Matt’s Technical System
Creative Augmentation

“I would like to think
(and the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow

Where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching the clear sky.

“I like to think
(right now please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

“I Like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace”

 Richard Brautigan
Back in the 1970s, I used to have the book of poetry from which this comes. I had, unfortunately forgotten both the author’s name and the title of the collection. The poem, I recalled as titled Machines of Loving Grace. I remember it had a powerful impact on me at the time because it tapped into my deeper sense of how technology should be developed and used.
I ran into the poem again when I bought a copy of the 30th Anniversary Celebration Edition of the Whole Earth Catalog [link]. This poem rejects the soul/body dichotomy which says that machines, tools [link] and nature are not compatible. It recognizes that cybernetic tools make a different class of technology than anything humankind has built before. At the end of this evolutionary branch - be it five years or five generations away - is the birth on a new species [link].
The poem was by Richard Brautigan [link].
In the mean time, as we travel this path, is the reality of basic augmentation in the many forms that it will possible for us to build today and in the near future. By augmentation, I mean the machine tool’s ability to extend and lever a human’s cognitive functions and a humans ability to do do the same for the machines that we birth. What happens when an educated human and a smart machine interact in an intelligent environment [link] using a powerful synthetic process? What happens when all of the elements, in this environment act with collaborative agency [link]? What happens when strong memory [link] is created in a network of humans, machines, organizations and ValueWebs [link]? The potential that emanates from actually answering these questions by building machine/human networks that act with synergy is far greater than anything the human race has achieved before. It is practical, now, to explore this path. The NavCenter [link:how to make and use navcenters] was conceived with this potential in mind and also constitutes the best rapid prototyping lab to advance this ideal of networked machine/human integration.
In the 7 Domains Model, the 5th Domain is the technical infrastructure and work algorithms that make this possible. It is the nervous system of an organization. It is the commons tool-kit. As with all Domains, Technical System can be seen as a distinct part but has to be understood as integrated to the rest. It is this act of integration, itself, that provides the extraordinary power that is possible within this Domain. Many so-called systems, today, do not follow this principle of deep integration. Failure to do this pulls a function and a process out of context - out of the total work being done - resulting in a weak process requiring the tool to “stand on its own” - the consequence of a lost opportunity. We end up in a world of “Johnny one note” technologies that do not interface well with each other let alone the human user - each the representative of an embedded epistemology that no one really designed nor takes responsibility for. The result is an expensive overhead of highly leveraged disintegration - not augmentation.
It is the totality of a systems behavior that counts. Nature builds integrated systems. This has proven, so far, to be difficult for humans. Building the system in the environment it is to operate in is necessary if the successful creation of a complex Technical System is to be accomplished - if the tools are going to work the way we want; if the system is to provide us the requisite variety we need to navigate the world we are creating and no longer seem to be able to live successfully in.
In the development of the MG Taylor technical systems, we have followed this embedded approach. We use a version of the system, in the environment it is to be used in, to build a new version of the system using the process that the new iteration - when finished - is going to support. This is how CAMELOT was developed [link]. This is how the DesignShop works - and how it was developed. This is why the PatchWorks architecture [link: patchworks] will scale. This process is one of constructing a brain, a nervous system - the organizational mind of group genius.
Building these kinds of systems requires rapid prototyping with feedback in an environment of “punctuated evolution.” During the development and use of these capabilities, feedback must come from more than one level of recursion. The result is intentional and emergent [link]. On the enterprise level, Weak Signal Research [link] has to be employed else the feedback on the applications/product level will drive to a sub-optimal result. The feedback has to come from the future vision of the system not just the reality of the present capability and market. In concert with this, the mission of the enterprise has to be an active design “participant-voice” (agent) in the design/development process. In the case of MG Taylor and it’s systems, for example, the mission [link] is to support the Transition Manager [link].
Creative Augmentation is a broad field that encompasses many dimensions of systems and work-process protocols. In the case of the “Taylor” system and method these processes are described primarily in “subsystem 1” of the patent [link] (and patent pending), and the computer application - CyberCon, in “subsystem 3.”
CyberCon, itself, as a system concept, is made up of three broad component areas. A tool-kit providing an integrated calendar keeper, time and task manager, knowledge-base manager, scenario builder, strategy developer, network manager, creativity guide and interface to applications tools. This tool-kit is organized around the “Taylor” Iconic Language and work processes/protocols. The second component is an “expert system” engine and KnowledgeBase that can be imbedded into the user’s environment (and components thereof) to create a “smart” capability. The third is a set of algorithms and protocols from which a true “intelligent” system may evolve in the future.
The idea of Creative Augmentation goes back to Vannevar Bush [link: vannevar bush wikipedia] in the 1940’s with the writing of “As We May Think” [link: memex, the atlantic, 1945] - to the work of Doug Englebart [link], Alan Kay [link], Ted Nelson [link] and many others. Xerox PARC [link] was an early explorer of augmentation systems. Recent developments with the www, programs like JAVA and open source protocols provide a ready tool-kit for the rapid-prototyping and broad decimation of augmentation systems. To a certain degree, however, true augmentation has been lost in the gold rush of building applications for specific and isolated tasks. This is like selling an automobile by the parts and asking the user to assemble it and build the highway to go along with it. I do not consider text editing to be an application - it is a tool. How many text editors do you have in you computer? I consider an application to be something like designing, creating and managing architecture; this would require an integrated suite of many tools we now call applications. It would require content knowledge unique to the field of the application. It would also require something more. This something starts us down the path to knowledge augmentation.
The unique aspect that I have brought to the process of making augmentation systems is the practice of building the OS in a physical environment/system that works everyday with real people solving real problems.
Thus, the algorithms are developed, demonstrated, tested and used while being supported by an ever-developing “run/walk/run” technical system - the Design/Build/Use process is employed through multiple iterations of work. This is a rapid prototyping process.
Because these work processes and their algorithms can be described on six levels of language [link] and can be observed, simultaneously, in several different human/machine systems, we have a high confidence level in the models that have emerged from these explorations. As far as I know, there is no other development process that has anywhere near the daily throughput nor the documented history in regards the facilitation and augmentation of the individual, group creative and collaborative process of human agents and how this is effected by environment, tool-kit, knowledge-base and process agency.
Further, as I will outlined elsewhere, this Technical System concept can be applied on 7 levels of recursion from the individual to the global societal level. These levels, generally, follow Miller’s Living Systems Model which provides an excellent schema to describe critical recursion levels. This is important in regards scalability of the system and the maintenance of work continuity between levels of an enterprise, ValueWeb or global culture.
The far future potentials of augmentation are now something that must be explored - I will do so at the end of this essay. Technological capabilities are developing fast and but the protocols of use, and the ethics of how these capabilities should be applied, lag far behind. There is little in our recent history that suggests that these extraordinary means will not be used in massively destructive ways.
The main thrust of all this, however, always gets back to the the human aspect of technology - to the spirit of the poem that opened this piece. We can no longer afford the disconnect, that we have today, between our technology and our humanity. We no longer can afford the disconnect we have between the totality of our human enterprise and ecology of which we are a part. Our ability to proliferate and destroy far outstrips our ability to be wise - and the gap is rapidly widening. With all our power, we fail at the very basics of life: community, health, education, peaceful existence. All of this is, of course is blamed on some people - the “others”. I wonder if, instead, it it more the total system we live in than the nature or good will of the vast majority of humans. I wonder if it is not our ability to see, to integrate, to reach out, to connect that is inadequate for the complexity we have created and now find ourselves “living” in. I do know this: the Taylor System has consistently shown, over two decades, the ability to deal with complexity and facilitate groups though “impossible” situations to benign results. What if the full power of this process was unleashed through the redesign of networks of technical systems turning them into true human augmentation tools? What if we use this tool to recreate our social, political, economic reality based on what we now know about humanness? What if?
What Is Augmentation?
There are many dimensions of augmentation as a broad subject both physical and mental. It is also legitimate to consider the augmentation of certain kinds of networks and systems. My interest here, however, is the augmentation of the human cognitive functions across a wide arena of work habitats and social networks.
Specifically, I am most concerned with those cognitive functions that make up the so-called creative and collaborative processes. In my view, the exercising of these functions requires massive cross-functional and integrative capabilities [link] and a set of specific cognitive habits [link]. Building systems to support these processes requires an operational understanding of how memory [link] works in a dynamic, learning, emergent system. And, by cognitive, I do not mean just those mental functions that an individual is aware of. I mean a suite of mental processes that occur throughout a complex nervous system, a single mind, a grouping of minds and those embedded in environments, including the tool sets and networks, that support productive activities. Augmentation, as Doug Engelbart refers to it, is a bootstrap process [link]. It involves AGENCY as described in Minsky’s The Society of Mind [link].
True augmentation, then, enhances cognitive capibilities in a way that maintains the desired harmoney in a system. This requres a long range view of consequences and feedback [link] from multiple levels of recursions over may iterations of activity.
Augmentation, in my view of it, has to involve tools that both amplify and attenuate cognitive capacities and their I/O channels. As a society, today, we tend to focus on tools that amplify and call that augmentation. Be stronger, bigger, faster... for longer periods of time. This, however, defies the law of requisite variety. Our entire civilization can be characterized as an ever increasing stampede of positive feedback loops - a growing instability.
How can Augmentation Tools be Created?
I argue that true augmentation tools cannot be created in the “simple” way of other tools. The intimacy to the user and the complexity of the interactions preclude this. By circumstance, augmentation tools are based on affinity, association, connection and emergence - they are based on and embedded in network architectures. They support nonlinear behavior. To attempt to develop them and use them in a directly causal, linear and isolated way is to merely amplify some aspect of an integrated and whole process.
To avoid unintended consequences, augmentation tools have to be developed in the environment in which the are going to be used and the end user has to be an integral part of the development process. This requires several iterations as both the user and the environment will be changed in the process; it is a heuristic process and the result is emergent. These requirements, imposed by the nature of the task and rarely met, explain why so many attempts at augmentation, thus far, have failed. The tool has to come, organically, of the environment it is to succeed in. As augmentation tools become more sophisticated and “alive,” they will have to be “grown” and evolve much the way a human is born and learns.
How can Augmentation Tools be Scaled?
The issue of scale cannot be confused with proliferation. Making more of something until every one has one is not necessarily taking the tool to it’s next level of scale. In fact, just to do this usually greatly amplifies variety on that scale causing many unintended consequences.
To properly scale a tool means to bring it into harmony with the level of recursion in question. How e-mail works among a tight network of individuals and how it works in a world of connected millions and rampant junk mail are two entirely different things. The tool, which can be very effective on one level and become a distraction and consumer of time on the other. This is but a simple example. It can be pointed out, however, that the conceptual base of the e-mail tool has not changed - it is applied (actually misapplied) the same in both circumstances. Added on features are a poor attempt to fix unwanted consequences an inadequate response. As processes and tools are scaled, their structure has to be transformed - their work process has to adapt.
Augmentation and Requisite Variety
From the beginning days of Cybernetics, requisite variety [link] has been a key concept. Ross Ashby raised it in Cybernetics (1952) and Beer, in Designing Freedom (1985), making it a keystone issue in his application of cybernetic theory to the management of business and government enterprises. Basically, there are several important aspects of requisite variety that are important to the issue of augmentation: that little v cannot deal with big V - greater variety will “win;” that in an issue of variety mismatch, there are two choices - the greater variety can be attenuated and/or the smaller variety can be amplified; that the part of a system that changes the most will control the system - having greater variety.
In the Taylor System and Method, it is the crafting [link] of the Zone of Emergence where the variety equation is balanced and dealt with and that multiple levels of recursion and multiple iteration of work [link] have to be a contiguous experience in order to consistently achieve disciplined and open-ended emergent results. As far as I know, in the realm of creative group process, this is the only formal method that “answers” the variety issues raise by Ashby and Beer.
Industrial tools greatly amplify human endeavors; cybernetic tools do so to a much greater degree. However, both also radically increase variety in the network in which they are employed. If the tools are used improperly, the variety equation is not necessarily improved. True augmentation tools will be designed to both amplify and attenuate in a way that best serves human users in the task that they are employed in moment-to-moment. Augmentation Networks will do the same for communities and, ultimately, social-economic-bio regions.
Augmentation and navCenters
A NavCenter’s 5th Domain provides the tooling and work protocols necessary to achieve requisite variety with ValueWeb members and the issues they are addressing.
Organizations can no longer solve their problems, let alone prosper, by concentrating on that which is only within their legal and physical “skin.” They have to creatively interact with and engage in real time their total Valueweb [link]. Networks of NavCenters - sharing nonproprietary information and methods - will further scale this effort. By these means, not only issues local to a given enterprise can be gracefully dissolved so can those things requiring design on the greater scale of the larger human enterprise.
By combining individual scale and group scale knowledge augmentation tools with work processes and by effectively linking center-to-center with RemotePresence and RemoteCollaboration employing PatchWorks architecture [link], NavCenters can become a social tool capable of facilitating many of the systemic problems [link] we now face as a society.
NavCenters provide an environment and meta-process so that a wide variety of otherwise isolated tools and processes can become integrated and configured in a way that promotes the graceful transformation of old constructs (mental, social, physical) into useful systemic (action on the system as a system) actions. As such, NavCenters are ideal environments to study augmentation, build augmentation capabilities and prototype them. A network of NavCenters, outfitted with augmentation tools, can provide a means for dealing with complex, large-scale social issues. By employing new work processes, and as neutral places, they can avoid the distortions inherent in the existing societal tool kit of power-meetings, conferences, agencies, governments and summits.
The Ethics of Augmentation
Our society’s present quarter-to quarter and immediate market fixation may be impeding the progress to true and robust augmentation, but there is no question we will get there sooner or later. Of greater concern is if we, as a society, will be ready for it. The industrial society successfully “augmented,” wholesale, most of western societies’ 17th and 18th centuries’s assumptions and attitudes. The result has been a sorry mixture of greatness and real human gain along with a sea of blood, exploitation on a scale inconceivable in the past, and a growing ecological disaster of possible catastrophic proportions. I put augmented in quotes here because Doug Englebart will make the case that what was done was not augmentation - amplification perhaps; certainly exploitation and exaggeration. Bucky Fuller said that a human-made tool is a specialization and extensions of a natural metabolic capability. Cupped hands become a clay cup; a fist become a forged hammer. He said that there are two classes of tools: craft and industrial. A craft tool is one a single human can conceive of, make and use. An industrial tool is one that it takes an organized society to do so. A hammer (although now mass produced) is a craft tool, The Queen Mary is an industrial tool. All tools amplify and extend human’s ability. Think of the internet, and a global communication system, as the extension of your nervous system. True augmentation tools are special because they so intimately address that which is the essence of our humanness: our cognition. I have argued, for that last 30 years, that one of the deep buried crisis of our times is that, as a species, we have not learned to properly employ the tools [link] we have created and use; and, the more extended and remote this tool use is, the greater the abuse. It is a long way from your sitting room at night watching television to a GPS guided ordinance being delivered, in your name, half a world away. In my definition of “tooling” I include organization. No tool is neutral - it is the practical application of an embedded idea. If designed correctly it does what it is designed to do - not just the task, but the total gestalt of the idea behind it. How each of us choose to use it is a choice. The tool, the user and the social construct make a system. Structure wins [link].
The industrial tool kit we have long enjoyed compared to coming cybernetic augmentation is a match compared to a nuclear bomb. Our ethics are not gaining on this situation.
When we designed the Taylor System we designed not just a technical tool but a process tool as well - a process tool aimed at the facilitation of the emergence of Group Genius. In addition, we designed a system capable of building social/political economies [link]. It was our belief - and it remains so - that this “whole” system approach will minimize the risk of a ramped run-away technology without human intellect and consciousness.
The jury is still out, of course. Building a ValueWeb of “NavCenters” with the dna of the mission [link]; doing that at a considerable scale; distributing them globally and in their ownership; these are steps toward building a socially benign tool kit. This was the goal 25 years ago. It remains the goal today. We are beginning to get the global armature [link] in place. The RDS [link] is potentially a part of this capacity. What remains to be seen is what set of circumstances will give rise to the opportunity to employ this System and Method on the scale and engaged with the kinds of issues that is was designed for. It is significant, that now (August 2003), after over a quarter of a century of work, the first client has approached us to build for them the first network of NavCenters designed to operate as such [link]. This engagement will be a quantum jump for us in the development and testing of our work.
Augmentation, on the near side of the development continuum, produces great power; on the far end of possibility it means breaking out of the defining limits of what it presently means to be a human. Our species record in regards the use of power leaves much to be desired; what we will do with the capability to redefine ourselves in almost every conceivable way is open to speculation. This possibility, however, we must now consider for the time is close upon us. Our behavior has improved slowly over centuries; fundamental and radical self augmentation may only be one or a few decades away. Some of the more reactionary among us advocate simply banning some of these possibilities (except, of course, for the development of weapons systems which we all know will never be used wrongly). Technology, once developed is rarely successfully banned. The use of it can be partially controlled by different means yet definitions can remain tricky: chemicals are WMD - is carpet bombing? Is the use of depleted uranium [link] in “conventional” weapons? It will take extended dialog among a great number of people over a long period of time to construct an appropriate ethical framework for what we are doing now with our social-industrial power let alone personal, group and social-scale augmentation. This will not be accomplished by highly polarized fights [link] over one issue at a time after the technology emerges. We need a consistent, systemic, collaborative approach that anticipates opportunities and risks and implements appropriate responses before the reality is upon us.
Our first environment in Boulder was called “The Anticipatory Management Center.” We used this name in 1980 to emphasize Bucky Fuller’s idea of anticipatory design. Our System and Method was designed to remove the obstacles that were inherent when groups with competing interests and perspectives tried to reach across borders and deal with common systemic issues and problems. As we have become busy, particularly in the last 7 years, we have seen more and more of our attention turned to important but shorter range projects. It seems to me, that our society is less concerned about long range issues than 25 years ago. This only short term focus is an invitation to disaster. Building the conceptual and implementation tools to facilitate thoughtful transformation is mission critical to the MG Taylor Enterprise. This cannot be done without the appropriate 5th Domain. To fail at this task is to leave the human enterprise in a chronic trap - a closed loop between intention and tool kit. There can be no definition of success for MG Taylor if we allow the present market place to turn our attention from this aspect of our work and reason to exist as an enterprise. For us, this is an issue of organizational ethics.
The exploration of augmentation tools will produce discoveries of great power. How these poweres are used is not a trivial issue. Like all technologies, there can be unintended consequences as well as deliberate abuses - there can also be great individual and social benefits. As these tools are created, they must be used to explore the ethics and efficacy of their own use. Technology changes much faster than exisiting social systems. This is what makes us so dangerous as a species. So far we have been dangerous to animal and plant populations. We have, on many occasions, been dangerous to members of the human family who we not on the same level of technology as some of us. We are becoming dangerous to Gaia. And, we are becoming dangerous to ourselves. In order for humans, as a species, to stay requisite with their own tool-building capacity, systematic anticipatory design and feeback must become an intrinsic part of the Design/Build/Use [link] process. Feedback, of a proper kind, from many recursion levels and iteration sequences is required if a complext emergent system is to be free yet benign [link].
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Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
April 3, 1999

SolutionBox voice of this document:

click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox

posted: April 5, 1999

revised: August 7, 2005
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(note: this document is about 45% finished)

Copyright© 1999, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2007 Matt Taylor
Certain aspects of the system described are patented and in patent pending

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