Immune Reactions Against The

Network Society

Edited transcript of a talk delivered at Singularity University

David Orban
August 2014
I want to talk to you about the next phase of our social evolution. The nation state has been
the dominating way that individuals organize themselves worldwide for the past five hundred
years. My thesis is that we are now entering a new phase or our social evolution, which is
going to be what I call the Network Society.
We are all accustomed to the exponential changes we all see around us and these changes
are the basis of social emancipation, rather then the other way around. The dreams of
Egyptian slaves, as by night in evening they where trying to understand whether the world
could work differently, achieved nothing exactly because the technological bases were not
there in order to do so. What we are seeing around us now are due to the fact that we are
now capable of organizing ourselves, we are capable of communicating, we are capable of
executing on the scientific achievements, that we have created.
The ten thousand years of history characterizing the technological human society created
what Paul Crutzen, a Noble Prize winning chemist calls the Anthropocene, and it is actually
an unsustainable rapid change, that we must understand much better. Actually the only thing
differentiating us from the dinosaurs is that we use telescopes. But are we? Both
metaphorically and concretely, are we looking out at the asteroid that is coming to hit us? Are
we applying rationality, the tools of of science at the degree that we need in order to
understand what we need to do? The hierarchical organizations that we have developed can
achieve certain breakthroughs, and they have, but they are not necessarily the right response
to everything around us. And both in the lives of individuals, in the lives of enterprises and in
the lives of larger organizations, cities, regions and countries around us, new network based
organizations are taking the place of what was coming before.
The Eight Pillars of The Network Society
Let me illustrate you the eight pillars of the Network Society through very concrete examples
of what I'm talking about, and why this change is in fact unstoppable.
In energy production we see the power of renewable energies, most specifically solar energy,
that is distributed and decentralized, contrary to carbon, contrary to gas or nuclear plants
that are centralized.
In manufacturing 3D printing is bringing distributed manufacturing, whose power is allowing
complex designs in the hands of everybody and it is not dependent on the control of capital.
In food production, plant labs, hydroponics, vertical gardens, in a near future 3D printing of
meat itself, is completely changing the parameters and the equations behind agriculture.
Personalized health is distributing the possibility of preventative medicine putting in the hands
of individuals the power of controlling their parameters of health rather then being an industry
thriving on illness.
Massive online open courseware, and other ways of distributing access to knowledge
globally, is making sure that the university model is not the sole one capable of managing
access to education and knowledge.
In finance cryptocurrencies represented chiefly by Bitcoin, but also the next generation of
solutions like Stellar, Ethereum, and others, are eliminating the need for central authorities
controlling access to banking, finance, financial services.
In security we have trust platforms like Airbnb or the car sharing services, Uber, that are much
better in mediating relationships among individuals then not traditional police forces
intervening after the fact.
Policy making itself must change, how we design deploy adapt in our local regional and
national levels, the policies driving our decisions.
So you see how all these forces together are really not a fad, they are not a coincidence, they
belong to a big wave of decentralization and distribution of traditionally centralized and
hierarchical activities of the Nation State.
The Network Society project which I'm sharing with you, is developing toolboxes for acting
on this, because as these activities are becoming more and more visible there is a spiking
immune reaction from the forces of the incumbents. Bureaucracies whether governmental or
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within the enterprise are extremely good. They have evolved in order to protect themselves, in
order to make sure that they can resist change, because they want to survive, want to resist
the disruption and this resistance dictates messages that highlight the precautions. They say:
"Let's make sure that the consumers are protected. Let's make sure that we don't
underestimate the negatives." But actually what is happening very often is that behind these
protective messages, there is a sensation of panic because of the unstoppable nature of the
change that is coming.
This panic is generating in the regulatory bodies in the organizations within corporations, an
overreaction. This overreaction is very similar to what happens in the body when the immune
system actually makes mistakes like in an asthmatic attack, like in allergic attacks, like in HIV
AIDS when actually the immune system stop working. Let me give you two three examples.
In the island of Hawaii it is required that solar panels be connected to the island's grid but
when the utility company cannot take the peak power generated anymore the installation of
solar panels stops!
Or the 23andme episode where, just like Martin Luther translating the Bible for anybody to be
able to access it, 23andme is told that the we cannot read the sacred text of our DNA
without the mediation of the physicians priesthood.
And of course the New York State proposed legislation for Bitcoin which is regulating Bitcoin
even more than not what is being done with traditional banks.
However we technologists who understand that technology is not a zero sum game, it is not
a balanced good and bad, but there's a positive view, can espouse the proactionary
principle, which enables us to embrace the new possibilities much faster. We can overcome
traditional differences, we can embrace new ways of organizing, that implement our policies
much better. The Network Society project that I'm talking to you about, embraces this,
illustrates this, and I want to invite you to visit in order to learn more.
Q: As we move into this Network Society we're inevitably going to have a greater and greater
divergence of people who are on this Singularity... who are being educated, who understand
what's happening at this frontier which is happening faster and faster, and the majority of
people don't really have a clue on what's happening. Can democracy survive in that kind of
an environment, where most of the people don't know what's going on, and other people are
super skilled in manipulating people's emotions?
A: Three answers: Singularity University's exclusive approach, rather then inclusive approach
in this sense is fatally wrong, because we want to invite everybody here but seven billion
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people don't fit in this room. Second answer, representative democracy cannot survive,
because, ignorant people are easily manipulated to vote against their own interests, and it is
happening very very frequently at an increasing rate. Direct democracy however requires a
level of participation that the majority of people is not ready or not ready to make. Third, the
Facebook experiment, showed a lot of people who were not aware, that computers are not
only good at sequencing and printing DNA, computers are very good or starting to be very
good at reading and programming our emotions as well. So as long as we face that fact, and
we understand that our memetic future is being designed together by people and computers
then we have a chance of being aware of what is going on.
Q: A have a question about this peer to peer movement, decentralization. I see the same
thing but the point is that the backend systems are consolidating power. So on one hand you
have consolidation and on the other you have fragmentation.
A: I think that the Internet of things can kill Google, and should, because the centralized
paradigm that Google represents is corrupting. NSA is chiefly enabled the fact that there is a
big hay stack to take advantage of, and it shouldn't be that way. I think Google realizes that
too because they purchased NEST, and you know just like the Large Hadron Collider throws
away 99% of the data they generate, and only analyze what they think they know that
matters, we have to stop pretending that a bigger hay stack will allow us to find better
needles. And the second point is that ISIS has just announced that they will use Diaspora for
their social media communications. Yes, distributed systems are here and they are superior,
for good and bad than not centralized ones. Facebook should also, as a consequence adapt
to this future.
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