- Feb 2019
In amplifying our intelligence, we are applying the principle of synergistic structuring that was followed by natural evolution in developing the basic human capabilities. What we have done in the development of our augmentation means is to construct a superstructure that is a synthetic extension of the natural structure upon which it is built. In a very real sense, as represented by the steady evolution of our augmentation means, the development of "artificial intelligence" has been going on for centuries.
Engelbart explicitly noted that what he was trying to do was not just hack culture, which is what significant innovations accomplish, but to hack the process by which biological and cultural co-evolution has bootstrapped itself to this point. Culture used the capabilities provided by biological evolution -- language, thumbs, etc. -- to improve human ways of living much faster than biological evolution can do, by not just inventing, but passing along to each other and future generations the knowledge of what was invented and how to invent. Engelbart proposes an audio-visual-tactile interface to computing as a tool for consciously accelerating the scope and power of individual and collective intelligence.
For instance, an aborigine who possesses all of our basic sensory-mental-motor capabilities, but does not possess our background of indirect knowledge and procedure, cannot organize the proper direct actions necessary to drive a car through traffic, request a book from the library, call a committee meeting to discuss a tentative plan, call someone on the telephone, or compose a letter on the typewriter.
In other words: culture. I'm pretty sure that Engelbart would agree with the statement that someone who could order a book from a library would likely not know the best way to find a nearby water source, as the right kind of aborigine would know. Collective intelligence is a monotonically increasing store of knowledge that is maintained through social learning -- not just social learning, but teaching. Many species engage in social learning, but humans are the only primates with visible sclera -- the whites of our eyeballs -- which enables even infants to track where their teacher/parent is looking. I think this function of culture is what Engelbart would call "C work"
A Activity: 'Business as Usual'. The organization's day to day core business activity, such as customer engagement and support, product development, R&D, marketing, sales, accounting, legal, manufacturing (if any), etc. Examples: Aerospace - all the activities involved in producing a plane; Congress - passing legislation; Medicine - researching a cure for disease; Education - teaching and mentoring students; Professional Societies - advancing a field or discipline; Initiatives or Nonprofits - advancing a cause. B Activity: Improving how we do that. Improving how A work is done, asking 'How can we do this better?' Examples: adopting a new tool(s) or technique(s) for how we go about working together, pursuing leads, conducting research, designing, planning, understanding the customer, coordinating efforts, tracking issues, managing budgets, delivering internal services. Could be an individual introducing a new technique gleaned from reading, conferences, or networking with peers, or an internal initiative tasked with improving core capability within or across various A Activities. C Activity: Improving how we improve. Improving how B work is done, asking 'How can we improve the way we improve?' Examples: improving effectiveness of B Activity teams in how they foster relations with their A Activity customers, collaborate to identify needs and opportunities, research, innovate, and implement available solutions, incorporate input, feedback, and lessons learned, run pilot projects, etc. Could be a B Activity individual learning about new techniques for innovation teams (reading, conferences, networking), or an initiative, innovation team or improvement community engaging with B Activity and other key stakeholders to implement new/improved capability for one or more B activities.
In other words, human culture, using language, artifacts, methodology, and training, bootstrapped collective intelligence; what Engelbart proposed, then was to apply C work to culture's bootstrapping capabilities.
Our culture has evolved means for us to organize the little things we can do with our basic capabilities so that we can derive comprehension from truly complex situations, and accomplish the processes of deriving and implementing problem solutions. The ways in which human capabilities are thus extended are here called augmentation means, and we define four basic classes of them: 2a4 Artifacts—physical objects designed to provide for human comfort, for the manipulation of things or materials, and for the manipulation of symbols.2a4a Language—the way in which the individual parcels out the picture of his world into the concepts that his mind uses to model that world, and the symbols that he attaches to those concepts and uses in consciously manipulating the concepts ("thinking"). 2a4b Methodology—the methods, procedures, strategies, etc., with which an individual organizes his goal-centered (problem-solving) activity. 2a4c Training—the conditioning needed by the human being to bring his skills in using Means 1, 2, and 3 to the point where they are operationally effective. 2a4d The system we want to improve can thus be visualized as a trained human being together with his artifacts, language, and methodology. The explicit new system we contemplate will involve as artifacts computers, and computer-controlled information-storage, information-handling, and information-display devices. The aspects of the conceptual framework that are discussed here are primarily those relating to the human being's ability to make significant use of such equipment in an integrated system.
To me, this is the most prescient of Engelbart's future visions, and the seed for future study of culture-technology co-evolution. I talked with Engelbart about this passage over the years and we agreed that although the power of the artifacts, from RAM to CPU speed to network bandwidth, had improved by the billionfold since 1962, the "softer" parts of the formula -- the language, methodology, and training -- have not advanced so much. Certainly language, training methods and pedagogy, and collaborative strategies have evolved with the growth and spread of digital media, but are still lagging. H/LAMT interests me even more today than it did thirty years ago because Engelbart unknowingly forecast the fundamental elements of what has come to be called cultural-biological co-evolution. I gave a TED talk in 2005, calling for an interdisciplinary study of human cooperation -- and obstacles to cooperation. It seems that in recent years an interdisciplinary understanding has begun to emerge. Joseph Henrich at Harvard, for one, in his recent book, The Secret of Our Success, noted:
Drawing insights from lost European Explorers, clever chimpanzees, hunter-gatherers, cultural neuroscience, ancient bones and the human genome, Henrich shows that it’s not our general intelligence, innate brain power, or specialized mental abilities that explain our success. Instead, it’s our collective brains, which arise from a combination of our ability to learn selectively from each and our sociality. Our collective brains, which often operate outside of any individual’s conscious awareness, gradually produce increasingly complex, nuanced and subtle technological, linguistic and social products over generations.
Tracking this back into the mist of our evolutionary past, and to the remote corners of the globe, Henrich shows how this non-genetic system of cultural inheritance has long driven human genetic evolution. By producing fire, cooking, water containers, tracking know-how, plant knowledge, words, hunting strategies and projectiles, culture-driven genetic evolution expanded our brains, shaped our anatomy and physiology, and influenced our psychology, making us into the world’s only living cultural species. Only by understanding cultural evolution, can we understand human genetic evolution.
Henrich, Boyd, and RIcherson wrote, about the social fundamentals that distinguish human culture's methods of evolving collective intelligence in The Origin and Evolution of Culture:
Surely, without punishment, language, technology, individual intelligence and inventiveness, ready establishment of reciprocal arrangements, prestige systems and solutions to games of coordination, our societies would take on a distinctly different cast. Thus, a major constraint on explanations of human sociality is its systemic structure