1. All social problems are optimization problems.
2. Underlying all the social ills of our society is the combinatorial explosion of possibilities and the lack of adequate techniques for reducing the size of the search space.
3. Like all optimization problems, social problems can and must be factored into two sub-problems: defining what is meant by optimum, and finding the optimal solutions.
4. Technology is just the study and application of techniques, so all techniques used to organize and manage our society, including all political and financial techniques are part of technology, and can benefit from the enormously improved understanding of the nature of technology that has arisen with the discipline of systems engineering.
5. The requirements analysis stage of systems engineering is essentially the same thing as defining what is meant by optimum, as is done in numerical optimization by defining an objective function.
6. The design, implementation, and test stages of systems engineering are essentially finding an optimal solution to a problem defined during requirements analysis.
7. Bad engineering, which is very common, usually results from inadequate or biased requirements analysis that allows the engineers doing design or implementation to build in their own preferences instead of trying to satisfy the end-user of the system. In politics this is variously called conflict-of-interest, patronage, or corruption.
8. For profound psychological reasons, pure design-free requirements analysis is very hard to do, and the temptation to express requirements in terms of existing design concepts, or to bias a set of requirements to favour an particular design is usually unavoidable.
9. Bad engineering, in whatever field of human endevour, can be avoided by recursive systems engineering, which applies good systems engineering methods to the engineering methodology itself: setting forth the requirements to be met by a set of requirements, and designing a requirements analysis stage that will really work, so that whatever requirements specifications are produced actually do meet the requirements for a set of requirements, and are not just somebody’s pet design in disguise.
10. Ultimately, requirements analysis, or defining the optimum, is the much harder part of the problem, and is less susceptible to machine help since it is utterly dependent on communication with the people who will use the system.
11. The subtle but vital distinction between requirements and design is usually unknown to end-users, who tend to talk in terms of designs they are familiar with, if asked. Therefore, you cannot find out the users’ requirements by just asking them. Instead the end-user should be considered as a person with an expert knowledge of his or her own desires, but not necessarily as an expert in expressing those desires. This is the basic approach that a knowledge engineer takes in dealing with the experts consulted during the creation of an expert system: their expertise is valued and must be extracted carefully, but rarely emerges in their own words.
12. In my words, what most people want from society is a good social environment, in which they are optimally matched to the tasks they perform, the people they work with, the friends, lovers, or mates they have relationships with, the goods and services they consume, and the physical environment in which all this takes place.
13. Because of the large numbers of human beings, the large number of tasks to be performed, and the diversity of physical environments, these matching problems are difficult in the extreme, and require much more attention and effort than they ever receive.
14. The current “system” in which a badly fragmented social network forces us all into contact with strangers and incompatable people, relying on a uniform code of laws to maintain some amount of order, can be replaced by a truly integrated system in which the social network maintains order without coercion by having tight links between truly compatible people. This is what I call social network optimization.
15. If you really understand what optimization means, you will not object that you don’t want to live in an optimized society, since what is optimum for you is by definition the closest possible thing to what you want. What you can and should object to is having to live in a society optimized according to somebody else’s definitiion of optmimum.
16. The end result of social network optimization is almost certain to be a polymorphic society, in which regional differences are large, rather than an enforced uniformity.
17. The classic mistake of a utopian theorist is to envision a society in which he or she would be perfectly happy, ignoring others whose tastes differ. A polymorphic society would consist of a million small utopias, each one optimized to the tastes of the people making it up. However unusual your preferences, there is a utopia waiting there for you!
18. The transition from what we have now to whatever polymorphic optimized society we will have in the future is also an optimization problem, which can be described as the problem of finding the path of least resistance from here to there in the space of possible societies.
19. Everything I have done in the past 15 years suggests that this path of least resistance, or easiest transition, does not involve any form of violent revolution or any top-down reorganization of society, but instead must involve the forging strong links between individuals, thus reintegrating the fragmented social network.
20. To forge links between individuals, you must somehow match them with compatible people, which is again an optimization problem. The optimum-definition stage involves defining what we mean by compatibility, which is a non-trivial problem, but can be solved by methods based on personality theory.
21. Given some definitions of compatability, which should reflect the diversity of human tastes and preferences, it is still a very difficult problem to find optimum matches. There are several different matching methods that can be used, but no single method is right for everyone. Instead we have another matching and optimization problem, what I call the problem of recursive matching: how to find a matching method that is right for each person involved.
22. For many people, use of psychological tests and questionaires to gather data, followed by computerized matching is an acceptable answer, but other methods exists, some involving no computer use but depending on humans helping other humans.
23. Whenever tests and questionaires are used, privacy can and must guaranteed by the use of encryption and information exchange protocols, some of which can ensure much more privacy than we have today my making each individual the ultimate repository of data about him or her self, rather than having any central databases.
24. Another important early stage in the transition away from what we have now is the elimination of unemployment by matching people to tasks. I contend that almost all unemployment is the result of the combinatorial explosion which makes finding a job so very difficult, and is not the result of any shortage of jobs.
25. All forms of matching, whether they are matching people to people as friends, co-workers, mates, employer/employee, or whatever, must be non-coercive, and should take the form of confidential suggestions.
26. We also need to make confidential matching suggestions to people who currently have jobs and currently have friends, mates, or lovers. The unemployement problem is only the tip of the job-mismatch iceberg: most people are in inappropriate jobs. Similarly the divorce problem is only the tip of the relationship-mismatch problem: most people are in inappropriate relationships. Optimization cannot depend on working only with those who do not have jobs or sexual partners, it must work with everybody.
27. Optimization methods can also help those whose idea of optimum is the status quo. People who like their current social environment or prefer not to change it can get help from methods which help find and integrate new people in and around the edges of existing sub-systems to help hold them together, and by finding new places for those who threaten their stability.
28. Perhaps the very first steps in this transition process should be the integration of those who have related or compatible projects into a functional organization. My work on this cannot possibly be unique — history records very few examples of unique ideas being developed only by a single person at one location. Usually the same thought occur to many people in many different places.
29. In forming any organization to deal with these ideas, we should be extremely careful that the organization we create is designed to be avoid becoming an emergent entity with interests of its own, independent of and perhaps contrary to the interests of the people forming it and the rest of society. Governments, corporations, and other organizations, including non-profit ones, almost always become emergent entities with a life of their own, and like Frankenstein’s monster, can turn on their creators.
30. The evil or uncaring corporate entity is an example of bad engineering. The techniques embodied in corporate law and other human software are not very well studied from the point of view of systems engineering. Often they include non-linearities and positive feedback which virtually guarantee that the corporation has emergent properties and thus interests of its own.
31. Governments, corporations, and other social entities should be thought of as robots — artificial life forms — even though human beings are part of their hardware. As such they can only function in a human-friendly fashion if they include a lot of negative feedback loops and other error-correction mechanisms which serve to implement something like Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics.
32. Good engineering does not only consist of careful analysis and design, but also includes rapid-prototyping, under controlled conditions. Any organization designed to link together and integrate the various people who respond to the ideas expressed here, or who have similar or compatible ideas of their own, should be considered a prototype, and should attempt to set an example, through good legal/organizational-software engineering. It must include all the safeguards, fail-safes, and other techniques we know of to avoid emergence as anything whose self interest would make it evil in any way.
33. Given appropriate safeguards, it should be possible to get the transitional process underway by finding people who are interested in this general approach, and linking them up with other compatible individuals to form a stable, efficient, and well integrated sub-network within human society. In doing so we can test and perfect the optimization process as it applies in the human context, doing whatever is possible to meet and satisfy the personal goals of all individuals involved.
Copyright © 1998 Douglas P. Wilson
Copyright © 2009 Douglas Pardoe Wilson
Other relevant content:
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.
Copyright © 2009 Douglas Pardoe Wilson