Pointform Summary

(version 1)

Here is some introductory material, in point form. If you find it too difficult, just skip it, since most of what it summarizes can be found in an easier form on another page.

1. Before telling you that this is about applying combinatorial optimization to human society I must state four fundamental rules:

a) there must be absolutely no coercion of any kind applied to any person

b) privacy and data security must be guaranteed for all personal data

c) algorithms used must be public to avoid manipulation by suggestion

( the fourth is rather technical, you might skip it for now)

d) the objective function or criteria of what is meant by optimum must be a matter of individual choice locally, and global optimization must reflect and arise from the local.

2. It is possible to consider all social and economic problems as optimization problems — this is not to say that you must consider them as optimization problems, but I claim it is very useful to do so.

3. Numerical optimization problems, such as most economic optimization problems are difficult enough, but as a class of problems they are many orders of magnitude easier than the class of combinatorial optimization problems which involve discrete choices.

4. Most of the important social relationships in any persons life come from a choice from amongst discrete opportunities — here is a short list of some of these relationships, which I collectively describe as a person’s social environment:

a) educational institution — which school or university?

b) place of residence — which city, town, or village?

c) career — what kind of work do you do?

d) place of employment — which employer ?

e) job — what position do you hold, which tasks are yours?

f) co-workers — who do you work with ?

g) supervisor — who is your immediate boss ?

h) friends — which of your acquaintances have become close friends?

i) mate, spouse, partner — do you have one? who?

j) mentor — which person do you choose to look up to for advice?

k) mentee — who looks up to you for advice?

5. Each of these social choices have a profound affect on your life, so you might be expected to choose carefully, and perhaps you do, but there is something more fundamental: the search space, or set of possibilities to choose from. I find it convenient to use the base-10 logarithm of the size of the search space as a measure of match quality, pretending that your ability to evaluate choices once they are presented to you is perfect.   I am not assuming this as a hypothesis, since it is probably wrong in all cases — nobody makes perfect evaluations of anything — but it is extremely convenient and useful, as you will see.

6. Thus if chose the best out of 1000 acquaintances to be your best friend then I would describe this as a level 3 friendship, since 10 to the power of 3 is 1000. This represents an average value for choices from search spaces of that size — you might be lucky and find an equally close friendship by meeting and getting to know only 100 people, or you might be unlucky and have to search 10000 people to find such a friend, but on the average a level 3 friendship would be the best from a set of 1000 people.

7. Each person in this world has a number of tasks to perform: you have to get out of bed and make yourself presentable, you have to take the kids to school, you have to go to work and do something useful for your employer or fake it convincingly. But prior to all these mundane tasks is the fundamental task of searching for the best social environment — you don’t have kids to take to school until you have found a spouse to have them with, and you don’t have a job to do until you find someone to hire you.

8. But while each individual person’s tasks involve searching for the elements of a good social environment, society as a whole has a task which is truly a combinatorial optimization problem, not just a search problem. You need to find a mate or a job, but society as whole is faced with the much harder problem of matching each person with the best possible mate or job.

9. You may not like this expression “society as a whole”, but regardless of your social metaphysics, there is a real problem that is somehow being solved, and the question of how good is the solution is vital. It would be quite possible using public records to create of list of all married and employed people in North America, and their employers, stating exactly which person is married to which other person, and who is employed by whom.

Social metaphysics aside, this is a solution to a matching problem, and there are obviously many other solutions: suppose it was Bill and Tipper and their dear friends Al and Hilary, for example — that’s another solution to the same problem. So why do we have the current solution instead of some other one? And, how can we compare and rate solutions?

10. Why do I think these are important questions? Let me answer that with a question. Imagine a person who has what I have described as a good social environment, a person with a good job, close friends, a compatible spouse, a mentor for advice and someone who looks up to him or her for advice. Here’s my question: how likely is this person to commit a serious crime?

11. Briefly, I believe that social environment affects not only personal happiness, but also what each person contributes to society, good or evil. I can conceive of a society with NO crime, NO unemployment, NO divorce, and in which each and every person makes positive contribution to society. I can conceive of this because I have spend years thinking about ways to apply combinatorial optimization to human society, and I think I know how to do it.

12. But before telling you my proposed solutions, let me tell honestly that I have no real evidence that they will work or that they will be acceptable to people’s social sensitivities. I don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort defending my own schemes, what I really want is to spur other people with more expertise than I have to invent new solutions. More than that even, I just want the problem taken seriously. I have some solutions, which might work, but I am not certain about any of them. But I am completely certain that social problems are combinatorial in origin, and that combinatorial optimization can be applied to society in some acceptable non-coercive ways.

Before continuing, I will state again verbatim my fundamental rules:

a) there must be absolutely no coercion of any kind applied to any person

b) privacy and data security must be guaranteed for all personal data

c) algorithms used must be public to avoid manipulation by suggestion

d) the objective function or criteria of what is meant by optimum must be a matter of individual choice locally, and global optimization must reflect and arise from the local.

I have restated these because almost everyone I talk to assume that what I have in mind is coercive, invades privacy, and involves secret manipulations of human lives. But no, it is quite the contrary.

13. Those of you with some familiarity with combinatorial optimization or graph theory, or with a few famous problems such as the travelling-salesman problem might find it hard to understand how we could apply any of the familiar algorithms to society without coercion. Most of the techniques or algorithms used in these types of problems are rather authoritarian processes in which the program will make and break connections many times (with out giving the vertices of the graph any choice over what edges might connect them). I think the answer lies with parallel graph algorithms, or methods in which the graph is partitioned into smaller subgraphs which are then worked on in parallel.

14. Whether sequential or parallel, many algorithms for combinatorial optimization have two components: a heuristic, or technique for generating a possibly better solution, and a evaluator, something to rate the quality of a solution. I propose that the distinction betweent these two components be the basis of a division of labour between machines and human beings, with each individual person taking the role of evaluator, and responding to suggestions from computers which have the heuristic task of proposing possible solutions.

15. The key, however, is not just letting machines propose solutions for humans to evaluate — the key is to find ways of making these suggestions as good as possible. We need a definition of compatability that is simple enough for computers to use and clear enough for people to understand. Better yet, we need several such definitions, and a way of evaluating their results.

16. The scheme I propose is based on minimizing error-covariance, and it is primarily intended for matching individuals with co-workers and friends, though it can be extended to the other problems. The data collected for this process can be from many sources, but it is much easier to understand if expressed in terms of the the answers to test questions which have a numerical answer set. Please consider this exposition as an attempt to explain a difficult concept the easiest way, not as a definite proposal.

17. All this supposes the existence of a test or questionaire of general knowledge and reasoning ability, but there are many alternative approaches which do not involve anything so cold and mechanical

Copyright © 1998 Douglas P. Wilson

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 transporation 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 maiintain 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.

Type in this address to e-mail me.  The image is interesting.  See Status of Social Technology

Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, Douglas Pardoe Wilson

I have used a series of e-mail address over the years, each of which eventually became out of date because of a change of Internet services or became almost useless because of spam.  Eventually I stuck with a Yahoo address, but my inbox still fills up with spam and their spam filter still removes messages I wanted to see.  So I have switched to a new e-mail service.  Web spiders should not be able to find it, since it is hidden in a jpeg picture.   I have also made it difficult to reach me.  The picture is not a clickable link.  To send me e-mail you must want to do so badly enough to type this address in.  That is a nuisance, for which I do apologize, but I just don’t want a lot of mail from people who do not care about what I have to say.


A Personal Narrative

Another Old Index Page

Copyright © 2009   Douglas Pardoe Wilson

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