ROTW: The Rise of Protocols by Kyle Mathews

“My preferred theory atm is it’s a combination of scaling problems — institutional practices invented in the previous decades and centuries are not scaling well as the world grows larger and more complex. And then the mother of all disruptions, the internet , which changed how humanity senses the world — which disrupts many of the underlying mechanisms supporting institutions.”


Kyle’s preferred definition of protocols as “behaviors that make outcomes more likely” closely aligns with my understanding of weak protocols as providing guidance and pathways while allowing for flexibility and individual variation.

Recently, I’ve begun to ponder whether “protocol theory” is already here, embedded within the theories and frameworks of other fields. In other words, fragments of protocol theory are scattered across various disciplines, influencing how we understand and shape human behavior, social interactions, and institutional practices. The challenge, I believe, lies in synthesizing these disparate elements into a cohesive framework that can be deliberately applied to address societal challenges.

For example, there is overlap between weak protocols and existing theories in fields such as social learning theory, network theory, and even physics. Social learning theory, for instance, emphasizes the importance of observational learning and the modeling of behaviors within social contexts. This closely parallels the idea of weak protocols as socially reinforced patterns of behavior that shape outcomes without rigid prescription.

So, should the goal of protocol theory be to provide not a single, all-encompassing framework but rather a set of conceptual tools, principles, and shared language that can be adapted and applied to a wide range of social and institutional contexts? This approach would align with a notion of protocol humility, encouraging us to acknowledge the provisional, contextual nature of protocols and to remain open to alternative perspectives and learning.

Protocol humility is epistemic humility in action.

In other words, it may be more productive to view protocol theory as a continually evolving synthesis of existing knowledge rather than striving for a monolithic, unified theory. Adopting this approach would open doors to interdisciplinary collaboration and possibly accelerate practical applications.


This post from @mike_b lands on a similar definition of protocols as @kylemathews

Kyle: any set of behaviors that make something more likely to happen

Mike: A protocol is a simple description of how, in principle, to approach a particular challenge in a way that will produce good enough outcomes, most of the time.

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