Ming the Mechanic:
Net Work

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Net Work2003-08-12 04:42
picture by Flemming Funch

Now, if we all had sufficiently good information, that whole issue about what to do and how to make a living would just not be a problem.

Most of us have something very useful we can do, which is needed somewhere. For that matter, there will usually be somewhere where that which we most love to do is exactly what is needed.

What makes our current economic system work very inefficiently is that we usually don't have good information about what is needed and where, and about who are the best people to deal with. And we don't have a good way of informing others about what we'd like to do, or what we can do.

Oh, there's an overwhelming abundance of information around us, about products and services offered, and opportunities available. But it is not very good information. Most of it is bogus information.

Advertising is mostly bogus information. It tries to make us desire and seek certain products, not based on that we really need them or that they're the best ones available, but based on making us want them, despite that we might not need them, or they aren't really the best.

A free economic market is ideally perfectly fair, and is driven by information. If people consider a certain product or service worthless, the price will drop, and it will no longer be sensible to produce it. If people find a certain product or service very valuable and desirable, the price will go up, which will reward those who produce it, and inspire the production of more of it. Until there is too much of it, where the prices will then drop and things will adjust themselves again. It is a very sensible system of self-organization.

It is unfortunately not completely how it works in real life. Some wrenches have been thrown into the free market, such as the existence of corporations, with corporate veils, and intellectual property right. We have a Monopoly game, essentially, where the biggest rewards go to those who most succeed in grabbing a monopoly in some area, in part by making their product look better than they really are, by paying less for producing them than what is fair, by hiding their corporate structure, by bribing governments to give them special treatment, and generally by hiding or embellishing the truth about how things really are.

Oh, there's still a market there, so market mechanisms can still manage to adjust things, as some of the true information gets shared. The public might discover who consistenly produces bad products, or they might discover who really owns a company, or which public official is working for them, and they might disapprove. The system still tends to be more efficient than a centralized bureacracy.

I suppose the communist system was based on the idea that if we centralize all the information, we can make the best possible decisions about what production power is needed where, and we can do things most efficiently. But the problem is that it ignored all the little pieces of information exchanged between individuals, and it ignored their individual choices, and their need to be motivated by personal accomplishment. And then a top-down hierarchy becomes very inefficient.

No, what we really need is an open network of very well-informed people who make decisions based on what they know. If the information is mostly good, the result will be useful self-organization, despite that not all participants can be expected to make completely rational decisions.

Imagine for a moment that we all had fully functional telepathy. I would know right away when you're lying to me, and I would know right away what you're actually doing, and how you are doing it, and with whom. There would be no point in you trying to tell me anything else, as I could just look in your mind and see the truth. Thus you wouldn't be able to sell me something that wasn't right for me, or which pretended to be something else than it really was.

We'd need some kind of networked telepathy. I don't just need to know the truth about what you're about, I'd need to be able to quickly assess what is *out there*. What is offered and what is needed, in a wide sphere around me.

Currently, if I need something, I might search on the net, look in a newspaper, write about it in my newslog, ask a few people. And quite often I'll find something that fits what I'm looking for. But it is in a very haphazard manner.

Like, right now I have certain skills, certain experience, and certain desires, and I have a need for applying some of these in a way that my life is supported from it. Putting that out to a few hundred people who read this, and networking it a little bit on other sites - that does produce results. It is good to have friends. Quite often, what one is looking for might be found amongst the few dozen or few hundred friends one has. And that's certainly a good thing.

But if we had a good enough information network, be it telepathic or computerized, there could very well be ways that I might access the information shared by thousands or millions of people, and it would be much more likely that I'll find what I'm looking for.

I'm not talking about that I can do a search on keywords in a search engine. I can already do that, and that is great. But it gives me a very small portion of the whole picture.

I'm right now in a city of close to a million people, and of course, amongst those, there will be some people who know a great place where some of my skills will fit in a very mutually advantageous place. But I only know a handful of people here. I'll know more. But most information is well hidden, so it takes a while.

There's plenty to do here, and anywhere on the planet, and there are plenty of people who can do what needs to be done, and plenty of resources to do them with. The only thing in the way is our lack of ability to see all this clearly. We don't have enough good information, or it isn't structured to give a clear picture, or we're not sure we can trust it. Thus we operate based on small personal networks and questionable information from public sources. Where we really could operate at a whole different level if the real information was available.

It is not an impossibly hard problem to solve this. Telepathy would be preferable, but it can also be done through well-structured computerized databases. Large numbers of people who share their knowledge and value judgements about many things. Better ways of expressing needs and offerings in a concise way.

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12 Aug 2003 @ 09:57 by Jon Husband @ : Working - Net
From the recently-updated web site of the Learning Lab Denmark:

"Would you like to work with us?

We are always looking for unique personalities who understand the necessity of our endeavour and who have the courage and competence to work with research in international and interdisciplinary contexts.

Learning Lab Denmark is itself an experiment. Do not expect anything to be business as usual. We expect applicants to be characterised by an unrelenting want to experiment and the ability to translate between different modes of thinking. One of Learning Lab Denmark’s primary objectives is to make academic research useful and accessible for ordinary people, businesses and educational institutions, but also to translate the needs of society and make them objects of research.

Fluency in English both written and oral is required as well as a willingness to inspire and be inspired, the wish to challenge the borders between work and play, and the mindset necessary to accept that new forms of knowledge are more likely to arise out of friction and muddling through, than out of harmony and the avoidance of mistakes.

We are always on the lookout for new partners and interesting projects. If you consider that you have something to offer, please contact us.  

12 Aug 2003 @ 11:06 by Chris Hagglund @ : trustworthy information
I've been thinking about this information reliability problem from the point of view of developing a distributed ROCS trading system, and how a system of trust certificates could be used to determine if a particular trading partner is trustworthy using advogato style trust metrics. Reading your post makes me think that a worldwide web of trust needs to come first.

Once a worldwide web of trust is in place (or even just beginning to form) all kinds of neat things will be possible. We will be easily able to judge the quality/trustworthiness of available signed information simply by examining the trust level of the information source. Information without credentials is garbage information.

This kind of thing would play right into the ROCS system I would like to use instead of stupid federal money. It would make it very easy to determine if a particular trading partner whom I have never met before is trustworthy by tracing a path through the trust network from my own certificate back to this person's certificate and checking if his "trustworthiness factor" was within my risk tolerance.  

12 Aug 2003 @ 14:05 by Andrius Kulikauskas @ : Hey, Oracle!
Hi Flemming, You think out loud fantastically. Please know that I think of you all. Ian Bruk is funding me to pursue these "software for civil society organization contest". I will be asking for $100,000, with $25,000 for me, and 5 teams at $15,000, where the team leaders get $5,000 each. Not a lot, but maybe enough to have something to show, and can overlap with existing projects. Maybe you might like to lead a team, that would of course be wonderful. Maybe something will happen, maybe more opportunity will come together, you are very welcome to be a part of it. I will be pursuing the extra connections, I hope businesses might be interested. Just know that I think of you. Andrius  

12 Aug 2003 @ 15:06 by ming : Trust
I agree, it has to be based on a system of trust. Of course we'd have to figure out how to structure the information as well, but it isn't going to be worth much unless we know where it is coming from and who said it, and that they really are who they say they are. And that requires solving how to keep good track of identity. But none of it is easy problems to solve.

Yes, a ROCS system would be a fine idea to combine with that.  

13 Aug 2003 @ 16:19 by Shannon Clark @ : Telepathy not the solution
Hi Flemming,

A few thoughts - telepathy doesn't solve everything - for one, people can be wrong about things (happens all the time).

For another, people can be sincere in their views, but still not view or value things the same as you do.

A large part of business and trade is the transfer of goods and services from people to others - usually in exchange for something they value higher than the items being exchanged, generally this occurs via an exchange medium of a currency. But, it is important to remember that either with total information about someone they will have different goals than you do, and thus different needs - and thus what they ask for may not be what you are willing to pay (or what you feel is fair).

My point is that what you describe as "the real information" may not in a very literal sense exist. What you would percieve and value is likely different than what I do.

(to take some simple examples - I speak and read English, and a smattering of French, while there are books in other languages I would value, I would generally value them much less than a book I could more easily enjoy - thus while I would attach high value to books in English, another person might place a higher value on books in German)

Another example is that I am a single male in Chicago (dating but not married) and have not kids or dependants - my focus and needs will different greatly from a father with small children - and we both would have different views and values from one of those children.

Thus, it is vital to remember that perspective and context are key - I would argue that there is no single "real information" but rather a multitude of perspectives and views, the value of commerce is tied very much in the ways in which those views interact and work together to achieve ends (food in our stomachs, shelter, enjoyment, furthering our own values and goals).

I would also posit a thought exercise for you:

"Are you looking for the 'perfect' job?" - i.e. the absolute best job compared to all others that are potentially out there?

Or, "are you looking for a job that meets some minimum set of requirements, or at many of your requirements/desires as possible?" - I would suggest most likely the later.

Which points out the question of "how do you choose between continueing to look and taking what is in front of you?" - i.e. the "bird in the hand vs. two in the bush" question.  

15 Aug 2003 @ 16:43 by ming : Information
I agree, the information will mean something different to different people. We might have different levels on confidence in different people's information. And for sure, we'll value different things differently.f And I might value the same thing differently at different times. That is actually what I think is the whole point, and it all has to be part of our own personal equation. So, what we need is not that somebody centrally calculates the "correct" value for anything. But rather that *somehow* we are as well as possible connected with the sources of information, so that we can get a good enough picture that we can make up our own mind. And I think a free market will work when each of us are well enough informed, in our own way, to make our own completely individual choices about what is valuable and what isn't. And the self-organization of the market will ideally speaking do the rest.  

17 Aug 2003 @ 01:27 by jazzolog : What Is Your Product?
Flemming Funch up for hire is an opportunity, I'm sure, for entrepreneurs around the world. Often on such an occasion, people offer our dossiers---mottled and weird as they get to be sometimes---to prospective employers and let them figure out if we can be of any compensatory use. Maybe, Flemming, that's what you're doing now...in the potentially random rippling called networking.

"Network" is the word. New Civilization Network. During these couple of years several of us members have been reminded over and over again that this site IS a networking device...and not some club or government model. Many have remarked that it is a manifestation of Ming himself, and either you get along with it or you don't. Your present presentation of yourself clearly is an opportunity to review just who the heck you are---and incidentally, I guess, what NCN is...again.

Much of your writing is about money. You like to let your mind take you into possibilities of other methods to exchange articles of necessity and pleasure for acts of labor. What you seem to end up with---understanding that your process includes a preference for thinking to go on and on rather than actually come to a conclusion---often is some kind of local tribe. It might be a cooperative block of a neighborhood where everybody shares friendship and talents.

And yet, the skill for which you were paid so handsomely and which you have honed over the years is very technological. Being a webmaster and a computer programmer means you depend to a high degree---the cutting edge actually---on a world completely dependent on the "advances" of the last 200 years. We have read over these last weeks the measures you have had to take to access the Internet. So, the little neighborhood tribe seems to exist within and depend overwhelmingly on a bigger Old Civilization Network. I wonder whether there is an opportunity really to get straight and honest with yourself at this point in your family's life.

I thought of you this morning and the predicaments-to-some and opportunities-to-others as I read a short article at Reasononline, entitled "Accelerating Change: Why technology will be the defining battle of the 21st century." Perhaps you saw it already, or it might be of interest and help right now. A little way in, the author brings us this paragraph:

"But given all the benefits that modern scientific and technological enterprise has bestowed upon humanity, why would anyone want to vote 'no'? 'Technological progress inevitably involves losers, and these losers...tend to be concentrated and usually find it easy to organize,' notes (Joel) Mokyr. 'Sooner or later in any society the progress of technology will grind to a halt because the forces that used to support innovation become vested interests. In a purely dialectical fashion, technological progress creates the very forces that eventually destroy it.'"

Or, to put it another way, who are the "vested interests" so determined to wage War on Terrorism? And, which side are you on, boys?

So, it will be of interest to your many friends around the world, and to the casual onlooker at NCN just what happens to Flemming Funch next. How you fashion your future and that of your family may be the model, as well, for how NCN is evolving.


17 Aug 2003 @ 19:21 by ming : What happens next
Yeah, maybe I'll turn to farming the land and disavow all technology. Maybe I'll connect with new high-tech endeavors and be content with a new DSL line. Maybe I'll out of need invent something new and wonderful. Maybe I'll discover what I'm really here for. Or things will transform into a new configuration that magically works better. Maybe life will just go on.  

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