Monday, December 23, 2013

Security, Sousveillance and Smart Wigs

== The Impossibility of Controlling Information ==
Someone's Been Siphoning Data Through a Huge Security Hole in the Internet: Earlier this year, researchers say, someone mysteriously hijacked internet traffic headed to government agencies, corporate offices and other recipients in the U.S. and elsewhere and redirected it to Belarus and Iceland, before sending it on its way to its legitimate destinations. They did so repeatedly over several months. But luckily someone did notice. One more example of how it is simply insane to base your most vital security upon "controlling information."  Not once in 30 years have I seen a single blithe assurance of security proved.

control-informationLatest example, just last week?  Forty million Target Credit Card records - spilled and presumed to now be in the hands of criminal gangs.  How many times does this have to happen, before folks start to grasp the fundamental? Dare I repeat myself? It is not sane to base your most vital security upon "controlling information." And those who obsess with promising you that it is possible are charlatans.

And the same goes for members of our security services.  Our Paid Professional Protector Caste (PPPC).
There is another way, which is to strive ever onward on two levels.  TACTICALLY to play and wage the serious game, trying to make our security better while penetrating "theirs." Sure. Has to be done, and I do not fault our civil servants for trying to do it well.
But it will be ultimately and utterly futile (hello? Edward Snowden?) unless accompanied by a STRATEGIC dedication to maintaining a strong, secular trend toward an ever more open world. 
Think… America may not remain top-dog.  Fine, so long as the general Enlightenment that emphasizes individual rights, maximized opportunity, self-reinvention, science, pragmatism, tolerance, diversity, and flat-open playing fields for vibrant competition… so long as all of that continues. These things can prevent us from being just one more failed species in the cosmos, trapped on a forever-feudal world.  Right now, the odds are against such an unlikely thing surviving, as oligarchy fights to reclaim its 6000 year dominance and make it permanent.
Only dig this well… all of the enemies of that Star Trek-like civilization are fatally allergic to light. Go ahead and think of any such foe.  Light is deadly to them all, but it is only bracing and invigorating to the Enlightenment.  

This makes the overall, strategic situation clear. A secular trend toward a more open and transparent world is the one trend in which "we" … people who want all those fine-open-opportunities for our Star Trekkian grandchildren … win. There is no other condition under which they will.
== Other "mavens" start to "get it" ==
From Evgeny Morozov: Let's Make the NSA's Data Available for Public Use:  "Search without Google is like social networking without Facebook: unimaginable. But superb proprietary algorithms and extremely talented employees only partially explain why both fields are dominated by just one firm. The real reason is that both Google and Facebook got into their fields early on, accumulated troves of data about their users, and are now aggressively exploiting that data to offer unique services that their data-poor contenders simply cannot match, no matter how innovative their business models."
NSA-data-publicI know this to be true, since I have patents for human interface innovations that would blow clunky Facebook away!  But there is no way we'd start on a level playing field, let alone planet.
"The NSA has all this data, and it's not going away. (If anything, the much-discussed data storage center that the NSA is building in Utah suggests otherwise.) It would be a colossal mistake not to come up with a global institutional arrangement that would make at least chunks of that data available for public use. At the very (utopian) minimum, it should be possible to produce a rudimentary social graph and make it globally available—to be supervised by a civil agency, perhaps within the United Nations. The United States, which has always preached free markets to the rest of the world, can, perhaps, take the lead in making markets for search and social networking more competitive."
Object?  Out of reflex?  He continues: "In other words, the real choice that we face right now is between a future in which Google and Facebook continue to dominate their core markets, collecting more and more data on their users, and a future in which the power of those companies is held in check by competition. At the moment, the users have little choice but to stick with Google and Facebook, as the user data that they already have does produce better search results and richer social connections."
==Sousveillance vs Surveillance ==
Sousveillance-over-surveillanceAn insightful essay, Sousveillance Turns the Tables on Surveillance, by Jerry Brito, in Reason Magazine discusses the arrival of cheap lapel cameras that will upload whatever you confront, every few minutes, to the Cloud.  The future is here.  With strenuous effort we might pass laws favoring shadows and thus stymie a transparent society and all of its (mixed) benefits. When various powers try to get us to do that, follow the money.
SONY is betting we'll want to bypass Google Glass and go straight to the "smart wig" that lets you wear a vast array of sensors , some of them deployable and extendable, plus actuators and… well… you can see the whole idea in far more advanced form, in 2045, in my novel EXISTENCE, illustrated by this image of my character, Tor Povlov (by artist Patrick Farley):
Tor-Farley-existenceYou can read her adventure, saving a zeppelin, using just such an array of sensors, etc. in a stand-alone excerpt called "The Smartest Mob."
Oh, here's the link to an article about the "smart wig."  And if it ain't true, then it will be!
In his Scientific American article: "A Modest Proposal: Google Glass Neighborhood Watch" Charles Q. Choi  refers to EARTH in predicting that tools like Google Glass (head-mounted cameras) will both make our streets safer and bring problems of their own as (in this case) young people react to old folks who stare while maintaining vigilante vision patrols against crime.  Here's an excerpt that he chose to clip from the novel.
“Watching, all the time watching… goggle-eye geeks… rotten old apples that sit an’ stink and stare atcha…”
Huh.  Swap out a "g" and you almost have my character saying "google-eye."
io9-surveillance-dystopiaAnd. On io9: The Ten Rules of Surveillance Dystopia. Number One: You wear location trackers that relay your every movement to corporate headquarters….Number Two: Your television is watching you; Number Three: All of your purchases are tracked using small plastic cards you carry everywhere you go….
Should we encrypt the world? Internet architects seeking to revise the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) propose encrypting all the world's web traffic.

== Penetrating the Filter Bubble ==
In my novel EARTH (1989) I spoke about the problem of user bubbles… where internet inhabitants inevitably create filters that allow in materials that agree with their preconceptions and prejudices and exclude inconveniences, even clear refutations.  In the novel, this is portrayed as extremely dangerous to a democratic society, creating little Nuremberg Rallies that reinforce strong dogmas and undermine our native abilities to see the other side, to negotiate and learn from each other. In EARTH, a community of hackers has responded with wall-penetrating programs that slip in the inconvenient fact, from time to time…
Filter-bubble…exactly the thing that cable news owners strenuously avoid, by preventing their captive "dittohead" audiences from hearing or seeing dissenting opinions. Especially not refutations of all-out lies!
Alas, forecasts in science fiction novels get little credit. Today, this "newly discovered" phenomenon is called "the filter bubble"—being surrounded only by people you like and content that you agree with.  Still, have a look at this clever suggested partial solution: How to Burst the Filter Bubble that Protects us from Opposing Views: "They also say that challenging people with new ideas makes them generally more receptive to change. That has important implications for social media sites. There is good evidence that users can sometimes become so resistant to change than any form of redesign dramatically reduces the popularity of the service. Giving them a greater range of content could change that."
==A Digital Bill of Rights==
Digital-bill-rightsThe Digital Bill of Rights, by Matthew Katz, is a fun "updating" of the US Bill of Rights takes the core meaning and language of each of the original ten amendments and updates it for the internet/online/social-media world.  This document proposes items such as: Freedom of Access and Expression, the Right to a Voice, Open Access to Cookies and Spyware use…. It is an interesting and thought provoking first stab, though also a bit too assured that things directly translate.  For example, what about anonymity and the bad behavior it sometimes spawns?
TransparencyAmendmentThe original U.S. Bill of Rights is about accountability as well as the right not to self-incriminate. Few ever discuss the Sixth Amendment's guarantee that individuals can compel speech from unwilling witnesses. That is something that net transcendentalists strive hard not to think about.
And what about pseudonymity? Can our pseudonyms get partial rights? Any provisions for AI? A problematic step, since information-based entities can be duplicated at infinitum, so do they vote?   Given that duplication ability, some of the provisions in the Digital Bill of Rights might be irrelevant or counterproductive. This is only the start of a long conversation… that ought to begin.
== And the future overwhelms… even sci fi ==
Charles Stross has announced that there won't be a third book in the Halting State trilogy because reality has caught up to him too fast The last straw was the news that the NSA planted spies in networked games like World of Warcraft. Heh, well, Charlie needs to get used to this professional occupational hazard!


Lorraine said...

The sixth amendment, by guaranteeing speedy and public trials, seems to have had the side effect of creating the sense of a public record, which is good. What is needed now is a commitment to machine readability (for the public) of the public record, as evidenced by the amount of free enterprise (making an enterprise out of things that were intended to be free) based on selling access to single data points queried from the public record.

Paul451 said...

Merry mid- hemispherically-appropriate season solstice feast-day to everyone.

[Local religious Christmas message weirdly adopted the atheist comparison of god and Santa, as an argument to not allow skepticism about Christ's existence to worry people... because kids still believe in Santa.]

Paul451 said...

From the last thread, but an example of the "data" problem David mentions above:
Alex Tolley,
"Next up, should private publishing houses control access to publicly funded science? Elsevier's recent actions suggest that we have clearly entered the era of rent-seeking by the publishers and that the rules for the publishers must be changed. IMO, all publicly funded research papers should become public domain after a few years at worst."

The problem, apparently, is that US govt funding bodies use publication in brand-name journals (or being on an editorial board) as a key measure of success when assessing future grants. This means that no rival scheme (such as Open Access journals/PLOS) can get the traction over those existing commercial brands, even though all the researchers involved hate the company.

Yet it seems to me that a single line of legislation could require all US government funded research to be published only in US government published electronic journals. This would immediately remove a huge number of papers from the Elsevier Group, and force US govt funding bodies to include these government published e-journals when considering funding.

Likewise, a huge chunk of university research would also, due to funding sources, be similarly affected, which would force university research funding bodies to consider the e-journals. So if the e-journals were open to all submissions, university work would tend to gravitate there.

And if other countries adopt the same system, allowing the e-journals to establish international versions, the for-profit journals pretty much cease to exist.

[Important point: Don't hire the guys who built the back-end for the Obamacare Exchange to create the e-journals.]

Robert said...

Won't happen. It would be considered anti-business because the private publication industry is behind the journals. If anything, you'll see new legislation diminishing the ability of Open Publishing to compete because they are a threat to private publishers.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

"Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated." - Das Kapital

I recall David (I think) pointing out that Marx assumed that building factories was a one-time event. Once you industrialise a country, capital is no longer required but labour is, so leaving the means of production in the hands of capitalists, rather than the hands of workers, is harmful to society and communism would be a natural development. Technological development meant that this was never true.

[Interestingly, there's a similar assumption behind a "post-scarcity society".]

Electronic publication, however, is "finished". It will change, but the cost of running a science e-journal (with voluntary reviewers and editors) is vastly less than the cost of supplying the "materials and labour", the research and researchers. Marx's logic works in this scenario. First nationalise the means of production (to "burst the integument"), then return ownership to the "workers".

[Robert, do you think that argument will convince American lawmakers? :) ]

[ReCaptcha is all numbers. Ick.]

David Brin said...

Paul451 thanks. It's really interesting to parse those ways that Marx was wrong FUNDAMENTALLY and those where his failure was CONTINGENT upon particular circumstances. And those area where he was right.

He was absolutely and fundamentally wrong about the Labor Theory of Value, which any sensible person would tell you is loony from the word go. It was Marx at his most extreme being a guru and farthest possible from being a scientist.

Likewise, his simplistic proclamation that there was some particular level of capitalization (creation of infrastructure and factories) that would "complete" the process of human social evolution, after which there would be no further need of competitive enterprise, capital investment, or the "theft" of labor value to invest in new productive capacity.

That has been diametrically disproven by the way modern industrial plants depreciate and grow obsolete faster than ever and need to be replaced or upgraded at an accelerating pace.

Marx is on firmer ground in observing basic contradictions of human nature. That owners will try to cheat their workers and wipe out competitors, either through (1) innovating competitive goods/service, or (2) efficiently out-producing competitors, or (3) cheating, or (4) merging with competitors in order to form cartels.

ALL of these phenomena are blatant elements of capitalism and human nature. Marx foresaw them being unopposed and unregulated. Cynically, he assumed they would culminate in exactly the culminating tower of uber-lordship that Ayn Rand foresaw. Only she proclaimed it as good and final! While KM called it the penultimate stage, before Proletarian revolution and paradise.

He never foresaw that people would READ Karl Marx, see it as a plausible failure mode, and come up with an antidote that would work for 80 years. An antidote called Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Only now the question arises: Are the stupid oligarchs and oligarchs that Adam Smith despised and whom Rand called "looters" and whom Karl Marx saw as the last-stage dinosaurs coming back with a vengeance?

In Karl's teleological scenario coming true before our eyes?

David Brin said...