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I have to hand it to Dr. Barnett and Critt Jarvis – they can pick’em. In this case I mean the featured contributor in the NRSP Newslettter, Art Hutchinson. This guy is a true heavy-weight in the horizontal thought department and as a result I am running his article in full here, interspersed with my commentary in regular text:

Google: Shrinking the Gap with Connectivity

by Art Hutchinson

On June 30th, the front page of the Wall Street Journal carried the headline: “For Soaring Google, Next Act Won’t Be as Easy as the First”, noting that the “official ambition” of the juggernaut Internet search company is, “to search all of the world’s information”. Period. Not just the text. Not just the freely available digital stuff or that to be found in clean, safe, orderly parts of the world. All information. Period.

Ambitious? The term is scarcely strong enough. “Megalomaniacal/visionary” might be more appropriate. Yet just today, the company is reporting a 4X surge in quarterly profit on a doubling of revenue. Google is no dot.com flash in the pan. Just the opposite, in fact. The Wall Street Journal characterizes “Google’s mission [as] a long-term one”, quoting CEO, Eric Schmidt as saying: “It will take… 300 years to organize all of the world’s information.”

Well, it won’t take 300 years to organize the most important information to which instant access will have far-ranging economic, political, legal, societal, intellectual and paradigmatic effects. Diminishing returns means that a disproportionate amount of effort will go into simply satisfying the criteria to make such a claim realistic but for matters of practical ” powershifting” in the Toffler sense, will come in our lifetimes. The 300 years bit is there to dampen the potential opposition that a lot of vested interests and ordinary people might have to this concept once they think it through.

“Here’s our goal, the CEO says, in effect. It will take ten generations. Are you with us? That kind of talk gets most CEOs a one way trip to the asylum. Three hundred years ago, George Washington’s mother wasn’t even born yet. Yet investors are absolutely on board. The price of a Google share is up more than 60% this year… and it’s only July.

The plan is reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation but if you think about it, the expeditions of Columbus, the Mayflower, Lewis and Clark – all represented grand longitudinal vision of this kind.

Lest this begin to sound like a stock analyst’s report, here’s the big thought for readers of this newsletter: substitute “the Core”, or “free market, Western, capitalistic rule sets” for Google and the headline reads just as well. “For Soaring Core, Next Act Won’t Be as Easy as the First”. Indeed. We’d all prefer thirty years to fill the Gap. Realistically, it may take three hundred. As Tom likes to say though, the end point is a worthy one; we’re at an inflection point in history; turning back isn’t an option. Google’s stock price soars. So does demand for immigration to the Old Core. Legal or not, this is the place to be. The man on the street instinctively knows that both trains are going somewhere good. Surely there’s enough momentum to hook a few more cars on the back.

There certainly is. However we should not fall into the trap of deterministic thinking simply because the trends within the massive geoeconomic shift called Globalization are headed in the direction of things sunny and bright. Connectivity is a two way street. So is disconnectivity. Both are choices affecting more than one party and both affect the parameters of possible interactions and the speed of transaction. Corruption and state failure can “disconnect up” from the Gap just as the Core can export security and connectivity to the Gap

The great Victorian classical Liberals of the 19th century celebrated Globalization I. Progress seemed to be unlimited and the possibilities of science unending yet this “golden age” died on the anvil of protectionism and under the hammer of world war. Globalization needs tending, which means a strategy, Rule-sets, a Leviathan enforcer and System administration to keep things humming.

“But here’s the kicker: both trains are going to the same place. My kids can’t remember when searching for information meant a trip to the library and hours in front of the card catalog. I can’t remember the time when visiting Berlin or Tokyo was inconceivable.

The referential social shift is going to be much, much, larger, assuming the premises of Google’s CEO are even close to correct. This 5G ” shaping the Logosphere” effort is going to dovetail with advances in neural networks, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, the implanting of information technology devices into the human brain and things unforseeable at this time. There will be a multiplier effect operating.

“Making the dark corners of the Internet, and the larger information universe transparent and easily searchable, (i.e., Google’s challenge) is analogous to what’s involved in closing the Gap and enabling the four flows—the movement of people, money, energy and security. Even as they differ—the virtual and the physical; Google and the Core—there is much in each to inform the other. On the issue security alone, the struggle between order and chaos is richly interwoven between the two. How does one fight a smart, unseen, adaptable enemy force, (e.g., of hackers, virus writers and spammers) conjoined only by a rootless nihilism?

In my technology-oriented scenario-based consulting to Fortune 100 firms, it’s been obvious for nearly a decade that firewalls, (physical or virtual) simply aren’t enough. Nor are the efforts of any one organization. The only lasting solution is to promulgate rule sets in which it’s both possible and attractive for the bad hackers to get real jobs—to join the ‘core’ within the Core—even as we shrink their refuge. The same is true of the brainwashed ‘hackers’ bent on destroying our real-space networks, (e.g., subways).”

The leadership of nihilistic revolutions are usually visionaries who feel frustrated and alienated by a society that does not seem to let them rise but possess great energy and will to power. Robespierre was a bourgeois lawyer, Lenin was a minor nobleman and lawyer, Mao the son of a well to do landowner as was Castro, Khomeini was a cleric in a dynastic Iran, bin Laden a younger son of Saudi billionaire. All of these individuals won popular support because their societies lacked sufficient social mobility. Making room for people to rise is a safety-valve.

“In both cases too, pitched battles over control of critical assets (e.g., energy and people in the real world; movies, music, books and other works in the virtual one), will increase in intensity as the stakes become apparent to power-hungry holdouts. Their numbers are dwindling, but I still occasionally encounter the ‘throwback’ CEO whose capricious, dictatorial, management style and lust for personal perks have crushed dissent, creativity and morale among employees. More often than not, such organizations—insulated from competition for one reason or another—are unable to respond when those barriers suddenly come down. (e.g., regulatory boundary drops, new innovation springs up, etc.)

The leaders of such fiefdoms know that the game will eventually be up, but they don’t care. In such corporate cultures, it’s hard to escape the echoes, however faint, of Kim Jong-il and Saddam Hussein. Everything appears orderly inside—as long as the pace and vibrancy of a thriving world outside are not held up for comparison. One of Google’s current challenges is convincing content companies (e.g., television producers and networks) to allow Google to search their content. The pitch: you’ll be better off if more people can see what you have to offer. If they find it, the argument goes, they will buy, and everyone will be better off. eBay is the proof in the pudding. Millions of garages and basements were completely ‘off-line’ until it came along. Now they are, in a sense, transparent: open for commerce. Easy search and the flow of information equals tremendous value released—just as it does for people, money, energy and security”

And power. Greater egalitarianism in access to once closely guarded and specialized knowledge erodes barriers to entry, increases transparency, levels the playing field, spurs greater horizontal thinking and puts greater emphasis on performance rather than formal credentials.

Just ask Dan Rather.

“Content companies, (i.e., studios, publishing houses, record labels) sitting on digital assets are understandably wary. Theirs are not dusty basements, but going commercial concerns, threatened in the short term by too much openness. Opening up to the new means giving up something tangible—risking the stability of old business model, even if it’s not thriving as much as it used to. The Silicon Valley lessons of transparency and fluidity are starting to be understood at a gut level outside the technology industry, but it’s still hard for many to make that cognitive leap. Microsoft offered a decent but not exceptional operating system independent of IBM’s PC and it took off—90% market share. Apple bound its operating system to a single platform and got 10% share. Oops. The open-source software movement, exemplified by Linux, has become the ultimate borderless, fluid creation, achieving respectability and major market share at the expense of traditional closed-shop software development efforts in just a few years. Oops.

Virginia Postrel postulated in her first book that emergent politics may come down to conflict not between Right and Left but to Dynamists vs. Stabilitarians.

“There are also analogies and crossovers between the virtual and physical worlds in the battles over rule sets. For example, what is the meaning of copyright? How is it to be expressed and enforced in a transparent, ubiquitously networked world (at least the Old Core)? My clients in the publishing and media industries have been wrestling with this one for over a decade. The answers are only beginning to dawn. Digital rights management technology offers a partial answer, but it’s hardly the only one. Similarly, in the larger “meatspace” world, what do terms like ‘citizenship’ mean (national, corporate or otherwise) as Core rule sets expand and the movement of people, money and ideas become more fluid? Writer Neal Stephenson may have been on to something with his vision of voluntarily affiliation under the authority of non-geographic ‘tribes’. Millions of freelance contractors may be on to something too, but that’s a story for another day.”

Voluntary and virtual affiliations can be benign neutral or negative. When the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa sentencing Salman Rushdie, a citizen of Britain, to death for writing The Satanic Verses he was appealing to a transnational, voluntary affiliation of Muslims to carry out the sentence. It was a challenge not just to Britain’s sovereignty under international law but the legitimacy of the nation-state as a sovereign and to international law itself. It was a strident rejection of the global Westphalian Rule-Set in favor of a univeralist claim to dominion of an Islamist Sharia. Few in the West grasped the nature of the fatwa’s challenge at the time and still fewer viewed it as a forerunner of more challenges to come.

Beyond the visionary analogies, the corporate and the geopolitical worlds come together directly on many of these challenges right now. Google’s recent compromises on its service in China (i.e., blocking searches for words like ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’) highlight the problem of penetrability. Copyright holders seeking business in China have the opposite problem: excess fluidity. In both cases, the highest hurdles are legal, political and cultural. In other words: rule sets. Across the Gap, of course, the potential problems are even worse. If Google didn’t know that before, it knows that now.

Both Google and the Old Core agree on a worldview that says greater openness and transparency begets emergent order: big, beautiful and thriving. That order is bounded by basic rule sets, but its outcomes are unpredictable—out of anyone’s direct control. Too many that looks messy and disturbing, but it works. Human potential is allowed to flourish. Value is created. That’s at odds with a kind of Gap logic that operates on both a national and a corporate level, (think of the ‘throwback’ CEO). It says that order (small, parochial, balkanized) can only exist with opaqueness. Close the doors. Seal the borders. Lock up the content. Protect the franchise. That’s fine as a stalling action. It is the sad, selfish, even fiduciary responsibility of many. But it’s against the tide of history.

I’m taking the long view. Despite its recent challenges, I’m betting on Google, transparency and the Core. I remain an optimist, even if I don’t get to see it. Even if it takes 300 years. George Washington’s mother would have smiled.

Outstanding piece.

31 Responses to “”

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