Using ICT to Develop Infrastructure Systems for the “Digital Anthropocene”

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August 9th, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the design and management of society’s core infrastructure systems (which I define broadly to include things like healthcare, education, housing and “money”) in an era marked by several important trends (for reasons suggested below, I refer to this as the “digital anthropocene”):

  1. substantial (and currently destructive) impacts of human activities on natural systems, a planetary phase referred to as the Anthropocene;
  2. continued and arguably mounting evidence that the status-quo dynamics within our dominant political and economic systems are aggravating rather than reducing inequalities in wealth and related factors;
  3. the dramatic expansion in scope, content and functionality of digitally-mediated connectivity among humans and “things” via ever-more-capable information and communication technology (ICT).

To flesh this out a bit, here are some examples of developments reflective of these trends (some of which I’ve already written about here):

To be a bit more specific and “local”, here are some examples of what’s happening on these fronts in the greater Lansing area, Southeast Michigan and the state of Michigan as a whole:

Though these itemized lists might give one the impression that these issues and trends are distinct from one other, my view is that they are dynamically linked in important and multifaceted ways worthy of creative yet careful multidisciplinary study.

I see this very broad arena of ICT-supported evolutionary change—which I refer to as “Evolving Human Systems”—driven in large part by a sense of urgency associated with the first two trends listed at the top of this post (human impacts on natural systems and growing inequality), and given historically unique potency by the third (the rapidly evolving capabilities and role of ICT).

In future blog posts I hope to write more on this Evolving Human Systems topic, in both broad terms and also focusing on some of its key components and their interrelationships, as well as the work of some of its leading thinkers and innovators.  While the focus of these posts will be mainly on “evolving systems,” it’s worth noting that the term, as I use it, also refers to “evolving humans,” a process I view as a synergistic and arguably essential companion to the evolution of the systems we humans develop and utilize.

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