Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Ingenuity Gap

Lucas Rizoli pointed me to Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Ingenuity Gap, which sheds useful light on the hard intangibles problem. Homer-Dixon argues that there’s a growing chasm between society’s rapidly rising need for ingenuity, and its inadequate supply. More ingenuity is needed because the complexity, unpredictability, and pace of events in our world, and the severity of global environmental stress, is soaring. We need more ideas to solve these technical and social problems. Defined another way, the ingenuity gap is the distinction “between the difficulty of the problems we face (that is, our requirement for ingenuity) and our delivery of ideas in rsponse to these problems (our supply of ingenuity).”

Homer-Dixon brings a political scientist’s perspective to the problem, discoursing urbanely and at length (for almost 500 pages) on science, politics, personalities and social trends. He focuses on complexity as the root problem, rather than - as I have - on cognitive inadequacy. In my terminology, he concentrates on intrinsically hard problems rather than ones that are hard-for-humans. Complexity is hard no matter how smart we might be, which is why I’d call it intrinsic.

I’ve recently started thinking about complexity theory in an attempt to find new metaphors for the internet and the web, and it’s a telling coincidence that it’s coming up in the context of hard intangibles, too. It’s a useful reminder that while cognitively complexity limits our control of the world, a lot of it is instrinsically uncontrollable.

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