“When I see ideas dying, it hurts. I see a tragedy.”
That’s not Dominic Cummings, Isaac Levido, Michael Brooks or Lee Cain, the four men credited with an historic victory.
That’s instead Bret Victor, an ex-Apple employee who specializes in designing interfaces.
In a powerful speech, Victor explains how the digital revolution can be brought to every day men and women. How tech tools can come out of the Ivory Towers of Silicon Valley and be made useful to all.
“So I have this principle that creators need an immediate connection,” he says. By that he means that code allows for tools where static matter can be made dynamic.
It’s a call for a continuation of the digital revolution by incorporating artificial intelligence and data mining, or even by updating systems, to include the new capabilities that are available today.
His inspirational speech is more a will to dream than a great insight. It’s more: we can do this, so why are we not?
Here is where Cummings comes in, the man that some say is second in command to only Boris Johnson, the fresh new Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
A Leap to the 21st Century
Like most, we too know little about Cummings, and as a first introduction with his writings we obviously have to take him at his word.
From it, it does not appear Cummings is an ideologue. He does think UK should leave the EU, but perhaps less based on some sort of intellectual geopolitical basis and more as an opportunity to upgrade the civil service.
He comes across more as a project manager, or an architect if we want to pet a bit his ego. Someone who, if all goes well, might be credited as the one who dragged governance/bureaucracy into the 21st century.
The one promise the conservative manifesto made, after get brexit out of the way and get a new point based pro-immigration system, was an investment of £100 billion in infrastructure.
That’s a ton of money for an economy of circa £3 trillion. Hospitals will be built with it, schools, bridges, roads in a big modernizing project that has considerable ambitions.
“Most of the problems with the standards of policy and management in the civil service are low or no-tech problems,” says Cummings.
Presumably thus his solution is tech, tech, tech. That means a powerful vision could arise now which most would back and which can create a very booming new Britain.
The beginning of a new era and its celebration is embodied in a beautiful dance aired live yesterday for the first time on BBC’s most watched show.
A million dreams is what tech can provide and its incorporation into the civil service can be a fairly powerful catalyst for an awakening of sorts.
Specifically, the advancement in many fields means we are at the dawn of the space age. Man and women, at least some of them, must leave earth. For fun and pleasure, but also to ensure the continued existence of our species.
To support such endeavor and many other endeavors we need more efficient methods of cooperation and in particular we need the vast bureaucracy to perform its function of serving the commons while ensuring there is still a commons to be enjoyed.
The millennial generation has had many slaps but one of the biggest was a SEC civil servant telling us all “we are not going to innovate for you.”
Well the message from the Boris administration will hopefully be the opposite. At least that’s what one can take from some of Cummings’ writings.
“Imagine being able to short Grayling’s transport announcements, for example,” Cummings says, with Grayling being some former minister.
That was in the context of prediction markets, “with people able to ‘short’ official delivery timetables.”
So Augur or Gnosis, although not necessarily with crypto it can well be Betfair too, but the idea of prediction markets does come from this space.
The idea here being sort of legalized insider trading but for non financial matters. So if some employer knows this timetable won’t be in time or some fact has changed but they can’t publicly say, they can bet.
It also includes the wisdom of the crowd. So if the timetable in question is a bridge within 12 months for $1 million, which in this absurd example most experts would perhaps think is nonsense, they can bet against it.
That bet against then is a data point which can be analyzed to decide whether the timetable or the cost is in any way realistic.
Cummings himself is not a coder or a techy, he is more a generalist perhaps, who studied ancient history. He seems however to be much aware of what is going on in the tech world, and the above example suggests he is aware of even perhaps the fringes of it, let alone the more mainstream parts.
He wants to bring all that to the civil service. For data science, models, information at your fingertips, new code designs, and basically the technological revolution to become part of the capabilities of modern British bureaucracy.
That makes him a reformer with a very, very big task, but curiously his blog does not mention Estonia once.
Estonia is generally recognized as the most digitally advanced government. Much is done online, with easy authentication, and with what we can call fluid or movable data. As in information can easily be accessed by those that have the right to access it.
Their economy is growing at circa 4%-5% a year with inflation low at 1.8%. Meaning it is growing and quite a bit in real terms.
Some describe an almost merger between the government and entrepreneurship. A revolving door or even not quite a strict distinction.
Perhaps much is being romanticized, but as an example when they came up with a blockchain-ish project sort of around the same time as bitcoin’s invention, not only were the then scientists going to serve their own government, but they were also going to make money out of it by start-uping the solution.
That Cumming’s blog doesn’t mention Estonia makes it a bit interesting perhaps because it suggests they’re an inspiration of sorts which he kind of does not want to give away. But, while Estonia’s government is more digitized, the private sector of UK and US is of course miles ahead.
He presumably wants to bring in that private sector or utilize it so as to incorporate the new capabilities into governance services.
The new hospitals, schools, and the rest are easy pickings of where to start in providing even futuristic like services, but shaking up through upgrading the current spaces does also appear to be the aim so as to basically advance Britain.
Too Hot For Cool
A revolution is coming and thankfully it’s a very British one. The opposition has now been decimated and needs at least a few years to regroup and rethink. The independents couldn’t be more happy the result was so decisive. Meaning the country fully backs Boris, within reason obviously, and at least for some time they’re happy to just see what he will do.
That makes this a considerable opportunity to adapt the government to be once more part of the public, instead of as often perceived against the public.
That might be wishful thinking but it may also be the case aristocrats in particular have seen just how close they came to a revolution. While in the 30s they tactically sold their soul to the devil in Germany to their great decimation, now it appears they’ve managed to throw the devil under a bus.
Meaning, they know even for their own benefit certain changes are necessary and beginning with a tech revolution in government is a pretty good place to start.
The other part is “experts,” a dirty word to some but what they probably mean is a blurring of the lines between the civil service and startups or the like. Not necessarily contractors, but more that “captains of industry” might be a better place to go to for advice.
Captains of industry here meaning not necessarily CEOs and the like, but perhaps even “starving” people who nonetheless can be described as “thinkers” for a specific area.
It is afterall often the Bezos with the Amazon sign handwritten at the dawn of what became the empire, rather than necessarily the current Bezos who might not have much reason to care anymore, that knows quite a bit about just what is needed.
This “consulting” of “experts” can be seen as more a “jury” style involvement of civil society in governance to tap into the people that are closer to events and thus necessarily know better or know earlier than individuals who are not as close to the ground.
Cummings calls it an ‘immune systems’ based on decentralisation and distributed control with that referring more to perhaps code or the blockchain, but the latter probably derived it from Hayek’s argument that the one closer to events knows more, which is obvious.
Yet as obvious as it is, the one closer to events is unheard and when they rarely get the opportunity to talk to civil servants, they get a slap by these people we pay with dismissive: we aint gone innovate mate so shut up, we hate our jab anyway and we just pr-ing to tell you wat to do so no take issue with me like I don’t make laws or anyfin boss just said I gotta be here talking to you lot like bruv.
The absurdity of the above has become obvious, and the neglect of what needs to be done has led to a spiraling of out of control to the point the unthinkables were being thought.
To do what needs to be done however is the equivalent of the Mayans changing from base 25 maths to base 10. So much has been built on the former, and so much continues to be built on it by the second, that even deciding to tackle the task incrementally is no easy.
Yet, as 20 20 arrives there is clearly an opportunity to leap to this century and to the new decade and perhaps even beyond it in what can well be a caterpillar like transformation into a butterfly.
Whether such dreams will last much is of course for time to say, but for at least a few moments we can feel a bit of relief in knowing the Avengers are perhaps here and in knowing that our government is perhaps indeed ours.
May the moon and the sun greet this pleasant land with joy and dance, and may thy man, and his men, have the assistance of a trillion angels.
Best of luck Boris, but be mindful, fortuna is a ruthless mistress if you ignore objectivity.
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