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Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto

Designing our Complex Future with Machines.

Published onOct 13, 2017
Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto

Resisting Reduction

Designing our Complex Future with Machines

Review, research and editing team: Catherine Ahearn, Chia EversNatalie Saltiel, Andre Uhl

While I had long been planning to write a manifesto against the technological singularity and launch it into the conversational sphere for public reaction and comment, an invitation earlier this year from John Brockman to read and discuss The Human Use of Human Beings by Norbert Wiener with him and his illustrious group of thinkers as part of an ongoing collaborative book project contributed to the thoughts contained herein.

Phase 1 was the publication of this essay, using the PubPub open publishing platform in partnership with the MIT Press. In phase 2, this new version of the essay enriched and informed by input from open commentary has been published online, along with essay length contributions by others inspired by the seed essay, as a new issue of the Journal of Design and Science. In phase 3, a revised and edited selection of these contributions will be published as a print book by the MIT Press.

Version 1.2
Originally written in 2017

Nature’s ecosystem provides us with an elegant example of a complex adaptive system where myriad “currencies” interact and respond to feedback systems that enable both flourishing and regulation. This collaborative model–rather than a model of exponential financial growth or the Singularity, which promises the transcendence of our current human condition through advances in technology—should provide the paradigm for our approach to artificial intelligence. More than 60 years ago, MIT mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener warned us that “when human atoms are knit into an organization in which they are used, not in their full right as responsible human beings, but as cogs and levers and rods, it matters little that their raw material is flesh and blood.” We should heed Wiener’s warning.


As the sun beats down on Earth, photosynthesis converts water, carbon dioxide and the sun’s energy into oxygen and glucose. Photosynthesis is one of the many chemical and biological processes that transforms one form of matter and energy into another. These molecules then get metabolized by other biological and chemical processes into yet other molecules. Scientists often call these molecules “currencies” because they represent a form of power that is transferred between cells or processes to mutual benefit—“traded,” in effect. The biggest difference between these and financial currencies is that there is no “master currency” or “currency exchange.” Rather, each currency can only be used by certain processes, and the “market” of these currencies drives the dynamics that are “life.”

As certain currencies became abundant as an output of a successful process or organism, other organisms evolved to take that output and convert it into something else. Over billions of years, this is how the Earth’s ecosystem has evolved, creating vast systems of metabolic pathways and forming highly complex self-regulating systems that, for example, stabilize our body temperatures or the temperature of the Earth, despite continuous fluctuations and changes among the individual elements at every scale—from micro to macro. The output of one process becomes the input of another. Ultimately, everything interconnects.

We live in a civilization in which the primary currencies are money and power—where more often than not, the goal is to accumulate both at the expense of society at large. This is a very simple and fragile system compared to the Earth’s ecosystems, where myriads of “currencies” are exchanged among processes to create hugely complex systems of inputs and outputs with feedback systems that adapt and regulate stocks, flows, and connections.

Unfortunately, our current human civilization does not have the built-in resilience of our environment, and the paradigms that set our goals and drive the evolution of society today have set us on a dangerous course which the mathematician Norbert Wiener warned us about decades ago. The paradigm of a single master currency has driven many corporations and institutions to lose sight of their original missions. Values and complexity are focused more and more on prioritizing exponential financial growth, led by for-profit corporate entities that have gained autonomy, rights, power, and nearly unregulated societal influence. The behavior of these entities are akin to cancers. Healthy cells regulate their growth and respond to their surroundings, even eliminating themselves if they wander into an organ where they don’t belong. Cancerous cells, on the other hand, optimize for unconstrained growth and spread with disregard to their function or context.


The idea that we exist for the sake of progress, and that progress requires unconstrained and exponential growth, is the whip that lashes us. Modern companies are the natural product of this paradigm in a free-market capitalist system. Norbert Wiener called corporations “machines of flesh and blood” and automation “machines of metal.” The new species of Silicon Valley mega companies—the machines of bits—are developed and run in great part by people who believe in a new religion, Singularity. This new religion is not a fundamental change in the paradigm, but rather the natural evolution of the worship of exponential growth applied to modern computation and science. The asymptote1 of the exponential growth of computational power is artificial intelligence.

The notion of Singularity—that AI will supersede humans with its exponential growth, and that everything we have done until now and are currently doing is insignificant—is a religion created by people who have the experience of using computation to solve problems heretofore considered impossibly complex for machines. They have found a perfect partner in digital computation—a seemingly knowable, controllable, system of thinking and creating that is rapidly increasing in its ability to harness and process complexity, bestowing wealth and power on those who have mastered it. In Silicon Valley, the combination of groupthink and the financial success of this cult of technology has created a positive feedback system that has very little capacity for regulating through negative feedback. While they would resist having their beliefs compared to a religion and would argue that their ideas are science- and evidence-based, those who embrace Singularity engage in quite a bit of arm waving and make leaps of faith based more on trajectories than ground-truths to achieve their ultimate vision.

Singularitarians believe that the world is “knowable” and computationally simulatable, and that computers will be able to process the messiness of the real world just like they have every other problem that everyone said couldn’t be solved by computers. To them, this wonderful tool, the computer, has worked so well for everything so far that it must continue to work for every challenge we throw at it, until we have transcended known limitations and ultimately achieve some sort of reality escape velocity. Artificial intelligence is already displacing humans in driving cars, diagnosing cancers, and researching court documents. The idea is that AI will continue this progress and eventually merge with human brains and become an all-seeing, all-powerful, super-intelligence. For true believers, computers will augment and extend our thoughts into a kind of “amortality.” (Part of Singularity is a fight for “amortality,” the idea that while one may still die and not be immortal, the death is not the result of the grim reaper of aging.)

But if corporations are a precursor to our transcendence, the Singularitarian view that with more computing and bio-hacking we will somehow solve all of the world’s problems or that the Singularity will solve us seems hopelessly naive. As we dream of the day when we have enhanced brains and amortality and can think big, long thoughts, corporations already have a kind of “amortality.” They persist as long as they are solvent and they are more than a sum of their parts—arguably an amortal super-intelligence.

More computation does not make us more “intelligent,” only more computationally powerful.

For Singularity to have a positive outcome requires a belief that, given enough power, the system will somehow figure out how to regulate itself. The final outcome would be so complex that while we humans couldn’t understand it now, “it” would understand and “solve” itself. Some believe in something that looks a bit like the former Soviet Union’s master planning but with full information and unlimited power. Others have a more sophisticated view of a distributed system, but at some level, all Singularitarians believe that with enough power and control, the world is “tamable.” Not all who believe in Singularity worship it as a positive transcendence bringing immortality and abundance, but they do believe that a judgment day is coming when all curves go vertical.

Whether you are on an S-curve or a bell curve, the beginning of the slope looks a lot like an exponential curve. An exponential curve to systems dynamics people shows self-reinforcement, i.e., a positive feedback curve without limits. Maybe this is what excites Singularitarians and scares systems people. Most people outside the Singularity bubble believe in S-curves: nature adapts and self-regulates, and, for example, when a pandemic has run its course, growth slows and things adapt. They may not be in the same state, and a phase change could occur, but the notion of Singularity—especially as some sort of savior or judgment day that will allow us to transcend the messy, mortal suffering of our human existence—is fundamentally a flawed one.

This sort of reductionist thinking isn’t new. When BF Skinner discovered the principle of reinforcement and was able to describe it, we designed education around his theories. Learning scientists know now that behaviorist approaches only work for a narrow range of learning, but many schools continue to rely on drill and practice. Take, as another example, the eugenics movement, which greatly and incorrectly over-simplified the role of genetics in society. This movement helped fuel the Nazi genocide by providing a reductionist scientific view that we could “fix humanity” by manually pushing natural selection. The echoes of the horrors of eugenics exist today, making almost any research trying to link genetics with things like intelligence taboo.

We should learn from our history of applying over-reductionist science to society and try to, as Wiener says, “cease to kiss the whip that lashes us.” While it is one of the key drivers of science—to elegantly explain the complex and reduce confusion to understanding—we must also remember what Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”2 We need to embrace the unknowability—the irreducibility—of the real world that artists, biologists and those who work in the messy world of liberal arts and humanities are familiar with.


The Cold War era, when Wiener was writing The Human Use of Human Beings, was a time defined by the rapid expansion of capitalism and consumerism, the beginning of the space race, and the coming of age of computation. It was a time when it was easier to believe that systems could be controlled from the outside, and that many of the world’s problems would be solved through science and engineering.

The cybernetics that Wiener primarily described during that period were concerned with feedback systems that can be controlled or regulated from an objective perspective. This so-called first-order cybernetics assumed that the scientist as the observer can understand what is going on, therefore enabling the engineer to design systems based on observation or insight from the scientist.

Today, it is much more obvious that most of our problems—climate change, poverty, obesity and chronic disease, or modern terrorism—cannot be solved simply with more resources and greater control. That is because they are the result of complex adaptive systems that are often the result of the tools used to solve problems in the past, such as endlessly increasing productivity and attempts to control things. This is where second-order cybernetics comes into play—the cybernetics of self-adaptive complex systems, where the observer is also part of the system itself. As Kevin Slavin says in Design as Participation, “You’re Not Stuck In Traffic—You Are Traffic.”3

In order to effectively respond to the significant scientific challenges of our times, I believe we must view the world as many interconnected, complex, self-adaptive systems across scales and dimensions that are unknowable and largely inseparable from the observer and the designer. In other words, we are participants in multiple evolutionary systems with different fitness landscapes4 at different scales, from our microbes to our individual identities to society and our species. Individuals themselves are systems composed of systems of systems, such as the cells in our bodies that behave more like system-level designers than we do.

While Wiener does discuss biological evolution and the evolution of language, he doesn’t explore the idea of harnessing evolutionary dynamics for science. Biological evolution of individual species (genetic evolution) has been driven by reproduction and survival, instilling in us goals and yearnings to procreate and grow. That system continually evolves to regulate growth, increase diversity and complexity, and enhance its own resilience, adaptability, and sustainability.5 As designers with growing awareness of these broader systems, we have goals and methodologies defined by the evolutionary and environmental inputs from our biological and societal contexts. But machines with emergent intelligence have discernibly different goals and methodologies. As we introduce machines into the system, they will not only augment individual humans, but they will also—and more importantly—augment complex systems as a whole.

Here is where the problematic formulation of “artificial intelligence” becomes evident, as it suggests forms, goals and methods that stand outside of interaction with other complex adaptive systems. Instead of thinking about machine intelligence in terms of humans vs. machines, we should consider the system that integrates humans and machines—not artificial intelligence, but extended intelligence. Instead of trying to control or design or even understand systems, it is more important to design systems that participate as responsible, aware and robust elements of even more complex systems. And we must question and adapt our own purpose and sensibilities as designers and components of the system for a much more humble approach: Humility over Control.

We could call it “participant design”—design of systems as and by participants—that is more akin to the increase of a flourishing function, where flourishing is a measure of vigor and health rather than scale or power. We can measure the ability for systems to adapt creatively, as well as their resilience and their ability to use resources in an interesting way.

Better interventions are less about solving or optimizing and more about developing a sensibility appropriate to the environment and the time. In this way they are more like music than an algorithm. Music is about a sensibility or “taste” with many elements coming together into a kind of emergent order. Instrumentation can nudge or cause the system to adapt or move in an unpredictable and unprogrammed manner, while still making sense and holding together. Using music itself as an intervention is not a new idea; in 1707, Andrew Fletcher, a Scottish writer and politician, said, “Let me make the songs of a nation, I care not who makes its laws.”

If writing songs instead of laws feels frivolous, remember that songs typically last longer than laws, have played key roles in various hard and soft revolutions and end up being transmitted person-to-person along with the values they carry. It's not about music or code. It's about trying to affect change by operating at the level songs do. This is articulated by Donella Meadows, among others, in her book Thinking in Systems.

Meadows, in her essay Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, describes how we can intervene in a complex, self-adaptive system. For her, interventions that involve changing parameters or even changing the rules are not nearly as powerful or as fundamental as changes in a system’s goals and paradigms.

When Wiener discussed our worship of progress, he said:

Those who uphold the idea of progress as an ethical principle regard this unlimited and quasi-spontaneous process of change as a Good Thing, and as the basis on which they guarantee to future generations a Heaven on Earth. It is possible to believe in progress as a fact without believing in progress as an ethical principle; but in the catechism of many Americans, the one goes with the other.6

Instead of discussing “sustainability” as something to be “solved” in the context of a world where bigger is still better and more than enough is NOT too much, perhaps we should examine the values and the currencies of the fitness functions7 and consider whether they are suitable and appropriate for the systems in which we participate.


Developing a sensibility and a culture of flourishing — a term that has taken on especial significance since Elizabeth Anscombe’s 1958 essay8 — and embracing a diverse array of measures of “success” depend less on the accumulation of power and resources and more on diversity and the richness of experience. This is the paradigm shift that we need. This will provide us with a wealth of technological and cultural patterns to draw from to create a highly adaptable society. This diversity also allows the elements of the system to feed each other without the exploitation and extraction ethos created by a monoculture with a single currency. It is likely that this new culture will spread as music, fashion, spirituality or other forms of art.

As a native Japanese, I am heartened by a group of junior high school students I spoke to there recently who, when I challenged them about what they thought we should do about the environment, asked questions about the meaning of happiness and the role of humans in nature. I am likewise heartened to see many of my students at the MIT Media Lab and in the Principles of Awareness class that I co-teach with the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi using a variety of metrics (currencies) to measure their success and meaning and grappling directly with the complexity of finding one’s place in our complex world.

I’m also heartened by organizations such as the IEEE, which is initiating design guidelines for the development of artificial intelligence around human wellbeing instead of around economic impact. The work by Peter Seligmann, Christopher Filardi, and Margarita Mora from Conservation International is creative and exciting because it approaches conservation by supporting the flourishing of indigenous people—not undermining it. Another heartening example is that of the Shinto priests at Ise Shrine, who have been planting and rebuilding the shrine every twenty years for the last 1300 years in celebration of the renewal and the cyclical quality of nature.

In the 1960s and 70s, the hippie movement tried to pull together a “whole earth” movement, but then the world swung back toward the consumer and consumption culture of today. I hope and believe that a new awakening will happen and that a new sensibility will cause a nonlinear change in our behavior through a cultural transformation. While we can and should continue to work at every layer of the system to create a more resilient world, I believe the cultural layer is the layer with the most potential for a fundamental correction away from the self-destructive path that we are currently on. I think that it will yet again be about the music and the arts of the young people reflecting and amplifying a new sensibility: a turn away from greed to a world where “more than enough is too much,” and we can flourish in harmony with Nature rather than through the control of it.


PJ Verhoef:

Hmm… Curious to know whether you still believe this is the case (most people believing in S-curves). Responses to Covid seem to indicate a deep fear of exponentiality even if perceived. The same can be said of responses to political events, meteorological abnormalities, supply chain disruptions, financial governance failures… Perhaps humanity does have a deeper, perhaps religious, sensitivity for an apocalyptic future. In that sense, the Singularity is merely the “geeks rapture”?


Blockchains have successfully crossed the barrier of getting the sun energy and covert it into “Crypto” currency. I had been long puzzling how this barrier will be crossed??? Today, a team of entreprenuers are going to try it with Solar panels and computers that mine BITCOIN…

Decentralised tech has entered the strong hold of financial instituitions, and the ideology is slowly taking hold. Decentralisation has been resisting reduction from the beginning. Question I kept asking was, why? Why technology that es used for Reduction, is fueling the way to resist reduction?

I had been researching the possibilities for this behavior. One evidence is the speed with which the Tech can grow, if the blockchain can proliferate. It is useful for the technology to help the decentralisation. Ideas that are funded today, are challenging the existing ways of getting financial returns. Keystone of Blockchain is the Incentive Engineering.

In order to Resist Reduction, will it come to engineering the incentives of the masses? Will the reduction raise its head finally in a more complex manner, if the selection pressure chooses reduction?

Nishant Sinha:

I have noticed a slight push towards a expression with my generation and a definite shift away from greed. Although these are personal observations, I do hope this signals a shift in society’s interactions with nature.

Joichi Ito:

I agree and am very heartened by it.

Rosalind Picard:

A goal of human flourishing is a breath of fresh air — and is also supported by data from people at the end of their lives, who almost always wish not that they’d scaled their businesses larger or made more money or had power over more people, but that they’d spent more special moments with loved ones and developed important relationships. Meaningful human relationships are perhaps the most important component of “a flourishing function.” Such a function has been hard to create in a general and robust way as it has many complex components that span different time scales; I propose we can use AI to help us better compute it.

Joichi Ito:

I agree.

Rosalind Picard:

I agree with the conclusion of this sentence, but I still think we should try to understand the systems and take responsibility for what we build.

Rosalind Picard:

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Rosalind Picard:

Bravo for this intelligent perspective!

Rosalind Picard:

While people often claim that human drivers are being displaced by AI, please consider that driving (at least in open, highly unpredictable, road conditions) is much more complex than flying a plane. Further, intelligent auto-pilot software to fly and land planes has been demonstrated to work for more than 100 years. Last I looked, there were still humans sitting in the cockpit of every plane I’ve flown on. Similarly, I think we’ll find AI increasingly helping drivers. However, to say “AI is already displacing humans in driving cars” just because some computer vision systems are sometimes working impressively is a bit of a stretch. My guess is you want your daughter riding in a car driven by a smart combination of humans+AI.

Joichi Ito:

Agree. Or get rid of cars altogether. :-)

sergej lugovic:

There is great book “Ultra-Large-Scale Systems -The Software Challenge of the Future” that discuss issues where humans are part of the system. Suggesting it as additional reference to the current thoughts on the topic

Fabiano Caruso:

I am currently working on a proposal for third-order cybernetics, a diplomatics between extensions of the memory of the analog universe (cards, posters, etc) and the evolution of its representation in digital format (interfaces). We are applying the template in an Art & Culture library ( where the entire environment and organization of the artifacts is open and collaborative, integrated with digital platforms. But because it is a participatory disruptive model (not to think of people as users, as in Anglo-American libraries) we were banned at the federal level from working with students derived from the courses of information science in Brazil in our project.

James Stowe:

This point seems a bit misleading to me. Humans in general are trying to create systems that are much lower variance than what is found commonly in ecosystems. In Ecology the systems are highly adaptive, but only at the system level. There is frequent feast or famine cycles for the participants that cause a great deal of what humans might call suffering.

Additionally, human’s are mostly following their biology when they participate in accumulation. It’s hardwired into us to seek social status through control of resources.

I make these points to say that what human’s seem to idealize as the “best” society is far from “natural”, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nature is difficult and indifferent to the organisms that participate in it. What we seem to want is a system where suffering is minimized, however one defines that.

Ben Tolkin:

Worth noting Fletcher meant this somewhat as a joke; he was responding to the English baronet Sir Christopher Musgrave, no friend of his, who was bemoaning how easily the women of London were seduced into a life of sexual promiscuity by the dirty ballads sung in London streets. (no, seriously; it’s from “An account of a Conversation concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind,” published in 1704)

Jessie Henshaw:

Learning from Nature’s most common development process: beginning with growth, ending with refinement.

Jessie Henshaw:

The most common end to growth in nature, though often uncertain, is also the kind of transformation for our economy everyone seems to be looking for. Organization in nature generally begins as a system of multiplying frameworks of design that capture growing resources, like growth in the womb or the start-up growth establishing a new businesses, even the emergence of storms and lightning strikes. Then as if by magic that explosive stating emergence can then turn into a convergence, that produces a single unifying design as if by the collaboration of all the parts.

You see the same basic pattern in any new form of organization that then matures, like the formation of a social group, an emerging culture, or an office project, not to mention the growth of organisms and ecologies that also begin with exponential expansion before converging on a common unified design. You even see it in such small scale organizational projects as “making dinner” or writing a note, going from exploratory to converging design. The hallmark is first developing by bigger and bigger steps as options for new extensions are explored, then switching to converging on a unified design, to become optimized as a whole and ending in what we see as nature’s perfection. Of course that’s also what we do with any research project too, goinig from exploration to refinement.

Perhaps in addition to studying this common pattern of natural design, it would also be worth studying why people don't seem to think of development this way. That we are indeed very practiced in acting this way, developing our end products toward perfection, makes how we designed the economy something of a great riddle.

A new paper on the general subject, “systems thinking for systems making,” was recently published online:

Patrick Bouchaud:

The ultimate goal of martial arts is to learn how not to use them.

Bruce R. Caron:

Irreducibility is a feature, not something to resolve. Even as a festival (where there is genuine festivity, meaning also there is unmanaged risky activities) cannot be reduced to a game (although games are necessarily open-ended and sometimes fail), and any game cannot be simply reduced to a spectacle (a pre-programmed simulation of the game); unknowability is a requirement for a sizable amount of human life and cultural work. It might be a good place to talk about culture here, as this pops up in the conclusion. A great amount of culture involves sharing proxies (e.g. meanings) that allow social groups to manage unknowability without reducing this. Cultures fail, at times by attempting to reduce the unknowability of experience into something static and durable. 

Valeria Pannunzio:

This seems to me to resonate closely with Latour’s post-Prometheanism. I dare to make the connection as I think it reveals yet another nuance to the meaning of resisting (over)reduction.

One practical implication of adopting an ‘humble’ approach is the capacity to take full responsibility over outcomes, including failures. Humility confers the power to expect, therefore detect, therefore admit defeats. Reductionism, on the other hand, faces structural difficulties in fitting evidence of failure within its paradigm of linear progression. From this angle, it would seem that resisting reduction is something reduction itself may need the most.

Does this make any sense?

Pattie Maes:

Again, I find this to be overly negative and one-sided. Money and power are not the only things that “make the world go around”. They do not drive not for profits, foundations, charities, teachers, etc.

Pattie Maes:

What about social capital, social currency?

Joichi Ito:

Yes, I think that they are important but becoming increasingly, but not completely, fungible with money and the point that I’m trying to make is that we need to resist this.

Patrick Bouchaud:

until it is

Daniel Stahlnecker II:

The system achieve immortality by consuming the body of “man”.

Daniel Stahlnecker II:

It seems to me the goal of the singulatarian is to prevent physical death which will prevent ideological death, with theorectically will prevent the death of the system.

Daniel Stahlnecker II:

I would argue that, “Singularitarians believe that the world is “knowable” and thus computationally controllable.” A simulation doesn’t have benefit unless it provides insights for improved methods of controlling or managing the system.

Bjarke Calvin:

This also rests on the premise that everything is measurable processes within our brains, similar to how bits work in a computer. But there is a possibility that part of the process takes place outside of our brains, as some form of tassid knowledge sharing or even collective consciousness (I realize this is somewhat controversial in a scientific context, but it’s an idea worth exploring at least as a hypothesis). If that is true, then trying to replicate a world, simply by observing the individual human brain, would be similar to trying to figure out how a radio works, without realizing that it receives audio through an antenna, or observing how a computer works without realizing it’s connected to the cloud.

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Daniel Stahlnecker II:

Unchecked evolutionary consumption leads to cancerous (cancer defined in these terms as: Efficiently Productive, by-product of highly focused specialization. ) outcomes. As the curve towards exponential growth increases more resources must be consumed in order to support the basic function of highly efficient specialized systems with decreasing benefits to system participants. The system becomes the parasite/cancer (Singularity)

Daniel Stahlnecker II:

Transitions from “specialized machines of flesh and blood” to “specialized machines modeled on flesh and blood”.

Daniel Stahlnecker II:

An additional aspect of this could the the difference between those who directly benefit from the system versus those who receive limited or no benefit from the system. Generally, the systems “economic” process are design to support, re-inforce, and exploit only the resources available to it. For societal level systems that is pretty much everything. The resources that are outside the system or are not a function of the systems operation are neglected and either wither and die or become parasitical in order to survive off the dominant systems resources, waste, etc.

Also, the concentration of money/power inside the system drives extreme uniformity of thought and action. (function of highly efficient productivity). All actions must increase the life of the system leading to a decreased possibility of external feedback correcting system performance. Formerly, effective internal control mechanisms become less and less effective. Think Mark Zuckerberg’s rural US tour to “figure out what happened” as an attempt to get external feedback into the system. I would also argue among the benefits of the Google/Alphabet restructuring is to quarantine theses types of negative effects inside Google/YouTube while protecting the rest of their intellectual and financial capital.

Melek Somai:

This notion of asymptote in singularity appears to be compatible with its human counterpart (at least the platonic definition of humanity). What if the justification of singularity is the “growth” of human knowledge without reaching “ever” the asymptote of virtue/“god”?

JoseAntonio Vanderhorst-Silverio:

Following Alvin Toffler, China was supposed to work on two tracks: Second Wave and Third Wave, in which the latter was supposed to be “a fundamental change in the paradigm.” Is China’s drive towards becoming a leader in a religion similar to that of Silicon Valley?

Mariano Escobedo:

“No es que sea pesimista, es que el mundo es pésimo” - José Saramago

When considering the anthropogenic risk of human extinction, the story is all about the struggle for power and control. Adding to nuclear weapons, biotechnology, and climate change, human survival must face Singularity now. The root of the problem is unleashed greed and arrogance combined with ignorance, either real or willful, leading to the accumulation of economic, political, religious, and military power to satisfy immediate, unlimited, real and imaginary, needs and wants without regard for others or the environment. A possible solution is sustainable development with accountability: advancing social and environmental responsibility that is consistent with economic efficiency (triple bottom line sustainability). Assuming that education can tame greed and arrogance, this solution requires a paradigm shift in education and awareness of core human values. Setting limits to the accumulation of power and control implies real, inclusive, horizontal, participatory democracy including minorities and indigenous communities, not to rely on an all powerful, all knowledgeable, benevolent despot solution or Singularity which may take us faster to a self fulfilling prophecy of extinction.

For the economy, this solution implies to foster simultaneous competition and cooperation (coopetition), social entrepreneurship, and effective regulation of non competitive markets and the financial system. In society, more democracy, inclusiveness, solidarity, universal education and healthcare will be needed. For the environment, reforestation, a cradle to cradle approach for conservation, renewable sources of energy and construction materials, as well as effective regulation of highly polluting industries must be adopted; If the right incentives could be codified, a series of algorithms will allow machines to learn and expand human capabilities to pursue their own self interest compatible with social welfare in a more efficient manner. The result is enhanced creative destruction, a desirable paradigm for progress in a blue ocean.

All these efforts will render useless if denuclearization cannot be achieved and climate change cannot be reversed. However, with a better balance of power, universal education, and the help of extended intelligence derived from human compatible AI we might finally have a better chance to solve  all of these issues at once and be on the right path to a more sustainable evolution of life on earth.

Martin anderson:


Niraj Swami:

Yes! Intriguing to see how network effects amplify in this self-to-self ‘network’.

Sebastian Munoz-Najar:

It’s curious how the concept of currencies in complex systems mirrors one of the main theoretical propositions in XX c. sociology. Namely, the idea that social space is made up of fields, each with a specific form of capital and capital and specific conversion rates across fields. Further, the idea of dominant currencies is reflected in the notion of a field of power—often the State in developed countries—that determines the rates of conversion between fields in terms of a single form of capital whose accumulation it can regulate.

In field theory, the conversion of capital across fields is often described as a form of symbolic violence. Stability is the outcome of successful domination. System-wide adaptation is achieved via more or less coordinated exercises of power. Instability is not sufficient for system-wide change, it’s necessary to have structural opportunities to challenge power as well, and these are few and infrequent.

Sebastian Munoz-Najar:

Why is it likely that a culture of flourishing would spread like forms of art? It seems to me like the specific form of diffusion at play here is an open question. I’m curious about what kind of comparative anthropology would provide a convincing answer in this matter.

From the examples in the following paragraphs it appears that schooling is one of the fundamental vehicles for the kind of cultural change the author is thinking about. We know however, that the transformation of the values spoused by schooling systems can hardly be compared to the ebb and flow of fashion trends— it would be inadequate to describe change in these institutions as a “correction away” from one culture to another. Consider desegregation as an example of a radical transformation in the values espoused by school systems. Cultural change and diffusion can only be described in this case as continued struggle.

I expect that the author is in fact thinking of something like this. And that he would retort that spread in fashion and art also occurs through confrontation, struggle. But for an article that invokes resisting in its title there’s very little detail as to how resistance would play out. By what means? Against what specific institutions? Further, who is resisting already as a matter of survival, and how do we help them?

I understand that the genre of manifesto does not require specific answers to the questions above. I wonder if these are however the matters that we must resolve most urgently. What’s more, I’m curious as to what kind of comparative framework can inform our expectations of how culture change might play out. Particularly, how should we outline our expectation of change if we assume a broad definition of education as “the entire process by which a culture transmits itself across the generations.”

Benjamin Lang:

This is what concerns me the most. Systems by definition have to be sustainable. That means they have to have a constant energy input. The modern world is designed and built on fossil fuels, and the million-year-old stack has been used almost entirely just within two centuries. This was basically free lunch (the whole portion at a single bite) and even economists know that there is no such thing as free lunch. From a mere energy perspective, past growth rates can not be sustained, even with a massive push in renewables (as we still are a 90% fossil fuel society today). So our rigorous efficiency-driven systems design (from economics to health care to education) of the past will lead us straight towards failure, when we can not make the leap to a resilient systems future. Steve Hallett has been doing some great thinking about this topic!

Patsy Baudoin:

The culturally motivated recreation of the Ise Shrine over 1300 years is also a terrific example of the sort of preservation that yields value-driven survival of physical artifacts. It makes the most of the transmission of knowledge from the elders who built to the younger generation who must rebuild. There is no sense of an “original” — no template, no ur-shrine as we have in the West (think of how we, in the West, preserve a painting or a sculpture by trying to recapture its original state, colors, etc. We do not preserve a Rembrandt by recreating it; we “fix” — and today using digital means, aligned with a linear and AI view of things. The new shrine doesn’t strive to be somehow identical to an original or a perfect replica; rather its preservation is a matter of values and negotiating the complexities of the old, the new, and the future.

James Rose:

Very exciting essay. Challenging habituated thinking is a difficult thing to expect people to reflect on, but is absolutely needed as we rapidly move into a future that is transforming faster than humanity has ever had to adapt to before. I would suggest you add Benj Whorf as an important analyst of how we recognize the global environment around us. Not the conventional opinions of Whorf’s remarks about language, but the following:

From “Language, Thought and Reality”, ed. John Carroll, 1956.

"The familiar saying that the exception proves the rule contains a good deal of wisdom, though from the standpoint of formal logic it became an absurdity as soon as "prove" no longer meant "put on trial." The old saw began to be profound psychology from the time it ceased to have standing in logic. What it might well suggest to us today is that, if a rule has absolutely no exceptions, it is not recognized as a rule or as anything else; it is then part of the background of experience of which we tend to remain unconscious. Never having experienced anything to contrast to it, we cannot isolate it and formulate it as a rule until we enlarge our experience and expand our base of reference that we encounter an interruption of its regularity."

"For instance, if a race of people had the physiological defect {aka: "limitation"} of being able to see only the color blue, they would hardly be able to formulate the rule that they saw only blue. The term blue would convey no meaning to them, their language would lack color terms, and their words denoting various sensations of blue would answer to, and translate, our words "light, dark, white, black", and so on, not our word "blue". ... The phenomenon of gravitation forms a rule without exceptions; needless to say, the untutored person is utterly unaware of any law of gravitation, for it would never enter his head to conceive of a universe in which bodies behaved otherwise than they do at the earth's surface. ... The law could not be formulated until bodies which always fell were seen in terms of a wider astronomical world in which bodies moved in orbits or went this way and that." ...

... "When linguists became able to examine critically and scientifically a large number of languages of widely different patterns, their base of reference was expanded; they experienced an interruption of phenomena hitherto held universal, and a whole new order of significances came into their ken. It was found that the background linguistic system (in other words, the grammar) of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but ... is itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual's mental activity, for his analysis of impressions, for his synthesis of his mental stock in trade." ...

... "This fact is very significant for modern science, for it means that no individual is free to describe nature with absolute impartiality but is constrained to certain modes of interpretation even while he thinks himself most free. The person most nearly free in such respects would be ... familiar with very many widely different ... systems. ... We are thus introduced to a new principle of "relativity", which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe .... unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in someway be calibrated."“

This is a cybernetics viewpoint, written in a pre-Wiener context … but the association should be recognizable.

Thank you for discussing the challenge that humanity faces in the years ahead. Maintaining the conventional mindset is more problematic than useful … and we need fresh clear NEW understandings.

James Rose (Integrity Paradigm) (

Turil Cronburg:

I think that this will naturally happen when we seek to collect a whole planet’s worth of personal stories about what is most precious life on Earth - the persons, places, and things that individuals have found so impactful on their lives.

When we get a large representation of all the individuals on Earth - animal, vegetable, mineral, and whatever else - to share their stories (in whatever way they can), I think a new, more globally meaningful, paradigm, and accompanying set of rules, goals, etc., will emerge.

Howard Gardner:

You make it clear that we all use metaphors and paradigms to explain the world to ourselves and to others--indeed we lack other options. In that vein, you contrast a systems-feedback approach, (with multiple evolutionary systems, etc.) with a singularity, linear or expansive approach.  But it’s important to recognize that the reality is what it is—and while it’s fortunate that we can model it and try to understand it, there is no ultimate ‘correct’ final paradigm, no fully adequate metaphor(s).  Thomas Kuhn was correct in that sense. (And while I much admire E. O. Wilson, he is wrong—the paradigms that may work for physics have no deep relation to the paradigms that work for music or sculpture or geology or psychology--nor is there any reason to think that there is a seamless web that connects them all--yet another 'world hypothesis' (Pepper) or themata (Holton).

You speak about a universal belief in progress. But that is a Western idea, from the last few centuries--in the past cyclical beliefs were at least as prevalent.  I learned this first hand when I ran a project on ‘human potential’ some decades ago and looked into the literature on progress, for example  Robert Nisbet’s history of the idea of progress..

By the same token, we may indeed live in a Silicon alley-Wall Street accented civilization in which the primary currencies are money and power. But again, that hardly suffices across history or, indeed, across cultures.  Moreover, how power is construed is very different—Gandhi had neither money nor power (in the usual sense, never held elective or even appointed office) and yet was a dominant figure while alive and remains very influential wherever nonviolent protest (satyagraha) takes place. So, too, Martin Luther King, Jr. And human beings existed for a long time without currency (let alone blockchains!), from all we can tell.

I do like  your featuring of ‘religion’—also an analogy and metaphor.  Ironic that those who believe in the new religion are the very ones who tend to be dubious (if not downright hostile) about traditional religions. Perhaps each era and each population needs its own custom-made or invented religion…and these ad hoc religions need to be labeled as such!

Knowing our geographical planet is daunting enough—and there is a much larger universe out there as well—and of course, we have no way of knowing whether our ways of knowing (or those of the machines or programs or hybrid organisms that we create) are adequate to the universe (with its black holes) or even to our tiny solar system. Or, for that matter, if the universe cares! Or what happened before the universe appeared, or after it disappears….

I call for more humility, less hubris.

Moving to education, drill and practice goes back thousands of years. This regimen did not need Skinner, and Skinner did not have much impact on educational practice.  Those of us ‘in the know’ hope that Papert, Resnick, and their associates  at the Media Lab will have more power—but until now, drill and practice carry the day.  Ellen Lagemann, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education a decade ago once quipped, that in the struggle  between (Edward) Thorndike and (John) Dewey, Thorndike won.

As someone who has spent decades thinking about and studying intelligence, of course, I am interested in the search for intelligence or for supra-intelligent devices.  I note that intelligence here seems to be restricted to problem solving, whereas human intelligence (or intelligences, my term) are properly applied as well to problem finding—in which all of us are engaged as scholars. The fans of “AI” take human intelligence, as they understand it, as a model—but again, we have no idea whether the ‘ultimate designers of the universe’ employed intelligence(s) anything like ours.  In your discussion of ‘extended intelligence’  you may be making the same kind of point. I like the invocation of music—especially improvisation—so long as you underscore that it, too, is just a helpful analogy.

When I saw the word ‘amortality,’ I immediately thought of ‘amorality.’ Because of course, the desire for raw intelligence and for raw computational power, completely bypasses issues of morality and ethics—ones which I am glad to know that you are tackling---for example in your current seminar and in the large cooperative project with the Berkman Center. For me, this is the biggest question- –and one which, as long as I am around, I want to entrust to living, breathing mortal human beings, and not to the devices that we create,and that those devices might want to create in turn.  Two cheers for diversity, two and one half cheers for happiness, but three cheers for diversity and happiness that honor morality and ethics, in a Rawlsian and Kantian sense.

Turil Cronburg:

You make a good point about there not being a “correct” outcome, I think. Part of evolution (which I believe is the same as the process of entropy) is experimentation and refinement. Random mutations need to happen, and then the combinations that have the highest fitness (literally they fit into the ecosystem well) end up being the things that stick around and get reproduced. This process of experimentation and refinement happens with matter (as in genes) and energy (as in art/technology/culture).

The final outcome can be many different things, because there are probably many different combinations of combinations that can make an effective, thriving ecosystem. Any one of them would do well for us. So not having a specific future imagined is probably helpful. Being flexible and trusting nature’s learning process of evolution to guide us as we experiment and refine is probably our best tactic here.

JoseAntonio Vanderhorst-Silverio:

This story Making sure large high tech companies have visible #CharacterEthic #ProSystem CEOs is for the consideration of people with "freedom of mind" ready to embrace the #CharacterEthic to go for #SocialBusiness3DoC, which is beyond the #PersonalityEthic and #SocialMedia of people that might lack said "freedom of mind."

JoseAntonio Vanderhorst-Silverio:

Please consider distributing as wide as possible the non confrontational story Is it now easier for #WEF18 leaders to burn #4IR bridges to create the #SystemicCivilization? for the occasion of the the 48th @WEF Annual Meeting that will take place on 23-26 January in #Davos, #Switzerland.

JoseAntonio Vanderhorst-Silverio:

This is edited from new tweets on the tweet conversation on “Is “Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto” the right “Human use of human beings” audience?

@cally_priest Thanks! From "Its all business and dollars what about the basic needs and rights of ppl.x" let's separate business from dollars. On business, my philosophy started to emerged initially from @PKoestenbaum's "Do You Have the Will to Lead? ( …)."

On dollars, @Joi's "INTRODUCTION: THE CANCER OF CURRENCY" on "Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto ( … )," says, for example, "The biggest difference between these and financial currencies is that there is no 'master currency' or 'currency exchange.'"

Vinicius Soares:

I was wondering if the advent of so many cryptocurrencies, derived from different applications and purposes, is anyhow connected to this aspect of different natural “currencies” for different values, that support different relationships.

Joichi Ito:

I think the cryptocurrencies could be part of the answer to diversifying. I think the work on using blockchain and other cryptographic accounting efforts could add value. There is a risk to “over-quantizing” nature which might not be reducible to just numbers, but I think it would be a great step forward to create a way to account for natural resources in our economy.

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JoseAntonio Vanderhorst-Silverio:

This is the text of an image that I just tweeted with the above title:

After having read Steve J. Heims’ 1988 introduction to Norbert Wiener’s “Human Use Of Human Beings,“ I wonder if “Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto” is the proper audience for the “human - rather than the inhuman - use of human beings”?

•Like Wiener, who became “acquainted with current research on a broad range of topics outside of his specialty,” I have been very critical of the ‘Groupthink’ of the industrial civilization statu quo inhuman use of human beings.

•Unlike Wiener, who remained at MIT (that was and still seem to be heavily involved with the statu quo), I have refused to get a job with them since 2010. Such ‘Groupthink’ emerged as what I coined as the March of Folly of the #DarkGlobalization.

•As I interpreted Alvin Toffler’s Third Wave, my key effort was to go above politics (and culture, economics, religion), which recently emerged as “Politics is dead” for the Industrial Civilization, “Long live politics!” for what I coined as the #SystemicCivilization. Such an effort above politics,  can now be seen after reading Heims as the result of my personal humanistic philosophy.

•After trying many different audiences, without success in #SocialMedia’s person to person etiquette, under unavoidable peripheral excursions, I understand that the proper audience of leaders must come from what I coined as #SocialBusiness3DoC which has the emerging non technology User Experience #UX etiquette.

monika hardy:

‘Scientists often call these molecules “currencies” because they represent a form of power that is transferred between cells or processes to mutual benefit—“traded,” in effect. The biggest difference between these and financial currencies is that there is *no “master currency” or “currency exchange.”’

perhaps rather.. there is *no measuring being done ..meaning.. it's not whether or not there's a master currency (which seems to be our ongoing obsession)'s that we thought we had to measure it out in the first place.. the process (photosynthesis et al) emerges.. the parts do what they are made/meant to do.. they do what they can't not do (call it their art).. perhaps we have to trust that to get back in balance.. (which would beg a leap.. because sync would matter)

JoseAntonio Vanderhorst-Silverio:

Is it possible that the IEEE might consider my post “Can the World Economic Forum change its methodology to one that would have avoided, for example, the CES2018 Blackout? ( )” in time for WEF annual meeting next week?

That post is an update on the post “Was the Smart Grid 2025 a transition scenario? Do we need a transformation scenario? ( ).”

Kasia Moreno:

You mention that some believe that, in some ways, Singularity will operate like Soviet master planning with full information and unlimited power, and self-regulate to everybody’s benefit.

As someone who grew up in a country that was controlled by Soviet Union, I can assure you that the “ communist system” did not figure out how to regulate itself.

It had plenty of information, especially about its citizens, but used this information to obtain power and control over its people.

The problem is that its currencies - communist apparatchiks - did not create life, but grew like cancer cells, grabbing as much as they can and destroying others in the process.

Nate Storring:

Mr. Ito, I must say I was a little disappointed that such an insightful, unique, and timely essay ended with a somewhat conventional and unsure call to arms. I wonder if this small tidbit may help to give further direction to the alternative vision taking shape here.

In Jane Jacobs’s 1984 book, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, she praises the idea of anthropologist Tadao Umesao that Japan has flourished historically when it embraced an “aesthetics of drift.” In these periods, they claim, the nation allowed room for the unpredictable and the opportunistic, rather than operating by “resolute purpose.” As a longtime advocate for a complexity-driven approach to understanding cities, economics and ethics, I thought Jacobs’s thoughts here and elsewhere might make an appropriate addition.

Fred Kent:

Starting in the seventies with a group of social/community researchers, writers, and some activists, we call the Golden Age of research on public life…people like Jane Jacobs, Margaret Mead, William Whyte, and others are the foundation for what we call Placemaking. Project for Public Spaces, which I started in 1975, is an outgrowth of that work. It is fast becoming an international movement, because it supports deeply the arguments you are making against technological singularity. Look at our blog on Sidewalk Labs

Placemaking creates complexity which drives constant, naturally organic change.

Our long term mantra is “We need to turn everything upside-down, to get it right side-up…to get from inadequate to extraordinary.

i like your work immensely, but it is a hard read for most people. The writers I mentioned and a few today are explaining it in similar ways with different language. We see a convergence around the idea of “place” which thrives on complexity.

Kevin Shockey:

Why do you call the singularity a religion? Is that the same as Singularitarianism, which is a mouthful, right?

Who are these people and companies that are a part of the religion?

Amos Blanton:

I’ve been thinking about the stickiness of reductionist approaches like the two you mention here - but especially in the context of education and learning through play. Why do bad ideas like Behaviorism persist for so long in our current human intellectual ecology? Plenty of other similar bad ideas get weeded out more quickly. Behaviorism isn’t effective or even intellectually very strong - yet it and it’s evil offspring persist.

I think the reason has to do with the human need for control - even if the sense of control is an illusion. As articulated in the Buddhist tradition, Ego’s need to assert control in the name of the pretense of safety and consistency is such that it will invent means of control that do not in fact work, or are harmful to the self or others. Because the model of behaviorism (and “evidence based assessment of rote learning” to name another important example) is so simple, it’s easy to create a sense of control based on that model. This need is scale invariant - applies to individuals and corporations. The response to people questioning that model tends to be disproportionately intense, as if you were calling into question fundamental values.

Ethan Zuckerman:

I think you’re going to need to unpack this further. I’ve heard you make the argument that tackling exponentialism is going to require a cultural change - I think that’s where you’re going with this Fletcher quote, and I’d urge you to make the case more clearly for an anti-exponentialist, pro-cyclical complexity movement that grows through culture…

Ethan Zuckerman:

Joi, I’d urge you to expand on and develop this example. In bringing us into conversation about thinking in systems and flows, rather than exponential curves, you need to give us a vision of the future you want us to see. The Singulatarians and exponentialists have their dream, and it’s a compelling one - deathless, all complexities solved by computers of infinite power. Ise Shrine is the first vision I’ve seen here of what your perfect circular, sustainable world might look like - I think selling this concept involves building out those optimistic futures more thoroughly.

Ethan Zuckerman:

You may want to look at some of George Soros’s work on reflexivity. GS has written on the idea of trying to optimize within systems where our own behaviors will influence the system. He ends up in some of the same places you do, with humility about unknowability as one of the steps towards understanding these systems more deeply.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Joi, I’m struck by this idea and the idea that currencies are potentially cancerous. Currency, as a metaphor, has at least two meanings. It’s a medium for exchange of value, as another of your commenters has pointed out, but it’s also a way of keeping score. You’re rich, therefore you’re thriving in an environment and we should optimize towards doing things the way you’re doing them. You rightly point out that this is a view that leads to shallow optima and fragile systems, rather than the robust, resilient and complex ones you want. As we head in that direction, you may need a currency - as scorekeeping mechanism - that rewards resiliency. It’s hard for people to optimize for something they don’t know how to track - how do we measure the resiliency of systems and celebrate them in a way like the ways we currently celebrate currencies of money and power?

monika hardy:

‘It’s hard for people to optimize for something they don’t know how to track’

maybe that’s part of the cancer

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Zen Benefiel:

There are so many natural cycles, rhythms and patterns in consciousness that have gone either unnoticed or severely underutilized when considering new developments, imho. I sense there is also an explosion of awareness (self, other and collective) that parallels the information curve and holds keys we are just beginning to explore, like Tom Campbell's work. There is an inner sense that still hasn't been recognized to any great degree, although Senge and Scharmer attempt to garner attention with the U-Theory model and the idea of co-presencing. These things are just as important in the pursuit of happiness and better living through the application of new technologies.

Sean Kennedy:

The partner of this striven-for “amortality” is a certain kind of amorality.  There is always the question of progress toward what?  By claiming its inevitability, advocates of a certain brand of progress seek to place their goals outside the realm of debate.  But those goals contain an inherent set of values, just as the assumptions behind the programming of any “artificial intelligence” contains sets of values. The same could be said for “growth”.  Who’s rising up against the growth of literacy, health, or beauty?  It’s the unchecked growth of things we don’t value that is the problem.  It’s not the amount of consumption that’s the problem it’s the nature of the consumed goods and the side-effects of producing and consuming those goods.  (I, for one, would love to see a much greater emphasis on the production and consumption of high-quality cultural goods vs low-quality consumer goods.)  I worry that the attempt to posit models like the homeostasis of natural systems as a replacement to the current dominant financial model also sidesteps the question of morality.  At some point, we need to talk about what we value as a community and then adjust our systems of currency to appropriately reflect those values.

Will Bible:

Joi - You point out here that conventional thinking on digital technology points toward using it as a replacement/substitute.

On a positive note, I’ve observed that digital transformation also gives us the ability to “trade up on quality” rather than “substitute for lower cost”. For example, if instead of driving to a store to select a purchase from a limited number mass produced, low cost goods, I can search a wide range of customized goods quickly, I am more likely to “spend” my time savings by finding a bespoke / customized good at the same or higher price point. In this way, technology uncovered a hidden trade-off I had accepted: lower quality for convenience.

In my work, I’ve seen a similar effect when automating tasks. While the task might be reduced/eliminated, it gives the task performer visibility into hidden quality trade-offs. The performer can instead focus creative efforts on quality improvement, rather than task performance. Is it time to start measuring not just worker productivity, but also output quality?

Monica Anderson:


Full story starts at

Mihaela Ulieru:

Oh! Music above law!… YES! Since my undergrad years chasing feedback loops in linear control systems, I’ve been searching for an answer to more organic forms of governance

Yo-Yo Ma:

Seed, Energize, Reach, Verify, Evolve: SERVE.

Goal of all art forms, disciplines, leaders. To benefit mankind. Our biological and cultural imperative.

Yo-Yo Ma:

This is brilliant, sophisticated, timely. 

Question, what do you want to do with this manifesto? Socio-economic political cultural movement? To begin with, who do you want to read this? In what spaces?

I know people who are working on this on the political side. I am interested in the arts and sciences ie buildable memory cultural side. 

Ryan Tanaka:

Don’t know if people would agree with my conclusions here, but I’ve been working on developing my music in relation to housing issues around the Bay Area recently.

I believe that it’s important for us to develop a sensibility for diversity not just as an abstract exercise, but in ways that reflect our day to day lives. We’re in need of new visions of how we plan to co-exist with one another, and I do think that artists have the ability to pave the way here in very real ways.

Melek Somai:

the link is broken

Stefaan Verhulst:

One suggestion may be to consider how collective and artificial intelligence can be integrated more - See my recent medium article calling for “Augmented Collective Intelligence” and “Human-Driven AI” -

Christoph Hinske:

Interviewing 22 transformational leaders from around the world, done in a recent study commisioned by the German Government (and picked up by Forbes Magazine), we also asked: “What are the currencies underlying societal transformation processes? What properties do they have? Is everything exchanged through scarcity- based, interest-based money?

We found that transformations at the societal level are based both on the criteria of "the more one gives the more one receives" and on making co-investment into a future possibility that leverages individual and collective choice. To do these, the exchange of value through scarcity based FIAT money is improved by adding many other forms of value exchange.

We found that successful societal scale transformations are always driven by an expanded Understanding of Modes of Exchanging Value: Value in societal scale transformations consciously includes additional currencies such as trust, spirituality and scientific knowledge. Furthermore, collectively developed ideas, sharing of opportunities, contributions of time, sharing of relations and access through built relationships of trust and the emergent patterns or synergies that arise are all currencies with massive power for the success of a societal scale transformation.

We found that stakeholders in such processes tend to be clear that it is not about the investment itself, but the recognition that in order to solve problems at a societal scale, they need to integrate broader perspectives, conversations and actions. Thus, they broaden their definition of value exchange and make use of approaches that go beyond money, primarily to build on and include the exchange of people’s distinct, unique contributions.

JoseAntonio Vanderhorst-Silverio:

Should we question the currency of scientific knowledge as being reductionist by lacking enough currency of trust and spirituality?

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Jason Lee:

Joi - what about the work of Howard T. Odum on ecosystems and his theory of a solar based energy currency the emjoule?

Granted, many of the links between emjoules and higher order complex systems are only sketched out in Odum’s writing, but it still offers a kind of ‘God' currency’. What do you think?

Joichi Ito:

I think this is quite interesting. Thanks for the link!

Jason Lee:

While I wholeheartedly agree with most of the points in the article, as a designer I am concerned with how we can move from the zero sum logic that governs most individual systems to a more ecosystemic (is that word?) understanding of inputs, outputs and waste. And, if we can think about the interaction of systems at different altitudes, where does that leave us as people (users)? Will we be more empowered or less?

Terry Daniels:

True Artificial Intelligence is here. I created a codeless video AI that uses motion graphics to instantly respond to user mental inquiry.

Anselme Mucunguzi:

I very much enjoyed this manifesto, and it’s long overdue as some of the readers mentioned. The concept that “more than enough is too much” is especially relevant today with the mega Silicon Valley companies. My question, however, is how do we as a society shift to this new paradigm when there is so much power asymmetry and it’s in the best interest of the current mega corporations to resist the change as much as they can? Are there some tools we can use to catalyze the movement?

Helene Finidori:

This manifesto particularly resonates as I have been writing on and researching this topic for a while (in a PhD in Systems Sciences at Hull in the UK). We need to build tools and methods to reveal systemic behaviors and dynamics and in particular those that seek maximization for the parts (over application of ‘winning strategies’) rather than optimization for the whole (that enable flourishing). Once people can see or anticipate the effects of aggregation, and power laws at play, it becomes easier to collectively have a ‘pharmacological’ approach that takes into account the health of the system as a whole and the effects that our designs unleash -at least this is my wishful thinking!-. This is where AI can help: enhancing human intelligence, and in particular enhancing our ability to ‘read’ the weak signals and the patterns of the complex dynamics around us and the way we can be ‘stuck’ in structures that we cannot even grasp the effects of. So I am working on the idea of pattern literacy in support of systems literacy, with the pattern as unit of meaning-making enabling to discern, design and communicate on form, and as a connector and mediator to cross boundaries. There is a drastic need for tools that can help us navigate systems is open / transparent ways. Resources are currently dedicated to keep us stuck in the existing loops, and to observe us as we loose grasp… If there is a project associated to the manifesto, I would be glad to participate. I am currently based in Boston.

Mark Kramer:

Was is "the hippie movement" or a few hippies (such as Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly & Howard Rheingold) who spearheaded this “Whole Earth Movement”?

Howard Rheingold:

I think “hippie movement” is the kind of generalization and reification that comes from distance in time, space, and culture. As Fred Turner pointed out in “From Counterculture to Cyberculture,” Stewart’s genius was in bringing together different networks. People interested in ecology, alternative energy, natural childbirth, personal computers, systems thinking weren’t some monolithic group. The Whole Earth Catalog brought different networks into collision and made it clear that there was fruitful potential for cross-fertilization because all these interest groups were looking at ways to transform what they perceived to be broken or obsolete in American culture of the 1950s.

Antony Upward:

Hi everyone,

I am part of a small but growing movement that takes the idea of enabling the possibility for flourishing as a potential anchor purpose or "why" for humanity.

Almost 20 years ago MIT prof John Ehrenfeld suggested that the only thing scientifically we can sustain and the only thing ethically we should strive to sustain is "the possibility for humans and other life to flourish on this planet for seven generations and beyond". I believe he and Prof Ito are saying very much the same thing.

For a good introduction to Prof. Ehrenfeld's thinking see his short Socratic dialog "Flourishing a frank conversation about sustainability". For recent nascent steps to start a global movement to build towards UN Flourishing Goals (to replace the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2030) please search Twitter #Movement4Flourishing

Hope this is interesting and helps people of a similar intent align and reinforce their actions.

Antony Upward

Flourishing Enterprise Designer & Adjunct Professor

Naoko Ushimaru-Alsop:

It's not just corporations, but ourselves, the tribal, territorial and greedy beings ridden with unsustainability…
Many corporations (and states as well) are driven by leaders and stakeholders who focus solely on maximizing their personal profits rather than their organizations' exponential financial (and territorial) growth.
What if, one day, "it" tells us to follow a set of some simple rules like the Ten Commandments and tell us all of our problems will be solved if we abide by them?
Will we, humans, follow those rules? We know the history. In this scenario, the super intelligence won't be able to save us.
As long as we, the imperfect individuals, are the controllers of our intelligent tools, we may not be able to solve our fundamental problems. We need to improve ourselves first by resolving our cognitive dissonance or enhancing the executive functions in our brain so we'll be able to act by reason.
I totally agree that we should have a sense of how much is enough with sustainability in mind...

Doug Hill:

Professor Ito, I have long appreciated your willingness to recognize the excesses of the engineers who are driving so much of our culture today. It’s great, too, to read of the various initiatives to integrate values and humility into AI and other technologies. I do feel it’s important to recognize the difficulty of the task. By that I mean that the idea of placing humility over control, commendable and necessary as that is, in many respects goes against the nature of technology, which drives toward expansion and control. I devote a chapter to this in my book (“Not So Fast: Thinking Twice About Technology”) which also includes a final section entitled “Fearless Leaders” that cites Norbert Wiener’s critiques of engineering ambition and myopia as a consistent theme. See also my piece on Wiener for the Atlantic, “The Eccentric Genius Whose Time May Have Finally Come (Again).” Thank you again for addressing these vital issues.

Axel Meta:

I really felt that my work is understood in this essay. I think now we need to try to see how the best of products can create a change in our cultural norms and behaviors that create a new mindset of consumption and relation to others and the world.

This is what we are trying in our startup (my cofounder is a visual AI expert and i’m an anthropologist). We are creating an app that makes a new behavior possible: unlocking the sharing of food, leftovers or other consumable items with our extended trusted network in a way that we co-consume/share and deepen our bonds with the people we care in situations that were otherwise hard to organize and make them happen.

Brian Ahier:

Sometimes treating a cancerous growth destroys a good deal of healthy tissue as well.

Steve Downs:

Joi, I love this essay and my only struggle is that it is so densely packed with big ideas. I’d love to you see you double click on several of them and go deeper (in subsequent posts?). 

In particular, I think it’s really important to flesh out alternatives. I love the idea of a culture of flourishing, but I want to know more about what that looks like. What would be the replacements for the paradigms — and rules — that lead us to pursue exponential growth?

I think it’s so important that people like you and Tim O’Reilly are challenging really big assumptions at the heart of our (meaning US) culture — a culture that has its own manifest destiny and is exporting not just its cultural artifacts but its cultural DNA to the rest of the world. 

George Por:

It may be so, but aren’t we all bet for the layer that we inhabit, as the one that has the most potential for fundamental correction? Instead of arguing whose layer is the most fundamental, I built an “Innovation Architecture” model include the Cultural, Knowledge Social, Business, and Technology layers. They are visualized as overlapping circle and I teach my clients to focus on the sweet spot in the overlap.

George Por:

While nonlinear change cannot be designed, by definition, conditions favorable to it can. The Lab’s Extended Intelligence line of research is a beautiful example of that.

What can we learn from its design methodology, which is transferable to other layers of the system (outside academic research?

George Por:

The path from Augmenting Human Intellect (Engelbart, 1962) to augmenting the collective intelligence of Complex Adaptive Social Systems, is also a path for Life carrying itself forward to increasingly higher order interwovenness, “innervation” (Teilhard de Chardin), and complexity.

Kiyoshi Suzaki:

This reminds me of Avatamsaka sutra (Kegon in Jp) and holon structure of universe (to see the world in a single grain of sand…) as well as my thesis on mini company (as explained in my books, Results from the heart, New shop floor mgmt). My view (hope) is: AI may help us to revisit who we are, our reason of existence and guide ways to be the master of our own destiny. May all beings be happy.

Jeffrey Walker:

Using systems change and engaging system entrepreneurs to help us all think in this new, more holistic, way is growing in leaps and bounds. It is that system mapping, use of contemplative sciences to mold our brains to function better in a more collaborative fashion that are seeming to be valuable tools. I LOVE the music linkage and can tell you about a systems focused initiative with the Grammys and many others to bring back music to all kids in schools that might be a good specific model for you to examine.

Maxim Blondeau:

We need a new cycle of Macy Conferences. As an admirer of Gregory Bateson’s work I would be very happy to contribute. MB

Joichi Ito:

Yes! I’ve been thinking about the Macy Conferences a lot lately.

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A M:

Might be worth also adding Tim O'Reilly's concept of capitalism as the first runaway AI.

Brian Ahier:

Great point!

A M:

I would say "I am not comparing SV entrepreneurs to Nazi's but we should remember that ..."

A M:

There are a few spots where you say that money / power is a master or primary currency. I think that may be overstating the issue as it neglects some pretty important forces (love, friendship, happiness, family, etc.) Including measureability in your concept would be useful. Or making clear that those others drop away in the case of corps.

Jonathan Zittrain:

Is your belief based on data or faith? :) 

Jonathan Zittrain:

Is this graf the core of what you want to shake the Sings out of? That more (exponentially more, even) isn't better, and that arguing about the pace of more is really avoiding the more important questions—and that what makes Sing a cult is that it equates progress with benefit.

If this graf captures it, it could go earlier in the essay?

Jonathan Zittrain:

Good place to be very clear about what you think the Singulatarians want, and what you want. I don't think you mean to say that it's all so unknowable and irreducible that we should give up trying to manage anything. Maybe what you mean is that we shouldn't just do what we want and then assume we can patch any negative externalities later—because patching a complex adaptive system often results in unpredictable and iatrogenic outcomes. We can't just max out our metaphorical credit cards and figure it'll balance out later. 

Jonathan Zittrain:

In your view was Weiner rebelling against this, or embracing it?

Jonathan Zittrain:

Godwin's Law ftw!

Joichi Ito:

Skinner thought that operant conditioning was THE form of learning and it influenced education and learning scholarship by oversimplifying how we think of learning. Weirdly, it’s similar to the notion that reinforcement learning, very similar to Skinner’s method, might lead to AI’s becoming super-intelligent. It’s an important part of the way we learn, but only one part of a much more complex system…. so I think it’s reductionist.

Jonathan Zittrain:

Is this sort of thinking reductionist or grandiose? Skinner example seems a different sort of error. Or is it the thought of a silver bullet?

Jonathan Zittrain:

Of course, the asymptote is everywhere. That's what makes it an asymptote! At any point along an exponential curve, one is by definition at the "knee" of it. That's why the Singulatarians' focus on now as "this is when things get really crazy, just look at the graph," is... wrong. 

Jonathan Zittrain:

Interesting to muse on whether the paradigms themselves are the result of natural processes—the evolutionary biologists who say that greed is somehow an adaptive benefit, selected for, along with some threads of cooperation—and yet unlike with Darwin's evolution, this has propelled us towards a dead end...

Martin Nowak:


You write beautifully. What you say about evolution is perfect.

Fitness landscapes arise when you assign a fitness value for every genotype. The genotypes are arranged in a high-dimensional sequence space. The fitness landscape is a function on that sequence space. In evolutionary dynamics, a biological population moves over a fitness landscape driven by mutation, selection and random drift. (This is the case of what I call constant selection.) In a game the fitness landscape changes as the population moves over it.

Please take a look at figure 1 here (this is also a good citation):

Fitness landscapes are also described in my book “Evolutionary dynamics” (Harvard University Press 2006), which you can cite.

Gerald Holton:

I have been reading and re-reading your essay, and admire its aim, its arguments, and its passion. In my reading of it, it is nothing less than a warning that current human civilization "is on a dangerous course"-- that having neglected Norbert Wiener's commandment to make human use of human beings, civilizations are on a single-minded, ever accelerating march toward the abyss.

To me, your key argument for recognizing and then ameliorating the basic error in the current mindset appears in your use, on several pages, of such concepts as "the notion of singularity", "singularitarians", "singularity bubble", all of which are contrary to your (and my) belief in viewing the world properly "as interconnected complex adaptive systems", or as you say later, the need to embrace "the irreducibility of the real world".

Here you correctly enter into the old and essential argument for pluralism, although you do not use the word. In my view the most interesting recent philosopher and historian of ideas worth calling on in support is Isaiah Berlin, especially in his book The Crooked Timber of Humanity (1992). As he puts it there, a central [singulatarian] belief in Western thought, since Plato, has been that "to all genuine questions there is one true answer, all others being false...".

But Berlin then issues a warning which we must take seriously: that among many intellectuals, instead of repairing this monistic conception, for example by attending to pluralism, there arose, especially since the second half of the twentieth century, a Romantic Rebellion (including more and more against science), by the "enthronement of the will of individuals or classes, [with] the rejection of reason and order as being prison houses of the spirit".

Two things followed. One was the rise of hordes of counter-culturalists since mid-20th century, of which a typical emblem is Bruno Latour's remark that one now has to "abolish the distinction between science and fiction". The other point is that, as we see now in parts of politics, there is again the predominance of the Willversus reason and truth.

As a result, your call-to-arms is likely to face opposition from both the singularitarians and the Romanticists (which often overlap). So what starts as your essay will have to continue, with much work, to become a Cause appealing to many--as it should.

Ethan Zuckermann:

For me, the core of the essay is the contrast between the exponential curve the singulatarians believe in, and the sne wave of food webs and biological ecosystems. Much as the current market economy encourages us to acquire as much money (and power? You should make up your mind in that first sentence) as possible, our basic biology encourages us to reproduce as much as possible. The reason we don't see an infinite number of rabbits is because a variety of regulatory forces, from food supplies to predators, keeps populations in check. In a simple, two actor model, rabbits increase until they're out of lettuce, then starve unti the lettuce grows back. The trajectory of the two actors looks like sine waves in opposite phase - high rabbits correlates to low lettuce, and vice versa.

I think we don't look enough at the cybernetics of Wiener because it looks like a zero sum game, and we're convinced that human intelligence makes exponential curves possible and overcomes these sine waves. In some ways, that's true - Malthus was wrong, and we figured out how to feed ourselves and didn't run out of grain. But your writing here raises he question of "what happens if we use the wrong curve for our models?" What in our systems is exponential, what's linear, an S curve, a bell curve, and what's a sine wave?

I think the connection between capitalist assumptions of infinite growth and the hopes and fears of singulatarians is interesting, smart and powerful. The pivot into learning how we function in complex adaptive systems isn't as well developed. To tie this together, you may have to go out on a limb and explain how singulatarians are wrong and will fail, due to their failure to understand what curves are exponential and which (the complex adaptive systems) are more like sine waves. The observation from Kevin is great, but it needs explanation before or after so it lands.

Wolfgang Wopperer-Beholz:

Further to Ethan’s point, at least Kurzweil’s standard answer to the criticism that we might be on an S-, not an exponential curve is the following:

Individual paradigms of technological progress exhibit S-curves, i. e. system dynamics created by balancing loops. Since successive paradigms build on the accumulated results of the previous ones and thus have increasingly greater growth potential, each S-curve’s gradient is steeper than the previous one. These successive, interlinking S-curves taken together “create” an exponential curve, i.e. in effect a reinforcement loop that operates on a level above the individual paradigms (Kurzweil’s “Law of Accelerating Returns”). See e.g. the discussion between Theodore Modis and Ray Kurzweil on pp. 311–346 of Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment (

This interpretation is, of course, still based on a lot of coarse-grained extrapolation and open to empirical criticism, but as it stands, the text doesn’t reflect the state of the argument and is thus open to an all-too-easy rebuttal by singularitarians. Thus, I think that Ethan is right in suggesting a more thorough refutation of singularitarian thinking at this point.

I also think the right level of argument is not trying to show that technological progress doesn’t follow an S-curve, but to stress that technological (and economic, societal etc.) progress is embedded in complex systems that follow different trajectories and that might (or will!) counterbalance any tendencies towards exponential development. Since this is one of the key points of your essay anyway, an explicit refutation along these lines should be low-hanging fruits. :-)

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Martha Minow:

This is a spectacular essay!

The pluralism of ecosystems, and the pluralism of societies, are crucial to ensure freedom, variety, and the possibility of survival should evolution go down a deadly path. The founders of the US understood this in preserving state and local governments, private sector, and religious freedom while strengthening the federal government. Haven't people read their science fiction --things don't end up well with singularity!

And the message about songs and spirituality: so important. Meaning is what we yearn for, not just more materiality.

Ed Boyden:

You end by describing the "paradigm shift" that we need -- but I worry that it sounds like a huge hurdle. Is there a meaningful path? Even the "songs of a nation" and the other art and humanities things you cite, need to be financed in some way, at least in the current model. What will kickstart this path? 

Ed Boyden:

Great point. Are there concrete examples that come to mind about how we struggle with things today, that have their roots in past innovations? Climate change, as a result of the industrial revolution, say? Diabetes and cancer, as a result of dietary and environmental changes we "innovated"?

Joichi Ito:

Steven Downs from RWJF has a nice post about how our lifestyles are making us unhealthy.

Ed Boyden:

Money has become a living, breathing things whose secret motivation is behind every act, it sometimes seems. It's even more than a currency -- it seems to have its own goal, namely to grow. And it exploits humans as the machines to help make it grow.

Daniel Stahlnecker II:

The primary currencies seem to me to be abundant natural resources (minerals, energy, capital), social capital, and knowledge. In the modern world if you can be efficiently productive in leveraging these resources you can acquire power. Facebook has done a great job of borrowing against the social capital of its users to create financial capital and knowledge and they do this very efficiently. Apple has been able to leverage knowledge and financial capital to generate massive amounts of social capital. Google like Facebook has been able to leverage the social capital of all of its (willing and unwilling) “employees” to generate financial and intellectual capital. Its interesting to me that neither Facebook or Google suffered from any major interferance until they starting affecting another system highly dependant on social capital…the political system.

Ed Boyden:

Synergistic with this theme is an essay I wrote in 2009 on why the singularity, as envisioned currently, will likely lead to AIs that just do meaningless things all day, and that understanding the nature of humanity -- wisdom, if you will -- should (and might well) come first, before any kind of singularity occurs,

For example: "The inherent uncertainty of the universe may also overwhelm, or render irrelevant, the decision-making process of this intelligence." and "This process will involve thinking about how technology could help confront an old question of philosophy–namely, “What should I do, given all these possible paths?”"