Monday, September 26, 2005

Some items to tide you over...

I am finally preparing my big screed on Gerrymandering. So you'll have to hold out a bit...

Do you think this blog is doing any good. Should I switch over and become a columnist somewhere like That might actually be a better idea. Fewer deadlines and more readers. Force me to edit for quality.

Ah, but would Jamais even want a crackpot like me over there?

Anyway, here are some items to tide you over.

Brain-imaging techniques that reveal when a person is lying are now reliable enough to identify criminals, with 99% accuracy, claim University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers. When someone lies, their brain inhibits them from telling the truth, and this makes the frontal lobes more active, which can be monitored with functional... 

Critics maintain that the technique will never be useful for such investigations, arguing that, as with traditional polygraph detectors, liars could learn to fool the tests. And researchers in the field have previously admitted that the approach needs more work. But neuroscientists from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia believe their test is ready for real-life scenarios.

The main advance is being able to distinguish lies from truthful statements in a given individual. Although previously scientists could see how the brain lit up when people lied, results were based on the averaged brain activity of a group of people and did not look at individual fibs for each person. "Now we can tell when an individual lies on a specific question," says Gur. "This is a major step forward."

The gerrymandering article should be pretty good....


Rob Perkins said...

Keep your blog, say I.

D R Wilson said...

I am hoping that this quitting the blog thing is just a passing phase. Your blog is where I come for solice in the storm of polemic ideas.
Carry on Mr. Brin....

Anonymous said...

A blog is a good tool for testing out ideas. But don't make it the main show!

There's too much of a temptation to write FOR the blog rather than WITH it.

Articles for World Changing would be neat. They need (and would welcome) a diversity of ideas.

But don't forget to write some fiction, darn it!


mapletree7 said...

I wonder if they can tell when people are telling lies that they have convinced themselves are true>

Steve said...

Personally, I like the informality of the blog discussion as a nice adjunct to formal article-writing. Perhaps in the give and take it will prompt Dr. Brin into new areas and new ideas for fiction, and thus money-making. One thing I liked about Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars" series was how each character was totally that character, not variations on a theme. So for example the psychiatrist was inventing this elaborate mental model of the tendencies different people have, while other characters completely dismissed psychology as a whole. So perhaps you, Dr. Brin, can get some ideas of well-reasoned and completely divergent belief systems from us.

Regarding the brain truth-scan...its already better than a polygraph, which is completely a ruse. Of course, you could do better using a Xerox machine with a piece of paper on the scanner that says, "He's lying!"

Presuming the brain-scan works, wouldn't it be interesting to question your significant other that way? Would you want to know the truth? Does this contradict the hypothesis that we have many selves (as promoted by Drs. Brin and Dennett amongst others)? I know that it seems to me that my mind is constantly tossing up random ideas for higher-level filtration, so I think it a good model, but if that is the case, would the brain-scan show an onoing inhibitory response even when telling the truth? What would it mean to the Transparent Society if at least subjective truth could be ascertained?

Imagine requiring an exit interview under the scanner for Presidents.

Mark Wagner said...

The key is to have the information out there for those that are looking for it, even if it's not all relevant to each reader. I cast my vote for keep up the blog... but I know how time consuming it is.


Anonymous said...

Keep the blog! I visit everyday and have cited several of your blasts on my blog.

You can always edit, refine and craft a more polished article that orginated as an informal post (or even comment reply).

Plus, sometimes an erudite comment spurred by the discussion can cultivate a more resilient argument, or could be highlited as point/counterpoint.

I know I visit here just about every day and enjoy reading your updates (along with most of the comments, too).


Tony Fisk said...

I would welcome you in either guise.

Personally, I would prefer the blog: you've got your own agendas, and your own following. Granted, the articles can ramble, and get a bit disjointed as other things take precendence (did you actually finish the one about the history of enlightenment?). OTOH, it's neat to be able to follow the flow.

However, you've given hints that you're finding the workload a bit much, and if you think that a WC column would produce a better quality article with less pressure, then go to.

If you do decide to stick with the blog, you *might* suggest that Jamais add your blog to the WC link list (and vice versa, of course)

(and, for light relief, a novel about the 'age of anity' would be interesting...)

Anonymous said...

Regarding the MRI scans, from what little I know of fMRI, it is mostly capable of determining what part of the brain is active at the time of the scan. Since lying requires more thought (or imagination) than telling the truth, this forces the frontal lobes to work a bit harder. I wonder if it wouldn't be possible to fool it either by excessively daydreaming or by obviously and foolishly lying for every question put.

Of course, if they choose to drug you first, that may make this a bit harder.


Tom Sobieck said...

I enjoy the blog. I read it daily, as it always contains interesting subjects. The less polished articles make me feel like I'm interacting with a real human, not some far off award winning author. The posts seem more like conversations than articles, which is a nice change from my other sources of news. But, I would also like the other format… So, do whichever is easier on you.

Fred Kiesche said...

I'd rather you devoted your time to writing more SF...but I'm silly that way!

(Damn, what has happened to the crew of the Streaker????)

Jon said...

I like the blog a great deal, but I understand that you have finite time and various demands on that time.

I am a bit puzzled by your "fewer deadlines" comment. I thought that nothing you put up on your blog can be considered "on deadline." After all, if you decide not to post for awhile, what are we going to do, fire you?

I would be curious as to your thoughts on carrying on a conversation with your audience via a blog vs. a message board.

I realize that the whole "modernity and its enemies" was meant to be a rambling bit, but I was also hoping that there was going to be a sum up and list of hopeful, emnpowering conclusions, but maybe those have already happened and I missed it.

My own thoughts, the current administration looks to be running up against some barriers (the reaction over the response to Katrina, so much for the idea that "we make our own reality." Looks as though nature has a few thoughts on the subject.) but also continues to award projects to halliburton cronies and I can't see GWB as humble when and if John Roberts gets confirmed. I have no idea how things are going to turn out.

Lastly, I don't know if you ever read Neil Gaimans "Adventures in the Dream Trade" paperback but it was mostly an edited collection of his blog postings. Do you think that this would work for you as well? Lord knows you're entitled to any cash it would bring in, and maybe further justify the time spent?

Tony Fisk said...

Speaking of WorldChanging. this posting will help put all the current jibber jibber about the War on Terror into perspective.

...and underscores the first article of the Agile Manifesto:

'We value people over process'

To Stanislav!

Mabus said...

I know how hard it is to keep up a blog--I've failed at least three times, and I don't have the kind of demands on my time you do. I can tell you, all the same, that worries about whether anyone is listening are par for the course. For me, those worries are probably justified; for you, I suspect they are not.

Still, if you think you can be more productive writing other things, by all means put the blog aside. It's more important to be effective than to be popular.

Gilmoure said...

Does this truth thing involve a large glowing globe over the subject? Mebbe' Beam got it right?

Ben Tilly said...

I'd be inclined to be skeptical about this lie detector.

Sure, it may be a big improvement over existing technology. But can it tell the difference between saying a lie and thinking a lie? If I deliberately keep 2 monologs going, one silent and one answers to questions, can I confuse it? It requires some fine-tuning for each person, are you going to fine-tune correctly if the subject is actively trying to throw you off? (BTW that's one way to beat a polygraph, get them to calibrate it wrongly.)

For these reasons and more, I'd want to see it go through a lot of proving before anyone relies on this in the real world.


On continuing the blog, I find a blog to be more interesting and convenient, but I realize that it is more work and less financial reward than a column. So I won't be disappointed if you do the column anyways.

Nate said...

I like your blog, Dr. Brin.

Part of it, I must admit, is mostly selfish reasons, 'cause I like the feeling of being able to come and read and reply to posts by a famous author, and have said replies actually be read.

But if it's getting in the way of completing other things, as blogs certainly can, then perhaps you should cut back. But as it's your blog, you're free to do what you want. That's part of the point of blogs.

Admiral said...

Look, I'm not just saying this because your books have inspired me to research dolphins and their linguistic abilities--

KEEP your blog. As a right-wing libertarian, I don't know if I can have my blog (which has nothing but hard core Republican contributors) linked to the other blogs you might be working on... but this one is so good, academic in a lot of parts, very diverse... I can get away with this. :)


Frank said...

"Ah, but would Jamais even want a crackpot like me over there?"

Any group that aims to change the world needs people who are willing to think in new directions. You are not a crackpot in the sense that you don't know the difference between reality and fiction (on the contrary I'd say). You are however someone who is willing to consider even the eccentric if that leads to a clearer insight into changing the world for the better.

You know how it works, if you want the job, apply for it.

Simon Proctor said...

I love the blog. Especially as for some reason I can't access your main site from work.

TC said...

Should you keep the blog?

Please, do whatever you want. But since you asked, and as others have said, I think this blog's a pleasant, informal way to test ideas. You discuss ideas that I'm seeing in few -- or no -- other places. So I'd like to see you continue it, but follow your muse. It seems like it's done a good job so far!

And to echo Fred Kiesche, what did happen to the crew of the Streaker?

Nate said...

Since it's not really spoilers, since it's in the blurbs, the second Uplift trilogy, Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore, and Heaven's Reach settles some of the questions about the Streaker.
I think it's good when some of the "what happened to?" questions remain unanswered, that way everybody can fill it in with their own ideas of what kind of adventures they're out having in the universe.

daveawayfromhome said...

Yes, keep the Blog!
I'll echo Jon's comment and wonder why a blog, which is completely voluntary, gives you any kind of deadlines. As far as the discussion here goes, I notice that the primary reaction to you having not posted for a few days is that the comment section of your last post just gets that much longer. My favorite thing about this blog is the Discussion. Whether I comment or not, all those Ideas floating around are intellectual gold, and dammit, I'm to greedy to let it go without saying something.

waparius said...

I like being able to read all the comments and discussions, even if I'm a lurker. Keep the blog.

Wayne said...

I like the blog. I like the ability to comment directly on your thoughts and have you respond to me (or ignore me if I haven't been thoughtful enough).

But if you are feeling pressure to blog everyday, then don't. Write when you like, when you have something to say, and it's ready to be said. We'll wait.

Anonymous said...


William Gibson points out this fascinating item:

(Mpeg 4 file, played fine by Quicktime.)

It is a 1946 film by Encyclopedia Britannica films on spotting despotisms. A clearcut and straight-forward presentation without any religious or jingoistic posturing.

It suggests rating a society on FOUR scales:

Economic Distribution

Rick Aucoin said...

I copy and paste your blog entries on my other forums regularly, giving full credit to your blogsite when I do so. More people read these informal diatribes than you think. Not as many as published work like a column in Time, but a lot.

Fred Kiesche said...

"I think it's good when some of the "what happened to?" questions remain unanswered, that way everybody can fill it in with their own ideas of what kind of adventures they're out having in the universe."

To follow up on what Nate comment was a hint that I'd really like to see a novel from one of my favorite SF authors, one of the founding members of the Killer B's., etc. Uplift or not, another one set in the Earth universe, another one set in the Postman universe, etc., but a novel, please?

John David Galt said...

A world where the government can use brain-scan technology to make it impossible to lie to them would be worse than 1984. That also appears to be the inevitable goal of those who call for us to abandon the concept of privacy in favor of ever greater transparency.

I say, we need a second Bill of Rights, and Number One needs to be "Thou shalt not read, write, or erase the contents of another person's brain without his informed consent. No exceptions ever."

Jamais Cascio said...


While I certainly hope that we can work out a comfortable arrangement regarding WorldChanging, I would encourage you to keep your blog here, too.

WorldChanging has a particular structure and focus, such that some ideas and explorations, although interesting and powerful, don't quite fit. You'd still want to have a spot for telling the world to go to hell...