Point Forrm Summary 2

Perhaps the best thing to do at this point is just to say what I have to say, as concisely as I can, regardless of the fact that it is really addressed to the intersection of the two cultures and such people scarcely exist. Here then is what I have to say, briefly summarized.   Full explanations to follow.

1. It is reasonable to treat society as a network of individuals connected by friendship and other social relationships.

2. This approach to society can be more than just a metaphor — it can have real consequences.

3. It is possible and strongly advisable to evaluate the connections of the social network and to investigate both local and global properties of it.

3. Very ordinary human problems such as finding a job, finding a home, finding a mate, and finding friends all depend upon the ability to make good connections, and thus on ability of the social network to supply useful information about possible connections.

4. It is possible to use mathematical methods to create tools for social network optimization which can be used by individuals without any knowledge of the underlying mathematics.

5. Most social problems can be seen as optimization problems which are similar to problems mathematicians and computer scientists know how to solve.

6. The fundamental task in any optimization problem is defining what shall count as optimum — creating a precise definition of what is good and what is bad.

7. Once that hard part is done, the rest of the problem is simply a matter of computation, although the amount of computing power and time may be impossibly large in some cases.

8. Defining what is optimum remains the most fundamental step, and is very much like the requirements analysis stage of systems engineering.

9. Indeed I think systems engineering (and perhaps engineering in general) is very much like optimization.

10. Optimization problems are of many different kinds, some very much more difficult than others.

11. Of these, the most difficult, but also the most important are combinatorial optimization problems, which arise when discrete choices are involved.

12. Optimization of the social network to make sure everybody is well-connected to compatible spouses, employers, and friends is clearly a combinatorial optimization problem.

13. Existing algoriths for combinatorial optimization can be adapted for use within society in a non-coercive way by treating the fundamental task as the provision of suggestions which “prune the search trees”, leaving each individual free to make his or her own decisions, but narrowing the space of possible solutions.

14. It is most important to carefully construct criteria for evaluating when social situations are closer to or further from optimum.

15. The most fundamental criterion for social optimization is whatever the individual people involved in any social situation say it is, but this can be globalized by careful estimation and confirmation of the effect of changes on individual human lives.

16. Although not appropriate or acceptable to many, a fundamental technique for estimating optimal connections involves the collection and evaluation of psychological, aptitudinal, educational and other test scores.

17. Whether or not test scores are actually used in this process, the space of possible test results can be used to define social relationships.

18. Although individual people can override this, the most general goal for optimization is probably to embed each person in a virtual network of close, compatible human relationships so as to maximize communication and cooperation between them.

19. This is a recursive process in which newly connected people can help each other make some of the decisions which are necessary to choose among the suggested possibible connections.

20. Diverse views on equality, individualism, freedom, and social integration can simultaneously be accommodated within the social network, which will most probably contain regions organized differently to support the differing ideals of the individuals in that region.

21. The change from the badly organized society of today to a future society which everyone can agree is much closer to optimum can be effected by a sensitive non-coercive program of social technology which will encourage appropriate connections and reconnections between people, but will do so will well-defined safeguards to ensure privacy and confidentiality.

22. Privacy can be ensured by encryption schemes, especially by double public-key cryptography in which both parties in any exchange of information must use specially designed protocols.

Copyright © 1998 Douglas P. Wilson

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