I posit excessive measurement is the culprit behind the world’s biggest problems, as well as the likely initiator of its future crises. It is the largest hidden systemic risk to our future livelihood. Our obsession with quantity is the very incarnation of the materialistic credo, a worldview focusing on physical resources and antagonist to a knowledge economy.
Budget deficits, unsustainable public debt, distrust between the classes, rising geopolitical tensions, terrorism breeding poverty, ego-maniacal leaders with imperial ambitions and a host of other issues threatening to send the world into a new Dark Age of religious fanaticism and neo-Marxism can all be traced I believe to our otherwise well-meant strive for objectivity, and thus for rigorous measurement.
The key to my postulate is simple to state if non-trivial to digest: past a certain point, measurement becomes self-serving with nefarious consequences. Our insistence to resolve problems with measured objectivity is quite sensible in theory. In practice however it results in human capital organized to serve labor intensive but ingenuity poor number crunching. Bureaucratic hierarchies led by high priests serving at the altar of data become disconnected from and lose empathy with the context of the problems they were stood up to resolve. Entitlement, political maneuvering, and generally those traits attributable to the worst of human nature ensue. As a growing number of a country’s population gets drawn into the growing measurement religion they vote to divert more of a country’s resources into number crunching endeavors – masked as worthy policies – and away from innovation, context and knowledge expansion.
Kurzweil rants about the technological singularity past which human intelligence is superseded by artificial intelligence with bleak outlooks for the human predicament. I see a bigger risk for a “measurement singularity”, past which resources are gobbled up by self-serving bureaucracies which divert energy away from innovation, leading to stagnating economies and heightened social unrest, weakened military might inviting totalitarian, religiously fanatical and imperialistic minded self-proclaimed leaders to dream ego-maniacal dreams of world dominance.
We survived Tayloristic Management only to run into a technology that has a much bigger capacity to enslave human ingenuity: Big Data. I propose that Big Data and other data intensive technologies may “save” us from Kurzweil’s singularity by depriving us the resources needed for that kind of innovation.