How to Fund Transformation: A Prospectus for Socio prospectus
A reconceptualization of society, economics, governance, money, and wealth, all informed by a more realistic understanding of life that has been emerging at the frontiers of science.
This document is an excerpted grant and social investment prospectus for Phase I development of Socio prospectus, a program of the Principled Societies Project. Its mission is to help individuals, organizations, and communities focus on and solve (or successfully address) problems that matter.
To fulfill its mission, Socio prospectus seeks to improve all aspects of social choice systems (depicted in the figure below for a community), which are the components of the general problem-solving process that are amenable to design. It conducts scientific field testing of new and improved designs at the community level.
Social choice systems are also called problem-solving systems, or decision-making systems. For a community or society, primary social choice systems include economic/financial/monetary; governance/political; and legal/justice systems, broadly defined. Economic, governance, and legal systems, for short.
The reason Socio prospectus is needed now is that communities and societies are unable to adequately focus on and solve, or successfully address, problems that matter. Thus, we face a dangerous mix of intractable problems. Examples include climate change, income inequality, habitat loss, pollution, weapons of mass destruction, high rates of preventable diseases, and financial instability. New problems are emerging, such as misuse of AI and synthetic biology. Due to the mix, many in the global scientific community understand that civilization as we know it teeters on the edge of self-destruction.
In short, existing social choice systems are outdated and incapable of solving today’s complex problems. Their designs are suboptimal relative to need. Socio prospectus helps communities upgrade their systems.
The focus of Socio prospectus includes topics such as:
- Computational models and tools, including models used for scenario planning and for forecasting local-area resource, socioeconomic, public health, and wellbeing status
- Information architecture and infrastructure, including sensing and secure storage and retrieval
- Communication, finance, supply chain, purchasing, reporting, and decision-making software and applications related to the group problem-solving process.
- Human-oriented programs and procedures, including education and research programs related to social choice system function
- Rules describing how a social choice system operates and self-adapts
- Theoretical models and world views upon which a social choice system is based
Over time, Socio prospectus integrates the components it develops into comprehensive, flexible, open-source problem-solving platforms (types of “platform cooperativism”) that communities can use to improve their capacity to solve problems that matter.
Socio prospectus will conduct its mission in collaboration with a global network of academics, engineers, and scientists. It seeks to unleash the talent and energy in the academic community, and science and technology sectors, to focus on social choice system design. Until now, core designs were mostly considered as “givens,” not malleable or subject to optimization. But with recent advancements in such fields as complex systems science, evolutionary biology, and information theory, a new view of social choice systems is emerging in which core designs can and should be examined.
Increasingly, social choice systems are seen as aspects of social computation, and science is learning how to better evaluate computational processes. Science is also learning how to better measure social and environmental wellbeing. Successful social computation aimed at problem solving increases wellbeing levels.
While Socio prospectus can be categorized as a high-tech organization that uses advanced computational methods, the solutions it offers are not just technological. At the core it offers deeper meaning — a reconceptualization of society, economics, governance, money, and wealth, all informed by a more realistic understanding of life that has been emerging at the frontiers of science.
In this, Socio prospectus is revolutionary.
In December 2016, Steven Hawking sounded the alarm on inequality and other pressing problems that he warned could destroy civilization and the ecosystem before humans are technically capable of escaping into space. He’s in good company. In 2015, for example, Gerardo Ceballos et al. warned that the sixth mass extinction may have already begun. Based on a mathematical model of social indicators, Peter Turchin predicted in 2013 and reaffirmed in 2017 that we can expect many years of social instability and political violence, peaking in the 2020s.
Societies and civilization face a long list of interrelated, intractable or emerging challenges. These include climate change, habitat loss, financial instability, pollution, weapons of mass destruction, inequality, and misuse of artificial intelligence.
Clearly, something is wrong. It would appear that communities and societies have limited capacity to solve or successfully address pressing problems. This suggests that the designs of existing social choice systems are inadequate relative to need.
Because existing social choice systems evolved largely through political and economic pressures, and because their evolution occurred without the tools and understandings of modern science and before modern communications technologies were invented, it seems likely that with effort, we can realize improvements to design.
The topic of social choice system design has received little research attention. One reason is that the scientific community has not yet viewed these systems as technologies. Along with most of society, it has taken them as “givens,” so their designs have not been subjected to scientific investigation and engineering innovation. Thus, we analyze conditions, trends, and policies, but not underlying systems. We innovate phones and medical equipment, even financial instruments, but only adjust the dials to underlying systems.
This is about to change. Recent advances in complex systems science, information theory, evolutionary biology, and other fields can now reframe social choice systems as aspects of social computation — in other words, as living technologies, as a process of life. This, in turn, allows scientific tools to be employed in comparative evaluation of system designs, and allows insights gained from the study of complex adaptive systems (the human brain, for example, and ecologies) to inform the design and evaluation process.
An energetic R&D program would almost assuredly result in fundamentally new social choice system designs. They will be based on a reconceptualization of society, economics, governance, money, and wealth that is more aligned with who we are as individuals and communities. They will better address our deeply held desires for more meaningful, healthier, and empowered lives, and will help us focus on and solve problems that matter.
It might help to imagine just how radical the changes to society could be. Jump ahead in time to a large community that uses new social choice system designs to organize activity and solve problems.
Imagine a local economy in which incomes are high, nearly equal, and secure for every family, regardless of work status. Money functions as a bona fide voting tool in economic democracy, which means it hardly resembles its current conceptualization. Wealth is measured as a high degree of collective wellbeing. Jobs are meaningful and empowering. Cooperation is rewarded by design.
For those curious to see how parts might work, the first simulation of such a system (the LEDDA framework) has already been published.
In this economy, everyone is an equal social investor. The community not only funds the types of jobs that it wants and needs, it also chooses the relative size of its nonprofit vs. for-profit sectors. Imagine what a community could do with a massive flow of funds. In the LEDDA simulation, a US county of just 100,000 adults circulates billions in currency annually through its local financial system.
Shorter work days allow more time for family, friends, study, and participation in decision-making processes. A free flow of information, including a free flow of intellectual property, means that creativity soars and everyone has access to new ideas. Big business and big banks are superseded by networks of small to medium-sized, socially responsible, locally owned and locally financed organizations.
A technology-enabled collaborative governance system employs sophisticated simulation models that help inform policy choices. Widely supported decisions are made by the whole community in an open, deliberative, and transparent process, without formal political parties.
Imagine a global network of cooperating communities, each using new social choice systems that are designed to function as problem-solving systems. The systems are fair, engaging, and transparent and, as a result, are able to continually elevate collective wellbeing, both social and environmental. As they spread, imagine a greater thriving of life on Earth, with ecosystems repaired and enhanced by human care. Then you can glimpse the type of future that Socio prospectus is helping to bring about.
The Story of Socio prospectus
It will be helpful here to reflect on the name Socio prospectus, as it captures much of the reason for and meaning of the organization.
The real story behind technological innovation, from abacus to AI and from telegraph to Internet, is the story of what can be called (using improper Latin) Socio prospectus, society as an anticipatory superorganism. Socio prospectus is the emergent life that arises when individuals connect. The concept is the extension to society of Homo prospectus, individuals viewed as anticipatory (problem-solving, forward-thinking) organisms.
Consider marriage vows, for example. We say that in marriage a couple becomes one. In some meaningful sense, a new life is created that is more than the sum of two individuals. Similarly, emergent life forms when a larger family, community, or workplace joins together in shared purpose, affection, and communication.
The larger the group, clearer the shared purpose, deeper the affection, and richer the communication, the greater the cooperation and the more powerful and palpable the emergent life. Said another, more abstract way, the more it has of size, coherence, creativity, and communication, the more able it is to compute. The more it can compute, the more intelligent it is, and the greater its capacity to solve difficult problems.
This is where AI and related technologies fit in. They are tools for greater computation, extensions of natural human abilities. AI enables Socio prospectus not only to solve bigger, more difficult problems, more quickly, but also to learn more quickly, and so to better adapt. This is also where data collection and communication fit in. Our ability to identify and solve problems and learn from mistakes is hindered if information is lacking. Computation requires information.
Social computation, by itself, can be destructive. For example, a society can spend its energy creating immensely destructive bombs, be they atomic, biological, or chemical. Or it can spend its energy creating autonomous killer robots, which are already on the drawing boards.
Similarly, an individual can spend his or her energy destructively. Wise humans focus on and solve problems that matter, which are the problems or challenges that relate to real human needs. The Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef identifies nine categories: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom. Other investigators provide somewhat different categorizations.
We can assume that the long path of evolution has inserted these needs deep into our biology, making their fulfillment deeply meaningful, because it made survival more likely. Seen this way, our needs are gifts of nature, worthy of respect. They serve to guide our attention.
Likewise, a wise Socio prospectus focuses on and solves problems that matter. Or more exactly, it uses information to create sufficiently accurate anticipatory models of the world, for the purpose of solving problems that matter, and then acts according to what is revealed. Moreover, it learns from mistakes.
To take the next step, view Socio prospectus more abstractly, as a distributed computing network, where individuals (like individual supercomputers) are connected by information links. In this view, the links that connect individuals are social choice systems.
It follows that a society is wise to the degree that individuals are wise, and to the degree that social choice systems facilitate information flows that are of high quality (low noise, and sufficient speed, magnitude, and breadth, or bandwidth).
One can see, for example, how damaging dishonesty and disinformation can be to social computation and problem solving. One can also see how lack of transparency, lack of data collection, and failure to share information can limit problem-solving capacity. Further, one can see why a society would want to study wisdom, as a scientific topic, and to promote the development of wisdom in individuals.
We need not worry about Socio prospectus becoming a better problem solver, which also implies becoming more intelligent and capable of computation. This is because problem-solving capacity and wisdom grow hand in hand, and both require transparency and a healthy mixture of benevolence and creativity.
The danger for Socio prospectus comes if its evolution is thwarted. If the problem-solving process stalls or the necessary balance between benevolence and creativity is lost, then the wrong problems might be solved, or the right ones might be solved poorly, which means not at all. This is the condition of civilization today.
By John Boik, PhD. A detailed confidential social investment prospectus is available on request. A slide deck provides an overview. To learn more about the LEDDA economic democracy framework, or to download (free) Economic Direct Democracy: A Framework to End Poverty and Maximize Well-Being (2014), visit http://www.PrincipledSocietiesProject.org.
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