Design for ecosystems of intelligence

The increasing scale of human activity has led to a dramatic impact on the ecological condition of life on Earth, mostly notably (but not exclusively) through the increase in average temperature driven by the massive burning of fossil fuel and deforestation. This led some researcher to declare a new geological era named “Anthropocene” (or “Capitalocene”) to account for the feedback role that human activity plays on the environment. Despite the increasingly obvious and massive scales of destruction entailed by the current extractive approach to “nature”, no coordinated action has yet been taken to shift patterns of human activity toward sustainability. One can blame a first-mover problem, where the first States to take serious action would expectedly lose momentum in their economic and geostrategic competition against other States. One can highlight the core role given to private capital accumulation in our economic organization, which constrains most economic activity to maximize return on investment while enabling the capture of States by the winners of this system. In any case, one must admit that the current situation is the product of institutional lock-ins preventing human societies from necessary adaptation in front of imminent change driven by their own activity, and that we must urgently overcome those lock-ins or face terrible consequences.

We work on the articulation of core design principles for ecosystems of intelligence, understood here as collectives of agents sharing a common environment, and expected to organize adaptively to solve common problems. The core principle on which we organize our demarch is the fundamental duality between metabolism and cognition in biological systems. The manner in which an agent understands and navigates its world is, by construction, an extension of its struggle for existence. Therefore, its activity in the world will project a specific model of its own structural identity, or in other words of what it takes to keep it alive. An agent will “actively infer”, which is make happen, a world which verifies a collection of factors which (in its own understanding) make the agent what it is. For cultural agents such as humans, this world is a cultural landscape embedded in the material and social environment which it navigates and participates to construct. The question of how to organize collectives capable of adaptation in front of change therefore reduces to the design of a cultural and material environment which enables the development of a collective structural identity affording collection adaptation - strong enough to maintain its existence, supple enough to re-invent itself through time, and deep enough to be able to act on available information to do so adaptively.

We want to develop a collection of tools for the collective intelligence in human societies, drawing the fully transdisciplinary perspective drafted above. Those tools may be relatively abstract conceptual discussion, say, on the factors that makes collectives’ organization fragile or adaptive based on cognitive and sociological research. They may be more concrete, actionable objects, such as operational charts for collective or techniques for integrating complex systems methodology in collective decisions. They may be addressed to embodied, self-organized human collectives, they may be addressed to institutional design of formal organization charts, and they may be addressed to designers of human-machine interfaces. The core thread which integrates our demarch is the scientific study of how ecosystems of intelligence “create their world”, and how to apply this study to the design of adaptive systems. We hope that this work accompany and catalyse intentional, transformative action in answer to the ongoing sociopolitical dynamics, including the nested crisis of climate change and political governance in the XXIth century.

This article was updated on October 23, 2023