Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Will improved “vision” make us even better than we are?

Oculus-VRFacebook's acquisition of the Oculus company shows that big players are starting to take Augmented Reality (AR) glasses seriously -- leading the 22 year old daughter of a friend to comment "that stuff looks really lame."

Ah, but the question of whether something "looks lame" is partly a matter of implementation... recall what the first cell phones were like? In the future you will be at an extreme disadvantage without access to augmented reality tools. These do not have to be worn all the time. But to refuse them entirely will be considered pretentious... like a person of our age loudly announcing "I refuse to own a cell phone!"

Still, we face a difficult transition period -- perhaps 15 years -- when the proper rules and procedures for AR will be worked out. Consider the lawsuits, when people who are distracted by images inside their eyewear, step off the curb in front of moving cars! In my novel Existence I predict what some of those rules and procedures might turn out to be. For example, requiring that dangerous objects and curbs and nearby persons be outlined in “collision-avoidance yellow. In the meantime, many lawyers will do well.

That is one reason why Google deliberately designed its "Glass" product to be les than full-AR -- offset from the central cone of forward vision. The data that it presents do not cover the field of view needed for walking and safety. Google is happy to let smaller companies do those experiments... and deal with the legal transitions.

Tor-Farley-existenceIn Existence, I contemplated what Occulus and Glass may look like, more than a decade from now. One illustration (by Patrick Farley) shows a reporter with cyb-active hair... sensors at the tips of stalks that can rise up and look around, giving her the view of a very tall person and providing awareness of things going on behind her.

As for the Facebook purchase, Mark Zuckerberg in a conference said "Oculus and VR have the potential to change the way we play, work, and communicate." And that social networks today are about "sharing moments." but in the future it will be about "sharing experiences". We've heard those promises for 20 years. For gaming, I see the potential, but to communicate or to engage in a social network, is there really a need/desire for a deep immersion? Alas, there are basic reasons why the Web -- and Facebook in particular -- have not enhanced discourse or truth or negotiation or any adult activities at all. I explain those reasons here:

Unfortunately, that paper is too "scholarly" to be influential. It merely gets to the underlying core of why the Internet has never achieved its potential as a problem-solving system. Alas.

== Other Authors ==

Naam-dystopiaIn Can We Avoid a Surveillance State Dystopia? Ramez Naam, the brilliant author of the novels Nexus and Crux as well as the nonfiction The Infinite Resource, offers his own view on the NSA Imbroglio and our chances of staving off the Big Brother scenarios, achieving instead an open world of freedom and accountability: "And every organization in the world must now be on notice - everything it does may eventually become known."

(Flash news! Ramez is on the list, nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in science fiction.  Congratulations Ramez!  And all the other nominees.)

All right then, where is the "end of history" promised by Francis Fukayama, after the fall of the Berlin Wall? The purported rush of the entire world to embrace liberal democracy? That did seem to be the way momentum was heading, in the Clinton era, but the 21st Century became a lot rougher -- a more cynical and dogmatic era. Take this assessment from Freedom House in What's Gone Wrong With Democracy?

wrong-democracy"The progress seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st. Even though around 40% of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century. Between 1980 and 2000 the cause of democracy experienced only a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many. And democracy’s problems run deeper than mere numbers suggest. Many nominal democracies have slid towards autocracy, maintaining the outward appearance of democracy through elections, but without the rights and institutions that are equally important aspects of a functioning democratic system…. Faith in democracy flares up in moments of triumph, such as the overthrow of unpopular regimes in Cairo or Kiev, only to sputter out once again."

It's a thought-provoking article… though to clarify, not all futurists were sanguine that this transition would be easy. In 1985 I predicted both the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the rise of a militant macho resistance to tech-modernist ways -- either a Latin or Hindi or (most-likely) Muslim rejection of the West's prescription how to live. And that crises of oligarchy and propaganda and dogma always threaten traditions of pragmatic, good-natured and science-based negotiation.

Still, the article offers hope: "At the same time, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in the 19th century, democracies always look weaker than they really are: they are all confusion on the surface but have lots of hidden strengths. Being able to install alternative leaders offering alternative policies makes democracies better than autocracies at finding creative solutions to problems and rising to existential challenges, though they often take a while to zigzag to the right policies."

The trick is not to let ourselves be tricked into cynicism – like the “Tytler Calumny” lie that democracies are inherently weak… or the idiot-plot message in most Hollywood films, preaching that institutions always fail and citizenship is futile.

demonize-opponentsYour neighbors are not all sheep. Your political opponents are not all evil or fools. Try talking to those you despise. They are your fellow citizens. And together, we are not lesser than any "greatest generation."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

David Brin's Favorite Science Fiction Films

DB-Sci-Fi-FilmScience Fiction is multi-dimensional and no one criterion can be used to determine a best-of list. Hence, I must divide my favorites into categories. And yes, each choice would be worth many paragraphs of explanation, including the runners-up and tragic misfires. I'll be more concise.

1. Movies for grownups: I wish there were a lot more of these -- films in which the director and writer actually cared about the deep implications of their visual thought experiment -- their deliberate departure from reality. Works in which the creators paid close heed to logical what-if and (while delivering tasty action, plus biting social commentary) eschewed the lazy, "idiot plot"* assumption that civilization is automatically and entirely worthless. Some institutions actually function! Adversaries have plausible motives and no red, glowing eyes! Protagonists aren't chosen-ones but merely above-average people with difficult challenges to overcome, in part by using their heads.

INception Inception (2010) works harder than any film I ever saw. It can be overbearing, especially with the aggressive musical score cranked up! But I have never seen a director strive to juggle as many edgy intricacies as Nolan does in this mostly-successful tour-de-force.

Gattaca (1997) and Primer (2004) are much simpler films that nevertheless aim to tease your mind into real thinking. Gattaca isn't as dystopian as some lazily take it to be and the protagonist is actually a self-centered jerk… but a true hero nonetheless, whose triumph is largely one of character and mind. Primer is a delight of logic and an example of what can be done when very smart people have a filming budget of about eighty-five cents.

James Cameron gets a couple of mentions here. But the one that was for grownups is The Abyss (1989). Yeah, sure, the ending was… well, I don't care.

20012001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was epochal in its time -- it helped make me who I am, and remains a mind stretcher -- though it suffers a bit under close examination. So don't.

And Kubrick's other wonder…arguably the best motion picture ever made, though only marginally science fiction…Doctor Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

Honorable mentions in this category would include the recent films Limitless (2011) and Moon (2009). The grownup in me says thank you.

2. Joyful slumming: At the opposite end are films that I could only watch by tuning my "dials" before entering the theater. Cranking IQ and science and even logic down to"popcorn" levels, without sacrificing my standards when it came to deeper values, beauty, esthetics, ethics. Admit it, some of your brains must be left outside the theater, in order to enjoy most flicks, and that's fine. In other words, appreciating as-if-stoned a movie-movie that is simply way-successful at delivering fun.

Noteworthy: all the fantasies are here. Show me one fantasy for grownups.

Conan the Barbarian (the original 1982) is simply the most successful film ever at delivering what it promised, while never promising what it couldn't deliver. Every scene is filled with visual and musical beauty amid a tale that hearkens to the deeply non-western, non-modern and joyfully brainless part of you and me, going back to the Iliad and Gilgamesh and the caves.

MV5BMTkzOTkwNTI4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMDIzNzI5._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_ The Fifth Element (1997) is the single most joyful work of art I ever saw. Luc Besson's sheer pleasure leaps onto your lap like a great big, floppy-dumb retriever and licks your face for ninety minutes. I adore it. And it adores us.

Avatar (2009)… well, James Cameron would demand that we put Avatar in category number one or even number 3. Sorry. Nice try. It is beyond-brilliant in the popcorn category, but keep those neuron dials turned way down. And then murmur… "wow!"

In contrast, the Back to the Future (1985) trilogy comes that close to vaulting into category three. It's fantastic fun. bighearted, unabashedly logical and darn near perfect.

Honorable Mention in this category:

Lord of the Rings (2001)… all right, Peter Jackson delivered a superb work of art and it was definitely not "just popcorn." I have great respect for Tolkien's complex world building craft and Jackson's fealty to the original material. Still, neither the books nor the flicks bear adult scrutiny. So turn down the "adult" dials. Be a kid and enjoy. I know I did!

Bladerunner-movie3. The whole package: Rarest of all -- films that take us beyond our familiar horizons on adventures that satisfy every age you contain within yourself, from awestruck kid to sober grownup to mystic dreamer.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) delivers from beginning to end. Not only a terrific motion picture but a love ode to the brash, Faustian, unbridled adolescent hopefulness that only Star Trek ever gave us, amid today's grotesque tsunami of grouchy-cliched dystopias.

Bladerunner (1982). Of course. Nothing need be said.



Runners-up: There are so many films that came close, or just missed. Dozens that were enjoyable and I'd have been proud to be associated with. Only nit-picking kept them off the top tier.

Contact-movie Contact (1997) was well worthwhile and inspiring, if a bit preachy in spots.

Gravity (2013). I expect this one may challenge its way into the Top Ten, with time. Exquisitely done, even if Cuaron depicts Earthy Orbit as roughly the size of L.A. County.

Things to Come (1936). My kids were bored. I was moved almost to tears by its paean to the civilization we might (with difficulty) make, if we overcome the worse sides of human nature. Maybe its a generation thing.

James Cameron's Aliens (1986) is the best film about motherhood ever created. And Terminator II (1991) was even better than the first one.

(Note: All through the 80s and 90s there was a "third movie curse" in which the third flick in a franchise betrayed everything good about the wondrous second film. It happened to Star Trek, Star Wars, Terminator and especially the Aliens series. But not Back to the Future, somehow.)

I'm not done! And so let me roll off some of my favorites that fall just outside the top ten, each one funky and unique and different in its own way:

Men-In-Black-movie Forbidden Planet (1956), Rollerball (1975), Soylent Green (1973), Men in Black (1997), Galaxy Quest (1999), Logan's Run (1976), Source Code (2011), The Truman Show (1998), The Time Machine (1960), District 9 (2009), Alien Nation (1988), Charly (1968), Serenity (2005)... plus weirdnesses like Brazil (1985), SteamBoy (2004) and Solaris (1972)… illustrating the fantastic range and breadth and wondrous opportunities for creativity that science fiction offers to those who think bold.

Special Category: Faustian SF. I especially like films that buck a cliche. And the worst cliche of all is hopeless gloom. A few… a bold few… express confidence in us, in our ability and righteous right to go beyond what we were, and in our children to be better than us… call these the anti-Crichton movies that declare the opposite of Michael's endless chiding: "don't touch that!"

Examples mentioned already are The Wrath of Khan and Inception.

Close_Encounters_posterAlso expressing this rebel sense of belief-in-us: Ghostbusters (1984)Brainstorm (1983)Altered States (1980), Dark City (1998), Quatermass and the Pit (1958), and eXistentZ (1999). And may I be honest? Kevin Costner's The Postman (1997) was harmed by a nonsensical last 20 minutes - and was uneven throughout - and it might have benefited from even 5 minutes of talking to the original author. Still, large swathes of it were terrific. It features some of the most gorgeous cinematography in the history of film. Also, its heart was pure and brave and it belongs in this category. Still. Compare to the book.

Special Mention: Surprisingly, no single Steven Spielberg film made my top ten sci fi films. But almost all Spielberg films would make it into my top fifty, while Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and War of the Worlds (2005) and Minority Report (2002) skate much closer. Spielberg and Zemeckis are the most consistent and skilled story tellers of our age. Nolan and Cameron, while much more uneven and less disciplined, did make it onto the list.  Vive les differences.

And finally….

Tragic misses: What might have been... if only

star_wars_v___empire_strikes_back___movie_poster_by_nei1b-d5w3mt4 The Empire Strikes Back is a fine film in its own right, and it shows what a wonderful epic we might have had, if George Lucas had stuck to his strength, as one of the greatest of all visionary Hollywood producers, and simply hired great writers and directors for his films, the way he did in Empire… and the way he hired terrific artists for all the other Star Wars flicks. (Their one strong suit was then endlessly voluptuous visuals.) Alas, his choices became our tragedy.

The Day the Earth Stood Still… could have explored the immorality of the other side. It's smarmy and unhelpful preachiness prevented adding another layer of potentially really interesting counter-preachiness. How tasty if one human had stepped up and said: "I know, I know we are all that… but what are you?"

Total Recall… you're kidding me, right? You can be this creative -- in BOTH versions (1990 and 2012) -- yet still timidly shy away from getting all Philip K. Dick on us and persuading us to actually fret that it might all actually an actual bummer recall-trip? You couldn't do that? Why? I mean, why not? It would have been so easy and so cool.  Dang.

Dune Dune (1984)… actually, I have no major complaints. It's a pretty good movie and deLaurentis was utterly faithful to Herbert, accurately conveying the complex world and characters. Alas, lo and behold, the silver screen made clear what most readers of the novel - captivated and immersed - failed to notice. That every single character in the story is loathsome and ought to die. Yes, the "good" guys, too. Please. As quickly as possible.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Fun and all that. But. Um. And the real villain is…………?

And so it goes.  Let's all hope that there will be great new films in the next decade the outshine all of the above!

Hey, here's a pitch: "dolphins… in space!"

Eh? Who could possibly beat that?


Idiot-Plot-favoritecliche-1* Followup links:

The "Idiot Plot Cliche" that civilization must always be portrayed as worthless.

Other science fiction riffs by David Brin:

Speculations on Science Fiction: collected articles.

A video rant: Name the Villain...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Not all rich folks are the same… nor all Christians… nor opponents to Obamacare

With a re-ignited American Civil War already underway, it is important to remind folks that we do not have to exaggerate, or oversimplify, or categorize all people of one 'type' as automatically friends or enemies. Let me start with a couple of telling examples.

showtime-years-of-living-dangerously-jessica-alba1) I had been waiting and hoping for a person like this to arrive. A smart and scientific conservative with deep, heartland values, who can communicate with Red Americans that their Christianity and conservatism do not have to automatically align with a trumped-up War on Science.   I figure millions are ready for the message -- that they can pick and choose, and maybe escape the simplistic narrative being crammed down their throats by hate-media. 

That was the hope! An lo -- here is Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, married to a pastor, living in conservative West Texas, and widely regarded as a top-notch climate scientist, actively engaged in weaning heartland folks off of anti-science dogmatism. Her book, A Climate for Change offers Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.

Liberals, too, should study this person and shuck their own preconceptions. Dr. Hayhoe appears on Showtime's new documentary series Years of Living Dangerously, which explores humanity's impact on climate change.

Wealth-America2) One of the moderate conservative members of my blog community went to public records -- Forbes 400 list and -- to provide the following summary of rich Americans and where they contribute their political largesse. Give it a look over and I"ll comment.

1 (D) Bill Gates $54 B 55 Medina, WA Microsoft
2 (D) Warren Buffett $45 B 80 Omaha, NE Berkshire Hathaway
3 (D) Larry Ellison $27 B 66 Woodside, CA Oracle
4 (R) Christy Walton & family $24 B 56 Jackson, WY Walmart
5 (R) Charles Koch $21.5 B 75 Wichita, KS Diversified
6 (R) David Koch $21.5 B 70 New York , NY Diversified
7 (R) Jim Walton $20.1 B 63 Bentonville, AR Walmart
8 (R) Alice Walton $20 B 61 Fort Worth, TX Walmart
9 (R) S. Robson Walton $19.7 B 67 Bentonville, AR Walmart
10 (D,I,R) Michael Bloomberg $18 B 69 New York , NY Bloomberg
11 (D,I,R) Larry Page $15 B 37 Palo Alto, CA Google
12  Sergey Brin $15 B 37 San Francisco, CA Google (Politics unknown)
13 (R) Sheldon Adelson $14.7 B 77 Las Vegas, NV casinos
14 (D,R) George Soros $14.2 B 80 Westchester, NY hedge funds
15 (R) Michael Dell $14 B 46 Austin, TX Dell
16 (R,D) Steve Ballmer $13.1 B 54 Seattle, WA Microsoft
17 (D,R) Paul Allen $12.7 B 58 Mercer Island, WA Microsoft, investments
18 (D) Jeff Bezos $12.6 B 47 Seattle, WA Amazon
19 (D) Anne Cox Chambers $12.5 B 91 Atlanta, GA Cox Enterprises
20 (D,R) John Paulson $12.4 B 55 New York, NY hedge funds

Letters indicate which political party they donated to:
 D = Democrat, R= Republican, I= Independent (presented in order of giving amounts)

The crux, it pretty much matches my past assertions. With the exception of Michael Dell, nearly all the self-made tech billionaires donate democrat. They invest in the diamond shaped society that made them and that engendered the engineers and scientists whose skills got them rich. In their public statements, they mostly profess faith in positive sum games and several have explicitly said "my taxes ought to be higher than they are."

Those who -- in contrast -- mostly-inherited their high position, or exploited sweetheart deals to extract resources from public lands, or got it through gambling or cable monopolies… pour their largesse into the Republican Party. (With Anne Cox Chambers a noted exception.)

This list leaves out Rupert Murdoch and the Saudis and foreign sovereign wealth funds, all of who are lavish in support of the GOP.

Also not listed… the Hollywood types who -- though rich -- fall below this top twenty. They tend to side with the Silicon Valley moguls. While another clade -- the WallStreeters and top CEOs… well, you know…

Which leaves us with the most telling and indicative of them all. The smartest man in the world, whose wholesome, down-to-Earth values are also an example to us all. Warren Buffett. People who bet against him have always, always proved themselves to be just plain old dumb.

== When will the GOP proclaim “It was our idea all along!” ==

AFFORDABLE-CARE-ACTThe nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its latest Obamacare report card (pdf), and for supporters of the law, the news is good: The CBO now projects that over 10 years the law will cover more people—25 million, up from 24 million—and cost a lot less—$104 billion less—than it had previously forecast. Combine this with the fact that, since the Affordable Health Care Act was passed, health care costs in the U.S. have risen at their slowest pace in decades.

All of these results would presumably have been even better, had the GOP spent the last 4 years working to negotiate improvements and fix flaws, instead of railing and passing futile House gestures (fifty of them) to repeal the ACA, while condemning it as "communism."

Indeed, ironies abound. Let's be clear: moderate and reasonable democrats never wanted the proposed "health care system" that became Obamacare! It was always viewed as a miserable, halfway option that catered to insurance companies and is far more complicated and less effective than, say, the far simpler and less costly Canadian system.  Obamacare essentially saves and extends the ancient U.S. system of private insurance and its positive effects were achieved using market forces… a fact that quintuples the irony, since the ACA originally was the REPUBLICAN PARTY's own damn plan.

Crafted by The Heritage Foundation and the AEI, sealed into several GOP platforms, enacted in Massachusetts by Governor Romney to huge Fox News fanfare and jubilation, and yes, indeed, all of those versions were almost identical to the ACA. (See the comparison.)

Obama and the Dems only settled on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) after having all of their own plans shot down by the most disciplined party of opposition the nation has ever seen. Hence, in what they thought would be a clever judo move, the Dems put forward the GOP's own plan, in the weirdly optimistic hope that Republicans would thereupon negotiate in good faith over their own plan… working as legislators engaged in deliberation and compromise to find flaws and correct them and produce a proper bill.

What naiveté! Hey, I never said the democrats were sane.  They are a loopy as jay birds.

Again. All current flaws might have been discussed, appraised and dealt with by negotiation and pragmatic improvement -- a process that was ruled out in favor of all-or-nothing rage. Indeed, this is all according to the Hastert Rule, to never, ever ever cooperate or negotiate with their opponents, over anything. Ever. Instead, the GOP's sole aim has been to ensure that their own plan would fail.

In fact, if the tide of good news continues, you can be sure that the GOP will veer tracks and start proclaiming "It was our own plan, all along!"  

What?  And you'll be surprised when that happens?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Future Perspectives… and does the ACLU (at last) understand sousveillance?

== Perspectives on our future ==

Smithsonian-imaginationA reminder: I’ll be performing at this event in mid May -- THE FUTURE IS HERE: Science meets Science Fiction, Imagination, Inspiration and Invention --  will be a lavish/spectacular event MAY 16-18, 2014 in Washington DC, presented by the Smithsonian Magazine in collaboration with the UC San Diego  Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Nerd Nite, Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia, and the Smithsonian Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

Presenters include: Patrick Stewart, David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Brian Greene,  Adam Steltzner, George Takei,  Stewart Brand, Sara Seager, and some of the Mythbusters .

Reaching back a bit…I had a chance to speak with the mighty maven of tech-future Journalism, Tim O'Reilly, during my previous visit to Washington DC. The next day in Forbes, Tim cited me with the following quotation: "It is intrinsically impossible to know if someone does not have information about you. It is much easier to tell if they do something to you." His article, The Creep Factor: How to Think about Big Data and Privacy, is cogent.

Dragnet-Nation-cover-art Elsewhere I tout Julia Angwin's Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance. It' a very entertaining and wise book, in which Ms. Angwin kindly cites my book (The Transparent Society) as partial inspiration. But here's a quotation from an interview the author recently gave… a thought-provoking call for us to drop the sick temptations of cynicism and to re-acquire that good old, optimistic, can-do spirit.

"I am aware that I take a slightly irrationally optimistic view of this. But I also think that the only way to get change is to be irrationally optimistic. Change happens all the time. I compare privacy to environmental damage. We lived in a world where we were perfectly willing to tolerate our rivers catching fire and the air being filled with soot and people dying of black lung disease and then all of a sudden, after 50 years of that, we decided maybe we don’t want that kind of world. And we’ve been very successful at cleaning up our environment. We did it partly through laws, but we also did it by changing our social norms. I mean if you told someone 50 years ago that Upper East Side women in fur would be picking up their dog’s poop, they would have laughed at you. But we did it, we changed our social habits. I think privacy is a similar social problem. It’s something that we will change both through laws and also through being smart about what choices we make about what technology we use." 

I had a chance to meet Ms. Angwin during a privacy (IAPP) conference in DC a few months back. Delightful and very smart.

== Is the ACLU Catching On? At last? ==

alpr-slide-title-720x450-v02_0License plate readers and face recognition are already ubiquitous. And Vigilant Solutions is bringing it to you. And yes, the ACLU is (legitimately) concerned about increasing powers of unbalanced surveillance. And yes, the ACLU joins those (foolishly) whining about it, instead of seeking the obvious and only possible answer.
Only… maybe I am too harsh. The ACLU report, "You Are Being Tracked," does conclude by suggesting two reforms that smack of intelligent sousveillance…

1) People should be able to find out if plate data of vehicles registered to them are contained in a law enforcement agency’s database.

2) Any entity that uses license plate readers should be required to report its usage publicly on at least an annual basis.

Okay… maybe they are starting to catch on. Still, to even imagine that we won't all be using face-recog and things like license plate scanning in the near future displays the kind of stunning myopia that always puzzles me, when displayed by intelligent and well-meaning people.

== Transparency News ==

 The Internet of Cops is Coming… FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority)—pitched as a state of the art communications network for paramedics, firemen and law enforcement at the federal, state and local level—will give cops on the streets unprecedented technological powers, and possibly hand over even more intimate data about our lives to the higher ends of the government and its intelligence agencies. FirstNet will also give local law enforcement the ability to take digital “fingerprints from the field,” record and share high quality video, and instantaneously marry these freshly sourced data with others over the network. In the video above, a demonstrator uses facial recognition software on a tablet; finds out if the target is in a linked database, and is immediately provided with a wealth of information on him.

Of course, having a police officer be able to instantly identify you with a tablet —or the “single […] device for voice, data, and video” being developed—is open to abuse, and raises serious worries for privacy.

"One scary thought is that it could help set up … “communications systems apartheid”: where the public are relegated to an “insecure, heavily monitored network that can be turned off at the flick of a switch,” while the government enjoys the benefits of an encrypted network that is far more stable."

Of course this is a downside scenario I long ago described in The Transparent Society.  And yet, in all the years since, I keep hearing people come crying "stop them from looking at me!" To which I respond, don't blame me!  Blame yourselves for all the endless whining about stuff like this. Whining that will go on and on and on and that you all will never stop doing

MILITANT-SOUSVEILLANCE …rather than focusing on what might work: the militant, assertive and practical measures that might defend freedom.  Not by trying to resist the absolutely unstoppable trend toward the mighty getting to look at us. (They will; and whimpering about it is pathetic.) But instead to strip the mighty naked with supervision so that they will never dare to use all that vision to actually harm us.

That is an activity we can accomplish. That is do-able and might actually work. We should be militant! But focused.

Alas, I have to wonder, is this generation even the same species as the ones who 200 years ago understood this distinction so well?  No matter how many times I explain the difference between militant sousveillance and impotent whines of "don't look at me!"... it always turns out that 1% actually get it... and the rest go right back to the same futile refrain -- "don't look at me!"

Case in point. This reporter - on a dare - investigated another person simply based upon an anonymous tweet… and figured our enough information that he could have emptied the other guy's bank account. Scary stuff.  Would you bet your life or security on any assurance that this capability has been stopped?  Really?

Let's insist on getting to detect when and who makes such enquiries.  That might be achievable.

== And… ==

In "The Secret Cost of a Surveillance Society" you can see a truly awful article, in which the author utterly conflates causation with correlation and draws unwarranted conclusions. Still, there is a glimmer of a point: that a sensitivity to surveillance may be deterring individuals from seeking basic services like hospitalization. As a raising of possibilities, it seems worth a read.
Watch Your Privacy: A Google Glass App overlays the streetscene with warnings (in red) of where cameras may be pointing. Close appraisal suggests they may over-promise. But the implications are interesting.

Cameras with wireless transmitters will soon be so small that they could be taped to an appliance, wall, ceiling, dashboard. “Our aim is to add eyes to any digital device, no matter how small,” says an innovator about the system--  which requires no lens… the heaviest and bulkiest part of most modern optics. "It might become almost impossible for an ordinary person to know if they are in a private space." complains one critic, without offering any suggested way to stop the trend. We'll need to learn more about this, and think about the ramifications.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Science Fiction: the literary stuff - Hugos and China and a Latin Beat!

ancillary-justice-leckieFirst, congratulations to this year's many fine Hugo nominees for best in Science Fiction for 2013! 

 -- Including -- amid a gallery of bright lights of SF -- Anne Leckie (Ancillary Justice), Charles Stross (Neptune's Brood), Mira Grant (Parasite), Larry Correia (Warbound), Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (The Wheel of Time) and so many more stories and novellas you might survey (and find opportunities to read!). 

Later note: the Hugo (and Nebula) Award went deservedly to the very impressive and multi-faceted Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Give it a read!

== SF that's for reading and the mind ==

But onward to the next year.

ThreeBodyProblem1The Three-Body Problem is part one of an award-winning trilogy by Liu Cixin — and is arguably the best Chinese science fiction novel ever translated into English. Liu uses the “three-body problem” of classical mechanics to ask some terrifying questions about human nature and what lies at the core of civilization.

The series explores the world of the Trisolarans, a race that is forced to adapt to life in a triple star system, on a planet whose gravity, heat, and orbit are in constant flux. Facing extinction, the Trisolarans plan to evacuate and conquer the nearest habitable planet, and finally intercept a message—from Earth. The Three-Body Problem, released in October 2014, has been translated into English by award-winning writer, Ken Liu (author of books such as The Grace of Kings). Take a look at Stephan Martiniere's way-cool cover for the coming Tor Books edition!)

For more on China, culture and Science Fiction, see Ken Liu's article, What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese? Liu writes movingly that science fiction is "...a literature that is born on the frontier -- the frontier between the known and the unknown, magic and science, dream and reality, self and other, present and future, East and West..."

Special note… The Three Body Problem deals very closely with the issue of SETI and the Fermi Paradox and whether we should shout "yoo-hoo!" into the cosmos  -- a quandary about which I've also written, from time to time.

I've long maintained that the health of an enlightened and progressive society is measured by how vibrant is its science fiction, since that is where true self-critique and appraisal and hope lie. 

If so, the good news stretches beyond China!

== Sci fi with a Latin beat ==

Horizon-expansion has been the core cause of the liberal west, increasing the circle of tolerance, diversity and respect… 

...and no literary genre has explored these issues more deeply or broadly than science fiction. Despite an absurd reputation for being "dominated by old white guys," Science Fiction has actually been pretty joyfully accepting and welcoming… though any field will exhibit noxious old habits that need cleansing or at least interrogation. 

For years the James Tiptree Award (named after the great Science Fiction author Alice Sheldon) encouraged exploration of gender issues in Science Fiction. The Carl Brandon Society provides a center for discussion of the future as it relates to ethnic issues, especially in science fiction.

In another welcome endeavor, there are moves to form a support group for Latino sci-fi writers. We should all enthusiastically back any endeavors that will draw more bright writers from the cultural background of Cervantes and Marquez! Not only will we benefit from horizon-expanding insight and art (and social criticism!) But there are so many parts of the world that will reciprocally benefit from the greatest gift of all… more science fiction!

Science-Fiction-genresThe posting at La Bloga is informative. Alas, it wrangled much too much about the politics of such a support org and speaks far too little about positive goals. Like how to get sci-fi excitement to latino youth and students. How to encourage the feed stock of sci fi thinking so that more young writers emerge...

...and how to spread the memes of future, change and exploration back into the grand Hispanic culture whose vibrancy is already a marvel to the world.

Although, the SF movement still has a center! California is the Future! And here's an interesting article about why the future seems so often to be set in California. Yes… so? Hey, Robert A. Heinlein explained it.... The continent is tipped and everything loose rolls down into this corner.

The-martianOf course, space is the frontier! An old-fashioned "can-do" sci fi novel, The Martian, by Andy Weir, updates Robinson Crusoe and Marooned with lots of fascinating, problem-solving verve. A best-seller that arose out of self-published versions, Weir's tale portrays an astronaut, abandoned for dead on the red planet, finding ways to survive until rescue can finally arrive… in 500 days.

A fine example of what's been called.... competence porn! Take pleasure in watching a superbly trained engineer performing extraordinary feats of technological wizardry. The Martian is to be turned into a movie in 2015, starring Matt Damon.

== And a Saharan What-If tale! ==

Here's a fun what-if scenario. When the Americas began breaking off from Eurasia, two possible north-south rifts might have made the sea-spreading divide. What if the other one - the loser in our world, stretching from the Congo to Morocco -- had taken off? Arfrica's western bulge would have stayed linked to Brazil. The resulting globe map is… creepy!

1632This is a cute story: Take a look at Southern Fried Cthulhu by Steve Poling. I love the assertive, can-do ghostbusters-style ethos. 

Also kind of reminiscent of Eric Flint's excellent 1632 alternate history series -- which my son and I both enjoyed.

== Brin - formation ==

Vint Cerf's recent hangout interview (TWiT Hangouts) was spectacular and wise. Classic Vint … sagacious and well-worth watching/listening. (And all right, I enjoyed late in the podcast when he gave me and my novel Kiln People a shout-out.)

Meanwhile the same novel is highlighted in a very interesting essay by Dean Burnett in the Guardian, about Mind-Swapping… whether or not this familiar sci fi and movie trope might ever actually come true.

Google-author-talk Talks at Google has uploaded my speech: David Brin, "Existence" - a one hour talk about pretty much everything (!) that I gave at Google HQ last winter, after the release of my latest book, Existence.

Here's a lovely mention of The Postman in the Arkansas Times, in the context of "books that women recommend to men, when they become more-than-passing interested in them as potentially more than a friend." Pleasant and wise.

While we're at it. This page takes you on a tour of the weapons used in the movie The Postman -- based on.. the book of the same name!
See more... A collection of my personal speculations on Science Fiction -- the literature of the future.

Also my own list of Favorite Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels, with old favorites by Zelazny, Bester, Anderson, Dick and Asimov, as well as more recent works by Stephenson, Gerrold, Chabon and Willis. 

Plus a separate recommended reading list for Young Adults interested in Science Fiction, works brimming with sense-o-wonder -- including works by Douglas Adams, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton, Terry Pratchett and others!