Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Four Futures after Capitalism

January 23, 2017

sq_four_futuresAs conservative capitalism whips itself into an ecstasy of fevered apoplexy over the change in political climate, it is fun to step back and imagine what might transpire after capitalism’s eventual passing. To offer help, Peter Frase has written the excellent and cautionary “Four Futures: life after capitalism”.

Frase gives us four idealized futures blocked out by a matrix of two variables each ranging over two possibilities: 1) the structure of the social environment being either egalitarian or hierarchical, and 2) the resources of the natural environment being either scarce or abundant. What’s nice about the descriptions of these futures are the ample examples from science fiction media: TV, movies, novels, etc.

One assumption over all four futures is that, given sufficient resources of material and energy, technology, automation, and robotics will improve to the extent that human work as we know it will eventually be made unnecessary. Another is that climate change is real and will demand solutions and amelioration or it will only get much worse. And a big take home message is that the rich and powerful are in a much better position to benefit from ignoring climate change than you and me.

What will happen to the common person when their labor is superfluous? Not detailed are the possibilities if even the humans at the top are deemed unnecessary and the machines revolt. In order of diminishing happiness for most of us:

  • Communism: Egalitarian Abundance
  • Rentism: Hierarchical Abundance
  • Socialism: Egalitarian Scarcity
  • Exterminism: Hierarchical Scarcity

The cover has a nice iconography for the futures: a conveyor belt on a 3D printer assembly line shows a glass of wine for Communism (Cheers!), a key hole for Rentism, a watering can for Socialism, and a skull for Exterminism (Ouch!).


Peter Frase / Four Futures: life after capitalism

Some better reviews than mine:


There’s a similar fourfold of futures I forgot I mentioned in my article on Trompenaars, although fragmentation-coherence is used instead of scarcity-abundance, and there is a more positive spin:

Also, Frase has a blog that can be found at:

[*9.82, *9.190, *9.191]


Pass It On!

December 12, 2016

sq_pass_it_on3Is humankind selfish by nature or altruistic? Are people competitive or cooperative? Tribal or cosmopolitan? The short answer to all these questions is yes. We are both of those things, and often at the same time.

In this new age of nationalism and protectionism, we are diminished by our choices made from fear and small mindedness. Almost all the knowledge we have is from the choices, both good and bad, made by our forebearers, and those they have met and helped and been helped by along the way. Certainly our individual hard work does us credit, but most of the credit goes to what is automatically given to us at birth.

This includes but is not limited to: our language and our culture; our knowledge and science; our heritage and cultural relationships; our technology and skills; our education and institutions. All this and more, generated by our ancestor’s struggle to survive and flourish, as well as for the survival and flourishing of their progeny and their society.

As we think the horizons of our future recede we squabble over our claims and our distrust. I think we are made better more by our sharing of knowledge than our hoarding. Of course the things shared must have value; they cannot be lies or false or fake. Let us extend our concerns to all of humankind and to the earth we share.

  • If someone can create something, then others can make it.
  • If someone can find or discover something, then others can know, see, or grasp it.
  • If someone can teach something, then others can learn it.
  • If someone can demonstrate or show something, then others can use, do, or apply it.

Pass it on!

Also See:

Invention and Discovery



The Anatomy of Technology

December 5, 2016


Does technology have a fundamental structure? Does it have a unifying code? I am of the mind that technology is the totality of all tools devised by humankind. If so, what constitutes a tool? Again, I believe in a very broad definition, and think language and culture are also tools and thus technology.

Van Wyk proposes that technology is “created competence.” This competence performs actions (processing, storing, transporting) on stuff (matter, energy, information). sq_technology_frameworksThis begins the first framework of a technology, its anatomy. Along with anatomy, three other frameworks of a technology to consider are its taxonomy, evolution, and ecology.

In my diagram above, I have added a fourth action: that of creation. After all, technology is created competence. One might say technology cannot create, but is itself created. It is true that matter and energy cannot be created, but their shape and flow can be designed. Also, it seems that information can be created, and not just processed.

Further, I propose another addition to the stuff that technology acts upon: technology itself. Technology is often a mix of matter, energy, and information, and so technology can operate on technology and recursively act on and also improve itself. So perhaps both information and technology can at least be thought of as created.

So, in order to broaden the scope of the anatomy of technology, I propose changing the anatomical grid from 3 x 3 to 4 x 4. Then we have as actions

  • Creating & Designing
  • Storing & Accessing
  • Moving & Dispersing
  • Changing & Processing

Of course, the 3 x 3 anatomical grid is a well researched tool, and the changes I propose may not be justified or useful.


Rias J. van Wyk / Technology: a fundamental structure? Knowledge, Technology, and Policy. 9/2002 Vol 15, Issue 3 (14-35)

PDF at

To read:

Rias J. van Wyk / Technology – a unifying code: a simple and coherent view of technology (2004)

Frederick Christoffel Lochner / The functionality grid as paradigm for management of technology

PDF at


Van Wyk’s technological analysis is called Strategic Technology Analysis (STA).

In N. Katherine Hayles’ “My Mother Was a Computer”, three modalities of information are making, storing, and transmitting. Interesting that processing is not listed as a modality.

[*1.37, *3.32, *8.30, *9.2, *9.154, *9.176, *9.177]


Four Dimensional Space-time

September 1, 2014


Here’s a simple fourfold I’ve been ignoring just because it’s so trivial, but that triviality can be deceiving. Space-time as formulated in special relativity has four dimensions: three of space and one of time. Our everyday experience shows us the three dimensions of space: length, width (or breadth), and depth (or height), but time is a different kind of thing because we cannot see or move forward and backward through time with our eyes or body, like we can along the axes of space.

Personally, only our memory and imagination can let us range through time. Of course, after the invention of language and more recent technologies, the spoken word, writings, photographs, audio recordings, and videos can also be used. But it’s not the same as shifting one’s gaze along the length of something or moving one’s body across a width.

So, we can move semi-freely through the three spatial dimensions but our movement in time seems to be fixed into a relentless forward motion that we have no control over. And because gravity pulls us down onto the surface of the world, one of the spatial dimensions (depth or height) is more limiting than the other two.

sq_ll2Thus another interesting comparison to this fourfold is to that of linear logic. One observation is that length and width can be considered reversible but depth and time can be considered somewhat irreversible. That’s not true of course, but because of gravity it is easier to descend than to ascend, and it’s far easier to move into the future than into the past. But we can see into the distant past, just not our own, as we turn our telescopes to the heavens.

Space without time could have four or even higher dimensions, but we have no empirical evidence that it is so. Mathematically, however, we can easily construct multidimensional spaces. One representation of four dimensional space is by using quaternions, which have four dimensions to the complex numbers’ two. Tuples of real numbers or even vector spaces can also be used. However, the geometry of space-time is not Euclidean; it is described by the Minkowski metric.

Novels about characters living in different numbers of spatial dimensions are an interesting way to learn and think about them. The very first was Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott, about a being limited to two dimensions that learns about a third outside his experience when a three dimensional being comes to visit. Just recently I’ve finished reading Spaceland by Rudy Rucker, about an ordinary human person limited to the three dimensions of space that learns about the fourth dimension by similar reasons.





April 20, 2014

sq_metropolis_agents“The Mediator between the head and hands must be the heart!”

— Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

A couple of years ago I watched The Complete Metropolis, the recently restored version of the 1927 silent film. The message that flashes before the viewer at the beginning and at the end of the film is “The Mediator between the head and hands must be the heart!”

I can’t remember if I’ve seen some previous version of Metropolis or not. I’m sure I’ve seen many of the scenes but I hadn’t seen all of them. I cannot speak for previous versions of the film, but this one was enjoyable and I’m glad I watched it.

Somewhat like the film Agora mentioned previously that showed the gulf between science and religion, this film details a fictional conflict between a technocratic ruling class and a subjugated working class. There is some religious imagery throughout and the epic battle between Freder and Rotwang even takes place on the rooftops of a cathedral.

Interestingly, the three elements of the epigram above correspond to three of the elements of Carl Jung’s Psychological Types: sq_jungHead with Cognition, Heart with Emotion, Hands with Sensation. What about the missing aspect, Intuition? I’ve placed Maria at that point because her meeting with Freder really initiates the plot of the film.

Actually I should have placed Grot, a worker foreman, at the Hands position instead of Rotwang. However, I think Rotwang is a more interesting character. Comparing these characters to those in The Tempest and Forbidden Planet, Rotwang is more like Prospero’s Caliban, or Morbius’s Id monster.

As evidence of his evil nature, Rotwang creates a robotic version of Maria and uses her to incite the workers to confusion and violence. Note that the spirit Ariel and Robby the Robot are also placed at Jung’s Intuition position.

Several of the images from the banner on this blog are from the movie, and are of the central tower and office of Fredersen. It is called “The New Tower of Babel” since it was inspired by Bruegel’s painting of the Tower of Babel.


For the “4 H Club”, the four H’s are Health, Head, Hands, and Heart. Probably deserves its own post!




Ohm’s Law

November 8, 2013

ohms_lawCharts for the equations of Ohm’s Law usually consist of the fourfold relation between Voltage (Volts), Current (Amps), Resistance (Ohms), and Power (Watts). For each electrical quantity, there are three equations that represent it in terms of two others, making twelve equations total.

Ohm’s Law is really only between voltage, current, and resistance. Apparently, power is more correctly introduced by the formula for “Joule heating”.

Both voltage and current have been in two fourfolds previously (Four Basic Electrical Components and System Dynamics) but not power and resistance. Well, resistance did make an appearance as a relation between current and voltage.

The twelve equations can be generated by the following identities (where E = voltage, I = current, R = resistance, and P = power):

I*R/E = P/(I*E) = P*R/E^2 = R*I^2/P = 1

Google search for images for Ohm’s Law.

[*8.4, *8.5, *8.8, *8.9, *8.10]


The Four Bases of DNA

September 12, 2012

DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

Richard Dawkins

DNA, the genetic code and biological machinery all life on earth shares, has been in the news lately. It was once thought that much of our DNA was useless junk, but recent research reveals that this portion of our DNA is very important to the operation of epigenesis. This portion of DNA could be called dark bio-matter, or better dark bio-information or even dark bio-code, since it contains switches and instructions that guide each individual organism’s developmental growth through time.

Previously, the parts of DNA thought to be important were those regions that define the proteins that assemble to form our tissues. Mutations in the DNA that specify proteins can lead to disease because the mutated proteins cannot perform the functions that they need to. Of course, mutated proteins can also be improved and increase health. Comparing protein sequences across species shows that we have many commonalities as well as important differences with our animal cousins. What was once considered a “great chain of being” is now thought to be a great tree of life, all shown by DNA.

DNA is also a fourfold, and a double dual as well, since for the four bases Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G), and Cytosine (C): A pairs with T, and G with C. I am not saying that DNA is analogous to the other fourfolds presented here, but it makes a nice diagram.


Why does DNA have four bases and not two, like binary computer code?

Even more of DNA determines our health and variation, the things that make us who we are. Does that constrain us even more, or will this knowledge make us more free?



The Four Basic Electronic Components

June 10, 2011

A fourfold has recently been in the news. The physical realization of the memristor completes the four basic electronic components, along with the resistor, capacitor, and inductor. Theorized to exist since 1971, the memristor may revolutionize computational devices.




Kevin Kelly’s Philosophy of Technology

November 19, 2010

Kevin Kelly’s new book “What Technology Wants” is an exploration of what technology is and what it does. Technology has many of the same attributes as biological evolution, and as such, its effects cannot be fully predicted. At best, we can try to evaluate a particular technology’s advantages and dangers before it is let loose into the world; at worst, we will have no control over it at all.

Kelly describes evolution as shaped by structural, historical, and functional factors; and goes on the describe technology as dependent on structural, historical, and intentional factors. However, he also maintains that technology is an evolutionary process, and evolution in turn is a technological process. Kelly seems to say both processes have all four of the factors shown in the double dual above.

Kelly says that human language is the first big human technology (or was it fire? or stone tools?). But I also agree with him that the mechanisms of biological evolution can be considered technology. What is technique except a method that can shared and perpetuated by others? Molecular genetics grants us the ability to pass (most of) our attributes on to our progeny, including the ability to pass (most of) their attributes on to theirs. Once techniques can be shown or told to others, biology becomes the basis for the showing or telling, but not the mechanism of it.

Kelly calls the entire system of evolution/technology the technium. Because we have been continually shaped by our human technologies, they are not foreign to us. On the whole, we are better with them, than without them. One could argue that without them we wouldn’t even be human!


Kevin Kelly / What Technology Wants

[*5.92, *6.60]