This week → A prehistory of DAOs ⊗ Horsehistory study and the automated discovery of new areas of thought ⊗ The computer scientist training AI to think with analogies ⊗ The Pursuit of simplicity only serves to manufacture our consent, not our understanding. ⊗ The simplest tool for improving cities is also free
First, something I’ve been remiss to mention here, I relaunched the site with a new archive that I’m framing as more of a library. Every issue has been deconstructed into ‘Notes,’ tagged, and some are getting ‘backlinked’ like in a digital garden. You should check it out, and have a look at some of the new nodes to connect notes together, like obfuscation or Just Enough (notice the “Notes mentioning this note”). When you click through on this issue to “Read online,” you see an archive page that looks very much like this email, but with each featured article clickable to see the full note and tags, which I’ll be able to remix in other combinations and backlink as needed. That way you can also link, share, or bookmark a specific commentary you liked. I’ll have to write much more about it but it’s finally the launch of the project I did with my Grant for the Web.
Second, summer time vacations are upon us over here. I’m not completely off yet but the newsletter is taking a three week pause, see you back here on August 15th!
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I’ve mentioned a couple of times that NFTs and DAOs (Distributed Autonomous Organizations) seemed like they had interesting aspects but I had yet to be convinced. This one by Kei Kreutler goes a long way in explaining the potential. Anything blockchain related is often completely veiled by the financial side, like trying to see through smog, this piece integrates the financial aspect but gives a much, much broader, contextualized, and understandable view of other aspects, like forms of organisation, governance, distribution, why they make sense, how multiple DAOs could interact, etc.
The author weaves together the evolution of organizational structures, traditional coops and gaming guilds (the part on DKPs is especially enlightening) across the short history of the technology and, perhaps more importantly, goes beyond that technical aspect to show that the cultural and community building work is vital.
Another eye-opening component of the article is in recognizing the gap in language between current adopters, ‘classic’ coops, and the differences in perceptions and labels between the old and new. “Shadow economics may be an apt term for when a group operates through an economic form it would not label itself as: DAOs as cooperative protocols and gaming guilds as market socialism.” Part of the challenge is in finding ways to bridge that gap and connect these different audiences.
Finally, the distribution of tokens by giving them to resources the group needs, instead of functioning only by monetary transactions, is another piece worth reading through and thinking about.
In 2021, a DAO could be described as a voluntary association with the operating principles of digital cooperativism. As voluntary associations, they are a cross-jurisdictional way for strangers, friends, or unlikely allies to pseudonymously come together toward common goals, supported by a token model, incentives, and governance. Members of a DAO can have representative ownership of its digital assets through a token, which often simultaneously acts as a governance right. […]
DAOs begin to introduce new dimensions that exceed what the operating principles of a digital cooperative notionally encompass. For this reason, as much innovation and emphasis should be placed on token distribution mechanisms that identify broader stakeholder participation as on decision making mechanisms. […]
Tokens may be one key to unlock the ownership economy, but to reach a more equitable version of this future, we must participate in crafting the culture around token distribution, mediation, and governance now. […]
Often used as an alternative model to the plutocratic one token, one vote model, reputational tokens, earned through participation rather than purchasing power, provide greater voting power in DAOs that amasses over time. DAOs can learn from DKP, which in contrast, acts as a private money system based on participation that can be spent on other digital assets, instead of only amassing over time. […]
By learning from their prehistory, DAOs can move towards a syncretic theory of organizations, meaning a theory which incorporates a wide range of cultural patterns, practices, and influences while recognizing its inherited political biases.
Quirky yet smartly intriguing might be the way to describe this post by Matt Webb. He goes from thinking about a variety of words that start with ‘horse’, to making one up, horsehistory, using it as a lens to study history, to wondering how that process could be replicated by AI.
Valuable for his example: the British Empire and the work the country has to do to deal with it’s history (so does Canada), but even more so for the way he makes us think about language, naming something, and how that can be used to gain a new perspective and line of thinking.
Empire is not, in the UK, ignored history. We all know it. But when you grow up with something from before you can speak, and leave it unanalysed, you accept facts that you would never accept as an adult. I imagine it’s a little like abuse: if you grow up in an abusive household, it takes work as an adult to realise: that wasn’t normal! That was not ok! […]
For horsehistory it meant that the word acted as an intuition pump (philosopher Daniel Dennett’s term): by examining what it could mean, it took me to a place where complex ideas were reached and could then be articulated more efficiently. […]
[T]he method I propose leads to a new discipline of centaur philosophers, thinkers who are able to systemically reveal new scaffoldings for thought, far beyond what would ordinarily be reached in a single human lifetime, to more rapidly develop and examine new ideas for the betterment of society at large.
At Quanta, an interview with Melanie Mitchell who has worked on ‘digital minds’ for decades and who’s focus is on making AI understand analogies. The technology aspect is worthy of the read but I especially enjoyed the outlook it gives us on our own intelligence, our own understanding.
Think of it in parallel with Webb’s post above, how we use language and how we understand through analogies, and his thinking about the use of words as it relates to this by Mitchell: “‘understand’ is one of these suitcase words that no one agrees what it really means—almost like a placeholder for mental phenomena that we can’t explain yet.”
The interview closes with the ideas of embodiment and of combining this ‘analogical’ approach with deep learning. That reminded me of our own modes of thinking (see the power of walking or divergent thinking), and had me wondering whether combining two modes has been done in AI.
Mitchell maintains that analogy can go much deeper than exam-style pattern matching. “It’s understanding the essence of a situation by mapping it to another situation that is already understood,” she said. “If you tell me a story and I say, ‘Oh, the same thing happened to me,’ literally the same thing did not happen to me that happened to you, but I can make a mapping that makes it seem very analogous […]
You can show a deep neural network millions of pictures of bridges, for example, and it can probably recognize a new picture of a bridge over a river or something. But it can never abstract the notion of “bridge” to, say, our concept of bridging the gender gap. These networks, it turns out, don’t learn how to abstract. There’s something missing. And people are only sort of grappling now with that. […]
I think this mechanism of abstraction and analogy is key to what we humans call understanding. It is a mechanism by which understanding occurs. We’re able to take something we already know in some way and map it to something new. […]
One of the most important things for you to do is to model what other people are thinking, understand their goals and predict what they’re going to do. And that’s something you do by analogy to yourself.
Good short piece on simplicity / complexity and how both can be abused. Or rather, how simplifying too much or making something more complex than it is can be used to redirect debates. Included in large part for the highlighted quote below, which is a good way of phrasing something I’ve seen multiple times by consultants, politicians, and I guess in some way Gladwellian pop-sci. A good simplification is useful, but there’s a point where it can fall into self-serving corner-cutting.
Resisting such simple explanations for a complicated problem demands much more from us. It would force us to stop, zoom out of a situation, consider the level of complexity, and acknowledge the limits of our understanding — that’s scary. Accepting something as complicated is an act of humility in the recognition of the unknown. […]
The work of simplification is an exercise in making information accessible. Those receiving it should be helped in making informed decisions. Simplification beyond that likely only serves the interests of the person delivering it. This is how people weaponise simplicity.
This has turned into the ‘language, thinking, and perspectives’ issue and this is a great one by Sara Hendren where she proposes time as a way to rethink cities, design new ways of seeing and living in neighbourhoods, along streets, in temporary parks, and even museums. Using time shifting, citizen groups and urban planners can find a very lightweight way of experimenting, of trying things out and letting the results speak for themselves.
For me it also connects to hybrid back to work, four day weeks, and five hour days. Twisting how we inhabit the hours, to see new possibilities.
It happens in cities everywhere: design, or redesign, created by time. A weekend clock turns an open street into something else entirely — a time structure organized outside commuter efficiency or traffic flows. Urban planners sometimes call it “temporal zoning.” […]
We can creatively reorganize our collective hours and days in ways that help more people enjoy our cities and institutions. Time might be our most valuable resource for building the environments we want. […]
The pandemic may ultimately force us — or beckon with an invitation — to see the clock as a resource for the cities we want, one that’s always been right in front of us: an undersung and powerful utility on a designer’s tool belt. […]
- 😍 🔭 ⚡️ 🎥 Thunderstorms on Jupiter!! Juno Flies Past the Moon Ganymede and Jupiter. ”On June 7, 2021, NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew closer to Jupiter’s ice-encrusted moon Ganymede than any spacecraft in more than two decades. Less than a day later, Juno made its 34th flyby of Jupiter. This animation provides a “starship captain” point of view of each flyby.”
- ⛵️ 🤖 🌊 🇺🇸 That other 'space’ we don’t know nearly enough about: the oceans. Surveyor Completes Its First Ocean Crossing from San Francisco to Hawaii. “Following this successful proof of concept voyage, Saildrone will build a fleet of Surveyors, manufactured at US shipyards, to map Earth’s oceans in the next 10 years.”
- 🇮🇳 🇬🇧 Haven’t explored yet but seems fantastic! Decentralising Digital. “Working with rural communities in Karnataka, India, Decentralising Digital is an ongoing research project seeking to co-create new narratives for decentralised digital futures. We are exploring how developments in emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, the voice enabled Internet, machine learning and artificial intelligence might be harnessed to meaningfully support rural communities in India.”
- 😍 🌳 🇯🇵 Tokachi Millennium Forest: Pioneering a New Way of Gardening with Nature. “Hayashi purchased the property just over twenty years ago, as an investment in the future. His goals to offset the carbon footprint of his business and prevent loss of habitat to agriculture and development were matched by his audacious desire to create a landscape that would be sustainable for a thousand years.” (Via Klingebeil)
- 🤔 Smart trends and generations 🧵 by Zito. Hyperreal individualism is a fascinating thing, but it doesn’t seem like a liberation from “cool” and style categories, and more of a confusion and chaos that comes from being fed too many things at once. Wearing and being everything is a consequence of capitalism, not freedom.
- 🔥 🌳 🗓 Climate 🧵 by David Wallace-Wells. Not a moment, an era. Quite a lot of climate coverage over the last few weeks has taken this tone—“it’s here, it’s now.” But what is “it”? The climate crisis is not an event but an era, in which cascading impacts are almost certain to continue to worsen and intensify, punishing more each year.
- The dangerous appeal of technology-driven futures. ”The story of the internet shows that modern societies are often better at imagining the upsides of technology than its downsides. But the trajectory of innovation is also guided by more subtle cultural preferences, often with profound consequences.”
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