tell Dick he must marry Jane, but I’d be quite happy to see society making a series of suggestions that are pretty good on average, especially if none of these suggestions involved making a date with some stranger.

    People should meet in groups. Indeed that is how people do meet, most of the time. The best relationships don’t start with high-pressure dates, and I don’t think high-pressure job interviews are a good mechanism either. Over time people should meet many highly compatible people, in a social setting — in groups, including many potential spouses and many potential employers.

    Yes, people meet in groups all the time today, and they do meet many potential spouses and perhaps potential employers. But they don’t meet many compatible ones or appropriate ones. That’s what has to change.

    If truth be told, our society is filled with social technology, tools and techniques for a social purpose, but it is filled with very “low-tech” social technology. The typical “computer dating service” of today is paleolithic social technology. Even the high-priced headhunters who find expert employees for high-tech companies are offering something from the old stone age.

    You might ask what right I have to say this. Good question!  Let me turn the question around and ask what right they have to claim their services work — have they proof?  How do they measure it?

    I’m not talking about something to be taken on faith, I am talking about something that can be tested and measured.  The best way to illustrate this is by considering employees hired to make decisions with immediate financial consequences. Suppose, for example, the employees need to make guesses about the future prices of stocks, bonds, or commodities.

    Some people seem to be very good at this and make a lot of money. Others loose money, and also their jobs. But rather than thinking about individual talents, what about pairs or small groups of people working together. Two heads are better than one, aren’t they?

    Apparently not. Decisions made by committees are often worse than those made by any one person working alone.  I am sure you recognize that decisions made by a committee are very often poor ones, but this is not necessarily so — in theory individual errors could cancel out, making for better decisions. Many attempts have been made to change things so that people working together could produce better decisions as a result of their cooperation.  The most famous of these attempts was the RAND Corporation’s work on the Delphi Method, which made careful use of written submissions and anonymity to try to force objective evaluation of each other’s ideas.

    But the Delphi Method ignores error-covariance. If you put together a committee of people who make similar mistakes, you will get a committee more likely to make those mistakes than any individual on it.

    I’ve written a lot about this but rather than boring you with my arguments I’ll just state it as a requirement.  To count as high-technology, any method for matching people with co-workers must satisfy The Committee Test : working together the people must make better decisions than any of the the people would working alone.

    That something that can easily be measured.  In the example above it can be measured in terms of dollars.  A committee trading stocks, bonds, or commodities should not only make more money than any individual working alone, it should make more money than the total for all of them working individually.

    To put it in a context I’m more familiar with, Brook’s Law should fail — adding more people to a late software development should NOT make it later!

    Is this possible? I claim it is. It is quite easy to measure people’s error-tendencies: just ask them to make a lot of guesses or estimates and compare them with reality. We know that people have quite consistent and long-lasting error patterns. The simplest case is simply to match people in pairs, and for that we have adequate bipartite matching algorithms.

    Let me try that again with less tech-speak. Get “the computer” to match up two people who meet this simple criterion: when they agree they are right, when they disagree they are BOTH wrong. Like this: Simple Error-Covariance Example Stock Allan’s Guess Bill’s Guess Cecily’s Guess Reality Acme $1.00 $2.00 $1.25 $1.50 Better $2.00 $2.00 $2.00 $2.00 Central $1.00 $1.00 $1.00 $1.00 Delta $2.50 $1.50 $1.75 $2.00

    If you had to hire one person, it would be Cecily, whose guesses are better than either Allan or Bill.  But she didn’t guess right all the time, and there is a better answer. Think about hiring both Allan and Bill, because when they agree they are right, and when they disagree the one is high and the other is low, so the average of their guesses is bang on.

    That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. Of course it doesn’t have to be right and wrong, doesn’t have to involve decisions, and certainly doesn’t have involve money or any business situation. But whether it is love or money, there’s a powerful idea here.

    An old idea, of course, and not mine — it goes back to Shannon and Weaver, and the synthesis of reliable channels from redundant unreliable ones.  Using combinatorial optimization to do the matching is a little more original in the sense that I clearly remember thinking it out for myself — but again it is probably an old idea.

    A lot of good old ideas are out there just waiting to be applied.

    I’m not looking for credit for figuring all this out, I’m just looking ahead to that better society, the one with love and money for all of us. A lot of people are broke and lonely, but none of us need be.

    In the wrong social context almost any one of us could end up hungry, homeless and without a friend in the world. And in the right social context even the saddest specimens of humanity could flourish and contribute something of worth.  Am I mad to think these thoughts?

    What I’m doing is empirically based, and I’m not going to impose my definition of compatibility on anyone, but instead will try to meet theirs.

    The empirical data comes largely from longitudinal social surveys, such as the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, (WLS) which followed thousands of high school seniors from the Class of 1957 for twenty years at least, some of them to the present day. Other studies have covered much larger numbers of people, and are still underway, but the WLS is especially interesting because it covers such a long period of time.

    The WLS includes high school performance, intelligence, personality information and much more, — thousands of questions altogether, and recorded further education, marriages, and jobs, together with specific questions about job satisfaction, salaries, standard of living, and so on.

    From these various studies we have a lot of empirical information about people, and it can be used to estimate compatibility and the appropriateness of jobs.  It’s specific enough about friendships and marriages that I’m sure it can be used for finding potential friends and potential spouses, and it is extremely good in the areas of higher education and jobs.

    To make use of this data we need to compare other people with those surveyed in the WLS. That isn’t easy, and it’s not completely reliable, but I’m not promising perfect answers, just suggestions that people need to check carefully.

    I will be putting up some web pages about this process, but basically (in techspeak, sorry) it involves factor analysis to produce coordinates for representing people and jobs as vectors in a space of many dimensions, then using nearest-neighbour and Bayesian measures of vector association as data for bipartite and other matching algorithms.

    (I’ll expand that into English on another web page!)

    Suppose we look at two 17-year-olds from the WLS who were very similar in intelligence, interests, personality, self-discipline, and overall health. If the job one choose after high school was unsatisfactory and while the other’s was the start of a long and happy career, we can inductively estimate that the former should have looked for a job like the latter had. That information will have some relevence to two similar young people today, and can be combined with a lot of other data from other studies so that we can produce sensible suggestions for them to follow (or not, as they choose).

    Also, if two people of today are very similar in personality and interests to two people from the WLS who have been close friends for the past four decades, we ought to suggest they spend a bit of time getting to know one another.

    And if two people are very similar to a couple from the WLS who married briefly but got divorced after a lot of fighting, we ought to give them some warning. But if they are very similar to a couple still happily married 42 years later, we should suggest they do get to know each other.

    It is not up to me or any of us to say whether compatibility is the ability to get along for a long time, to have an intense relationship for a short time, or any other definition we might choose. There is is enough data to support a variety of interpretaions and we should use it to help people find what they want to find, individually.

    Of course the results will be only suggestions, but I think they will be good suggestions that people can trust. We need to warn people to only trust them so far — people need to make their own decisions based on their own experiences, and shouldn’t place too much trust in what a piece of software tells them.

    There is much more to this than the simplified version given above, but if anything the technical details make using the data easier and make the results more reliable. I’ll be posting other messages with various technical details — this is just a quick introduction to the idea of using social survey data: the idea of using what social scientists have collected as the basis for our social technology .

    When I put a first draft of this page up on a mailing list, one reader asked me how I could define somelike compatibility in a computer language — a rhetorical question, I think, since she obviously considered it impossible to do so.

    I will be putting up source code for various programs when it’s ready, but the underlying methods are quite well-understood. It’s all about comparing people today with people studied in the past and in ongoing studies. Several studies asked thousands of people about their marriages and other relationships, and the result is quite usable data.

    The same person asked if people would be willing to leave their local “ponds” in the hope of finding better relationships elsewhere.

    Leaving is too drastic, the key idea is local search which means making only small changes in social environments — spending a little bit of time with a few new friends so that gradually over months or years people grow a new social environment, perhaps still seeing their old friends, but less often.  The same applies to jobs — we need to set up a situation in which people can make gradual transitions from one job to another by holding the two as part-time jobs for a while.

    I’ll make an exception to that rule for sexual relationships of any intimacy, discouraging people from having two part-time spouses, but part time is OK in the “pre-intimacy” stage of mate selection.

    I can start sounding rather prudish when discussing this, but I think that is a mis-perception.   In today’s society, in which it is almost impossible to find someone even moderately compatible, pre-marital sex and even extra-marital sex (much more controversial) are at least plausible options, and I’m not really against them at all, though I am suspicious of their ability to last.  I usually expect these “illicit” relationships to be difficult ones, and often short ones, and I’m usually right.

    In the future I don’t think many people will have pre-marital sex, because if marriage is probably in their future, (for religious reasons, perhaps), they won’t have any reason to wait, since each person will have no trouble finding that most extremely compatible future spouse, and they will both know they are compatible and both have all the friends, jobs, and security that makes a marriage more likely to work.

    In the future I don’t think many people will have extra-marital sex, because they will all have quickly found themselves extremely compatible people to marry, and can easily satisfy their sexual needs at home.

    Another question involved the difference between small communities and larger cities: in the past people often found friends, jobs, and spouses in small communities, but it seems much harder to do so in large cities even with more potential jobs, friends, and spouses to choose from.

    I think numbers have a lot to do with it. I use a compatibility scale based on the base-10 logarithm of the pool size, (that is to say the number of zeroes on the number). On average, people who choose the most compatible person from a pool of 1000 would get what I call compatibility level 3 — from the 3 zeroes in 1000.  There is actually a fokelore factoid in the social science community which says that you pick out one good friend from each thousand people you meet.

    It is possible to meet a thousand people and get to know them quite well, and so each person in villages of containing about 1000 people will probably find themselves a level 3 friendship without too much trouble.  But in a city of a million it is very hard to get to know 1000 people anywhere near as well as you would if isolated in a small town with them, so I say it is very difficult to find even a level 3 friendship in a big city, even though where there are millions of people a level 6 (1-in-a-million) or better match is theoretically possible for everyone in the city.

    The same thing applies to jobs, where I use the same logarithmic scale. I’m not aiming at perfect matches, but I think level 6 is possible for all of us with a bit of technological help. I think we could each get that 1-in-a-million job and the 1-in-a-million friend, and many other equally compatible social relationships.

    Please look at my page on rating compatibility for more information about this scale and how it is applied.

    What about economics? Is the society I describe economically viable?

    I envision a very high level of interpersonal integration, and I think that will bring about a high level of economic integration.  Remember that I am envisioning people matched with very compatible co-workers who can collectively make good decisions, better decisions that any of them alone. So society should run efficiently and be sustainable in all ways.

    Some people have used the phrase “high-technology society” to describe what I’m talking about, but that is misleading. I am talking about high-SOCIAL-technology, or SOCIAL high-technology, one in which social structures and relations are very nearly as good as possible, but that does not mean I favour high-technology in all aspects of society. I try to remain neutral on that. Will the future have high-tech automobiles, fusion power plants, and all the rest of it?  Only if they are safe and the people want these things.  The well-integrated, stable, happy, and very democratic society of the future could choose a simpler life style and may very well do so.

    That’s up to them. They will make the right decision, whatever it is.

    Let me quote myself from one of my old home pages (some parts of which might also be seen above — this is an old section of this document, now rather out of date):

    Traditional futurists have described worlds with humanoid robots and flying automobiles, but the world I dream about is one in which love and friendship are abundant, along with truly satisfying work in good jobs that are easy to find and keep.

    What about democracy?  Who will control this society?  I think the integrated social network will be intrinsically democratic. Please look at my page on social power structures for an overview.

    I don’t think we will need the kind of democratic institutions we have now, though I think we should keep them around as a safety-device, not to mention historical artifact and tourist attraction.

    Questions have also ben asked about my political affiliations, and whether or not the world I describe is some form of communism. I don’t think any of the traditional political labels applies to the society I envision. But for anyone who may wonder, my political tendencies are rather anarchistic, in a totally non-violent way, and the world I envision owes much to Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid”.

    Kropotkin places enormous emphasis on voluntary cooperation, and I agree, but it isn’t easy to cooperate with many of the people that we apparently need to work with, and very hard to base a society on that. So I add the insight that there are “lots of fish in the sea” — lots of people we CAN cooperate with, because they are very compatible with us.  And so, bringing about global voluntary cooperation and mutual aid becomes a question of helping each person to find the others he or she can and will cooperate with easily.


    A Joke-Free Environment …

    … this is not.   But perhaps it should be.   There are strong arguments for removing jokes from web pages, just as there are strong arguments for not making jokes about bombs when boarding your flight to Chicago.

    Like airplanes, web pages are for international use, and people who are not native speakers of your native tongue may very well mistake puns, sarcasm, and irony for serious words.    On the other hand web pages without jokes are as unpalatable as airline food and probably harder to create.

    etc.

    So I will at least reserve space for joke-free versions of these web pages.   But I haven’t the time or energy to produce any of them right now.    If anyone else wants to help …



    Copyright © 2009   Douglas Pardoe Wilson

    Other relevant content:

    New: Social Technology through Diagrams

    New: Social Techs novel online

    New: Social Technology Blog

    New: Social Technology Wiki

    Please see these web pages:

    The main Social Technology page.

    Find Compatibles , the key page, with the real solution to all other problems explained

    Technological Fantasies , a page about future technology

    Social Tech a page about Social Technology, technology for social purposes.  I think I was the first person to use this phrase on the Internet, quite a long time ago.


    Roughly corresponding to these web pages are the following blogs :

    Social Technology the main blog, hosted on this site, with posts imported from the following blogger.com blogs, which still exist and are useable.

    Find Compatibles devoted to matching people with friends, lovers, jobs, places to live and so on, but doing so in ways that will actually work, using good math, good algorithms, good analysis.

    Technological Fantasies devoted to future stuff, new ideas, things that might be invented or might happen, such as what is listed above and below.

    Sex-Politics-Religion is a blog about these important topics, which I have been told should never be mentioned in polite conversation.  Alright that advice does seem a bit dated, but many people are still told not to bring up these subjects around the dinner table.

    I believe I was the first person on the Internet to use the phrase Social Technology — years before the Web existed.

    Those were the good old days, when the number of people using the net exceeed the amount of content on it, so that it was easy to start a discussion about such an upopular topic.  Now things are different.  There are so many web pages that the chances of anyone finding this page are low, even with good search engines like Google.   Oh, well.

    By Social Technology I mean the technology for organizing and maintaining human society.  The example I had most firmly in mind is the subject of  Find Compatibles , what I consider to be the key page, the one with the real solution to all other problems explained.

    As I explained on my early mailing lists and later webpages, I find that social technology has hardly improved at all over the years.   We still use representative democracy, exactly the same as it was used in the 18th century.  By contrast, horse and buggy transportation has been replaced by automobiles and airplanes, enormous changes.

    In the picture below you will see some 18th century technology, such as the ox-plow in the middle of the picture.  How things have changed since then in agricultural technology.  But we still use chance encounters, engagements and marriages to organize our home life and the raising of children.

    I claim that great advances in social technology are not only possible but inevitable.  I have written three novels about this, one preposterously long, 5000 pages, another merely very very long, 1500 pages.  The third is short enough at 340 pages to be published some day.  Maybe.  The topic is still not interesting to most people.   I will excerpt small parts of these novels on the web sometime, maybe even post the raw text for the larger two.


    This site includes many pages dating from 1997 to 2008 which are quite out of date.  They are included here partly to show the development of these ideas and partly to cover things the newer pages do not.  There will be broken links where these pages referenced external sites.  I’ve tried to fix up or maintain all internal links, but some will probably have been missed.   One may wish to look at an earlier version of this page , rather longer, and at an overview of most parts of what can be called a bigger project.

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