The Ingenuity Gap, Thomas Homer Dixon, Nottawasaga Inn, October 19, 2002
Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Board of Governors' Fall 2002 Retreat, Saturday, October 19, 2002, 10:20 a.m.
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Introduction by Denise
Thomas (Tad) Homer-Dixon
Research focuses on social adaptation to complex stress
Evolved out of social breakdown
Precursor to violence in societies is an adaptation failure - inability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
Why do some societies adjust, and not others?
Aim today to put the Durham College challenge into the context
Will discuss some broad economic and social aspects that will impact.
Will have some recommendations, some that won't have heard from elsewhere.
Talk in two parts
Review of the argument in the book
Not all of ingenuity theory
Second focus on challenges for UOIT and Durham College
Are we creating a world that people can't manage?
Are we smart as we think we are?
Can we solve the problems of the future?
Need more ingenuity.
Problem, can't supply enough ingenuity at the time and place we want.
Challenges at: national, societal, and daily life.
There are common challenges that we face on a day-to-day basis.
Similarly to global level.
Contentious: people like to keep the day-to-day and global separate
"Zones of anarchy" in developing worlds - disease, poor governments
Collapse of institutions
At societal level
Rising antibiotic resistance
Chronic health-care crises
Problems that people would like to solve, but can't
In our daily lives
Information overload - cognitive thresholds
Broad range of challenges, what are the links?
Brief introduction to ingenuity theory, social adaptation to complex stress
Contrast two paradigms
Dominant: the economic paradigm
Consumption / production and investment / saving
People as walking appetites
Factors of production: Capital and labour
Sometimes land and ideas
Contrast with the Ingenuity Paradigm
People seen as pragmatic problem-solving
Ingenuity requirements and supply
Factors of problem-solving or system inputs are matter, energy (work) and ideas
People as problem solvers
Turn the ideas / recipes of instructions to reconfigure the world.
The Thinkpad today has as much computer power as defense department in the 1960s - configured from the natural world.
We're adding these recipes
Different from economic perspective
Ingenuity == sets of instructions that tell us how to arrange the constituent parts of physical and social worlds in ways that help us achieve our goals.
Close to endogenous growth theory, Paul Romer, Stanford U.
Economically useful ideas - reconfigure resources into useful ways.
However, most economics are focused on technology - call them blueprints, e.g. for a new machine.
If you read Paul Romer carefully, he's talking about something other than technical blueprints, e.g. how you arrange your marketing programs, how you arrange your organizational structure
Distinguish between social and technical ingenuity.
Social ingenuity == how we arrange ourselves
Don't get technical ingenuity unless you have social arrangement right first
e.g. markets, need to set up right property rights, limited liability, stable monetary system
If markets aren't working right, then won't get technologies you want.
Decided can't say much on governance structure - it's too complicated
Will say that there's a great deal of path dependency, decisions will depend on earlier decisions, lock-in decision.
This institutional design challenge is a good example of an ingenuity problem.
Requirement for ingenuity:
Distinction between the supply and demand
Supply as generation, then a pipeline of implementation and delivery.
Don't consider ingenuity to be supplied unless it's delivered.
We usually do well on ingenuity generation
Problem is that they don't move well along the pipeline
Often blocked by existing powers and institutions
Political systems are changing, challenge the creation of new institutions
Sometimes the supply of ingenuity won't keep up with the requirement for ingenuity
Not about a ceiling to innovation
Sometimes we create problems for ourselves, so that we can't keep up.
Is the requirement for ingenuity rising?
Can we supply the ingenuity we need
Factor boosting our ingenuity requirement
Larger and denser human populations
Higher consumption of resources per person
Faster and better technologies
Together, the above 3 sharply raise the density, intensity and pace of our interactions with each other an our environment.
From Emile Durkheim, 1900, the rising density of human societies.
Networks, and nodes within networks.
Increase in nodes and connections
More information and resource flows across the links.
Connections are denser.
These connections have become complex
We need a new way to look at the world - not complex.
Large human resources and higher resource consumption impact natural resources
More powerful technologies shift power from national and international institutions to individuals and subgroups.
Not benign, e.g. weapons technologies, megaterrorism
These changes mean that we must deal with more complex interactions
Then complexity is further increased when we try to boost the performance of our social and technological systems, within tight resource, political and value constraints.
The Algonquin problem.
Maps have becoming more indecipherable over time.
Shading, hatch marks
Steadily increasing and demanding set of user groups.
Wilderness canoers, loggers, hunters,
Resource managers are creating more and more complicated solutions.
When you squeeze out slack, get complex management systems with complicated results.
e.g. used to just phone in to make a reservation for a place in a park, and could just wander around the park.
Now, you need to phone a private agency, and have to tell them where you're going to be, everyday in the park.
Challenge: when canoeing, sometimes there are whitecaps, and you can't go where you want to go, causing a ripple effect back into people wanting to move to a space that's already full.
Complex systems exhibit feedbacks, synergies, nonlinearities, unknown unknowns
Unknown-unknowns represent ignorance
Worked on cars, didn't own on one for 17 years, then dealer shows engine "you can look at it, but you can't touch it".
As long as technologies work, I'm more powerful than I was, before.
Can travel further, talk to more people
Also disempowered, because no way to know how to fix them.
Can flip from stable to unstable modes quite rapidly
Two types of complexity
A lot of complex systems are robust complexity - homeostatis, self-balancing
Starting to push beyond boundaries, e.g. climate system
e.g. Atmosphere temperature rising over time
Record of rates of snowfall, gives a surrogate of temperature
Around 11,500 years ago, end of ice age, about 7 degrees Celsius warming over 30 years
Not just over North Atlantic, seen around the planet
There is now concern that we may be doing something similar to the environment, by putting a lot of carbon dioxide into the environment
Consequences for agriculture, particularly in north (farther from equator).
Lake Vostok, Anarctica
Drilled down to lake
Notice correlation between carbon dioxide and temperatures
In last 150 years, have introduced a 30% increase in carbon dioxide
By 2050, given current growth rates, will get a doubling of carbon dioxide
Scientists know that we're likely to getting a tripling or quadrupling
Princeton Fluid Dynamics suggested 20 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit increase by 2040.
Creates challenges for inventiveness.
Challenge: Can we supply the ingenuity we need?
There's a chapter on each in the book
Are our brains well-adapted for the types of problems we want/need to solve?
In some cases, would say we're not well-adapted
Important, but not panaceas>
e.g. cancer, $30 billion to $40 billion investment, disappoing.
Afflicted by market failures, not working right
e.g. gasoline prices should be a lot higher, if we're concerned with the environment.
This is related to UOIT, in the relationship with business
Are the skills that the private sector demands really the ones that UOIT should supply?
Changes, particularly with new information technologies that create new power for subgroups
What does the ingenuity gap do for our future?
It widens gulf between rich and poor, and the powerful and weak.
Increasingly, will see who sections of society fall behind, and will fall off the radar screen
e.g. 500 million people in Africa
Don't see that sub-Sahara Africa would ever attain the success in the first world.
e.g. severe drought that isn't even making it to the newspaper
This fragments common identity
These different worlds won't stay isolated from each other.
e.g 9/11: breakdowns in distance parts of the world can spill over into our society.
How is ingenuity theory relevant to Durham College and UOIT?
It helps us recognize the importance of what's being done
Building human capital
Community colleges are the unsung heroes of society
Learning the set of instructions, recipes, that keep our society running
Making good ideas work in practical ways, moving down the ingenuity pipeline.
Adjusting the content of the educational experience
Canadians, and particularly those from universities, need to understand complexity better.
Need to understand synergy, feedback, non-linearies.
Need to move from a mechanistic conception, clockwork view
That's not the way the world works anymore.
Too many educational exercises have the mechanistic approach.
The idea that cause and effect are proportionate to each other.
Maximization and optimization, e.g. fisheries failing
Problem that people think the climate system is a machine
What happens when you push these systems too far?
Need to encourage in young Canadians certain habits of mind.
Nimbleness to deal with complexity
Comfort with ambiguity.
Professor at Carleton: if you're in political science, need great comfort with ambuity.
Need cross-disciplinary problem-solvers
Special note: Recommendations and question/answer period pruned off
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