Thinking About Technocracy

Where to from here?

Five Key Targets for Technocrats

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Where should technocrats focus?  I think there are five key areas:

1. Sustainability.  Future systems must abide by some set of input/output balances that are realistically operations-worthy without significant technological intervention (of the bulldozing sort) for at least 50 years.  The industrial ecology groups such as the one flourishing at Yale would be one starting point. 

2. Collaborative and Adaptive Management.  Means of establishing scientific policy models will have to be collaborative or, unacceptably, imposed.  So far, scientists are confrontational and rather poor at building consensus to their ideas.  Trust has been lost due to corrupt research practices, disfocused research institutions and ridiculous information sharing models.  Technocrats will need to do better.  Adaptive management processes have already made significant progress in these spaces.  Other collaborative models are available globally, and those from learning spaces in particular (e.g. connectivism or open communities of practice) show great promise.

3. Investment models and social metric innovations.  Some new scales and measurement processes that entail more than pricing models will have to be established to show that investments are sound.  This is the most wide open area of technocratic implementation theory.  Everyone recognizes the need.  Few are coming forward with multi-objective solutions along lines that those who built theory on the old linear programming models tried (e.g. water resource engineers at Johns Hopkins like Jared Cohen.)  AI multi-objective and mult-priority models show promise here but conflict resolution remains an understudied topic in AI.  Work has been done in organizations and management on “cognitive dissonance.”  That could serve as a foundation.

4. Boundary spanning.  Really, this is a hybrid of points 2 and 3 with a revised and extended focus on minimizing the effects of arbitrary geographies on social planning.   Geographers have done good work here and there are large bodies of theory.  Unfortunately few projects seem to span these boundaries outside of NGOs, some open source groups and relatively purpose-weak social networks.  Swarms and crowds point the way, but I don’t expect a swarm to build the pyramids.  Mobilization and motivation models will be all important here.  One might just as easily called this one “change management.” 

5. Public relations.  Technocracy has mostly been swung to be a negative term–principally by libertarians.  It’s not much of a threat now that libertarians find themselves in disarray.  However, technocracy implies corruption, inefficiency and political motivations to many.  These challenges serve as limitations to acceptance and implementation in any specific form.  The case for minimizing the domain of democratic politics to those areas where science doesn’t have clear capacities to set boundaries is vital.  Otherwise catastrophic mistakes will continue as the near-term focus of purely political constructs overtake and stymie efforts focused on stability, life improvement and the commons.

6. While only five items were mentioned, the sixth is managing the coming age of the machine and the biologically enhanced human.  These are slightly over the horizon considerations that need to be brought into focus.  Too little (none) governance theory is being devoted to the ethical, social and anthropological issues of the coming age of machines and augmented humans.  Many dismiss it with a snicker that the literati used to reserve for science fiction.  The technorati are less dismissive.  Serious people are talking about singularities and thinking machines in a way that is more implementation focused than the fuzzy-headed group that typically plays at AI.  Robotic toys and advances in places as diverse as combinatorial chemistry and pilotless military drones are pushing the envelope(s) very rapidly.

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Written by ryanlanham

January 9, 2009 at 1:44 pm

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