resisting reduction

Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto 

by Joi Ito



John Hagel (@jhagel) tweeted at 6:33 AM – 16 Jan 2018 :

A provocative manifesto from @Joi – Developing a sensibility and a culture of flourishing, and embracing a diverse array of measures of “success” requires diversity and richness of experience (



While I had long been planning to write a manifesto against the technological singularity and launch it into the conversational sphere for public reaction and comment, an invitation earlier this year from John Brockman to read and discuss The Human Use of Human Beings by Norbert Wiener with him and his illustrious group of thinkers as part of an ongoing collaborative book project contributed to the thoughts contained herein.

human use of human beings 


Cross-posted from version on PubPub where there are interesting comments and feedback. Please link to and comment there.



Photosynthesis is one of the many chemical and biological processes that transforms one form of matter and energy into another. These molecules then get metabolized by other biological and chemical processes into yet other molecules. Scientists often call these molecules “currencies” because they represent a form of power that is transferred between cells or processes to mutual benefit–“traded,” in effect. The biggest difference between these and financial currencies is that there is *no “master currency” or “currency exchange.” Rather, each currency can only be used by certain processes, and the “market” of these currencies drives the dynamics that are “life.”

perhaps rather.. there is *no measuring being done ..meaning.. it’s not whether or not there’s a master currency (which seems to be our ongoing obsession)’s that we thought we had to measure it out in the first place.. the process (photosynthesis et al) emerges.. the parts do what they are made/meant to do.. they do what they can’t not do (call it their art).. perhaps we have to trust that to get back in balance.. (which would beg a leap.. because sync would matter)

it’s when we start measuring that we quit trusting..


The output of one process becomes the input of another. Ultimately, everything interconnects.

interconnects.. w/o the need to measure


We live in a civilization in which the primary currencies are money and power–where more often than not, the goal is to accumulate both at the expense of society at large. This is a very simple and fragile system compared to the Earth’s ecosystems, where myriads of “currencies” are exchanged among processes to create hugely complex systems of inputs and outputs with feedback systems that adapt and regulate stocks, flows, and connections.

big diff .. are you trusting or are you measuring


The paradigm of a *single master currency has driven many corporations and institutions to lose sight of their original missions.

*lose sight because if single master currency.. that’s like one language.. so everything is compared/measured against and for that.. we have to trust everyone’s art/idio-jargon.. stop measuring/comparing.. we are one ..let’s trust that..


The behavior of these entities are akin to cancers.

when we don’t trust us.. (each one of us to be our art) .. when we start measuring/comparing.. we become not-us.. which is what we are today.. so .. any data we collect is cancer/dna/rna ness/genotype-phenotype gap.. copy of copy of copy.. not legit.. and we perpetuate a broken feedback loop


The idea that we exist for the sake of progress, and that progress requires unconstrained and exponential growth, is the whip that lashes us.

whiplash.. productivity ness killing us


Singularitarians believe that the world is “knowable” and computationally simulatable, and that computers will be able to process the messiness of the real world just like they have every other problem that everyone said couldn’t be solved by computers.


For Singularity to have a positive outcome requires a belief that, given enough power, the system will somehow figure out how to regulate itself. The final outcome would be so complex that while we humans couldn’t understand it now, *”it” would understand and “solve” itself.

ironic.. as that is what we’re missing.. the trusting ness.. but rather of the natural currency.. the natural dance of us.. to solve itself.. (aka: meadows undisturbed ecosystem)


We need to embrace the unknowability–the irreducibility–of the real world that artists, biologists and those who work in the messy world of liberal arts and humanities are familiar with.

indeed.. antifragile.. indigenous.. all of us.. art ists..


The Cold War era, when Wiener was writing The Human Use of Human Beings, was a time defined by the rapid expansion of capitalism and consumerism, the beginning of the space race, and the coming of age of computation. It was a time when it was easier to believe that systems could be controlled from the outside, and that many of the world’s problems would be solved through science and engineering.

in designing reality – revs: communication.. computation.. fabrication


In order to effectively respond to the significant scientific challenges of our times, I believe we must view the world as many interconnected, complex, self-adaptive systems across scales and dimensions that are unknowable and largely inseparable from the observer and the designer. ..Individuals themselves are systems composed of systems of systems, such as the cells in our bodies that behave more like system-level designers than we do.


Instead of trying to control or design or even understand systems, it is more important to design systems that participate as responsible, aware and robust elements of even more complex systems.


Better interventions are less about solving or optimizing and more about developing a sensibility appropriate to the environment and the time. In this way they are more like music than an algorithm. Music is about a sensibility or “taste” with many elements coming together into a kind of emergent order. Instrumentation can nudge or cause the system to adapt or move in an unpredictable and unprogrammed manner, while still making sense and holding together. ..

If writing songs instead of laws feels frivolous, remember that songs typically last longer than laws, have played key roles in various hard and soft revolutions and end up being transmitted person-to-person along with the values they carry. It’s not about music or code. It’s about trying to affect change by operating at the level songs do. This is articulated by Donella Meadows, among others, in her book Thinking in Systems.


I am likewise heartened to see many of my students at the MIT Media Lab and in the Principles of Awareness class that I co-teach with the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi *using a variety of metrics (currencies) to measure their success and meaning ..t.. and grappling directly with the complexity of finding one’s place in our complex world.

currencies as metrics.. isn’t that where we start cancerizing ourselves..?

metric: a system or standard of measurement.

isn’t that where we get back to thinking.. there’s one master currency/language.. et al..? where we stop trusting our interconnectedness..?


We’re in need of new visions of how we plan to co-exist with one another, and I do think that artists have the ability to pave the way here in very real ways..t

let’s focus on  2 convos.. w 7bn artists.. as it could be

ie: hlb via 2 convos that io dance.. as the day..[aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]..  a nother way

I think that it will yet again be about the music and the arts of the young people reflecting and amplifying a new sensibility: a turn away from greed to a world where “more than enough is too much,” and we can flourish in harmony with Nature rather than through the control of it.

affluence w/o abundance.. holmgren indigenous law

to get to eudaimoniative surplus.. begs we do this first

which begs we leap


on resisting reduction:

My essay In @WiredUK about Resisting Reduction, the topic of my next book coming out in the Fall from @mitpress – Forget about artificial intelligence, extended intelligence is the future

Original Tweet:

“Instead of thinking about machine intelligence in terms of humans vs machines, we should consider the system that integrates humans and machines—not artificial intelligence but extended intelligence.” In @wireduk, @joi issues a call against reductionism.

Original Tweet:

rather.. we should consider augmenting interconnectedness..

The Human Use of Human Beings, Norbert Weiner’s groundbreaking book on cybernetics theory. Out of that grew what I now consider a manifesto against the growing singularity movement,

human use of human beings

In Silicon Valley, the combination of groupthink and the financial success of this cult of technology has created a feedback loop, lacking in self-regulation (although #techwontbuild, #metoo and #timesup are forcing some reflection).

we need the feedback loop of curiosity

the notion of singularity – especially as some sort of saviour or judgment day that will allow us to transcend the messy, mortal suffering of our human existence – is fundamentally a flawed one..t

so too the notion of ‘intelligence’ .. also reductionist –

today we have means for deeper infra

We need to embrace the unknowability – the irreducibility – of the real world that artists, biologists and those who work in the messy world of liberal arts and humanities are familiar and comfortable with.

indeed.. am seeing intelligence.. and reductionist

We must question and adapt our own purpose and sensibilities as observers and designers within systems for a much more humble approach: humility over control.

indeed.. again.. that starts with the daily curiosity of 7b people .. let’s use tech to listen to and facil that.. ie: as it could be..