2020-12-13 | Virus | Ummm... Why?
Sean asked me yesterday why I care about my ontology work. Good question. I suppose I have a battle I'm fighting in the interest of future, more grounded efforts. More and more I see a direct correlation between knowledge, global supply chains, industrial civilization, and the degradation of the living planet (at least for vertebrates); indeed, these aspects are synonymous at present. Ontological forms of knowledge can be expressed with agreed on meaning. This is why the big cloud companies and others in the software/cloud ecosystems need this. Civilization needs this to scale further.
If I think this, then why does focusing on a more efficient form of knowledge modeling matter? Imagine if everything you built to solve problems came from one of three big box hardware stores? I think of cloud service stacks (Azure, AWS, Google) as tools and materials purchased solely from a hardware store. We are losing the ability to build outside of those ecosystems, all woven together by the internet. The ironic thing is that these hardware stores were built on other people's work, mostly, that insured freedom to build your own tools without the need for going to a hardware store on the list.
It is possible to do all of this yourself, analyze new sets of knowledge, and act with the same kinds of insight that cloud and technology behemoths use to maintain their power, but change the goal from profit to whatever goal suits you, your tribe, or, even, your new civilization. Further, this can be done without network connectivity (gasp!).
Consider this video. On the surface, this appears to be a technology that empowers snow sports enthusiasts. These are IoT devices hooked up to mobile hooked up to cloud. It is about consuming (sports equipment, recreation), but it also leads the thought on a way to scale everything we use every day. There is no real opportunity here beyond another way to consume. I am sure that there are equally interesting efforts to do things like track forest fires and assist firefighters, and these are used as PR for both the consumers, but also government approval for data centers that suck down much of the power originally paid for by New Deal efforts. The underlying cloud infrastructure remains, and those working in this world are bound to the particular big box hardware store kit. Even when the circle of experts get to their "compute on the edge" discussion, the focus is not on empowering people to own their analysis tools; the focus is on staging it temporarily before it gets to cloud, and implementing yet more environmentally-degrading tech to improve connectivity. The "public good" has been hijacked to become the "business good" almost by definition.
But here is another problem that I see, more and more. If my knowledge/civilization/supply chain synonym hypothesis holds, then the instruments of change and knowledge, i.e. humans comprehending and changing systems on their own outside of the big box stores, will eventually barely be able to tread water in one week sprints, shopping only at the big box stores. We are at the end of all from this sense.
Many things could happen going forward. If I'm wrong, we will continue to grow in complexity, AI assisting us with knowledge and change from companies that convince us we are steering our civilization in the correct direction ( and this turns out to be correct and sustainable). I know their AI is programmed for profit as well as appearance of doing good in some kind of bastardized Ayn Rand hybrid. (The key to this is that the most profitable models ignore negative externalities. A good example is using up the capital of cars of thousands of delivery drivers. Funny... it seems to me that we knew this when it was just pizza delivery. We knew that there were insurance risks and wear and tear on the cars, but somehow when a behemoth does this and sucks out revenue via negative externalities, it is "disruptive".) Another more likely scenario, is that we reach the limits to growth, primarily by realizing the true cost of negative externalities. OK. That is a very unfair characterization of the future possibilities. I just can't lay out the options and involve current solutions with a straight face. More likely, we are FUBAR.
One of the problems with my evolving theory, is that it explains why we can't break out. The problems are many. People think within these constraints, as their jobs come from it. We are involved in modern industrial civilization. Knowledge, and how we think of it is also involved. Further, it is my belief that any kind of reasonable goal that we plugged in to our new AI machines outside of profit, would yield results we cannot face. So, we can't talk about it because our communication is over these new channels. We can't think about it because knowledge is captured by big box stores and becomes our language in our day to day work. Even if we do break off and plug in the numbers, our results are not actionable. About all we have is if we can create perceived progress to sell stuff.
My why, then, is to help people after 1/x. Part of this is to maintain a small repository of live knowledge that is an alternative to the big box stores.
I decided that perhaps I was being unfair, and I should see what the Decoded show had posted recently. The most recent I found was this. The idea is that a deep web of technology, offered by the big box cloud companies, can be used to save the White Rhino. This idea seems intensely flawed to me. Sure, we can create safe zones for a narrow population to protect from poaching, but negative externalities behind this technology and supply chain are tilting ecosystems that supports all life, and in particular, the balance that vertebrates need. I can see the pain, sadness, and passion behind the people in this video. They are human, and are aware of the changes to the ecosystems that support vertebrates. Their intent is good.
This essay illustrates a particularly troublesome part of how I see the world. I am capturing techniques and knowledge for use in a civilization that doesn't exist. Further, I am capturing it for a population that is unlikely to be able to even use it. Most everybody that I know is inside the perspective I'm criticizing. It isn't like the solution is people wiring up an AI box in their basement. If anything, I share more with the engineer stitching together an intelligence grid and monitoring network to save the White Rhino than I do with Guy McPherson, Greta Thunberg, or even Donella Meadows. The solution I'm facilitating is getting people to look at the simple questions (Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?), but do it in a way that is outside of the current framework of industrial civilization, which is just as silly in some ways as trying to save the White Rhino in the context of failing ecosystems and resource contention. Reflecting on this gives me a different perspective, immediately. Am I proposing a reverse bootstrapping process? Why couldn't this be done within a big box solution? Let's turn this around a bit more. It is reasonable to assume that any real change needs to come from civilization itself, by leaders willing to face the implications of the full supply chain. It is also conceivable that to actually analyze and refactor supply chains from within industrial civilization as-is, we would need the power the big cloud infrastructure providers supply. I am assuming that this is so unlikely that I only consider 1/x. This doesn't really change my statement of purpose. It does change the view of my fight. I am not fighting any particular entity. I am iteratively enforcing a pure engineering view with questions of requirements and direction that consider the full supply chain, and a reverse bootstrapping scenario is more likely within present civilization. This is a good thing to remember.
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