Sunday, May 06, 2012

Obtaining models for singularity futures thinking

The challenge is called out by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge as being related to the technological singularity, namely that any one future technology change could be so fundamental across all aspects of life that it is hard to write plausible science fiction, and more generally impacts how we think about the modern and future world. Any next node that has sufficient transformative power (e.g.; like the internet) could change things so fundamentally, globally, multi-dimensionally, and quickly that its impact would be essentially beyond cognition. Moreover, while there are some potential candidates visible for the ‘next internet’ such as smartphones, 3D printing, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and robotics, the real next node is likely to be an unforeseen discontinuity.

Comprehensive survey of thinking models
There is a paucity of models for thinking comprehensively and critically about the future in rigorous, sophisticated, justifiable, and transferable ways. A project that should be undertaken if not done so already is an examination of different models for structuring thinking from different disciplines. There is value in this at two levels: first generally in identifying, characterizing, and synthesizing different models for structuring thinking, and second in applying these models cross-disciplinarily to existing areas, and to new areas such as thinking about the future.

Eliciting explicit models for structuring thinking
The models that are used to structure thinking in different fields need to be made explicit. Practitioners immersed in fields may not be easily disposed to articulate these models. For example, it may be novel to inquire ‘What is the model for inquiry in this field?’ or even to have the concepts and vocabulary for explicating them.

Fields with models for structuring thinking
Some of the obvious fields to investigate for eliciting established models for structuring thinking are philosophy, complexity (complex adaptive systems, chaos theory, symmetry, etc.), computing (artificial intelligence, machine learning, knowledge representation, data management, etc.), systems-level disciplines (ecology, biology, cosmology, etc.), and social sciences (sociology, anthropology, economics, etc.).

The challenge of fishing structure and content from academic fields
Some of the immediate obvious barriers in accessing models for structuring thinking from academic disciplines are nomenclature and insularity. Semantic and conceptual nomenclature may prevent easy access to fields, but are largely a veneer that may be penetrated with a variety of translation techniques and concept mapping. Much more problematic is the potential lack of available suitable content in these fields. By default, many areas of academia are not externally-focused applied disciplines but rather inwardly-focused insular disciplines engaged in cataloging and interpreting the thoughts of their own ancestral brethren. The accompanying applied dimension to every field that would explicitly render the core ideas accessible, and proven and useful through deployment seems to be absent from many fields. Rather than being perceived as less pure of an exploit, the application of the central ideas and structures would seem to be a key raison d'ĂȘtre for these fields of knowledge.

blog comments powered by Disqus