Summary

Culture is an important component of self-organizing systems. In this post, I explore this concept as it relates to the Society of Things I described earlier.

Karneval der Kulturen|Carnival of Cultures

In Social Things, Trustworthy Spaces, and the Internet of Things, I described trustworthy spaces as abstract places where various "things" could come together to accomplish tasks that none of them could do on their own.

For example, in that post I posit a scenario where a new electric car needs to work with other things in its owner's home to determine the best times to charge.

The five properties I discussed for trustworthy spaces were decentralized, event-driven, robust, anti-fragile, and trust-building. But while I can make points about why each of these is desirable in helping our car join a trustworthy space and carry out negotiations, none of them speak to how the car or space will actually do it.

In Systems Thinking, Jamshid Gharajedaghi discusses the importance of culture in self-organizing systems. He says "cultures act as default decision systems." Individuals identify with particular cultures when their self-image aligns with the shared image of a community.

Imagine a trustworthy space serving as a community for things that belong to me and use a lot of power. That space has default policies for power management negotiations. These aren't algorithms, necessarily, but heuristics that guide interactions between members.

In its turn, the car has a power management profile that defines part of its self-image and so it aligns nicely with the shared image of the power management space. Consequently, when the car is introduced to the household, it gravitates to the power management space because of the shared culture. It may join other spaces as well depending on its self image and their culture.

My description is short on detail about how this culture is encoded and how things discover the cultures of spaces upon being introduced to the household, but it does provide a nice way to think about how large collections of things could self organize and police themselves.

Gharajedaghi defines civilization as follows:

[C]ivilization is the emergent outcome of the interaction between culture (the software) and technology. Technology is universal, proliferating with no resistance, whereas cultures are local, resisting change with tenacity.

I like this idea of civilization emerging from a cultural overlay on our collections of things. By finding trustworthy spaces that are a cultural fit and then using that culture for decision making within a society of things, our connected things are tamed and become subject to our will.