Ryan King: The Global Brain Storm – Interview with Robert Steele on Collective Intelligence & Global Change

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Ryan King
Ryan King

The Global Brain Storm: An Interview with Intelligence Pioneer Robert David Steele and Introduction to the role of Collective Intelligence in 21st Century Global Change


“It is time for evolutionists to open their minds and abandon individual selection as a rigid creed which cannot coexist with its supposed opposite, group selection. For when one joins the two, one can see that the networked intelligence forecast by computer scientists and physicists as a product of emerging technology has been around a very long time.”  – Howard Bloom, from “The Global Brain”

“Polymorphous, paranoiac, confused, yet intensely imaginative, the thinking layer of Earth that is largely the unexpected product of animal consciousness, may now be in its most impressionable stage.”   Lynn Margulis and Dorion Saga, from “What is Life?”

Collective intelligence in living organisms may be described as the shared brainpower amassed through the interaction and communication of groups such as bacteria, insects and social primates. Alternatively, in artificial information systems and computer networks, collective intelligence refers to data processing that leads to consensual decision-making and coordinated behavior. Both artificial as well as living systems share phenomena of emergent behaviors resulting from mass collaboration in complex systems.   Recent advancements in the understanding and applications of collective intelligence indicate the possibility for wildly divergent systemic human social behaviors to emerge in modern conditions.

In the context of modern global change issues – the globalized realities of ecosystem collapse (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bleaching-hits-93-percent-of-the-great-barrier-reef/), widespread human displacement and refugee crises (http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/european-refugee-crisis-worsens-in-mediterranean-a-964304.html), and a bleak future outlook for near-term stabilization of traditional global economies – collective intelligence plays an increasingly critical role.   As modern communication technologies permeate world populations with information regarding the near future of natural resource scarcity and conflict, society undertakes a brainstorming session of genuinely global proportions.

In humankind, collective intelligence encompasses the vast repository of thoughts, analytical knowledge, technical skills, ideas and ideals, as well as emotive responses that have withstood the pressures of cultural selection since the origins of symbolic communication.   This assemblage of information and awareness molds and manipulates human social behavior, guiding the decisions and actions we take as singular individuals or massive, connected social groups.  Previous to the advent of modern communication systems, humanity’s combined intelligence was retained and spread through artifacts of literature, art, science, language, mythology, and various other shared symbolic storage components.  Culture and collective intelligence spread comparatively slow, hampered by geographic, linguistic and technological barriers.

king honeypot antsMyrmecocystus – Honeypot ants – and other eusocial ants have been critical subjects in the study of collective intelligence and superorganismal behavior. 

Notions of aggregate, communal intelligence in humans developed with the conceptualization of the noosphere by Russian geochemist and mineralogist Vladimir Vernadsky nearly a century ago. Vernadsky introduced the noosphere as an extension of the biosphere, as the planetary mind capable of altering the biological world.  Although many visionary philosophers, scientists and futurists since Verdnadsky have posited the existence of a culturally-empowered global brain, applications of collective human intelligence remain incipient in consideration of their theoretical potential.

king cave paintingA cave painting of hyenas from France estimated to be about 32,000 years old.  Large animals and hunting themes dominate early imagery.  These rank among the first relics of stored human intelligence. Although linguistics, paleopsychology, neuroscience, and similar fields of research have begun unraveling the origins and evolution of human culture, great uncertainties remain.

Human collective intelligence gathered momentum rather slowly for thousands of years; the advent of internet access marks one of its great progressive leaps.  Elements of collective consciousness are manifest in relics ranging from prehistoric inscriptions to modern virally-spreading internet memes.  Its relevance in Earth Sciences, conservation, Ecology, and stabilization of anthropogenic forces is evident in a variety of social movements and behavioral shifts.  Collective intelligence has become incorporated into academia as well, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Center for Collective Intelligence (http://cci.mit.edu/mciresearchpage.html) among the leaders in research and applications.

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For almost three decades, Robert David Steele (http://robertdavidsteele.com/) has pioneered the craft of intelligence, seeking to revise the practice “away from spies and secrecy-enabling war and waste, toward open sources and methods favorable to peace and prosperity.”  Steele founded and served as CEO of Open Source Solutions, Inc, and Earth Intelligence Network following an exemplary academic and professional career including service as a clandestine operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), founder of the US Marine Corp Intelligence Activity (MCIA), as well as author of seven foundational books on collective intelligence and Open Source solutions.   He currently manages the Public Intelligence Blog (http://phibetaiota.net/about/) and lectures internationally on the future of politics and societal transition.   Steele has recently presented his outline for near-future paradigm shifts in Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in Denmark and Norway.   Regarding his approach, Steele explains, “Open Source Everything Engineering (OSEE) is affordable, inter-operable, and scalable to the five billion poor now neglected by industrial-era engineers. Data-driven, a design revolution could enable the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) within a decade – two at most – at 1/10th the cost of the current paradigm.”

In his text, “The Open-Source Everything Manifesto,” Steele observes of his attempt to change the system internally, “I gradually realized that I was – as Russell Ackoff puts it – striving to do the wrong thing righter (improve government instead of doing the right thing (help the public self-govern).”  This realization elucidates the plight of modern global change science and conservation: that the necessary goals of restoring biodiversity and preserving viable ecosystems are inherently of the commons – the polar opposite interests of virtually any institution adhering to the norms and regulations of profit-seeking industrial capitalism.  I had the opportunity to discuss these and similar issues with Mr. Steele:

Ryan King:  Please introduce our readers to the highlights of your education, experience and career in the intelligence community.   What elements of traditional intelligence practice do you believe stand in the way of progressive change?

Steele: I’ve had a fortunate education, most of which has been outside the traditional educational system. Although I have a Bachelor’s in Political Science, a Master’s in International Relations, and a Master’s in Public Administration as well as a Diploma from the Naval War College, my real-life education included 16 years growing up overseas as the son of an oil engineer, including four years in Viet-Nam; four overseas tours as an adult – one with the Marine Corps as an infantry officer and three with the CIA as a clandestine operations officer (spy). I am also the top Amazon reviewer for non-fiction with over 2,000 summary reviews across 98 categories of reading.

My intelligence education includes the six month CIA training program for spies entering on duty, and the military intelligence training program, as well as twenty odd short training courses over time. My intelligence experience including three clandestine tours overseas including as one of two officers worldwide assigned terrorism as a full-time target in the 1980’s, and three Washington tours in counterintelligence, information technology, and satellite program management and futures planning. I went on to become the second ranking civilian in Marine Corps intelligence from 1988-1993, responsible for creating the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA), and then for 25 years, a CEO of an educational company that trained over 7,500 mid-career officers from over 66 countries in the modern discipline I pioneered, Open Source Intelligence (OSINT).

The biggest problem with traditional intelligence is that it focuses on spies, secrecy, and spending – it provides “at best” 4% of what a decision-maker at the very top needs to know, and nothing at all for everyone else. It ignores the 80-95% of the information that is not online, not in English, and not about war or terrorism – if fails to provide holistic analytics about all threats, all policies, all costs, in time and space context.

Ryan King: While Earth Systems science and global change threats are increasingly recognized as threat multipliers, established public, military, and global security agencies have struggled and generally failed to address environmental welfare and ecosystem stability. How might collective intelligence programs address mitigation to current environmental degradation issues and their social impacts?

Steele: There are no public, military, or global security agencies that are in the least bit serious about environmental welfare and ecosystem stability. What they say and do is at best lip service and at worst outright deception. What the US Government is doing in the way of geoengineering, fracking, water waste, and food poisoning (for example, drying wheat with Monsanto’s best poison to reduce wear and tear on the machines, never mind that the poison is so bad beer companies refuse wheat harvested in this fashion), is a crime against humanity.

The fastest way to stop the products, services, polities, and behaviors that are destroying the environment and threatening human extinction – changes to the Earth that used to take 10,000 years now take three – is to rapidly collect, process, and disseminate the true costs of everything. Below are two graphics I use to show on the one hand, the true costs of one item as calculated over the course of a year by JZ Liszkiewicz, and on the other, what a true cost alert screen might look like on a smart phone.

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Ryan King: In your writing, you have mentioned the term “panarchy” in reference to globalized self-governance.  Please elaborate on this concept for our readers.  What are some of the present-day movements that suggest a shift in power towards panarchy?

Steele: Panarchy, unlike Anarchy, is Applied Collective Intelligence – it strives to do what Michel Bauwens calls Peer to Peer self-governance, in which every voice and vote is counted.  My contribution has been to propose that we redirect national intelligence from a focus on spies and secrecy in support of war and waste, to open source everything such that we achieve a prosperous world at peace, a world that works for all.

Open Source, Peer to Peer, EcoVillages, Transition Townes, are all part of the movement. Basic Income will help. Electoral Reform will help – Barack Obama was elected by 26% of the eligible voters in the USA because the two-party tyranny locks out the 70% of the eligible voters who are not members of one of the two parties that control the US Treasury.

Technically I hope that the distributed Internet that Sir Tim Berners-Lee is working on, and blockchain functionality, will over time end the ability of banks, corporations, and governments to lie to everyone, and make it possible to create a functional World Brain in which all who wish to can access an intelligence (decision-support) network, a policy debate network, and a balanced budget debate network.  My vision for a working world brain with these elements is shown below.

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Ryan King: Examples such as the case of climate activist Tim DeChristopher and the physical blockage of the Keystone pipeline by protestors indicate that non-violent direct action on behalf of environmental concerns is commonly considered as “criminal activity” under our current social and governmental systems.  How might activists attempting to protect what remains of intact ecosystems adopt open-source solutions and collective intelligence in order to more effectively protect wilderness?  

Steele: I am very concerned by the criminalization of what used to be the practice of democracy. When Tom Steyer announced publicly that he had failed to make a difference on climate change despite spending $74 million, it confirmed my view that there is only one fundamental change that we must all concentrate on: electoral reform.  I make this case with confidence because I am quite certain that no issue – whether climate change or health or education or national security – will get an honest informed hearing so long as Senators and Representatives have to spend 80% of their time raising money for their next campaign, and are beholden to the big spenders that write the legislation that is passed without being read, because the two-party tyranny has “made the deal.”  I did the first big briefing to Occupy on electoral reform, and in my brief run for the Reform Party nomination for the presidency in 2012, engaged with many groups. The graphic below shows all twelve of the reforms that are needed, together, if we are to have honest governance in the context of an inclusive democracy.

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Click on Image to Enlarge

Ryan King:  What are some of the first steps that the general public may adopt to genuinely transition into sustainable living? 

Steele: I really want to stress that no amount of personal attention to sustainable living is going to make a difference.  We are in a systemic melt-down. We need a systemic solution. Among the books I recommend are one by my former political science professor Charles Bednar, one of the smartest best read holistic thinkers I know. Transforming the Dream: Ecologism and the Shaping of an Alternative American Vision (State University of New York, 2003). Among his conclusions are that it is insane to separate the teaching of politics from the teaching of economics, and that absent a wholesale change in how we educate, work, live, and govern, we are headed for a human extinction.

The good news is that I have pioneered Applied Collective Intelligence and Open Source Everything Engineeing (OSEE), and in working with some real innovators such as Marcin Jacubowski of Open Source Ecology as well as Michel Bauwens and others, we have established that the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) can be accomplished within a decade or two at ten percent of the cost that would be common to the current dysfunctional industrial-donor paradigm. I have written a create deal about Applied Collective Intelligence and Open Source Everything Engineering (OSEE), but I am not being heard.  I proposed an Open Source (Technologies) Agency to Vice President Joe Biden and Secretaries of State John Kerry and Defense Ash Carter, but my memorandum – now free online – was blocked from delivery by myopic subordinates.

We are headed for an economic reboot in which the Western powers that have allowed banks to loot the world with impunity – to include massive derivatives and gold trading fraud (there are 600 times more gold certificates than there is gold, for example) are displaced by a new economic order (lower case) led by China, Indonesia, Iran, and Russia, and a few others. There are several posts at Phi Beta Iota Public Intellligence Blog on this topics.

My bottom line: it’s not enough to be a good person by yourself. You have to demand integrity from your government at all levels (local to national), your banks (switch to community banks), your corporations (boycott most of them), and your schools (most of what universities teach today is misdirected – we need trade schools, but we are not teaching holistic analytics, true cost economics, and Open Source Everything Engineering, which in my view is the foundation for creating a prosperous world at peace, quickly.

As Charles suggests in his book, we cannot achieve an economic transformation without a political transformation, and we cannot achieve nor sustain a political transformation without a moral reboot.  We have become a cheating culture.  I will end by pointing to two books that in my view sum up the disgraceful state of affairs in the USA today: Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia–Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (Spiegel & Grau, 2010), and Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Nation Books, 2009).

Time for a revolution, hopefully non-violent, but it must be a revolution in which the 99% commit to be present – right now most are on a treadmill, “in the matrix,” and as Chris suggests, largely stupid and easily fooled by false flag events, false government information (e.g. unemployment is 23%, not 5%) and so on.  I am hopeful. I do believe positive change is coming, but sadly, I believe some very dramatic Earth-threatening events may have to occur first, obviously Chernobyl and Fukushima, 9/11 and the war on Iraq, the two million refugees from Syria, have not been enough.  Not sure what it will take to wake everyone up. My most popular article ever, “On the Seventh Day: A Fantasy,” (CounterPunch, 12 June 2015) proposed a burning babe on the steps of Capitol Hill.

Ryan King:  Thank you!

Ryan King has taught Microbiology and Psychology at Concorde Medical Career College and Food Microbiology and Environmental Science at Johnson and Wales University, Denver.   He writes Global Change news and develops Open Source Ecology applications related to soil carbon, food production and biofuels. 

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