Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Notes from The Future

Hear experts discuss cutting edge issues of secrecy/privacy on KPBS Radio...

I had a great time on a panel last night, spending two lively hours exploring the topic of “Surfing the Internet: Who’s Watching? Who’s Censoring?” at the Joan Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. The presentation was recorded and will be heard tomorrow (Wednesday) on KPBS radio, from 9-11 am, live in San Diego but also will be made available as a podcast, as well. Panelists included:

. David Brin, science fiction writer and author of The Transparent Society
. Lance Cottrell, Founder and CEO, Anonymizer
. Pam Dixon, Executive Director, World Privacy Forum
. Lawrence Hinman, Director, Values Institute, University of San Diego

One minor point. I have been slipping, lately in my google placement! The bad news is that I have slid from 15th to 20th place. The good news is that the search criterion is the word “David”. Hrm. I guess being the #20 “David” isn’t too obscure. Yet.

(Of course helpful types could go "David" on google and pick me, a few hundred times... but that's less useful than just leaving a few five-star reviews on Amazon! (nudge wink!)

Misc notes from the the territory ahead...

* Will Japanese Robots Rule the World by 2020? (Actually, a very silly article, ignorant and reflexively anti-modernist. Not up to the usual Globalist standards.)

Now this interesting factoid from the progressive Policy Institute.

Scientific research as percent of GDP, 2003:

Israel: 5.1%
Japan: 3.1%
United States: 2.5%
European Union: 1.8%
China: 1.2%
Russia: 1.2%
India: 0.8%

What The Numbers Mean:

Albert Einstein, visiting the United States for a 1921 lecture tour, attributed America's success to high labor costs. Einstein, who worked as a patent examiner before publishing his 1905 special relativity paper, thought expensive workers made Americans look for efficiency and new technologies; he called labor costs "the stimulus which evokes the marvelous development of technical devices and methods of work." India and China stood in gloomy contrast, as giant but impoverished museum-pieces where "the low price of labor has stood in the way of the development of machinery" and industrial development had come to a halt. Eighty-five years later, a report by the National Academies of Science points to a similar but intensified competition -- Americans "now face competitors who live just a mouse-click away in Ireland, Finland, China, India, or dozens of other nations" -- and worries that America's scientific edge may be slipping.

Optimists can point to lots of working scientists and relatively high spending on research. The United States spends 2.5 percent of GDP annually on R&D, placing America sixth or seventh in the world. (According to the U.N. Development Program, Israel leads the field at 5.1 percent of GDP; Sweden, Finland, Japan, Iceland, and Korea round out the top six. Research rates have risen quickly in Asia since the mid-1990s, though.) The OECD says American industry, together with government and university labs, accounted for $284 billion out of the $680 billion in total rich-world research spending in 2003, and World Bank data show the United States has nearly twice as many scientific researchers per capita as Europe -- 4,500 researchers per million people -- and trails world leaders Japan, Sweden, and Denmark only slightly.

Future-minded observers, though, can look with anxiety at hard-science research and future workforce prospects. Stable overall federal support for research masks a sharp drop in support for physical sciences, chemistry, and engineering, from 0.33 percent of GDP to 0.21 percent, since the 1970s. The stable total level -- of 0.45 percent of GDP -- reflects growing support for biology and medical research.

Meanwhile, the United States has been graduating fewer native-born scientists and engineers than it needs for several decades, and compensating by attracting foreign scientists and students. (As Princeton attracted Einstein himself in 1930.) The National Science Foundation says in 2003, a fifth of all science and engineering graduates working in the United States (and over a third of doctorate holders) were immigrants. Some examples: 57 percent of PhDs in computer science and electrical engineering; 52 percent of PhDs in mechanical and chemical engineering; 37 percent in chemistry and biology; 43 percent in mathematics; 40 percent in physics and astronomy. Many are former students at American universities, as about three-quarters of foreign science students hope for careers in the United States after graduation. But tougher student visa policies cut foreign-student enrollment in the 2003-2004 academic year, and did so again in 2004-2005. NSF says new science and engineering enrollment fell over 10 percent in these two years, with the sharpest drops in new computer science and engineering enrollment.


Doris said...

Future studies/jobs:

Since global warming seems to be our future, meteorological engineering may be our next frontier. When and where we plant crops or forests and what we leave barren may help us eventually control our living and working spaces, even if we cannot control the entire planet's weather.


Stefan Jones said...

Fascinating observation by Einstein!

* * *

I'd love to know where American R&D dollars are being spent. Basic research? Increasing efficiency of cash cow products? Consumer products for aging Baby Boomers?

* * *

Haven't been impressed by many of the last few years' worth of Bruce Sterling rants, but this one (10 mb mp3 file, 43 minutes long) was pretty good:

SXSW Speech.

Tony Fisk said...

In which I once more show my impeccable sense of timing!
Previous comments on John Snow, the patently ridiculous , and cool items from the LPSC (courtesy of Planetary Society's blog),

Chris, I've done a bit of tweaking on the Earthwiki: adding David's list for starters plus a couple of useful links to David's 'official' sites and woozle's Issuepedia predictions (links are vastly more simple in a wiki than in a blogspot comment: even David might manage it!;-). BTW adding content is up to us T-cells.

Australian R&D weighed in at 1.62% of GDP in 2003 (cf 1.55% in 2001). Not a great amount, especially considering the size of Australia's GDP! (OTOH, we have scram jets, and are holding our own against fire ants!)

It is my observation that most business R&D has a very heavy emphasis on the 'D' side, and any investment with universities tends to encourage research for quick returns. This is fine so long as pure research isn't sidelined which, unfortunately, is what tends to happen.

Anonymous said...

Did you include any black budget figures to your U.S. numbers? This is a whole other side of your blog that you never seem to touch on. Start with Tim Weiner's "Black Check- The Pentagon's black budget" You only seem to have part of the overall picture.

Doris said...

Heard your program on KPBS this morning (Wednesday).

The Anonymizer rep said his service didn't keep records/audit trails. That sounds like a good idea, the old need-to-know principle that you can't tell what you don't know. However, they must have some way of collecting fees from their clients -- credit card, check. Those things can be traced. Our current government would be especially interested in who would want to be anonymous, considering it evil intent even if it is just desire for privacy or paranoia. What if some of the anonymizing services are actually government agencies collecting lists of who wants to be anonymous?

We need some discussion about degrees of privacy. You don't mind if Joe, Bob, and Maxine see you at the Shamrock Tavern, but you don't want your drinking habits to cross the horizon of your Mormon boss.

David Brin said...

WHile I like privacy, my ROLE in the discussion is to talk up the value of reciprocal accountability, or looking back.

In the long run, you are right. The anonymizers will be police fronts. Unless we protect guys like Lance Cotrell, by reminding the dog it's not a wolf. THEN and only then will such services be trustworthy.

Nicq MacDonald said...

BTW, on the subject of EARTH, has anyone taken a look at Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) new book, "An Army of Davids"? The basic message of the book sounds an awful lot like a nonfiction take on the same message Dr. Brin suggests in EARTH... and he goes far beyond the internet, discussing nanotechnology, space colonization, the Singularity- and this from the most popular-and powerful-independent blogger in the country...

Mark said...

There's some related good news today:

The number of foreign students who applied to graduate programs in American universities during the current academic year increased by 11 percent from the year before, according to a survey to be released today. That growth reverses two years of decline that occurred in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Tony Fisk said...

Follow on:

A reminder that, if anyone wants to help add some meat to the Earth Predictions wiki that Chris Hansen has set up, then please start doing so. I've added David's initial list, and done some arranging (to my tastes, if no one else's!)

I'm rather surprised that no one else other than Chris and David has done anything. David hasn't got the time and I haven't got the reference material! So, come on! It's not going to happen on its own (and I'm not maintaining it on my own!).

I've even left the password under the hint doormat, so don't use ignorance as an excuse!

Rob Perkins said...


Doris, why would your Mormon boss care in the slightest about your drinking habits, unless they interfered with the work you do for him/her?

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Rob: Probably for the same reason you wouldn't want your Evangelical boss to know you drink.

Some religions individuals go a little crazy at the thought of alcohol.

Hawker Hurricane said...

Anecdote about Mormon bosses my father told...
Shortly after being hired, you'd be approached by a Mormon and offered pamphlets and stuff.
If you acted interested, you kept your job. If you acted disinterested, you were first on the list to be downsized.
If, after acting interested for a year, you hadn't converted yet, you went on the downsize list.
Now, this was 30-40 years ago... and they were smart enough to not just fire people, but to wait until one of the routine downsizings that occurred.
Now, while my example uses Mormons, I imagine that other groups have done the same thing.
And the tendency is to judge by your groups standards, never mind what the law says... "Anyone who uses alchohol is a useless drunken bum, never mind he's the best worker in the plant."
You're right, he shouldn't care about his drinking habits unless it affects work... but they do.
One of the foster kids we took in was a Mormon... and disapproved of my wife's drinking coffee, and my soda habit... because caffiene is on thier list. Imagine a 17 year old telling a 40 year old that coffee is 'evil' and should be banned...

Rob Perkins said...

Michael, Hawker,

I'm Mormon myself. I have family members and friends in the Church who run small businesses and do hiring and firing, my father among them. The reason I made the comment was that Doris' comment was just plain weird to me; completely out of my experience.

I can't argue with anecdotes your father told, just that it's just weird to hear it, because no Mormon in a position of hiring authority I know ever behaves that way

Teenagers get odd ideas in their heads. Caffeine on the prohibited list indeed. I dare any of you to find it in our canon. (What you'll find is a reference to "hot drinks", understood to mean coffee and tea.)

And I'll chuckle at that the next time I order a Mr. Pibb. Or eat a hershey bar. LDS doctrine prohibits *addiction* to caffeine (and all other addictive substances), not its consumption...

A.R.Yngve said...

About those Scientific research as percent of GDP figures...

You worry about a decrease in research money in the West -- but what about countries where the figures are down to zero?

Countries like Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Orient, or anywhere on the African subcontinent... Postgraduates there have NO chance of doing research in their homelands; their only hope is to emigrate -- for example to the USA.

What this means in practice is that the top science-backing countries are carrying not only their own need for advances, but also are responsible for research that will benefit the "zero-science" countries.

(The most obvious example would be developing an AIDS vaccine for the Third World.)

Since we know this, shouldn't the Third World and scientifically backward countries actually donate to research in the developed countries...? And does this happen to any extent?

Doris said...

My relatives are Mormon. My branch of the family doesn't drink alcohol, either, but as a courtesy, we do not consume caffeine around them. We don't want them to feel uncomfortable. They know we drink coffee, tea, and cola, but they love us and accept us. (I wasn't picking on Mormons, Rob. I am very fond of my Mormon relatives, and I admire and respect most Mormons, including my first boss. It was just an example of commonly accepted behavior that makes some people uncomfortable.)

Bosses and other people in authority are another matter. They will judge you, even if it has nothing to do with your job performance. If, for example, they are Mormon (or if their first spouse was an alcoholic), and they see some of their employees entering the Shamrock tavern after work, they may very likely develop an antipathy for those employees. My point is that you don't want your boss or even a stranger to know everything you do or say or think. You voluntarily let Bob, Joe, and Maxine know you're at the Shamrock, because it's their hangout, too.

We all want to have some control over our personal data. It's hard to explain why it's okay for one set of people to know something about you but not another set. "Transparency" doesn't take human nature into account.

Now for the latest attack on privacy:

"IRS would let tax preparers sell returns to more businesses

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Watch what you sign if you have your taxes done by a commercial tax preparer.

The Internal Revenue Service is proposing a change in privacy protections that consumer groups say would allow your financial information or even copies of your return to be sold to data brokers and marketers."

The article continues at:


So why should we worry about our tax data being sold? If you donate a substantial amount to charity, your mailbox might become clogged with charity pitches (not all of them legitimate). If you have high medical deductions, insurance companies that buy your data may refuse to sell you insurance. If you have a high income, your mailbox may be clogged with ads for luxury items. If your tax return shows scholarship income, you may find student-oriented credit card offers in your mail. If someone buys the names, ages, and social security numbers of your dependents .... anything from identity fraud to child molesters stalking your family is possible.

Stefan Jones said...

An interesting study suggests that this is where you'll want to be living during the next oil crisis:

1. New York City
2. Boston
3. San Francisco
4. Chicago
5. Philadelphia
6. Portland
7. Honolulu
8. Seattle
9. Baltimore
10. Oakland



Steve said...


Man, most of those places I would avoid! If oil is scarce, the last place I would want to be is in a high-density city with food a long, expensive drive away! If oil is scarce, NYC is going to have brownouts or blackouts, another reason not to be there.

At least where I live there are farms all around me. If it is less of a crisis than an increase in price, we have adequate mass transport, and a planned light rail. Of course, we would have water problems.

Doris said...

Just how serious will an "oil crisis" be? Will trucks carrying toys, furniture, clothing, and new automobiles be barred from travel so that available gasoline and diesel can be used to transport food, medicine, and toilet paper into big cities?

Is it just free market forces or maybe even price gouging that causes gasoline prices to rise? Are the shortages real? Are shortages planned or unforeseen? Are they caused by political maneuvering or a refinery fire?

Does anyone suspect that after we conserve fuel to an extraordinary degree we will have to pay even higher prices for what little we buy so that the petroleum companies can maintain their high levels of income?

Barry said...


About American grad students: for almost all fields, there are far more Ph.D.'s produced each year than there are jobs available. Going for a Ph.D. is a 1 out of 2-3 proposition; the odds favor coming out the other end with a master's degree + some post-master's work.

In some fields, that is a pretty good deal; the Ph.D. makes one very employable, and the MS+1-2 years makes one employable. In most fields, it's not.

And the above assumes that your field is not the next to be offshored. Given a 5-7 year commitment for a Ph.D., it'd be easy for a field to deteriorate from promising to has-been over the course of one's studies.

Rob Perkins said...


(I can't deny the human impulse you're talking about, and won't try, and I'm not offended at all by the comment. I responded because it was bemusing; I've simply never seen that class of behavior among Mormon employers I know, two of which are in my family.)

Demand for oil and gasoline is remarkably inelastic; there would have to be a significant slacking off of demand before the incentive to produce it disappears, on the order of a paradigm shift as massive as the one which paved roads and air conditioned buildings, I think.

Steve said...

@ Doris and Rob Perkins

The issue isn't demand - demand for oil is rising all the time, particularly with China coming into the market.

The issue isn't one of macroeconomics and inelastic demand in the face of increasing price.

The issue is supply. Some very reasonable people (including the Energy Department) are concluding that the peak production rate is coming soon. Some experts say 2005 was the peak year, others say it will be in 2010 or 2015.

As demand increases and the cost of extraction increases, and the available volume decreases, bad to very bad things will happen.

The Very Bad viewpoint

Relatively balanced report

I am concerned, but not in a panic, at what this means. It is an issue that needs to be considered, even if the event is an unknown amount of time in the future, due to the severity of the consequences.

IMHO, we should be conserving our remaining domestic oil supply while using relatively cheap Saudi et al oil to power research into ways to become oil-independent.

doris said...


Your phrase "due to the severity of the consequences" could include things like doing triage on who can use oil and for shipping what (food, medicine, and toilet paper vs. toys, furniture, clothing, and new automobiles). The consequences could be VERY severe. Enforced mass transit? Everybody rides a bike except for ambulances and fire trucks? Solar-powered vehicles only? Beyond the life-and-death hurdles, beyond the inconvenience and general messiness of not developing a replacement for declining oil supplies, think of the mass of legislation a critical oil shortage will cause!

And don't get me started on the abuse of power involved (politicians and lobbyists getting preference for available fuel, for one).