Anatoly Wasserman: about the future, intelligence and socialism
Anatoly Alexandrovich Wasserman is a well-known political scientist and thinker in Russia. Having left its mark on Russian-language Internet folklore as “Onotol”, which has become the object of numerous jokes and jokes, he continues to maintain a sense of humor and a sharp mind. Especially for our blog on Habré, we decided to interview Anatoly Alexandrovich, talk with the famous intellectual about IT, science, memory, the future and even politics.
- Anatoly, at one time you were a programmer. Is this hobby still alive, are you writing programs now?
No, unfortunately, I wrote the last line of the program code back in the summer of 1995, and now I treat the computer exclusively as a user. Although the user is advanced. That is, my general ideas about programming help me better understand what means provide the actions of the programs that I work with, and this sometimes allows me to imagine how best to get what I need from them.
- But since 1995, a lot has changed!
But the fundamental principles remained. Actually, the main principle of programming is obvious: an arbitrarily complex task can be broken into pieces so simple that anyone can handle them. Since then, nothing has changed. And this principle works not only in programming.
- How do you think programming will develop in the next decade?
As far as I can tell from the articles and books I have seen about programming, the mainstream is now the same as the mainstream at the time when my programming career was already ending. This is object-oriented programming, when a program is assembled from structures containing both data and methods for processing them.
I recall the official message about the Algol-68 language: “every action described in this message can be replaced by any other action that gives the same external effect.” This fundamental concept, in my opinion, will remain one of the key in programming for quite some time. Just as before, the key idea was structural programming, that is, the very decomposition of a complex problem into elementary components, but only in application, first of all, to processing methods, and only then to data structures.
Well, the fact that now there are many software tools that allow you to represent objects as graphic symbols and draw the relationship between them, of course, is convenient - but this is only a technical detail of the design of the same key idea. So, I suppose, in the foreseeable future, something is unlikely to change.
- Thanks to the Internet and the “collective intelligence”, things like frameworks, open source projects, etc. have appeared. Will something change in this direction?
I believe that in the foreseeable future, the main direction in organizing large programming teams will be working with open source codes. Why is that? Firstly, classical collective programming with a single leader, around which the executors of his instructions are gathered, works only to a limited extent. Even in the book “Mythical Man-Month”, it was considered in some detail why, with such an organization, starting from a certain level of the number of employees, adding new employees only slows down the work. So, working with open source codes allows us to parallelize not only programmer work, but also many things related to its organization - when teams of several people interacting on each specific task are built by themselves, and the chief designer can only accept or reject the decisions put forward. In the case of fairly complex and extensive projects, working with open source codes allows you to increase productivity faster than the option with a single leader.
Since I managed to manage a small team of five programmers for several years, I can roughly imagine how coordination difficulties increase as the number of employees increases. I believe that the spontaneous education of small teams that take shape when working with open source, ultimately leads to less overhead. Judging by the fact that Linux is now developing significantly faster than Windows with a comparable number of developers doing at least something meaningful, this way is more promising.
- Does your excellent memory help in your everyday life, except for victories in intellectual shows?
Helps a lot. First of all, in my main work - journalism. When right in the course of writing an article I can recall good examples illustrating it, this significantly speeds up the work. Even though for details I still climb into books or on the Internet. But a good memory allows you to quickly put together the big picture. I must say that good memory is, first of all, associative thinking. As many observations and experiments show, a person remembers everything that passes through his senses, and the question is not to remember, but to remember. And an abundance of associations helps a lot. The more there are, the more likely it is that for some of these associations you will pull out the necessary piece of memory at the right time.
- Do you somehow train your memory?
No, I never trained my memory on purpose, and never even resorted to any kind of mnemonic tricks. Unless the numbers E and Pi remembered mnemonically. For the same number of Pi, with an accuracy sufficient for any practically significant calculations, a simple "poem" works:
You just need to try
and remember everything as it is:
three, fourteen, fifteen,
ninety-two and six.
But this is an exception. I have associative thinking, and every time I come across something new, I start looking for associations in what I already knew.
But this is not only about associations. There is another interesting thing that I constantly talk about and write about - an integral picture of the world. That is, the idea of the world as the result of the interaction of some, rather simple, fundamental laws. If you know how to derive consequences from these laws, then you already know a lot about the world. As one of the creators of the French encyclopedia Helvetius said two and a half centuries ago, the knowledge of certain principles successfully compensates for the ignorance of certain facts. When you have a complete picture of the world in your head, then any new fact finds its place in this picture, becomes attached to it and automatically acquires a lot of associations, so it’s much easier to remember after that.
Until the mid-1970s, all education in the world developed towards the formation of this integral picture of the world and the acquisition of skills to work with it. Unfortunately, then the direction of development of education was reversed. The fact is that an integral picture of the world is very convenient for its carrier, but very inconvenient for those who want to manipulate it. If a fact does not fit into the whole picture of the world, then it immediately raises suspicions. And this is not always due to the fact that the fact itself is erroneous. It also happens that the picture of the world is wrong.
For example, about 10 years ago I had to start revising my picture of the world in terms of economics and politics. This part of me was built on the basis of liberalism and libertarianism, that is, the doctrine of the beneficialness of unlimited political and economic freedom of the individual, without any regard to society. But a lot of facts have accumulated that do not fit into such a picture, and I was forced to admit: I have it wrong. By the way, now I have quite a few publications where I point out both the specific errors of these teachings and the fundamental reasons that give rise to these errors. So the work was very useful. I believe that if I did not have an integral picture of the world, then I would most likely simply not pay attention to these facts and would not engage in a corresponding revision. A person with an integral picture of the world, much less susceptible to commercial and political advertising, it is much more difficult to deceive. Therefore, now both the market and politics with all their might are aimed at the stupidity of mankind, at the destruction of an integral picture of the world.
A new system of education is being created that prevents the very idea of the possibility of forming this picture. Unfortunately, this can only be opposed individually. In particular, I recommend that everyone read and ponder four books:
- Friedrich Engels - Anti-Dühring,
- Stanislav Lem - “The Sum of Technologies”,
- Richard Dawkins - The Blind Watchmaker
- David Deutsch - The Structure of Reality.
According to my observations, these books in aggregate are enough to at least in general terms form an integral picture of the world. And then you need to work on its refinement and completion.
By the way, for me personally, the formation of an integral picture of the world began with a children's encyclopedia, read at the age of 9–10. Now all 10 volumes of this first edition are available on the Internet. Recently, just in case, I downloaded them to my archive. The children's encyclopedia, unlike the adult one, is built not according to the dictionary principle, but according to the thematic one, which contributes to the formation of an integral picture of the world.
Subsequently, the Khrushchev and Gorbachev propaganda destroyed my part of the picture devoted to social disciplines. I had to re-form it, and now I am pretty close to the picture formed in childhood. I was convinced: with all the technical corrections for progress, Marxism to this day remains a fairly good approximation to reality in the part of the social sciences, and it makes sense to focus on it.
Just a couple of days ago my book finally appeared on sale, under the title "Why Socialism Is Better Than Capitalism". These are mainly articles from the Business Magazine, where I consider first of all what limitations of information technologies contributed to the appearance of the advantages of capitalism over socialism and at what point these restrictions will disappear. By the way, this will happen pretty soon. Around the year 2020, socialism will become more profitable than capitalism in all respects without exception, and it is precisely thanks to the development of information technologies. In addition, the articles examined many aspects of the upcoming transition to a new socialism. At the end of the book there is a research program developed by me and my colleagues that needs to be done so that this transition turns out to be the most painless. So that no one is hurt and nothing is lost. According to approximate estimates, for these studies it is necessary to attract specialists of such quality and in such quantity that funding in the amount of one million dollars is required monthly for 5 years. Naturally, I won’t get that kind of money out of my pocket - it never happened. But I hope that the release of the book will help finance this set of tasks.
- And the purpose of this study will be to present some kind of strategic development plan for Russia?
No, not a strategic development plan. The bottom line is that starting from about 2020 (in a very unfavorable situation - from 2022, but no later), the total computing power of the computer park connected to the Internet will allow you to calculate the full, accurate and optimal plan for the entire world production less than a day.
But this will become possible only in the case of common ownership of all means of production. Like under socialism. And this, in turn, means: we must think ahead of time what to offer each owner in return for his property, so that he agrees to such a transition.
Secondly, it is necessary to solve the problem of goal-setting, that is, working out not a plan, but the main goal for which we all work. There is reason to believe that this is an algorithmizable task. That is, it can be solved not at the level of personal discretion, but by analyzing a large array of heterogeneous data.
In this case, the main difficulty lies in the heterogeneity of information, up to science fiction novels. Algorithms can be developed by means of the theory of reflection. But this theory, firstly, has been developing for only half a century, and secondly, its creator, Vladimir Alexandrovich Lefebvre, has left for Irvine more than a quarter century ago. That is, most of the specialists in reflection theory now live in California. It will be possible to turn to them only on the basis of already allocated funding.
In addition, there is a wide range of psychological problems that must be solved before the start of the transition described above, in order to minimize the conditions for inevitable conflicts. I must say that all the known shortcomings of the old socialism one way or another stem from the limited capabilities of the then information technology. Now these opportunities are many times wider, so that those shortcomings will not be repeated. But there are a number of other shortcomings that need to be addressed in advance. In particular, it is now clear which psychological problems will arise in the new society, and it is clear that these problems can be solved, but it is still unknown how.
Work according to a single plan, in the common interests, is much more effective when each person is able to realize this community of interests and the need for unity of the plan. And the fragmentation of views and interests just means: people work not in the common interests, but in someone else’s private interests. Therefore, a system aimed primarily at a common interest will greatly contribute to the revival of the whole picture of the world and the maximum increase in the intellectual and creative abilities of each person. Especially creative abilities - because now when you try to implement some kind of creative idea, you will certainly encounter the need to do a lot more, spend too much time. And if we talk about a planning system that can work out any innovation in a day, this will remove very serious obstacles to creativity.
Accordingly, in the new society, creative activity will be in demand much more than now. I emphasize: we are talking about real creative activity, and not about its imitation, when you are just trying to combine the fruits of other people's creativity in a new way. Not about the so-called creativity: although it is translated precisely as creativity, in our conditions it has become a designation for various methods of imitation. Real creative activity in the new society will be in demand much more than in the old. And intelligence in the new society will be in demand much more.
Since we are talking about intelligence: it is quite possible that in the near future there will be some kind of chemical compounds or manipulations with the genetic code, which can significantly increase the IQ of the average person. If the intellectual potential of society increases, the methods of manipulation based on the fragmentation of thinking and on hiding information will not be very effective. And then the question arises - where to move? If a person is so smart that he does not see interest in some kind of routine work, and robots that can work in factories and factories have not yet been created, then serious socio-economic problems will arise.
Robots for many activities are not created just because humans are cheaper than robots. As each individual and society as a whole develops, a very powerful economic incentive will appear for creating robots. As Engels noted, when society has a need, it moves science forward more than a dozen universities. I believe that in the new conditions the automation of production will increase significantly. As for IQ, I do not expect that the growth of the intelligence of society will reduce the level of fraud. After all, IQ fraudsters will grow. In addition, as extensive experience shows, an intelligent person, in fact, can be deceived with the same ease as a fool - you just need to slip other lures to him.
In particular, both here and on the Kiev Maidan, a hell of a lot of people are smart in all objective indicators. But this does not prevent them from completely sincerely believing that the return to power of people who flew out from there because they had already proved their professional failure could somehow improve the situation in the country. Moreover, I have often seen how smart people easily peck at such simple baits that even the worst fish would pass by. Unfortunately, the smarter a person is, the more stupid he is able to come up with. And I do not expect that the mass wisdom of mankind in itself will save us from deception. To do this, completely different means are needed - including a direct and targeted fight against fraud, including the criminal code.
For example, the founding fathers of the United States of America, adopting the first amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech, motivated the amendment by each person’s right to free access to all the information he needed to make informed decisions. This means that freedom of speech has nothing to do with freedom of lies. If we recognize the human right to receive the information necessary for making informed decisions, then a public lie is a serious violation of this right. And it must be prosecuted - completely independent of the right to freedom of speech.
As for the chemical, genetic, and other means of increasing intelligence, I will not speak about them specifically yet. All previously studied similar drugs have many undesirable side effects. I’m afraid that this will happen for more than a decade, because our thinking is too complex a system. There are too many relationships between elements in it, and in the foreseeable future we are unlikely to be able to calculate the possible consequences. Therefore, I am still very skeptical of such funds.
- In your opinion, they will not in the near future somehow noticeably influence the development of society as a whole?
Not. I think they won’t. Moreover, the intellectualization of society is incomparably more affected by a return to the teaching methods adopted in the 1960s.
- How do you feel about anonymity on the Internet? If we talk about freedom of speech and freedom of lies, how much anonymity is correct from the point of view of goal-setting and the desire of society for one thing?
The words of each person are evaluated taking into account the background. If someone’s words are regularly regularly confirmed by the further course of events, then his new statements can be treated with attention and trust. The anonymous author has no history. Each anonymous statement is perceived as independent, not supported by anything. Sometimes, with rather long and lively discussions, it is possible to recognize some anonymous in style, but this is still not reliable, and most often each statement of the anonymous is perceived as independent and divorced from everything else. Therefore, it seems to me that there is no particular harm from anonymity on the Internet, because the price of the word anonymous is quite small.
“ But there are virtual characters who have been active online for a very long time.”
The virtual character is still not an anonymous person. This is a person, even without a specific name and address, but at the same time with a serious background of statements, and with it we can get acquainted. By virtue of this, such a character is perceived not as an anonymous person, but as a real and famous person. A pure anonymous person is a person who has no history.
To what extent should a person be responsible for his words on the Internet and how does the separation of a virtual person from a real one affect the reliability of statements? I think, in most cases, the sufficient punishment is already the fact that after the first false statement, the value of a virtual person drops sharply.
- Your daily life is associated with the “digestion” of a very large amount of information. What life hacks do you have that allow you to quickly process and use this information?
I constantly read several familiar blogs and sites whose authors and editors already select and concentrate a significant part of the information that interests me. If any information interests me especially, then I follow the links provided in these publications. But more often than not, viewing the text itself suffices me. So the very presence of some publishers greatly facilitates my life.
- Speaking of your circadian rhythm, are you an owl or an early bird? How do you redistribute your working hours throughout the day?
Mostly I'm an owl. But I do not have a tight schedule - it is largely tied to contacts with other people, to external affairs. That part of the things that I do freely, I usually do in the evening and at night. Although this leads to the fact that I sorely do not get enough sleep.
- You have a famous vest, where you wear a lot of gadgets. Which of them do you consider the most effective and how do they help you?
Hard to say. Most of what I carry with me is tools for different occasions. From a set of needles and a thin fishing line used as sewing thread, to wrenches and screwdrivers in a variety of formats. The habit of carrying all this developed even when I was a programmer and was engaged in the development of process control systems for sugar beet enterprises. These enterprises are located in the wilderness, near the places of growing beets. In addition, I had to spend several days in the engine room, and I had to keep everything I needed unexpectedly and very urgently. This led to the fact that at first I was carrying a gradually growing and heavy portfolio, and when I was completely tired of it, I began to sew unloadings for myself. Now I order them.- Thanks!