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Knowledgeand Action

Learning to steer or guide automation through the material of mechanical and electronic devices empowers a transcendence of limitation. It releases from me the burden of control. Paradoxically, it yields an even greater capacity to bear that burden in my personal space.


The things we own end up owning us. However, I can relinquish control of mundane and repetitious tasks. I can delegate menial chores and maintenance to automation. As more and more devices automate aspects of life in little ways, the compounding result leads to greater autonomy for all.

Knowledge was originally a verb in Middle English meaning to acknowledge or recognize. Later it became a noun, a thing that means the result of acknowledging or recognizing that is gained through experience. The noun deliberately draws no distinctions between the theoretical or practical. It simply requires an experience of information through communication or some situation in order to manifest itself. Action is a verb, an action word, it means a style of doing or the way in which a thing is mechanized or a movement of someone or something. Knowledge and action together form a feedback loop; as knowledge informs actions, and actions beget experiences that feed back and manifest knowledge.

Wherever you find a feedback loop, you find an eddy of automation. Automation thought of in this way — as a general principle — is not discussed in the mainstream. Introspection reveals that the acquisition of knowledge in the knowledge action feedback loop is automatic. It may be the case that it is sought after, but no one manually constructs knowledge upon the substrate of their minds. Knowledge is constructed automatically; according to micro-biological processes as it informs and is formed by the results of macro-biological action. Knowledge is manifest through experience, either actively in the observation of direct experience or passively in the action of observing the experiences of others.

Taking no action collapses the knowledge action feedback loop, it leads to the stagnation of knowledge which, to some degree, has a shelf-life. Automation as a general principle — as the inexorable rearrangement of dispositional forces in the universe — is harnessed by technologies. Advances in technology have continued accelerating in recent years at unprecedented rates. Things are changing rapidly, but those not familiar with these general principles hold the imagined past in the present and resist these changes personally and socially. The belief that technology will ultimately destroy ecosystems, displace workers and destroy lives is rooted in imagination. Holding to the past pins down expectations for the future and limits what can be imagined as being possible. False expectations for the future are inevitably undermined by the inexorable rearrangement of dispositional forces.

Imagine I am steering toward a destination, let’s say a lighthouse on the shore of choppy waters. Steering in only one direction results in an irregular circular motion that only occasionally vectors in the direction I wish to go. It ultimately leads to nowhere. Planning to steer in both directions in advance can never account for the complexity of being continuously buffeted off course. The steering cannot be planned in advance without perfect knowledge of the waves. In circumstances of imperfect knowledge, a feedback loop must be employed. A steering action is taken, the results compared to the new position of the destination relative to my craft, a new steering is chosen, and the knowledge action feedback loop eventually converges upon its goal.

Automation harnessed by technology is explored in depth in the field of robotics by tapping into or creating new feedback loops, and guiding their dispositional forces into mechanized processes. I am not an expert roboticist. I am not an expert in artificial intelligence. Yet it is impossible to become an expert without the experienced action of making things first. An expert researcher is seeking to gather the experience necessary to imagine something novel. To imagine and do something that has not been experienced before. That journey can only begin as a maker. A maker is seeking to arrange materials and use what is already known to exist in a way that is suited for some practical purpose.

In our accelerating technological economy there is a commoditization of hardware and software components. Open source designs in hardware and software are a conspicuous feature of the next transcendental epoch. In the open source philosophy historical pretexts for profit motive have been reimagined and what is authentically profitable has been exposed. The past decades of resistance to the precepts of open source have buckled under the dispositional forces of the inexorable rearrangement. Through the social and legal contracts of the open source community anyone can share or make use of shared hardware and software components and architectures. Free to use hubs of collaboration are delivered by prominent web applications to search, find and collaborate on open source projects. It is becoming increasingly easier to select or mix and match open hardware and software and plug it together into novel arrangements.

As technological progress congeals in the interdisciplinary fields of robotics and first order cybernetics, new applications for automation and artificial intelligence are being entertained. The field of home automation is just starting to harvest a new fruitfulness again in the acceleration of technological progress.

For a long time, the automation enjoyed in the modern home was limited to devices invented in the technological acceleration of the renaissance period. Devices such as the flushing toilet feature a ball-cock, invented in the late 16th century. A mechanical device that works automatically to stop the flow of running water by receiving feedback from a rising water level. Or, the thermostat featuring a mercury switch originally invented in the early 17th century to regulate the run cycles of heaters and air conditioning by receiving and acting upon feedback from the ambient temperature. Even the modern versions of these classes of devices; appliances such as the dishwasher, the clothes washer and dryer, and the refrigerator harness automatic action and environmental feedback to automate their operation.

Automatic devices have always employed a technique for guiding feedback from the environment. They allow or cause some action in the environment to occur, then gather some limited knowledge from the feedback encoded as a mechanical position or digital information and direct it into a new mechanical or electrical action.

The current renaissance in automation has ended a decades-long stagnation of possibilities in the mainstream imagination. So-called smart home innovations have begun in limited forms, working with what already exists. The limitations of these innovations will be short lived as many become conscious of the fact that the amount of control we have over our homes is often limited to on and off switches. Therefore these home automation systems can only begin by interfacing with these analog switches. Then, to control them automatically or by voice commands. Or by introducing some new switches, even, or moving the control surface of switches into smart phone applications. Or a conversational artificial intelligence used as a repository of knowledge queried from the internet. A virtual butler that controls the ambient environment and psychological atmosphere of your home through temperature, colored lighting and sounds. All operated in a feedback loop between itself and the inhabitants of the house. The only real innovations from these systems will be from calling forth media from proprietary services at the other end of internetwork connections.

The downside of this initial imagining of the unfolding situation is that a majority of people spend comparatively little time in their homes. Now, thanks to smart home innovations, they can spend even less by automating the routine of preparing the home for departure; turning off lights, setting a thermostat and locking the doors with a single voice command.

What if there were more switches, utilities and appliances in the basic home, though? Instead of there being only switches, utilities and appliances that lead to the use of consumables like electricity, soap, and water… What if switches, utilities and appliances that produced fungibles were the norm? What if we had appliances that also produced food, soil, natural gas and properly managed the lifecycles of water? What if these appliances were all interdependent and interconnected in an autonomous control system supported by robots and artificial intelligence? What if it produced a greater abundance than the inhabitants of this kind of home could consume? What if this managed ecosystem was viable yet still optimized and continuously improved in a grand knowledge action feedback loop comprised of a community of researchers and makers? What if it were open source? What would it have to look like if it were put together right now from things that already exist? Questions like these are the maker’s starting point in the knowledge action feedback loop.

An automation like this is rarely discussed. Yet automation in the home is beginning to take shape, with so-called smart home innovations. These artifacts seem to be relying on what exists already — as it exists — with no deliberate rearrangement within the home on the part of innovators. It is as though the only lifestyles worthy of service by the producers of these innovations are the average ones. Or that the construction and configuration of homes, the materials and energy efficiencies, the switches available to control it were all immutable bylaws of human nature. Or maybe they are afraid to be bold.

What we call reality is, in fact, nothing more than a culturally sanctioned and linguistically reinforced hallucination.

— Terence McKenna

If we are unable to redefine the purpose of a home to be something visceral like manufacturing the next generation; and using this new definition to then redesign the home intellectually, as a whole system of manufacturing dedicated to this purpose. Then, the results of the smart home revolution will be nothing more than a hollow gimmick.

The notion that someone else knows better and will take action exists in every human endeavor. The notion that, their goals are somehow aligned with our own is fallacious. Even in this vision of personal automation. The variety is too great for a single innovator, a single producer to absorb. The results of trying can be catastrophic. At best, planned obsolescence and artificial scarcity. At worst, dangerous side effects from the use of a product or its production. Authentic well being for everyone may be accessible though, through a distributed ecosystem of production.

Autonomous machines could seasonally produce an abundance of food at home and continuously produce energy at home. Machines can be purchased right now or built from blueprints with prefabricated parts and software that can produce a cornucopia of fungible goods on the premises from basic feedstocks, on demand. What food to produce, how much energy and water will be used, can all be planned far in advance and simulated on computer systems. This simulated yield and consumption could be compared to reality via sensors. It could be adjusted to a measured reality to compensate for predictive error or operational deficiency in a knowledge action feedback loop.

Instead of the “rock bottom” of our society being the humiliation of homeless despondence, the “rock bottom” could be redefined as an abundance of quantified well being. It would come in the form of nutrition, energy and shelter. No one would be forced to produce it on behalf of another, as the knowledge to create this kind of authentic wealth would be distributed as opposed to the redistribution of a proxy for wealth. Were this to happen an authentic wealth — more than the current majority ever experiences — would become readily accessible. It is possible now to create authentic wealth in our society. To thereby establish a firm foundation of authentic autonomy in the next one.