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Acceleration Studies and Evolutionary Development Theory

Improving our Understanding and Management of Accelerating Change



Acceleration Studies and Evolutionary Development Theory






Acceleration Studies and Evolutionary Development Theory

One of ASF's long-term goals is to encourage the development of educational programs for anticipating and guiding accelerating change at the undergraduate, professional, and graduate level, in two broad domains:

1. Acceleration Studies (a practical, policy and applications-oriented professional program) and
2. Evolutionary Development Theory
(a multidisciplinary, universal, theory-oriented program).

The goal of Acceleration Studies is better forecasting and management of accelerating technological change. The object of study is human civilization (beginning with language) and those processes that accelerate it, in particular communications, computing, and efficiency and densification processes and technologies.

The goal of Evolutionary Development Theory is better understanding of evolutionary and developmental emergence in physical-computational systems in universal history. The object of study is the universe as a producer of complex adaptive systems, with human civilization as the most recent example on Earth.

1. Acceleration Studies at the graduate level might reasonably include aspects of such subjects as forecasting, roadmapping, scenario development, futures studies, risk management, science and technology studies (infotech, physics, nanotech, biotech, neuro and cognitive science), technology performance/learning/experience curves, technology assessment and policy, history of science and technology, cybernetics, sociology and economics, information science, productivity metrics, engineering and operations research. In addition to baseline forecasting, this program would focus on the benefits, choices, and risks of a range of potential developments in accelerating systems of change, and would necessarily also consider the emerging sociopolitical and ethical issues of rapidly increasing technical productivity and machine intelligence. Today's science and technology studies, operations research, and technology policy graduate programs offer a useful start toward this kind of curriculum, but need to become more acceleration-aware.

2. Evolutionary Development Theory at the graduate level might reasonably include aspects of such subjects as evolutionary developmental (evo-devo) biology, niche construction theory, systems biology, astrobiology and astrophysics, complex systems research, nonlinear mathematics, phase transition theory, hierarchy theory, catastrophe theory, anthropic theory, theory of computation, engineering, physical and social science, cybernetics, information and autonomy theory, philosopy of science and technology, and other disciplines relevant to modeling the accelerating development of physical domains of change in a range of universal and local systems. This program would focus on dynamical models of change in complex systems, including the universe as a complex system, and would necessarily also consider philosophical and teleological issues of the meaning and purpose of universal change in relation to current scientific theory and technical developments at individual, institutional, national, and global scales. Again, today's complex systems graduate programs provide a useful start toward this kind of curriculum, but still have major shortcomings with regard to broadly modeling accelerating change.

As yet, there is no U.S. graduate institution or academic department committed to multidisciplinary investigation of the mechanisms or trajectory of accelerating change (cultural, historical, computational, universal), from either acceleration studies (professional) or evolutionary development theory perspectives. If you know of any under development, please let us know.

One good foundation for an Acceleration Studies curriculum would be the development of an M.S. in Technological and Social Forecasting at a major university, involving a mix of three currently studied academic subjects: 1) Forecasting and Roadmapping, 2) Science and Technology Studies (STS), and 3) Futures Studies.

Each of these domains provide complementary tools to understanding, modeling, and managing accelerating change, and an M.S. teaching all of them would help us graduate a new generation of methodologically-sound futurists in the United States. Since more rigorous efforts in the 1950's and 1960's (e.g., the RAND corporation, cybernetics, early operations research), many contemporary futurists have been both forecasting-challenged and science and technology undertrained. There is much to learn in the first two domains (forecasting and STS) before one should engage in falsifiable extrapolation about the future.

Harold Linstone, editor of the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change, is one of small number of scientifically-grounded futurists who presently champions this perspective. When you require predictive validity as a basis for your efforts, you rapidly come to understand that only a subset of things are particularly easily predicted, making them uniquely important to model and understand from a policy perspective. Most centrally, many varieties of accelerating technological change are surprisingly predictable/ forecastable meta-trends. They don't revert periodically to baseline, like so many cyclical or pendular social changes, but continue to accelerate relentlessly, irrespective of culture. This kind of change is thus something both mainstream futurists and the general public really needs to understand better in order to substantially improve our collective decisionmaking.

For those not willing to wait for formal Acceleration Studies curricula to develop, on the generalist end, M.S. or Ph.D. programs in Science and Technology Studies (STS), Philosophy of Science would do, or on the applied end, Technology Policy (TP), an M.B.A. in technology management or operations research, an Engineering program with an STS/TP thesis, or a program in Futures Studies (a still underdeveloped field) are good current options for those seeking a broad education in understanding and guiding accelerating technological change. You should make it a prerequisite to find individual faculty who strongly share your interests. This is particularly important because institionally speaking, almost all of these programs are still broadly acceleration-unaware here in the early 21st century.

With regard to a Evolutionary Development Theory Ph.D., programs in Physical Science, Evolutionary Biology, Developmental Biology, Convergence Studies, Astrobiology, Cosmology, Mathematics, Systems Science, Complexity Studies, Nonlinear Science, Information Theory/Information Studies/Informatics (IS), and Technological, Economic, Political, and Social Development provide some of the best current academic possibilities, but again these have curricula that are mostly acceleration-unaware at present. For an outline of one speculative hypothesis in universal evolutionary development studies, see Intro to the Developmental Singularity Hypothesis.

Due to historical dominance of orthodox Darwinist evolutionary biology, even models of progressive or developmental change, including most hierarchy theory, are still considered an extreme idea in academia. At present, the best you can hope for in most of these programs is to learn valuable technical skills and theoretical background and then strike out on your own original synthetic acceleration- and evo-devo-aware research.

Visit our Advanced Degree Programs page for recommended generalist and specialist degree programs available today. Fortunately, several of these programs have enough flexibility to allow you to create your own acceleration and universal evo-devo oriented course of study. Nevertheless, you should keep in mind that such study has the potential to be a risky career move at this still-early stage of acceleration awareness. Have a realistic understanding of what you can accomplish within formal academia. Your most ambitious work may need to be done as an independent scholar, or outside the confines of your department.

Call to Action

No institution in the world yet has formal graduate programs in either Acceleration Studies or Evolutionary Development Theory. If you'd like to help ASF develop basic curricula for independent study in these areas, or approach education philanthropists who might fund the establishment of the world's first academic department in either of these areas at an online or physical institution, please email me at johnsmart{at}accelerating{dot}}org. Thank you.