Tim Morgan investigates automation as the new commons in his new blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Elinor Ostrom is the only woman to win a Nobel Prize in Economics. She showed how the combination of shared governance and social feedback loops create stable resource management systems. She identified eight design principles which every stable local common pool resource organization follows. These promote shared social management of an economic resource, preventing the so-called “Tragedy of the Commons” of resource depletion.
Modern computing infrastructure is founded on use of openly shared code and community created protocols. This Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) ethos quickly expanded with the rise of the Internet to include writing, art, music, videos, and designs. Each license legally protects copying, modification, and use; but only if the resulting works also stay under the same open license. This guarantees that selfish actors can be legally punished if they try to hijack the works. It creates in-toto a classic self-governing common resource pool, ala Ostrom.
The infinite copiability of digital knowledge promotes a set of social values which govern the growing global knowledge commons. They assure that its value is always accessible to anyone with network access. Because data is cheaply and infinitely copiable, strong feedback loops reinforce using knowledge technologies for problem solving. This increasingly seduces the private sector into greater dependency and sharing arrangements instead of traditional ownership. The Public sector similarly becomes more permeable and malleable as it becomes more interconnected.
This growing automation-created knowledge commons is creating huge social, political, economic, and technological upheaval. We see authenticity and quality of experience replacing material ownership and cost as core product values. We see it using social pressure and economic engagement to solve problems like increasing ecosystem damage or socio-economic inequalities. We see it merging virtual and physical reality in the form of augmented reality, Internet-of-Things, haptics, robotics, A.I. knowledge assistants, and neural prosthetics. We see it spurring development of new materials, technologies, and processes for an emerging sustainable Circular Economy.
What we see is the emergence of an adaptive automation-enabled socio-economic system which uses all the levels of society together as an integrated whole. It is a new social ecology. It is rapidly iterating around its connections and knowledge space, trying to find complementary trophic-like flows between communities, institutions, markets, and the networks themselves via automation. Each sector is refocusing itself back into its core area of expertise in response. The Civic sector is increasingly refocusing on supporting families and local concerns. The Public sector is sluggishly refocusing on shepherding slower layers of society like infrastructure, public health, safety, and economic stability. The Private sector is reluctantly refocusing on creating customer value within a changing social context. The newest sector, the Social Commons, is emerging as the response mechanism for identifying and connecting areas of concern within the other sectors. It is the social governance arm of the global knowledge commons.
This rebalancing is moving civilization towards a biologically, socially, and technologically integrated system of systems. As each new sustainable niche evolves, we get closer to a globally sustainable whole. Our new global knowledge commons is not a single thing. It is an adaptive, integrated whole. Is automation the new commons? It is, but one we have never seen before. It is one that wants to look and act like nature itself: balanced, dynamic, adaptive, and evolving. It wants to be a new thing: an Abundant Commons.
© Tim Morgan 2019