Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Word of the Day is CAS

This makes elegant, organic sense to me.

My readers might well ask, at this point, “Great. Does this mean we’re screwed?” If a meritocracy drawn from the brightest, best-educated people in history can’t cope with our future, what do we do next?

The answer is, I think implied by three words: Adapt, decentralize, and harden. Levels of environmental complexity that defeat planning are readily handled by complex adaptive systems. A CAS doesn’t try to plan against the future; instead, the agents in it try lots of adaptive strategies and the successful ones propagate. This is true whether the CAS we’re speaking of is a human immune system, a free market, or an ecology.

Since we can no longer count on being able to plan, we must adapt. When planning doesn’t work, centralization of authority is at best useless and usually harmful. And we must harden: that is, we need to build robustness and the capacity to self-heal and self-defend at every level of the system. I think the rising popular sense of this accounts for the prepper phenomenon. Unlike old-school survivalists, the preppers aren’t gearing up for apocalypse; they’re hedging against the sort of relatively transient failures in the power grid, food distribution, and even civil order that we can expect during the lag time between planning failures and CAS responses.