Tech determinists imagine the future of mankind and the world doing “what technology wants.” The Computational Age series demonstrates the inevitability of an alternative, human-friendly future that knows how to use new tech tools to create healthy people, and communities, both human and natural. Using, rather than being used by, new tools typically takes a break-in period.
The cultural shock of dehumanizing nineteenth century industrial technology met with a series of bottom-up social responses. These responses continue today with mixed results. People no long stand in front of trains. Cigarettes and alcohol are no longer chic and ever-present. Sacrificial casualties pointed society in a healthier direction. The same goes for smartphones, which have produced their own generation of casualties and their own brand of prohibitions, cautionary tales and studies and healthier uses.
The rise of powerful computers have created the similar dehumanizing effects, which are being followed by the inevitable humanizing bottom up response, again with mixed results.
Taking a look at the inevitable long-term benefits of housebroken computational tools is what The Computational Age Series is about. Among these tools, already firmly embedded in our culture, are simulation, data analysis, smart devices and the ubiquitous smartphone. Everyone has a smartphone and expects computer simulations to provide improved weather forecasts and car designs.
Simulation and data mapping are new tools of discovery that are doing for this generation what the experiment and statistics did for industrial age discovery, invention and culture. Grads from computational majors offered by every major university are finding careers, making fortunes and changing the world.
Experiment revealed the world of the very small and very large. Statistics revealed hidden order in aggregates of things. These resulted in improved ability to extract value and work from nature. An image of a orderly, mechanical, clockwork universe determined by fixed laws was the worldview that emerged, replacing the medieval understanding of the world as an organic whole, infused with the sacred. The culture of laboratory science and the expert became cultural, economic and political arbiters. The name that stuck to this new era of discovery was the scientific revolution.
Among the new computational kids on the block are simulation and data mapping. Simulation is often a cheap substitute for experiment and also offers an admittedly imperfect vision of the future. Data mapping can reveal hidden relationships and connections. The ways of individuals and aggregates came to light in the lab.
The new tools put the spotlight on the surprising doings of communities of things and networks. Simple actions, repeated, create uniqueness and order in our world. Bits of matter interacting create galaxies. Cells dividing created the kaleidoscope of life, economics, language and culture. The worldview of this new age of discovery parses reality into three domains, 1) simple things that behave according to fixed rules, like a rock or a machine, 2) chaotic things that obey no laws, like an explosion, revolution or turbulence, and 3) the complex an interesting in-between realm of semi-orderly behavior that tends to show up in communities of things, like galaxy clusters, the weather, stock markets and cells.
Understanding the living world as existing in that interesting in-between is a revolution. The mechanical, clockwork world of the age of laboratory science is now confined to man’s mechanical inventions. An understanding of the world as made up of a mixture of chaos, stability and islands of complex life, goes a long way toward reviving the medieval understanding of the world as mysterious semi-order. Order and chaos exist companionably side-by-side, not in a New Age vision of the connectedness of all things, but in a way that allows people and institutions to make fewer of the dumb mistakes that often led to dead-ends and disasters in the Industrial Age. Some benefits already seen include the rise of ecological restoration (rewilding and untaming), servant leadership and neural- and biological-network based models for personal development, parenting and education.
In 2000, Stephen Hawking identified the twenty-first century as the century of complexity. The magazine, Scientific American, and author Michael Crichton, urged readers interested in careers and in creating a more livable world, to “embrace complexity.” That’s another way of suggesting that the new tools offer new understanding of the world as “complex,” but also that they hold great promise for careers and for healing of a damaged world.
The Computational Turn has been identified as the point in time in the mid-1990s when computational devices went from merely useful to necessary for daily life, like the plough. The Computational Age Series does not speculate. It describes what is already happening. Pointing out the signposts to a better future seems like a timely alternative to the pessimism and predictions of a robotic future that some unthinkingly accept.
Not Quite Lawful debuts the series with a description of the cultural impact of a new age of discovery already underway. An earlier age of scientific discovery and invention was based on the experiment and on tools, such as the telescope and microscope, that allowed people to extend their senses. This new age of discovery is based computational tools, such as simulation and data mapping, that have become the go-to successor to the experiment that expands the world of knowledge and even allows an limited vision of the future. Just as with the scientific revolution, new worlds and a new worldview have appeared. Success stories illustrate the power of this new age of discovery. In everyday language, NOT QUITE LAWFUL offers the positive hope for our future. It debuts a set of ideas that travel well.
The author anticipates additional titles that take a closer look at the way computational tools are changing the landscape in several key areas. For each of these potential follow-up books, much of the research has been done. These include:
The Computational Age: Tools of Discovery and the Quest for a Livable World gets a running start in the middle ages, churns through the age of Newton and Franklin and catapults the reader into the digital world that first surfaced with the code breakers at Bletchley Park. It then traces the use of the computer as the new virtual lens for looking into aspects of the dynamic world of networks that surround us but were essentially unseen. As with the lenses of Newton’s day, they led to discoveries, and those discoveries reshaped culture. This book presents the history that led to the computational revolution and how events of the past are shaping our world today. This hasn’t been done in detail, though there is a definite societal interest as the chronology has been briefly mentioned in several books and articles.
After Ideology: The Politics of Community in the Computational Age frames the current societal view: disruption to defend and restoration to win. The payoff: restored landscapes and communities. This book tells the story of the evolution of ideology as a Newtonian enterprise whose “sell by” sticker has expired. After Ideology describes how politics will soon lean toward creating healthy human and natural communities.
Cleaning Up the Mess: Restoring Economic, Political, Social, and Ecological Health at the End of a 500 Year Corporate Free-for-all charts the structural changes in corporate governance as a result of the emerging computational culture. The book explores what servant leadership means for the planet, shareholder, participants in a given enterprise, and the affected communities. Millennial and iGen employees, professionals, and their families can look forward to a more productive, civilized and earth-friendly future.
Walden 3 frames the movement to restore natural and human communities in a fictional narrative. It starts with Stephen Hawking 2017 planetary eviction notice. Hawking has given mankind 100 years to vacate the planet. In the spirit of Blues Brothers and The Day After Tomorrow, he narrator periodically interrupts the nonfiction narrative to ask, “What if this were a motion picture?” and then defaults to its Greek chorus, a musical space western. It’s Blues Brothers meets The Day After Tomorrow. Our heroes the planetary eviction notice and must act fast. After considering alternatives, they decide instead of terraforming some other planet, they’ll engage in a song- and drama-filled planetary makeover here on Earth. Walden 3 highlights the promise of ecologic restoration and the central role that non-experts in local communities are playing to heal a damaged world.