The Internet of Things: A Proto-technate

InternetOfThings

via inoviagroup.se

By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

It becomes increasingly clear that the future we are shaping for tomorrow will be considerably different from today, and that the 21st century can potentially become even more dramatic than the 19th century in terms of techno-social development. While the future is indeed shifting, we can see two competing trends which will shape the future. The first one is the increasing exponential pace of ecological devastation, which threatens to destroy the current biosphere and usher in a new dark age for humanity. The second trend is exponential technological development, in terms of computational capacity, information technology, miniaturization, bio-tech, renewal energy and space research development.

These trends will undoubtly transform not only our civilization, but our planet as well. Therefore, it has never been as important as now that we establish a common ground on which we can shape the future existence of the human species and its interrelationship with the planet. To a large extent, social and technological development is not intentional, but a result of emergent processes – meaning that when a new technology is introduced, it will change the way in which human beings interact with the environment and thus eventually transform society and even – in the far perspective – human culture.

While it is difficult to predict the future, it is far from impossible to see towards where technological development could lead us if taken to its logical conclusion. While some are believing that the history of the human civilization is deterministic and will naturally lead to its end-state – the post-1991 realignment in most cases – that is only appearing to be so. In fact, while emergence strives to flow like mighty currents, we fundamentally do have the power to steer it towards the direction where we can see the optimal goals from the perspective that our civilization has chosen to embrace.

We argue that one of the potential logical conclusions of the implementation and development of the Internet of Things is the establishment of an intelligently managed and integrated infrastructure. Such an infrastructure can be utilized in order to create a near-total overview over the usage of resource flows, energy, trade, production and distribution. Thus, from the emergence of the Internet of Things, a technate can be formed.

TL;DR Summary

  • Integrated computer technology and miniaturization means that applications can interconnect to optimize communication and information to optimize functionality within various fields.
  • This process leads to the formation of intelligent cities, which in their turn will interconnect with one another and form larger and larger networks.
  • Eventually, this could mean the establishment of a global integrated network which allows for a total overview over energy-, infrastructure- and resource management on our planet.
  • This would present a great opportunity to exponentially increase our ability to manage resources sustainably while providing a good quality of life to all human beings, but also increases the risk for totalitarian centralized control.
  • Therefore, it is paramount that we establish a dialogue on whether this transition is desirable, in what way it should be implemented and how we could ensure popular influence over the transition process.
  • Fundamentally, the struggle is about who and how technology should be controlled during the 21st century.

Technological determinism and evolution

via kryptonradio.com

via kryptonradio.com

It is easy to imagine that the world we are living in today is the natural consequence of capitalism, industrialism, the scientific revolution and parliamentary democracy. To some extent, it is also true. For example, the rationalization process that the growth-oriented economy initiates when it transforms eco-systems into mono-cultures is the direction towards which the logical conclusion of Smithian Economics point. However, some characteristics of our current economy are to a large extent dependent on co-incidences.

One example is the ascendancy of the private automobile. Motoring has for three generations been such a natural part of western civilization that most people generally are taking it for granted. In the United States, a large part of the surface territory consists of highways, parking lots and the suburban regions made possible by the culture of motoring. The reliance on combustion engine cars have greatly affected climate change during the 20th and early 21st centuries.

However, neither the culture of motoring or the reliance on fossil-based fuels was a historical inevitability. During the early 20th century, there were cars that were powered from various differing sources, and it was not at all certain that the combustion technology would win the techno-evolutionary competition and become the dominant energy model for transport during that era. It was due to a series of historical accidents and investment patterns that this model won out.

Another example of a historical co-incidence was how the wild horse was hunted to extinction in North America during the older Stone Age, but how a small group survived on the Eurasian landmass and was domesticated. If the horse had gone extinct in Eurasia, or survived in the Americas, history as we would have known it would have been entirely different.

Thus, we need to look at technological development not as deterministic, but as evolutionary. Technology is developed on the basis of what has been tried before and proven to work, and thus constantly improves with baby steps. When new technological areas are discovered, the same process generally applies to them (unless these new technologies are outcompeted by established rivals that achieve the same aim). This also means that we can consciously choose what technological development we want to emphasise, and to a limited extent direct what effects on society this progress will have by consciously adapting our infrastructure to the future we are setting the course for.

On the Internet of Things

Robot Hummingbird

The Internet of Things can be defined in many ways – one of the simplest if to say that it is an observed trend. More and more, the minaturization of applications have allowed for a digitalization of previously non-digital technology. This means that the operational intelligence of everyday household items and infrastructure will increase, and that these items will be able to be a part of a large communications network.Picture-6

If this technology becomes widely available in the market, we can imagine that it would not be unusual to see integrated homes, which reminisces of the kind of computerized homes seen in old sci-fi shows from the 1960’s, where people are operating their home environment through their voice or through small chips placed inside their own bodies.

Let us think further. These systems can make homes inter-communicate, allowing for example a more optimal energy distribution between houses within the same neighbourhood, or why not integrated fire warning systems, that would alert the nearby homes of a fire in an application? Or what about integrated waste management systems and automated aquaponics production systems within every habitat, as envisioned by Alexander Bascom?

Eventually, there will be smart cities where all of the infrastructure consist of fully integrated systems, that can monitor energy and resource usage, set up alternative plans for resource usage or assist in the making of such plans, and also to some extent self-manage.

This interconnectedness will grow out from the cities, connecting through power grids, roads and railways, and eventually entire states and continents will be interconnected. This will inevitably – if taken to its logical conclusion – make the existing economical, social and political power arrangements outdated and lead to a complete transformation of not only the human civilization, but of the very concept of civilization itself.

Eventually, what will emerge will be a planet united through a network which allows for the transparent overview and the centralized, de-centralized or integrated management of energy and resources. In short, humanity will be within the reach of establishing if not The Singularity, so at least a Singleton.

The risks of neo-totalitarianism

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While there are many causes to celebrate aspects of the ascent of the Internet of Things, there are also profound risks that need to be analyzed and put into context. The foremost of these risks is the issue of power. Already today, we are seeing tendencies towards a greater and greater concentration of wealth and power in supranational financial institutions and in multi-national corporate entities.

If such structures are given control over the Internet of Things, we would most likely see a very predatory process, the reduction of popular sovereignty and the increase of surveillance and centralization. What could become a system that can help save the biosphere and empower humanity, can under the wrong conditions instead become a virtually un-overthrowable neo-totalitarian Brave New World scenario.

Therefore, the role of the Earth Organisation of Sustainability – and similar organisations aiming for a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable world – should be to increase the availability of this knowledge, but also of the applications and the ability to construct the applications themselves, to the general public and to local communities, within the context of a consciously evolving proto-technate.

What is a proto-technate?

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A proto-technate (a term defined by dr. Andrew Wallace), is a consciously evolving infrastructure management system, which includes and empowers all participants through transparency, de-centralization and constant availability for education. The system is evolving by learning from its previous mistakes, and the goal is increased sustainability, as explained in The Three Criteria.

This means that the control of the Internet of Things within the context of a proto-technate would be given not to corporations, governments or supranational institutions, but to local, voluntary groups that would utilize these technologies to manage their own local environment and the sustainability of their neighbourhoods. This would also allow for a more diverse array of solutions adapted to the local and regional needs of communities and individuals.

In the city of Umea, we in the new EOS Board are aiming to establish an intellectual and practical centre for the development and utilization of technologies to be adapted for the transition towards a sustainable society. The first step would be the establishment of an eco-lab in Umea, through which many local groups – as well as the public – can become connected and learn how to make their imprint in the process of developing and implementing techniques.

Ultimately, if we have a vision of how the world should look like in 100 years, we must work locally and together with individuals and communities to make this a reality. Our main goal in this respect should be to help ensure that the control of the knowledge and the new technologies is in the hands of the people and that it is used in a context of forming a sustainable civilization.

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Our historical roots – on EOS and Technocracy Incorporated (similarities and differences)

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

The Earth Organisation for Sustainability was formally born in 2006, though the movement clustered out from a web community associated with Technocracy Incorporated. The first generation of EOS activists were closely interacting with younger members of Technocracy Incorporated (“Tech.Inc”). This association was largely broken in 2006, due to the fact that the EOS members were increasingly skeptical to the “katascopic model of administration”. Most of the forums were barred for people not coming from North America, and the EOS subsequently galvanised in our own forums, of which these are the current incarnation.

EOS has received two forms of criticisms for our previous relationship with Technocracy Incorporated. The first type of criticism is that it is naïve to establish our roots in an organisation with a controversial name (“Technocracy” usually has negative connotations), and the second was that we would have some kind of secret agenda, aiming to install a dictatorship of scientists and engineers.

This post will aim to define what Technocracy Incorporated wants, what EOS wants, similarities and differences and how these correspond to the respective zeitgeists of the era.

Why does this post exist?

interrelationships

By Enrique Lescure

The Venus Project – another organisation very much inspired by Technocracy Incorporated – vehemently denies any connection with Tech.Inc. While The Venus Project mostly establishes that they exist due to the “inspired genius” of Jacque Fresco, they do affirm that they have connections with Buckminster Fuller’s ideas. There are assertions that Tech.Inc inspired Fuller as well, which if that would be the case would mean that TVP (The Venus Project) indirectly claims to be descended from Tech.Inc anyway.

The EOS could theoretically have done the same thing, and stressed our roots in the more well-known environmental movements. We could have claimed that the theory of Energy Accounting originated with us, and we could have changed the name of the technate concept.

That would however be dishonest, and give the impression that we have something to be ashamed of – something which is more than ridiculous.

While we are not a new version of Technocracy Incorporated, we owe much of our theories to the groundwork they built during the 1930’s, which we have expanded on. At the same time, we have rejected a few aspects of their design, and we are based around partially different value systems.

So this post exist to define how we are using terms in a different manner, and partially explore in which ways we use the same words but mean different things by using them.

What Technocracy Incorporated is (and was)

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Howard Scott, founder and leader of Technocracy

Tech.Inc nowadays seems to largely have ceased with any research and seems to be an organisation which mostly is centred around the US Washington State and the Canadian province of British Columbia – which as areas are very close to one another.

The organisation is centred around the Technocracy Study Course (1934), and the Technocratic Technical Continental Design (1972), which are still upheld as the foundational goals of the Tech.Inc design. During the later half of the last decade (2001-2010), a conflict emerged within Tech.Inc regarding the status of the 1972 document, which the critics claimed was a flawed text since it 1) was compiled briefly after the death of Howard Scott and 2) allowed for the formation of civil society associations, which the critics asserted would open up a venue for “propaganda” and “mind control”. Some individuals within Tech.Inc were also attacked for being too friendly to what would later become the EOS.

Howard Scott played an important role for Technocracy Incorporated. He developed Thorstein Veblen’s theories and assembled the scientists who made the original calculations for the Energy Accounting system, amongst them M. King Hubbert. He was the chief engineer of Tech.Inc between 1932 and his death in 1970. It can be argued that his leadership style very much could be seen as reminiscent of Jacque Fresco and Peter Joseph Merola, and that he often could alienate partners and allies. The movement very much declined after the Second World War.

What does Tech.Inc advocate?

The short summary is that Tech.Inc advocates a centralised hierarchical (katascopic) continental-wide resource administration of the North American continent, handled by technicians, scientists and engineers, with the goal of distributing an even access of all resources to all of the citizens.

Three concepts frame in this design.

Technocracy – expert rule, meaning that experts within the various sequences (departments) make all the decisions new org chartregarding their aspects of the production system, and are appointed by being elected by their peers.

The North American Technate – a centralised resource administration which would “abolish” political bodies, courts and corporations, and administer the North American continent as one single economic and technical area, using massive rationalisations to reduce labour hours.

Energy Accounting (Tech.Inc Variety) – All citizens receive for every two years an energy quota, which they could use to gather the consumer items they demand. In the original design (TSC 1934), production was centralised in a Fordist manner and was probably meant as a planned command economy, where experts made decisions based on surveys on how people’s consumer patterns would look like for the nearest period.

The Ideology of Technocracy Incorporated

Technocracy Incorporated has claimed that ideologies are “monetary-based-systems” related to “the Price System”, and that Tech.Inc is non-ideological and merely wants a “rational administration” of the North American continent. I would argue that the individuals representing Tech.Inc are probably honest when they believe that they don’t have an ideology, but I would argue that there is an ideology underpinning Tech.Inc, albeit not unique for Tech.Inc (which I do not mean as an insult, EOS’ ideology is for example probably not unique for EOS).

In the broadest possible sense, Tech.Inc’s ideology can be summarised through their statements “The Highest Possible Standard of Living for the Greatest Possible Number of People” and “a technical, administrative area“. In short, it is a worldview built on the idea that the purpose of society (or in the case of Tech.Inc, the technical nodes of control) should be to provide the members of society with a high standard of living. This should be achieved by the benevolent technical expertise and leadership of experts, who are supposedly neutral and who do not suffer from biases and interests (unlike politicians and capitalists).

This form of ideology can be called technical managerialism, and is built around the ideals of a consumer society. During theUrbanates 1930’s and the 1940’s, when socialist governments started to be elected into power into some European countries, they de-facto moved away from the worker’s struggle as a principle (since you cannot be reelected if you trash your country’s economy through class warfare) and instead moved in to embrace managerial experts who came to engineer the welfare systems of Europe and (to a lesser degree) North America, Australia and New Zealand. A similar process happened in the USSR, which after the Second World War tried to move towards centralised administration of “soft” issues, such as housing, consumption and recreation.

In Sweden for example, a type example of this ideal was the rise of cheap housing units, mass-constructed during the 1960’s, with their own communal gardens, gymnastics halls, saunas, club houses and communal kitchens. Similar projects existed both in continental Europe, North America, the Soviet Union and the developing world – with the probable epithome of this architectural tendency being the capitol of Brazil, which was entirely planned after the prevalent ideals of that era of late high industrialism/early consumerism.

Thus, the thinking of Technocracy Incorporated did not represent a small group of isolated and marginalised figures, but was rather a part of the mainstream of the early and middle 20th century. It was very much the definition of Late Modernity.

Flaws of that type of thinking

There are several flaws with this type of thinking.

The first flaw that I can see with the traditional technocratic type of thinking is the assumption that technicians and engineers – at least when unimpeded by the price system – will act objectively and for the objective good of all members of society. This thinking is very much based on the ideas of Positivism – that scientists are neutral observers of the world who are disconnected from prejudices of class, gender, race and cultural background. Also, the argument follows from the idea that human behaviour is governed very much by the prevailing economic system, and that when we have a post-scarcity society, humans will naturally become less territorial and domineering.

While it is partially true that humans to a large extent are affected by environmental factors, it is 1) also true that humans are affected by biological factors and by cultural factors, as well as by their own free choices, and 2) predicting human behaviour changes is possible, but never accurate. For example, the communal housing types erected from the 1950’s on to the 1970’s, have to a large degree been subjected to vandalism and mishandling by inhabitants – and often the vandalism has actually made the buildings look more interesting. These types of housing, devoid of culture, meaning and identity, turns into areas where people feel alienated from themselves and one another due to the compartmentalised design.

Graffiti-Street-Art-DAZE-LEPERThis follows another problem which both behaviorism and the kind of functional managerialism that flourished during the same time suffered from, namely a view of humans as consumer units. The idea is that humans basically are governed by their level of material comfortability, and that humans who are given a comfortable environment will become happy automatically.

As in everything, there lies a grain of truth in that. But if humans are not challenged and if their imagination is not stimulated, this materialism can soon turn into an existential psychological crisis, which will serve to stimulate consumeristic individualism and an inner sense of emptiness.

While driven by noble ideals, technical managerialism suffers from the following three problems:

Over-reliance on the impartiality of experts.

Over-reliance on behaviorist psychological models to evaluate mass behavior.

A lack of geist.

Similarities between EOS and Technocracy Incorporated

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EOS and Tech.Inc are both aspiring to the establishment of a Post-Scarcity Society, which would utilise energy certifikates to allow the tracing of product cycles throughout the system.

EOS and Tech.Inc both aim to create common resource areas which would be scientifically managed to create a desired outcome in terms of resource usage patterns.

EOS and Tech.Inc both ascribe to the foundation of physical thermodynamic flows as the foundation for socio-economic systems.

Differences between EOS and Technocracy Incorporated

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Technocracy – the main difference here is that EOS sees technocratic management more as a matter of methodologies than of managers. This means that our goal, rather than to have a hierarchical structure of engineers and managers, aim to instill throughout human civilization an appreciation, understanding and application of science – a new renaissance of learning and enlightenment. We want to give every citizen the opportunity to lead a project holon, to explore the stars, to dive with marine mammals, to study genes, nano-tech and ecology.

Tech.Inc puts an emphasis on management, while we put our emphasis on experiencing.

Energy Accounting – While actually defining the actual concrete system of Energy Accounting very loosely, it can be interpreted from TSC (1934) that it will mainly use surveys conducted by scientists to plan how the production plans should be formed. This is reminiscent of how The Venus Project has thought out their “Resource Based Economy”.

EOS on the other hand, imagines that the production of… well stuff… will largely be happen after people have allocated their energy credits. In this system, people use their allocation as a way to signal what holons they want to be responsible for the production of their items.

Another difference is that Tech.Inc did not originally envision for example using the Earth’s carrying capacity as a limit, and did not have any plans to use Energy Accounting as a mean to track the environmental effects from extraction to consumption to recycling. However, Tech.Inc suggested this later on as a proposal to solve the environmental crisis.

The Technate: The differences between the North American Technate and the Terran Technate Consortium is that the first structure is envisioned as a centralised industrial structure very much organised as a mega-corp, with sequences (departments) doing production orders from above and using centralised statistical analytics to reach decisions. It is a Fordian, Taylorist, Modernistic Structure.

The Terran Technate Consortium is envisioned more organically, as an integrated information market and a holonic system where holons cooperate and build up the system in a distributed manner. There will exist sequences as well, but these would not manage the production, rather they will oversee the process and give statistical input to holons to maximise the effects of their decisions.

This discrepancy is largely inspired by Distributed Systems Theory, and of course The Internet.

Internationalism – Tech.Inc wanted to limit the NAT to North America and a quarter of South America. The EOS believes that associations, groups and territories should be able to join and exit the TTC voluntarily, and our aim is a global resource administration area – or at least one as global as possible. The concerns are mostly of environmental nature. We live on one planet.

Environmentalism – EOS’ main aim is to reduce the usage of resources down below 100% of the Earth’s renewal capacity (right now we are using around 140% of the renewal capacity of the planet). We also want to devote a programme for reterraformation, moving away from mono-cultures to functioning eco-systems.

Democracy and associations – EOS wants to see a wide diversity of associations, clubs and cultures emerge and co-exist peacefully. The technate would not have anything to do with social issues, and there will be a parallel confederational system of autonomous communes, all adhering to a Constitution based around the principles that life is the most valuable thing in the universe. Tech.inc seems to besplit on the issue, with some members taking a libertarian approach while others are more restrictive. There will however be no democratic voting within the structure, and Tech.Inc has a position that criminal courts should be a part of the technate.

Ideology – EOS is developing an ideology centred on three ground principles, stressing the value of life, the value of empathy and the value of enlightenment. Tech.Inc claims to not be an ideology but to be “science applied to society” (very much like The Venus Project).

Science – Tech.Inc wants to have a referendum to install a technate and give the technical managers power to make the necessary changes. EOS wants to test their ideas first in simulated environments, as well as in communities, locally and regionally, before proposing that anything is implemented.

Final words

From the University of Toledo, US

From the University of Toledo, US

The EOS has many roots, but the four main branches are the physical thermodynamical economic analysis done by (amongst others) Technocracy Incorporated, distributed systems, environmentalism and social liberalism.

Our goal is to help creating a socially and ecologically sustainable world, where biological diversity and the diversity of human societies is upheld, where people have the autonomous control over their energy, food distribution systems, their communities and their right for self-expression and self-determination.

We can only achieve this goal by finding new ways of managing the Earth’s resources, that allows us to see the ecological development of our beautiful planet.

Technocracy Incorporated deserves gratitude since they provided us with the understanding that we can use thermodynamics as a method of tracking ecological and economic processes. There are many ideological and structural differences between our organisations, and between the societies we envision. However, understanding these differences and the different ways we apply the same words can be helpful to understand who we (EOS) are, and what we aim to achieve.