On “Psychological Methods for Special Purpose Computer System Design”

In the context of Jim Dator’s “Society as a social invention and you as a social inventor”, 1993, previously noted.

  1. Introduction
  2. Examples
  3. How to Become a Social Inventor
  4. Futurists as Architects
  5. Just Do It (Nikepermission to act)
  6. Some techniques for Creativity
  7. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

Whereas we are reminded that this site is deleted in ~15 days (when class ends). I’ll leave the notes off stage thus.

The Dator essay is about methods and scope for structuring the creative process. I’ll tell a short story from my past. There are many methods for doing this, some of which are applicable to small groups on the span of minutes or hours, some applicable to multi-stakeholder processes operating on the span of months or years.

Some twenty five years ago, as Glasnost was unfolding and the Soviet Union falling, a bunch of the Berkeley professors went off to the Soviet Union to make friends. To keep the story short: they came back with such, we had visitors and speeches by some folks with some very very fancy titles. They weren’t widely advertised because (um) you can’t do that at Berkeley. One of the most profound experiences of my life was to hear an individual with a title something like “chairman of national academy of sciences” (something like that) give an hour long talk, in English, with the primitive transparency slideware of the day, explaining how they had come to the conclusion at the blue-ribbon panel level that the Soviet Union had lost control of the silicon & computer technology that the West had mastered. His example was the Intel 32-bit x86 architecture. He was direct. He explained how they copied the 8086, he had some estimate for how long it took. He had how long it took them to copy the i286. It took them longer to copy the i386. For the i486, all they could do was copy the mask set from “acquired” copies. They weren’t able to figure out what it did enough to rebuild one. In that era the U.S. Navy had recovered open-ocean spy gear that head U.S. i486 chips in it. They didn’t attempt the Pentium or any generation beyond that. And then we were in real time.

Separately there was a contingent from East Germany, academics and such from Dresden who explained to us that they had a group that was tasked with copying the DEC VAX 11/780 and they were visiting to learn how to repeat the same process for the new RISC architectures that were from Berkeley. MIPS was in market at that point. We knew the VAX cloning activities had happened because enterprising reporters across the years had documented the cloak-and-dagger used to get such a refrigerator-shaped device with very heavy export control supervision across the border into the East. The answer for the Dresden crew was to go down to the ASUC store and buy Hennessey & Patterson’s book. To give a sense of where the technology was back at that point, the RISC designs were new and simple enough that prototypes could be accomplished by a department-level research effort on a multi-year grant. A 64-bit multiplier in the several nanosecond range was a term project in one of those near-research graduate courses; we didn’t fab them, but proved their correctness & speed estimates with transistor-level simulations.

After the initial festivities several visitors remained. One of them sat in my 4-person cubicle for around eighteen months. His English seemed good, and we talked a lot. He wanted to study “psychological methods for special computer system design.” I’m never sure if we totally communicated about what he wanted to learn. I still don’t know what that is or might be. I got the sense that he was the “idea guy” and that he got sent because he had wacky ideas, he could generate them or he could tolerate them, one of those. He was from some (internal passport only) defense city where they did weapons development. While we didn’t do military work in our group, there were folks in & around my cohort who did clearance-level work on summer jobs and part time, off stage. These visit wasn’t about making contact with those people. It was about making friends and ramping down the cold war.

To give a sense about how closed the society was, it was clear that he had a different view about government and society and allocation of resources. For example, he wanted to buy one of the Apple computer products to send back to his son via the diplomatic pouch. This was back when fanbois would croon “it’s soooooo intuitive,” and point out the one-button mouse; against Windows with IRQs and autoexec.bat settings. He wanted a Mac. He wanted to know how to apply to get one. Surely there was some window or office to which he needed to apply. The answer was: you go down to the ASUC store and you buy it with a credit card or cash. A standard Mac was a little over one month of his stipend we figured out from looking at his U.C. offer letter. For several years afterwards he would send me email at my personal address on July 4th, wishing me and the country happiness. We lost touch in the late 90s as Bubble I unfolded.

There probably is something there in “psychological methods for …” but it would be called something different, misdirective and and very abstract. For example, if one gets into studying the “false news” phenomenon one gets into “Reflective Control Theory” which seems at a facile level to be “advertising” or “public relations” but comes at the problem from military and strategic power relations perspective. An interesting viewpoint there is that the Soviets (Russians) are reported to feel that the U.S. is (was) a master at this wherein the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was mere puffery but caused them to massively redirect their resources towards answering it, which ultimately exhausted them. They are returning the favor nowadays by using U.S.-based social media to troll our society. Seems far-fetched, but there is a body of literature thereon as filled, and filled.

The puzzle, and here is the relationship to the Dator essay, is the “psychological methods for X” being a structured creative process towards an articulated planning-centric end goal. Many of the methods that Dator highlights were developed and campaigned contemporaneously with this era of the early ’90s, just going by first-publication dates. Dator highlights a creative’s (creative person’s) personality model, a group time-management device (De Bono Six Hats, compare with Roberts Rules of Order) and an idea amplification technique (the lateral thinking). With my visitor, we went over and over his concept trying to figure out what he meant. The sentence never varied “psychological methods …” I believe it wasn’t TRIZ (TIPS), which I expected he would be familiar with as it is a Russian invention. I was looking at champion-based technology strategy, and MITI-style organized markets (such was the fashion during the Clinton administration) and High Reliability Organization (HRO) theory. It was not any of those, definitely not. He was looking for something about working with & managing very large engineering teams on very large projects (think: a decade-long or generation-long weapons system build-out, the B-1 program, JSF F-22, THAAD or Trident; but we never used weapons as an example or such specifics). He spent his full year and petitioned to get another extension, but I don’t think we ever find a theory that aligned with what he was looking for. As such I’m always intrigued by these concepts of structured creativity towards large-scale program management. Many of the themes from the Peace Studies and Civil Rights activism organizational theories apply as they operate in multi-stakeholder environments with substantially voluntary participants in a Civil Society type of framework. There is a heavy sense of outreach, idea organization and structured foreclosing of debate. But “they rhyme” rather than being direct matches.

Perhaps these are related elsewhere in Dator’s writings. I haven’t gotten to “Advancing Futures” yet, maybe there. The Dator’s materials we’re working with appear to be courseware from his teaching days. If one runs down the references and ancillary reading there is a lot more there than meets the eye. It would be helpful if there was a collection & summarization of all of them.

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