Are there social institutions that work better if they are biologically bounded? What would this even mean? Here is what I am thinking about: what if, say, a market is a great way of discovering knowledge, coordinating prices and solving complex problems – but only if it consists solely of human beings and is conducted at biological speeds? What if, when we add tools and automate these markets, we also lose their balance? What if we end up destroying the equilibrium that makes them optimized social institutions?
While initially this sounds preposterous, the question is worth examining. Let’s examine the opposite hypothesis – that markets work at all speeds, wholly automated and without any human intervention. Why would this be more likely, than for there to be certain limitations on the way the market is conducted?
Is dance still dance if it is performed in ultra-high speeds by robots only? Or do we think dance is a biologically bounded institution?
It would be remarkable if we found that there are a series of things that only work in biological time, but break down in computational time. It would force us to re-examine our basic assumptions about automation and computerization, but it would not force us to abandon them.
What we would need to do is more complex. We would have to answer the question of what is to computers as markets are to humans. We would have to build new, revamped institutions that exist in computational time and we would have to understand what the key differences are that apply and need to be integrated into future designs. All in all an intriguing task.
Are there other examples?
What about justice? Is a court system a biologically bounded system? Would we accept a court system that runs in computational time, and delivers an ultra fast verdict after computing the data sets necessary? A judgment delivered by a machine, rather than a trained jurist? This is not only a question of security – it is not just a question of if we trust the machine to do what is right. We know for a fact that human judges can be biased, and that even their blood sugar levels could influence decisions. Yet, we could argue that this does not need to concern us for us to be worried here. We could argue that justice needs to unfold in biological time, because that is how we savour it. That is how it is consumed. The court does not only pass judgment, it allows all of us to see, experience, hear justice be done. We need justice to run at biological time, because we need to absorb it, consume it.
We cannot find any moral nourishment in computational justice.
Justice, markets, dance. Biological vs computational time and patterns. Just another area where we need to sort out the borders and boundaries between man and machine – but where we have not even started yet. The assumption that whatever is done by man can be done better by machine is perhaps not serving us too well here.