Sunday, June 29, 2014

Can Citizens Become a Political Force?

Is there one thing that an average US citizen can do, right now, to help end the current phase of America’s ongoing civil war?

may-day-pac-lessigOnly a few days are left in the crowd-funding campaign for Lawrence Lessig’s citizen-centered Super Pac: MAYDAY-PAC. Aimed at changing the playing field, so that raw money is less of a force in U.S. politics.

Mayday PAC was started by my colleague, Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig (co-founder of Rootstrikers and Creative Commons) — a “super PAC” using the power of kickstarted funds from ordinary citizens to fight the power of big money donors that control America's political system.

You are summoned! To spend one minute – in a minuteman-tradition – to make a difference.  Make a donation  to help reduce the power of influence in politics -- they have five days left to meet their goal.

lesterlandStart with the excellent 2013 TED talk by Professor Lessig called "We the People ...and the Republic We Must Reclaim" -- with over a million views.

Lessig's ideas are further expounded in his ebook, The USA is Lesterland: The Nature of Congressional Corruption -- "a map for a democracy we could reclaim."

USA-lesterland-lessigSummarized by Lessig: "Less than 1/20th of 1% of America are the “relevant funders” of congressional campaigns. That means about 150,000 Americans, or about the same number who are named “Lester,” wield enormous power over this government. These “Lesters” determine this critical first election in every election cycle—the money election. Without them, few believe they have any chance to win. And certainly, neither party believes it can achieve a majority without answering the special demands these “funders” make. Our Congress has thus become dependent upon these funders. In this sense, we are now “Lesterland.”"

Or view Steve Wozniak's 3-minute video: America's Operating System is Broken.

I am just passing this along for now, for your awareness. I haven’t delved in very far, as yet or done due diligence. But something of this kind is clearly needed.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Viral Video - for those who like ideas

In this golden era of public speaking, all those viral presentations range from enlightening (e.g. the best TED talks) to absurd flim-flam (e.g. the worst TED talks)… all the way to the hilariously on-target Onion Talks. I’ve certainly been kept busy in this new century, giving “chatauqua” blather that — I suppose — spans that entire range. Now, some of my best recent talks are available, online!

1. Otherness: Will we supply our own new diversity? Suppose we don't meet aliens. Might we satisfy our thirst for "otherness" anyway, by widening the range of who "we" are? The greatest discovery of recent, scientific civilization has been tolerance. Inclusion of all types, races, genders of people as full citizens, contributing fresh perspectives and wisdom. That task of human-expansion is not complete! But already we're discussing the next phases. Incorporating intelligences that are artificial, or human variants, or uplifted animals. What are the dangers and opportunities?


Explore these Big Ideas along with David Brin's assumption-shattering talk at the Smithsonian, in May 2014.

Alas, the editors of this slide-heavy talk chose to focus mostly on my boring face, which may prevent you from making out the clever illustrations. But you can follow along on Slideshare! Just open the window alongside and click along with me. (Some overlays and animations don't play.)

2. “Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be “Mad as Hell?” My talk at TEDxUCSD finally offers a public version of this disturbing notion I’ve been discussing for years — that an unseen addiction is destroying our civilization.


Recent science exposes this as a scam that has produced the most disastrously addictive force in civilization…. a veritable plague of sanctimony that is pushed by cynical media, selling fear while poisoning our native ability to negotiate with one-another.
For a generation, we’ve been taught that the best way to deal with any problem - personal or national or worldwide - is to get mad as hell! 

Oh, certainly problems sometimes merit indignation! But are we abandoning our greatest gift – the ability to actually solve problems?

Again, the TED-itors chose to emphasize my boring face. So here are the slides.  (Most multi-layer and animated slides don’t flow; you’ll just have to imagine!) And see links to some other cool videos, below.

== The ideas get even deeper! ==

Closer-To-Truth-David-Brin Robert Kuhn’s television series Closer To Truth “gives you access to the world’s greatest thinkers exploring humanity’s deepest questions. Discover the fundamental issues of existence. Enjoy new ways of thinking. Appreciate diverse views. Witness intense debates. Express your own opinions. Seek your own answers. Get smarter.”  Wow… that’s a pretty hefty promise!  So why not check out this fabulous series, now fully available online!  

I contributed a few bits to the program, on topics ranging from cosmology and SETI to religion to ESP.  My segments - sorted by show episode and category - can be found here. 

But scan the impressive lists of other folks Kuhn interviewed, some of them WAY smarter than me!  Such as David Deutsch, Freeman Dyson and Francisco Ayala. Mind-blowing stuff.  

== What does it take to be “ethical?” ==

Elsewhere, the topic came up… to what extent is it fair to judge men and women of the past by OUR modern moral standards? And to what extent does that set us up for rebuke by much better descendants?

Certainly some who engage in the modern drug high of sanctimony chide their neighbors partly to lower their own "karma" … but also as a kind of aggression. (See my video on this: cited above!)

And yet the world does need to be saved! And we owe much to heroes who stood up -- in days past -- to question the "common wisdom" of their own times, when it came to racism, sexism, classism or environmental neglect.

Salk-Good-ancestorThere is a litmus that I apply to historical figures and I am willing to see it applied to myself.  Yes, they were products of their times — as am I.  Hence, what I ask is "did you try to be at least two standard deviations BETTER than your times?"

Did you try -- and succeed -- to shift the momentum or arc of your times in better directions?  By that metric, Thomas Jefferson gets some added slack and Abraham Lincoln is let completely out of purgatory.  Sure it's self-serving. This standard lets me continue to eat meat, for example, so long it is judicious and sparing and I keep a nagging conscience affecting how I behave as a much-reduced carnivore. And so long as I am part of the movement to keep applying pressure for better empathy and treatment of animals… plus the technological push for tissue culture meaticulture that may take away the ethical conflict with our evolved natures… I don’t feel too guilt-wracked.

Or is that rationalization? Sure, my pisco vegetarian wife has better karma than I do. She’ll live longer, too! I expect I'll reevaluate next year... and the next.

Likewise, I fight for a better world hard enough to know that I am trying and I cannot be judged as not having cared... yet I still fly in airplanes, drive a car.  I’m not in this to lord my virtuous nature over others, nor to win your approval.  I am in it to be (as Jonas Salk demanded) a "good ancestor."

== Other Cool Media ==

The brainiac philosophers at "A Partially Examined Life" have posted both the two hour podcast of our interview and their followup notes. "What’s the point of thinking? David Brin sees the future as a pressing threat, and Existence speculates that the reason we don’t see evidence of life on other planets is that no species survives its technological adolescence. The solution? We need to be smarter than our parents and work to give our kids the tools to be smarter than we are. In the book, the ultimate hope comes from a concerted effort to develop and diversify the coalition of Earth’s intelligent life, to make “humanity” encompass more than just the biological humans that we currently are."

I tried hard to offer my best stuff since these are the alphas who actually did something with their philosophy majors! Maybe I tried too hard to impress em. Did talk a mile a minute, trying to cover a lot?

And now… here are the cliffs of Torrey Pines north of San Diego .  These men release their  hawks, and then soar with them. way cool.

Of Buddies, Offpspring and Artificial Mythology: A stunningly beautiful video/art riff by renowned artist Bob Vanderbob contains this background remark -- "These (are) times of accelerating change, ill-defined angst, collective paralysis , anger and all sorts of regressive behavior. Times that are scary but also full of potential. It is important that we stay calm. One way to do that is to put our lives into perspective. Look at the big picture. That is what mythology does." -- while he presents images that are gorgeously evocative and thought-provoking.

Your Digital AfterLives: Here’s an interesting rumination, by Eric Steinhart, on the notion that we may be living in a simulation. Some subtleties.

== Miscellany ==

overstepping-artifacts Overstepping Artifacts, by Musicians with Guns, is a way-cool video that illustrates another great riff on fractal space. I'd love to use this as a basis for the ever-changing metal corals under the seas of Kithrup, in a Startide Rising flick.

See MyDream: a cool build-your-own universe/world game system recently funded on kickstarter.  It seems compatible with what Sheldon Brown and I have been working on... the Exorarium Project.

Are indoor shopping malls vanishing? No new one has been built in the US since 2006 and maybe half of them might disappear soon. For a generation, they were our town square. By all appearances (especially in the age of video arcades) in may be that GenX was the best of all times to be young and hang out.

Monday, June 23, 2014

So Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?

Get ready, because I am about to use a concept from Basic Calculus to reveal to you Americans out there a lie that you’ve been taught to believe - almost all of you. No matter which party you support, you “know” one thing about their attitudes and behavior... how Republicans and Democrats differ toward deficit spending. Alas, what you "know" is exactly opposite to what is true.

BUDGET-DEFICITLet’s start with the fact that the U.S. posted a $130 billion budget deficit in May and the smallest shortfall for the first eight months of a fiscal year since 2008, as a stronger economy and rising employment bolster revenue. This trend reiterates a core difference between the two major U.S. political parties, when it comes to federal budgetary responsibility.

Okay, here it is:

The crucial 2nd derivative of debt… the pace at which the rate-of-change of the federal deficit is itself changing… either moving toward fiscal disaster or away from it… has been positive (toward accelerating debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration since Eisenhower.

In stark and dramatic contrast - that crucial metric is always negative (deceleration) every year of every Democratic administration.

Let that sink in, because it is diametrically opposite to the rhetoric and propaganda and fulminations that have become accepted “truthy” notions in our minds. So? Are you a slave of truisms? Or are you capable of noticing facts that stare you in the face, and are nearly always true?

Why is the 2nd derivative more valid than - say - looking at the simple size of this year’s budget deficit? Because our fiscal situation carries momentum from actions taken three or five years ago, even a decade. Stepping on the brakes does not instantly stop your hurtling car — it decelerates your rush toward that cliff. The 2nd derivative tells you - almost instantly - whether an administration is at least trying to be fiscally responsible.


Let’s examine the 2nd derivative of debt in action. Have a look at this chart of the US federal deficit as a fraction of the nation’s GDP. Wherever the curve is seen to be turning, go ahead and guesstimate a rough CENTER to that stretch of curve. Of course things are bumpy, so a little subjective smoothing is called for, shrugging off blips. But if, across any 3 to five year span, the center point of your curve lies ABOVE, then the nation’s debt is on a worsening track.


If the center of the curve is BELOW, then there's an improving trend, decelerating an arterial hemorrhage, so that it starts to curve back down, or even moving toward surplus. Think convex versus concave.

Now recall that GOP administrations began in 1969, 1981, 1989 and 2001. Democratic administrations began in 1977, 1993 and 2009. Now go draw your curves, find those center points. It truly is amazing!

Let me reiterate. The rate of rate of change of debt is positive (toward reckless debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration (post Eisenhower). It is negative (building momentum toward prudence) in every year of every democratic administration, (post Johnson).

Now add in this bald-faced fact. That Bush Administration accounting tricks deliberately kept the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars “off the books” for half a decade, letting them finally slam the formal deficit just when economic mismanagement sent the economy into hell, leaving behind a mess that included hyper-velocity debt. In other words, the 2006-2007 “dip” is a lie.

Likewise “Congress controls the purse strings” is a silly excuse. The GOP controlled Congress both for 6 years before Bill Clinton left office and for 6 years after. Yet the 2nd Derivative was negative in the first six and swung sharply positive the very instant a GOP president replaced him, and Clinton could no longer veto the annual Supply Side Voodoo Economics Bill, opening our arteries to the (non) "job-creator caste."

This is not just overwhelming, this rule correlates so perfectly that it seems almost at the level of physical law. Hence, any “fiscal conservative” who supports the GOP - no matter what the rationalization - would have to be either stupid or out of his cotton-pickin’ mind.

== Perspective time ==

I am libertarian enough to want budgets that are relatively balanced. Yes, a small amount of deficit spending is harmless and probably stimulating, especially if spent on national underpinnings like children and infrastructure. A moderate amount can be written off by tipping the scales toward slight inflation. Still, most economists think that a combined national/corporate/personal debt greater than 300% of GDP is in a Problem Zone, and I don't disagree.

On the other hand, we have already seen how bizarre it is for the American right to fetish on debt, when every post-Eisenhower GOP president sent deficits skyrocketing and every demo prez fought them back under control.


But is the United States an especially spendthrift and debtor nation? Look at this chart and you decide. It's possible... just possible... that there are other matters that deserve equal footing on our national agenda. Like problem solving  and becoming a scientific and advanced nation again.

And putting people to work preventing 60,000 defective bridges from falling down.

== The underlying agenda? ==

In fact, the current U.S. budget shortfall would be well in the safe zone, were it not for the lingering Bush tax cuts for the uber-rich (and residual effects from Bushite wars). It would be one thing if Supply Side assurances (“the cuts will pay for themselves as job-creators invest!”) ever came true… even once, in the decades since the Laffer Cult sprouted. But that voodoo never came true. Ever. Not one prediction. Even once. But it is still pushed. Wonder why?

== The oligarchs step up ==

In what might have been a scene taken from the pages of EXISTENCE, 250 individuals flew into London for a conclave of the world's richest people and estates, with the formal agenda of preventing revolution by making capitalist societies more inclusive.  Their combined assets, estimated at $30 trillion — amount to roughly one-third of the total investable wealth in the world. If money is power, then this is the most powerful group of people ever to focus on income inequality.

The titans of commerce and finance didn't necessarily fly to this meeting in London out of a sense of ethics or moral duty, though that may be a motivation for some. For many, says conference organizer Lynn Forester de Rothschild, it's a sense of self-preservation. Capitalism appears to be under siege.  "It's true that the business of business is not to solve society's problems," she says. "But it is really dangerous for business when business is viewed as one of society's problems. And that is where we are today."

Question: were there meetings behind the open meetings, as I depict in fiction? Well?  Do any of YOU out there, reading this, happen to know?

Here’s the deal. These are the good billionaires! Here’s another secret confab, one that is endearingly free of any “help the world” rationalizations: Secret Summit: 24 Hours with the Koch Brothers.

== Ah, statistics… ==

Okay. If you can’t beat em…

Drugs, prostitution and smuggling (ie Hookers & Blow) will be part of Italy’s GDP as of 2014, and prior-year figures will be adjusted to reflect the change in methodology, the Istat national statistics office said today. The revision was made to comply with European Union rules, it said.

== And finally, the Big Lie propaganda about the American Revolution ==

Franklin-taxSaid Ben Franklin: Note I have removed the Franklin "quotation" of dubious provenance.  Still, the cited article is interesting.

The notion that the American Revolution was somehow against “government” and “taxation” in general, and not - as all the Founders said - against oligarchy and rule by monopolists and feudal lords - is among the most hilarious conflations and orwellian propaganda campaigns of our lifetimes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Can the Ocean solve the sky’s problems? Can youth “cure” old age?

== Are the only answers puritanism and efficiency? ==

Amid all the sturm und drang over climate change, and whether to try “geo-engineering” or ban even discussing such alternatives, it seems that polemics had trumped science. Leaving "progress" to be done in a fly-by-night fashion. Which brings us to --

GEO-ENGINEERINGHas ocean fertilization been proved? Early indications may be spectacular. 

I've long favored careful experiments in this one kind of "geo-engineering," which simply replicates nature by providing missing elements to some of the vast (90%) of ocean zones that are nutrient poor deserts, almost devoid of life. A senseless enviro-puritan reflex has blocked simple, controllable experiments, which are inherently retractable -- and which I portrayed way back in EARTH (1989). Frustrated by this eco-prudity, a Native American tribe in British Columbia financed the distribution of 120 tons of iron sulfate into the northeast Pacific, in 2012, hoping to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom which in turn would provide ample food for baby salmon.

That is what appears to have happened, on a stunning scale, starting with the expected plankton bloom. The following year - (according to Robert Zubrin, whose notoriety comes from promoting Mars colonization) - "the number of salmon caught in the northeast Pacific more than quadrupled, going from 50 million to 226 million. In the Fraser River, which only once before in history had a salmon run greater than 25 million fish (about 45 million in 2010), the number of salmon increased to 72 million."

These numbers appear to be confirmed … though I welcome participatory research from you folks! (Preliminary indications sometimes prove to be flat-out wrong, upon closer examination.) Please help our group mind to follow up on this! If any cause-effect can be supported, it would seem to offer very strong reason to pursue further experiments in this domain, which promise better side effects than any other palliative measure (e.g. more food from vitalized fisheries) while pulling carbon from the air.

This is an area where moderate folks need to step up, instead of leaving a crucial scientific and ecological matter to be raved-over by fanatics of all sides. Take this article in the conservative National Review, where Zubrin offers up quotations from enviro-obstinates that reveal embarrassing political and mental obduracy on the farthest-left. Only also know this, that Rob Zubrin cherry-picked these quotations, which are extrema from a spectrum wherein most environmentalists are in-fact reasonable people. Rob is a vigorous and interesting fellow -- I like him -- but also a rigidly dogmatic person of the very far-right, which comes out in his article, veering into realms of denialist crackpottery.

Working your way through it will be a test of your ability to pluck (many) pearls from (a lot of) manure. Learn to do that… and accept that similar ratios sometimes are seen on the other side.

Must this always be our fate? Having to pick our way through an opinion-minefield, between opposing, simplistic militancies? 

A pragmatically progressive civilization would shrug off both eco-puritans and fanatical climate denialists and seek precious positive-sum opportunities. We need to explore this one -- this potential win-win of ocean enhancement -- swiftly and carefully. 

Or else it will be done in the dead of night, from boats that dump "fertilizer" without oversight or scientific supervision.

Noteworthy is this parallel - 10,000 years ago we learned to irrigate and make deserts bloom with crops. Add water to land, and life burgeons… but add it WRONG and you poison  the land! As happened to the Fertile Crescent, which irrigators un-knowingly covered with salts, transforming paradise into desert. 

What irrigation requires - we learned painfully across millennia - is drainage to ensure that the water you are adding will ALSO wash salts away.  That's the difference between the Euphrates Valley, which was choked by poor drainage, and the Ganges and Nile which are still fertile after 5000 years of irrigation.

The way to look at ocean-fertiization is the you are doing the inverse of irrigation. You are adding "land" to water in the form of nutrients.  In fact, it's been happening for quite some time and lessons have been learned. Agricultural runoff from modern farming "feeds" life in the sea, all right. When it spills into vigorous ocean currents, there's no visible harm. But when there's inadequate oxygen and circulation, you get lethal algae blooms. The Black Sea is a horror story: virtually dead. Parts of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean are also stagnant and in trouble, choking on our effluents.

But fertilize into very strong currents that are rich in Oxygen? That is exactly how upwellings along the Chilean coast or the Grand Banks engender the world's greatest fisheries. Fertilizing other strong currents would be like well-drained irrigation. It could work, if carefully watched.  

At least, that is a reasonable interpretation of all that we can see. Why not do the validation experiments scientifically and openly, instead of leaving this to fly-by-nighters?

Don't be a puritan of either dogmatic extreme.  Be cautiously curious. Be scientific.

== Can innovation help? ==

canals1Folks have been commenting on whether we will have "solar roads." I find the notion silly. No place has more wear and tear than a road surface. Come on people.

The place to put massive numbers of solar panels, when we truly have the next economy of scale breakthrough, is as roofs over the California Aqueduct. There is no place as perfect. Nearly total sun. Transmission lines have an existing right of way, and savings from evaporation would nearly pay for it all. This has been done for a canal in the state of Gujarat in India (pictured).

== Bio wonders! ==

It sounds like something out of a comic book or a science fiction movie – the first report of a successful biological laser based on a single, living cell. The fan who wrote to tell me about this commented: "It only took thirty-one years, but Culla's eyes in Sundiver are becoming a reality."

Okay! I'm not sure this counts for full points in the Predictions Registry. But partial credit is fine… for now.


LIFEFORMScientists have made living organisms that use SIX nucleotides - the familiar GATC… plus X and Y. They need to be fed special X & Y bearing foods or they die. Many in the press are fretting this is bad news for keeping scientific progress accountable...

...when in fact it is the very opposite!  This is absolutely terrific news! If this pans out, it means we'll be able to keep a much tighter rein on our laboratory creations by creating lines of organisms that absolutely rely upon supplies of nutrients that cannot get, outside of the lab. Why is it that no one ever sees the good side of discoveries?

== Icky-scary… yet intriguing! ==

Only, here’s the ickiest-scariest science news of the month: "New studies show that young blood reverses effects of aging when put into older mice." Argh, the images this brings to mind!! Creepy old billionaires craving the revitalizing blood of pre-teenagers!

Of course it doesn't have to go Hollywood. I am about to be awarded my ten-gallon hat when I reach my 80th blood donation and young people could get college money in exchange for donating five times a year, without the slightest harm. This might be a lot less scary than I fear. In fact, it may lead to great things.

But at first sight, it is a really trashy sci fi flick scenario, come true! (Note countries with a skewed old-to-young ratio might be in trouble.)

In fact, it just gets creepier! Note HOW the researchers got this result. By co-joining the old and young circulatory systems for weeks! Apparently just a pint or two doesn't do it. You need access to the younger creature's kidneys! And it isn't just the oldster getting "younger"... the youngster gets OLDER!

"But for the young mice, getting old blood was a definite setback. When conjoined to an older mouse, the creation of new cells in the young mouse slowed. Old blood seemed to cause premature aging."

Okay, okay, we are back in really scary territory. The only way this won't go very badly is if zillionaires live in The Transparent Society. I mean it. Without an open world, old Struldbrugs will be sending out minions and snatching young people off the streets.

Oh, and science. Pray this news is analyzed and replicated artificially and cheaply, real soon. I'd like that.

== Pertinent Miscellany ==

Since the late 1980s, teen pregnancy rates dropped 51 percent by 2010 and the teen abortion rate declined 66 percent and the teen birthrate declined 44 decreased. Teen pregnancy rates declined in all 50 states. New Mexico had the highest teen pregnancy rate of 80 per 1,000 women, followed by Mississippi at 76 per 1,000 women and Texas at 73 per 1,000 women; while the lowest rate was in New Hampshire with 28 per 1,000 women, Vermont at 32 per 1,000 women and Minnesota at 36. (Um... who is in a position to lecture us, morally?)

A new type of 3D printer developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research Pittsburgh can turn raw wool and wool blend yarns into fabric objects that people might enjoy touching.

In the category of I Kid You Not... Argentina’s INTA governmental research body has developed cow backpacks that use a tube from the cattle's rumen leading to a bag, to trap the methane they produce in order to turn it into green energy. You'd think this a joke, till you realize its 250 liters of methane a day. Question. At some point do they float away? Or by accident rocket away?

Google wants to create a fully, 100 percent self-driving vehicle — something that needs no human being at the steering wheel — the company is building a car without a steering wheel. 100 cars will be in the first run. Google X -- the inventor's central within the company that is (among other things) creating balloon-borne internet broadband hubs -- has "started developing prototype vehicles that actually are built from the ground up to be fully self-driving." says a lead developer at Google X, Chris Umson, working with Dmitri Dolgov. The car has a steel frame to protect passengers, but the front face is made of a soft foam that causes less damage in an accident. It'll go no faster than 25 mph, and focuses on city street driving.

Sven Beiker, a professor at Stanford's Center for Automotive Research, doesn't think he's going to see a fully self-driving car in his professional lifetime. "Right now in, the year 2014, we're just making the steps towards partial automation. That means the driver still needs to be in the loop," he says.

Google engineers have developed a simulated quantum computer called Quantum Computing Playground that allows you to write, run, and debug software using quantum algorithms.

The use of C60 (fullerene) nanorods, which have unique optoelectronic properties, including high electron mobility, photosensitivity, and conductivity, could make possible low-cost medical and security cameras that would empower even cell phones or Penny Cams, or micro probes inside the body.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Must we hide behind masks?

== Hide from the Man? ==

hiding-behind-masks"Our world is becoming increasingly surveilled. For example, Chicago has over 25,000 cameras networked to a single facial recognition hub," reads the URME (pronounced U R Me) site:

"We don't believe you should be tracked just because you want to walk outside and you shouldn't have to hide either. Instead, use one of our products to present an alternative identity when in public." What product? A rubber mask bearing the likeness of URME's founder Leo Selvaggio.

If lots of people go around wearing these masks the proto Big Brother system of all those cameras will be…

 ever so slightly inconvenienced, while store-owners and bank guards and mere passers-by will have their tension levels ratchet up. That's pretty much it. Big whoop.

Yeah yeah, I've heard it all. This is a cool stunt and it draws attention to our decaying yadda yadda. And it accomplishes nothing else. Except to help promote the never ending chain of whining from those who think we can protect freedom by moaning "don't look at me!" (I lived in Britain in the 1980s, where the cameras were already blooming like dandelions, inspiring me to write The Transparent Society. In Kiln People I portray how masks will provide only slight and superficial anonymity, till someone is motivated enough to scrupulously backtrack images.)

Yes, proto Big Brothers are all over the place! And yes, the camera networks could help bring us Big Brother! I fear the same outcome and I am just as militant in opposing it. More so!

Only there's this. I know what works… what stands a chance of working. What has already worked well enough to give us the freedom that we do have….

…and it did not come from hiding...

...or whining "don't look at me!"

== Wiretapping updated? ==

Strict-liability two-party consent eavesdropping laws seemed fair when they were passed in dozens of states, back in Stone Age days— like the 1960s -- when the ability to record was unevenly possessed and when furtive recording seemed unfair. Today, it's foolish for anyone to assume, at any point, that what they are saying has no chance of being played back, some other time. In particular, such two-party consent laws have been used to criminalize citizen recordings of their interactions with police and other government officials.

As reported here, the most important civil liberties matter in our lifetimes -- certainly in thirty years -- was hardly covered by the press. In 2013 both U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places. No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

(This was forecast in EARTH (1989) by the way.)

openness-accountabilityIt is important to take a balanced view… not to surrender all expectations of privacy, but to know that openness and accountability will let us both stay free and enforce a little privacy, or at least insist that we be physically left alone.

In particular, the recent rulings about citizen recordings of police absolutely eviscerate the snarky-stupid shrugs of cynics who proclaim that it's all defeat and spirals into Orwellian hell. We can prevent that hell. We know that, because we have prevented it, so far.

Let there be no mistake. The cynics are enemies of freedom, not its defenders. Their tirades of gloom undermine the confidence and can-do spirit of problem solving that might get us across this transition era.

== Owning our data ==

haggling The Price of Haggling for Your Personal Data: This SLATE article discusses the notion that each of us might leverage and benefit from the economic value of our information.

It is one (absurd) thing to declare "I own all the info about me!" and to demand others not look. That's a non-starter and if we pass laws to forbid the mighty from looking at us, that will only make them furtive about it and ensure we will get no benefit. As Heinlein said: "The chief thing achieved by privacy laws is to make the (spy) bugs smaller."

But it is reasonable to say that people have "interests" and "value" in their information and a right to derive royalties or a fee for its use, especially if some commercial interest is making money off it. 

jaron-lanier-who-owns-the-futureMoreover it is in an open society that we might be able to track who is using our data and insist on routine and proper payment for such use. The idea of people controlling and selling their data for personal and economic gain — as Jaron Lanier describes in Who Owns the Future? -- and Doc Searls elaborated on in The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge — is gaining traction.

In this interesting article on Slate, John C Havens asserts that it's not just about money: "But it won’t take hold until we answer a more deeply fundamental question: What are we worth as a whole?"

Our data is being swapped about and - as author of The Transparent Society - I don't find open information flows to be the problematic thing. It is the cutting out of us little guys from any participation in the value chain deriving from our data.

Indeed, the way our data is shuttled and sold is invisible to us!

An article by Gregory Maus -- How Transparent Big Data Markets Could Better Protect Your Data...and Your Rights -- suggests setting up transparent, privately-owned, but publicly-regulated markets for the data. "Imagine something like an Amazon, Alibaba, or New York Mercantile Exchange, focused on the purchase and licensing of Big Data. Suppliers could increase their markets, buyers could increase their options, and all transactions would be public record."

Now comes the Hub of All Things (HAT) project. The HAT is building a database which will be owned by individuals who produce data in the first place. That includes social media data, energy use data and internet of things data from our homes, such as the goods you use or the medicines you take. Kind of vague, so far. Indeed, I am doubtful. But over time, we must as a society develop ways that each person benefits from a strong interest in his or her information.

=== Late development ==

cynicism-problem-solvingTake a look at this video taken by a fellow who launched his quad coptger to sous-veil cops at a police checkpoint. My reaction? That the officers seemed to be doing their jobs with professionalism and no fear of citizen supervision... which they are going to have to get used to. (In fact, their aplomb was kinda impressive.) Of course the drone pilot might still answer to the FAA....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A brief added SETI thought or two

Following up on my earlier posting that contained updates on SETI...

I like and respect the Neil de Grasse Tyson. His new COSMOS (produced by Ann Druyan) is a delightful rallying call for the Enlightenment against encroaching darkness. Indeed, here he is introducing and moderating the 2014 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, this time on the topic "Selling Space."

Still… sometimes it seems that he is too used to being the only smart guy in a room. And that leads to mental laziness. Like this piece of "logic:"

"There's a worm in the street, you walk by it. Does the worm know that you think you're smart? The worm has no concept of your smarts. Because you're that much smarter than the worm. So the worm has no idea that something smart is walking by it. Which makes me wonder whether we have any concept -- if a super species walked by us. Maybe they're uninterested in us because we're too stupid for them to even imagine having a conversation. You don't walk by worms and go "Gee, I wonder what the worm is thinking." This is just not a thought that you have! So one of the best pieces of evidence for why we haven't been visited by aliens is that they have actually observed us, and concluded there is no intelligent sign of life on earth."

Neil's generally a very smart and wiseguy, but his reasoning on this SETI-related matter is just lazy and specious. No… it is hogwash. But that isn't unusual in this topic area! Nowhere else have I seen so many bright people leap to simplistic and unjustified "answers" than in this, the one scientific topic without any known subject matter.

Think about Neil's analogy. We do have experts who are very curious about the brain activity of worms! I could introduce you to some.

True, your average worm won't meet such specialists! But that proves nothing because the scaling is not the same. There are millions of worms per person on Earth. But the maximum possible or conceivable rate of appearance of a new technological/sapient species in our galaxy is perhaps once per year. In other words, each arrival of intelligent life in the Milky Way is an "event" – noteworthy and meriting effort to study -- even if we are far lower than the godlike elite.

Moreover, this elite won't have to deign to stoop to our level. They will be able to deputize sub-intelligences, commanding them to be interested and study new sapient races. Indeed, it could be dangerous for them not to create such deputies, designed to be just a bit smarter than us, to study us and other "worms" at our level. And sure, that may be happening! Read some of my Uplift novels...

childhoods-end...or Childhood's End -- where Arthur C. Clarke provides a chilling glance of a universe in which humans are at the bottom of an intellectual food chain. Yet they do not ignore us; in fact they take great interest in our species.

What it comes down to is that the “we’re like worms” explanation for lack of contact is worth discussing! But it is not an “of course” that can blithely dismiss the Fermi Paradox. It is one hypothesis - and not one of the top ones - among a hundred or so that range from barely-possible, to somewhat plausible, all the way to "kind-of likely."

The crux of this? That even brilliant guys can be lazy. Duh? I have that on good authority, from a friend of mine who does not always drink beer. But when he does....

Oh! Here’s a far more cogent summary (from xkcd) of the reason why we shouldn’t make much noise in the cosmos… at least until we know a little more.