The Map is Not the Territory. Or is it?

Day 165 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  177,000

One of the profound early influences on my thinking was the statement in Alfred Korzybski‘s Science and Sanity “The Map is not the territory.”

A few years later, I came across David Gelernter‘s Mirror Worlds or The Day Software Puts the Universe into a Shoebox … How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean.  The title is the synopsis of the book.

Several years ago, I was reminded of “the map is not the territory” comment as I prepared for facilitating a working session of the GE Power Business Unit by reading several documents on “digital twins.”  The one I enjoyed the most was from Wired’s Kevin Kelly talking about augmented reality (AR) in “AR Will Spark the Next Big Tech Platform – Call it Mirror World.”

“General Electric, one of the world’s largest companies, manufactures hugely complex machines that can kill people if they fail: electric power generators, nuclear submarine reactors, refinery control systems, jet turbines. To design, build, and operate these vast contraptions, GE borrowed NASA’s trick: It started creating a digital twin of each machine. Jet turbine serial number E174, for example, could have a corresponding E174 doppelgänger. Each of its parts can be spatially represented in three dimensions and arranged in its corresponding virtual location. In the near future, such digital twins could essentially become dynamic digital simulations of the engine. But this full-size, 3D digital twin is more than a spreadsheet. Embodied with volume, size, and texture, it acts like an avatar.

In 2016, GE recast itself as a “digital industrial company,” which it defines as “the merging of the physical and digital worlds.” Which is another way of saying it is building the mirrorworld. Digital twins already have improved the reliability of industrial processes that use GE’s machines, like refining oil or manufacturing appliances.

Microsoft, for its part, has expanded the notion of digital twins from objects to whole systems. The company is using AI “to build an immersive virtual replica of what is happening across the entire factory floor.” What better way to troubleshoot a giant six-axis robotic mill than by overlaying the machine with its same-sized virtual twin, visible with AR gear? The repair technician sees the virtual ghost shimmer over the real. She studies the virtual overlay to see the likely faulty parts highlighted on the actual parts. An expert back at HQ can share the repair technician’s views in AR and guide her hands as she works on the real parts.

“Eventually, everything will have a digital twin. This is happening faster than you may think.”

Everything will have a Digital Twin – including you and me.  Sean Buchanan, CEO of Visom Technology, reminds me all the time that they are leaders in creating digital twins from MRI and CT scan data.  My medical digital twin will be a layered 4D model from my genomics to the ecosystem that I live in.  It will be 4D as we will have data over time.  How do my MRIs and CAT scans change over time?  How do my Xrays change over time?  How do my lab tests change over time? How do my chronological age and biological age change over time as I follow scientific wellness protocols?

Mentioned in Kelly’s article is Jorge Luis Borges description of trying to create a map in the physical world that approaches 1:1.  I can remember the fun growing up visiting the 1964 NY Worlds Fair standing on a map of NY State.  I stood in the exact spot on the map that I was standing at the World’s Fair territory.  The experience exemplified the counter example to Korzybski’s “the map is not the territory.”

Lewis Carrol wrote:

“What a useful thing a pocket-map is!” I remarked.

“That’s another thing we’ve learned from your Nation,” said Mein Herr, “map-making. But we’ve carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?“

“About six inches to the mile.“

“Only six inches!” exclaimed Mein Herr. “We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!“

“Have you used it much?” I enquired.

“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight ! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.”

from Lewis CarrollSylvie and Bruno Concluded, Chapter XI, London, 1895

Philip Evans of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) fame compared what is happening now with digital transformation to what Borges described as a 1:1 mapping of the world.

. . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.

“On Exactitude in Science” Jorge Luis Borges

Evans goes on to describe how health care is quickly showing that “the map is the territory” through the use of big data.

“HEALTH CARE is a prime example of the transformational power of these new business architectures. This huge and dysfunctional industry is at the beginning of a transformation. The cost of sequencing a human genome in 2001 was $100 million, and mapping just one (James Watson’s) took nearly ten years. Today it costs less than $1,000. In two or three years, it will cost $100, and sequencing will take just 20 minutes. The number of sequences has grown as the cost has fallen: the Million Human Genomes Project is up and running—in Beijing. Gene mapping is shifting from an abstract research activity to a clinical one, in which a doctor customizes treatment to the patient’s unique genomic makeup.

“The pattern is clear: big-data techniques will be used to spot fine-grained correlations in a patient’s genomic data, medical history, symptoms, protocols, and outcomes, as well as real-time data from body sensors. Medicine will advance by decoding immense, linked, cheap, noisy data sets instead of the small, siloed, expensive, clean, and proprietary data sets now generated independently by hospital records, clinical trials, and laboratory experiments. These databases will make it possible for practitioners and even groups of patients to become researchers and for breakthroughs to be quickly shared around the world.”

Gregory Bateson describes the problem in a different way in his cybernetic book Mind and Nature:  A Necessary Unity.  He relates the challenge of video capturing the reality of the world:

“Of course, the whole of the mind could not be reported in a part of the mind.  This follows logically from the relationship between part and whole.  The television screen does not give you total coverage or report of the events which occur in the whole televisions process; and this not merely because the viewers would not be interested in such a report, but because to report on any extra part of the total process would require extra circuitry.  But to report on the events in this extra circuitry would require a still further addition of more circuitry, and so on.  Each additional step toward increased consciousness will take the system farther from total consciousness.  To add a report on events in a given part of the machine will actually decrease the percentage of total events reported.”  P.432

The other article (Fortnite is the Future, but Probably Not for the Reasons that you Think) that sparked my interest was on the metaverse which is being developed by the game company that makes Fortnite and the underlying game engine Unreal.  Fortnite could be the platform to host a world of health care Digital Twins.  The revenues from Fortnite are staggering even though it is a “free” game.  I was oblivious to their revenue model.  One of its powers is the built in collaboration.  I imagine the potential for very different coaching visits as a combination of digital twins and a “metaverse” user interface.

It is the “metaverse” stemming from Neal Stephenson‘s Snow Crash and added to by Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One that provide a model for how future health care interactions might evolve.

The term “Metaverse” stems from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, and describes a collective virtual shared space that’s created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and persistent virtual space. In its fullest form, the Metaverse experience would span most, if not all virtual words, be foundational to real-world AR experiences and interactions, and would serve as an equivalent “digital” reality where all “physical” humans would simultaneously co-exist. It is an evolution of the Internet. More commonly, the Metaverse is understood to resemble the world describe by Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (brought to film by Steven Spielberg in 2018).

Of course, early versions of the Metaverse will be far simpler – but the foundational elements will go well beyond “gaming”. Specifically, we’d see in-game economies (e.g. trading, bartering and buying items) become more of an industry where humans will literally “work”.

“If you look at why people are paid to do things, it’s because they’re creating a good or delivering a service that’s valuable to somebody,” Sweeney told Venturebeat in 2017. “There’s just as much potential for that in these virtual environments as there is in the real world. If, by playing a game or doing something in a virtual world, you’re making someone else’s life better, then you can be paid for that.”

To this end, a crucial difference between a vibrant game, including Fortnite, and the Metaverse is that the latter “should not simply be a means for the developer to suck money out of the users. It should be a bi-directional thing where users participate. Some pay, some sell, some buy, and there’s a real economy….in which everybody can be rewarded for participating in many different ways”, to further quote Sweeney (A semblance of this has existed for more than twenty years in so-called “Gold Farming”, where players, often employed by a larger company and typically in lower-income countries, would spend a work-day collecting digital resources for sale inside or outside of a game).

To Sweeney, the Metaverse represents the “next version” of the Internet – a matter of when, not if.

These articles remind me that I need to keep widening my lens for what is possible and how it applies to 21st Century Scientific Wellness or starting a new company.  The article “Magic Mirror: The Novel as a Software Development Platform” points out how science fiction often leads to software games which then lead to powerful applications.  Ender’s Game was an inspiration for Autodesk’s Ted Nelson who created hypertext and led Autodesk to create Autocad (which is one of the critical tools for XR).

While the above platforms (Unreal Engine, XR, Digital Twin) may not be available this year, I look to these efforts to inform the kind of architecture and platform we need to be designing to anticipate the future.  The Fortnite model also may give us some clues on how to have a very different revenue model.

This week I was reminded of “the map is not the territory” once again as I coached a non-technical CEO on the importance of “expect what you inspect” when it comes to managing software product development.  With all the different tools we have for “managing” like Zoom, email, Slack, Jira, project management GANTT charts, and project boards, it is easy to be distracted into thinking you know what is being built by software engineers.

The only way to really understand what is being built is to “Expect what you inspect.”  That is, you have to constantly see, demo and use the software your team is building.  Otherwise, all of your “productivity” tools will be the map that is not the territory.

I include at the start of each blog post the statistics about Covid.  These statistics are not the territory of this pandemic.  The politics and disinformation about Covid are not the territory.  The science to date is still only a partial map of the Covid pandemic.  We have so much more to learn in order for our understanding of Covid to be more about the territory.

Keep learning and keep contributing facts to the map of Covid.

Remember to vote those politicians out of office who keep spreading false maps.


This entry was posted in Big Data, Content with Context, Design, Flipped Perspective. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s