Jane Jacobs, who died last month just shy of her 90th birthday, was one of the great sociologists of our time. Although she had no university degree and no official high-level position, her original thinking, creative writing, and passionate advocacy for humanist environments made her a world figure.
Among her many well-respected books, one in particular had a significant impact on CRN and our proposals for managing the impacts of advanced nanotechnology. In Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (1992), Jacobs showed what happens when the moral systems of commerce collide with those of politics. It's a landmark work, illustrating some of the fundamental underlying principles and motivations -- we call them Systems of Action -- used by people and organizations in different segments of society.
We adapted her basic framework and applied it to the Information Age, when we wrote "Three Systems of Action: A Proposed Application for Effective Administration of Molecular Nanotechnology." This paper, we believe, is one of CRN's most important contributions to understanding the delicate challenge of administering powerful technologies in a complex, interconnected world. We'll always be indebted to Jacobs for opening up these ideas to us.
In his tribute to Jane Jacobs, Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig said:
Jacobs understood that the point of urban planning was not planning for a moment, but trying to cultivate healthy, evolving cities that make people happy to live in. Much of the same can be said about information architectures -- the best planned networks don't overplan, but somehow manage to create a kind of life of their own.
If we, the global community, can find a way to cultivate a healthy, evolving nanotech-enabled world that makes people happy to live in, we will have achieved a great deal, and we will owe much to Jane Jacobs for helping us to see the way.