Connectivity ramp, CI, and Jaron Lanier

Radical Evolution.jpg
I’ve just finished reading an amazing book by Joel Garreau, a reporter and editor at of the Washington Post, titled “Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human.”
Garreau presents three scenarios of the future: the “Heaven” of technological optimists, like Ray Kurzweill, the “Hell” of technological pessimists, like Bill Joy; and the “Prevail” scenario of people like Jaron Lanier who doesn’t believe in technological determinism and thinks that:
“Even if technology is advancing along an exponential curve, that doesn’t mean humans cannot creatively shape the impact on human nature and society in largely unpredictable ways.”
The quotes below are from “Radical Evolution”.


“The technological incline is a flawed measure of progress on many levels, Lanier says, most particularly because it suggests that the meaning of humanity can be reduced to zeros and ones. The moral ramp is a problem because, taken to its logical outcome, it requires more energy than humans have, and also can lead to holy wars. So his version of Prevail rests on the proposition that a third ramp exists and that it is the important one. That is the ramp of increased connection between people.”
“This is how Lanier gets to his ultimate measure of the success of The Prevail Scenario. It is the third ramp of progress the ramp of increased interpersonal connections. That ramp, historically, starts with the invention of language and then moves to writing, drama, literature, printing, film, the telephone, radio, television, the Internet and so forth. What you are measuring is an increase in the quantity, quality, variety and complexity of ways in which humans can connect to each other”
Studying the evolution of the nervous system that has been accompanying the evolution of animal species from the simplest ones to humans, we notice a continual “increase in the quantity, quality, variety and complexity of ways” in which the neurons can connect to each other. Given that the same connectivity ramp is present also in the society of humans perceived as neurons in the global brain, it is safe to say that we are moving towards the possibility of having an increasingly potent, collective nervous system, capable to support higher levels of CI. (I introduced the concept of “collective nervous system” in my Quest for Collective Intelligence, 1995.)
“The connectedness ramp is not measured by inventions. The test is interesting group behavior. Lanier doesn’t care, for example, that millions of people are now participating together in online games. These he mostly finds tedious. Progress is in the emergence of interesting human societies. ‘This is where I see the action right now,’ he says.”
I appreciate the wisdom of Lanier who doesn’t equate human connectedness simply with the rise of number of people with access to the web. The interesting thing is, indeed, what human groups and societies make with it. Our technologies have certainly enabled a dramatic “increase in the quantity, quality, variety and complexity of ways in which humans can connect to each other.” The question is whether we will have the smarts and open will needed to grow co-intelligent communities and organizations, capable to reach higher levels of CI, the capacity to evolve towards higher order complexity and integration through collaboration and innovation. The answer is up to you and me.

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8 Responses to Connectivity ramp, CI, and Jaron Lanier

  1. In response to your question,”What are the practices that communities can use for navigating their future (without blindspot) as they are co-creating it?” I have a reply for the first practice.
    Before taking any action, the members of the group need to articulate their interest or problem or project as a question everyone agrees on. As soon as you have found the question, everyone’s attention focuses on the same point.
    Now, everyone has a stake in how that question is answered. Such a question often takes the form of “How can we…?”
    These are the principles of intelligence. Open questions attract and organize intelligence. Whenever you entertain an open question, you invite personal intelligence. Whenever a group entertains a shared question, they invite their collective intelligence.
    Once you have the question, you need to create an environment and agreements for everyone to be heard and honored.
    This is a rough outline of the technology for accessing collective intelligence known as the Open Question Approach ™. The way the people at Open Question Consulting teach groups to access their pooled capacity for vision building and problem solving is precisely as I outlined above.
    The mind is a question answering machine. If you don’t give it a question to work on, it’s got a steady bank of default questions of its own to answer. The problem with the default questions is that they quite often are not in service to what you really want to have happen.
    Deliberately crafted and articulated open questions, on the other hand, attract intelligence in the area you wish to work on.
    Everyone’s mind is engaged in answering questions, whether or not the questions they are working on are consciously known. In fact, many people are being driven by the very same questions with no thought they are sharing a creative intent across thousands of miles and involving millions of people. “How can I keep myself (my family) safe from a growing vulnerability to harm?” That shared question has people around the world acting in alignment and accord with one another, people who might otherwise have little in common.
    Whoever controls the shared questions controls the minds of the people.
    The popular news is an answer to questions chosen far off-screen, questions which form and shape the “story” the news pretends to tell objectively. I suggest one such widely shared question is “What do I need to be afraid of?” That question generates and delivers an endless chain of answers to people’s living rooms every day.
    “How can we include, integrate and appreciate every member of our community with no one left out?” is another question which very many people hold buried deep within their beings. Imagine the nightly news if that were the question being answered! More people are beginning to ask that question–deliberately.
    The first practice a community must engage is taking control of the questions they are asking and answering.

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  2. Siona says:

    Oddly enough, I found this book stacked on top of a public dustbin a week or so ago; I carted it home with me and have been intending to crack it ever since. After reading your review, I’m more eager than ever.
    I love the taste you’ve given of Lanier’s understanding of human connectedness; over the past year or so, I’ve become less and less enamored of the web as a way to foster this. I think there is definitely something to the way we’re able to correspond with people around the globe, but if this comes at the expense of local community, I’m less convinced of the value. What I see online is an prepoderance of discussions *about* connectedness and interaction, and a necessary absense of *true* community.
    In fact, I’m not convinced our technologies have increased the quality of our connections; instead, I think we manage to create quality connections DESPITE the preponderance of technology. I see so frequently people attached to their laptops or cellphones or iPods, utterly unaware of the living bodies surrounding them.
    That said, there is a definite hunger for deep connection, and I do think the web can certainly be used to foster these necessarily embodied relationships; while currently we still seem enamored by the delightful distractions of technologies of connection, I think that as we get more and more used to these tools, we’ll become more adept at using them ‘for’ rather than as ends. Or so I hope.

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  3. Siona says:

    You make some wonderful points, as always; thanks for the reminder that online / real-world communities are not an either-or scenario, but a both-and. Moving further, I like how these methods of communication can help maintain connections and relationships between people when physical distance is an issue. While I think proximity is a crucial component of true community, I’m well-aware too of the blunt and increasing undeniable reality of our global community, and I think technology has done wonders in facilitating this.
    And I have a few things to say to Robert’s comment, but I’ll reply in the appropriate post.

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  4. George says:

    Yes, and now the question is how our social technologies of freedom, like Presencing, may catch up with the emerging and advanced tech tools for collaboration and community building. The question I hold is how the skillful combination of electronic and social technologies can help us experience, at an increasing scale, the impossible-to-describe quality that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote about:
    “There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.”

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  5. Tom Atlee says:

    I have long wondered:
    * What is the proper role of “intellectual property” ™ in efforts to enhance collective intelligence?
    * What would it be like if most of the entities that were linked to each other by computer were face to face groups and communities rather than individuals?
    * What would happen if all the people who specialize in crafting powerful questions — Appreciative Inquiry, World Cafe, Fran Peavey (Strategic Questioning), the Open Question Approach, etc. — got together to co-create and co-evolve the realm of questions into a powerful field in its own right?
    * What needs to be true in order for Lanier’s Prevail Scenario to come about — or is it inevitable?
    It is such a long, interesting road we are on. Are the urgencies as real as they seem? What serves life most NOW? How much fruit can we pluck from these questions, over and over?

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  6. George says:

    hi Tom, thank you so much for the great questions!
    > What is the proper role of “intellectual property” ™ in efforts to enhance collective intelligence?
    I’m not sure, I started giving up on it and use “Creative Commons” licence instead. Maybe we can ask Robert Bystrom about what he gets from his “Open Question Approach ™”.
    > What would it be like if most of the entities that were linked to each other by computer were face to face groups and communities rather than individuals?
    I first tried it in 1986, when we connected large groups in auditoriums at Stanford and Tokyo University, via computer conferencing, “slow scan video” (anybody remembers that technology?) audio chat, etc… It was ecstatic!
    > * What would happen if all the people who specialize in crafting powerful questions — Appreciative Inquiry, World Cafe, Fran Peavey (Strategic Questioning), the Open Question Approach, etc. — got together to co-create and co-evolve the realm of questions into a powerful field in its own right?
    Wow! That would sure boost Lanier’s “people connectivity ramp.” Wondering whether he would be interested to play with and support such idea…
    > * What needs to be true in order for Lanier’s Prevail Scenario to come about — or is it inevitable?
    I believe he doesn’t think so but dunno 4 sure.
    > What serves life most NOW?
    What if somebody (we?) organized a contest for practicl ideas to measure an increase (or decrease) in all or some of the parameters identified by Jaron, such as the “quantity, quality, variety and complexity of ways in which humans can connect to each other…”

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  7. George says:

    I just found a neat example of CI described by Jaron 7 years ago, on one of my old websites. Here it is:
    “This moment is indeed reminiscent of the creation of the American constitution in Philadelphia.Well meaning and brilliant people with nasty conflicting interests somehow created a collective product that was better than any of them could have understood at the time… [A]s in Philadelphia two hundred years ago, a collective product has to emerge that is better than any of them, or any of us, could achieve singly.”

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  8. George says:

    Garreau wrote in Suppose Faulkner was right:
    The key measure of such a “prevail” scenario’s success would be an increasing intensity of links between humans, not transistors. If some sort of transcendence is achieved beyond today’s understanding of human nature, it would not be through some individual becoming superman. Transcendence would be social, not solitary. The measure would be the extent to which many transform together.

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