Setting the [anthropo|s]cene

This 2-minute video clip provides a good visual introduction to the anthropocene and this 5-minute introduction by Noam Chomsky provides the corresponding historical and political backdrop.

The human capacity for self-delusion

This documentary on inequality provides an excellent illustration of the level of self-delusion in contemporary capitalistic societies. An economic dogma predicated on perpetual growth provides an environment that nurtures instead of curbs the latent human tendency to develop an arbitrary socially constructed sense of entitlement and to construct deep social power hierarchies. The social norms that operated in small stateless societies and in hunter gatherer societies prior to the advent of large scale civilisations and empires did exactly the opposite and curbed any attempts to gain power over others, and such norms allowed human primates to become much more successful than all other primates. The documentary above compares the lives of

  1. a successful capitalistic entrepreneur
  2. a wealth manager and investor who has inherited a family fortune
  3. an engineer employed by a modern corporation

The entrepreneur relies on his work ethic and the abstract logic of capital as a justification for his sense of entitlement. In this context capitalistic economic dogma serves as the mental anaesthetic that numbs the human capacity for empathy, and long working hours provide a quasi-rational explanation for the entitlement to the profits generated by the team. The entrepreneur reasons that workers only need to be compensated to the extent that they can survive comfortably, and that any further compensation would be unjustified. This logic implicitly justifies arbitrarily high profit payouts to the entrepreneur. It becomes obvious that power acts as a powerful neurochemical drug that induces a delusional justification for a stratified society.

The wealth manager is unfamiliar with any notion of work that is related to creativity and production in the physical world. His entire world is constructed in terms of abstract notions of capital and return generating investments. In this world success is measured exclusively by the ability to multiply capital via abstract investment vehicles. In his professional life the wealth manager does not interact with people who depend on a salary. As a result, even if he understands that the construction of money as interest bearing debt provides him with a quasi-foolproof mechanism for generating returns, he is completely unable to relate to the lives of people who are not endowed with captial.

The engineer realistically grasps his situation on the perpetual treadmill of work in the social hierarchy, and the inability to ever accumulate any significant amount of capital. He has no option but to continue to work as an employee and perceives himself as being comparatively fortunate relative to less skilled workers who have to raise families on even smaller budgets. The only way to break out of the treadmill would be by embarking on a similar path to the entrepreneur, by neglecting family and other social relations, and by fully internalising the capitalist dogma and developing a sense of entitlement to more than mere employees – who may work less, but not anywhere close to the difference in compensation between the capitalist and employees.

In absolute terms all three candidates featured in the documentary are able to live comfortable lives, but there are huge differences in the level of individual agency afforded to each one by the social system. Ultimately the wealth manager wields the most power, by a significant margin. As shown in the documentary, in order to further grow his company, the entrepreneur is dependent on external investors, and this turns him into a tool of abstract finance.

Thus, in our civilisation, and in all money based civilisations to date, human agency accumulates in the hands of those who focus exclusively on their role as investors – that is in the hands of those who are completely disconnected from the lives of 99.9% of people and from the creative and productive processes that ultimately sustain the anthropocene and life on this planet.

The ultimate danger of inequality manifests in two interdependent delusions:

  1. the level of self-delusion and disconnectedness from the biological world of those who live exclusively in the stratosphere of finance, as it has the capacity to induce entire civilisations to commit collective suicide
  2. the ubiquitous belief in the universal utility of money and markets as an effective vehicle for intelligent collective decision making

The fatal myth of economic fungibility

In this article and corresponding talk George Monbiot explains in very accessible language why the notion of capitalism, which powers all modern economies, is fatally flawed.

fungible.jpg

Once we look beyond the simplistic and culturally biased lens of money, we can focus on domain specific non-fungible metrics from the physical and living biological world to quantify various forms of waste and inequality in terms of access to food, knowledge, resources, and energy.

Human life as perpetual busyness

The essence is that most innovation in bigger organisations is just Apes**t:

it is not about getting good new stuff into the market, but it is all about looking good and ticking the box during annual reports and annual events. It’s marketing, and that is fine, as long as you know it and don’t deceit [sic] yourself that you are doing the real thing.

In this Apes**t world, innovation is a Brand Of Smiling Young Successful Energetic Good Looking People reflecting sentiments of cool, hip, young, dynamic, agile, fast moving, energetic, smiling, fun, and rule breakers.

The future anthropocene is human scale

Our society devalues tacit knowledge and understanding, in the belief that once automated systems are in place we no longer need to understand and help each other. We have forgotten about the notion of human scale and we are wondering why we end up with #BullshitJobs.

humanscale
Human Scale : 1980

 

The concept of human scale is not new:

Greek architecture was related to human scale, and expressive of its essential structural elements, yet was perfected in the temples, the greatest achievements of Greek architects, as habitations for the deities.

We have “just” ignored human scale for the last few hundred years, including the cognitive strengths and limits that define human scale.

If we have any desire to make the anthropocene inhabitable for future generations of humans, we are well advised to re-orient everything we do and the ways in which we live toward the goal of human scale rather than the tired goal of perpetual growth, which never was anything else but a nicer word for social cancer.

Join us for the next CIIC workshop on 22 September (Auckland) and 29 September (Melbourne) to discuss the challenges of  the Anthropocene and of reinventing the foundations of civilisation.


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Reinventing the foundations of civilisation for life in the Anthropocene

Modern global civilisation has triggered the Anthropocene, a new geological era characterised by the traces of human generated patterns of activities within the biosphere.

anthropocene

In 2017, as part of the CIIC unconference series, we have explored the essential ingredients of what humans refer to as civilisation, and how these ingredients have repeatedly and consistently led to the rise and collapse of complex societies. A growing number of researchers now conclude that global civilisation has put the planet on a rapid trajectory towards a “Hothouse Earth”:

Even if a Stabilized Earth pathway is achieved, humanity will face a turbulent road of rapid and profound changes and uncertainties on route to it—politically, socially, and environmentally—that challenge the resilience of human societies. Stabilized Earth will likely be warmer than any other time over the last 800,000 years at least (that is, warmer than at any other time in which fully modern humans have existed).

…the contemporary way of guiding development founded on theories, tools, and beliefs of gradual or incremental change, with a focus on economy efficiency, will likely not be adequate to cope with this trajectory. Thus, in addition to adaptation, increasing resilience will become a key strategy for navigating the future.

… Generic resilience-building strategies include developing insurance, buffers, redundancy, diversity, and other features of resilience that are critical for transforming human systems in the face of warming and possible surprise associated with tipping points. Features of such a strategy include

  1. maintenance of diversity, modularity, and redundancy;
  2. management of connectivity, openness, slow variables, and feedbacks;
  3. understanding social–ecological systems as complex adaptive systems, especially at the level of the Earth System as a whole;
  4. encouraging learning and experimentation; and
  5. broadening of participation and building of trust to promote polycentric governance systems.

… The Stabilized Earth trajectory requires deliberate management of humanity’s relationship with the rest of the Earth System if the world is to avoid crossing a planetary threshold. We suggest that a deep transformation based on a fundamental reorientation of human values, equity, behaviour, institutions, economies, and technologies is required. Even so, the pathway toward Stabilized Earth will involve considerable changes to the structure and functioning of the Earth System, suggesting that resilience-building strategies be given much higher priority than at present in decision making. Some signs are emerging that societies are initiating some of the necessary transformations. However, these transformations are still in initial stages, and the social/political tipping points that definitively move the current trajectory away from Hothouse Earth have not yet been crossed, while the door to the Stabilized Earth pathway may be rapidly closing.

Collapse, transformation and reframing

The deep transformations of human societies that are required to shift the trajectory of the Anthropocene towards a Stabilized Earth state will only be possible by widespread adoption of a non-linear language system like the MODA + MODE human lens and the MODA + MODE backbone principles to reason about resilience-building strategies from multiple perspectives, and by using the human lens to address the foundational flaw shared by all human civilisations to date: the proliferation of incomprehensible (super-human scale) systems, i.e. systems that are far too complex to be understandable by any human individual or even by any group of humans.

human-lens-categories.png

Specifically, all human civilisations so far have featured super-human scale institutions (cities, empires, corporations, etc.), super-human scale use of metrics (money in the form of national and global currencies), and super-human scale use of linear language (languages used by millions and billions of people, including super-human scale software systems encoded in linear languages).

backbone.png

Ignorance of the importance of human-scale and understandability is the common thread within the patterns of growth and collapse of all civilisations. This observation holds the key for constraining the search space for transformations that may allow us to shift the trajectory from a fatal addiction to economic “growth” towards a Stabilized Earth state.

If we can design human-scale institutions (being mindful of Dunbar’s number), human-scale metrics (local and domain specific currencies), and human-scale languages (including human-scale supporting technologies), we may be able to transform our civilisation into a distributed network of locally understandable and adaptable and globally resilient subsystems.

In a recent article on deep adaptation Jem Bendell talks about “the inevitability of societal collapse”, which leaves open a whole range of outcomes. Near term extinction is at one end of the spectrum, and the other end is described as follows:

… a collapse of this economic and social system, which does not necessarily mean a complete collapse of law, order, identity and values. Some regard that kind of collapse as offering a potential upside in bringing humanity to a post-consumerist way of life that would be more conscious of relationships between people and nature. Some even argue that this reconnection with nature will generate hitherto unimaginable solutions to our predicament.

Jem Bendell closes with a very pragmatic conclusion:

… societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations. This situation makes redundant the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields of corporate sustainability that has underpinned the approach of many professionals. Instead, a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a deep adaptation agenda may be useful.

In some parts of the world what is described above is already the day to day reality. Based on all we know today, we can expect more of these effects in more and more places over the coming years, and perhaps that should inform our thinking and our actions.

In my cautious optimism I am all for reframing “collapse” into “transformation”, but at a fundamental level, to enable human scale collaboration at eye level.

deadend.jpg

For the next CIIC workshop in September we are encouraging submissions related to the Anthropocene and to the challenge of reinventing the foundations of civilisation.


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Creating human-scale learning organisations

seci

Progress in healthcare delivery and many other domains and industries is contingent on organisations that are capable of absorbing and learning from increasing volumes of data, and capable of integrating the resulting knowledge with the tacit domain expertise and contextual awareness of humans. This article introduces the notion of human scale technology to describe the characteristics that enable tacit knowledge and digitized explicit knowledge to flow between humans and software systems, and it elaborates the role that agent based formal semantic models and non-hierarchical governance structures can play in this context.

Introduction

In the healthcare sector for example, services are coordinated and delivered via medical practitioners, via specialised clinical staff and administrative staff, and via a growing number of supporting software systems. Whilst the level of automation is rising in many domains [1], human tacit knowledge, situational awareness, and the ability to develop trusted relationships amongst peers and with patients are critical elements of optimal service delivery. The overall confidence of patients in the healthcare delivery system is a function of the levels of trust in clinicians and in the systems and tools used by clinicians and patients.

1. Learning organisations

Feedback loops of information flows between agents are the atoms of organisational learning. The SECI (socialisation, externalisation, combination, internalisation) model [2][3] is a useful conceptual tool for extending the concept of continuous improvement into the realm of knowledge intensive organisations.

Concrete SECI knowledge flows can be visualised and formalised with the resources, events, and agents (REA) paradigm [4], leading to representations that are easily understandable by humans and at the same time easily processable by software tools, as illustrated in figure 1.

human lens - example
Figure 1. Extract from a visual semantic model expressed through the human lens

A national or regional healthcare delivery system is an example of one of the most complex systems operated by humans. Some aspects of such systems are the result of deliberate design, whereas most aspects are the result of cultural evolution under externally imposed constraints. The learning potential of human institutions is defined by the tacit knowledge of the people that are part of the institution, by the understandability and adaptability of the designed aspects of the institution (including policies and technological systems), and by external constraints that are imposed on the institution (in particular access to resources).

1.1. Complexity level 0

One of the simplest possible learning systems is a system of two agents a1 and a2 that can process three categories of events e1, e2, and e3 and store information about these events in a suitable information resource structure r:

  1. Agent a1 triggering event e1, and agent a2 storing information about the occurrence of e1 in r, replacing all prior stored information about events
  2. Agent a1 triggering event e2, and agent a2 storing information about the occurrence of e2 in r, replacing all prior stored information about events
  3. Agent a1 triggering event e3, and agent a2 responding with r – information about the stored event

The learning challenge at this level of complexity is limited to the error rates of the communication channel between the two agents.

1.2. Complexity level 1

A learning system of some complexity from the perspective of human cognitive limits is a system of two software agents that can process many different categories of events, store structured information about a large number of events, and respond to events in context specific ways [5][6].

1.3. Complexity level 2

A learning system of medium complexity from the perspective of human cognitive limits is a system of a human agent and a software agent that can process many different categories of events, remember both structured and unstructured information about a large number of events, and respond to events in context specific ways [7][8].

1.4. Complexity level 3

An example of a highly complex learning system is a system of two human agents that can process a very broad range of different categories of events, remember both structured and unstructured information about these events, and respond to events in highly context specific ways.

1.5. Complexity level 4

Some of the most complex learning systems involve multiple groups of human agents, and all the interactions between these groups and within these groups. Such learning systems can only be understood by introducing viewpoints, perspectives, and agent motivations as first class modelling concepts [9][10][11].

1.6. Complexity level 5

The most complex learning systems involve multiple groups of human and software agents, including software agents that perform above human cognitive limits, and all the interactions between these groups and within these groups. Such learning systems can only be understood if software agents are able to make their knowledge accessible in human scale representations that respect human cognitive limits [12].

2. Agent based modelling

As highlighted by the SECI cycle, knowledge within an institution accumulates in two places: within the heads of people (tacit), and within knowledge artefacts and software systems (explicit). The MODA + MODE meta paradigm [13][14] is concerned with supporting the SECI cycle with transdisciplinary cultural practices and tools. The core of MODA + MODE consists of two parts:

  1. A set of 26 backbone principles (thinking tools) for creating learning organisations and understandable systems that transcend established discipline boundaries.
  2. The human lens, which is a metalanguage for describing the semantics of complex system behaviour at all levels of scale.

The categories of the human lens are invariant across cultures, space, and time, and hence they are suitable structural elements of a metalanguage for specifications of formal domain specific languages [5] in a multi-agent context, which are needed to formalise the descriptions of systems at complexity levels 4 and 5.

3. Human scale technologies

For at least two decades now software developers and their employers have neglected the role of understandability for humans. The result is a web of technological dependencies that no one understands and that cannot easily be analysed in terms of potential risks [15][16].

The risks associated with opaque systems are not limited to classical software systems. Artificially intelligent (AI) systems, and the way in which they are currently designed, further grow the web of dependencies, complete with naïve and simplistic assumptions about human nature and economics baked in [17].

Human scale computing [18] can be understood as the elaboration of the role of cognitive characteristics of humans within ergonomics. Human cognitive limits must become a primary concern in the design of human institutions and technologies [12], in much the same way that human scale physical dimensions and characteristics have shaped the discipline of ergonomics.

In an increasingly software and data intensive human world the objective of human scale computing is to improve communication and collaboration:

  1. between humans,
  2. between humans and software systems,
  3. and between software systems.

Our current technologies and communication tools hardly meet any of the human scale computing criteria to a satisfactory level. I believe that the human lens is an appropriate foundation for further work towards human scale computing.

4. Organisational structures

All effective approaches for continuous improvement [19] (such as Kaizen, Toyota Production System, Waigaya, etc.) and innovation (Open Space [20], Manifesto for Agile Software Development, collaborative design, etc.) share one noteworthy common principle:

The belief in the existence and relevance of social hierarchies must be suspended

This observation is backed up by evidence from thousands of organisations that strive to improve or establish a culture of innovation. By definition, hierarchies confer power on specific groups and individuals, with immediate effects on the ability of a group to learn and adapt to a changing environment. Any form of hierarchy or power indicates dampened feedback loops. Power can be understood as the privilege of not needing to learn.

Research of highly competitive Western cultures [21] demonstrates that the social game known as capitalistic economics is a game of luck. Within that game, success has nothing to do with value creation for society and everything to do with social manipulation skills and lack of empathy [22][23][24].

As long as our economic paradigm rewards social gaming, individuals can improve their odds of success by adopting psychopathic behavioural patterns, and by claiming and taking credit for the work of others. Depending on one’s level of empathy, beyond the façade of social success, mental health suffers more or less in the process.

An alternative approach is for a team to agree on non-conventional measures of success, and to work together as a collaborative team to share knowledge, resources, opportunities and success, and by removing all forms of in-group competition and hierarchical structures, to shift the odds for an entire group of people. Given the level of unproductive in-group competition in hierarchical teams [25], non-hierarchical teams have a clear collaborative edge and are well positioned to thrive [26].

The team approach is better for human mental and physical health [27], and it also allows a group to be more selective in terms of where to look for opportunities and how to contribute to society. Problems with hierarchical forms of organisation result from cultural inertia [28] and from the extent to which humans are culturally programmable [29][30].

5. Competency networks

The competency network within the organisation is the union of all the multi-dimensional domain-specific competency rankings that individuals allocate to the other members within the group [31]. It is the only social structure that directly supports the purpose of an organisation.

The existence of competency networks contradicts the simplistic claim that a lack of hierarchy leads to chaos and dysfunction. However, removal of an established hierarchy does not automatically result in a well-oiled competency network. Cultural inertia [28] can keep fear, mistrust, and in-group competition alive, and easily leads to the emergence of new oppressive hierarchical structures.

All healthy and resilient institutions have a well-functioning competency network [26][32]. A good way to understand competency networks is via the notion of trustworthiness and the nurturing and maintenance of trusted relationships [33].

A competency network is the graph of experience-based pair-wise trustworthiness ratings in relation to various domains between the members of a group.

The trustworthiness ratings in a competency network are tied to specific pairs of individuals, and by definition they are not directly transferable and never aggregated into any global ranking. The notion of competency networks is inspired by the correlation between software system structures and the communication patterns between human software developers observed by Mel Conway in 1967 [34].

6. Conclusion

The real opportunity for human society and human organisations lies not in the invention of ever “smarter” forms of in-group competition, but in the recognition of human cognitive limits, and in the recognition of the extreme value that resides in competency networks.

For the first time, the age of digital networks enables us to construct cognitive assistants that help us to nurture and maintain globally distributed human scale competency networks – networks of mutual trust. It is time to tap into this potential and to combine it with the potential of zero-marginal cost [35] global communication and collaboration.

All successful non-hierarchical organisations replace management hierarchies with a simple advice process [26] that establishes the vital feedback loops that enable the organisation to learn and adapt in a timely manner, even in a highly dynamic context.

References

  1. Moreno-Conde A, et al. Clinical information modeling processes for semantic interoperability of electronic health records: systematic review and inductive analysis. J Am Med Inform Assoc, Oxford University Press, 2015;22: pp. 925–934.
  2. Takeuchi, Nonaka, The New Product Development Game [Internet], Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/1986/01/the-new-new-productdevelopment-game, 1986.
  3. Nonaka, Toyama, Hirata, Managing Flow: A Process Theory of the Knowledge-Based Firm, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
  4. Hruby P., Model-Driven Design Using Business Patterns, Springer, 2006.
  5. Bettin J. and Clark T., Advanced modelling made simple with the Gmodel metalanguage. Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Model-Driven Interoperability, ACM, 2010; pp. 79-88.
  6. Bettin J. and Clark T., Gmodel, a language for modular meta modelling. In Australian Software Engineering Conference, KISS Workshop, 2009.
  7. Murray J.H., Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice, MIT Press, 2011.
  8. The potential and limits of clinical decision support systems, CIIC unConference [Internet]. Auckland, Sept 2016: https://ciic.s23m.com/expected-results/ciic-3-september-2016-auckland/.
  9. Senge P.M., The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, Currency, 1990.
  10. Neurodiversity – The Core of Creativity, CIIC unConference [Internet]. Auckland, December 2016: https://ciic.s23m.com/expected-results/ciic-3-december-2016-auckland/.
  11. Design and development of tools for effective self-care, CIIC unConference [Internet]. Auckland, March 2016: https://ciic.s23m.com/expected-results/ciic-5-march-2016-auckland/ .
  12. The essence of humanity: interaction and collaboration of humans and intelligent machines, CIIC unConference [Internet]. Auckland, Sept 2017: https://ciic.s23m.com/expected-results/ciic-16-september-2017-auckland/.
  13. Bettin J., Model Oriented Domain Analysis & Engineering, Thinking Tools for Interdisciplinary Research, Design, and Engineering, CIIC Blog [Internet]. Auckland, August 2017: https://coininco.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/moda-and-mode-lenses-and-principles.pdf.
  14. Bettin J., Model Oriented Domain Analysis & Engineering. Domain Engineering Product Lines, Languages, and Conceptual Models. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer Verlag, 2013; pp. 263-290.
  15. Foote B., Yoder J., Big Ball of Mud, Fourth Conference on Patterns Languages of Programs, Monticello, Illinois, 1997.
  16. Bettin J., Software, Engineering, Artefacts, Language [Internet]. Proceedings of the SEMAT (Software Engineering Method and Theory) Workshop Zurich, March 2010: http://semat.org/proceedings-of-the-semat-zurich-workshop .
  17. O’Neil C., Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Crown, 2016.
  18. Human scale computing, CIIC unConference [Internet]. Auckland, June 2017: https://ciic.s23m.com/expected-results/ciic-3-june-2017-auckland/
  19. Deming W. E., Out of the Crisis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1982.
  20. Owen H., Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008.
  21. Pluchino A., Biondoy A. E., Rapisardaz A., Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure, arXiv:1802.07068v2 [physics.soc-ph], February 2018.
  22. Babiak P., Hare R., Snakes in suits: When psychopaths go to work, Harper Business, 2006.
  23. Long S., The perverse organisation and its deadly sins, Karnac Books , 2008.
  24. Long S., Socioanalytic methods – Discovering the hidden in organisations and social systems, Routledge, 2013.
  25. Graeber D., Bullshit Jobs : A Theory, Penguin, 2018.
  26. Laloux F., Reinventing Organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014.
  27. Bowles S., Gintis H., A Cooperative Species, Princeton University Press, 2011.
  28. Kegan R., Laskow Lahey L., Immunity to change – How to overcome and unlock the potential in yourself and your organisation, Harvard Business Review Press, 2009.
  29. Tomasello M., The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, Harvard University Press, 1999.
  30. Girard P., Pavlov V., Wilson M. C., Belief diffusion in social networks [Internet]. University of Auckland, 2015 : https://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~mcw/Research/Outputs/GPW2015.pdf.
  31. Bettin J, Designing filtering, trust building, thinking, and learning tools for distributed high-performance teams, Proceedings of the HINZ Conference Rotorua, November 2017.
  32. Wilson D. S., Does Altruism Exist?, Yale University Press, 2015.
  33. Bettin J, Elliffe M., Improving Interoperability and Trustworthiness of Healthcare Data Repositories. Proceedings of the HINZ Conference Auckland, November 2016.
  34. Conway M, Conway’s Law, 1967 : http://melconway.com/Home/Conways_Law.html.
  35. Rifkin J. The Zero Marginal Cost Society. St Martin’s Press, 2013.

 


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Drop the mask to create collaborative edges

Drop-the-mask

Human societies are characterised by abstract group identities, from local communities, to favourite sports teams, employers, professions, social class, languages, dialects, tribes, countries, online groups, brand loyalty, etc.

Every identifiable group identity is characterised by specific behavioural cultural norms, only some of which are explicitly stated and acknowledged. People who identify with a group are expected to conform with the explicit and implicit behavioural code.

What is only rarely talked about in mainstream society is the effort that it takes individuals to conform to a multitude of group identities, especially if the social norms associated with different identities are incompatible, and to some extent contradict each other.

Autistic people, who do not subconsciously pick up implicit social norms and the meaning of non verbal social signals are acutely aware of the mental effort needed to conform to social norms and of the inconsistencies and conflicts between various norms. As a result, autistic people are much less motivated to subscribe to any group identity, and experience any group demands for conformance with arbitrary rules that serve no obvious purpose (other than a confirmation of identity) as a significant mental burden.

The masking that goes hand in hand with attempts to comply with arbitrary and often implicit social norms is increasingly recognised by the autistic community as a key reason for autistic burn-out and suicide. However, trends in mental health statistics in the wider population hint at a problem far beyond the autistic community.

It is well established that growing levels of social inequality correlate with a rise in mental health issues, and the root cause may well relate to the formation of increasingly absurd group identities and associated signals of social status that make it acceptable to exclude the less fortunate. Research by anthropologist David Graeber confirms that masking also takes a significant toll on those who copy and comply with social norms without any conscious effort:

“Those who work bullshit jobs are often surrounded by honor and prestige; they are respected as professionals, well paid, and treated as high achievers—as the sort of people who can be justly proud of what they do. Yet secretly they are aware that they have achieved nothing; they feel they have done nothing to earn the consumer toys with which they fill their lives; they feel it’s all based on a lie—as, indeed, it is.”

The last 100 years can be described as the age of advertising and marketing, which is fuelled by industrialised production of group identities – think brands, and by in-group competition – think financial capitalism. From evolutionary biology we know that in-group competition has negative survival value – it is the opposite of intelligent behaviour.  It seems that this insight is finally filtering through to the social world of busyness as usual.

Especially at work, it is time to drop the mask

A couple of weeks ago, as part of Techweek NZ, I  reflected on the insights gathered by the CIIC community over the last three years, and talked about the challenges that transcend the established silos of industry, government and academia. The discussions with audiences in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, and Christchurch confirmed that it is time to shift from a culture of sick busyness to an appreciation of the value of life. You can watch the synopsis of a corresponding webinar below.

In New Zealand we can read about shocking mental health statistics every week, and we have significant problems with workplace bullying in the healthcare sector and in other industries.

Advanced automation gives us the choice between imagining, creating, and living in cruel worlds and imagining, creating, and living in compassionate worlds.

We have a choice!

Inclusive culture is minimalistic. Adopting a small backbone of explicit first principles that have a track record of encouraging trust building and learning helps.

The CIIC community is looking forward to your perspectives and insights on human, non-human, and ecosystem health.

Join us on 9 June and on 16 June 2018 in open space to explore the challenges and elements of potential solutions at AUT Colab in Auckland and at RMIT in Melbourne. At each workshop we discuss one or more wicked problems that have been submitted by participants.


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Human, non-human, and ecosystem health

ecosystem

At the March CIIC workshop it was great to see a growing number of regular participants, as well as a growing number of students and researchers from AUT. The results of the discussions on topics at the intersection of agriculture and health are available here.

For the next CIIC workshops on 9 June (Auckland) and 16 June (Melbourne) we are encouraging submissions of questions that help explore the full value of human, non-human, and ecosystem health from different viewpoints and perspectives.

Ultimately the most valuable export goods of New Zealand and Australia could be health related products and services. Such services and products will in many cases be based on techniques and outputs from the agriculture sector, but they may also include other goods and services.

In this context the interests of the wider population in terms of access to high quality and healthy food and ecological sustainability significantly overlap with the export interests of farmers and the agriculture sector.

The longer term perspective and in particular the ecological viewpoint on health extends far beyond the mandate of current human healthcare providers and the perspectives within the agriculture sector.

Ecosystem health is concerned in particular with values that are often sidelined by reference to established economic dogma and by interests of powerful economic players:

  1. Happiness and mental health
  2. Non-human health in the broadest sense
  3. Biodiversity
  4. Knowledge about food production and preparation
  5. Democratic production
  6. Ethical considerations, transparency and fairness
  7. Communal rituals

The following documents and reports from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) contain relevant background information:

 

gulf.jpg

The Hauraki Gulf provides a “good” example of an ecosystem that is under unprecedented pressure from pollution and over-fishing. The recent Hauraki Gulf Forum’s stock take concludes that the gulf is now deteriorating faster than any management efforts could tackle the degradation.

We looking forward to your perspectives and insights on human, non-human, and ecosystem health.

Join us on 9 June and on 16 June 2018 in open space to explore the challenges and elements of potential solutions at AUT Colab in Auckland and at RMIT in Melbourne. At each workshop we discuss one or more wicked problems that have been submitted by participants.


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Urban farming – the future of agriculture?

Leading up to the next CIIC workshop on 3 March, here is a good documentary on the potential of urban farming and vertical farming – and by implication, on the threats to established business models in the agriculture and food production sector:

The examples provided highlight the need for transdisciplinary research and design. The following commentary is worthwhile bearing in mind, as vertical farming is not a silver bullet. Urban farming needs to be considered from a holistic perspective:

… this technique has a huge place to play in the world’s future food production. Cities get so clogged up with trucks delivering small quantities of fresh leafy greens to small stores and restaurants every single day. Imagine if all that food was grown nearby and stores and restaurants could order only what they were selling, and to have bike or drone couriers bring fresh stuff to them as they run out, resulting in no waste, and in huge reductions in congestion and fossil fuel.

The way to go is vertical farms for fast rotting/fresh daily food needs with low light/fertiliser requirements, and greenhouse hydroponics, using natural sunlight – and supplementing if needed, for plants with high water and fertiliser needs. The answers have to be varied. Attempts to promote one system of farming as “the solution” are bound to fail, and will be written off instead of being developed to their full potential. That would be incredibly sad.

It is theoretically possible to grow peppers and tomatoes and other plants with very high light and nutrient needs indoors under lights. But there are massive amounts of desert land on the planet where sunlight is not in short supply. It makes no sense to try to grow these plants in tiny spaces under electric lights when we could just use available sunlight.

Another consideration is that cereal crops don’t come off the plant ready to eat. They need to be hulled and processed, and the majority of the plant is waste straw that needs to be processed or disposed of in a useful way. [A range of production systems are needed to accommodate the needs of all the crops that are valuable ingredients of human diets]

urban farming

Urban farming can take many forms. Higher Ground Farm manages two rooftop farms in Boston.  One is a commercial rooftop farm located on the Boston Design Center in the Seaport District of Boston, growing greens, herbs, tomatoes, and other vegetables for sale to Boston restaurants.  The other is on Boston Medical Center, growing fresh produce for the hospital’s patients, staff, and visitors and for their on-site food bank.

Taking a clue from nature to solve plastic pollution

The intersection between agriculture and healthcare extends beyond nutrition and food production. The Humble Bee is a very interesting concept that holds great potential for non-trivial innovation.

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By understanding the potential of the bees from a product and market perspective, Humble Bee is creating a clear link between an environmental problem and a major market opportunity.

Humble Bee’s product aims to replace some of the polymers clogging up the oceans and the chemicals used in plastics manufacturing, which are in the process of being banned. Or, put another way, we are working to alleviate the market pain of getting ahead of compliance, whilst maintaining product performance.

A co-ordinated community response to the Guava Moth

One of our readers in Auckland recommends addressing the damage done by the Guava Moth, which is devastating feijoa crops. Most soft fruit and will require a co-ordinated community response.

guava moth

The guava moth is not a new pest – it was first found in Northland in 1997 and over the past few years has become a problem in pockets around Auckland and further south. In the Auckland region this year [2017], there has been an explosion in the population of the guava moth, Auckland Council’s biosecurity team said.

Alice Rennie is a keen gardener in the Auckland suburb of Half Moon Bay and knows all about the difficulties that the guava moth can cause. Her small garden is a treasure trove of fruit trees and vegetables and should be providing her with ample produce throughout the year.

“Guavas, feijoas, apples, plums, citrus, limes, orange, mandarin, lemon and we also have berries. Most of my food and fruit and veggies comes from the garden. And I noticed about four years ago that the plums had tiny weeny holes in them and when I cut them open I found bugs,” she said.

If you are working on a wicked problem and would like to share your knowledge and questions with other innovators, domain experts and researchers in an interdisciplinary forum, join us at the next CIIC workshop on 3 March at AUT Colab in Auckland and at RMIT in Melbourne. At each workshop we discuss one or more wicked problems that have been submitted by participants.

 


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The role of nutrition in our lives

For the CIIC workshop on 3 March we are encouraging submissions on topics that are related to both the healthcare sector and the agriculture sector such as nutrition.

nz-agriculture

Industrial farming and industrial food production led to a significant shift in diets. More recently though, diets have started to be influenced by an increasing awareness of  unsustainable farming practices and the negative health effects of consuming highly processed foods.

Greenhouse gas emissions created by dairy have doubled since 1990. Cows and sheep are the source of nearly all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand, which amounts to almost half of the total green house emissions of the entire economy. Current trends do not lead us anywhere close to a carbon neutral or carbon negative economy, and similar observations can be made regarding agriculture in Australia.

NZ_greenhouse_gases_by_sector.svg.pngDiets are changing, and perhaps not in ways anticipated by the dominant forces in the local agricultural sector. In New Zealand for example, one in 10 people now follow a vegetarian diet, a 27 per cent increase in just five years.

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At the same time, according to government health statistics, less than half of all New Zealand adults eat enough vegetables and fruit, and thirty-one percent of adults are obese. Statistics from the EU include similar findings, such as one in three 11-year-olds being overweight or obese.

The economic significance of agriculture and healthcare services

In total, agricultural production including forestry and derived food products constitute 54% of New Zealand’s exports (29 billion NZ$), the entire economy is critically dependent on agriculture exports. In comparison the annual New Zealand government healthcare budget is around 16.8 billion NZ$, but this number obviously does not include additional individual expenses related to healthcare.

In terms of economic significance, overall annual healthcare costs and productivity losses resulting from poor health do not trail far behind the value of NZ agriculture exports – if at all.

Beyond greenhouse gas emissions New Zealand’s reliance on agriculture product exports has led to monocultures and to water quality problems in rivers and lakes caused by intensive dairy farming, which in turn pose human health risks that can no longer be ignored.

Influences on the future of healthcare

  1. Individual behaviour (including nutrition) and associated cultural factors
  2. Individual genetics
  3. Individual microbiomes
  4. Proactive approaches towards maintaining physical and mental health
  5. Sensors that provide near real time health data
  6. Nanotechnology and nano-devices
  7. Further levels of automation powered by real time data feeds
  8. Shift away from medicines to individualised diets and mass customised foods

Influences on the future of agriculture

  1. Shifting to carbon neutral or carbon negative production
  2. Measures to eliminate pollution of rivers and lakes
  3. Global demand for clean food production techniques
  4. Large sensor networks that provide near real time data
  5. Further levels of automation powered by real time data feeds and robotics
  6. Production techniques that minimise the land use footprint such as urban agriculture and vertical farming
  7. Increasingly automated logistics and supply chains that connect producers and consumers
  8. Local demand for foods tuned to individualised dietary needs

Cleaning up the agriculture sector

For New Zealand becoming carbon neutral or negative is just a much a matter of transforming the agriculture sector – by shifting away from traditional milk and meat production, as it is a matter of moving away from the use of fossil fuels.

Realistically a complete transformation of the sector will take at least a decade. The need for transformation must be understood by the participants in the sector and beyond, so that an alternative approach to land use and agriculture exports can be developed.

Proactive maintenance of physical and mental health

Moving towards a proactive approach to health requires a reframing of our understanding of healthcare:

  1. Each individual, family, and community has a big active role to play. This is only realistic if the education system prepares individuals for their role in maintaining their health and the health of their family and community.
  2. Genetics research will be a prerequisite to better understanding individual health risks and to providing individuals with guidance related to health promoting behaviours and diets.
  3. Assistive technologies will play a critical role in helping individuals adhere to behaviours and diets that they have chosen to adopt to optimise their health.
  4. Appropriate regulation needs to be designed and enacted to empower individuals, families, and communities to make informed choices about physical and mental health promoting measures, and to prevent coercive measures and treatments that may conflict with individual or cultural values.
  5. Individuals need to be given control over who has access to their health data, to empower individuals to selectively share health information with people and institutions they trust.
  6. Appropriate regulation needs to be designed and enacted to limit the monetisation of health data in order to avoid commercial interests from dominating the discussion of desirable healthcare outcomes.
  7. Healthy food needs to be made available to everyone, not just to those who can afford it.

There is significant overlap in the technologies that are available to power innovation in both healthcare and agriculture. Supporting and funding innovation in healthcare, agriculture, knowledge engineering techniques, and automation technologies has the potential to create a virtuous cycle.

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It is important to recognise that research and development is needed not only on technologies and service delivery mechanisms, but also on cultural factors and the social changes that can either drive or hinder transformative improvements to large sectors of our economy.

Share the challenges and opportunities that you see in relation to healthcare and agriculture at the upcoming CIIC workshop on 3 March at AUT in Auckland and at RMIT in Melbourne!


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