We are in for a time of major decision as the Moore's Law of Cameras -- sometimes called “Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law -- takes hold and elites of all kinds are tempted to utilize surveillance in Orwellian/controlling ways ...often with rationalized good intentions.
Alas, many "champions of privacy and freedom" push the nebulous notion that dark outcomes can be prevented by passing laws against this or that elite looking at this or that kind of information. In other words, by restricting information flows.
For a decade, I have challenged such folks to name a time, in the history of humanity, when that general approach has ever worked for long, at keeping elites blind, let alone in a world where cameras and databases proliferate like crocuses after a rainstorm. No one has ever come up with a single major example, of any kind, ever. Yet, they would bet our future freedom on that nebulous approach.
As Papa Heinlein said: The chief thing accomplished by Privacy Laws is to make the (spy) bugs smaller: "A law guaranteeing privacy simply insures that bugs -- microphones and lenses and so forth -- are that much harder to spot."
sousveillance -- or counter- surveillance is a hard sell, because it is counter-intuitive and easy for elites to propagandize against. And yet, it is the essence of what the Western Enlightenment has used, as its tool set for achieving the miracles of the last three hundred years.
I explain issues of transparency and sousveillance in more detail in my nonfiction book -- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom? ... and illustrate it in my novel, Earth.
Looking back... or upward or sideways ... is what John Locke and Adam Smith and James Madison et al recommended in order to create the reciprocal accountability that keeps abuse of power in check.
All of the main enlightenment systems - democracy, markets, science and justice courts - rely upon transparency-enabled reciprocal accountability to operate. To achieve their positive sum games. Games that benefit us all far better than the older (and more naturally human) zero sum games that emerge out of simplistic human nature.
For more on the balance between these four enlightenment systems, see my article: Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit.
==The Options We Face==
As the tools for either surveillance or sousveillance proliferate, we are entering a time of choice between two potential equilibrium states:
Option 1: a perfect Orwellian (or more-likely Huxleyan) hegemony, empowered by universal elite omniscience…
Option 2: a wide open citizen-driven society, empowered by sousveillance and universal omniscience.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no pollyanna. I know that the latter might go sour, as portrayed in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and I explore possible drawbacks in some chapters of The Transparent Society! There are many potential failure modes inherent in mass citizen empowerment and ubiquitous accountability.
But one thing we know from 5,000 years of recorded history... and evidence that goes back farther still.. is that Option 1 is guaranteed to be calamitously wrong. (Indeed, an oligarchic attempted putsch is currently underway.)
Moreover, as I point out in The Transparent Society, general omniscience does not automatically mean an end to privacy! In fact, it is logically the only way we can preserve some.
The real question is; can enough of the world's citizenry be radicalized for transparency-based accountability to ensure an end to corruption and to make our growing institutions work well, world wide? I depict such a radicalization in EARTH. But mass populism appears to be deliberately steered in other directions, right now.
=== And some Misc Science! ===
Anyone interested in improving science education for kids should have a look at LabRats! I know "Dr. Shawn"... who is Dr. Shawn Carlson, MacArthur grant winner and former Scientific American columnist and founder of the Society for Amateur Scientists. Useful fellow and cool-looking program.
The era of personalized energy systems — in which individual homes and small businesses produce their own energy for heating, cooling and powering cars — took another step toward reality today as scientists reported discovery of a powerful new catalyst, nickel borate, that would be a key element in such a system. They described the advance, which could help free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company and the corner gasoline station, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
While antibiotics officially date to the discovery of penicillin in 1928, a chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Nubians (today's Sudan) shows that they were regularly consuming tetracycline, most likely in their beer, 1,700 years ago.
How Charles Darwin began the Ascension Island “terraforming project”... pointing the way to Mars?
Anybody seen this book? Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. If so, can you recommend it?
More than one "What the heck is THAT?!" photo. (Thanks Mike Gannis.)
Crispian Jago has developed a draft timeline (based on an original London underground map) showing the last 500 years of science, reason and critical thinking “to celebrate the achievements of the scientific method through the age of reason, the enlightenment and modernity.”
For years, claims have circulated that red rain which fell in India in 2001, contained cells unlike any found on Earth. Now new evidence that these cells can reproduce is about to set the debate alive.
I’m off to London in a few weeks, for a gathering of the Royal Society, where I’ll debate the question of METI... whether a few individual have a right to gamble humanity’s future by beaming “yoohoo!” messages into interstellar space, under the blithe assumption that all advanced races will automatically be altruistic. For background see my introductory essays on SETI & METI. Or else, see a lurid encapsulization of the stakes in this trailer for the movie SKYLINE. (Appearing in November.)
PRIVACY PIRACY host, Mari Frank, interviews scientist, inventor and ny times bestselling author, David Brin, about privacy, transparency, surveillance and other crucial issues, on monday, september 6, 8-9am pacific time, kuci 88.9 fm in irvine, ca and audio streaming on KUCI. You can find updates of my audio/video interviews on ScoopIt.
Last time I plugged a much longer, wilder and more diverse podcast on the GEEKS ON show. They call it their most successful episode ever. Here’s what one fan wrote in: ”Your last episode with david brin was by far the best episode ever. That man should be president. Please drag him back kicking and screaming if u have to. it's a shame he doesn't have his own podcast, should encourage him to do so!” Um... well... glad you liked it. But I still think it is possible to have WAY too much brin!
Here is the listing for the e-book version of Star Wars on Trial. (Come on, you’ve been hankering to dive into the debate, admit it!) A luscious self-indulgence.
Keep looking ahead...