Alert! My response and rebuttal to Bruce Schneier’s recent article “The Myth of the Transparent Society” has been posted by the good folks of Wired.com. (Now also on my website: In Defense of a Transparent Society.)
Alas, the argument over how to best protect freedom and (yes!) privacy has not advanced much beyond the simplistic nostrums of ten years ago. Those who dispute that transparency can ever engender freedom and (yes) privacy routinely begin by claiming that my book is about the end of privacy, rather than how to preserve it by empowering people to defend it themselves. The exact-same method that underlies the entire Enlightenment Experiment:
For we already live in the openness experiment, and have for two hundred years. It is called the Enlightenment -- with "light" both a core word and a key concept in our turn away from 4,000 years of feudalism. All of the great enlightenment arenas -- markets, science and democracy -- flourish in direct proportion to how much their players (consumers, scientists and voters) know, in order to make good decisions. To whatever extent these arenas get clogged by secrecy, they fail.
Judge for yourself. But don’t come into just dip a toe and never to consider new ideas. That’s not how to defend the only true revolution in the last ten millennia.
More on the Transparency Wars.... ”London's Metropolitan police a new counter-terrorism PR campaign complete with anti-photography propaganda. The campaign is meant to encourage people to turn in "odd" seeming people that they see taking photographs. "Thousands of people take photos every day," reads their advertisement being run in London's major newspapers. "What if one of them seems odd?"”
Ironically, both the London Metro Police and their critics completely miss the point. In fact it is perfectly legitimate to ask that citizens be aware of what is going on around them, and for them to serve as an outer line of detection and defense against those who might be seeking to do harm. But the odds are SO microscopic in any one case, that our professional protectors simply have no business at all, getting involved at such a low -- and vast(!) -- level.
the way to do this is not to turn neighbor against neighbor, reflexively reporting each other to paranoid state authorities. The answer, indeed, is to make greater use of the tool in question -- photography. People who spot suspicious photography taking place should simply take their own pictures to those doing it!
Generally, these should NOT be given to the police! That is the road to Big Brother. Nor does it inherently threaten any rights for one citizen to view and “remember” another, who was in the act of doing precisely the same thing. The mere act of expanding the number of citizen “eyes” at the roam does not by itself impinge on other peoples’ right to look and record. It is simply the same right, after all. And if it helps us to become better witnesses, on rare occasions, fine.
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Want more about one of my perennial themes - the rise of tech propelled Citizen Power? Taking the whole “smart mobs” scenario a step farther, see Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky.
Here’s a riff from a recent Salon interview with Clay: ”We are used to a world where doing anything at large scale requires a formal and hierarchical institution. The great debate of the 20th century was, Are really big activities better taken on by governments -- the communist answer -- or are they better taken on by businesses operating in the marketplace - the free-market answer? But the "dot dot dot" at the end of that answer was, "because obviously people can't just get together and do these things on their own." That is increasingly what is happening now. Groups that were once so disassociated from one another that they couldn't do anything are now starting to work together.”
This is a take on the old “Cathedral vs Bazaar” argument. And - despite being one of the early promulgators of the “Age of Amateurs” I must tell you that there are many ways that the jury is still out. Or, rather, we clearly all win when neither side dominates. Indeed, the Bazaar has had its failings. Take the inability of the Linux community to settle on a set of standards that would turn it into a truly great, people-generated rival to the cathedral operating systems of Apple and Microsoft.
Shirky offers many great examples, such as self-organizing networks of disgruntled airline passengers, getting redress in ways they never could have, before. (Now, if only this sort of thing could make a revolution in stockholder “democracy”, ending the crony-control of top corporations by an interlocking cabal of golf buddies.)
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Looking down the rifle barrel of a nearby (only 8,000 LY) star system that could go supernova any time. Dang, I really needed that worry, too!
Fascinating new work on the “altruism hormone” oxytocin. It seems that it only increases generosity in humans when humans actively have to imagine or picture the point of view of another. It does not affect philanthropic behavior much at all, in test games where the subject wasn’t prompted to consider the other player’s perspective. In other words, it seems to be involved in turning empathy into sympathy... but for it to happen, there must be empathy (in the true and neutral sense of the word) in the first place.
Okay, this is just too cool and fun. Top 10 Barely-Legal Gadgets for the Modern (Amateur) Spy. (Every student at Caltech learns to pick locks, by the way.) And no, I don’t endorse all of these gadgets. But I do have teenagers..
Stewart Brand is one of my heroes. His Long Now Foundation is exploring interesting avenues for provoking modern minds to think over wider horizons in time. He also has a terrific blog. Drop in and see Stewart’s summary of a seminar given by gene-mapping pioneer Craig Venter.
See George Dvorsky’s cool blog-essay about Seven ways to control the Galaxy with self-replicating probes. Cool and fun...
... and a nice counterpoint to my novel Existence (In fact, I think that story covers a few bases that George missed.) George does (courteously) cite my Uplift notion as one of seven possible motives/goals for self-replicating probes. (Thanks George!) He also goes into a very smart riff about why we don’t see any of these probes yet, even though they seem logically to be the way to go. Indeed, at the Los Alamos conference on Interstellar Migration, back around 1982, I saw the work of Jones and Finney suggest that ONE such probe might fill the galaxy with it descendants in just three million years. An eyeblink that really pushes the Fermi Question hard.
One of the scenarios that George leaves out is the “voyeur-lurker” possibility. That probes might be out there, nearby, right now, listening in. Even tapping our... well... web discussion groups. See my take on this at:
See the following article from Snopes... the great mythbuster site. (explore it!) The great “Cough-it-off” rumor, about how to survive a heart attack, is itself under attack. It should only be tried if the heart has definitely stopped... and loss of consciousness looms. A weak pulse? Angina? Coughing might make it worse. It seems that chewing an aspirin, the moment you have heart pain, then calling 9/11, is still the best thing.
The first detailed images of a binary asteroid system reveal a bizarre world where the highest points on the surface are actually the lowest, and the two asteroids dance in each other's gravitational pull.
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For the Predictions Registry... or that Brin Forecast Wiki... India Nurtures the Business of Surrogate Motherhood -- with shades of my short story “Piecework.”
Game impresario Steve Jackson and I have spent more than a decade, "Tribes!" a realistic role playing game (formerly called "Darwinopoly"), that offers fun for six to eight players (or multiple tribes of 8 players each) who follow simple rules to simulate life as it must have been for our ancestors, anywhere from 10,000 to 500,000 years ago -- hunting, foraging, mating, and occasionally fighting.
Can you figure out how to survive... and have successful offspring... in a world where only your own wits stand between you and harshness of nature? Tribes! has been created with the advice of several prominent anthropologists, as well as one of the most experienced game designers on the planet. (For more information see the web site for Steve Jackson Games.) Among the things people have found most fascinating is the sexual politics that can arise from a very simple rule set.
Recently play-tested with more than thirty players! Hence, we’re interested in finding a few anthropology professors who might like to try the game out on students, as a whole-classroom exercise.