Limits of omniscience

May 04, 2018

Two weeks ago, a friend asked me what opportunities tech and data provided for improving our democracy.

Readers of this newsletter know that’s something I’m trying to figure out right now, but I gave him a couple of answers.

Here’s one:

It is becoming possible to know the current state of the complex social systems within a city like Chicago and how those systems are evolving. This means that people who are trying to affect social systems should be able to form better strategies. Strategy should largely be determined by how you want the world to change, what you know about the world, and your resources to affect the future.

The number of people in a position to form and direct a medium and long-term strategies is not large. In my limited, but direct experience, many of the people who have been elected or appointed to positions where they could work strategically, have a very poor understanding of the overall state of their own systems and how those system are changing.

This is true for governments, civil society institutions, and businesses.

This could because it’s still to hard to get this type of intelligence. It could also because the demands on the leaders are such that they don’t want to or cannot undertake mid and long-term strategies.

Certainly there are many cases where leaders do know the current state of the system and how it will evolve based upon their actions, and make poor long term decisions anyway. The Illinois and Chicago fiscal crises and climate change are two examples.

So, when is knowing the present and possible futures useful?

Assume that we could provide perfect intelligence of systemic trends in a way that was ideally suited to be digested by each individual.

What other things would we need to do to facilitate use of that information?

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