Indy Johar: we’re asking the wrong questions. Here are some better ones.

By Adam Tinworth

Liveblog

Indy Johar is an architect, co-founder of Dark Matter & project00.cc, Senior Innovation Associate with the Young Foundation and was the 2016-17 Graham Willis Professor at the University of Sheffield.

The globalisation we’ve seen has not benefited the middle classes - just a narrow strata of the rich. Only 4% of the mammals on earth are wild. The whole world just had a 2 degree temperature anomaly. Most the the wealth generation has ended up in land. Are we talking about the right problems?

Perhaps we’re coming to the end of a system of thinking. For hundreds of years, we’ve seen the world in terms of objects - by separating things and defining them. Now the interconnectedness of things has become visible and, in some cases, catastrophic. You want to address climate change? Become vegan.

Seriously.

Individualism is a convenient fiction. Most of our DNA is symbiotically shared with other creatures. Epigenetics shows that the effects of poverty and stress are passed genetically through two generations. No wealth is truly private, it’s interdependent. Your physical house is worth nothing. Move it to the middle of nowhere, it’s worth nothing. Where the value comes from is the privileged access to local facilities. If your house has gone up in value, it’s because your common local functions have gone up in value.

We’re moving towards a new business model of link or system value. It starts to challenge how we think about the paradigm of objects. We have privileged a way of seeing the world that focused on magic bullet solutions. That might not serve us well any more.

All we’re talking about in Blockchain is increasing the number of transactions that don’t need trust; sorry Blockchain people. What matters is governance systems. Ours are not good. In most companies with non-exec directors, for example, if you examine the networks, they’re very closely linked to the CEO. We’re seeing a fundamental failure of governance.

The Governance Horizon

Imagine speeding in your car on the way to a dying relative. In our loosely coupled governance system, the judge can let you off. In a Blockchain-style tightly bound governance system, maybe my car can’t speed - or the fine is automatically enforced. Tech solved that problem! Just because a system is tightly coupled does not automatically make it good.

What we need is governance that ennobles us.

Every single friend you have is more extraordinary than any AI ever created. Are we building a society that unleashes our humanity, or that makes us into bad robots. Does it ennoble us? There are plenty of human, ennobling ways of slowing cars down; plant flowers, or trees, for example.

Management is just a means of dealing with control. In a complex world, you cannot do things top down. You need to release distributed ability to curate and create. We need to decentralise creativity and contribution.

Death of the management class

Indy Johar at NEXT18 in Hamburg

Uber hasn’t destroyed taxi drivers - it’s destroyed the taxi office. That destruction of bureaucracy is fundamental to our future. We’re still building cities around the idea of managerialism. Maybe we’re about to see the destruction of the management class.

So, without them, we need to solve the problems of self-governing systems, and collaborative experiments. We’re seeing a global collapse of trust in our institutions. We talk a lot about smart contracts, but how about smart policy? How do you make it legible, conditional, triggerable, and hyper-contextual?

Most of our work never resorts to contract. By the time you go to contracts, you’re already in dispute. One of the biggest challenges we face is that we are not investing in reimagining governance for the 21st century. We are in an age where most of our conversation is about getting rid of rules. That’s not what we need. We need different, reimagined red tape.

A new language for new types of business

Is Facebook part of a market, or is it a natural monopoly? Is our language able to describe this yet? The US may not be able to have this conversation - but maybe we can. We need to acknowledge Facebook for what it is - that it operates better as a natural monopoly. What’s the natural governance for that?

Property rights can be reimagined. They are bundled rights, and they can be unbundled and taxed differentially. You can have linked value, accounting for infrastructure. What are the implications of these restructuring of rights?

There are very few parts of the world that have the democratic infrastructure to have these conversations - but they are fundamental conversations. How we have them, and who we design for, will be profound. We are sitting at the precipice of war, famine, revolution or another disaster. They change things. Can we avoid that?

All we’re really talking about right now is dividing the dirt. We need better conversations than that. We need to talk about the future, and reimagine what it could be…