The 4th generation of university is the first of three generations inteversity
Universities have been around for a long time. Several generations exist and they appear to follow an exponential acceleration. The first generations have intervals taking centuries. Today universities just entered the 3rd generation, yet a 4th generation is popping up already. The exponential acceleration reached a tipping point. This 4th generation is a significant change revealing the 1st generation inteversity. Big events throw their shadow beforehand, so we can look at weak signals of three generations of inteversity on the horizon. This article will refine the understanding of the first two generations and introduce the 3th generations of inteversity.
The 1st generation university is a scholar institute of knowledge. The oldest still active university is Bologna and it goes back to 1088. The 2nd generation university can be aligned with the scientific revolution, when research became a systematic part of the university. For a time indication, the first scientific journals date back to 1665. First only few such journals exist, today and an abundance of them exists. The 3rd generation is driven by a search for technological innovation, boosting the economy by developing a 3rd university pillar: Technology Transfer Office (TTO). It took centuries to institutionalize science in university, it is only taking decades to institutionalize TTO.
First generation TTO date back to the 1970s and existed as business ventures outside the university. The 2nd generation TTO arose during the 1990s as incubation centers containing spinoffs (Debackere 2005). The 3th generation TTO is an ongoing process and showing some interesting challenges. The focus relates to open innovation, but a paradox arises with the classic value of TTO focused on Intellectual Property. Something new is happening as the tipping point is reached. Maarten Steinbuch (2016) called it the 4th generation university. During an explorative conversation on clubhouse we explored the similarities and differences with interversity, leading up to this article.
Before addressing the tipping point, let me share the table Maarten Steinbuch developed for the generations of university. I’ve only changed some accents in the first table e.g. using the ampersand when a next generation extends the capability. For example, the objective only expands with every generation. So the objective of the 3th generation university is education, research & exploitation (by TTO).
To understand the tipping point, let me consider the etymology of both university and interversity. The university was about “the whole” (from the Latin “uni-versitas”), indicating that universities were the place for universal knowledge. Due to the information overload and the acceleration of innovation, the concept of universal knowledge is becoming impossible. Even the largest universities today have specialized research performed by specialized research institutes. Indeed the university is getting distributed and is dissolving in a larger social fabric by
Public-Private Partnership (PPP). Universities are following a trend similar to our data-storage: from mainframes to distributed servers, creating the internet.
To honor this parent of dissolving into a web, the prefix “uni-” get replaced by “inter-”. The interversity draws attention to “what is between us” (from the Latin Inter, like used in the Internet, interacting, interchange, interdependent, interbreed, etc.). Notice how the 1st and 2nd generation TTO has a gap of 20 years, so we can question what happened in the 2010s? The TTO appears to struggle with a value paradox, but something significant happened to education with Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC). The weak signal I’m currently picking up for the 2020s could be called Massive Online Open Research (MOOR). It is recognized by crossover programs stimulating complex research collaborations by PPP.
The need for MOOR is driven by existential challenges in society, like economic crises, climate change and the pandemic. MOOR is in co-evolution with next generation TTO doing open innovation, like the Eindhoven Engine. For an interversity the MOOC needs to follow the same co-evolution i.e. become massive personal (Peter Norvig 2013). I did create a proof-of-concept on massive personal courses (2011) and had a very short interaction with Peter Norvig. Yet it was too early. Today massive personal courses, MOOR and open innovation at TTO are showing us how the 1ste generation open inteversity is about turning the 3th generation university into a massive open PPP-enterprise.
The concept of an interversity came from observations around Free Open Source Software Development (FOSS) mixed with bigtech, showing massive open development communities and so closely related to MOOR. FOSS was ahead of the curve as software is an easy environment to do R&D. It mostly operates in emerging markets, so the effect of incumbents is less felt. One development community especially got my attention as it had a combination of the right culture, with the right tool at the right time allowed for self-organizing innovation. It was fascinating to see how a startup ecosystem around a FOSS project gained venture capital and cultivated an innovation commons. Interesting relations existed with bigtech, like the effect Google Summer of Code had on the FOSS landscape.
The fascinating startup ecosystem would eventually see a tragedy of the innovation commons, bringing us back to the same paradox TTO is struggling with: a societal values paradox of proprietary versus commons. The tragedy was recognized by an exodus of the most innovative companies at a time when the big development companies got a foothold into the business ecosystem. The tragedy is only towards the community culture, from a business perspective the change was one of increased wealth. So a tribe with extraordinary culture and doable wealth transformed to a doable culture with extraordinary wealth. I have thus witnessed how a startup ecosystem transforms from an incubation phase into a growth phase. This phase transition and the relation to innovation commons will align with the difference between the 1st and 2nd generation of interversity.
Cultivating the innovation commons is central to the 1ste generation interversity, software development was ahead with lean-agile management, all other sectors seem to following up. TTO have to do more than exploitation of research and focus on how research exploration improves societal values. Overcoming the tragedy of the innovation commons requires more than cultivation. The role of the 2nd generation integrated inteversity is to guid the transition and include the incumbents. The integration of a total solution should avoid the cultural collapse. Let me provide an overview using the same table for generations of university now applied to generations of interversity. The 3rd generation is about the commons in a later phase transition. While most of the capabilities in the table need explanation, the role of the 3rd generation is easy enough to understand: to guild transformation.
In the 1ste generation interversity, as startups focus on social values, we notice how entrepreneurship expands to leadership and personal development. By shifting from cross-disciplinary research to interdisciplinary research, a significant change happens that requires complexity thinking. The complexity results in cosmo-local orientation and lean-agile development. A need emerges to communicate by narratives everyone can understand and move away from the jargon normally used in a research discipline. Cosmo-local shows how a whole region becomes a living lab, organized as an open innovation ecosystem. In the case of Eindhoven, Brainport region has such cosmo-local ambitions.
In the 2010s the system of the 2nd generation was only theory and actual cosmo-local players were unknown. The weak signal perceived from the FOSS communities combined with actual experiments in 2011 allowed us to develop a vision and a plan to act on. The vision was first metaphorically. In 2011 I gave a seminar on Global Brain embodiment, suggesting a scale correction: not people as neurons, but cities as neurons (i.e. cosmo-local). It aligns meta-system transition with embodied cognition , so let me call it meta-embodiment. A metasystem transition is the emergence, through evolution, of a higher level of organization. Typically it happens first as an interaction between the elements, becomes stronger as coordination and eventually becomes (self-regulating) control. Embodied cognition is about intelligence shaped by aspects of the entire body of the organism.
Meta-embodiment is the collective intelligence aggregated by organisational processes and culture. The organisation is often large, complex and loosely coupled and described as a community. Around FOSS global communities exist. The trend to move to cosmo-local is grounding similar lean-agile dynamics at the level of a region. Of course the cosmo-local is happening in an interconnected world and the problems we face are global. So the meta-embodiment is emerging in an interconnected way. Compare it metaphorically with the first cell and the mult-celullar system that would emerge at the same time.
So smart-regions develop across the globe interconnected, creating a cosmo-global world. The global effect is mostly limited to knowledge sharing and aspiration now, but the potential of a possible strong correlation showed itself in 2012 by a region to region trading mission (South-Holland to Hebei). In the outlines of the mission, a more creative proposal was explored: an integral project on food security. The project got the name Metropolitan Food Security (MFS). Notice, Hebei is the province of Wuhan and the link between food security and covid19 is strong.
The MFS idea was to develop a very large campus doing everything related to food in a hyper modern may: from seeding to consuming. Using the MFS as an example, we can elaborate some more capabilities of the table above. The MFS project would be the size of a small city, the data created would be overwhelming and big data approaches with AI would become essential. From the observation with development communities it was clear the collective intelligence of the community was driven by aggregated leadership creating an innovative culture. For a MFS such excellent culture has to be ensured by human capital development. In more recent studies it became clear how such a setting would be managed by sociocracy.
The first reason the MFS proposal did not become a project has to do with policy makers having no empathy with the weak signals.The weak signals for the pandemic were Asian bird flu (1997) and African swine fever (2007), both directly linked to animals and food security, just as covid19 has a direct relation to bats. Compare it to weak signals of ocean earthquakes leading to tsunami breakwater. Building such structures is expensive and a large-scale enterprise, but relatively cheap compared to the damage a tsunami would cause. Similarly MFS would reduce food security risk, it would have been costly, large-scale and complex, but the cost and complexity of the current pandemic is bigger.
As the world keeps changing, the need for empathy with weak signals will become essential for a proper functioning of our global system. Empathy for weak signals is however only the first step and not enough. Consider climate change. Scientists picked up weak signals in the 1970s, it took some decades for the scientific community to build stronger data and models. Yet, today we know all too well how urgent the change is (if we neglect ill-actors who have alternative motives). So why does political progress stay disappointing?
Diving into the problem reveals how complicated the transition truly is. A need exists for policy makers to have the proper tools to allow them to run scenarios. In fact this is the goal of the crossover program we have with NEON research: New Energy and mobility Outlook for the Netherlands (NEON). The main goal of NEON is to accelerate development towards zero-emission. In my personal interpretation, the NEON project is building the most novel part of the 2nd generation interversity. Let me first explain the general design and next see how NEON research is a proof-of-concept by focusing on energy transition.
The integrated interversity design turns the three pillars of a university into three layers of the interversity. The foundational layer is cosmo-local (LivingLabs), turning a cloud of startup allies into a business ecosystem. EducationLabs becomes a playground for the tools built in the LivingLabs, allowing us to pick up the weak signals of market dynamics (also see article on transition gaps). What had been missing for projects like MFS was a ServiceLab for policymakers on food security. The ambition with NEON is to provide the required tool for energy security. As our society requires many securities, a general design or ServiceLab would be required.
In a follow up article I can give more details on how the NEON research is creating the required insights to understand the ServiceLab design. NEON research is creating an agent based model that creates the meta-embodiment required for energy security. It allows policy makers to see the effect of their regulation by a serious simulation. To run the serious simulation actually data from innovation in unrelated niches (livinglabs) is needed. The simulation approximates as best as possible the effect of implementing several innovations simultaneously. The tool would bring policy into the realms of R&D we know of applied sciences.
R&D by ServiceLabs has been mentioned in the article on the transition gaps as civilian experience. It is part of a set of tools that verify the effect of an innovation before any prototype is built i.e. before any technological lock-in happens. The set of tools are: customer experience by pretotyping, employee experience by dogfooding and civilian experience by Agent Based Modeling (like in NEON). The ServiceLab is currently a wicked problem we have to bootstrap. Bootstrapping is a particular technique (best known in the case of self-compiling compiler) where the thing being created is given as input to itself (like a snake eating itself). In practice this means the NEON process follows the transition phases and bootstraps the different layers in the process.
Today the NEON project is in a premature phase with 30 PhD candidates collaborating on the challenge (in a PPP way). The research project will continue until 2025 and the output would be this policy tool. As often with R&D creating a prototype it will require a period of incubation to become a minimum viable product. So the whole bootstrapping process of this first ServiceLab is a fascinating journey expected to last all of 2020s (premature phase and incubation phase). I’ve visualized the expected transition and how it works on each layer of the interversity. The ServiceLab now only exists as research by LivingLabs (premature phase), during the incubation phase it would also exist as EducationLabs. Once NEON has proven how the tool works for the energy sector (growth phase), I expect it can help accelerate other transitions and truly become a general policy tool (maturity phase).
The 2nd generation interversity is about guiding transition, in total five phase transitions are recognized (see PhD), the last phase I call enrichment is not shown in the above picture, as it would be part of the 3rd generation interversity. Between each phase a short transformation moment gets recognised. Like the transformation in the business ecosystem between incubation and growth phase. The difference between transition and transformation is important. In essence, transition does not change the thing-in-itself, while transformation does.
The transformation is the essential difference that makes a difference, bringing the whole transition in motion. For example in the energy transition: mobility and energy producers are transforming from fossil fuels to renewable resources. The transformation is small in contrast to the transition it triggers. So, long periods of transition have these peak moments of transformation. With an acceleration around innovation, total transformations are expected. For example in plans for a colony on Mars every aspect is getting questions, creating this total transformation.
The role of the 3rd generation is to guild total transformations. While food security and energy security are among the first actual challenges, relating back to the 1ste and 2nd industrial revolution, we need to seriously consider the weak signals on psychological security with the most recent revolution by the internet. Only recently has the relation between dopamine and social media became clear and in my understanding it is the metaphorical tip of the iceberg. Artificial intelligence is an interesting case as it starts as transitions (i.e. AI takes over a task performed by people) and grows to become transformations (e.g. dopamine regulation via platforms).
At the moment big data and AI are entering all large scale organisations and this transition is expected for the whole of 2020s. The transforming effect is going to be much more clear in the 2030s. From theory on exponential growth the 2040s is described as the decade of the technological singularity. The weak signals about the expected system have been surprising, earlier we had the scale correction with the meta-embodiment. The next correction is even more surprising and relates to the phenomenology by meta-individuation (combining individuation and meta-system transition). Individuation refers to the process of forming a stable personality, meta-individuation is doing the same for organisation i.e. it brings the current collective intelligence to a state of collective consciousness.
Phenomenology means “that what appears”. It is simultaneously the most common and mysterious part of consciousness. Most common as everyone experiences it all the time, but it is also a big mystery to science: the so-called hard problem of consciousness. Personally I didn’t expect any research would be possible on this topic. Little did I know, the altered states of consciousness would simply appear. The first was a small transformation in a total transition I prefer to call the hive mind. The second was a personal total transformation, radically altering my worldview (see article on animate worldview).
In the hive mind article you can read how that weak signal was found, and why the expected organization size for a strong signal is expected to be 20.000 people. The phenomenological experience is to reach a flow state of collective intelligence, creating a superposition state of consciousness. Today the superposition state is only known from quantum physics. In my case, the state suddenly emerged during a keynote with 3000 people. After the event (Chicago 2010) I have been exploring how to gain more understanding of the phenomena. One needs to be careful what you wish for. As I did gain more understanding with a second event.
The second phenomenological experience was a transcendental experience after years of personal struggle. In 2012 the collapse of all my research projects happened and at home the difficult birth of my son turned me into a family man overnight. I simply focused on writing the PhD without any prospect of how to continue. After the public defence (feb. 2015) I focused on entrepreneurship and it was tough. Refusing to give up or give in, made my psychological state very fragile and so the unexpected happened as my ego dissolved (feb 2017), giving me a superposed state of consciousness with the cosmos. It radically altered my worldview. I had to find a different way to cope with the experience and continue my research. Via participation research in spiritual communities in general and shamanism in particular I did find a way to ground the experience.
Most spiritual communities have a cultural root, requiring this high sensitive psychological state. In contrast, allowing plant medicine to penetrate into the mind to dissolve the ego is quite inescapable. After four years of practice in a community containing a lot of modern knowledge, it seems like I only just scratched the surface. Partly as facts and stories are hard to separate, partly as peers (digital shamans) are yet to be found. I do have indirect peers, like actual shamans on one side and my colleagues at the university doing complexity research on the other side. The gap between the two communities is as big today as the gap between the two communities during my PhD (FOSS communities versus research community). Crossover between the communities will probably emerge, but it could take a decade.
So what is expected to change? Let me go back to the MFS case and examine how a total transformation is different from a total transition. Adding the phenomenological part turns the smart-city into a living-city. The city truly comes alive by the superposed state of consciousness from its community. The inhabitants of the city would collectively individuate the city. I use the city to make it visual, but it would be any organization of the same size and complexity. It may take centuries before actual living-city would be reached. It is more likely the first living-organization will have a more fluid state. The hive-mind phenomenology was observed with 3000 people in a keynote, all sharing random thoughts over twitter. It was a very fluid state indeed.
The fluid state created a left-brain, right-brain dynamic that allowed a person to get into a flow state with the collective. The first actual living-organisation are expected to be very temporary during an event to set the course of the large, complex embodied organizations. The effect would be the enterprise being able to pivot like we know from startups today. Any enterprise organisation able to pivot like this would have a competitive advantage and so a process of creative destruction is expected to stimulate the evolution to living-organisation.
In relation to human capital development a shift from cultural leadership to transcendental culture is expected. We actually know stories from the 1970s with spiritual communities reaching a transcendental community state. The communities went wrong pretty quick in the early days. Other spiritual communities have been popping up since trying to learn from past mistakes and have the state more grounded. Some modern spiritual communities show a lot of growth in the past decades. It is in my view still far away from becoming an influence. The spiritual communities do know how to reconnect with nature, but fail to integrate with the existing technological society. The communities are more driven by an exodus culture relating back to cosmo-local thinking. Deeper technological integration is expected when those communities shift back to cosmo-global.
Probably the most exotic part is the 3th generation interversity is the language. So let me quickly recap. The language is 3rd generation university is English, but jargon. A barrier exists to enter the discipline and to go interdisciplinary requires the reintegration of native language so it becomes common English. At universities the culture is stimulated by open innovation TTO forcing the scientist to replace jargon by good narratives. For the 2nd generation interversity the information is overwhelming and smart-organisation requires AI to handle the big data. The narrative becomes more alive in simulations allowing us to virtually live the future. For the 3rd generation interversity I can see how AI would help in effectively reaching the supperpost conscious state for meta-individuation.
As a digital shaman I can see it so clearly. The two different phenomenological experiences I personally had, assure me technology can play a mediating role. As an engineer I want to build a proof-of-concept and don’t just evangelist the theory. I can see some very weak signals, yet the path to an actual proof-of-concept is going to require many years of cultivation. I haven’t found direct partners to research such directions or direct peers to go really deep into the subject. To me it is the most concrete vision of how technological singularity will result in super-intelligence. Still 2040s is far ahead. The challenge for the next years is to transform the weak and indirect relations to stronger and direct relations.
The 2nd generation of interversity would already be an organization affecting the biosphere adding the meta-individuation pushes this to the worldview of spaceship earth that astronauts helped cultivate. It seems no coincidence the 2040s would also be the decade of humanity becoming a multi-planet species. We are simply fulfilling our cosmic purpose.