Last week, 34 researchers gathered in the ominously asylum-like (but actually extremely pleasant) Lodge at St. Edwards Park in Seattle to talk about all aspects of protocols. The goal of the retreat was partly to achieve the kind of level-up in collaboration intensity and project momentum that good in-person encounters tend to drive, and also to really ask ourselves the tough question: Is there even a there there around "protocols" as a first-class concept in thinking about the world? Or are we just pursuing a bunch of random questions with vague and insubstantial mutual connections? Are we like Jerry seeing patterns that weren't there in an episode of Rick and Morty, where Rick dismisses his ideas as "Probably a cosmetic connection your mind mistakes for thematic"?
I think we can safely say now that both objectives were easily met. Somewhere halfway through the retreat, vague and tentative conversations gelled into an increasingly intense and excited sense of resonance, and awareness of a lurking deep set of connected ideas we were all groping towards. We left the retreat with a sense of an overwhelming mass of powerful hidden ideas waiting to be explored; an entire new continent opening up for intellectual exploration, and a sense of frustration at the realization that we'd barely be able to scratch the surface in what's left of the summer. Still, through a sprawling set of conversations, spanning themes like protocol moonshots, 100-year narratives, protocol visualizations, "kafkaesque protocols," and protocol humor, we did end up with at least a rough and wildly inaccurate map of a territory that will likely take a decade to properly explore and chart accurately. We ended the retreat with a much higher confidence in the interestingness, value, and coherence of what we're doing here in the Summer of Protocols. And had a lot of fun along the way -- going on hikes and swims, doing a boat tour of Seattle's waterways, trying to spot the protocols all around us, practicing memory protocol rituals, and of course, enjoying some good food and wine. We're now all back in our homes, with an increased sense of both anxiety and excitement at what lies ahead, not just for our little group, but for the world at large. In this special issue, we are sharing some of the participant reflections on the retreat. We hope you're intrigued by these glimpses of our week of conversations, and feel inspired to join us in our explorations in some way.
We're now officially into the final month of the program, and all our researchers are busy working on finishing their projects. On the staff side, we're busy figuring out options and ideas for publishing the program output, and we'll be sharing more about that in future issues. In the meantime, our guest talk program continues for the remaining weeks, and this week we're sharing the video of our session with Mike Masnick, founder of TechDirt, and one of the leading evangelists of protocols in the larger tech conversations. So check out the reflections below, watch the video, and join us on the Discord if you'd like to hear more!
Excerpts from Retreat Reflections
"There was a moment of cosmic horror for me in realizing how apt the metaphor of a immune system is for any protocol—in the way that autoimmunity attacks the host because it is merely "following protocol" mades me wonder just how many times we are, as social creatures, doing the same thing and who/what/why/how these initial protocols were created...from scratch, or patched together over time."
"During the 100-year fiction exercise I had a realization: A protocolized future may create public factions based on protocol adoption. These exist today, somewhat, in the form of nations and socio-economic classes. However, in the future we may have factions defined explicitly by the protocols people consciously choose and are eligible for. The fiction exercise highlighted how people within each faction may go to great lengths to change their protocol world, or ecosystem. This rhymes with current trends of migrant refugees and international movements."
"...In order to perform a moonshot you need to know what the moon is (ie. having a goal that’s both unbelievably ambitious and also highly legible to a broad external audience), and also that you need an external rationale unrelated to the otherwise unacceptably ambitious moonshot goal (ie. like historically speaking an external adversary) in order to push you to actually make progress getting there. Every moonshot needs to involve both a Moon and a Soviet Union."
"Lurking in a future where protocols are better in general is the possibility that all forms of undesirable human intent will be better served by these same better tools. This reveals the hard reality that a protocol is only as socially beneficial as the intent in furtherance of which it is being applied. But this same reality also carries cause for cautious optimism – our choice in protocols is increasingly (or has always been?) a necessary condition for improvements in social welfare, however we might define welfare (and however much we might disagree about that same definition!)."
Guest Talk with Mike Masnick
August 9 - Guest Talk with Kazys Varnelis
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