EDGE 46 August 15, 1998
THE THIRD CULTURE
"THE CLOCK OF THE LONG NOW"
A Talk with Stewart Brand
"The real conceiver of the project, and the builder of the
clock, the designer of the clock, is Danny Hillis. And Danny's
story, you may have already gotten, is that he was noticing that
the year 2000 was acting like a wall for people, that the future
was always the year 2000 and when he was a young man, and
then older, the future was getting shorter shorter by a
year every year of his life which is probably a bad sign.
So he wanted something that would pop through the millennium."
THE REALITY CLUB
Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett on John McWhorter's "The
Demise of Affirmative Action at UC Berkeley"
Steve Quartz on Biological Metaphors, Microsoft, and the Economics
THE THIRD CULTURE
"THE CLOCK OF THE LONG NOW"
A Talk with Stewart Brand
When Danny Hillis first started talking about his 10,000 year
clock, many of his friends worried that he was going through some
kind of mid-life crisis. I was one of them. But eventually we
all started listening. A group of Danny's friends, led by Stewart
Brand, got together and created "The Long Now Foundation" (http://www.longnow.org/)
to build the clock, and also to begin to address the bigger issue
involved: how to get people to think in a longer term, how to
stretch out their sense of time.
It's fitting that Stewart Brand got behind Danny's project.
When I met him in 1965 he was sporting a button on which was printed:
"America Needs Indians." His next conceptual piece was his 1968
campaign for a picture of "The Whole Earth", which led, in no
small part, to the creation of the ecology movement. In the 1983
he urged me to get involved with something called "online conferencing."
This led to "The WELL," (the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link"), a
precursor of the radical changes that our use of the Internet
is bringing to human communications. Stewart is the king of initially
obscure, ultimately compelling conceptual art. Call it reality.
A couple of years ago he was featured on the cover of The
Los Angeles Times Magazine: "Always two steps ahead of others.....(he)
is the least recognized, most influential thinker in America."
No question about it.-
is a founding member and a director of Global
Business Network and president of The
Long Now Foundation. He is on the board of the Santa Fe Institute,
and maintains connections with Electronic Frontier Foundation,
Wired magazine and MIT's Media Lab, while occasionally
consulting for Ecotrust.
A substantial item on the Global Business Network site is a
list of all the books he has recommended for the GBN
"Book Club" since 1988 and several hundred of his reviews.
GBN explores global futures and business strategy for 61 multinational
clients (mostly among the Global Fortune 1,000, and half in the
top 100) including ABC/Cap Cities, Arco, AT&T, Andersen Consulting,
Bell South, Leo Burdett, Fiat, IBM, Nissan, L'Oreal, Volvo, and
He is the founder and original editor of The Whole Earth
Catalog and author of The Media Lab How Buildings
Learn, and Clock of the Long Now: Responsibility and Time,
forthcoming in January from Basic (a MasterMinds Book).
"THE CLOCK OF THE LONG NOW"
A Talk with Stewart Brand
JB: What's happening with the clock?
STEWART BRAND: Three years we've been working on building a
ten-thousand-year clock and as of this year, '98, we're building
a prototype eight feet tall, probably about the size of two refrigerators
back to back, and we've got an invitation to debut it at the World
Economic Forum in Davos next January, '99 perfect place
to get world leaders and corporate leaders and so on thinking
in ten thousand year terms. Danny's clock is I believe the world's
first Year 10,000-compliant computer. There's all this ruckus
about correct ruckus about the year 2000 problem
in computers that they can't handle 4-digit year dates.
Well, 4-digit year dates also become a problem after the year
10000 five-digits in your year dates. In the Long Now Foundation
we refer to this year as 01998, and 01999, and 02000 and so on.
So the clock is ready for the year 10000 and carries on in a completely
accurate time-telling fashion until the year 12000.
Danny's invented what's call a serial-bit-adder, we're getting
a patent for it. It's basically mechanical digital binary works,
and what it does is it replaces gear ratios, which is what all
clocks and watches up to now employ. The problem with gears is
they wear down over centuries and their ratios change, and there's
possible other problems and there's friction problems, so Danny
just invented a different way. So in a sense it's a computer calculator
clock, but there's no electricity in it; there's nothing electronic
about it; it could be done with Bronze Age technology, or repaired
with Bronze Age technology, it's a very intelligent binary digital
physical mechanical device. What it measures is things like the
26000 year cycle of the procession of the equinoxes; it also tells
you what day it is, one of the readouts and it can do all
the calculations on leap years, including the esoteric ones like
in the year 2000. It corrects for equation of time, so that the
noon on it approximates what the sun's noon is going to be. It's
also corrected by the sun. When the noon sun shines on it---even
as infrequently as every 200 years or so, it corrects any migration
the clock might have made not only bringing it to the right
time, but also correcting whatever is causing the problem. Very
ingenious clock. Also very beautiful.
Actually in the 16th-17th-18th century, clocks had a lot more
of this quality. They were mostly astronomical. In many cases
they had dozens of faces showing lots of different things. Ours
has basically one face with about five different things on the
read-out, but they're very subtle and interesting things. I suppose
in that sense we're going back to the early excitement about clocks
they were big, they were monumental, they were something
that a city would organize itself around the clock in Prague,
the clock in Venice, and so on. This is that kind of big clock.
JB: When you promoted the famous picture of whole Earth in 1969,
showing night and day at the same time, I thought you were talking
about space. Thirty years later, I realize that all along yo were
thinking about time. That image of the earth on my television
set night and day at the same time, all the time
and the hands on the clock on the wall showing a local time of
3p.m. that turned my head around and influenced the way
I think about things.
BRAND: Yeah, it's a big jump for a lot of people. We know the
image of earth in space set in motion the ecology movement
it was a year later, in 1970, whereas before that there was not
really an ecology movement. What you say about time suggests that
some of the globalization of the economy may have also gotten
going increasingly when you look at an image that has night and
day in it you think well, the market never closes. In a sense
what we're doing with the clock is to do even more for time what
the photograph of the Earth did for space. Like understanding
of the earthly environment as one whole thing we're trying
to understand a period of time reaching 10000 years into the past
and 10000 years into the future as one containable thought. Brian
Eno, one of our board members, calls it the long now. The idea
that you sort of move in the now and feel a responsibility for
what happens in the now; if you can push the now out past your
own lifetime in a couple of directions, that's good. If you can
push it way out, then that's better. Peter Schwartz, another board
member, suggested 10000 years, because that's a sort of a rough
history of what you might call history civilization. 10000
years ago the ice recedes Jared Diamond territory
this is when Mid-Easterners do serious agriculture and domestication
of animals. [not Europeans till way later], and that spreads,
that permits towns, towns lead very quickly to cities, and cities
is where civilization happens. So 10000 years is a backwards
is sort of the human now, and because we're looking at arithmetic
time instead of exponential time, an equal 10000 years into the
future seems like what should be the symmetrical perspective.
JB: What happens 10000 years from now, when people come across
BRAND:That will depend a lot on whether there's enough warning
to set the clock on automatic. Danny's preference has been because
the Long Now Foundation, the non-profit entity that's doing all
of this, sees as its primary job is fostering responsibility,
Danny's feeling is that the clock should ask to be wound
maybe annually in a kind of a festive event, or who knows what
the winding event would be maybe every visitor to it,
just the weight of their body is just as my motion makes
my watch stay wound, visits of people may make the clock stay
wound. It's reflective of their life, and that has a nice quality
The other thing, if people go away for a time, just leave
earth or die off or whatever, then you'd want a clock that winds
itself, and this is actually pretty easy to do. So if you had
any warning at all you could put in motion it would set
up a thing that with a large desert version of this clock
bi-metallic lever that goes up and down with a day and
night sequence, when it gets hot and then it gets cold
that would be plenty of energy to wind a very large clock,
so people could come along in 10000 years, be wandering along,
find artifacts, and find a clock that's working.
Next thing, when the aliens come along looking for any sign
of anything and they find a clock and it's ticking. Suppose we
have robots on Mars and they're wandering around, and they're
trying to find signs of civilization, and they find something
that's ticking that would be pretty cool.
Now the point is not so much them looking back, as now looking
to them looking back. Once people are comfortable thinking about
what do we want to do for the aliens in 10000 years, or ourselves
in 10000 years probably we'll do some other things like
put more money into the schools, or whatever it may be.
The real conceiver of the project, and the builder of the clock,
the designer of the clock, is Danny Hillis. And Danny's story,
you may have already gotten, is that he was noticing that the
year 2000 was acting like a wall for people, that the future was
always the year 2000 and when he was a young man, and then
older, the future was getting shorter shorter by a year
every year of his life which is probably a bad sign. So
he wanted something that would pop through the millennium, and
also would pop through also because he's in the high-tech
world, and most of Long Now's board members are on the edge of
the high-tech world, technology's acceleration is making a lot
of kinds of future forecasting just impossible.
Like what's the future of the Web in ten years? Future of the
Web in ten months is a challenge. What's the future of the Web
in a hundred years? You can say more about the future of agriculture
in a hundred years than you can about these high-tech things.
The sense of fast human change making the future unpredictable
and therefore unreachable in a fundamental way you're not
really responsible because it's such a black hole blank.
Danny wanted to make an instrument that was not participating
in those rapid exponential curves of population and technology
growth and megabytes per dollar and so on, but something that
just plugs along at the same pace as seasons spring, summer,
fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter it's the same
10000 years from now probably as 10000 years ago and this
clock is an experiencable device as Danny went off to work
at Disney I think the sense of it's being an experience as well
as a device got to be more and more the case because he's been
working with obviously theme parks and rides and so on at Disney.
JB: Has Disney made an offer for it?
BRAND:Yeah. They've actually been paying for his time just as
Global Business Network has been paying for my time on this. Disney
figures it's good for them to have a clock design that they might
want to bear a relation to, and indeed we can put a big clock
at Epcot if a corporate sponsor turned up. Disney's enough interested
to do that. And Global Business Network figures that this helps
get our company out of the notion that 20 years is the deep future,
which is what most of our members do. If you're a business 20
years is the future. For civilization 20 years is
tomorrow afternoon. We'd like to be useful for civilization as
well as for corporations and government agencies.
JB: Where are we in terms of implementation?
BRAND:Implementation is and there's another domain here
which emerge I guess that I brought to it, the idea of a library
that the clock provides context, but The idea of
content rather than context has been more appealing to some people
than the clock the idea of what do you do with information
and knowledge and data over long periods of time what kinds
of things are not being well done by the archives and libraries
and things that we have now, that might be served with an institution
that has the ambition to be useful for centuries
and some of the ideas that have come up there is being able to
help maintain and fund very long-term scientific studies
longitudinal studies that go for centuries. If you want stop-motion
film of glaciers moving up and down a mountain range we might
be able to help you---be responsible for that. Things like that.
So the library has been coming along more slowly than the clock
partly because the clock is such a specific designable
thing, and the library is more of an idea that's still collecting
ideas. In any case they're both proceeding, library slowly, clock
quickly. We'll have an extremely amazing prototype clock starting
to perform next year the pieces are coming together now.
We're building in California parts are being done in Los
Angeles, parts are being done in the San Francisco area; a lot
of them are coming from hither and yon the materials are
high tech, the very physical Monel Steel, Invar steel, tungsten
carbide, synthetic sapphire, things like that. This prototype
is going to be a prototype that not only shows that the works
work, which is what you usually do with a prototype; it's actually
also capable of lasting and running for 10000 years.
JB: Who's the architect?
BRAND: Danny. Danny Hillis is designing it; a lot of us are
participating Alexander Rose has been project manager,
putting a lot of the things together on it; we've hired another
engineer named Kiersten Muenchinger; Danny has been working with
some people at Disney and very serious engineering and
design is going into this thing.
The prototype will be beautiful but will be nothing more than
itself. I think when we start doing monumental clocks in the cities
and in the desert somewhere, those will have a more architectural
scale and architectural experience to them this design
over here this part of that approach is actually Alexander's design
from a charrette we did in Aspen the spiral which feeds
into itself and there's one form of the clock that might
live very well in a design like that.
JB: Why desert?
BRAND:The problem with cities cities, forests and rivers,
ocean edges they're all so volatile. And cities especially
have such a high metabolism of stuff going through them and they're
the targets for wars and so on you can't really count on
many centuries in the cities you get in a sufficiently
barren desert, it's not going to turn into agriculture, probably
is not going to turn into a bunch of things; it's more stable.
Mainly the experience, the present experience in a place like
that is that it feels timeless. The place we'd most love to go
is the Grand Canyon.
JB: Once you build your clock it will become the next Las Vegas.
BRAND: We'll set it up as a national park from the start and
make sure that the view shed is protected, as they say at Mt.
Vernon. We've looked at a number of sites.
JB: Are local people against this?
BRAND: No haven't run into that although we haven't
settled on enough of a local site anywhere for them to get alarmed.
JB: Most likely area?
BRAND:In the U.S., probably high desert in the West somewhere
that's a lot of terrain, and we haven't got anything more
specific than that yet. The sites we've looked at, and the way
we keep saying we want to do this, somebody will say, funnily
enough I have a canyon edge, or a butte, or a mountain or whatever
it might be, that I'd love to have this clock be at for 1000 years,
let's do it.
BRAND: Well, we're working to some extent with the National
Park Service in the Presidio, in San Francisco, where we already
have an office and we're going to be expanding into a larger space
there we'd love to build a clock in the Presidio on a monumental
scale, and so far people we've talked to in the Park Service and
the Presidio Trust are not averse to the idea, obviously
it'll take time for them to decide if they want to do it, and
for us to respond. I'd love to have a clock in the Presidio. I'd
love to have one in Los Angeles, at the Getty Center There
are other cities that have said they'd like to have one.
JB: Organization put together to run this?
BRAND:The organization is called the Long Now Foundation. It's
non-profit, it's founded in June '96, the board members are an
extraordinary bunch looking at the photograph here, Doug
Carlston, Paul Saffo, Peter Schwartz, me, Danny Hillis, Kevin
Kelly, Brian Eno, Esther Dyson, and one of the founding board
members, who is Mitchell Kapor. He's now emeritus. We've been
talking on-line weekly for 3 years together. We've got funding
for the prototype clock, and an additional hundred thousand dollars
from various donors to build the organization, get the office,
hire people, and so on. So it's a happening small foundation.
Doug Carlston points out that designing a clock will be hard,
designing a library will be hard, but designing an institution
to keep good care of them for 10000 years will possibly be the
hardest of all.
THE REALITY CLUB
Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett on John McWhorter's "The
Demise of Affirmative Action at UC Berkeley
I do not know enough about Berkeley today to judge the facts
(I left in 1969, nearly 30 years ago when things, according to
John McWhorter, were very different). But I recognize the authentic
tone of clear, incisive reason when I hear it. It rings unmistakably
through John McWhorter's
words. I also know a diatribe when I see one (I've written a few
myself). This is not a diatribe. McWhorter is as balanced and
scrupulously fair as he is lucid. He is also courageous, as the
response from David Bunnell illustrates. I salute John McWhorter,
and hope that his essay on Affirmative Action will receive the
widest possible dissemination. If I can be of any assistance in
getting it published in England, please let me know.
RICHARD DAWKINS, one of the most influential scientists of our
times, is the first holder of Oxford's Charles Simonyi Professorship
in the Public Understanding of Science. He is the author of The
Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker
(winner of the LA Times Book Award), the #1 UK bestselling
Science Masters series book River Out of Eden(short listed
for the Rhone Poulenc Science Book Prize), and the #1 UK bestseller,
Climbing Mount Improbable. "Richard Dawkins climbs mental
Everests," said the Times Educational Supplement. The New
York Times Book Review stated that he "understands the issues
so clearly he forces his readers to understand them too."
From: Daniel C. Dennett
McWhorter's thoughtful essay usefully takes the wraps off some
ideas that have long lain uneasily just below the surface of public
discussion of Affirmative Action. Thanks to his courage, and his
clear exposition, messy points of "faith" and "principle" (in
other words, political shibboleths) have been turned into difficult
but investigatable empirical questions. He thinks he knows the
answers to these questions, and he well may, but also he may not.
I certainly don't know and wonder if anybody does yet.
But the right course of action is to find out, and then act.
One must assume that the intent of Affirmative Action was always
to be a corrective policy whose eventual success would render
it not just unnecessary but positively harmful--at which point
it would presumably be gratefully dismantled one way or another.
(That is, its proponents have seldom if ever flatly denied the
various unfortunate side effects of such a policy, but instead
have argued, with some plausibility, that these were worth bearing--for
as long as we had to bear them--in order to correct a worse situation.)
But then everybody ought to agree that whether or not Affirmative
Action is (still) justified depends on shifting empirical conditions.
If it is true that Affirmative Action (in college admissions)
now primarily impacts middle class (at least not hugely disadvantaged)
minority students, then McWhorter is certainly right that some
of the standard justifications for it have simply lapsed, however
ringingly they might have justified the policy thirty years ago.
Just how widespread and influential in contemporary African-American
culture is the "distrust of the nerd'" that he identifies so vividly?
If "victimology" and the conviction that it is "inauthentic" for
an African-American to be a good student plays the dominant role
he claims it does, then he is surely right that Affirmative Action,
by reinforcing these attitudes, is going to become ever more self-defeating.
We all know what he is talking about, but anecdotal evidence is
a poor substitute for a careful survey and statistical analysis.
Certainly he is right that many, many individual African-Americans
(and women, and other presumed beneficiaries of Affirmative Action)
are cruelly denied the precious opportunity to prove their powers,
to celebrate untainted achievements. And certainly he is right
that this also pre-empts the very demonstrations that would confirm
what every goodwilled person wants to believe, and hences also
leaves residual racist skepticisms largely unrebutted. These and
other well known costs, moral as well as financial, mount daily,
and are, indeed, terrible. But we need to keep asking: has the
balance sheet yet turned red? I am inclined to think it has, but
I wish I were better informed about what benefits might actually
(still) be flowing.-
DANIEL C. DENNETT, a philosopher, is Director of the Center
for Cognitive Studies, and Distinguished Arts and Sciences Professor
at Tufts University. He is author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea:
Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Consciousness Explained,
Brainstorms, and coauthor with Douglas Hofstadter of The
Steve Quartz on Biological Metaphors, Microsoft, and the Economics
From: Steve Quartz
BIOLOGICAL METAPHORS, MICROSOFT, AND THE ECONOMICS OF IDEAS
George Dyson's intriguing comments on biological systems and
code development have helped me think about the issues in the
news lately involving Microsoft and the Justice Dept. Several
commentators have already raised one issue George anticipated,
problems in the analogy between random genetic change and the
directed or Lamarkian change governing programming. These are
essentially the same sorts of objections raised against memes
and the process of their discovery and innovation. In mulling
the dialogue over, I think there's a more basic difficulty with
the use of biological metaphors as a framework for thinking about
code in general and the more specific issue of antitrust law and
monopolization, one that distorts much of the issue.
What I've read in the press has colored the antitrust probes
of Microsoft with the language of classical commodity-production
economics. We've thus seen comparisons to Rockefeller, Standard
Oil, and cartels. Even Robert Kuttner suggests that "though the
industries and technologies change, the economic fundamentals
do not" (http://www.ep n.org/kuttner/bk980518.html). In contrast,
Bill Gates has tried to argue that the assumptions behind the
antirust laws are inapplicable to the realities of a new economy.
Although he's met limited success in terms of public persuasion,
after mulling it over, I think he's right on some key measures.
In fact, as I'll suggest, I think the biological metaphor that's
at the core of George Dyson's intriguing comments also belongs
to classical economics. Like much of the debate in the press,
I think it misdiagnoses the key issues involved. As interesting
as Dyson's comments are, the biological metaphor commits us to
a mental model that distorts the principles of an emerging economics
of ideas. To understand it, we should either choose new metaphors
or approach it on its own terms.
One of the cardinal principles of commodity-production economics
is the law of diminishing returns, a growth-limiting principle
that among other things shapes a model of competition. As voiced
by such economists as Paul Romer and Brian Arthur, a key proposal
concerning the emergence of a knowledge economy is whether the
law of diminishing returns applies. One of the most intriguing
proposals is that in a knowledge economy a new rule applies, the
law of increasing returns. In terms of the process of discovery,
this basically says that ideas lead to more new ideas without
diminishing some fixed pool of ideas. In terms of production and
distribution, it means that costs per unit are low and go lower
per unit produced (but not to be confused with a scaling principle).
An example is the cost of distributing software over the Internet,
where the cost per copy to the company is almost nil.
What rules apply to biological systems? As physical things,
they face a number of diminishing returns, ranging from scarce
resources in the environment to parental investment in offspring.
Although I don't know the history well enough to try, a case could
probably be made that diminishing returns is the central notion
behind both Darwin and Wallace's theory. They were, for example,
both influenced by Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population
in which diminishing returns figures centrally. In fact, in biological
systems there's diminishing returns with a vengeance: gaining
too much "market share" by becoming too successful can actually
decrease fitness as per frequency dependent selection.
Seeing that biological systems and diminishing returns are highly
intertwined isn't a minor point. It reveals that the biological
metaphor is only applicable to a physical economy of resource
extraction and commodity production. As I intimated briefly with
the influence of Malthus on both Darwin and Wallace, the biological
metaphor has had a major role in shaping how we envision economics.
In a physical economy, for example, diminishing returns generally
ensures that some equilibrium will be reached among competitors.
But this is just Spencer's justification for laissez-faire policies
on the basis of Darwinism. If, however, a knowledge economy is
characterized by increasing returns, then the biologically-derived
notions of competition no longer apply and the dynamics of competition
will be substantially different. And so, biological metaphors
don't help us understand the nature of a knowledge economy. The
lessons of Ford and GM as seen through a biological metaphor don't
hold for Netscape and Microsoft.
Indeed, as Romer, Arthur, and others note, increasing returns
predicts the emergence of monopolies and one should expect them.
For one thing, the impediments to market dominance stemming from
diminishing returns no longer apply. Increasing returns make it
reasonable to pursue first-in strategies like gaining market dominance
by flooding a product into a market for free (to leverage another
product). You'd never expect GM to give away their cars to gain
marketshare. For software, there's a further push toward market
domination: bandwagon, or network, effects like becoming the market
standard increase the momentum of a product.
If that were the end of it, then things would be pretty pessimistic-someone
comes along and establishes themselves as a monopoly and no one
can budge them from their dominance by introducing a similar product.
This is the typical image of Microsoft in the press. But this
seems to be an artifact of applying the biological metaphor and
its model of competition. Increasing returns suggests a different
model, one known as monopolistic competition. As I mentioned,
increasing returns has two senses, one regarding innovation and
the other regarding production and distribution. The feasibility
of monopolistic competition rests on the increasing return of
ideas. Monopolistic competition doesn't involve the competition
among similar products for marketshare on the basis of pricing
and other competitive factors. That's the biologically-derived
one based on diminishing returns. Instead, it occurs when a new
innovation results in a new product or piece of code that makes
a dominant one obsolete-they're not called killer apps for nothing.
This replaces one monopoly, or market dominating product, with
a new monopoly. Integrating a browser into an operating system
seems like a classic case of monopolistic competition. But that's
OK in the new economy. And wasn't Netscape trying to integrate
an operating system into their browser? That's monopolistic competition
This brings up another point against the standard biological
metaphor. The biological metaphor embraces incremental change,
the gradualism Dyson's comments frequently invoked. In physical
economies, incremental change is the kind of continual improvement
production methods strive for. Schumpeter's phrase "creative destruction"
gets tossed around a lot in discussions of an emerging knowledge
economy. But if it approximates the kind of instability and dynamics
we can expect in a knowledge economy, then gradualism is the wrong
model of change. If one were tempted by biological metaphors,
punctuated equilibria and speciation would seem better ones, operating
in what's sometimes called Internet time. Netscape's phenomenal
growth was akin to a speciation event, owing to their first-in
position and increasing returns. But the lack of stable equilibria
in such environments implies equally fast declines. What that
suggests is that the successful corporation will be one that doesn't
adopt a continual improvement model of product development, but
instead sees their product line as a succession of replacement
events. Historically, companies whose products have market dominance
tend toward conservatism, since short-term returns typically dominate
longer-term interests. Tom Peters has been screaming for years
now against this conservatism. What it suggests to me is that
the whole issue of the "fairness" of integrating a browser with
an operating system misses the point-it assumes a model of incremental
change and doesn't recognize the requisite model of change in
an idea economy as akin to speciation (though I'm wary of the
biological metaphor). If Microsoft stuck to a model of incremental
change the way Ford changes the headlights of a pickup on a new
model year, you'd wonder how long it would take to lose their
market position. If I were Netscape, I'd take the fact that its
stock is trading below its IPO price as a pretty good signal that
it's time for their own "speciation" event. But that also makes
practicing creative destruction easier than defending market position,
and a viable corporation over the long run will be one that is
ready to replace its own products. That seems to me the kind of
normal life cycle to expect. Though jarring from the perspective
of a physical economy, it also enables the growth rates that make
an idea economy so enticing. And it points to the kinds of instabilities
indicating why monopolies will be temporary and that a succession
of monopolies will be the norm.
I don't mean to suggest that there aren't facets of antitrust
legislation that pertain to this case. My only point is that much
of the discourse in the press seems distorted by inappropriate
economic assumptions, which the biological metaphor plays into.
The flipside of this is that some of the really difficult and
pertinent issues like intellectual property rights have been neglected.
Actually, if I were a Fed, I'd be most concerned about the acquisition
of startups. That's where the innovative ideas that make monopolistic
competition a feasible idea are likely to come from.
There's lots of intriguing things about this new economy. The
impact of information technology on productivity, for example,
is still poorly understood, perhaps because traditional GDP accounting
misses their contribution. My own interest lies in the intellectual
capital challenges the new economy presents and how organizations
from schools to corporations should organize themselves to maximize
that capital. Rather than limiting our understanding with potentially
misleading metaphors, though, responding to the new economy's
challenges and opportunities requires understanding it on its
own terms. The dialogue that George Dyson has prompted is the
kind needed to sharpen our understanding.
STEVEN R. QUARTZ, a fellow of the Sloan Center for Theoretical
Neurobiology at the Salk Institute, has also been a member of
the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory since 1988 and is now
with the Emergent Solutions Group He has advised the National
Science Foundation on computational neurobiology-the use of parallel
simulations to study development of the brain. Dr. Quartz is the
coauthor (with Terrence Sejnowski) of Who We Are: How Today's
Revolutionary Understanding of the Brain is Rewriting Our Deepest
Beliefs About Ourselves From Why We Love Why We Live Together
What Makes Us Happy to Why We Kill. (forthcoming).