What is The Issues System?
The Issues System provides a results oriented environment where ideas compete on their merits, free of the usual distortions and distractions of egos and personalities.
One of the most intractable aspects of human conflict resolution has always been that humans have only had fellow humans - with all of their emotional complications and contradictions - to help identify optimum solutions. Human group dynamics operate at least in part by distorting the conflict resolution process as a means of expressing the status and dominance of the advocates of proposed solutions, regardless of the merits of those solutions.
Machine intelligence has not yet evolved to the point where it can directly solve all of humanity's varied problems. However, an intelligent machine can contribute substantially to conflict resolution by creating a dynamic environment that compliments and encourages the best aspects of human intelligence, while driving the process toward an optimum resolution in spite of the worst aspects of human nature.
The Issues System relieves its human participants of the distractions of managing the process, and the need to accommodate the external agendas of other participants. Within the Issues System participants can focus on their real interests and options, which are the only places where real solutions can be found.
Just getting everyone involved in an issue together in one place at the same time can be more difficult than solving the actual problem. The problem of scheduling meetings becomes even more difficult as our interests and business activities spread around the world. The Issues System allows individuals around the globe to participate in group discussions and decision-making on their own time schedules - any time day or night.
How Does It Work?
The Issues System starts out by exploring the interests and options of the participants. Just having to think through their interests and options sufficiently to express them in words that others will understand, can greatly clarify the issue in the minds of the participants.
The Issues System pays particular attention to Standards - the criteria by which a potential solution will be judged. The Issues System only requires consensus on standards. Unacceptable standards can be vetoed - but only by offering an alternative standard. Those standards that are not vetoed are by default approved by the issue members. The Issues System preserves a record of the active and vetoed standards, since the vetoed standards in particular provide a great deal of information about the process, the participants, and the nature of the results.
Individuals are allowed to join or quit an issue until the end of the standards approval phase. After the time allowed for this phase has elapsed - and all members of the issue have either approved the remaining standards or been removed by the system for nonparticipation - the issue moves to the comparison phase. The system doesn't allow any further changes in interests, options, standards, or issue membership once an issue has transitioned into comparison phase.
The options are judged whether they satisfy or contradict the standards during the comparison phase. In order to avoid the possible contamination of the comparison process, members are prohibited from viewing the results-to-date until they've finished with comparisons.
It might seem obvious that the option that is supported by the most standards should be the best solution, but our research indicates few issues are so easily solved. While ranking options by their relative degree of support by the standards goes a long way toward identifying the optimum solution, we've found that the best solution is often a combination of the top 3 or more options.
Perhaps as useful as the relative rankings of the options are the dynamics that resulted in that ranking. The Issues System creates an analysis of each option detailing the reasons behind its ranking - with particular emphasis on the negative factors, since these tend to have the greatest influence on the relative ranking. The reasons why a favored option does poorly in the results can at times be more valuable to the participants than the actual results of the Issues process.
Once an issue has completed the final phase, the system locks all of its components and moves it to Past Issues. Completed issues remain in Past Issues for a year, after which they're moved to the archive. Overall Technology hopes that the public access Issues System will accumulate a body of information that will be of increasing value to researchers as it accumulates over time.
In addition to the public access Issues System, Overall intends to offer private Issues services hosted on a secure server.
The Importance Of Anonymity
Anonymity is an important part of providing an environment where participants can freely express their true beliefs, hopes, and desires. The free expression that takes place during an Issues process can often be as valuable as the ultimate results.
The need to preserve the anonymity of users was a large part of the reason the Issues System was built as a self-maintained automated system. The Issues system makes its own decisions regarding its dealings with issues and users, eliminating any need - or opportunity - for human involvement in the "back-end" operation of the system.
The Issues System retains only as much user information as is needed for its internal processes. In the interests of security, the system does not have the ability to make this information available outside of its internal processes, which precludes the misuse of such capabilities. The system can't be tricked into doing something it doesn't know how to do in the first place.
Issues doesn't require the use of actual names, only that individuals be identified in some way so that their subsequent participation can be handled in an orderly manner. The identity of participants is further reduced to an abstraction, and even that is only used within the system's internal processes to manage ownership and membership functions while an issue is active. Membership information is purged as an issue progresses into phases where it's no longer needed. No membership information is preserved in closed issues since the system no longer needs to manage further participation in the issue.
The lengths of interests, options and standards are limited in order to both encourage the clear and concise expression of ideas, and to make it more difficult to guess the identity of an idea's author from the style of the writing.
While the Issues System doesn't identify the authors of contributions, those who are unable or unwilling to separate their egos from their ideas may still be able to frustrate the efforts of the Issues System to maintain their anonymity. However, those who are willing to let their ideas stand on their own merits will find the Issues System a very effective environment for testing the value of those ideas.
Advantages Of The Web vs Local
No form of data storage is completely resistant to a sufficiently determined analysis if that data is physically accessible. The fear that the identities of the participants might be maliciously exposed can have a chilling effect on the process - especially when the raw data resides on hardware controlled by those whose personal interests conflict with the results of an issue. Using Overall Technology's Issues System puts the raw data safely out of reach of those who might want to misuse it.
Overall Technology earned its well deserved reputation for exemplary honest, integrity, and reliability the hard way - by consistently demonstrating its principles over a decade of processing confidential, proprietary, information for independent inspectors. The data on Overall Technology's Issues System will receive the same respect and protection that Overall has demonstrated for the confidential information that has passed through The Inspection Network over the years.
So Where's The Artificial Intelligence?
Machine intelligence isn't yet capable of performing at the "here's my problem, tell me what to do" level. However, the Issues System is capable of operating as the unique self-maintaining system needed to eliminate the potentials for "big brother" abuses that a human maintained system would provide. It takes a lot of complex decision making behind the scenes to support the deceptively simple Issues user interface.
Overall Technology's language of choice for the last decade has been PDC Prolog. A product of Prolog Development Center (Copenhagen, Atlanta, St. Petersburg), PDC Prolog is a declarative language that is particularly appropriate for building rule based expert systems and state machines. The Issues System would be very difficult if not impossible to build in any other language.
For example, the Issues System uses a combination of internally and externally defined rules when deciding to remove a member from a particular issue or the entire system for nonparticipation. As a server engine, Issues has to accurately manage multiple open transactions at once, determining the state of each incoming transaction based on a logical analysis of that user's status in the system, the state of the user's previous transaction, and other factors.
On another level, as a web-served application the Issues System lacks the means of ensuring that users interact with it in an orderly manner. ISP's drop connections, the user's browser or operating system might crash, the user might simply surf off on the web without quitting the Issues System. And yet users will fully expect the Issues System to interact with them in an orderly manner.
The system must also guard against the "invalid access attempts" of hate driven vandals who resent the creativity of others, and saboteurs who are afraid that Issues will undermine the undeserved personal advantages they've gained through manipulating the conflict resolution process.
The Issues engine must therefore be smart enough to manage its own state in spite of all the chaos and uncertainty within which it operates. It takes a lot of artificial intelligence to support the elegant simplicity that the Issues System shows the outside world.