Sunday, August 24, 2003

Emergence (local interactions lead to global behaviors) is related to network science (underline the word interactions).

Here's a selection from item that someone passed along to me from eWeek:

"The tech story of the year so far that will be even bigger next year?...

"My vote is the edict by Wal-Mart requiring its top suppliers to put RFID tags on pallets and cases of their products by January 2005. The tagging requirement by Wal-Mart is only the latest in a string of announcements and innovations that is moving the important, but lackluster to some, topic of inventory control and management toward the top of the technology agenda. ...

"'The Wal-Mart announcement is the first time I can remember a business decision of this magnitude being made in anticipation of technology innovation and commercialization. The unanticipated consequences—for vendors, consumers, competitors and regulators—will be fascinating to watch: We don't yet have tools, laws, productive capacity, standards or social norms to accommodate this technology and its potential implications,' said John Jordan, principal in the Office of the CTO, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, in an e-mail exchange in which he assessed the importance of the Wal-Mart announcement.

"'The ripple effect this technology can have is amazing. Think of the leveraging power that the Internet, e-mail and IP communications provided in connecting people to people and computers. RFID is the next link of connecting "things"—and not just information about these things but also their processes, places and contact points. All of this information has been hidden in the supply chain,' said Fran Rabuck, president of Rabuck Associates and a member of the eWEEK Corporate Partner Advisory Board.

"The ripple of connecting all these things is just beginning. While much of the current debate has focused on the cost of the tags, that's not where the technical hurdles remain. The difficulty of developing the database system for tracking everything in the warehouse, the problems of building a privacy infrastructure that will match a company's privacy policy, and the requirements of building and maintaining a flexible and scalable computer architecture for identifying, tracking and managing all those millions of products moving through the economic system will ensure the RFID story remains a top pick for a long time. "

-- From Eric Lundquist, "Wal-Mart gets it right", eWeek.,3959,1191646,00.asp

Howard Rheingold talks about similar concepts in his 2003 book, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution:

"When you piece together these different technological, economic, and social components, the result is an infrastruture that makes certain kinds of human actions possible that were never possible before. The 'killer apps' of tomorrow's mobile infocom industry won't be hardware devices or software programs but social practices. The most far-reaching changes will come, as they often do, from the kinds of relationships, enterprises, communities, and markets that the infrastructure makes possible."

Saturday, August 23, 2003

A longer paper-in-progress, "Networks and Interconnection" is a critique of network science and dialectics. It looks a what traditional dialectics has to offer to network science, and what network science has to offer to the dialectical concept of interconnection.

From May, 2003. Comments most welcome.

This is the first of several posts I made to a now-defunct list on networks, network science and political work. This one is from 3/03.

One of the concepts in network science is that not all nodes are equal; that is, some nodes are better connected than others, that is they have more links to other nodes. They are "well-connected". And network science even goes further to suggest that the distribution of these well-connected nodes in a network follows certain laws. Rather than a random distribution (if graphed, it wd look like a bell curve), the distribution follows a "power law" distribution. An example of a power law wd be that half as many nodes have twice as many links, or, a few nodes have many links, and most nodes have few links

The distribution of the "well-connected" nodes, aka hubs, gives a network a
particular character.

This suggests a particular strategy to linking up.


Thursday, August 21, 2003

This longish item is from a draft of a report that I worked on, on the current state of the economy. The "final" report is available at - jd

The technology revolution continues, like background noise that sooner or later one stops hearing. Chip by chip, robot by robot, router by router, the revolution marches on. It advances in stages, as new and cheaper devices allow not just new ways of replacing human beings, but also new ways of organizing production.

The technology revolution provides the foundation for the leap from electro-mechanical, industrial production to electronic-based, laborless production. Describing it as such barely hints at the profoundness of this change.

The technology revolution isn't just about robots that can assemble a car, or computers that can add numbers and print invoices. Although the ability to do what people can do, and to do it faster, cheaper and more accurately is a big part of the revolution, it is really just one side of it. The revolution in the communication and transportation system is at least as important. The communication and transportation systems are the connective tissue of the economy, and society.

As computer chips become cheaper and more powerful, the cost of communicating falls. As the chips become smaller and more energy efficient, they become more mobile. Advances in material science and physics open up new communication channels. As the cost of interaction falls, processes tend to separate into more and more discrete pieces. As the cost of connections -- coordinating the computers in the modern factory, communicating market information, loaning money, buying and selling, transporting digitalized goods, tracking containers, profiling the data shadow of consumers -- plummets, new patterns -- and new possibilities -- of economic flow emerge. The process is like taking a block of iron and breaking it into millions of pellets -- it now behaves like a liquid. The nature of the connections between the parts of the economy and society are transformed.

This is the environment within which speculative capital flourishes. Modern speculation grew out of the money markets which emerged at the intersection of multinational production, the breakup of the monolithic gold standard, and computerized digital communication in the early 1970s. Modern speculation is the management of risk in the face of uncertainty that grows out of more and more discrete interactions in the economy. The end of the gold standard means that the relative value of each currency in money terms changes in relation to each other currency. The end of the colonial system means a burst in the number of possible trade connections and market players; the resulting apparent turbulence requires hedging and futures contracts and put and call options and various combinations thereof in more and more exotic financial derivatives to manage some degree of stability so production can proceed. The end to the welfare system and the 30-years-and-out social contract and the social pension system means each individual is left to cast about for security.

Lenin used the metaphor of imperialism-as-chain -- it would be broken at its weakest link. Globalization is a re-working of the old relationships of imperialism. The multiplication of nation states (the U.N. had 51 members when it founded, today it has 191 members) means a multiplication of nodes of economic-decision making. The neo-liberal agenda of breaking down the barriers of the colonial system and closed economies results in more connections. The proper metaphor for globalization is the web, or the network. The properties of modern capitalism that emerge with electronics, the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism in the 21st century can only be understood by understanding the principles of how networks function.

Volatility naturally accompanies electronic-based capitalism. It is one of the emergent behaviors of any system with many actors following the same set of rules and responding to the same information or stimulus. This pattern has been observed in software-based factory-floor trading systems and in stock market swings driven by thousands of day-traders. Networks allow for a degree of stability in an otherwise volatile environment, because risk is distributed across more nodes; multiple interconnections provide redundancy in case of local failure. The local may be sacrificed for the good of global capital. The network allows Russia or Argentina to suffer financial collapse, and not collapse the entire world economy. The effects may ricochet through the financial system, and create disturbances, but not prove fatal.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Last week's blackout in the U.S. and Canada is a classic case of network failure. Deregulation of the industry results in more discrete actors free to select power sources across the grid. Also, power generators have an incentive to fill the grid w/ power, since running equipment at max capacity maximizes return. So the network connections become even more critical, and strained, since investment in transmission has not kept up w/ demand. A local problem, given the interconnections of the network and the fragility of the connections, cascades into global failure.

See a column I did: "Lights out!",

The WSJ today (8/18/03) has some good articles are graphics about this.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

This blog is about networks, dialectics, interconnection, etc. Comments and contributions are welcome, please send to jdATgocatgoDOTcom