For roughly the last 200 years, following the first industrial revolution, the amplification level has moved from livestock, horses, ploughs and windmills towards artificial fertilisers, cars, trains and aeroplanes, tractors and power plants, allowing human beings to pursue other economic activities and more free time.
This has also meant the complete transformation of our planet. For example, a third of Earth’s ice-free land surface is today consisting of either pastures for livestock or monocultures directed towards the feeding of livestock. The reason for this profound alteration of our planet’s ecosystems – from circular flows to linear – is to be found in our view of the economy as separated from the wider environment in itself, and our reliance on an economic system built on self-perpetuating debt and credit.
What is required for us to achieve sustainability is to recognise the fundamental impact on the planet’s surface that we have imposed through technology, and to be able to visualize this in a comprehensive model which would allow us to better understand the nature and scope of said impact.
- We understand the reality as consisting of Holons, entities which can be divided up into smaller units or joined up into larger, and understood at each level as integrated systems.
- We believe that hierarchies ultimately are formed to transmit vital information. Centralisation is about achieving results under conditions where there are difficulties attaining information or systematising it.
- Since the early 19th century, an entirely new world system has arisen, the Technosphere, consisting of transport, production and communication networks consisting of technological infrastructure.
- This system offers challenges to traditional governance since it rapidly can transform both itself and the surrounding social and ecological realities.
- We need to transcend traditional types of governance and wrap future institutions around the functionalities of our civilization as it physically is formed.
- The Technate as envisioned by the EOS is a distributed system of autonomous Holons united within the same information network, a holarchic and de-centralised system allowing for creativity and data to run freely.
- De-centralisation is a key to achieving resilience. This is also true for information technology, even within the emerging field of Artificial Intelligence.
The Holonic way of understanding reality
When it comes to understanding a complex reality, human beings need to compartmentalise it into blocks to be able to understand it better in a professional manner. From this however, difficulties arise. We are encouraged to specialise our interests and be able to master specific subjects at the expense of general knowledge. The latter however is generally composed of so many different aspects that trying to understand it as a singularity is near impossible for a human mind. When we look at a view, we generally do not recognise every detail, instead constructing a generalised image of what we are seeing.
The Holonic model is a simple way of imagining reality, and stresses that reality can be understood in terms of different layers. For example, we can study a cell as an entity in its own right, but we can also study it as a part of an organ. We can also study different aspects of the cell, like the nucleus, as entities in their own right, and move down to the molecular or atomic levels.
Human society can also be understood as consisting of holons. Individuals, families or groups of peers, local societies, cultural regions, nations and all of humanity in itself can be said to consist of numerous forms of interacting holons. On the most local level, we are finding each and every individual, and on the most over-arching level, we’re looking upon all of humanity.
Thus, if we are extrapolating from Holonic Systems Theory, we are not establishing a Holonic system – we are living under one. No matter what we believe, we are acting and interacting within a Universe of interdependencies, which exist within us, around us, below us and above us, making possible our existence.
Hierarchies, information verticals and communication
For tens of thousands of years, human beings were living in tightly knit hunter-gatherer groups which seldom were more than a hundred people, and who often lived and died on the same land generation after generation, gaining a deep relationship to their surroundings (it is a myth that Palaeolithic peoples were nomads, it took several thousands of years for modern humans to colonize Eurasia, and it was over thirty thousand years between the first human incursion into Eurasia through the Nile Valley or the Aden Straits, and the crossing over the Bering Isthmus during the Ice Age).
We do of course not know much of social organisation during the prehistoric era, but what we can ascertain from archaeologic evidence and from observing remaining tribes living in the Palaeolithic life-style, is that pre-agricultural societies generally were more egalitarian and also – unsurprisingly – less complex in their forms of social organisation.
When agriculture began in what today are the borderlands between Turkey and Syria, it formed the impetus for population growth and for the first cities to emerge. Previous social systems had been reliant on personal relationships between all the members of a community, often associated with family relationships. In this context, expanding agricultural communities or popular trading towns developed beyond the capabilities of Palaeolithic social organisation. The main internal challenge was how society should process justice, especially when conflicts arose between different clans regarding property, honour issues or crimes committed between different clans.
Another factor which strained and occasionally teared down the social fabric of society was the ascent of social inequality. Variations in work, talent and drive, the beneficial effects of early acquisition of favourable geographic positions, the utilization of in-group solidarity, luck and the use of force successively led to – over the course of generations – to the establishment of stratified class systems. Such systems created vertical social conflicts between the dispossessed and the economic elites. Externally, some tribes specialised in attacking and extorting emerging wealthy agricultural civilizations.
It is not possible to state unequivocally how governance originally appeared, especially since nearly three quarters of the time of human civilization (from Catalhüyuk to Ur) happened before writing had been invented. In some cases, it probably arose from hostile conquest or the subjugation of a society by one of the dominant clans, in other cases, it is likely that it appeared out of the need to protect property or to establish systems of arbitration to avoid internal strife. The important question is what a government is.
Like everything else within the sphere of human societies and institutions, a government is fundamentally a structure which exist because people 1) agree (passively or actively) to reinforce it by repeating certain behavioural patterns in relation to laws, customs and expectations, 2) is consistently (practically or ideally) formed in accordance with consistent rules that offer predictability, 3) the general public provides their consent to its formation. The government as a form of system is dependent on its own reinforcement by thousands of bureaucrats and public officials arising from their beds every morning and acting within the perimeters outlined by their tasks.
Ultimately, complex administration systems like governments are formed primarily to uphold the predictability which helps societies to protect the status quo, both in terms of positive aspects (upholding order, creating a sort of formally neutral arbiter to mediate in conflicts and also to prevent conflicts from arising), and negative aspects (such as protecting exploitative elites or becoming tools for said elites in intra-elite struggles and general oppression).
The actual functioning structure of a state, no matter whether it is unitary or federal, democratic or authoritarian, has always, since the days of King Narmer, been consisting of bureaucracies. These are the combined nerve fibres and brain stem of the primitive collective organism that a state is designed to mimic. The purpose of such bureaucracies is to facilitate information.
In a society with a certain amount of actors, there is always a tendency for chaos. In order to be able to offer predictability, the state must obtain information that provides it with a clear monitoring capability of what is happening. Thus, vertical information nodes are formed through the bureaucracies, to form a chain of command where each node (operated and continuously reproduced by individual bureaucrats) can transmit relevant information to the various apparatuses that the state has as its disposal.
Of course, a social organism created to gather and transmit relevant information in a vertical, pyramidal way, have its associated problems. The first problem is that the information-gathering techniques may be compromised, both because they may be ineffective, and because actors operating within the system may deliberately compromising or omit to share vital information, in order to benefit themselves personally or causes which they feel warmly for. This practice is usually known as corruption. The second problem, which is more serious, is that this superior access of information can – and quite often have been – abused. The exclusionary nature of hierarchical systems and the privileged access to information for particular groups and individuals has meant that the state not only tend to protect those with economic power, but also tend to create a new form of upper class, managerial elites with superior access to insider information, which would be used to advance themselves at the expense of the general population. The third problem is, quite ironically given that the purpose of bureaucracies is to transmit information, a tendency for information insulation, which means that the bureaucrats naturally tend to form an institutional culture – a de-facto tribe – which roughly shares the same interests, the same ideology, the same prejudices and the same outlook on reality. Thus, practices which run counter to the explicit guidelines of the state can be enshrined if a culture of neglect, favouritism or elitism takes hold inside the system.
With stating this, I am not meaning that all states per definition are collapsing into corruption and nepotism per definition. The risk for increased corruption and for abuse exist all the time, and will increase the more complex and Byzantine a bureaucracy is growing. There are of course counter-forces, just like society in itself can be defined as a constant struggle between the institutions and the tendencies for collapse – a struggle which is fought literally every day within all significant public spheres.
The rise of the Technosphere
The Technosphere first arose with the railways of the 19th century, which formed a number of communication arteries through nations and continents, transforming economies and making the world simultaneously bigger and smaller than ever before.
What is a technosphere? I defined this term as the interlocked network of technological systems/technological infrastructure implemented on the Earth’s surface and actively interacting with one another in order to support the resource extraction and refinement process that is colloquially referred to as “Human Civilization”.
I would argue that the Technosphere as a functional concept is meaningless to discuss before the ascent of railways and the telegraph in the early 19th century. It is evident that the earlier usages of husbandry and “passive” inventions like wind- and watermills or ploughs have served to amplify the power of human labour. However, it was not until the Age of Industrialization that techno-systems started to be able to amplify information, which since that age has created entirely new challenges.
Nowadays, the world and its great cities are interconnected by airports, freighter ships, trains, highways, pipelines, electric grids, radio and telecom communication systems, fibre-optic cables and satellites. An entirely new technological system is expanding throughout the globe.
Challenges and effects on power
Technology and its rapid ascent for the last two centuries have allowed the expansion of both the number of human beings on Earth, as well as the immensely impressive economic growth that has allowed one seventh of the Earth’s population to attain a standard of living previously only available to the aristocracies of old.
This has, as you probably know, led to tremendous improvements in human life, but in an unstable way which is threatening to unravel the natural support systems of our world – the support systems which serve to uphold complex life itself. We are literally embroiled in a more and more visible war against time in order to save this planet, while the need to reform the system we have created grows more and more urgent for every year.
The challenge is of course that the ascent of the Technosphere has changed the nature of human civilization, while political concepts are still largely reliant on thoughts and concepts which were formulated either before industrialization or during its first phases. These ideas on power and its nature are still mainly preoccupied with the role of the citizenry and constitutionalism. While important, they fail to address or properly understand how much our reality has been transformed by the formation of the Technosphere.
That not said that there haven’t been attempts to reinterpret our societies organized in relation to new technological situations emerging. One example is the command economies of the old Soviet Bloc, which interpreted the state not only as a source of legal authority and a monopoly of force (or, decreasingly, as a tool for international worker’s revolution), but also as an integrated industrial system aimed at realising five-year plans. The Soviet system can be seen as an attempt to organize all industry under the state, and simultaneously to organize the state in the mirror-image of how a large firm usually operated under the latter half of the 19th century. Nevertheless, the emergence of the command economy and its mass mobilization of the Soviet population probably owed less to the theories of Marx and Engels than to the Russian historical experience of making up for technology gaps in relation to Western Europe by utilizing the full state power to make up for Russia’s peculiar geographical and climatological difficulties.
The Technocratic Movement
One theory which actually directly shaped itself around the perceived realities of the emergent Technosphere, was the school first developed by Thorstein Veblen and finalized by Howard Scott within Technocracy Incorporated (early 1930’s). This theory postulated the idea that technology had become so dominant as a production factor that 1) virtual abundance was attainable and 2) society had transformed into a de-facto machine. The only remaining issue was to cut away the politicians, lobbyists, judiciary and capitalists, leaving the administration of such a system in the enlightened hands of scientists and engineers, people who were seen as disinterested in personal gain and able to objectively understand reality.
This is attributable to the era. During the 1930’s, the western world was still largely enamoured with the concept of everlasting progress and of science as the great solution to all the woes of society. The prevalent epistemology of science of the day was Positivism, which stated that science 1) was able to reach an objective understanding of reality, and 2) that science should be used as a tool to achieve a better and more enlightened society. This approach was not unique to the Technocratic Movement, but rather a part of the rationalistic culture of the day, which encompassed contemporary Liberalism, Social Democracy and Marxism-Leninism. These ideologies did however draw on the heritage of the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas Technocracy tried to do away with the entire prior intellectual heritage within social sciences and political philosophies.
The Technocrats did not only understand society as a machine, but also understood this machine’s economy in term of the energy it was able to generate and consume. The concept of Energy Accounting, even as understood within the context of the 1930’s, was liberating in the sense that it tried to apply the Physical knowledge of how the Universe works on the Technosphere, and see the Technosphere as primarily a flow of energy and resources rather than a market of goods and services.
Obviously, the claim that Technocracy was not (or is not) an ideology is as ludicrous as the idea that science will soon be able to supplant moral philosophy. The idea to see not only resource flows as a part of a machine, but also to do away with laws and the judiciary, and replace trials with “technical decisions” to correct transgressions by individuals would be dangerous and do away with a western tradition of jurisprudence developed since the ancient era. Scientists and engineers are also – like any other people – not disinterested, but often passionately interested in and devoted to specific solutions. The abolishment of money will most likely not eliminate competition, which in such a society as devised by Technocracy Incorporated would move towards fighting for promotions within a hierarchical-tayloristic system.
Lastly, the Technate as imagined by Technocracy Incorporated would be a centrally planned and completely “katascopic” system, where the upper levels in the hierarchy would mobilize the lower levels to achieve specific aims. Production was not imagined as built on voluntary nodes, but rather on large centralised units which organise labour into eight four-hour shifts every cycle, to keep production load factors constant. A never-sleeping machine.
We must not forget that the Technocrats of North America were a product of the distinct zeitgeist of their era, which emphasised centralisation, collectivism, de-individualization and mass mobilization of resources, briefly realised in the US War Economy of 1942-1946.
In summary, the Technocratic Movement of the 1930’s is an interesting example of contemporary thinking, of an attempt to transcend established ways in how to view resource management and the relationship between human society and physics, and lastly one in many ways logical conclusion in relation to the direction in which technological development was moving.
The dynamic chaos of the Technosphere
Any and all programmes toying with the notion of a centralised command structure imposed over the Technosphere are dangerous to entertain. The Technosphere is a force amplifier in more than one regard, evidenced by all the dictatorships of the 20th century. While there existed no democratic republics proper prior to industrialization, neither there existed any dictatorships with aspirations to control the public before the railways and the telegraph.
It was simply not possible – or even desirable – for Louis XIV, Augustus or Xerxes to monitor the public opinion of all their subjects or to try to include everyone in political mass mobilization. Industrialization did not only amplify political output, but allowed for the politization of the masses, but also for the implementation of mass surveillance technologies.
Given that, it is not only dangerous but also quixotic to try to impose a form of fixed, centralised control mechanism over the Technosphere, since the Technosphere is a wildly dynamic system. To some extent, it is reminiscent of the biosphere in that there is a constant near-evolutionary development of technology (just compare trains in the late 1790’s with modern trains, or look at the first telephones in comparison with modern cell-phones). This development is of course driven by human innovation rather than imperfect replication, but from an emergent perspective the growth of the Technosphere appears very much like how complex systems emerge within the biosphere.
A part of this seeming chaos is due to the fact that when new technologies are introduced, we are seldom thinking of the long-term effects on the entire Technosphere, as well as on the system on which the Technosphere is nourishing itself or affecting environmentally. When the automobiles were first introduced in the late 19th century, nobody would think how much land would be paved over to make highways and parking lots, or would be able to envision the completely destructive and unsustainable concept of “Suburbia”.
The main point is not the destructiveness of many industrial practices, but to point out that the aggregated effects of the introduction of new technologies are volatile and unpredictable, and threaten to unravel not only established economic forms of organisation, but also political and social traditions themselves. Generally however, we are only able to comprehend the future by looking at the past.
Nevertheless, we must not step back and put on a blindfold in our relationship with the Technosphere, especially not as that approach has led us into a completely unnecessary and perilous destruction of the life-supporting systems of the Earth, which is threatening to cause a sixth great mass extinction.
There is a desperate, urgent need to find a way to be able to monitor and administrate the Technosphere, without resorting to the oppression of humanity or individual human beings, impeding our progress in using technology to better human civilization, or be crushed by the unpredictable forces unleashed by the application of new technologies inside the system. It stands clear that we need a form of system that not only recognises the existence of the Technosphere and its peculiar nature, but also is adapted to said peculiar nature, especially now when the integration of technology is reaching an exponentially increasing pace and scope.
The Technate as envisioned by the EOS
A technate is a form of governance system. Unlike previous systems, a technate is not focused on administering humans or employing force to hold them in line. It is instead focusing on overviewing administering the technological infrastructure – or Technosphere.
That is a short definition, but it is partially obfuscating the truth of the matter, since it postulates a division between the Technate and the Technosphere – much like how the brain is partially separated from the other organs of the human body. Rather, the Technate is envisioned by the Earth Organisation for Sustainability as an integral aspect of every facet of the Technosphere. This means that if the Technate is ever consolidated, it would not consist of a pyramidal, hierarchical structure that is centrally coordinating the entire Technosphere. Rather, it would be infused into the very infrastructure itself, and become a natural continuation of the transformation of the techno-systems into a super-organism.
This difference is of essential importance when understanding how the EOS views the Technate as a concept. We do not merely view it as a government over technology, but as an “intelligent integrated system”, which encompasses the entire global network of technologically based systems.
The reasoning behind this is the following:
- We need to be able to keep an overview over the resource flows from the moment that they leave nature and loops within the human civilization.
- The amount of information available within such a complex system is too over-arching to keep it within the confined control of centralised nodes.
- Centralised systems are more vulnerable, and attempts by hostile interests to inflict damage – especially during the beginning phase of what will be a transformation characterised by contention from many groups that stand to lose in the short term – can become very destructive if there are central key points which control significant aspects of the system.
- Centralised systems tend to centralise power and deprive human beings of their right to their own agency.
- Technology is moving towards the point where central governments will be superfluous and possibly hamper the development towards sustainability due to the insufficiency of the tools which they have available.
How – practically speaking – could such a system operate?
We imagine that it is administered through a huge number of interacting holons, consisting of project teams that operate different aspects of the Technate. The functioning of the holons, their number in relation to a specific operative task, and the depth and scope of their cooperation depends on the nature of the challenge that they face.
Thus, instead of trying to shape technical structures around bureaucratic-administrative forms, we should create a dynamic system capable of anticipating changes in the Technosphere and adapt its local and regional working procedures after these changes faster than the current system is capable of. When necessary, smaller holons would cluster together to form larger holons, but not necessarily dissolve themselves.
Of course, each holon which the system is composed of needs to be capable of communicating with every other holon in the system, through sequence networks that tie together various systems. The goal however is not that the communication systems will run the show, but rather provide a nerve network throughout the structure which can help to process information faster and more transparently.
Most holons will of course not deal with the core functions of the Technate, those being managing infrastructure. Rather, they will focus on voluntarily defined tasks and projects which are close to the interests of the holon participants.
This does also mean that if the necessity would arise, the Technate as a whole can be able to rapidly transform its internal structure into new shapes that can better handle arising challenges, for example massive solar eruptions that destroy the electronic systems of the Technosphere, or super-volcano eruptions.
The role of AI
The holons which the Technate is envisioned to be consisting of are composed of teams consisting of humans with talents and skills comprising the core functions of their holon, and when we discuss these issues we often focus on the human role within the Technate. The reason why we haven’t discussed the role of Artificial Intelligence is because it is not yet possible to ascertain what Artificial Intelligence will be capable of achieving within even the nearest decades.
Nevertheless, we can be able to form criteria which will establish the direction and limitations of AI. As Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, even though we cannot predict the turns of Fate, we are more than capable of foreseeing eventual problems. While problems and challenges always will arise, we can predict eventualities which will arise (according to Murphy’s Law).
When cities and infrastructural systems become smarter and more integrated with one another through the grid, and the complexity of any given system is increasing exponentially, the systems will grow increasingly vulnerable to disturbances. Recent hacking attacks against refrigerators in Moscow and Campus Printers on various American universities display this weakness. Cyber-security will increasingly turn into one of the most essential immune system barriers of the integrated Technosphere.
There are many visions of where we could go with Artificial Intelligence and how it can be utilized to create a new and better civilization. The Venus Project for example is advocating a future characterised by smart cities connected by central computers which regulate every aspect of urban infrastructure. The Singularity – Ray Kurzweil’s vision – is looking towards the fusion of all matter into one grid – one super-awareness. Science Fiction has also put its imagination into the future development of AI, from Star Wars’ humanoid-looking drone slaves to Iain Banks’ intelligent Minds that are steering massive ships through the Milky Way, to the Archailect Gods of the Orion’s Arm collective, the visions have tended to develop with the zeitgeist of the era.
What the Holonic model can teach us about the infusion of AI into our society, is that the introduction of centralised systems can both render us less free and more vulnerable. While it may increase efficiency in the short run, it would also create unforeseen problems due to the emergent nature of the Technosphere. Thence, the following foundations must be laid:
- If intelligent computer systems are introduced into infrastructural processes, it is advisable that they are limited in their scope – every system should be responsible for just one or two sequence processes.
- They should still inter-communicate transparently and be able to transmit information to one another.
- Within every sequence process, there should be two or three computer systems simultaneously working, with several copies lying dormant or “sleeping” within the same sequence process. If one system is hacked, it should be disconnected from the sequence process and replaced with a copy.
- Instead of focusing research on achieving artificial sapience, we should focus our energy on creating imperfect self-replicating systems, mimicking evolution, with the direction of purging such systems that are more badly adapted to the changing realities of the Technosphere.
- There should always be an off-switch.
- There should never be an off-switch which simultaneously crashes important sequence processes like power-plants.
Of course, there are more ideas which are worth exploring, like for example the Three Laws of Robotics. However, it is essential that we use technology for and within the context of a society composed of autonomous localities, and are striving towards greater de-centralisation and liberty, rather than towards centralisation and powers in the hand of an elite, whether human or digital.
The Technate as a concept is about shaping forms after function, rather than the other way around. Instead of moulding processes to fit into bureaucratic systems which ultimately were formed before there was a Technosphere, we should have a structure which is adapted to rapidly changing conditions and can transform itself rapidly.
The EOS has reached the conclusion that the most desirable type of governance shall focus on managing technology and allowing human beings the freedom and time to discover themselves and create. It shall also be de-centralised and seek to empower people locally, while maintaining a transparent and relevant communication network. It should not meddle in normative or legalistic aspects (thus a separation between Technate and Confederation), and it should be consisting of autonomous groups that can shape themselves into larger groups and form the tools necessary to perform specialised tasks.
While we never can be sure how the Technosphere will form in the future, we must try to influence it, which must mean a transition away from carbon-heavy industries and transport systems, non-renewable sources of energy, linear transportation networks, over-distributed manufacturing, mono-cultures and wasteful practices. We believe that a system like that which we advocates would help us transcend towards that, even if it would take generations before we can replace centralised governance.