Deep Learning using Open Manufacturing methodology?

This was a post to the Open Manufacturing list


This post is a bit long, but I’m going somewhere with it, please bear
with me ūüôā

Also, I assume before I start that this idea already exists, because
they always do. I’m sure Bryan will know who’s already doing it, if

I’m trying to learn a bunch of new things at the moment.

One example: as some noted elsewhere, I’ve got some audio stuff in one
of my blogs. A project for the coming year for me is to learn digital
audio signal processing in some detail, enough to be usefully able to

Now just being able to write that sentence has been some months in
coming. This is because, when I first knew that I wanted to learn
about digital audio signal processing, I didn’t know that it was
called digital audio signal processing.

What I knew was that I’d like to know the theory required for writing
plugins for digital audio workstations.

If I had a background in engineering, I would have immediately known
this, because I’d have studied digital signal processing, core stuff
in engineering. But I’m a compsci guy, never heard of it.

I went in the wrong direction to start with. My wife was doing some
study in electronic music at the local music conservatorium. I went to
chat to the most technical lecturer there about it, but he didn’t
really know much about it. They know lots about wiring up pre-built
“plugins” in all kinds of crazy ways, and about using standard
“plugins” to their full potential, all good stuff. But the plugins
themselves, they come down from the plugin gods. btw I don’t mean this
to be critical; these people do what they do extremely well, and have
deep knowledge of their own. But it’s about music and professional
sound design, not hardcore coding or maths. It’s like I went to the
professional graphics people to find out how to build a graphics
engine; not what they do.

By chance, a job came up at work to extend a package for modeling
acoustic properties in buildings. The package purely works with
numbers, but people thought it’d be nice to actually hear what the
model sounds like, in a preview kind of way. So, I chatted with an
engineer colleague, and voila! Digital Audio Signal Processing! The
incantation revealed.

So I found myself a book on digital audio signal processing. And
discovered that it requires knowlege of digital signal processing (a
more generic area).

So I found myself a book on digital signal processing, and a bit of
the way in realised that I need a working understanding of electronics
to take in a lot of the content (although I might be able to finesse

I’ve gained some traction, and am making some ground on the area now.
But my point is that it took me a long time to figure out how to learn
what I wanted to learn, probably as long (although more porous ūüôā )
as it will take to do the initial learning.

Next example: Coding in a linux environment.

I’ve jumped headfirst into the linux world, backed only by a compsci
degree (which helps) and a decade and a half of commercial Windows
work (which helps less).

Again, I’m aware that I don’t even know how to phrase or even form
many of the questions that I need to ask. The phase I am in is one of
trying to discover enough structure to begin to feel the bounds of the
scope of my own ignorance.

So far, I’ve figured out that I need to brush up some languages I once
knew, and add some new ones. You communicate largely in code in this
world. I’m currently reading “Dive into Python”, and I’ve got pydev
going in eclipse, and I’ve been playing with little programs. (Cool
language! Dynamic types upset me a little, feels like the bad old
days, but there are so many other great things, and a method to the
madness, so I’m happy to persevere. But I digress.)

That’s all cool. But the point here is that, even in an area in which
I have formal training and experience, I can still end up in
unfamiliar territory and be grasping around for how to find the way.

What’s characteristic in both these examples is that my google-fu has
failed me, for a very good reason. I am in the territory of deep

Google is awesome when you need to know something specific. For a
commercial software developer, the job is mostly about that, so I’m
familiar with it. But there’s an invisible line in knowledge
complexity that you avoid in that style of learning. It’s always about
finding out just enough to do the job, but not enough to slow you
down, or confuse you, or to require you to pick up novel patterns of

I find that when you cross the invisible line, the internet can be
quite frustrating. It’s clear that all the information you need is
there, but it feels inaccessible, because everything is either too
superficial to be useful, or assumes background knowledge that you not
only don’t have but can’t know that you need.

The traditional route to go down for deep learning is the education
system. Some level of course or courses at some level of
sophistication will teach you what you need. Eg: I could do an
engineering degree, then steer into postgrad work in digital audio
signal processing. Or, I could find the right institution to do more
computing study, specifically based in linux culture. This has serious
drawbacks though. It’s a just-in-case model. I want to learn something
relatively specific, but it’s hard to get at that in the traditional
educational context without having to do a vast amount of other stuff
that I just don’t really need and don’t care about. Very costly in
terms of time, money and attention, and I’m likely to get bored and
stop anyway because of too much irrelevance.

Or, I can fumble along as I have, trying to self educate, but this
really does become difficult as complexity increases. There’s a reason
why people mostly stick to what they already know, after all!

There must be a better way.

So in my travels, I stumbled upon this list, and in particular Bryan’s
ongoing published thoughts about how to document manufacturing
processes in a precise manner, with respect to such things as inputs,
outputs, required tools, maintenance requirements etc etc.
Dependencies, generally speaking.

And it has occurred to me that you could apply the same approach to
deep learning.

It should be possible to categorise any chunk of knowledge as a set of
alternative recipes for acquiring it, including dependencies.


<knowledge id="eng_dasp" desc="Digital Audio Signal Processing">
            Tertiary Course X <course description, url(s)>
            Tertiary Course Y <course description, url(s)>
            Textbooks A, B, C <urls>
        Online course Z
        <knowledge id="eng_dsp">
<knowledge id="eng_dsp" desc="Digital Signal Processing">
            Tertiary Course N <course description, url(s)>
            Textbooks P, Q <urls>
        <knowledge id="eng_electronics">


It looks a lot like what Bryan’s been talking about with recipes in
open manufacturing. In particular, acquiring knowledge can be modeled
as a process, just like a process for making something. (In fact, it
could be integrated. After all, in many places in the manufacturing
models, the people involved are required to have certain knowledge,
why not model the knowledge chunks required in detail?)

So I think then, imagine an online service where you can explore these
recipes for learning, explore the larger graph, piece together your
own just-in-time curriculum from the parts available, or add new
recipes and maintain existing ones. Existing tertiary courses, open
course materials, text books, websites, all kinds of material could be
integrated into a usable whole via this approach.

Something like this could eventually turn the university system inside
out, allowing students to come for the specific pieces they want as
they want them, rather than having to take on the giant chunks that
are currently the norm.

Deep Learning using Open Manufacturing methodology?

Status Competitions and the Singularity

This is a post I wrote on the exi-chat list.

I have some ideas here that I haven’t written down in a very
coordinated way, here’s a messy first shot at it.

The internet has reduced the cost of collaboration, which also reduces
the cost of competitions. Competitions can visibly only have a few
winners, now from a global pool. So, there are now more competitions,
across a mind boggling expanse of domains. Competitions have a
characteristic resource (such as money, time, social network, physical
ability, intellect). Crucially, **competitions are algorithms for
finding those who will maximise use of the characteristic resource**.

To me, the really interesting competitions have intellect as the
characteristic resource, and as a side effect produce intellectual
output of increasing quality, which can be used at a cost approaching
zero by everyone else, forever.

This, of course, is why unrestricted information sharing is important.
These competitions require free access to knowledge. Free universal
access to all human knowledge will maximally support these
competitions, and that, I think, will be the genesis of singularity.

We’re seeing something really fascinating with the evolution of ideas
in the presence of the internet. I think of the free software
movement, and (Gnu)Linux as the most striking example, but it’s really
only one of many.

People like ladders to climb. Ladders of status. That’s much of the
appeal of games, it’s why we play politics and why we accumulate
money. What the internet has provided is a new, much richer set of
competitive environments; more status ladders.

Status is relative position in a ranking system. Status competitions
are played out over different domains, and these different domains
reward the spending of different kinds of resources. The types of
resources that come to mind to me are money, time, physical ability,
domain skill, raw intellect, and social network. There are probably

I think each type of status competition has a characteristic resource,
the use of which dominates all others for that competition. This is
key. I describe competitions below in terms of their characteristic

I think money competitions are more common in the offline world,
simply because it works as a default; you might have nothing in common
with those geographically close to you, but you all need money, so you
can all compete with money.
You can have pissing contests over houses, cars, etc, all of that is
money as the characteristic resource. Intellect, special knowledge,
time, all these can contribute to mitigate absolute money costs of
such a competition, but ultimately a bigger wallet will dwarf all

There are a lot of literal games online, particularly commercial
games, that reward primarily time. The World of Warcraft is the
canonical example. Other resources types are necessary but not
sufficient. eg: intelligence lets you use your time better, an
encyclopedic knowledge of the rules will let you use your time better,
physical dexterity will lead to better gain for time input. Money can
even help. But time is king. If you can’t put in the hours, none of
the other resources will help you.

Commercial games favour time as the primary resource, because it’s the
least alienating to the most people. You might not have much money,
you might not be terribly smart or terribly focused or terribly
bright, but your time is as good as the next person’s. Requiring time
as the characteristic resource seems to be most likely to be seen as

Another competition rewarding time might be government work (public
service). Many large orgs are like this too. Promotion is rarely a
meritocracy, it is often rather about number of years served. Also
social network plays well here, but still often is only a modifier to
raw time.

Physical ability:
Physical ability is a resource that we see in sports, and online we
see it in the class of player vs player games. Particularly, wherever
games require dexterity, where they are short (minutes or hours rather
than weeks, years or indefinite), and where there is no character
progression (no idea of “my character is level 57”), physical ability
is king.

Domain knowledge and raw intellect are a bit hard to separate. Let’s
just call it intellect (oversimplification). You see intellect as the
characteristic resource in player provided tools for online games,
also in all kinds of “grey” areas online (particularly the guys that
crack software / drm!). We are beginning to see it in the creative
commons community (a random example, And, of
course, you see it in the open source and free software community.

Why is this interesting? It’s interesting because the internet
decreases costs of collaboration toward zero, and adds the power of
large numbers (of people!). So these very specific competitions become
global and extreme, and something like a genetic algorithm moves the
competitions to extreme conclusions. The type of extreme result
depends on the characteristic resource.

The algorithm seems to be roughly
– Evaluate and rank competitors against the fitness function (defined
largely in terms of the characteristic resource and the environment)
– Modify the set of competitors based on this (losers tend to leave,
new blood comes, some existing competitors modify strategies)
– Modify the environment as a side effect of the fitness function
– Rinse and Repeat

The extremes of time competition:
Time competitions iterate until the winners are spending quite
stunning amounts of time. Top World of Warcraft players can easily
spend far more time in game than they spend in work or at school, for
instance. The most extreme example I remember was when “honor” (an
in-game statistic, at that time not a currency) was awarded in a
relative fashion based on how much success you had in battlegrounds.
Not how much relative success, but how much absolute success. For any
given week, the players would be ordered in terms of absolute number
of kills (I think, this is hazily recollected), and assigned a rank
based on where they were in the ordering, and their previous rank (so
you would climb or fall back in ranks slowly, week by week). The
ranks, in turn, as well as being status in and of themselves, allowed
characters to purchase items that were excellent and otherwise

There were a small number of ranks (14 in total?) At the height of the
madness, I remember a friend telling me that to get from the 13th to
the 14th rank, you needed to play the battlegrounds at a high level of
skill for 24 hours a day, for 3 weeks! No one can do that, but people
would team up to play a character in shifts to make that happen. Also
you need a guild (in game group of allied players) to be feeding you
gold to repair your character’s gear during that time (because there
is no time for your character to go doing that for itself, and the
requirement for gold and supporting items was a huge burden). And of
course you needed to get to the 13th rank, no mean feat itself.

What’s interesting about this level of time investment is that there a
level of selection for it. If you join successful guilds, they’ll be
full of people who are willing to commit seemingly endless amounts of
time to the game. People don’t join guilds then become like that;
rather, people who are already like that form and are invited to join
the great guilds. The environment doesn’t teach you to maximise the
characteristic resource, it selects for those that do.

Money extremes:
Donald Trump. Warren Buffett. Bill Gates. Offline stuff. See the last
few hundred years. I wont discuss this further here.

Physical skill extremes:
You’ll see this in any Player vs Player game’s online arenas. For
games like quake or halo or nexuiz, the classic experience is to learn
to play offline, playing against the computer until you are as good as
you can be, think you are pretty good, then to go online and play
against other players, and to lose and lose and lose. Humiliating. I
speak from personal experience. It takes a lot of play against other
humans to even come close to par. Tellingly, unless you are actually
physically good at these games (good reaction times?), there is a
ceiling above which you will just never rise (it seems to me).

Why is this so common an experience? It’s not just because people
become good who play online regularly (although you do improve). It’s
more because people who aren’t skilled don’t stick with it, where
people with ability stay. So just about any forum like this selects
for the physically adept. The environment doesn’t teach you to be
better, it selects for those who are.

Intellect extremes:
And of course we come to intellect competitions. Again, we see that
the environment doesn’t teach you to maximise the resource, it selects
for those that can. In any of the intellect competitions I come
across, especially those that have been running for a while, I am
struck by the excellence of the output. We could say Science is an
example. But the example that’s really struck me recently is the open
source / free software domain.

It’s tempting to think, as a professional commercial software
developer, that you could just swan into one of the open source
projects and do important work, but it’s really just not true. It’s
tempting to think of these efforts as those of a few bleeding heart
info hippies, under resourced and producing barely functional product.
Barely ok but if you want something serious you need to pay for a
commercial product. But that’s wrong.

I’ve been amazed to discover just how wrong this is. As a newly turned
on Ubuntu user, I’ve seen the incredible breadth and depth of tools
available for every conceivable task, all freely available. eg: You
want to burn a CD? There are many alternatives, all easy to get, all
polished, a couple of them stronger than any commercial offering.
That’s a banal example, but it’s just so vast, there’s no way to do it
justice. From the little I’ve seen into the development process itself
so far, I am humbled by the quality.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar covers a lot of why this works, but I
think there’s an extra point to be made explicit, which is this: Open
Source and Free Software development are a competition. They’re a
competition for mindshare. Because there are a lot of people involved,
and because no one can really stand in the way of people doing things
well (anyone who tries can really just be routed around; projects
fork), and because the arbiters of mindshare are exactly the same
people as the competitors, the dominant way of gaining mindshare is to
just do a better job than others. I’m sure this is enhanced by money
(buys useful resources, and can pay people), and time (software
development is always an endurance effort), but the characteristic
resource seems to be roughly intellect, or more specifically, being
great at what you do.

And, as with the other types of competition, although this improves
you, it doesn’t teach you to be great at building software. It just
selects for those who are.

I think we are beginning to see this kind of thing in artsy creative
areas, although it’s hampered because its not as self-referential. For
authors, the mindshare is not based in the minds of your peers, it’s
based in the great unwashed public, who still believe what the
marketers tell them for the most part. I think we can expect to see
this pick up eventually, but without the tight feedback loop and heavy
interreliance that free software enjoys, the algorithm isn’t as strong
and works more slowly.

There’s probably more, but I’m out of puff. I can’t win at time based
competitions. My contention though is that this is the stuff of

And, of course, I dedicate this post into the public domain, to the
detriment of my heirs and successors, etc etc, beautiful!

Emlyn – my home – coding related – downshifting and ranting

Status Competitions and the Singularity

Post-scarcity stuff #2

I really caused myself physical pain writing this (up till 3:30am one morning writing), and I like it, so I want to keep a copy here. The original was a reply to someone on the World Transhumanist Association mailing list.

> I must admit, I somehow dislike intellectual property rights, as information
> is unlike any other property we had before. But I really see no alternative
> to it. Do you?

A Dorothy Dixer, thanks very much!

As information becomes slipperier in terms of control, we lament
because creators (in the broadest sense) can’t extract a payment at
the point of distribution (copying). This is because the rules have
changed. So something has to give.

Now, copying information for free is straightforwardly a good thing;
more access for more people.

But the other part of that lament, the problem of payment, can we
fiddle with that a bit?

First, ask the question “why do we want to be paid at the point of
copying?” The answer if you dig a little is that we don’t *really*
want to be paid at the point of copying; we just want to be paid for
work performed, and it’s a particular answer to that.

The easy answer is, there are other ways people can be payed for
creation. Lots of people address these elsewhere. Many people live it.
eg: Cory Doctorow.

But I want to leap directly to the hard answer, which is “what if we
cannot pay for creation at all?”

Why do we want to be paid for work performed? Because we need to eat.
And here we are at the heart of the problem.

It is really a conflation of two problems. I want to be paid for
creation decomposes into:

1: I want to create information works and have people use them
2: I want to be able to live

If you separate them out like this, it is clear that point 1 is easier
than ever. You can create, publish, and have people use your works
(btw “consume” is the wrong word, there is no scarcity here, and no

Point 2 is tricky. You want to be able to live, and this means that
you need money, because you need it in order to get what you need to

Just separating those two points out leads to an alternative to being
paid for creation, and that’s doing something else for pay, and
creating for free. Totally possible now, and what many of us in fact

However, it’s not really optimal, because it means you have two
activities, one of which feeds your soul and one which feeds your
stomach, both competing for your time. Noting Bryan’s disdain for
Maslow, we can still say that stomach beats soul.

But wait, we’re missing something. If lots of people are creating
something for free, and it’s zero cost to distribute, then even more
people must be benefiting from these free things. Where is money in
this situation? Specifically, don’t these people using the information
now need less money?

Let’s look at this from the recipient’s point of view. If I am getting
an information product for free, and so need marginally less money,
this is a good thing. Can I do more of the good thing?

Yes. If I was to restrict my use of information products to only those
which are free (in any sense of that word, free beer will do here),
then for a modern westerner, that’s a lot of stuff. That’s all my
books, movies, music, study materials, software, recipes, manuals, TV,
lots and lots of things. That should really make a dent in my need for

Now lets go back to creators of information. Creators are going to be,
by the nature of their interests, heavy users of information products.
On the problem of making ends meet, a creator can adopt a
free-information-only approach, and make some headway by needing less
money (more so than the average person because of a more information
oriented lifestyle).

So even if the creator cannot be paid at all for their creative work
(unlikely), the creator’s money needs reduce drastically by adopting
free culture values.

Now we are a good way there, but not all the way. Our hypothetical
creator still has a substantial need for money, and there are still
scarce goods.

The rest of this journey requires us to think about values.

We live in a capitalist world. Capitalist values are money-centric.
The value of a thing is what someone will pay for it. Money is in a
sense morality; we define money mediated acts as right, so we can see
money accumulation as a measure of moral rightness in a person.

But this means we are biased to only see value in terms of money. We
value that which involves exchange of money, and not that which does
not. Volunteering rates low, but working as a lawyer rates high. CEOs
are reified because they are paid so much, but teachers are not
because they are paid so little.

Particularly, money changes hands most readily when it changes the
relative wealth of those involved. I pay you to make software for me
because I think it will give me competitive advantage; that is,
something which other people (my competitors) don’t have. It will
increase my relative wealth, in a substantial way. I value an
expensive car because it is high status, because others can’t have it.
Examples are endless. On the other hand, I don’t spend nearly as much
on funding research in cancer because it wouldn’t benefit me alone in
a substantial way; it would only benefit everyone in a miniscule way
(a small step forward). I wont pay you to make open source software
because it wont give me advantage, it would only benefit everyone a
tiny bit forever.

Money warps our values in this way. The hammer of money makes all
things look like the nail of scarcity. And crucially, things that
simply refuse to look scarce (like an artist releasing their artwork
for free online) instead look value-less; a drawing  that costs $1
would seem more valuable than the freely available one. A person who
looks after their children at home for free, looks more valuable to
the economy by working in a cafe serving lattes, and paying for child

What we need for post-scarcity to work is simply to look at our
surroundings in a different way, which is this. What if money, rather
than being a sign of success, and of wealth, were a signal of failure,
and poverty? What if something costing more meant we saw it as worse,
rather than as better?

We are surrounded by things that are not at all scarce (existing
information product) or not scarce in a practical sense. For instance,
with modern manufacturing, there are many simple small products which
are so cheap to make that they could be free. Childrens plastic toys,
for example? Or think about second hand goods; the entire class of
used items is seen as a poor substitute for new items. What if we
looked at it the other way around? Isn’t it a failure, every time we
use newly extracted resources in a new product rather than reusing
something whose resource cost has already been paid?

How about food? I can’t recall the exact reference, but I remember
reading that some time around the 1930s, the world passed the point
where we could cater for everyone’s basic needs without everyone
working all the time [citation required]. We invented consumerism some
time around then, to create more demand, to keep everyone working. It
does seem to be true that we can feed everyone for minimal effort now,
that the reason we don’t do this is a failure of distribution and
political and economic organisation rather than anything else. What if
we figured out just how much we actually need, and tried to stick to
that; would we be able to produce it with minimal effort, translating
to absolutely minimal money required?

And this leads to the thread tying these thoughts together, which is
our definition of wealth. What if we redefined wealth in absolute
terms rather than relative? Surely we don’t really need bigger and
better things than our neighbour has, or than we had last week. So
economic “growth” doesn’t make sense. Surely instead, there is an
absolute wealth that each of us would be happy with? (Note here we can
each have our own definition of that level, it doesn’t come magically
down from some committee!)

I don’t need better health care than my neighbour. I just need medical
help when I am sick. I don’t need more or better food than I had last
year. I just need enough at an acceptable quality. I don’t need a
bigger house than I had 5 years ago. I just need a house that meets my
absolute needs.

It upsets me that we have this utter disconnect between the instincts
of the technically inclined, and our system of economic organisation.
Technical people see the need for manual work as a problem to be
solved; automating it is the solution. We’ve been doing that forever,
and damned effectively for the last couple of hundred years. Yet, we
are all working more. Is it not clear that there is therefore a
substantial amount of work being done which simply doesn’t need to be?
Yet under the current system, there is no mechanism for permanently
removing people from the workforce without relegating them to
impoverishment, so somehow makework is being invented.

What if we were to assume abundance? What if we assumed that the total
of the “real world” jobs that really need doing is actually very
small, and assumed that someone would step up in all those cases and
volunteer to do the work?

Then we might, for instance, try to create a system of food production
staffed by volunteers, using the best automation possible, the output
of which was free to all.

How about land and housing? We might encourage owners to donate land
to a cooperative pool, and provide homes (or land parcels) to any who
asked. These might be fairly minimal and restricted to begin with, and
require commitment to the general free land project to begin with, but
this restriction might lift as time passed.

And so with clothes, and tools, and so on.

With this kind of approach, you then find that automating manual
tasks, rather than “taking jobs”, now benefits all, by shrinking the
pool of required volunteers. Volunteers meanwhile do come forward,
because without being compelled to work for money, people instead do
what they want, which surprisingly often is meaningful work which will
benefit others. And  scarcity stops looking like the norm, and begins
looking like a problem that needs fixing. So one of the scary things
on the horizon of the future, which is the slow transformation of the
material world into information-like form (via 3d printing and
replicators and eventually nano-santa) stops looking like a problem
and starts looking like the great cornucopia that it should be.

So a summary of values changes that we need is:

Volunteerism, rather than being the niche value that we have today,
where we all feel vaguely that it is irrelevant and slowly dying,
becomes the highest value. We all want to do things, enough of us want
to contribute meaningfully to our fellow people with our doing, so the
necessary work should be oversubscribed by volunteers. I suspect we
wont suffer from a dearth of volunteers, instead we might have a
problem of people feeling unable to meaningfully contribute as they
would like to.

Money phases out slowly over time. We see money as a sign of failure
rather than success, and although we know it is still required to some
extent, we act to minimize its need and influence. We focus technology
on removing scarcity wherever it rears its head, we try to find ways
of using volunteerism and the magic of massive numbers to replace the
use of the market. This is the incremental path to post scarcity

Behave as though things are already not scarce. Donate. Help people
make better use of a free resource. Make use of a volunteer based

Absolute Wealth over Relative Wealth. Things that increase the
absolute wealth of all people are favoured. Things that modify
relative wealth are seen as worthless.

No one is compelled. Contribution must be voluntary. Socialism was
never the answer to any question, except “how can we royally mess
things up?” The cost of meeting people’s needs approaches zero in this
system, so play world of warcraft forever if you like. Volunteerism,
contributing, is encouraged, but only because it is the secret to
happiness, not because the world will stop turning if you don’t do
something you’d rather not.


I want to address a point about scarcity in the infosphere, which is
the free rider problem.

The free rider problem in scarce spheres is the tradgedy of the
commons. If I can take without giving, then we all will, and the
commons will be destroyed in the process.

In information dissemination, there is no free rider problem. If you
take a copy, it doesn’t affect the original. So, the commons is not

But it is fair to assert that without rewards, creation might be
affected. Creators might stop creating, and we have a commons being
eroded (progress itself!) by our actions of taking without giving.

In answer to this, I point simply at the internet now. Look at open
source. Look at free software. Look at the creative commons. Look at
youtube, and flickr, and wikipedia, and all the myriad ways that we
not only create for free, but we create at very high quality, in
competition with each others for the attention of our fellows.

Go and try to wade in and contribute to a volunteer based project
(such as wikipedia or linux) in a substantial way, without first
paying your dues by learning the culture and doing some less glamorous
tasks. These people don’t seem to be struggling for volunteers; they
are actively guarding the gates against the throngs of well meaning
but undisciplined folk who want to join in, if I’m reading it right.
I’m sure individual projects struggle for people at times, but the
ones with mindshare seem to have absolutely the opposite problem.
This, in a time when people do, generally, have to support themselves

The cost of collaboration approaches zero. The information products
increase in quantity and depth and quality in a ratcheted fashion that
in aggregate looks for the world like some kind of spectacularly
efficient genetic algorithm. Productivity increases inexorably, which
means in this environment that we can make better and better use of
the work of the very best people.

The non obvious outcome of this is that there is no free rider problem
in creation. For each individual, it is ok to take and to never give
back, because the network of billions will keep creating regardless.
In fact, no matter how much you give, I think it is impossible to come
even close to the amount you will receive. It’s a massively
assymetrical relationship we all have with the mass of free
information, and it’s ok, because of the networked billions and the
ratchet effect and the zero cost of distribution.


Post-scarcity stuff #2

Post-scarcity stuff #1

A cool exchange on the World Transhumanist Association mailing list, between myself and Bryan Bishop (I like Bryan a lot).

2008/12/19 Bryan Bishop <>:

> On Thu, Dec 18, 2008 at 11:50 PM, Emlyn <> wrote:
>> It is the way of politics and economic organisation to say “The fixed
>> rules of the universe are these. Now, how do we organise within those
>> to best effect?”. So we have capitalists, socialists, libertarians,
>> fascists, what have you.
>> And then, there is the technologist, who can say “Those rules aren’t
>> actually fixed. Let’s change them”. This is the heart of
>> transhumanism. It’s why we need to keep the politics at arm’s length.
> This was discussed somewhat on the extropy-chat list a while back:
> “My first thought: this technophilia has exhibited itself here before and
> on wta-talk in the sense of anti-“let’s just do it” tendencies.
> Somebody was laughing at me the other day for suggesting that we build
> teh tech. Odd. Another thought that I would like to add, from my
> general observations on the state of those ideologies and the “old
> world”. The status quo takes a lot of time to update. Lots and lots of
> time. The opportunity to update a unit relaying the status quo is rare,
> so old information is always being propagated throughout society while
> the freshest and newest information has to find its own context to keep
> alive (and that’s fine). But on the other hand, we have significantly
> large organizations (“Left” and “Right”) and ideologies still
> propagating and still abducting new minds even though there’s no real
> power that is necessarily making news releases to gain eyes and get
> possible neophytes to convert (peculiar). Today I was sitting in a
> psych class that was talking about ‘developmental psychology’, going
> over the theories of Piaget and the like, staged versus continuous
> development, emotional taxonomies and whatever else. The designs of the
> studies were simply wrong — *no*, you _don’t_ do longitudinal studies
> or cross-section studies, not at all — that’s studying a
> mystical ‘normal’ brain and the normal status quo does not necessarily
> represent something that is within the possibility space of the
> construction or growth of the human brain, it’s not psychology at all
> (perhaps social studies, but only on a “pop” level, since real social
> studying would involve more, you know, hard (read: real) studying).
> And the theories of, say, Maslow, were developed so as to promote a
> more ‘humanist’ idealization versus the other negative images of humans
> at the time and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with his ideas,
> they are not as intense as they could be. And what about marxism? Or
> libertarianism? Republicanism? Capitalism? Objectivism (cringe)? These
> are archaic, in more than a sense than “they are old” but that they do
> not fall into any particular coherency when, on the contrary, it seems
> that many historical figures were ‘fighting’ for coherency. So this
> idea of coherency (sometimes poorly guided, but if one is careful it
> can be a powerful tool, yes) and defending our own ideologies does not
> necessarily help the general situation at all … perhaps instead we
> should be working on the art of self-creation, design of new ideas and
> societies from the ground up, integrating and sharing novelty from
> where ever it may come from. But it seems that one must have their own
> internal journey of personal growth and development to come to this
> conclusion, to some extent isolated from society. Maybe we can propose
> some solutions to the Keepers of the Devastated Ideologies in an
> attempt to minimize their damage while seemingly maximizing their
> missions? Or alternatively start teaching parents how to help minimize
> the damage of society on their children as they grow up and prepare for
> the future (“the future is now / the singularity is now”). ”
> – Bryan
> 1 512 203 0507

That’s a beautiful post, I missed it the first time around.

On your general question in the later part of the post, can we teach
people to see outside the box, I think No. Really all you can do is
put your point of view out there, find the others who agree, then
raise the flag high enough and visibly enough that those in milieu who
“get it” will see it, understand, and come toward it. Evangelise, too,
but mostly everyone will treat you like you’re crazy.

The tendency for people to stay inside the space of the old ideologies
is understandable, imo. Most of the time the fixed rules are really
fixed, all else being equal, and you do need to work within that. They
stay fixed for long periods of time. And, while they stay fixed,
people don’t get any smarter, so after an initial period of thrashing
things out, the extent of the space of workable ideas (ideologies) is
pretty much explored for that set of constraints, and it’s all about
details, about clever optimisations, and tribal clumping in the
various implied camps.

And, most of the time, if someone tells you that important rules can
be or have been changed, they’re wrong.

So, when they actually are changed, and we spill into whole new spaces
of possibilities, and other pre-existing spaces now close off, it’s
probably very hard en-masse for us to accept that. In some naive
statistical sense, it’s always a bad bet to believe it (although
there’s a black swan in there, but we’re really bad at dealing with

I think we’re in one of those times right now, with the cost of
information dissemination approaching zero; it’s a discontinuity. The
political discourse revolves around enforcing objectness on
information, bringing with it ownership rules. This allows continuing
of the old right vs left arguments about distribution of property in
that space, while all sides lament the increasing difficulty of
enforcing the rules (clue: if you have to enforce the fixed rules,
they are no longer fixed rules!).

Meanwhile, the technologist way is to say Wait, look, the rules have
changed, once information is created, it is no longer scarce, and
furthermore, even creation is not scarce because of the weird things
that happen when you put billions of people into one creative space.
So we have open source and free software and free culture and all the
related things, which are the technologist way in action. People on
this path can feel the importance of this project, especially because
the info-sphere is going to slowly absorb the physical-object space,
invalidating objectness and ownership everywhere.

And so we’re in a new exploration-of-the-space phase, except most
people don’t realise that we are (probably this is always true). At
the other end of this there is a new stable equilibrium, but between
here are there, it’s anyone’s guess. Probably it’s going to get pretty
messy, it’s amazing what people will do to each other when the ground


Post-scarcity stuff #1

The year ahead

I’m seriously behind in my blogging. This has two major causes:

  1. I’m busy doing real things
  2. World of Warcraft – Wrath of the Lich King was released

Blizzard – you are bastards. Damn you for making this addictive game.

But I am doing things, and am in heavy planning mode, trying to figure out what kick-arse projects to take on next year.

Before I get into them, one word – Ubuntu! I flushed Vista and went to Ubuntu on my laptop (ie: my main work and home machine, the other half of my brain). Ubuntu guys, Canonical, all the FOSS people, I could kiss you! It’s great. I need to write a big post on this.

Ubuntu has kicked my priorities all over the place, because suddenly I don’t really care to write free software for Windows. Blech

urm, running out of time to post. Quick finish up. Proposed projects for next year are:

– Simulation/Game, called The Clanking Replicators. Vision: people can write code for virtual bots and then inject bots into the Clanking Replicators Universe. These bots slug it out for life, liberty, and resources. The Clanking Replicators Universe, meanwhile, is written to be run grid-style wherever people will devote resources. It should be able to scale endlessly, and run forever.

– Electronic Music under Ubuntu. Learn about the Linux way of doing electronic music, eg: Jack and the ecosystem of small pieces interacting. Learn to write sequencer type stuff, learn to do digital audio awesomeness, learn to do real time effects for live performance. Start contributing to at least one relevant FOSS project (Audacity is probably the one). Create an album, or more likely blog/ccmixter/creative commons wackiness equivalent.

– Get serious about writing some small games with the kids. Look at GameMaker.

– I’m sure there’s more. Will update!

The year ahead