Tag Archives: Viable Systems

Black Mirror: White Bear and Nosedive.

downloadSpoiler Alerts! This post is my analysis of two Black Mirror shows, available on Netflix. Written by Charlie Brooker.

Black Mirror is about the near future – what may happen if some trends go in particular directions. To be believable the writing needs a systemic understanding of how things may emerge and fit together, with story and twists that systemically fit the narrative.

I’m testing my analysis skills, writing about the context and bigger picture that we see in the episodes. The analysis here is general. I’d like to look at future episodes using particular systems approaches that are suitable for the situation.

White Bear
Voyeuristic punishment for an evil crime. The perpetrator is punished in the same way, over and over while being watched by members of the public for their enjoyment.
At the end of each punishment day the perpetrator is given a cocktail of drugs, and appears to forget what she has done. She then re-lives the day again not realising what is going on, finally being made aware of her crime in front of an audience there to witness the event.

Apparently she was an accomplice to the torture and killing of a child, and went along with her partner, for reasons not explained.

white-bear

A plus, ‘+’ on the arrow means that an increase or decrease in one leads to a similar increase or decrease in the other. A minus, ‘-‘ on the arrow means an increase leads to a decrease, and a decrease leads o an increase. I hope this makes sense.

White Bear shows the reoccurring punishment of someone who seemed to have no knowledge of the crime, or who and where she was. Her memory is erased by those punishing her, to make the punishment worse.
This was the purpose of the system, to cause the greatest amount of pain to someone guilty of a crime, and to have a theatre of punishment where people could pay to spectate and be part of the punishment. There was not an end to the punishment, although when it stopped attracting paying customers it may close, or if a more profitable punishment theatre opportunity arose it may be replaced.

If it lost popularity, and there was no one to be punished, then would the entertainment stop? Would hatred of a criminal be whipped up in the media to keep the entertainment going? A fake crime could be created, and actors used so that money can be made?

It wasn’t clear who was profiting financially from the punishment, or how the made sure that they always had a crime that it was profitable to punish? The people attending the punishment were enjoying seeing someone punished.

The woman being punished started each day not knowing who she was. Crimes are often contextual. People can do evil things if they are in the wrong environment, and manipulated with propaganda or controlled. From standing by while bad things happen to people who have been dehumanized by propaganda, to taking part in crimes without committing them (Eichmann) through to planning and committing crimes.

If someones identity is deliberately removed, they do not know who are where they are and have no context for their life, are they the same person who committed the crime? Without the context of their childhood, their experiences, and the influence of other people, someones life take a different path.

Removing someones knowledge about themselves and what they have done seems a cruel punishment designed to inflict pain on the person guilty of the crime, forcing them to relive (via videos and narrative) the situations that led to the crime, were another totally different outcome could have emerged in a different context. They learned of the crime they had committed but not the context that led up to it.

White Bear was a punishment whose occurrence is never-ending, while profitable for the organisation running it, provides continual suffering, with no end in sight.

 

Nosedive

Nosedive is about living in a society where  human interactions  are rated, as can posted videos and photos. There is  single 1-5 star scale, and each transaction goes towards someones total, from getting good service at a café, to cutting someone up in traffic, to a pleasant but insincere conversation in a lift.

Access to housing, jobs, and services including some medical services is dependent on your rating. There is a single rating for everything reducing the variety of life to a single 1-5 scale. This simplification massively reduces  complexity, and allows for simple judgements, analysis and action. Automation of access to services, events and jobs makes life in many ways quite fair (a conclusion from David Graebers Utopia of Rules).

The program mainly has “good-looking thin people” on it with high ratings and good jobs. People with lower ratings are seen doing more menial jobs. Rating are affected by things like being on the wrong side of a relationship breakup, leading to someone losing their job. – Their ‘friends’ could help their rating, but would risk being down voted by their peers – The interactions seem quite naïve given the Machiavellian power and influence struggles that would become a part of this society.

nosedive

In this world there is a massive reduction in variety. Judging people by 1 metric. It seems to have made people 1 dimensional in their interactions, with an emphasis on getting good feedback. There are feedback loops here – people who give 5 stars expect to get 5 back and complain if not. There is deeper thought – and it’s acknowledged that everything is about ratings, but this is expressed under duress, so any discussion of this is clearly dangerous.

When people accidentally bump into each other then the person responsible gets down rated to lose points. In reality though blame is not so straightforward. People rarely admit to being wrong while driving for example, so these interactions must be lose / lose for both parties. The developing story is about how someone falls from a high to low rating rapidly by simply being annoyed in an understandable human way.

There are at least 2 types of people in Nosedive, and different types of relationships.

  • There are those who care about ratings and whose relationships are about improving their ratings average. Getting rated highly by a higher individual is a goal, but can reflect badly on the higher rated person, and interactions are all about being rated highly.
  • There are those who don’t care about ratings. We only meet one of these people, who does appear to have a job, and was, once, highly rated.
  • Relationships can be not usually rated – like close friends and siblings. Conversations here can be much more real and deeper, but can still be rated.

There are interesting parts of the show where there are discussions with experts who will help people improve their rating – there is clearly a formulae about the network graph of your interactions, and if you’re rated by service workers, family, or people with lots of connections there are different weights applied. It’s not clear if these experts work for the company who does the ratings, or are independent. Or most likely some hybrid of independent with insider information.

It’s not clear who runs the rating software, or who implements the rules. The rules have a deep influence on how the society runs – what is valued and how conversation flows. I think it’s fair to say that saying you’re not OK, need help, or have done something wrong is not going to be rated well. Yet the society still appears to function. With certain jobs, houses and products only available to highly ranked people want to be rated highly.

Similar systems already exist for Facebook, where algorithms decide who sees your posts. More popular people and posts get more exposure. People often post in a way they hope to be popular, rather than be, say, true or real. And discounts are already available if you like a businesses page, and then  use that business.  Facebook has apologised for experimenting with users emotions already. There are many ways this could be used and misused, however as a human feedback mechanism there is no time for reflection. The feedback may be done quickly by Dr Steve Peters Chimp part off the brain, which is unlikely to react thoughtfully.

Would an alternative system appear? Would there be places where you could interact with people in mean and nasty ways? Would someone sell you this service? (of course they would:-).

Would there be parts of society with no ratings? Would this even be legal? Could you buy ratings, with cash or sex rather than fake niceness?

A real ‘nasty’ exchange does occur in  a police cell at the end of the show, with a cathartic exchange of insults between people with nothing to lose, which, although authentic is still chimp talk.

Comments welcome.

Advertisements

Strengths and Clean Language Workshops

https://www.flickr.com/photos/robinjakobsson/This article is part of a number of posts about a how I’m learning about tools to understand how I think. It doesn’t really fit into a an easy narrative, because it was an emergent process. Here goes.

Starting off

I learned about Clean Language in course TU811 from the Open University.. I read ‘From Contempt to Curiosity’ by Caitlin Walker, who produced the Clean Language elements of the Open University course. I was still unsure about using Clean Language with others.

A year later I saw a recommendation for Clifton Strengths Finder from Tobias Mayer.

Strengths Finder is a test that asks some questions online and give you your top 5 strengths, and explanations how they are used.

I took the test, read the results and moved on to learning about other things. Sounded cool, and great for understanding my skills, but that was it. This was about the same time as I did some clean language modelling of myself.

Two ways to Model

A few weeks later realised that these two models gave different perspectives on a similar thing. I don’t like understanding something with only one perspective. Two perspectives gets interesting. (see this post by me about needed more than one model). The Strengths Finder model already existed, and we get fitted to it with our top 5 strengths. Clean Language reveals our own models that explain things back to us.

Strengths Finder is not very emergent – categories already exist, but there are 30+ of them and they have good and bad traits, or balconies and basements in their language, so it is quite rich.

The models that emerge for Clean Language really are the individuals models, although group models are possible. They can also develop and change over time, reflecting how a person develops.

The combination is quite powerful.

Starting a group

I’ve spoken about systems at work with colleagues, and there are a number who I think ‘get it’ intuitively – I’ve got individuation as one of my strengthens, so maybe it’s unsurprising I can understand people who see things in a particular way.

(My strengths are Strategic, Ideation, Individualisation, Learner, Arranger. These probably explain a lot about my actions 🙂

I asked the next 8(ish) systems-y colleagues I saw in the staff kitchen if they would join me for a lunch hour to watch some videos and I’d talk about the two approaches. I think they all agreed to come. I have awesome work colleagues. Tomasz later noted I was asking people to do a peer review of the techniques, I may have used the phrase – “Help me see if this is boll$”*! or not…..”.

First Meeting, all positive

We started the first meeting by watching Caitlin Walkers Clean Language TED talk, and a great video kind of about strengths that I included it in this post about strengths .

And the next few weeks we met and talked. A few people dropped out for other commitments, and new people joined. We had a core group of about 6. We all took the Strengths Finder test, and talked about our strengths. We were surprised that what we saw as a weakness was a positive. Others got validation when they we’re really glad they had a particular strength. Ian noted that none of us had any top5 strengths in the “influencing” domain.

I think the biggest impact was had because all the strengths are totally positive. So we could see that our strengths and approaches were not the only ones, and actions of others that we had not understood, was their strengths applied to the problems they had. With their strengths and the problems they had to face their approach made sense. We began to have empathy with people we didn’t necessarily agree with.

We then tentatively and self-consciously tried some clean modelling. Sarah volunteered to talk about working at her best and I led the questions. It worked well, despite our lack of experience, and some non-clean questioning creeping in.

At each weekly session we either decided to do some clean modelling, or talked about insights we’d had, or things we’d thought about and usually ended up tying it back to our metaphor models, strengths or cognitive biased and traps.

We modelled how we work and learned at our best, how we used our strength finder strengths at our best, and for a month or so we modelled how we reacted to challenging situations, when our emotions can take over.

Talking about our monkeys

David introduced us to  Steve Peters model of the brain containing a chimp, a computer and a ‘human’ to begin with. This was of course someone else’s metaphor model, but we worked with it.

I did have some success extending this metaphor. I thought that normally there is a conductor who controls what I say and do. But in challenging situations my brain fogs up, and the ‘monkey’ can run in and start banging the drum without me seeing him in time. So I need to stop my brain fogging, as I can’t stop the monkey once he’s banging the drum.

Although this was not really clean modelling, some simple practical ideas about stopping ‘brain fog’ developed. Not surprisingly, enough sleep, preparation of material (ie facts!), understanding how other approach issues from reverse engineering their strengths from their actions all helped. I could write another post on this, and we  all got a lot from this.

NotSafeForWork

During the sessions I also introduced some ideas from complex adaptive systems theory, and the viable systems model, helped by David in the group who’s also studied at the OU. The group became more competent in talking about work issues, and understanding decisions and outcomes. Often with a sense of “uh-oh” when we saw problems being ‘solved’ with strengths that were, from our perspective, not entirely suited. We referred to this ‘Not Safe for Work’. We’d created a safe space to talk about things that needed to stay in the room.

We’re still meeting every week, struggling to find time to devote to Clean Language modelling, and bringing our learning and experiences to the group.

Why are people replacing robots?

Mercedes-Benz is replacing some of the robots in their factories with people.

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/26/mercedes-benz-robots-people-assembly-lines

3127953038There had to be some passionate conversations between factory managers, and executives at Mercedes-Benz with this one. Replacing some robots with people has caused all sort of problems. If the factories are quite new, and were built for automation they probably don’t have many toilets near the factory floor. Or a large car park, or canteen. Robots don’t drive to work, and need to eat. Factory managers will take personal and professional pride in running efficient operations and automation has made cars affordable, reliable and available.

What is going on when the factories start employing people to replace robots? Wearing an efficiency hat this doesn’t make sense. Robotic factories have been the only future imaginable for years.  What has changed? Does the factory rulebook need to be rewritten?

Increasing pace of change and complexity 

From the Guardian article:

The robots cannot handle the pace of change and the complexity of the key customisation options available for the company’s S-Class saloon at the 101-year-old Sindelfingen plant, which produces 400, 000 vehicles a year from 1,500 tons of steel a day.

We need to be flexible. The variety is too much to take on for the machines. They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.”

Robots can’t currently mange the complexity of the customisation options. People are currently able to outperform robots at tasks requiring variety, at least until the robot manufacturers catch up.

Managing Variety 1: Making something you can sell

To find where this variety has come from, we can start in sales. Mercedes is in business to sell cars to customers. To do the sales folk need to offer what the customer environment wants, a…

… dizzying number of options for the cars – from heated or cooled cup holders, various wheels, carbon-fibre trims and decals, and even four types of caps for tire valves –

There may be customer demand for these, or marketing could have created the demand. Either way, with a lean, efficient production line, the sales folk are selling something the robotic factories can’t make.

Variety 2: Selling something you can make

Mercedes need to reduce the variety their customers demand to a level their factories can cope with. Balancing this equation is essential. Of course the ultimate offer would be a custom Mercedes for each customer, but this is not possible for the cost of a Mercedes.

To do this marketing and production have to work together to design and market cars that they can make in their factories. Mercedes-Benz are a luxury brand, so cost efficiency is not the sole purpose of the factory.

Marketing has to create and manage demand for the sort of customisation that their factories, restructured with people and robots, can produce. People can cope with the operational variety that robots, or people behaving like robots can’t.

Using robots, machines or computers increases efficiency, but reduces the ability of the system, in this case a factory, to cope with variety in an fast changing environment.

At every level we must ensure that the variety equations balance. If a car dealer can’t supply what the customer is asking for, they will buy elsewhere. If the factory can’t make what the car dealer is selling then the business won’t last long.