Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Will improved “vision” make us even better than we are?

Oculus-VRFacebook's acquisition of the Oculus company shows that big players are starting to take Augmented Reality (AR) glasses seriously -- leading the 22 year old daughter of a friend to comment "that stuff looks really lame."

Ah, but the question of whether something "looks lame" is partly a matter of implementation... recall what the first cell phones were like? In the future you will be at an extreme disadvantage without access to augmented reality tools. These do not have to be worn all the time. But to refuse them entirely will be considered pretentious... like a person of our age loudly announcing "I refuse to own a cell phone!"

Still, we face a difficult transition period -- perhaps 15 years -- when the proper rules and procedures for AR will be worked out. Consider the lawsuits, when people who are distracted by images inside their eyewear, step off the curb in front of moving cars! In my novel Existence I predict what some of those rules and procedures might turn out to be. For example, requiring that dangerous objects and curbs and nearby persons be outlined in “collision-avoidance yellow. In the meantime, many lawyers will do well.

That is one reason why Google deliberately designed its "Glass" product to be les than full-AR -- offset from the central cone of forward vision. The data that it presents do not cover the field of view needed for walking and safety. Google is happy to let smaller companies do those experiments... and deal with the legal transitions.

Tor-Farley-existenceIn Existence, I contemplated what Occulus and Glass may look like, more than a decade from now. One illustration (by Patrick Farley) shows a reporter with cyb-active hair... sensors at the tips of stalks that can rise up and look around, giving her the view of a very tall person and providing awareness of things going on behind her.

As for the Facebook purchase, Mark Zuckerberg in a conference said "Oculus and VR have the potential to change the way we play, work, and communicate." And that social networks today are about "sharing moments." but in the future it will be about "sharing experiences". We've heard those promises for 20 years. For gaming, I see the potential, but to communicate or to engage in a social network, is there really a need/desire for a deep immersion? Alas, there are basic reasons why the Web -- and Facebook in particular -- have not enhanced discourse or truth or negotiation or any adult activities at all. I explain those reasons here:


Unfortunately, that paper is too "scholarly" to be influential. It merely gets to the underlying core of why the Internet has never achieved its potential as a problem-solving system. Alas.

== Other Authors ==

Naam-dystopiaIn Can We Avoid a Surveillance State Dystopia? Ramez Naam, the brilliant author of the novels Nexus and Crux as well as the nonfiction The Infinite Resource, offers his own view on the NSA Imbroglio and our chances of staving off the Big Brother scenarios, achieving instead an open world of freedom and accountability: "And every organization in the world must now be on notice - everything it does may eventually become known."

(Flash news! Ramez is on the list, nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in science fiction.  Congratulations Ramez!  And all the other nominees.)

All right then, where is the "end of history" promised by Francis Fukayama, after the fall of the Berlin Wall? The purported rush of the entire world to embrace liberal democracy? That did seem to be the way momentum was heading, in the Clinton era, but the 21st Century became a lot rougher -- a more cynical and dogmatic era. Take this assessment from Freedom House in What's Gone Wrong With Democracy?

wrong-democracy"The progress seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st. Even though around 40% of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century. Between 1980 and 2000 the cause of democracy experienced only a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many. And democracy’s problems run deeper than mere numbers suggest. Many nominal democracies have slid towards autocracy, maintaining the outward appearance of democracy through elections, but without the rights and institutions that are equally important aspects of a functioning democratic system…. Faith in democracy flares up in moments of triumph, such as the overthrow of unpopular regimes in Cairo or Kiev, only to sputter out once again."

It's a thought-provoking article… though to clarify, not all futurists were sanguine that this transition would be easy. In 1985 I predicted both the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the rise of a militant macho resistance to tech-modernist ways -- either a Latin or Hindi or (most-likely) Muslim rejection of the West's prescription how to live. And that crises of oligarchy and propaganda and dogma always threaten traditions of pragmatic, good-natured and science-based negotiation.

Still, the article offers hope: "At the same time, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in the 19th century, democracies always look weaker than they really are: they are all confusion on the surface but have lots of hidden strengths. Being able to install alternative leaders offering alternative policies makes democracies better than autocracies at finding creative solutions to problems and rising to existential challenges, though they often take a while to zigzag to the right policies."

The trick is not to let ourselves be tricked into cynicism – like the “Tytler Calumny” lie that democracies are inherently weak… or the idiot-plot message in most Hollywood films, preaching that institutions always fail and citizenship is futile.

demonize-opponentsYour neighbors are not all sheep. Your political opponents are not all evil or fools. Try talking to those you despise. They are your fellow citizens. And together, we are not lesser than any "greatest generation."

60 comments:

gwern said...

> All right then, where is the "end of history" promised by Francis Fukayama, after the fall of the Berlin Wall? The purported rush of the entire world to embrace liberal democracy? That did seem to be the way momentum was heading, in the Clinton era, but the 21st Century became a lot rougher -- a more cynical and dogmatic era. Take this assessment from Freedom House in What's Gone Wrong With Democracy?

Right here. You're looking at the end of history, dude. It's worth going back to the book or essay and seeing what Fukuyama actually said rather than some simplification like 'Fukuyama claimed the % of countries classified as democracy by a particular NGO will increase monotonically over time'.

The end of history isn't some concrete fact about particular countries' organizations. It doesn't say that liberal democracies won't be hollowed out or shift systems. Fukuyama's point is ideological: it's the end of history because there are no more social systems which can seriously claim and argue that they are superior to liberal capitalistic democracy where it is possible. Communism is done. Fascism is done. Divine kingship is done. Hereditary aristocrats electing a monarch, likewise.

And this is still true. In fact, it's gotten better in some ways - you used to hear about a 'China model' which was opposed to the 'Washington Consensus', where various autocrats and tyrannies claimed they could have their cake of economic development and eat it too. You don't hear that much anymore: China's internal problems with the environment, political censorship, unrest by minorities in the far provinces, enormous corruption by the elites and princelings, etc, have meant that China may serve as an example of how to do industrialization but it is no longer an credible model for intellectuals in Africa, India, Europe, South America, or North America, on how you can run a developed first-world post-industrial country. Similarly for Russia.

Right now, China and Russia are merely proving that with enough repression, nationalism, oil & manufacturing money, largesse & bribes, you can keep the government in power despite an underboil of dissent. But that's not an important point because while they may succeed in the short run, we have yet to see the long run, and it's merely showing that the usual bag of tricks has not lost effectiveness.

David Brin said...

Sorry but I find that extended, articulate comment to be stunningly naive. Across 6000 years, brief experiments have departed from the standard human model of a pyramidal social structure in which society's elites conspire to keep the masses down.

The pyramidal social structure was not only prevalent across 99% of cultures that had agriculture and metals, but it resonates strongly with Darwinian imperatives, in which the tong would naturally exploit their advantages in order to better reproduce.

We are all descended from the harems of the guys who pulled off that trick.

Yes, there was always an alternative system waiting in the wings. Shaped like a diamond with a big, empowered middle class and positive sum systems like markets, democracy and science that harness human competition while repressing cheating. On brief occasions, this system burst forth, dazzling all! e.g. Periclean Athens.

gwern talks as if the synergies that allowed western enlightenment liberal democracies to achieve such wonders is "natural" but that is baloney. It takes relentless effort and fine tuning to maintain the Diamond, which is NOT stable, like the pyramid.

True the diamond can out-compete any rival, by far. And it has great cultural allure, and the world's youth are attracted to our values and fun. On the other hand, it is easily betrayed by human nature… by the propensity for elites to cheat and try to evade competition.

learner said...

back in 2008 I jokingly posted this future news release.
http://futureblogger.net/futureblogger/show/316

Just link directly to the brain rather than all this hardware.

Louis Shalako said...

I think improved vision will eventually be available to the blind. Who wants to be the first to use the term 'a sense of entitlement' when referring to a blind man's desire to see the world? I've worn goggles connected to a camera on a radio-controlled aircraft. When the plane came in for a landing, I braced my legs to take the impact...reality is based on what the brain is fed in terms of data, and the brain is easily fooled. Considering the human propensity to seek reassuring messages, or to avoid what they don't want to see, (Fox News and their inanity come to mind) I think people will use virtual or augmented reality to insulate themselves from the realities of the world around them which they find distasteful or do not want to deal with.

Sam Lichtenstein said...

I can't decide if I lean towards David or gwern here. When I think about the course of events that would falsify gwern's (in my view relatively modest) thesis, here's what I come up with. Concentration of wealth and political power (intimately tied to one another) gradually undermine faith in conventional liberal-democratic institutions, delegitimizing said institutions and perhaps also the socio-economic framework in which they largely fit, at least these days. The result is some sort of large-scale failure of government to effective respond to a crisis, and a violent political upheaval. Forgetting the lessons of the 20th century, the populace succumbs to the influence of demogogues on either the nationalist right-wing fringe or the populist left.

But what happens next? *Perhaps* a brief return to the "pyramidal" social organization scheme David evokes. But in an age when people are more interconnected and informed than ever before, not to mention familiar with the social fabric of 1950-2010+, would the pyramid really be so stable as David imagines? This strikes me as unlikely. In short, I buy what I see as gwern's underlying point: while modern liberal democracies are neither intrinsically stable nor immune from corrupting forces of decay, the alternatives are not viable today. To the extent this is so, Fukuyama's thesis has some merit.

LarryHart said...

If I recall correctly, that "End of History" assessment was made before 9/11. The assumption seemed to be that "history" as the struggle between competing nations/ideologies was over, that global society had reached some sort of stable state that would last indefinitely.

(Such claims have been made before. "The reich will last a thousand years!" comes to mind.)

Not that things wouldn't continue to "happen" in the world, but that the story was over, and to use a phrase of Kurt Vonnegut's, we'd be "living in an epilogue".

Events of this century seem to demonstrate that that assessment may have been premature. The Vonnegut reference may be a clue as to why...to many people, the very idea of living in an epilogue is intolerable, and they will be more and more motivated to do something disruptive just to get the "story" going again.

It may well be that "the end of history" is itself an unstable state which cannot last.

David Brin said...

Sam L… please do not misconstrue. I said that the maintenance of a diamond shaped, positive sum, enlightenment society is DIFFICULT and it is not a natural attractor state. But that does not make me gloomy.

After all, we have maintained that society… making it ever more fair and productive and fun … for 300 years. It has taken strenuous effort and fine tuning by each generation -- and this generation may fail the test! But if we succeed…

… then we might arrive at a self-sustaining equilibrium, leading to … Star Trek.

And yes, in EXISTENCE I do discuss the quandary of elites, trying to re-establish the pyramid, facing a vast, tech empowered middle class whom they MUST placate, pretending those citizens are really still in charge.

John Carmack said...

"That is one reason why Google deliberately designed its "Glass" product to be les than full-AR -- offset from the central cone of forward vision."

That is a misleading way of putting it -- it he was not a design choice to not be "full AR", the truth is that nobody knows how to do it today at any price, let alone as a near term consumer device.

No current display can cover a wide field of view with pass through AR as it is envisioned in fiction. Yet.

Mark said...

John,

Perhaps. But one could take an eye-patch approach, taking the entire vision of one eye. One could also block all vision and depend upon built in cameras to provide site.

Sandymount said...

David,

There are reasons more to do with maths than Fox to think Tytler Calumny is plausible. Singer is an outstanding investor with great long term track record of being right, something you might appreciate given you constantly remind readers of yiur successful predictions.
Read his latest musings here http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-04-29/elliotts-paul-singer-how-it-all-will-end-badly-we-guess
Re kings, there is a thought provoking book whcih is better read as a thought experiment than too serious by Hans Herman Hoope called Democracy the god that failed. He gives good reasons why aristocracy might be better or less worse than democracy. Worth a look.
Jonathan.

Cecilia Abadie said...

John C., David is completely correct in that Google's decision with Glass is deliberate. They could have sided with the tons of other companies that have horrible humongous "unwearable wearable" devices, but they simplified, didn't pursue full AR and instead pursued what I call Context Augmentation, and that as well as the minimalistic user experiece made it the first "wearable hud".

I'm a little confused when Oculus is mentioned here in the context of AR, as VR and AR are not to mix for many years to come. So first we have to build sufficiently good AR and VR as two very divergent paths and then eventually they might converge again with superior tech.

Jon Roth said...

David Brin has called for this sort of thing before: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27225869

Tony Fisk said...

Seems a good place to drop a reference to "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"; Thomas Piketty's recent work that describes underlying causes (and risks) of inequality. I've heard of it but haven't read it. Anyone else?

Paul451 said...

Lace-like wind erosion forms on Mars: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl-raw-images/msss/00601/mcam/0601MR0025370520400818E01_DXXX.jpg

Taken by MSL-Curiosity at Mt Remarkable.

John Carmack said...

A "decision" implies that they chose between viable alternatives. They made a wearable display instead of an AR product because nobody knows how to make a viable general purpose AR product today. Google's vision is indeed fiction style AR, with annotations over people's heads and so on. I definitely want one of those, and when available, it will likely become as big of a deal as the smartphone is -- everyone will want one.

I misspoke in the previous comment; we are talking about "see through" AR, which has very difficult technical challenges. "Pass through" AR where you use cameras and a VR display are possible today, and there is a reasonably clear technical path to making them decent if you don't mind wearing a bulky VR style rig.

Mark -- your vision system won't merge disparate images from two eyes, an eye patch approach won't work.

In the near term immersive VR will make a bigger impact, because the technologies at mature enough to make it valuable.

In the mid term, when The technologies arrive to make see-through AR viable, it will probably eclipse VR in global impact.

In the long term, immersive VR of sufficient quality, probably direct neural stimulation, puts us all in the matrix, and AR becomes less important again.

Carl M. said...

Democracy isn't all elves and fairy dust, especially in a deeply divided country. Emperors find minority groups to be useful. If you were a Christian in Iraq, you were way better off under Saddam and under our imposed democracy. I've seen serious pundits admit that Alawite genocide is to be the natural progression once Assad is ousted.

Plurality take all democracy is often a prescription for genocide. The biggest tribe gets to oppress everyone else. Range voting promises to be better. Uniter candidates can beat biggest faction candidates.

Might be useful here as well, though it could put Fox News and MSNBC out of business.

Robert said...

Well. It seems that slavery has returned to the United States and is flourishing through our private prison industry. Seriously. What the fuck? And why isn't this illegal under the Cruel and Unusual punishment and the anti-slavery aspects of the Constitution?

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Shooting for the moon: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140418.html

Taking advantage of the recent lunar eclipse to photograph the lunar laser ranging experiment (which bounces off the Apollo 15 laser reflector.) It's such a cliched sci-fi trope, it not only looks fake but a cheap (or old) fake.

David Brin said...

Sandymount, I found your message fascinating, in that it demonstrates how contorted people can twist in order to rationalize inanity. You cite Singer as a great investor. Sorry, Warren Buffett believes in us and his track record is vastly better. So my appeal-to-authority outranks yours.

Hoope? You cite a crackpot as proof of … anything at all? Your ability to ignore the facts is stunning. COmpare the last 200 years of progressive enlightenment nations versus 6000 years of oligarchic rule on any unambiguous metric of accomplishment -- any whatsoever -- and there is no comparison. Ten western generations accomplished more in just five countries than all of the rest of humanity going back to the caves. You blather, sir.

Carl M you are right that democracy can be badly mobilized and turned into populist oppression. It happened in Athens and Rome and it is certainly one of the methods being applied at Fox and other centers by oligarchy-shills, in order to seize and use the mob. But this cynicism ignores the effective way that both elites and masses have worked hard to shift democracy from pure majority -rule, through the transition phase that we are in -- minority veto -- and onward to citizen-centered responsive civilization.

The simplest disproof of the cynical Tytler Calumny is the fact that when they are fuctioning, democracies do NOT see middle class citizens voting themselves "tax largesse."

Over and over we see the citizenry voting for puritan debt pay-downs and the moneyed aristocracy pushing to get themselves granted splurge tax largesse.

Sandymount said...

Et tu quoque!?

Ad hominems arent arguments.

Singers record is better than Buffett (he has been investing for a shorter time hence total returns not as great but annualised yes) who you should know has benefitted from the ills of democratic process. remember who cosied up to Obama over AIG and Goldman in crisis on preferential terms?

Read the link, even a post singularity wet dream cant indo maths. Voters are voting themselves undeliverable liabilities pn a barely growing income base. Sure it hasnt failed but it probably will. 08 was a warm up. Lets see.

and to explain last couple centuries material progress as due to one variable is to ignore myriad cpnfounding factors.

For someone who speaks about how valuable logical fallacies are... Use a mirror.

Paul451 said...

Sandymount,
Re:Tytler Calumny
"Voters are voting themselves undeliverable liabilities"

The obvious disproof is to look at the arguments the two sides use in order to get people to support policies. "Tightening our belts", "Helping those worse off", "Supporting investment/business/job-creators", "Fairness", etc.

People don't get what they are voting for, but they are voting for those who claim responsible government, jobs for others, support for those worse off than myself, freedom from interference, support for small business, support for American business, etc. They are not voting for food stamps and welfare for themselves. (Honestly, food stamps is an idiotic system. The people who voted for food stamps were voting against (admittedly largely mythical) "welfare cheats", not for themsevles.)

The risk of Tytler's calumny does not come from the masses, it does not come from the middle class.

rseed42 said...

I think that Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End contains one of the most compelling accounts of what augmented reality can ultimately achieve. Until we have the complementary fully aware networked environment, it will probably be a really bad idea to walk around with your VR helmet on. Incidentally, has anyone thought about the idea that Occulus Rift could help end obesity when holodeck-like games appear? Sports will suddenly become much more compelling if you can shoot people while running around. Laser tag is so much fun :).

David Brin said...

What utter malarkey. Sandymount brings us two examples of appeals-to-authority,
In support of utterly evidence free assertions based upon wish-cliches… like the Tytler Calumny… to which I responded by pointing to actual historical facts…

…to which his remise was simply a doubling down on appeals-to-authority… plus whining.

In fact voters in the US have not voted themselves undeliverable liabilities. Repeating that insanely counterfactual calumny does not make it true. Social Security and Medicare would be in fine shape if (1) we balanced the regular budget and (2) slightly raised the retirement age to meet the rising age of health.

Yes we have budget deficits, which are directly assignable to

(1) the fact that Bill Clinton’s surpluses came from his vetoing of lunatic “supply side” tax largesse tsunamis for the upper class, and when Bill Clinton was no longer around to veto those bills, they passed, and tsunamis of red ink immediately ensued.

(2) TWO moronic land wars of attrition in Asia that cost is more than a trillion dollars while leaving only three beneficiaries. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Halliburton.

The middle classes NEVER polled in favor of supply side voodoo largesse grabs. In Periclean Athens and in Florence, likewise, the citizens were puritan and voted to tax themselves for the future. It has been aristocrats, from Sumeria to Rome to 1789 France, who have bankrupted their nations. The Tytler Calumny is a pure and despicably vile outright lie.

This fellow waves off the spectacular way our democracy has been vastly more successful than all other – aristocracy-led societies combined(!) as due to: “myriad cpnfounding factors”….

HAR! Excuse me? You cannot do that!

If our democracy has been vastly more successful, then according to Occam’s Razor, the simplest hypothesis to explain that difference in outcomes is that the factor responsible might be the largest social difference between our nation and all those others! The burden of proof is on YOU to show that it was a myriad coincidences that Just-Happened to compensate for democracy actually being far less productive. Do you even listen to yourself?

One thing. I’ll not be lectured to about logic by such a ... mind.

Jon Roth said...

Moisture vaporators! Finally!

Jon Roth said...

oops, forgot the link: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/this-tower-pulls-drinking-water-out-of-thin-air-180950399/

Carl M. said...

David, always keep in mind that democrats for genocide included Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Enlightment himself.
The British crown said no more white settlements west of the Appalachians.

I'm not against democracy; I just no longer think it is as magical as advertised. If Democracy was all unicorns and fairy dust the Bush Administration would have triumphed in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. forces clobbered Saddam and the Taliban easily enough; establishing a democratic government the natives could agree on was the expensive bit.


Democracy using Range Voting might have the magic you are dreaming of. Neither Hitler nor the communists could have gotten traction in Germany has there been Range Voting and single member districts. Even with some proportional voting (reweighted Range Voting), the extremists would have gotten less traction.

Jumper said...

"At this rate, the federal government will owe an estimated $200 trillion on the entitlement programs by 2021 (again, excluding the effects of ACA) and $300 trillion by 2025."
As Bill Cosby would say:
"R--i--g--h--t..."

Jumper said...

A completely off topic link. Topical in pop culture, sure.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgsFCyD4nEw

gwern said...

> Sorry but I find that extended, articulate comment to be stunningly naive. Across 6000 years, brief experiments have departed from the standard human model of a pyramidal social structure in which society's elites conspire to keep the masses down.

Nothing naive about it. Brin, if you think Fukuyama's thesis is wrong, the reply is very simple: point to the victorious coherent ideology of how to structure society and governments and economies which has superseded & supplanted liberal capitalistic democracy worldwide in the minds of intellectuals. What is it? Divine right monarchy? Legalism? Ultramontanist Papism? Roman Republicanism? Athenian sortition? Tribes connected by sodalities and genealogical mythmaking?

It's a simple question: what worldview has defeated liberal capitalism and replaced it as a desirable view of How Things Should Be? (Does anyone but another dictator dream of being ruled by Putin & the siloviki? Do the citizenry of any countries yearn to instate a Communist Party with a guiding Secretary who ascended from the ranks of the cadre?) I admit that I am not an international traveler who has seen into the hearts of people worldwide, but if there is any 'Third Way' or 'Chavezisma' or Iran-style Islamic theocracy which has grippd the hearts & mind of the world, I have entirely missed it.

Don't point to the on the ground reality. I already laid out how that is not a reply to Fukuyama. Do him and me the courtesy of responding to what was actually claimed, not what you think was claimed without reading either him or me.

Jumper said...

Thinking about David's use of the diamond figure as illustration. We don't need more than two dimensions and more people may be comfortable with a sort of Gaussian curve than this
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient
Gini coefficient.

But the fat middle is the gist of it.

Jonathan S. said...

"Incidentally, has anyone thought about the idea that Occulus Rift could help end obesity when holodeck-like games appear? Sports will suddenly become much more compelling if you can shoot people while running around."

In the novel Dream Park, Niven and Barnes first set their fully-interactive games in a holographic field; however, later novels used AR to achieve many of the same effects (as well as permitting people to attend a Park function while appearing as their favorite icon). The games in the Park were often LARPs; one popular variant, taking place over a shorter period but with all the gameplay, was called the "fat-ripper special".

David Brin said...

Carl M… when have you heard me say democracy is easy? Or even natural? Or always good? It is an excruciatingly hard thing to keep balanced and tuned and operating, wherein negotiation transcends the natural human tendencies of violence and demonization of opponents.

It is in the context of how HARD it is to do right that we understand why it seldom prevailed across 6000 years, despite the fact that - when it DOES prevail and work well - it is vastly more productive and effective in all ways than the more stable-natural human forms of governance.

Yes, what I described is complicated, but you are capable of grasping this irony and contradiction.

As for Iraq and Afghanistan -- "spreading democracy" was never the intention of the manhcurian candidates who plunged us into those quagmires.

gwern does not even make sense on a sentence by sentence basis. I scratch my head in puzzlement what it is he is even hallucinating that he is responding to! His strawman of what he is supposedly arguing with is so far afield that it's on another planet. I think we are dealing with a disturbed individual.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Guys
My understanding of Fukuyama's thesis is that the "alternate" socioeconomic theories had all died leaving only the western model

Now to me that is like saying that the latest Ford is so good that only Ford will make cars - ignoring our tendency to keep making improvements

Now if we generalize to say that IC engined cars have shown they are best it makes more sense
(And then here comes Elon Musk)

So we have "Western Democracies"
Ranging from Finland to America

But do we??

This paper says that the USA has not been "democratic" for a while
(1981 - 2002)

http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf

Is it any better now?
was it any better before 1981?

Is it all in the name? -
like the Soviet "Republics"??

So has anybody tested the idea of a democracy?

locumranch said...

David's hope that technology (in this case AR goggles) will **make us better** only makes sense in the way that expensive Sports Cars make our penises bigger. It don't.

In fact, all available evidence points to the contrary: The prolonged use of technology (as opposed to its creation) makes the majority of us stupider & less capable as in 'We better than prior generations cause we have calculator, smart phone, Spell Check & TV even though prior generations could add, reason, spell & entertain themselves without machines when we no can'.

All the rest is tautological nonsense. The 'end of history' is literally 'the present' when we assume that history equals 'the past', but this only holds true when the present is arguably eternal or endless, being false when the present is either transient or capable of becoming the past.

David tries to do something similar with liberal democracy, desiring it to be eternal or endless, believing it to be the culmination of our 'progress' towards this predetermined liberal democratic goal, thinking it the inevitable 'end of history' because it represents our exceptional present rather than our unexceptionally repressive history.

But this is circular thinking. More likely, liberal democracy is a 'black swan' occurrence rather than the inevitable end, the consequence of a convergence of events which include the presence of adequate living space, excess resources & a power vacuum caused by the collapse of the previous hierarchy.

The Renaissance was created as a result of a hierarchy-purging Black Death; the colonial USA was most fortunate in this regard because it lacked a preexisting hierarchy; WW1 was less successful in this regard even though it did kill off the bulk of the European Aristocracy; and, perhaps, we can recreate these fortuitous events if need be.


Best.

Sandymount said...

David,

I think as a sci fi writer you ignore rather obvious confounding factors like technology, discovery of and how to use fossil fuels, less terrible/freer economics?

Deidre McCloskey has written couple of wonderful books worth a read charting the psychological /cultural aspects as well. Bourgeois dignity and virtues. http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=deidre%20mccloskey&sprefix=deidre+mc%2Caps&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Adeidre%20mccloskey

I note on this blog people get quite upset about supply side economics as though any disagreement from posters like myself is somehow endorsement of various republicans or their policies. It isnt (from me anyway_.

You guys need to think outside your false political dichotomy. Remember for example Clinton ruled during a massive global boom (largely Asian driven so hardly his credit),not hard to look good in a favourable environment. And in the UK we had a left wing government for 13 years in which we had those same 'Republican' wars and their banking crash... except, we had a labuor (Democrat) government. The fact is neither side is materially different in their policies from the other. Even Reagan, the famously right wing supply side guy... look at total debt of US government at start and end of his reign... it went UP, a lot.

To think the unfunded liabilities will go away with the couple of policies you suggest means you have not looked at the numbers. Look at balance sheet not income statement of US balance sheet like the CBO does. Changes needed are politically impossible to deliver regardless of Republican or Democrat majority. For a libertarian minded guy you seem quite ignorant of the maths?

Listen, I wont bug you again as you seem irritated and able to remember logical fallacies only when you want to argue with someone yet not in your own posts which seem to involve oversimplifying opponent and shouting at them/implying they are stupid even if most here probably have as many degrees as you do.

Good luck with that.

Ciao.

Jonathan.

Paul451 said...

Lawrence Lessig has introduced a SuperPAC, Mayday for the Republic, with the stated purpose of destroying SuperPACs. His plan is to raise enough money from small donations to "buy Congress" and destroy the oligarchical donor system from the inside. (The goal is 5 Mayday-aligned House reps in 2014, then raise enough money to "buy Congress" in 2016.)

The site: https://mayone.us/

Article about: http://time.com/84556/lawrence-lessig-superpac/

"Just 196 people (that's 0.000063 percent of the country) donated 80 percent of the total Super PAC money raised in 2012, according to Lessig."

Paul451 said...

Oops, clickable links.

https://mayone.us/

http://time.com/84556/lawrence-lessig-superpac/

David Brin said...


Locum's 1st few sentences made me think maybe the cogent version was back. Sure, he crammed words into my mouth that I never ever uttered, but I was willing to play along… till he dived back into normal mode, making up opinions of "brin" that bear no relationship to anything that I ever said or meant or believed. Go self-diddle to your strawman fellah. It bears no relation to me.

Duncan, you deserve an answer, since I cannot even parse whether the three fools on this thread (not Carl M) think I AGREE with Fukayama or disagree with him… their interpretations of the word "democracy" are bizarre. Their suggestion that I believe it is unstoppable or even natural are entirely in their own imaginations.

Sandymount's hallucinatory strawmannings make locums look positively sane, by comparison. Nothing that he says relates to anything I said.

I am vastly better than he is, at taking into account complex factors contributing to our civilization. What he is incapable of is understanding -even remotely - the notion of Burden of Proof or Occam's Razor. He claims that a myriad complex factors played into our civilization's success… and no one denies this.

But when presented with two divergent systems that produce wildly divergent outcomes, it is blatantly obvious that the FIRST HYPOTHESIS as to the reason for the different outcomes should be assumed to be the difference in the systems. The burden of proof falls upon him, not me.

Other societies had oil. Others had tech. His assertion that enlightenment methods like democracy, competitive markets and open-free science had nothing to do with the new outcomes is crazy.

He does the same damn thing re Supply Side, which never made one… not one ever… successful prediction of action and outcome. Not… one… ever. Clinton vetoed SSE tax largess to the rich and we had surpluses. He leaves, the SSE Tytler gifts to the oligarchs pass and so do Bushites wars, and we plummet in ALL metrics of national health. Sure there MIGHT be ancillary factors! But Occam's freaking Razor…

The burden of proof falls on the rationalizing right, to show how their record of unalloyed and perfect ruin has any excuse at all.

His CBO citing is completely counterfactual. SSI is in decent shape and would balance with small changes in retirement age. Here the fellow simply flat-out lies. As he does when he ignores the fact that the middle class is always more careful with money than the privileged caste, as has ALWAYS been true across human history.

But the final matter is the straw man of his whining. Gawd what a littel bitty.

Feh, I am done with his dismal pretense at intellect.

David Brin said...

The best examples: Periclean Athens discovered a big silver deposit. The landed gentry wanted it all to go to them. Rabble rousers called for it to be divided equally. The vote? To invest it all in infrastructure and the Navy.

Holland -- the most consistently bourgeoise nation in world history, has been democratic for centuries and always in the black, prudent to a fault, while the neighboring kingdoms and duchies swerved in and out of bankruptcy.

For all its faults, the preceding applies also to Switzerland. Which is why the great banks chose Holland and Switzerland and then increasingly democratic England and America to base themselves.

Um… The same held in renaissance Florence and Venice. Flawed republics that nevertheless outperformed everybody in all directions.

The ability of nut cases to convince themselves of patterns that have no basis in actual historical fact is one of the proofs that we are a very imaginative (if often loopy) species.

Paul451 said...

David,
"SSI is in decent shape and would balance with small changes in retirement age."

Errr, or removing the contribution cap.

Surely given the choice between hurting elderly poor people or asking the wealthy to put in 4.2% of their earnings over $100,000, the latter is the least evil option?

Andy said...

"I think we are dealing with a disturbed individual."

C'mon David, you're better than this :(

Lighten up.

Ricardo Montachio said...

The fact that we are in the middle of a mega extinction event that will probably surpass the Dinosaur one seems to point that our neighboors are evil or idiots.

The planet's current biosphere being destroyed dur to human stupidity or greed is pretty bad.

Also Global Warming.

Our only hope is strong AI but even that can backfire or be too late to do anything if we manago to create it.

Ricardo Montachio said...

I hate typos.

dur = due
mango = manage

Tom Crowl said...

What does 'democracy' mean in practice?

i.e.:

Polls: Democrats and Republicans Both Oppose Core Government Policies Which Help Fatcats While Hurting the Little Guy

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/09/polls-show-that-americans-increasingly-dislike-obamas-core-policies.html

And I don't think this problem is limited to the U.S.

What frightens me is that the global infrastructure is forming... and there is insufficient attention to its shape. It seems to be just be rolling along driven by inertia.

For example.... giving what might be called the globalist paradigm its due... it does have a good side... much of the political thought behind this drive is the realization that both trade and currency can be great forces for unity... and inhibitors of conflict... by creating a mutual inter-dependence.

However its not going to work the way they've hoped. There are a number of reasons for this... basic human orneriness is one of them... but only one.

Without effective means of influence it seem unlikely that TPTB will do anything about that disconnection... these opinions can effectively be ignored... just as so many other views are... if they should be contrary to other interests with more effective voices.

The Internet has at least made possible more effective methods for interaction AND influence... if they're ever implemented.

Andy said...

gwerns comments made a lot of sense to me, even if I don't completely agree.

If I understand correctly, gwerns argument is that the sputtering flame of liberal democracy has now started a large enough fire such that no alternative systems can make a viable claim to being superior.

There used to be a global movement toward communism, but it faltered and then collapsed after the Cold War. A few remnants remain such as Russia and China, but they are riddled with internal problems that will eventually overwhelm the governments. With modern access to information about the superior benefits of democracy which citizens of these countries can obtain via the internet, it is only a matter of time before democracy blooms out of the ashes of these inferior systems.

When you say that "gwern does not even make sense on a sentence by sentence basis" and "His strawman of what he is supposedly arguing with is so far afield that it's on another planet" then it is my turn to scratch my head in puzzlement. One may not agree with his point but it was at least plausible and on-target as a response to you saying that Fukayama was wrong about the "end of history".

Carl M. said...

David, I'm pushing a solution. There is a reason why democracy keeps sputtering, especially in deeply divided countries. Most voting systems reward those with the biggest faction, even if that faction is hated by the rest of the country. Parliamentary systems are intentionally unstable (without a monarch or House of Lords as stabilizers). Our system has a great deal more stability but only allows serious consideration of two parties.

Scandinavia had democracy long before they had literacy. The ancient Vikings used Range Voting. We use it to determine best gymnast at the Olympics, and valedictorian at a typical high school. We have a more scientific system for determining Miss America than we have for determining legislators.

So when I see a graphic that asks "What's gone wrong with democracy?" I point out what's wrong with democracy.

Athens, by the way, didn't have elections at all for their legislators. They cast lots.

David Brin said...

Andy thanks. I hereby lighten up and apologize for verbal excesses.

Ricardo, 30 years ago almost everyone predicted there would be no whales on the planet by 2015. (I was an exception.) Today every single species of whale still exists and many are increasing in number.

That does NOT mean I am complacent! I fight for a better and more responsible world! We are in danger! But we'll not win through exaggeration.

Tom Crowl, yes, the world elites are forming two branches of governance -- bureaucracy and Courts… while deliberately obstructing the executive and legislative from forming. There is one word to explain why. "STANDING."

Individuals on Earth know that as citizens they have standing to confront and modify the executive and legislative branches. If those existed, there would be demands for citizen sovereignty. This must be delayed.

David Brin said...


Andy, thank you for interpreting the utter opacity of gwern's incomprehensible opposition to what I did not oppose.

In fact, I said that democracy is simultaneously vastly more EFFECTIVE and PRODUCTIVE than all other forms of governance… but also highly unstable and contrary to human nature. If gwern meant what you say he meant, then it's silly…

…our competition is not Russia and China. It is the human nature propensity for smart elites to cheat. To rile up (as CarlM) posits) a plurality or majority or (in America) a frenzied minority to wreck the positive sum synnergies of a working democracy.

Fukayama (and, I presume, the opaque gwern) blithely ignore both history and human nature, weaving a sunny just-so story about how there are no alternatives to enlightenment… but indeed, the darkness abounds. It begins in human hearts.

locumranch said...

Like David Lerner, some are so committed to modernization theory & the 'Idea of Progress' that they believe that democracy is 'the end product’ (the inevitable result) of the modernization process, the implicit assumption being one of unidirectional causation.

Unfortunately, modernization and industrialization are non-identical concepts, the former (modernization) presupposes progressive infallibilism & the presence of a divine plan, while the latter (industrialization) presupposes the oligarchic tradition of an oppressed majority laboring under the direction of a privileged elite.

Furthermore:

(1) Democracy is NOT the inevitable result of modernization as evidenced by the occurrence of US Democracy in an agrarian setting;

(2) Modernization can and does coexist in authoritarian settings as evidenced by the PRC, Taiwan, Japan's Meji & most Arab oligarchies; and

(3) Modernization, along with its so-called 'progressivism', precedes & coexists with the current democratic decline in the USA & most EU nations.

Democracy requires the preconditions I previously mentioned: Available resources, liberty (or living space) and a power vacuum. It also requires a certain amount of reckless abandon, a willingness to give up (risk) what you have (things you value) in order to gain something better. It does not 'depend' on the invention of a better toaster (modernism); it is not the additive product of hard work (gradualism); and it does not 'trickle down' as a result of progressive ideology.

Modernization is another name for ‘Trickle-Down Democratics’.


Best

gwern said...

> gwern does not even make sense on a sentence by sentence basis. I scratch my head in puzzlement what it is he is even hallucinating that he is responding to! His strawman of what he is supposedly arguing with is so far afield that it's on another planet. I think we are dealing with a disturbed individual.

Tell you what, when you learn what Fukuyama argued, let's see how 'disturbed' you think I am. (I'll give you a hint: I contributed to your mailing list for years under 'maru', and have commented for many more years on your blog under 'gwern', and this is the first time you've ventured to that sort of ad hominem. Which is more likely, that I only just became unhinged on the topic of Fukuyama, or... that you have no idea what you're talking about and you are relying on third-hand grossly misleading summaries of Fukuyama by people who themselves neither read nor understood the book?)

I mean, you could have looked at Wikipedia to correct yourself: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_History_and_the_Last_Man It quotes one key summary:

> "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

(Why, that sounds like what I was saying.)

Or heck, look at the 'Misinterpretations' section:

> The most basic (and prevalent) error in discussing Fukuyama's work is to confuse "history" with "events". Fukuyama claims not that events will stop occurring in the future, but rather that all that will happen in the future (even if totalitarianism returns) is that democracy will become more and more prevalent in the long term, although it may suffer "temporary" setbacks (which may, of course, last for centuries).

(Why, that sounds like what you were saying...)

> In fact, I said that democracy is simultaneously vastly more EFFECTIVE and PRODUCTIVE than all other forms of governance… but also highly unstable and contrary to human nature. If gwern meant what you say he meant, then it's silly… …our competition is not Russia and China. It is the human nature propensity for smart elites to cheat. To rile up (as CarlM) posits) a plurality or majority or (in America) a frenzied minority to wreck the positive sum synnergies of a working democracy. Fukayama (and, I presume, the opaque gwern) blithely ignore both history and human nature, weaving a sunny just-so story about how there are no alternatives to enlightenment… but indeed, the darkness abounds. It begins in human hearts.

Again, Fukuyama's (not 'Fukayama') thesis 'the end of history' is not about diamonds vs pyramids. It's not about stability. It's not about whether smart elites will cheat. Or about whether the USA is a working democracy, or about whether democracies have 'positive sum synnergies'. It's not about what 'human nature' & 'human nature propensity' is or isn't. That you think it's about any of these indicates that you're working with a 'strawman'.

It is about the *history of ideas*, about *intellectual elites*. It is about whether any normative framework or ideology of society and governance has surpassed liberal capitalist democracy. As I said before: to refute Fukuyama's thesis is simple - just name the more successful meme.

David Brin said...

gwern I notice that the one hypothesis that you don't mention is that you completely misunderstood my position, leaped on your mistaken strawman with a howl, and wrote incoherent nonsense. Alas, that hypothesis is the only one that matches your earlier screed.

I am fully aware that Fukayama is not making specific predictions. I have spoken at length with the man. I know the excuses that have been made for him, after the fact. Believe me, I do not hold his musings about "end of history" against him anywhere near as much as I do his NEXT unbelievable intellectual travesty…

…which was offering verbal excuses, rationalizations and cover for the "neoconservative" court priests in the Bush White House, concocting excuses for the worst US foreign policy in 70 years.

Fukayama is smart. He backpedaled from "end of history" and he has recanted much of his participation in the neocon travesty. I am in no position to diss a man for musing aloud about possibilities!

But by talking about "history" while ignoring the vast sweep of history, creating a "logical" edifice without discussing how systematically unstable democracy is, in the face of human nature… that is just wrong. You carve away all the things his statements are NOT. What is left? Nothing.

gwern said...

> gwern I notice that the one hypothesis that you don't mention is that you completely misunderstood my position, leaped on your mistaken strawman with a howl, and wrote incoherent nonsense. Alas, that hypothesis is the only one that matches your earlier screed.

Anyone can read what you wrote in OP:

> All right then, where is the "end of history" promised by Francis Fukayama, after the fall of the Berlin Wall? The purported rush of the entire world to embrace liberal democracy? That did seem to be the way momentum was heading, in the Clinton era, but the 21st Century became a lot rougher -- a more cynical and dogmatic era. Take this assessment from Freedom House in What's Gone Wrong With Democracy?

Where is it? It remains where it's been all along. When you understand what Fukuyama promised. Where's my misunderstanding? You presented some empirical work by an NGO as a refutation of an intellectual claim, which doesn't work.

No response to my Wikipedia quotes either; I'm not making any of this up...

> I am fully aware that Fukayama is not making specific predictions. I have spoken at length with the man.

I take it not about what 'end of history' meant, else you would surely have claimed that as authority...

> But by talking about "history" while ignoring the vast sweep of history, creating a "logical" edifice without discussing how systematically unstable democracy is, in the face of human nature… that is just wrong. You carve away all the things his statements are NOT. What is left? Nothing.

So your criticism boils down to: he doesn't share your exact political interests? How self-centered. And perhaps not too correct either - in terms of understanding elites and modern states, he seems to be doing some interesting and relevant work in his _Origins of Political Order_ (particularly in discussing the history of China which is all too often ignored). Not that you've read any of that either, I'm guessing.

David Brin said...

My mistake. I tried again when it is clearly useless. There are no thought processes here that I can grasp as logic or even patterned. I give up.

gwern said...

And in conclusion, Brin demonstrates at tedious length why one should be familiar with an idea before mocking it on one's blog for irrelevant reasons. gg.

LarryHart said...

Tom Crowl:

What does 'democracy' mean in practice?


To me, healthy democracy is based on the theory that "you can't fool all of the people all of the time"--that in aggragate, people will tend to vote to do what is right.

There are flaws in the theory, of course. Them-vs-us group issues will divide the vote by group interest. But the theory behind democracy is that people of good will can reach consensus on the tactics for governing themselves and their society.

The more recent notion, articulated by Mitt Romney in the campaign (although he didn't invent this--Karl Rove was a master at it) that the candidate's job is to get 50.1% of the electorate to award him the office is a heresy of democracy. If your goal is to win elections and force your agenda on the country, then yes, it can work, but that is a complete subversion of the reason democracy is attractive as a governing system in the first place. I'd go so far as to say it is un-American.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"To me, healthy democracy is based on the theory that "you can't fool all of the people all of the time"--that in aggragate, people will tend to vote to do what is right."

I agree

Which is why
http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf

Is so worrying

David Brin said...

In fact, democracy is the least reliable and most error prone of the four great enlightenment accountability arenas. All four, science, markets, democracy and justice courts, rely upon competitive processes to produce positive sum outcomes… with society as a whole benefiting from most of the competitive encounters.

This happens because competition that is well regulated and carefully tuned allows each arena to quickly discover errors and fallacies that were hidden or ignored by believers, but get criticized by competitors.

But while errors often get canceled out, caught and eliminated, good things like discoveries or innovations are swiftly discussed, exploited, improved, copied and added-to. Hence the positive sum. In no other kind of society is the positive sum so well harnessed…

…though with many flaws! Law courts are meticulous… and make errors. In science errors happen, but most often are quickly caught. Markets discover errors quickly, but only when cheating is reduced and competition enhanced.

Cheaters abound in markets and even more so in democracy, which is why they both accumulate lots of rules. And cheaters warp those.

Democracy, especially, only functions in a constant state of suspicion, argument and renewal. Forces are constantly trying to game the system, from bribery and blackmail to lobbying to capture of regulatory agencies, to election warping.

Above all, elites will try to evade the great democratic tool of siccing elites AGAINST each other. Clever men will do what lords did in times past, strive to make deals with each other so that they can cease competing with each other and instead "divide the pot."

The superiority of democracy is only "obvious" to fools. Yes, it is part of a larger enlightenment system, one of its great arenas, and its effectiveness at helping to deliver wealth and justice and happiness has been unprecedented. …


…but it is also frail and easily suborned. And different cultures that do not grasp fair-flat competition or the positive sum way of thinking simply cannot do democracy well. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya… it takes a modernized generation for it to even have a chance.

None of the above fits into the straw men that any of our recent spate of dopes claimed that I believed… either simplistically that democracy was fated to easy success or that it is doomed. Such fellows really should consider taking up the Paraphrase Challenge and STOP ASSUMING THEY KNOW WHAT THE OTHER GUY SAID…

Leaping to believe the other fellow said something you believe to be stupid is the reflex of a foolish child. AHA! Gotcha! The very satisfaction that rushes through the blood should be a hint that something is wrong.

Those who do not understand how to paraphrase and verify "is this what you believe?" before denouncing… such people are not grownups.

And they are of no help to the difficult task of preserving a complex enlightenment.

David Brin said...

onward

gwern said...

> None of the above fits into the straw men that any of our recent spate of dopes claimed that I believed… either simplistically that democracy was fated to easy success or that it is doomed. Such fellows really should consider taking up the Paraphrase Challenge and STOP ASSUMING THEY KNOW WHAT THE OTHER GUY SAID…

You sure do seem fond of trying to discuss anything but Fukuyama and dragging things to the meta level. But alright, if the paraphrase test is so good, if you were able to paraphrase what Fukuyama argued, why haven't you done so in your many comments mocking Fukuyama and calling me a disturbed person who is attacking a strawman? That would seem to be part of a meaningful discussion. Instead of, y'know, namecalling and meandering around in generalities about your idiosyncratic politics.

Poor Richard said...

Speaking of communicating across time, I decided to write some personal “Letters to AI” (like those letters parents write when they expect to be dead before their children come of age) so that as AI awakens on the Internet it might find these letters addressed to it and perhaps gather some benefit from my experience and fatherly advice even if I am completely unaware of its classified existence or I am simply no longer around.

http://almanac2010.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/letters-to-ai/