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eXtropia explained
What does eXtropia mean?  
eXtropia is the threshold at which a complex system (defined as a network of many highly interactive elements) exhibits the behavior of self organization and actually creates (without any outside intervention) an overarching structure greater than the sum of the individual parts that make up the system.

Romanian translation courtesy of Science Spaces
Georgian Translation courtesy of Irakli Nishnianidze

Do you remember your high school physical science class? I know, I know. You hate to dredge up long forgotten childhood tragedies.

Well, don't worry, I only want you to remember one thing: the word "Entropy".

Entropy is a term that comes to us from the study of thermodynamics (the study of temperatures). Essentially, thermodynamic mega pop stars like Boltzmann, Carnot, Gibbs and Clausius, who were all working at the end of the 19th century, wanted to figure out why it was that when you left a hot apple pie on the window sill it would cool off, and why it was that when you left a bag of ice on the counter top, it would melt.

Well, the answers to those questions were profound. In fact the answers were so profound that their implications shook disciplines as far off as economic policy, social philosophy, computer animation programming, and well, the naming of companies.

In the "most" lay terms possible, what Boltzmann and the others found (which was expressed initially in The Second Law of Thermodynamics) was that everything in the universe seemed to tend to go from states of order towards states of chaos.

In other words, stored energy, whether it is stored as heat or whether it is stored as a structure, tends to disperse into a system. Thus, over time, a system will "average out" to a uniform, dead, nothingness. Energetic things like heat, motion or structural bonds will transfer their energy out to less energetic things.

That is why without some outside energy source (like an oven or a refrigerator), ice and apple pies tend towards room temperature over time.

Of course, all things in systems, not just ice and apple pies, undergo entropy. Molecules, people, machines, planets, cities, and markets all become chaotic over time. In fact, entropy turns out to be a very powerful tool for understanding and predicting all sorts of physical and even social phenomena.

However, it does not explain everything.

For instance, it does not explain why life is so darn constructive. Bodies, communities, economies etc, all go from formless to form as well as from form to formless. Life seems to be the ultimate entropic contradiction. Where does all this "invention" come from?

In the 20th century several groups of theorists began exploring new disciplines to help answer these questions. Such disciplines included Chaos Theory, Fractal Mathematics, Quantum Mechanics, and eventually the study of Complexity.

These theorists were interested in figuring out what was missing with entropic theory as well as what was wrong with other foundational scientific paradigms such as Newtonian Mechanics and Darwinian Evolution.

One of the things they noticed was that though systems did undergo entropy and that things did tend towards chaos, the results were not necessarily the "bland" chaos that the Second Law of Thermodynamics predicted. Instead, systems began to "complexify", their chaos being manifested as "active and energetic". Deeply complex and living networks of endless feedback loops were the result of entropy, not the cold, dead of space.

The Science of Complexity developed around studying this phenomenon and attempts to bring rigor to the social sciences by applying such natural and/or physical sciences as quantum physics, fluid dynamics and chaos theory to social systems. What the Complexologists discovered was that systems (living/social systems in particular) tended towards chaos but that as chaos increased to a certain threshold of complexity (defined by the complexity of the feedback loops within the system), new structures and forms would emerge from nowhere as if the system just bootstrapped order from chaos. This bootstrapping of order is called "Self Organization" or "Emergence" and is quite a fascinating thing.

At first, self-organization seems counter intuitive. How can we get something from nothing? But actually, nature provides ample examples of such "order for free".

Consider a beehive.

"The marvel of 'hive mind,'" writes WIRED editor Kevin Kelly in his book Out of Control, "is that no one is in control, and yet an invisible hand governs, a hand that emerges from very dumb members. The marvel is that more is different. To generate a colony organism from a bug organism requires only that the bugs be multiplied so that there are many, many more of them, and that they communicate with each other. At some stage the level of complexity reaches a point where new categories like 'colony' can emerge from simple categories like 'bug'. Thus, there is nothing to be found in a beehive that is not submerged in a bee. And yet you can search a bee forever with cyclotron and fluoroscope, and you will never find the hive."

The hive emerges from the bees not because the bees intended to create the hive or because they were programmed to do so. The hive comes about as a property of the system created by many bees in a network.

The emergence of the hive from a jumble of bees is Extropy.

"...the societies that master the new science of complexity and can convert that knowledge into new products and forms of social organization will become the cultural, economic, and military superpowers of the next century."
Heinz R. Pagels, from The Dreams of Reason: The Computer and the Rise of the Sciences of Complexity

Extropy was a term that came to be used to describe the force that opposed/worked with Entropy. That is, one can define extropy as the force that causes an entropic system to "emerge" without any outside agent.

As a 21st Century company, when we were thinking about how to define our company's business model, and eventually how to choose a name, we did our best to consult the ideas of complexity and emergence.

The first thing we realized was the fact that the "Web" itself was a virtual breeding ground for emergence. The fact is that the Web is a jumbled hodgepodge of diverse actors using diverse hardware and software tools for a diverse set of reasons. Yet, though no centralized standards-setting body controls or defines this virtual reality, friendships are forged, products are sold, and study is conducted.

In fact, by its very name, the Web, is related to ideas of interactive complexity as discussed by such theorists as Dosi, Prigogine, and the host of Santa Fe Instituters from Arthur to Kauffman. By its behavior and characteristics, the Web can be identified as both child and parent of complex adaptive systems.

And since we would be a "web-based" business, our business model we thought, should work in the context of the web environment.

Specifically, the Web provides the necessary infrastructure on which to build complex adaptive systems by creating a highly inter-related, open, decentralized architecture for time and distance transcendent communication.

The Web connects.

It connects like no technology has before connected. And when "people" are incorporated into this system, the resultant cybernetic system fosters a variety of emergent phenomenon from cyberbusiness to cybergovernment to cyberculture; phenomena far greater than simply the summation of a bunch of linked computers and their users tapping away at their keyboards.

Business on the Web, for example, is not simply a more efficient means of mass advertising as early critics forecasted. Rather, The Web becomes an essential tool fostering the emergence of a wholly unique form of customized, highly consumer feedback-oriented transactions in which mass production becomes mass customization in the hyper-service sector.

The Web promises to be as central to the Information Revolution as the factory was for the Industrial Revolution and the farm was for the Agricultural Revolution. In the Information Age, the Web becomes not only medium of communication, but mode of production and center of community as well.

Thus we sought to construct our business in terms of leveraging the complex, interactive network created by the web.

This is why we eventually settled on a version of the Open Source Software Model in which the source of our innovation comes from the natural evolution of the system rather than from some reclusive product development process.

Read "eXtropia.com: A Case Study in Open Source Software"

The Open Source Software Model argues that it is possible to run a profitable company by giving away your products for free. In fact, some proponents of the model argue further that it will be THE MOST SUCCESSUL model in an information era economy in which it is impossible to protect intellectual property in the form of products.

Free source code provides the foundation upon which networks of developers and communities of clients can all participate in the evolution of the company, the products, and the services.

Clients and developers have profound access to the development process. In fact participatory clients make possible the degree of speed, customizibility, robustness, and security of product releases.

Meanwhile, research and development is carried out in the network with hundreds of developers, each contributing their own specialized skills to the whole.

The job of eXtropia.com is simply to shepherd this process. The value added service we provide is to generate a focal point for activity. By harnessing the power of our community, we hope to accelerate development and help bring profoundly innovative products to market.

As a final note, we would like to leave you with a statement made by Cyber Philosopher John Perry Barlow, which we have found deeply inspiring...

"I look at confusing circumstances as opportunity - but not everybody feels that way. That's not the standard neurotic response. We've got a culture that's based on the ability of people to control everything. Once you start to embrace confusion as a way of life, concomitant with that is the assumption that you really don't control anything. At best it's a matter of surfing the whitewater." - John Perry Barlow