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Society of Mind

3.3 hierarchies

bu•reauc′ra•cy n. the administration of government through departments and subdivisions managed by sets of officials following an inflexible routine. —Webster's Unabridged Dictionary

As an agent, Builder does no physical work but merely turns on Begin, Add, and End. Similarly, Add just orders Find, Put, and Get to do their jobs. Then these divide into agents like Move and Grasp. It seems that it will never stop — this breaking-down to smaller things.

Eventually, it all must end with agents that do actual work, but there are many steps before we get to all the little muscle-motor agents that actually move the arms and hands and finger joints. Thus Builder is like a high-level executive, far removed from those subordinates who actually produce the final product.

Does this mean that Builder's administrative work is unimportant? Not at all. Those lower-level agents need to be controlled. It's much the same in human affairs. When any enterprise becomes too complex and large for one person to do, we construct organizations in which certain agents are concerned, not with the final result, but only with what some other agents do. Designing any society, be it human or mechanical, involves decisions like these:

Which agents choose which others to do what jobs? Who will decide which jobs are done at all? Who decides what efforts to expend? How will conflicts be settled?

How much of ordinary human thought has Builder' s character? The Builder we described is not much like a human supervisor. It doesn't decide which agents to assign to which jobs, because that has already been arranged. It doesn't plan its future work but simply carries out fixed steps until End says the job is done. Nor has it any repertoire of ways to deal with unexpected accidents.

Because our little mental agents are so limited, we should not try to extend very far the analogy between them and human supervisors and workers. Furthermore, as we'll shortly see, the relations between mental agents are not always strictly hierarchical. And in any case, such roles are always relative. To Builder, Add is a subordinate, but to Find, Add is a boss. As for yourself, it all depends on how you live. Which sorts of thoughts concern you most — the orders you are made to take or those you're being forced to give?