This page is a quick and dirty prototype and shouldn’t be up on the web at all — it is here just for proofing and link testing, and will be replaced almost immediately by something longer and (probably) better.  

The current forms that use rank ordering are not easy to use.   They will be replaced or supplemented by new forms as soon as possible.

Rank ordering is both a way of collecting data and a representation for it.   It is best illustrated by a hypothetical questionaire for finding out what qualities an employer wants in an employee. (unfinished, but see below for more information).


Costing Requirements




Obviously this page needs a lot of work and probably much more text. Quite a lot of text has been written and other work to provide forms and handle data has been done already, but it is not yet ready for inclusion here. Please visit this page again in the future, when it may be more useful. You may want to look at links in our “standard footer”, below, which probably point to other pages that might be of some interest to you.

As a rather lame way of getting more exposure for a very important idea that does in fact have something to do with rank ordering, the text below, taken from www.SocialTechnology.ca/dpwilson/scale.html is being appended here, just above our (old) standard footer, which is badly in need of revision. (Don’t use these forms yet, please! The don’t work, and should have been disabled, but work on either disabling them or making them work is not yet complete, not even complete enough to say which will be done).

A Scale for Describing Compatibility

Progess Report
frames version — will soon include
JavaScript programs no frames version — just for reading

It seems obvious that finding a spouse is a matter of searching and trying to find the right one out of what should be a large number of choices. But today many people fail to find a compatible spouse, or fail to find good friends. Since this is so, it seems obvious to me that the answer has something to do with better ways of searching.

Even though many people do indeed fail to find a compatible spouse, the problem can’t be a shortage of men or a shortage of women — it must have something to do with the difficulties of conducting such a search. But when it comes to unemployment the only thing politicians seem to talk about is job creation — they assume that there are just not enough jobs and we need to create more.

In recent times I have added a numerical scale to the problem of matching individuals; a logarithmic scale, like the Richter scale for earthquakes, in which a level 8 earthquake is not twice a energetic as a level 4 earthquake but 10000 times (ten to the fourth). Here’s a few words from another piece of raw text:

Briefly, I use a scale from 1 to 10 based on the base-10 logarithm of the size of the search space effectively considered in making a choice.

Thus if you get to know 1000 people and choose one as a friend, then on average you have a better friend than had you chosen from amongst 100 people. To assign compatibility numbers to these friends I just count the zeros, so that the best-of-100 is given a compatibility number of 2 and the best-of-1000 is given a compatibility number of 3.

An importance use of these numbers is in considering compatibility statistics for a large region, such as a whole nation of people.

I shall argue that almost every measure of the quality of life and the state of a nation’s economy are profoundly affected by the levels of social compatibility found in that nation. Briefly, people with very compatible social connections are more productive, are better educated, have a more stable home life, and are much less likely to commit a crime.

Now let me use this scale to talk about “The Big Picture”. I think we all realize that certain numbers are fundamental to understanding society, and can be plotted for different historical periods to describe fundamental changes in society. Thus the 18th and 19th centuries of British history can be characterized by workforce demographics, not just the population increase but more importantly the ongoing and unrelentless move of the labouring population from the agricultural workforce of rural areas to the industrial workforce of the cities.

Or, we can describe the changes in society today not just by the progress of the huge baby-boom generation from being children to being middle-aged, but by the difference between that industrialized western-world population and the population pyramids of third-world countries.

Or we can talk about the gradual decrease in the crime rate as the baby boom generation ages, or the sometimes narrowing and more recently widening again of the income gap between the richest 1% of society and the poorest 1%.

And so on. All these numbers tell a story and there are many other numbers, sometimes gathered together under the name of ‘social indicators’. I have a little book of that title, an MIT-publication of a report prepared for NASA, oddly enough. That book contains some lists of social indicators, which include things like the literacy rate (slowly but steadily rising in many third-world countries, but actually falling in the U.S.), the racial integration of urban neighbourhoods, the unemployment rate, and so on.

Some of these are essentially the same as what we are more familiar with under the name ‘economic indicators’, and indeed we cannot make a perfectly clear distinction between the economics and sociology of society, but some of these social indicators have very little to do with economics, and reflect things like free speech, which can be measured as column-inches of national newspaper stories criticising the government, but is usually more subjective.

Subjective is ok, though. No one is claiming that all these social indicators require absolutely objective measurement. No matter how many column-inches the newspapers devote to criticising the government, free speech only exists when individual people feel they have it — if you are afraid to speak your mind then you don’t enjoy free speech, period. So it’s ok to base your social indicators on opinion polls, as long as you’re reasonably careful.

OK, it makes sense that there can be social indicators which measure or report public opinions on the characteristics of a society, and the book lists of a couple of dozen such indicators, some of them hard to be precise about, some very clear and precise such as the percentage of the population on welfare.

And, I think you’ll agree that if we could get decent estimates for such numbers and how they have gradually changed over time, we would then know a lot about the societies they describe, in just the way various statistics about the workforce migration to cities tells us a lot about the history of our society.

But something is missing, something not measured by any of the indicators discussed in that book or anywhere else that I know of. In any society people don’t just become employed or become unemployed, get married or get divorced, they have to search for a job, against the competition of other job-seekers, and they have to search for a spouse or sexual partner, also in competition with others.

To some limited extent the unemployment rate and divorce rate say something about the difficulties of those searches, but not enough. The crime rate also tells us something, since people in good jobs with truly compatible spouses (one apiece, I mean) rarely commit serious crimes and that is especially true of people with close friends (in which case more than one apiece is fine).

There are several sets of numbers I care about, all based on my logarithmic scale. One measure would be the mean, norm, or average — some measure of the overall compatibility for the whole of society, for various. On a logarithmic scale of 1 to 10, how appropriate is your job for you? Suppose you started with an endless supply of 3-by-5 cards, each one listing a job, but chosen at random. On average how many of these would you have to look through in order to find another job as suitable as the one you have now? 100? 1000? 10000. That’s compatibility levels 2, 3, and 4.

You have a lot of talents, so I bet you could find at least as good a job as you have now by looking through 1000 cards chosen at random, perhaps even by looking through 100. OK, so what about someone less talented that you are, someone who doesn’t know a computer from a boat anchor? They would on average have to look through more cards to find a job they could do. So now, what do you suppose is the national average? (Substitute your own nationality where I have written ‘Canadian’)

On my scale from 1 to 10, how good a job does the average Canadian have?

On my scale from 1 to 10, how compatible a spouse does the average married Canadian have?

Now, extend the questions by asking about historical trends in these numbers with time.

Until someone does all the work to find out something about all this, I can only guess, and to do that I depend on personal experience and the anecdotal evidence that came with it, but I can guess and I bet you could too.

I guess that most compatibilities amongst people and appropriateness of people for jobs or jobs for people range somewhere between 1-in-a-10, or level 1, and perhaps 1-in-10000, or level 4. I think the higher levels of compatibility are probably found in completely voluntary relationships such as friendship, which are quite informal and don’t have to bear the weight put on a marriage or any other contractual agreement — I’d guess typical friendship are at about compatibility level 3, with typical jobs at level 2.

That last number is a tough one, since it suggests that a typical person has a choice from amongst 100 different jobs, while many people have little choice at all, but one has to include quite a range of low-paying or undesirable joins which many people do not consider as part of their range of choices.

Here’s a slightly variation on these questions: Does it matter how good a job the average Canadian has? Does it matter how compatible a spouse the average married Canadian has?

I think it does matter, in many ways, both economic and social. Even with the somewhat better economic conditions in the past couple of years one hears a lot about layoffs and downsizing, about shrinking budgets for health care and education. But why is that? How come we had economic problems for so long and still have them enough to threaten the education of our children? What’s wrong?

I think the answer has a lot to do with the quality of the match (or mismatch) between people and jobs. Fewer people are happy with the jobs they have, and I think productivity depends a lot on people doing the right jobs and been happy at it. I say that productivity and other economic matters depend on how successful people are at finding good jobs and working with compatible co-workers and supervisors.

Now this is where tree-pruning comes. I think I need to get a job as a tree-pruner, that would be perfect for me, a level 6 match at least.

I am refering to search-tree pruning, of course. For us computer people a search among many options involves a tree structure, from the root, along major branches, to smaller branches, and finally to a leaf or terminal node. Tree-pruning is the art of saying in some a priori way that your search will ignore leaf-nodes that you might reach by following along some major branch. Currently this is most typically done with job qualifications, so that you can prune away all jobs to be reached by taking the major branch that involves getting an M.D. degree and working at a hospital.

But there are lots of jobs that you would qualify for but would not be happy or effective doing, and the hard part is pruning away those. And harder still to going beyond the tree-pruning to dealing with the effects of competition for jobs, which is what makes it really a combinatorial problem.

I think of tree-pruning as the job of some software product, for which my work is some kind of systems engineering or requirements analysis, and which can be thought of a multiplier, enhancing the human ability to choose by pruning away the egregious mismatches.

A software product with enough data collection, encryption, and analysis capability might provide a multiplier effect of 1000, so that you could get a level 5 (1-in-100,000) job, spouse, friend, or whatever, by actually examining only the 100 best choices. We have this kind of capability right now in search engines for information retrieval — you still have to look at whatever result AltaVista or HotBot comes up with, but you have been saved the task of looking over millions of web pages yourself.

If you listen to politicians, perish the though, the real problem is that there are not enough jobs and they need to create more. I think that’s nonsense. If a search problem is difficult some people will not succeed, and the answer is to make the search easier, not to complicate the matter with more targets.

Consider the parallel task of finding a compatible spouse or sexual partner — lot’s of people, including many of my female relatives have found this problem too hard, and remain unattached. But you don’t hear the politicians saying that there is a shortage of men or women and that we need them to create more, however much they may personally engage in activities of which the creation of new people is a common side-effect.

I don’t think jobs are created or used up, because I think most potential jobs remain as “hidden jobs”, not advertised and often unfilled. There is hardly any company, organization, or branch of government that could not hire a new person if they could get exactly the right one. For a level 6 match — 1 in a million — they could always make room.

I often make little notes to myself at the end of a nights work, to remind myself what to do tomorrow. One note that has been sitting there by the computer for a long time now has just the single arabic numeral ‘1’ on it, to remind me that finding jobs, spouses, friends, and so on is all part of just 1 problem, THE problem, the one that will face us in 2098 or 3098 and subsequent centuries, long after our current political and economic systems have disappeared and technology we can’t even imagine has changed everything else and perhaps transported humankind to distant planets.

I make it a habit to periodically suspend belief in legal fictions, reminding myself that Canada is not entirely real, and neither are the banks, the big corporations, and so on. All of these are incorporations, the results of thinking of a collection of people and the places the live or work as a corporate entity like a person.

What really matters is that we are free to move about within certain geographical boundaries and to associate with certain groups of people. When you get a job and start to work at certain locations with certain co-workers, for certain supervisors, what is really real — if you’ll forgive the abuse of language — what is really real are the places and the people you work with or for. All else is fiction.

Of these, the geographic part is almost trivial, since it is largely a consequence of who you work with. The 1 problem, THE problem, can be summed up in 1 word, THE word. And that word is WHO. Who do you work with, who do sleep with, who do you phone up at midnight to discuss metaphysics with; who do you learn from, who do you teach, who do trust, who do have any social contact at all with, who do you avoid at all costs, who do you seek out, who, who, who.

I won’t the big numbers at this point, but let me just say the the search space is truly enormous. But I should point out an apparent paradox: that the one unsolvable problem is the one that can be easiest and most rewarding to pursue.

Oh, all right, all right, I admit it, I just have to stress the big number thing one more time, even if you’ve heard it ad nauseum. When I talk about the years 2098 or even 3098, I am perfectly serious, because no matter what wonderful technological advances the future might bring there is no hope of a genuine solution to the combinatorial problems facing the population of the present planet Earth, and even a crude approximation would take an astounding amount of computrons, (Vax-millenia, teraflops, or whatever other unit of computing power you choose).

Were every atom in the universe a computer with as much power as the one you’re using to read this, the combinatorial problem of simply matching the most qualified billion or so people with one of the planet’s billion or so reasonable jobs — or each adult male with an appropriate female — could not be properly solved, even if all compatibility data had already been provided.

So, the history of the future is in some way limited: there cannot be a future in which we solve all our combinatorial problems. The best we can hope for is a future in which we get some relief from them. But even such a limited future can be very much better than what we have now. It’s a question of a quantitative change being big enough to cross some threshold, making something that really didn’t work into something that does. Or, if we make the wrong choices, turning something that worked a bit into something disastrous.

There’s a point at which job-mismatch can be bad enough that people don’t survive it. There are people who kill themselves over problems at work, and we’ve all heard about disgruntled postal workers with guns who decide to take a few other people with them. There’s also a point at which men kill their wives — less often it happens the other way around — and a few of these men decide to take their children with them. It’s happened not long ago on Vancouver Island, as it does occasionally all over the world.

It is the other side of the coin that interests me, the side in which a simple improvement in matching makes for an enormous social change.

Copyright © 1998-2002 Douglas P. Wilson


Related Web Pages are:

The main Social Technology page.

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

Technological Fantasies , a page about future technology

Practical Immortality , not the immortality of the body, nor making a copy of the mind in a machine,  but actual transfer of a person, personality, memory  and consciousness into a supercomputer

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 :

FindCompatibles 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.

Practical Immortality yes, practical immortality.   Don’t write this off as insanity, please.  See the first entry in the blog first.

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  FindCompatibles , 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.

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