The technology for collective decision-making. Might we become angels?

Our traditional view of technology is much too narrow…

It isn’t just computers and rockets, lasers and bits. Any kind of craft, of making the human mind tangible, weaving and gathering into being a reality that springs forth from our heads like Athena leaping out of Zeus, is technology.

And the most important form of technology that any vision of the future must account for is the technology for collective decision-making.

This is perhaps the key single idea in Mind The Post, but it is not me but Ken Liu who speaks1. What does he mean?

I include in that term all crafted solutions for collectives to come together and decide what to do, how to do those things, and why do anything at all. That means kings, parliaments, courts, yamen, juries, councils, elections, town meetings, bureaucracies, tyrants, mobs. That means systems of precedent and compiled codes, constitutions, national mythologies. That means polls, propaganda, political parties, protests. That means trading clans, guilds, corporations, unions, boards of directors, nonprofit entities. (…) these technologies have impacted human history as much as the invention of the calculus or the development of the double-acting piston bellows, and are as much a legacy of our species as the Great Pyramids or the Apollo Missions.

He also thinks that despite its importance, the technology of collective decision-making tends not to be a focus of science fiction. Somehow, we take it for granted, it is invisible:

Just as Victorian writers seemed to think that there could be no better alternative to empires and wars of colonial conquest, today’s writers seem to think the extant version of representative democracy is the pinnacle of human achievement.

Can we think of a better collaboration technology? Ken Liu thinks that the most important piece of technology for collective decision-making is our shared narrative. He is probably right. Yet, thinking in science fiction terms, Isabel F. Peñuelas and the author of this blog go one step further to explore what it would be like to be angels in the very precise way described by Umberto Eco:

Angels do not speak because they understand each other through a sort of instantaneous mental reading, and they know everything they are allowed to know (according to their rank) not by any use of language but by watching the Divine Mind.

Umberto Eco, “Languages in Paradise. Serendipities: Language and Lunacy”

The challenge is also captured by Friedrich Hayek with a brief quote:

We were the first to assert that the more complicated the forms of civilisation, the more restricted the freedom of the individual must become.

Benito Mussolini, quoted by Friedrich Hayek in “The road of serfdom”

This is the core idea we develop in our new Novella (in Spanish) “Angel 122”.

We do not have any hope to be understood. Perhaps enjoyed.

____________________

(1) Ken Liu, ‘The Technology of Collective Decision-Making’, Olaf Stapledon Centre for Speculative Futures, Speculating the future. Issue 1.

Featured Image: Ángel 122. Cover detail.

2 comments

  1. the technology of collective decision-making tends not to be a focus of science fiction

    You’re not wrong. However, the (science fiction) novel I was working on many years ago – I abandoned it; the central concept was so screwy that I couldn’t get my head around it! – featured a thing I named a ‘helm’; a man-machine interface that was a personal memory store of vast capacity and which communicated with others’ ‘helms’ independently of its owner, reporting back as needed. Effectively, it enabled a form of telepathy.

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