What is Recursive Exhaustion?

Recursive Exhaustion is an algorithm. Though it could be used for various purposes, here I discuss it only in the context of social technology.

Among other techniques applicable to society are those for collecting and using personal data. The most notorious example of this to date is the misuse of Facebook information by Cambridge Analytica.

To me, this was almost trivial. They collected a small amount of information on a mere 87 million people. Through Recursive Exhaustion it is possible to collect a vast amount of information about almost everybody.

Essentially recursive exhaustion works by repeatedly exhausting the space of known individuals and their attributes.

In computer science there is a method known as an exhaustive search, also known as a brute-force search. Sometimes it is referred to by its fundamental technique and is known as generate and test. It is one of the most powerful of the general problem-solving techniques, but is computationally expensive.

An exhaustive search is usually conducted on tree structure, which is a discrete combinatorial object. One might somehow transform a list of people into a tree structure then perform a search to find a person meeting certain characteristics.

The problem with this is that the human population changes. People are born and die. Living people change all the time. A fixed tree structure for the human race is impossible.

A recursive exhaustive search is one in which the attributes of one person are reevaluated at each step by considering all changes in his or her social environment. The individuals in that social environment will also have to be reevaluated, so the search for one person requires a data collection step which can propagate recursively throughout the whole population.

As applied to the whole of human society, this violates the most fundamental requirement of a recursive algorithm: it has no end condition.

Nor should it. There is no end to the changes society goes through.

Various implementations of this algorithm are discussed on another page. Details of its application to human society are elsewhere.

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