It is a bit weird that it is much more easy to write things in the unstructured and undemanding link stream i e my Tumblr feed, than to write things here. I will try to change that...

For some time I have been thinking about the role of destruction in change processes. That lead me e g to reread Asimov's Foundation, which I referred to some time ago in this blog.

One of the "natural laws" of civilizational collapse is that there seems to be a causal relation between a civilizational collapse and knowledge destruction. For example when Rome or the Mayan civilization fell, the whole people (which of course didn't die off and disappear) rather quickly also lost much of their knowledge and skills. Everything from mathematical, engineering and astronomical knowledge to a long row of artistic skills and more advanced farming skills seems to have quickly deteriorated and disappeared as a direct consequence of the fall a common organization.

It is obvious that there is a causal explanation that knowledge destruction could lead to societal collapse, but I am not asking that. My question concern the opposite direction of that causal link: why knowledge destruction follows societal collapse.

Maybe it is obvious to you, but to me this is really a riddle. Why does this happen and what mechanisms are in play here? Why can't e g a small group of people harbor key pieces of the knowledge and continue to develop it?

When watching a video of a recent and very interesting and insightful talk by Dr Anders Sandberg about Cloud Superintelligence, one possible piece of that puzzle suddenly fell into place. He showed in a clear way why many average people, connected to each other, can create extraordinary results even if there is quite a lot of noise in the system. He basically states that there is a direct relation between the number of individuals communicating to each other and collective group intelligence.

The purpose of his talk is to explain why the cloud is actually creating superintelligence, which we can see in e g wikipedia, but by going that path he also explains how and why communicating groups is achieving better results. And that there is a knee on the curve when the communicating groups are too small and don't achieve the same level of result.

To me this suggests that the major, and perhaps only, important factor for explaining the loss of knowledge due to societal collapse is that larger groups of people is being scattered into many smaller communicating groups, which, just because they consists of a smaller number of communicating individuals, is losing a lot of their collaborative group intelligence. As a consequence they probably take much worse collaborative decisions when it e g comes to electing leaders, who to collaborate with or how to use the available resources in the best way.

Watch Anders' talk for yourself and listen to his explanation:

Another consequence of this concerns, if it is true, not the past, but the future and not just that we are on our way to create a Collaborative Superintelligence: modern communication technology (read "the Internet") might for the first time in history provide us with a capacity to, even if our societies are structurally collapsing, continue communication in sufficiently large groups, which in turn most likely will let us maintain our knowledge and collaborative IQ.

I e IF we succeed in protecting our global communication infrastructure from the defenders of national security (which most often mean their own position of power)...

If anyone is interested in the theories why civilizations fall I can recommend the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond and of course the important book about group intelligence: Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.

Don Tapscott, is stating the paradigmatic effect of Internet on the whole society in this short and radical movie. He states that:

  • The web is creating a global infrastructure for collaboration (which leads to disruption and confusion)
  • As a result, all of our institutions have come to the end of their life-cycle
  • The current recession is a crucial punctuation point in human history - the point where we said that we need to reset, the point where the industrial economy has finally run out of gas
  • This paradigm shift is creating a crisis of leadership
  • The Digital Natives are inheriting this situation - and they think very differently
  • Kids are now the authority on many issues
  • We have 40 years to re-industrialize the planet

[From MediaFuturist: Don Tapscott: Anybody that thinks we come out of this recession and get back to business as usual is deeply mistaken]

I think he is sort of right and I basically argue something similar, but I try to avoid his mistake of attribute everything to just the Internet. Internet is a really important driving force that shapes a lot of things right now, but both the end of the industrial era and the new challenges we see today is a result of many other important driving forces as well.

But it is a brilliantly short and crispy video with a message:

Kevin Kelly say something like this in the speech:

"The Internet's development is really amazing, but strangely enough, we are not amazed?"

Do we really understand what is going on?

The last time I wrote about Kevin Kelly in this forum was when he had been writing an interesting article in Wired about the future of Internet in 2005, 10 years after the year 1995 when Netscape went public – a pivotal year in computing and as I am arguing in human organization. When he spoke at TED last year he actually talked about the same subject but now called "Predicting the next 5,000 days of the web". Now it is a far better story, but it is essentially the same idea.

I encourage you to see this, but as fascinated you may be think of this:

Technology change is, if it is diffused to a certain level, an unstoppable transformational force. The relation between the different stages is of course very complex and usually nonlinearly directed in both ways. It is usually very difficult to predict what specific effects these transformation will have, but once the process have started, some effects are inevitable. This is especially true with technologies which change the way which individuals communicate, because it changes some of the fundamental capacities we have as humans, the ability to communicate, view ourselves and organize ourselves. The way we communicate basically constitutes what it is to be human. It follows a simple and elementary line of thought:


The problem why we don't see these changes immediately is that it takes some time to diffuse a technology or a set of technologies into our behavior so that it transforms e g our institutions and other structures. But that doesn't mean it is not happening.

A way to try to understand the different stages in which technologically induced change happens is to see the sequence of cause and effect over time:


When looking at Google and eBay I use to say that what we used to call Internet in the 1990:s (that is Web 1.0) is now changing the world at an economical level. The next step for that technology is soon the political/regulatory level. And then we have Web 2.0 and social computing as a new level of technology, not even talking about the Internet of Things when we connect billions of artifacts over the globe and let them talk between themselves.

Kelly naturally and wisely stops short of the post-technical changes in his speech, because it is enough to be flabbergasted about the Internet development in it's own terms – in technical terms by which we are used to talk about machines like computers. Enjoy!