This book describes a vision for the future of technology and society that we hope is ambitious and serious enough to be real competitor to, but will be more attractive to most readers than, that developed by libertarians and technocrats. If we are right and you share that vision, join us in the movement for ⿻.
Our concrete aspirations match our ambitious vision. By 2030, ⿻ will be as recognizable to people around the globe as a direction for technology as AI or blockchain are and as recognizable as a political movement as the Green movement. People will expect their democracy to progress as rapidly as their devices. They will see Taiwan as a guiding light and symbol for ⿻ and thus as important to the thriving of ⿻ as Israel is for the Jewish people or as Ukraine is for freedom in Europe. People around the world will find surprising allies and heroes through ⿻, like those concerned about authoritarian expansionism coming to admire a transgender Taiwanese leader on the front lines of that conflict and those seeking more ⿻ technology finding allies among the devout.
Technology is the most powerful force transforming our world. Whether or not we understand its inner workings, deploy it tentatively or voraciously, or agree with the companies and policymakers that have shaped its development to date, it remains our single greatest lever to shape our collective future.
That collective is not simply a group of individuals but a fabric of relationships. Whether you look at it from a scientific, historical, sociological, religious or political point of view, it is increasingly clear that reality is defined not just by who we are, but how we connect.
Technology drives and defines those connections. From the railroad to the telegraph to the telephone, to social media connecting us to old kindergarten friends and new like-minded allies, to teleconferencing holding businesses and families together during Covid, we have benefited enormously from technology’s capacity to forge and strengthen human connection while honoring our differences.
Yet, technology has also clearly driven us apart and suppress our differences. Business models based on a fight for attention have prioritized outrage over curiosity, echo chambers over shared understanding, and practically unfettered mis- and disinformation. The rapid spread of information online, out of context and against our privacy expectations, has too often eroded our communities, driven out our cultural heritage and created a global monoculture As a new generation of technologies including GFMs and augmented reality spreads through our lives, it promises to radically increase technology’s effects, good and bad.
Thus we stand at a crossroads. Technology could drive us apart, sowing chaos and conflict that bring down social order. It could suppress the human diversity that is its lifeblood, homogenizing us in a singular technical vision. Or it could dramatically enrich our diversity while strengthening the ties across it, harnessing and sustaining the potential energy of ⿻.
Some would seek to avoid this choice by slamming on the breaks, decelerating technological progress. Yet, while of course some directions are unwise and there are limits to how rapidly we should proceed into the unknown, the dynamics of competition and geopolitics makes simply slowing progress unlikely to be sustainable. Instead, we face a choice of directions more than velocity.
Should we, as libertarians like Peter Thiel, Marc Andreesen and Balaji Srinavasan would have us do, liberate individuals to be atomistic agents, free of constraints or responsibilities? Should we, as technocrats like Sam Altman and Reid Hoffman would have us do, allow technologists to solve our problems, plan our future and distribute to us the material comfort it creates?
We say, loudly and clearly, neither! Both chaos and top-down order are the antitheses not just of democracy and freedom, but of all life, complexity and beauty in human society and nature. Life and ⿻ thrive in the narrow corridor on the "edge of chaos". For life on this planet to survive and thrive, it must be the central mission of technology and politics to widen this corridor, to steer us constantly back towards that edge of chaos where growth and ⿻ are possible. That is the aspiration and the imperative of ⿻.
⿻ is thus the third way beyond libertarianism and technocracy, just as the life is the third way beyond rigid order and chaos. It is a movement we have perhaps three to five years to set in motion. Within that time frame, a critical mass of the technology that people and companies use every day will have become deeply dependent on "AI" and "the metaverse". At that point, we won’t be able to reverse the fait accompli that technocracy and libertarianism have generated for us. But between now and then, we can mobilize to re-chart the course: toward a human-centered, relationship-embracing, digital democracy in which diverse groups of people, precisely because they do not agree, are able to cooperate and collaborate to constantly push our imaginations and aspirations forward.
Such a pivot will take a whole-of-society mobilization. Businesses, governments, universities, and civil society organizations must demand that our technology deepen our connections across our many forms of social diversity. That is the key, and the only path, to strengthening human stability, prosperity, and flourishing into the future.
As we described in “The Lost Dao,” this vision could have been the dominant ethos of the Internet. Founders and pioneers like JCR Licklider at ARPA and Robert W. Taylor at Xerox imagined replacing the world’s centralized, linear, and atomized structures with more federated, networked relationships and governance. Instead, the tech giants we know today, along with players like Cisco, AOL, PayPal, and others, defined the emerging building blocks of the Internet completely. From networking to storage and computation to identity to user interface to payments and more, the form of the Internet reflects private incentives rather public values.
For all that it offers, the Internet’s potential for truly transformative progress has never materialized. If we want to realize that potential, we have a brief window of opportunity to act.
The Promise of Plural Technology
In the last twenty or so years, societies have developed a sort of learned helplessness when it comes to technology. We’re intrigued by it and we’re alternately delighted and frustrated by it, but we tend to assume that it emerges inexorably, like modernity itself, instead of as the sum of the choices small of groups of engineers. We don’t think “we the people” have any ability, much less any right, to influence the direction of the platforms that are the operating system of our lives.
But we do have the right, and even the duty, to demand better. Some technology pulls us apart, and some pulls us together. Some fuels our resentment, and some helps us find common cause. If we mobilize to demand the latter, the plural technologies that are designed to help us collaborate across difference, we can re-engineer that operating system.
We see our opportunity to act across three horizons: the immediate, the intermediate, and the transformative.
The immediate horizon. Some of this change is ripe for activism right now. People in every sector—you, your friends, your colleagues, right now—can advance initiatives to increase trust, understanding and shared purpose. If you work in the tech industry, you can build on very-promising-but-not-yet-perfected tools like Pol.is, Remesh, and All Our Ideas which, in a manner exactly opposite of most forms of social media, foster dialogue rather than discord. People working in government can write regulations and incentives to encourage the development of such plural technologies. Academics can study plural technologies and their impact and devise rigorous measures to help us know what truly works. Cultural leaders, including activists of every sort, can bring pluralism and plural technologies to life in narratives for a wide range of audiences.
The intermediate horizon. With more systematic imagination and ambition, there are opportunities to pursue Plurality across a more intermediate horizon, reinventing institutions to include more voice and invite more participation. Here, too, people in corporations can advance plurality in internal operations and corporate governance—from designing workplaces from the bottom up, to exploring “hard conversations” at work with plural collaboration technologies_,_ to strengthening remote teams so employees’ shared creativity despite distance. Government employees can do the same. Plural technologies have just begun helping find pathways through policy issues regarding rideshare policy in Taiwan, visual arts in Canada, and urban mobility in Chile; these are the kind of early “trial balloons” that suggest that the space for deeper and broader policy experimentation is huge.
Also in the intermediate term, academics can advance the restructuring of academic research and debate using plural technologies. They can more critically examine their own journey of pluralistic thought. Cultural leaders, too, can bring plural technologies into cultural creation. If we can open a book for public comment and edits, can they innovate with public input in other forms of media and entertainment?
The transformative horizon. For those of you with even more expansive vision, we have spent a good deal of this book articulating the kinds of truly transformative plural technology that could ultimately rewire the way humans communicate and collaborate. This ambition goes to the root of the Plurality movement’s insight—that personhood, the core unit of democracy, is not merely atomistic or “monistic,” but is also defined by social relationships – and it therefore gives rise to a broader conception of rights, going beyond individual rights to recognize plural concepts of affiliation, commerce, property, and other building blocks of our society.
We catalogued an early view of these aspirations. For example, in the most transformative plural technology:
Identity can be confirmed and protected not just by individual biological traits, like birthdates and fingerprints, but by sociological, relational ones, like shared experiences and community testimony.
Affiliation can be advanced not just by physical memberships and proximate connections, but by confidential, secure, and fortified online associations, allowing a truly diverse range of communities with strong internal common beliefs to thrive, without undue interference from outsiders and with reliable confidence that participants are who they say they are.
Commerce, augmented by new network-based tools like vouchers, scrip, and credit, can include more people in prosperous commercial networks while still protecting the security, privacy, and investments of all participants.
Property can be rethought to expand asset sharing as well as valuation, using nimbler markers of participant identity and reliability, asset usage, and property assessment. We already share our homes and cars in ways we couldn’t have imagined 15 years ago; in what new directions can we guide ownership to include more people while still protecting exclusivity and privacy?
Markets and corporate governance can be enhanced by network-centric innovation – greater attention to the full range of stakeholders affected by corporate decisions, participatory design and prediction markets to speed innovation and problem-solving, “plural management” in businesses to strike a better balance between employee participation and critical roles for authority.
Public policy can be augmented by innovations that build on network thinking – from community-based sponsorship for long-term work permits for immigrants, to quadratic voting that discourages expensive and slash-and-burn campaigning.
For those with a taste for this kind of ambitious transformation, the time to begin is still now. Businesses can invest in infrastructure for, and support policy related to, digital public infrastructure that will advance trust and cohesion where we now have fear and division. Government can rethink collaboration – from ways to include the stakeholders who never get a voice to ways to collaborate internationally on border-agnostic problems like climate and pandemics. Academics and researchers can explore and establish an intellectual and empirical basis for transformative plurality. And our cultural leaders can articulate a vision of a more pluralistic future, whether in books, movies, videos, music, or whole new categories we haven’t thought of yet.
It would be funny if, after writing a book about pluralistic sources of wisdom -- and indeed drawing on plural contributors to construct the book itself – we announced a top-down, centralized, command-and-control plan to achieve Plurality.
Of course, there won’t be any one-size-fits-all path to Plurality for every company, community, or country. What there will be, however – and soon, if this book has its intended effect -- is a network of people, lightly connected in groups and loosely federated across the globe, who are committed to Plurality over its dual, looming alternatives: libertarianism and technocracy. Charting a third course, pluralists believe that tech must serve people, not the other way around, and that people’s greatest aspirations are to have full lives, rich with relationships and chances to experience love and loss, adversity and achievement. Tech should help us do that – not turn us into Lord of the Flies or undifferentiated data points.
If you believe that the central condition of a thriving, progressing, and righteous society is social diversity, and collaboration across such rich diversity – then come on board.
If you believe that technology, the most powerful tool in today’s society, can yet be made to help us flourish, both as individuals and across our multiple, meaningful affiliations – then come on board.
If you want to contribute to Plurality’s immediate horizon, intermediate horizon, or truly transformative horizon —or across all of them—you have multiple points of entry. If you work in tech, business, government, academia, civil society, cultural institutions, education, and/or on the home-front, you have multiple ways to make a difference.
Come on board via this book, via the collateral materials around it, and in collaboration with friends and colleagues. If 100 million people see the film, 10 million get acquainted with plurality, 1 million read the book, 100,000 deeply digest it, and 10,000 work actively in plurality – we will reach our 2030 goals.
We pluralists are in every country in the world and every sector of the economy. Connect, affiliate, rally, mobilize … and join us, in the deliberate and committed movement to build a more dynamic and harmonious world.