Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Obfuscation: protect privacy by destroying the Web!

Time for a return to the core issue of our time: how shall we best preserve and extend freedom?  Along with freedom's contingent benefits, like privacy?

In the LA Review of Books, Internet Privacy: Stepping Up Our Self-Defense Game, Evan Selinger reviews a slim book -- Obfuscation: A User's Guide for Privacy and Protest, by Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum.  

Distilled, the core argument is that defenders of freedom and privacy should poison the Web and Net that we now know, by flooding it with disinformation and false data, so that no one -- including powerful elites -- will be able to tell what's real. In other words -- burn the commons to the ground, so smoke gets in their eyes. That'll show 'em.

Let me avow that I actually quite respect Brunton and Nissenbaum and other members of this weird cult, for one reason.  At least in Obfuscation they are recommending a different solution from the standard offerings, which are “encrypt everything!” and “surrender to despair.”  True, the obfuscation approach was first offered in sci fi thought experiments, like Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End and Vernor saw the logical reasons why it cannot possibly work.  Still, at least they are trying to envision something assertive.

To be clear, most of us share the same fear – of a return to the obligate pyramids of privilege and power that dominated 99% of human societies for at least the last 6000 years.  George Orwell terrified us by portraying Big Brother’s tyranny becoming far worse even than feudalism, enhanced and locked-in with technological powers that make resistance futile, forever.  I am often accused of shugging off that threat when, in fact, I am as much (or more) motivated to fight it than anyone else alive.  Motivated enough to ask that rarest of questions: 

“How did we get the narrow window of freedom (and some privacy) that we currently enjoy?”

Oh, there is no end to Cassandras issuing jeremiads and hand-wringing denunciations that the window is closing! Declaring that various elites – government agencies, corporations, oligarchs, criminal gangs – are forging Big Brother’s tools and applying them, as we speak. And these complainers are right! As far as they go, that is. Yes, the revolution and renaissance is in danger! It always has been, with odds stacked high in favor of feudalism’s horrible return.  And yet…

…and yet dire warnings are best when accompanied by perspective. But not one of the modern doomcasters – from Snowden and Assange to Fukayama and Schneier to Nissenbaum and Brunton – not one of them ever casts an eye toward the question that I will now reiterate: “How did we get the admittedly imperfect window of freedom (and some privacy) that we currently enjoy?”

The answer is not “obfuscation.” Nor is it a more frequently prescribed version of the same notion – universal encryption of everything. Our ancestors who set the enlightenment revolution in motion held no truck with such cowardly approaches, that boil down to “If you are afraid of looming tyrants, then by all means hide!” (See my earlier critique: Everybody Hide!)

Across twenty years I have asked fans of cowering in shadows to name one time when that approach truly stymied would-be lords, or helped to maintain a free and open and accountable society. The answer I get is always… always… puzzled, blinking stares, as if the question had never once occurred to them. But in fact, if you examine sixty centuries of tyranny – and the methods used by secret police and despots since Hammurabi – only a handful of their tactics would be even slightly inconvenienced by perfectly-encrypted messaging – or by setting the commons on fire. 

(Oh, and fans of encrypted cowering also ignore technological change.  The fact that agencies and corporations can trivially decipher encryption from ten years ago, so why won’t they be able to parse today’s best ciphers, ten years from now? Revelation delayed is still revelation. Oh, you respond that this time it'll work much better than it ever worked before? You’d really and truly entrust everything to such a slender reed?)

Ah, but solutions only have to sound plausible and logical. What? I’m asking for a history of their proposed approach ever, ever, ever having worked?  Call me a spoil-sport.

In fact, only one thing has ever actually worked, thwarting tyranny long enough to let us have this recent – albeit imperfect – stretch of relative freedom and privacy. The method is called reciprocal accountability.  Also Sousveillance (look it up.) A far more demanding, citizen-centered approach that happens to be the way our parents did it, and their parents, and the founders of our revolution.

It is the very same method that is currently being applied on our streets, as citizens -- empowered by new technologies of vision – assert themselves to hold police accountable.  Using new technologies like cell phone cameras to empower citizenship, instead of oppressing it, they are preserving and enhancing freedom as we speak, not by hiding from the Man, but by militantly and courageously aiming tools of light to hold authority accountable. 

And that is the difference between us, friends.  I share with Nissenbaum and Brunton and Selinger a fear and loathing of potential feudal lords and tyrants. Only I care enough to actually get past the indignant reflex and ask what has worked in the past – and what is working right now. 

Ponder this truth: what has worked is not - and never has been - hiding.

== Is hiding even remotely possible? ==

The new techno romantics all proclaim so, demanding the cowardly approach – hiding from the Man – and loudly proclaiming it to be brave.  But physically and pragmatically, can it actually be done?

In the future, elites will have all sorts of tools to defeat obfuscation.  Linguistic-semantic analysis will detect your statements and ID you, even hidden by a pseudonym. Comparison of multi-path inputs will parse truth from fabulation. Governments and criminals and aristocrats will have means to bypass the bits, eavesdropping on the sonic data as your voice vibrates your window, or they’ll tap and log the strokes you type on your keyboard, from the different sounds each letter emits.

Technologies like facial coding, biofeedback and brain imaging have long been used by companies in the hope of pushing the boundaries of marketing and product development. But their use by political parties and governments is a growing phenomenon, evoking futuristic scenes from the movie “Minority Report,” in which eerily well-informed billboards scan commuters’ eyes and call out to them by name.

I have compiled a long list of biometric traits that are useful or effective at distinguishing one human being from another.  These range from fingerprints and retinal or iris scans to face recognition, hand-bone ratios, voiceprints, walking-gait... all the way to the otto-acoustic sound emissions that many of us radiate involuntarily from our eardrums!  We positively fizz with identifiers. And the romantics who think they will ever be able to conceal their movements in such a future are uber-fools.

Now comes news that just sitting in a room you'll leave a unique panoply of bacteria that can be attributed to you. Everywhere you go... you emit your own unique microbial cloud -- a personalized signature of your own micro biome.

"We all continually emit our own microbial cloud into the air and onto nearby—and not so nearby—surfaces. Now, according to a new study in the open-access journal Peerj, scientists can distinguish the make-up of the cloud is uniquely yours—a personal marker that is as particular to you as your fingerprints or your genome. That’s a biological calling card that could have implications for epidemiology, environmental engineering or even, intriguingly, criminal forensics."

Elsewhere, I talk about a posh gym in New York where a $26,000 membership and a retinal scan lets you into a facility where they measure everything about you… in order to guide your workout. Um okay.  So rich people are paying high rates in order to offer up their bodies to be measured in every conceivable way, so that unvetted parties will have every single biometric ... ah, I see you are getting it.  But do they?

Safety-through-concealment is a fool's fantasy -- even for elites.

I do not say this out of despair!  Rather, in order to rouse you to fight for freedom the only way that has ever worked.  The only way that can possibly work.  And the way that the self-appointed mavens of privacy absolutely refuse to consider.  In their relentless preaching for cowardice… that we all should protect ourselves by hiding… they perform the worst possible betrayal of everything that they claim to stand for.

Pardon me for repeating. I'll stop doing it when I see signs that the point is getting through to anyone, anyone at all.  But hiding will not work over any long-run.  

Sure, protect your passwords as a short term, practical matter.  But over the long term only one thing will keep you free.  Aggressively, militantly empowering yourself and your neighbors to see!

== So what’s to be done? ==

This is why the banks will not go all electronic and abandon their branches.  Bank branches will in future do what they do now, verify your credentials and help you do transactions.  Only in 2050 you will walk in... in-person... and be verified via all of your biometrics, including biomeNtrics (I just coined that!) via cranial sensors.

With that verification, you can then, in-person, clean up the last month's messes and prepare the next month's passwords.

== Someone being useful, at least ==

Much more cogent and well-supported – and hence scarier – is: "6 Spooky Ways Local Law Enforcement Is Watching You: A day in the life of the surveillance state," by Elliot Harmon and Nadia Kayyali, posted on the site of the worthy Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which I urge all of you to make one of your two dozen “proxy activism” NGOs.

Just because I disagree with EFF's set of prescriptive solutions, that doesn't mean they aren't completely right to be shouting and hollering and rousing public awareness of the overall dangers!  I send them money.  You should, too.

Harmon and Kayyali summarize, with useful links, half a dozen ways you are being watched, from social media monitoring and automated license plate readers to surveillance cameras, biometrics and imsi catchers.  Alas though, in the end the problem and drawback is the same.

== And finally… Yelp for People? ==

Of course this had to come. Yelp for people: You will soon be able to rate anyone you have interacted with on this new app: with reviews and 1 to 5 star ratings assigned to "your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose."

The good news?  This will light a fire under creating real reputation mediation services, a potential billion dollar business (and I know the secret sauce) – and don’t let anyone tell you that reputation companies already exist.  They are jokes.


Jumper said...

Forgive me going off topic so soon, but we have "Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas"

David Brin said...

Of course this is great news. Especially now that we have an inexpensive hydrogen engine again. Of course Elon is right that Jeff is ignoring a long history of rockets landing on their tails.

Alfred Differ said...

From the last thread:

@Paul SB: One can certainly look at the different approaches to space as historical progression, but I’d be very cautious about extending that by calling it a natural progression. Scaffolding is useful, but nation-states did not fund human expansion from Africa to Asia to everywhere else. I suspect a little digging will show human migration is mostly an exercise in market valuations. Some of the players in the markets might be the big entities we have around today who can erect scaffolding, but the markets come first and usually with small players.

@Paul451: "Choose your enemies wisely, for you will become them."
A lovely little example of this can be found with MIR and the coalition that tried to take it private. One of the fastest ways to tick off the Russians involved in the effort was to patronize them by offering to teach them about privatization of public assets/procedures. When our guys approached them, they already knew and in some ways knew better.

LarryHart said...

@Paul SB, also from the last thread...

I don't hate when people use the more current usage of "Red state". I mean, it's not like "irregardless". :) "Pet peeve" was maybe a bit strong.

It's just that people often complain about the terminology itself, as in "Just because I live in Kansas doesn't mean I'm a Republican". In the current, wider usage, the terms do seem to disenfranchise minority voters in either case, as if they don't count. In the older, specific usage, it still might have seemed that way, but it made more sense. "I don't care whether or not you vote Democratic. Your state is certain to give its electoral votes to the Republican."

TheMadLibrarian said...

RE: Blue Origin's tail landing. Anyone remember the Delta Clipper (DC-X)?

Paul SB said...

Larry, which is worse, 'irregardless' or all the people who write 'your' when they mean 'you're' or 'everyday' when they mean 'every day'? as far as the use of the Red/Blue terminology, that is always the danger of labeling. I know plenty of people here in Blue California who are flaming racists, sexists, homophobes - the whole litany of xenophobes who hate being in a Blue State. There are enough of them here to get some pretty fascist legislature through as ballot measures, Proposition 8 of a few years ago being the most obvious example. Of course, this effect is more meaningful in states that are not winner-take-all for the Electoral College.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, I hope you can see the problems with this comparison:

Scaffolding is useful, but nation-states did not fund human expansion from Africa to Asia to everywhere else. I suspect a little digging will show human migration is mostly an exercise in market valuations.

One of them is pretty glaring. States did not exist 40K years ago, by the time all the continents had been settled by humans (except Antarctica, of course). But more to the point, the technology needed for such migration was pretty simple, consisting largely of feet. A good stone toolkit, worked leather for bags and belts, water gourds - nothing that even comes close to what was necessary to put first objects then hominids into space.

The other problem is much more subtle, and probably something you don't really have the background knowledge to have thought of. I don't mean to offend here, but you think like a 20th C. American. The kind of market-driven economy you envision for all mankind doesn't really exist among hunter/gatherer cultures, and since there is no solid evidence for the existence of even tribe-level organization before the end of the Würm Glaciation (around 12K years ago), modern hunter-gatherers are the best model we have to work from. There have been ethnographers who used the term /market/, but this was a matter of using a convenient term people would be comfortable with. Material exchanges were driven by reciprocal kinship obligations, not by anything we would recognize today as market forces. This idea goes back to Marcel Mauss' 1925 article that is usually translated into English as "The Gift" (Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques in the original French). Even if you add the institution of fictive kinship (sounds like it could be an expansion pack for that Tribes game Dr. Brin was involved with) you still don't have an actual market or market exchange.

This is an idea that is very hard for many people to get, especially for Westerners who grew up during the Cold War. My daughter was just describing a speech she saw in a history class in which Nelson Mandela was disparaging capitalism by comparing it to the traditional cultures of South Africa, lifeways that for them are not so far in the past. The idea that markets are universal to all human societies acts as a justification for all the injustices of capitalism, in much the same way that the assumption that environmental degradation is an inevitable consequence of industrial society can be seen to justify lax pollution regulation.

Anyway, the geographic expansion of hominids in the Pleistocene is best understood in terms of what is called "village fissioning." This process is driven largely by population growth and its concomitant stresses. What generally happens is that as the population in a village grows, there is more social friction between individuals and families. Eventually groups of families bud off from the village and strike out into unclaimed territory to form a new village rather than stay home and deal with insufferable social conditions. It was calculated that, even with the slow growth rates observed among modern hunter/gatherers, it only takes a few thousand years for a small population in the Sahel to reach the north coast, and from there maybe 20k years to go everywhere else, according to mathematical models. Markets have little, if anything, to do with this. Homo sapiens only really became Homo economicus with the rise of civilization and the first governments.

Paul SB said...

We're kind of off-topic here, though. Sorry again!

Anonymous said...

"(Oh, and fans of encrypted cowering also ignore technological change. The fact that agencies and corporations can trivially decipher encryption from ten years ago, so why won’t they be able to parse today’s best ciphers, ten years from now? Revelation delayed is still revelation. Oh, you respond that this time it'll work much better than it ever worked before? You’d really and truly entrust everything to such a slender reed?)"

Um, citation needed? This is bovine scat!

David Brin said...

I wonder if our anonymous drive by can even tell us who Bakunin was, let alone cite th dozen classes of battlegrounds between secret police and undergrounds, across the millennia since Hamurabi. If he could, pray tell, which of those methods encryption would even slightly inconvenience? Two? Maybe three?

The naivete of our romantic "rebels" is stunning. As is their lazy unwillingness to actually study human history and the long lessons of underground movements for thousands of years. No, a wondrous tech marvel is their prayed-to panacea! Bah. Dilletentes.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I could discuss Bakunin, but I'm sure you can use Wikipedia too. My objection was to the claim that encryption from 2005.11.24 can be "trivially" deciphered on 2015.11.24.

Oh, and revelation delayed is often irrevelant.

"fact" "trivially"
ovine dung.

I suppose I am a dilettante, but I'm neither a cryppie nor a revolutionary (Praise God, Give Thanks, Think Rationally, Be Free.) So what? Your claim goes beyond exaggeration to ... distortion? parody?

Tony Fisk said...

The phrasing suggests a reference to Wikipedia would be required.

Midboss57 said...

I'm a bit surprised that no one was able to give an answer on when obfuscation has ever helped the cause of freedom. As much as a hate skirting that close to a Goodwyn, resistance movements in German occupied countries pretty much had to obfuscate their actions if they didn't want a terminal visit from the nice fellows of the Gestapo. More recently, those people in IS controlled territories posting information on social media that does not conform the IS line have a lot of goods reasons for keeping anonymous.

It is posited that all encryption will be broken given enough time. The thing is, the time it takes for a new form of encryption to be broken can make a lot of difference for those that use it in that time. Allow me to explain:
I believe one of the biggest factors on if a revolution of any kind succeeds is the time it takes for the powers in charge to understand the situation and react to it. Most successful revolutions succeeded because by the time the powers realized just how dangerous the situation is, it's too late to contain the situation. For example, if Louis XVI had understood just how dangerous the Revolution was, he'd have gone full Assad on it and it would be called the French Monarchy, not Republic. Messages from people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr only successfully spread because these messages got out to a large number of people before the authorities could clamp down on them/discredit them/black bag them, thereby making them much harder to touch.
The Stasi meanwhile, were very good at getting information on dissidents and ensured East Germans were not able to organize and rebel until the USSR fell apart.

My nightmare scenario is a case where the surveillance apparatus for the powers that be (governmental, corporate,religious...) is so advanced that they can immediately identify potential ringleaders for potential revolutions/demonstrations/class actions lawsuits and quietly nip them in the bud through blackmail/discrediting/"accidents"/arrest/memetic warfare/communication blackout before they even had the time to start something. As the riots in the UK a few summers ago showed, even a few hours can make a lot of difference.

I'm pretty sure this is the unstated ultimate goal of people in charge for trying to push all these surveillance laws because they realize the populations are quite angry at the elites for their mismanagement (economic, environmental and political) and are one spark away from taking action.

Tacitus said...

Regards obfuscation and the advancement of freedom (or the bebotherment of tyranny) I recall the Russian samizdat era.

Hand lettered or typed. Hard to trace, you needed to have additional suspicions as to source. Handed from person to person. Sure, the KGB got a hold of copies eventually but how often did they run down a source?

And marvelously they were usually just a little bit subversive. The works of Solzenitzen, not of Thomas Paine. Even after generations of suppression was there still a hint of the tolerance that the Czar's Okhrna once granted young dissidents? An honorable exile in Siberia rather than a bullet to the head? My recollection of Bakunin is vague, but certainly more than Wiki based. Dude had a great beard! Something of a Ivan the Baptist to the later revolutionaries although all concerned would be appalled at the analogy.

Doing my part to distract the NSA Eye of Sauron by living a life of soporific monotony!


Paul451 said...

The thing I find odd is that David stands against the proponents of crypto-obfuscation and mocks them and calls them cowards; trying repeatedly to use his influence/reputation to undermine their efforts.

But by contrast, those proponents are not standing against David's calls for greater transparency by governments, police, and corporations; nor do they mock and insult people working towards those goals. They don't, for example, attack people for advocating vest-cams for police, nor do they criticise people as cowards for filming police interactions. Nor would they try to block David's idea of citizen oversight councils; even if they believe it's not sufficient to reduce abuses.

In my opinion, people propose obfuscation because our own behaviour is the only thing we ourselves control. I can't make Google stop mass-indexing and profiling me. I can only use a different log-in on my phone than on my PC to make it slightly harder for them to cross-connect. I can't stop individual targeted secret surveillance against me by authorities, I can only try to encourage people to make it a little bit harder for routine universal warrantless secret monitoring of everyone.

That doesn't mean I'm opposed to efforts to gain government and police transparency and to expose tracking, nor am I against efforts to add more checks and oversight. It just means I'm not counting solely on those things being enough.

Do you mock me for locking my car? Even though criminals can bypass car locks, if determined enough? Do you mock my car manufacturer for installing an engine immobiliser, even though such devices can be bypassed?

"Not adequate on it's own" is vastly different from "stupid, harmful, cowardly, contemptible", and I really can't see any value in trying to make an enemy of people who should be allies.

Paul451 said...

LarryHart said...
"I mean, it's not like "irregardless". "

Obviously the correct term is irregardful.

Paul SB,
"or 'everyday' when they mean 'every day' "

It's a natural contraction. Same thing that happened to something, anyone, everywhere...

That said, for me, "everyday" is an adjective meaning unremarkable. An "everyday event". Whereas "every day" is more literal. So an event which happens every day may be an everyday event, but an everyday event doesn't necessarily happen every day.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Larry, which is worse, 'irregardless' or all the people who write 'your' when they mean 'you're' or 'everyday' when they mean 'every day'?

Since you know comics, you probably get the reference if I ask "Why are you picking on Brian Michael Bendis?" In any case, "irregardless" is worse than anything else.

Of course, this effect is more meaningful in states that are not winner-take-all for the Electoral College.

Maine and Nebraska?

And even in those states, I can only remember one example of the state actually splitting its EVs. And that was when Barack Obama won one of Nebraska's electoral votes in 2008.

Paul SB said...

Larry, it sounds like we are tapping into our inner grammarians. I have two children who are on The Spectrum, and since the condition is thought to be epigenetic, I probably have some of those OCDish traits myself. I try to overcome them awareness and exercising the old frontal lobes, but I don't always succeed (especially when I see English teachers making the same grammar mistakes as their students - but as I said, usage defines language. It can no more be frozen in my youth as anyone else's.) BTW - your explanation of every day vs. everyday is dictionary-perfect.

As far as the Electoral College goes, it's an anachronism that just doesn't belong in this century. It didn't really belong in the last one, either, but people in this country are too afraid to change things as a general rule, and the EC is too easily corrupted.

I'm afraid I missed the comics reference, though my daughter is working on creating one of her own. Her graphic projects before were always along the lines of short stories or novels in graphic form, but with this one she is deliberately trying to write it in a serialized form, the traditional comic book. I daresay the subject matter is far from traditional, though. It's where all my recent references to Machiavelli are coming from, and it has a pretty bizarre setting.

greg byshenk said...

Paul451, I think you are misreading. David can clarify for himself, of course, but I would suggest that your interpretation is incorrect.

That is, David is not mocking the crypto brigade for developing or using encryption (indeed, I am sure that he uses encryption himself, just as we all do occasionally); rather, he is mocking crypto-obfuscation presented as a solution to the problem of generalized surveillance. The problem is that it isn't any real solution, and presenting it as one distracts from finding real solutions. Yes it is probably true that crypto-obfuscationists don't generally argue against transparancy -- but in my (albeit limited) experience that is because they almost entrirely ignore transparency.

greg byshenk said...

David, an interesting report about an app for direct device-to-device communication developted by Delft University. It's in Dutch, but Google translate does an acceptable translation.

Paul SB said...

Other Paul,

Yeah, Dr. Brin does lay the hyperbole on pretty thick sometimes. However, if something is necessary but insufficient, leaving it at that and making no effort to acquire those other necessary is foolish at best, criminal in some cases. The American public school system is a case in point, and one that is probably best conceived in terms of criminal neglect. I have been to dozens of professional development meetings and conferences over the years, the staff at my school and my department meet quite regularly (twice a week with the department) all in an effort to improve instruction. This is fantastic and really necessary, but staggeringly insufficient. It's also totally typical of the mentality of management - if there is a problem it must be the ineptitude of the employees. Gains are being made, but we will never really bring our school system up to par without dealing with other issues. A primary concern here is class size reduction, but that requires hiring more teachers, which costs money no one wants to spend. So they spend tons of money on conferences to improve teacher performance that lead to only marginal gains. More substantial gains require improving the environment in which children are expected to learn, and the greatest impediment to that is the immaturity of the students themselves. Of course, hiring more teachers to combat this problem means more employees (which in management terms is a four-letter word doubled) and employees who have a history of unionizing.

Whether the proponents of obfuscation are naive, ignorant (and I see ignorance as a condition to be cured, not as some mindless calumny to hurl at opponents) or if they are criminal, as I see our entire educational administration racket, I couldn't say. This is one of Dr. Brin's pet issues and he knows much more about it than I do. The point stands, though, that if we stop at necessary but insufficient, we aren't going to get the outcomes we are looking for (whether we are polite about it or not).

Paul SB said...

It looks like Greg got in a comment that is basically the same while I was composing my much more long-winded response. Points for brevity!

Paul SB said...

Tacitus Dos,

"Doing my part to distract the NSA Eye of Sauron by living a life of soporific monotony!"

Remember when Homeland Security under the Bush Administration was using resources meant to track down terrorism on investigating People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other lefty causes? You never know what the Eye of Sauron will decide is subversive. I once read an old Anne McCaffrey sci-fi novel in which the main character was nearly barred from a military career because she had been an active member of a TV show fan club as a kid, when years later it was revealed that some of the writers were 'subversive.' Maybe the Morality Police will equate sleeping the Sin of Sloth and your soporific monotony will get you blacklisted!

Jeff B. said...

Paul SB,

I think the school situation comes down to one major factor: budgets. While some states have more logical funding solutions, many (mine own for one) still requires the local school board to fund via property taxes. As a result the boards tend to get many persons involved whose first priority isn't the highest quality education for our students, but instead insistence on keeping property taxes low; alas, but many of those paying property taxes don't have children in school, or have been misled by these into thinking that property taxes are evil.

Of course, many of these same school board members enthusiastically endorse huge expenditures on our school's football fields, with massive lighting settings to allow nighttime games, electronic scoreboards, and even artificial turf now de rigueur. But we might have to cut art and music programs because money's so tight...

Tacitus said...

Paul SB

We all should keep a few effective countermeasures in reserve. If I sense that I am becoming interesting I can always do a blog post on how I recently organized my workshop....including sorting all the nuts and bolts into designated containers.

The Lidless Eye droops and closes.....


David Jordan said...

Cryptography may not be a sufficient means itself, but it's by no means lacking in usefulness.

You do have a point that the economics of mass information gathering are getting easier and cheaper every day. My own book series deals with this fact, showing how a handful of college students can build NSA-like capabilities using hardware they already have lying around.
Even then, it's mostly things with known solutions that let them succeed. If not for easily-guessed passwords and myriad unpatched vulnerabilities in routers, five guys couldn't hack a city from a dorm room. A good sysadmin could've kept them out.

But, strong cryptography can also be shown to be reasonably effective as a practical matter. Despite the numerous breaches at large retailers, there's a pretty good chance that your average online purchase won't end up disclosing your credit card number, at least not until that information is no longer valid. We could do better by requiring say one-time codes to authorize a transaction, so that delayed disclosure wouldn't be catastrophic like it is now, but that still requires the transaction to be encrypted.

The value of information is often strongly related to its timeliness. Advertising things I liked as a child might work in some nostalgia sense, but tastes change, and people move on. You're welcome to spend money marketing, Michael Crichton books to me...not going to do any good now.
Likewise, the same applies to civil rights organizations or crashing a wedding...if you show up late, the bride and groom is already on their honeymoon. In cases where time is critical, cryptography provides privacy.

Unless...there is some other channel snooping on you, either digital spyware or a physical bug. And of course these will get cheaper and more economical to use widely. Most people here can afford the equipment to conduct aerial surrveilance of their neighborhood, and that technology is only getting better!
But here's the thing, social and legal expectations can work in tandem with cryptography! The reason we don't see quadcopters at every window isn't because we can't do that, it's because it's not socially acceptable. There are laws against voyeurism, and your neighbors will probably make your life miserable if they hear you're peeping on the person next door.

Likewise, by setting boundaries for snooping, with penalties for overreaching, that should on-average carve out an area of privacy, a place to discuss and debate without fear of short-term repercussions. Most likely, such boundaries would allow for warrent-based exceptions for law enforcement investigations, but if most people have some privacy most of the time, we'll be good. Crypto can help connect these pools of privacy and establish identity and trust between remote parties.

Privacy and freedom aren't the result of a single thing, but of many factors that create such an environment. Cryptography alone isn't enough, but it is a useful and vital tool in the toolkit.

Jumper said...

I tried some obfuscation a long time ago as an experiment. I made a file of very random characters and tried to email the short message to a friend, about a paragraph worth of completely random letters. It didn't arrive, the message bounced back with an "unable to deliver - alphabet attack" message attached.

Someone see if the same thing happens if they leave a message here:
Just don't click on this link. Copy it into a safe place and use it later, preferably after you've gone offline and rebooted your computer.

Laurent Weppe said...

Speaking of accountability: a list of errors and abuses linked to the state of emergency in France:


Although quite numerous, the abuses so far are only a minority of the police activity -France has yet to become a police state where abuses are a deliberate feature meant to beat the plebs into craven submission toward the ruling class- and the prefects got an earful about the fact that the rule of law still applies in state of emergency from the interior minister.
Still, informations about police abuses and blunders are still flowing freely for now, and I for one hope that it will remain the case

Also the french government has sent a lot of contradictory signals the past few days


On one hand, there's been a lot of demagoguery thrown by the government, mostly in the (vain) hope that by telling the more jingoistic part of the population what they want to hear, the government won't energize the far-right, while behind closed doors, demands for a pan-european response, going as far has invoking the article 42-7 (If a member state is attacked, the other states are to provide military assistance: it's the final step before the Article 42-2 "nuclear option": the definitive merging of all European national armies into a single military) have been going strong.

The French government is using nationalistic rhetoric at home while demanding more cooperation outside: this is a dangerous game that is being played right now.

Paul SB said...

Jeff B.,

Everything you wrote here is entirely typical - my district included, in spite of the fact that our football teams ends every season at 0 - 16. However, mentality matters, too, and too many school administrators have that employees-are-the-problem attitude. Some of them are, certainly, but in a profession where 75% of new employees quit within 5 years, in spite of spending that much time at the university racking up massive debts to get the job in the first place, the climate of hostility is very counter-productive.

Ah, but I am being subversive! I should probably take Tacitus' advice and start describing the little dioramas I make as a hobby when rarely I get some free time not eaten up by my children. If we could post pictures to the blog, I could do the typical grandmother thing and put up family pics... (I don't think our host would be impressed.)

matthew said...

Tacitus - I would be interested in how you organized your workshop. I spent a few years working as a Lean consultant for a couple of corporations and the mania for a properly organized workshop flows freely through me.

My current manufacturing facility is one of the most cluttered and unorganized I've ever seen. Drives me nuts, but there is no organizational stomach (or budget) for change. Oh, well, I'll just go spend 20 minutes looking for the correct wrench.

Oh, and check out Slate calling out Trump for what he is - a textbook fascist. I need to read Umbereco Eco's treatise on Fascism now. Also, go down the checklist for fascism and apply them to loci's writing. A very good match.


Paul451 said...

Paul SB,
"A primary concern here is class size reduction"

It always seems to be with teachers.

But I wonder if you'd be better focusing on class-size variation. Grouping kids according to their "teachability". Not necessarily capability, certainly not intelligence, just their tendency to do the work, to have reasonably long focus, and to not require constant supervision or distraction. (Imagine sending each kid alone into an empty library with some work to do. When you check on them an hour later, is the work done, is the kid still in the room, is the kid still in the building, is the building on fire.) Teachable kids can be grouped into much larger class sizes, provided they have an opportunity occasionally for small group study to get help (so they don't drift.) After all, universities manage lecture halls with 150 students, merely augmented by smaller tute and prac groups each week.

By scooping up all the low-maintenance and self-motivating kids into larger classes, you can focus more manpower on kids who need more stimulation, more supervision, or more direct engagement. If you currently average 30 students per teacher, then a single lecture-class of 90 frees up two teachers, so you can have four additional classes of 15 kids each. Same number of kids, 150, same number of teachers, 5.

Even with the smaller tutes, pracs, and/or study groups, the same "low-maintenance" kids can be supervised by less experienced people - such as older kids or even volunteer parents - freeing up more experienced teachers for high-maintenance kids. (For older kids, I would expect that being a tutor/supervisor/instructor would be a good "extra-curriculum" for their college-applications. And of course, you can recruit college kids doing education or subject-related degrees into similar tutorial roles and grossly underpay them.) For later years, the low-maintenance kids can largely self-supervise. You might have fifteen groups of ten students, supervised by three or four teachers moving between them periodically.

Use the resources you have more effectively.

David Brin said...

Paul, obfuscation is desperately silly for many reasons.
- it encourages resignation and a self-attitude of victimhood and needing to hide. It is emotionally the very opposite of sousveillance accountability, which depends on YOU being able to see.

- it creates clouds of “protective” noise that will not conceal you at all from elites, but give plenty of cover behind which elites can conceal themselves.

- It cannot work in any way, shape or form. Cross correlation from multiple sources will swiftly empower those with good systems to separate actual from ersatz. And if they must, they will just fly mosquito drones into your house and listen to the distinct sounds of each keystroke. That’s upstream of any obfuscation or encryption.

The only way to STOP elites from flying that drone into your home is my approach… sousveillance and stripping them till they are severely constrained in ACTION… not knowledge.

In other words the only chance that encryption and obfuscation have is if FIRST we have my approach locked in. And then it’s just unnecessary.

You fizz and pop with emitted biometrics. Your one chance is to fight, aggressively, for a world in which THAT DOES NOT MATTER.

You conflate situations here: “Do you mock me for locking my car? Even though criminals can bypass car locks, if determined enough?”

No, not pragmatically. But you are being silly to extrapolate that as a model for the future. In a sousveillance world people would not steal cars, because each car will record every person who approaches it and beam the infor when they start juggling the handle.


If the Electoral College were an actual college of the best people from each state, then it might help in situations like 2000, when blatantly the loser of the popular vote deserved to win and one person of conscience could have swayed that.

David Brin said...

Mr. Jordan, I have yet to meet a cryptography fetishist who has even a glancing awareness of the history of cat and mouse games between underground movements and secret police across 4000 years. In fact, crypto would stymie only a few of the dozens of methods used by secret police etc. Even if it’s perfect. Yes there are uses. But day after day we learn how leaky and imperfect every crypto promise has proved. Yet, religiously, they cry out “It’ll work next time!”

“Privacy and freedom aren't the result of a single thing,”

You are wrong. Sure, there are many factors, but only one thing has ever worked and without it all else fails. Reciprocal accountability. The ability to see those who might harm you and tell them “Back off!”

PS... Ever see the movie : "Here comes Mr. Jordan"?

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Let me start by saying I’ve got a big smile on right now. I like this stuff and any criticisms of my ideas. It’s a major theme in the book I’m writing, so bash away at it. 8)

(Yes... it is off topic, but it isn't outside David's realm of interest.)

I’m going to disagree with you regarding the role markets played in the past. My argument rests on the notion that markets themselves are evolving things. They are social structures composed of individuals AND emergent order in the macro-entity. What we call markets today are advanced things relative to what our ancestors from a few thousand generations ago would have experienced.

The most basic evidence I rely upon is the same ‘village fissioning’ you described. Villages don’t fission successfully without there being enough people in the parts to keep them alive. All the macro processes have to succeed often enough to keep the babies fed. If the population is growing, even if it is in spurts, then SOMETHING is improving the incomes of the villagers. If that growth is slower that the birth rate, income growth will map directly to population growth and incomes will remain stable near subsistence levels. I argue the only plausible explanation for a secular trend upward in our population is the slow improvement of what we could do through the division of labor that gets rewarded in well-functioning markets. ANY biological evidence of gradual population change coupled with subsistence living standards speaks of the functioning of the markets in which those people are immersed. If you have a counter-example, I’d like to know it. This gets back to the carrying capacity concept. Our environment has changed a bit over the last 1000 generations, but has it changed enough to increase our population by 1000x? Color me skeptical. WE have changed, though, because we’ve divided labor more finely and learned as we went along.

So, of course nation/states didn’t exist 40K years ago. They are part of the emergent order. They are composed of markets and meta-markets. No one would have thought to create them 1K generations ago. Why bother? Yet… some people spent a lot of time working them out along with all the other things we’ve learned. Why? We aren’t likely to know. Ever. What we DO know is the population increased with each innovation, therefore incomes increased. The time our hunter-gatherer ancestors could spend acquiring resources correlated with the number of children they could keep alive. Improve the productivity of that time slowly and you get more babies. Increase it more rapidly than women can have children and you accumulate wealth in a community AND keep more babies alive. Division of labor is the process that enables one person to focus their learning while the market they feed their fruits into is what keeps them alive in their interdependence.

I argue that when modern humans left Africa this last time they did NOT have what they needed to survive in Asia, Australia, and the Americas let alone survive there while competing with their cousins who left in the last wave of hominid migration. What the modern humans had was a GENERAL toolkit that enabled them to learn as they moved, but the most important piece of it had little to do with brains, stone working techniques, and all that stuff. Our cousins were plenty smart enough to compare well and were often better adapted to their environments. The important piece was our willingness to trade because markets ARE what we learn at a macro level. Failure is punished by death. Success is rewarded by personal survival and by survival of your children. What we learn gets propagated quickly AND built into the structure of the markets. We build our own scaffolding this way, so the one provided by modern nation/states is just a part.

Erin Schram said...

Tacitus said,
Doing my part to distract the NSA Eye of Sauron by living a life of soporific monotony!
Ha! NSA mathematicians endured years of math lectures, some of them by me. They are immune to soporific monotony!

Paul SB said,
I once read an old Anne McCaffrey sci-fi novel in which the main character was nearly barred from a military career because she had been an active member of a TV show fan club as a kid, when years later it was revealed that some of the writers were 'subversive.'
I reread that novel five months ago. It is Sassinak by Anne McCaffery and Elizabeth Moon, part of their Planet Pirates series. Due to a hidden saboteur on her spaceship, Captain Sassinak had asked for a counterintelligence officer. The new officer was a friendly guy who liked that Sassinak was free of bigotry that led to false accusations. He pointed out how everyone's record had incriminating details that were most likely innocent, such as Sassinak's childhood fan club membership. The TV show's radical sponsors used the club for recruiting.

Sassinak had been under suspicion earlier in her military career because she had been taken as a slave in a pirate raid and spent a year under their influence.

David Brin said,
Across twenty years I have asked fans of cowering in shadows to name one time when that approach truly stymied would-be lords, or helped to maintain a free and open and accountable society.
Missionaries brought Christianity to Japan in the 16th century. In 1639, after the Shimabara Rebellion, Japan outlawed Christianity. Japanese Christianity went underground, disguising itself with the symbols of Buddish. The Hanare Kirishitan, "hidden Christian," version of Christianity survives still, no longer hidden. Japan adopted freedom of religion in 1871.

That is the closest example that I recall from history, but hidden Christianity did not stymie the lords. The Shimabara peasant revolt, which included many ethnically Christian peasants, was the active attempt to throw off oppressive leaders. Hidden Christianity was a consequence of defeat, seeking survival after victory was impossible.

David Brin criticizes cowering in the shadows as cowardice, but to me the bigger flaw is defeatism. We Americans have some legitimate threats against whom to defend our privacy. such as fraudsters, identity thieves, and espionage. We can defeat them through the opposite of hiding. We can seek out such criminals and spies and work with government, business, and volunteers to protect the vulnerabilities they exploit. The threat from government and business is not real yet, it is only a potential, and we can prevent it from becoming a threat through awareness, accountability, and rational response. Why act defeated when the fight is just beginning and we have the advantage?

David Brin said in a comment,
[Obfuscation] cannot work in any way, shape or form. Cross correlation from multiple sources will swiftly empower those with good systems to separate actual from ersatz.
A single large source is enough. The correlations are in the data. If 10% of the users obfuscate their activity, then the correlations will be 10% weaker, but they will still be there and create a baseline for ordinary activity. Checking for deviation from the baseline will make the individuals with obfuscated data stand out, for it will contain many unusual match-ups. The real activity inside the obfuscated data will have tight correlations while the randomly-generated activity will be all over the place. Piece of cake.

Data mining is mysterious only because it is a new field. It is simpler than rocket science.

Acacia H. said...

*salutes Tacitus*

I find your reference amusing, seeing for the past four nights (and tonight as well) I've been watching the extended version of Lord of the Rings (half each evening). The Eye of Sauron has been on my mind of late. ;)

But don't forget that the Eye of Sauron sought not safety, but power. Knowledge has many uses. Not all are dire.

Rob H.

David Jordan said...

Dr. Brin,
I also agree with you about the importance of reciprocal accountability. Don't get me wrong. It's one of the more compelling ideas you've written about, and probably deserves more attention than it gets!

That said, most security experts I know (and I know quite a few), don't argue that it's possible in practice to protect secrets forever. Encryption, pen testing to find and correct vulnerabilities, and good operational security practices are only designed to delay, not outright prevent disclosure and exploitation of secrets. The common refrain is "It's not if, but when."

Regarding the cat and mouse game, that's the much harder (in practice) game of operational security. Made difficult by the fact that you have to trust people to get anything done, but we're really not that good at figuring out who is trustworthy at any given moment. For instance, all the people who get voted out of reality shows when they think they're safe. Or, the infosec favorite, social engineering.

I think most "crypto fetishists" know more about that history than you give them credit for, and most of them are also working on other fronts as much as they have time to. For instance, why nearly all of the security community are fans and sometimes contributors in the open source community. The availability of source code (and the legal means to use, modify, and distribute versions of it) being one way to ensure reciprocal accountability. If a project is working well, you can contribute to it and extend it for your own needs. If it's not or if the original creator abandons it, then you still have options.

That's just one example, and I think one reason you see so much single-mindedness about cryptography is that people sometimes have to focus their efforts based on time and expertise. Not to mention that it has been a hard-won right (and still a fragile one) Cryptography in its modern form is very young. Maybe it won't be the panacea some hope, but I and many others think it's a worthwhile experiment to be carried out while we do the many other things we do to improve the world around us.

Plus, even if it ends up only being a weak and partial protection for repressed groups, we still get an amazing number of good things for free with it. For instance, the same message authentication algorithms that protect us on the internet, also make the problem of long-term digital data archiving much, much easier.

P.S. Those microdrones you keep talking about better be using a secure communications protocol or the little circuit board on my desk could have fun with them. I strongly suspect within ten years that'll be a matter of basic safety for both aerial and land vehicles. You can feel free to call me on that prediction.

P.P.S. Nope, never seen "Here Comes Mr. Jordan", sorry to disappoint!

Midboss57 said...

The problem with the idea of mutual accountability is that it would be a nice thing, but I've yet to see it happen. Being able to know what the crooks in charge are up to is of no use if there is nothing we can do about it.
I mean lets go through the examples:
- NSA case: during investigations we have proof the senate has been lied to several times while under oath. That is a serious crime. Who got punished ? No one.
- Credit Crunch: the biggest economic disaster since 1929. Is still causing a mess affecting a great deal of the world. (including the rise of the extreme right in Europe) Have any of the culprits been punished ? No. Have any real measures been implemented to prevent it happening again, no. Have the culprits actually ended up better off, yes.
- Countless large companies employ sweat shops in third world countries with criminal working conditions (Foxcon being the most recent publicized case). This is public knowledge. Have any of those companies faced any real repercussions ? Nope.

It's called "Screw the rules, I have money/connections." for a reason.

At best, we can now hold into account some of the low level grunts and dirty old men 70s stars, which yes I will admit does help a bit. But until I see someone on the high end of power getting caught and punished, I have no faith to offer in mutual accountability.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

I see little social or individual use for Yelp for people and I do see much harm that this app can do. It is a good way to bully and intimidate people with little risk. I am especially worried about the nefarious effect it would have on young people. Something like this could drive some to social isolation or even suicide. I would like to hold the owners of this app personally responsible for the abuses this app will inevitably bring and not be able to hide behind the law by saying “we just provide the architecture and are not responsible for the content” argument.

If companies whose purpose is to rate the reputations of individual are allowed to operate then a company like “Reputation Protection Inc.” would be necessary to protect one’s reputation all the more.

I have thought about a reputation protection company and I have written about it in previous posts and I am happy that you see the same need. It can’t grow out of a Mom and Pop operation because it would need sophisticated search algorithms right away for it to be able to provide decent service therefore it would either need money to develop its own algorithms or be in a joint venture with an established company who already has experience in this type of software. I thought about Facebook but there are too many conflicts of interest but Google would be a much better partner. Their algorithms could be easily modified to the specific needs of the new company. There are certainly other potential partners as well. That is just one key part of “Reputation Protection Inc.” but there are others just as important such as the legal statute between the client and the company. Most present companies now who do this are small and very incomplete in their services. Most sell their services to companies and not to individuals. It is a wide open market and waiting to be exploited.

Paul SB said...

Erin, thanks for the quick summary of Sassinak. I read that book (the second in a trilogy, if I recall correctly) when I was in college, ages ago. If I wasn't working 27 hours a day, 9 days a week, I would be tempted to crack it open again for old-time's sake. I do remember at the time finding some elements in that series - mainly romantic elements - that struck me as usually cheesy for McCaffrey. At the time I thought it must be an influence of the co-author, but then I read a few books my Elizabeth Moon (mostly military-focused stories, though "Remnant Population" was not) and didn't find that cheesiness. Any thoughts while I still have a couple days off?

Paul SB said...

Alfred, I am wondering if maybe you are using the term in a metaphorically-extended sense rather than its strict economic meaning. Markets and exchange systems have been a major interest among ethnographers since before anyone on the list was born. When thousands of people from numerous national and ethnic backgrounds have studied hunter/gatherer cultures from Tierra Del Fuego to Kamchatca and have all reported that market exchange does not exist among them, I am inclined to believe them. I haven't been to Tierra Del Fuego, Botswana or Brazil personally, but neither the ethnographic nor the archaeological records support your argument.

Your statement that markets evolve and would have looked different in the past is good. It shows more sophistication than most. However, your emphasis on individuals without reference to family units, clans or other kinship structures shows typical 20th C. thinking (ages ago I might have said Smithian, but really this is our modern understanding of Smith, not how he would have been read in his own time.)

Your argument, when applied to the Holocene, is actually quite conventional. You might get some good material from Cohen's "The Food Crisis in Prehistory" http://www.amazon.com/Food-Crisis-Prehistory-Overpopulation-Agriculture/dp/0300023510/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448542422&sr=8-1&keywords=the+food+crisis+in+prehistory
It's an old book, but one that is still commonly referenced. The problem with your argument applying to the Pleistocene is that before the retreat of the Würm Glaciation, there was plenty of frontier to expand into. People could move into open territory and maintain their customs and lifeways without the need to engage in any kind of exchange, or to innovate new technologies. This is what we see in the archaeological record - slow expansion of population across the globe very little innovation, very little technological change, and very little unequivocal evidence of exchange, certainly none that could not be accounted for by the kind of kinship-centered reciprocal exchange observed among modern h/gs.

This is one of those ethnocentric barriers that gets broken down starting in Anthro 101 classes. We, in our Western nation states assume that economic exchange is supreme and must always have been as long as humans have walked this Earth. But band-level societies just don't work this way. Richard B. Lee, one of the most well-known ethnographers of the Ju/hoansi of Botswana, describes how these people challenged his own assumptions way back in the 1950's. He was engaging in what he thought was market exchange with them in an effort to get at how they value items, but was stymied by how very flexible they were. Metal cookware obtained from civilization was highly valued by them at the time, so in one exchange he offered a handful of roots to someone in exchange for a metal frying pan, to which the guy consented. Then he asked, what if I give you five of these roots. The fellow was okay with that. Three? No problem. What if I give you just one root? Just one! Would that be okay? And the guy said to him, "You don't seem to understand, we don't trade with pots, we trade with people."

In other words, exchange systems are not really about the goods, they are about the relationships. This comes as a shock to most people, but if you read Mauss you will realize that we do this all the time but in more trivial, non-subsistence contexts. At gift-giving holidays it is rude to look up the exact price someone paid for a gift, but we remember who gave us what last year and adjust our gift-buying based on that. People treat each other to drinks or meals in social contexts, and only real assholes write down who paid for which round of drinks, but people do remember who contributed and who just sponged off the others. The sponges start getting shunned.

Paul SB said...

If you want an example of where market exchange actually does happen, you could look at the Trobriand kuli exchange (Malinowski's "Pigs for the Ancestors" http://www.amazon.com/Pigs-Ancestors-Ritual-Ecology-Guinea/dp/157766101X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448543765&sr=1-1&keywords=pigs+for+the+ancestors). Here men go on trading expeditions in fleets of canoes to trade what are essentially decorative items made of shell beads. These items have there own elaborate histories and meanings, and the exchange is surrounded by great pomp and circumstance. It is really about prestige and social relationships. However, while these big ceremonial exchanges are taking place, some more ordinary, mundane exchanges are happening off the backs of the canoes. So this exchange combines the more conventional market exchange with the reciprocal exchange system typical of h/gs. But the Trobriand Islanders were not h/gs, they were tribes.

Another interesting example I could through out would be something Chagnon describes among the Yanomamö of Brazil ("The Fierce People" http://www.amazon.com/Yanomamo-Fierce-Studies-Cultural-Anthropology/dp/0030623286/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448544193&sr=1-1&keywords=the+fierce+people). These folks have a warlike reputation and they fight with each other almost as often as they trade with each other. Chagnon noted that different shabonos (their unique, circular villages) specialized in producing specific commodities for exchange. However, when the village he was staying in got into a fight with the nearby village that made their pottery, they suddenly 'remembered' now to make pottery. Clearly the market was serving a social function rather than an actual economic function, and these people, like the Trobrianders, were tribes, not h'gs.

The point here is that it is very easy for us to project our own ways on the past, but what is deeply salient to us today and what was happening then are not necessarily related. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the necessity for market exchange did not really exist until the human population had pretty much filled up the land and ‘voting with your feet’ was no longer an easy option. Truly economic markets in which people’s livelihoods came to depend on them evolved in the context of growing population density and the constraints that created that our ancestors need to innovate around. So you are, in effect, putting the cart before the horse. It’s an easy thing to do, and you are in good company, but the experts on the Pleistocene are going to ask for proof, not assumptions. To most people, the claim that prehistoric people relied on markets would not seem extraordinary, but in the profession that has made it its business to gather data on the prehistoric past, it is.

Having said that, once market exchange was in place in the Early Holocene, there are very good arguments that the needs of the market began to encourage further population growth to facilitate surplus labor and craft specialization. This, in turn, led to the spiral of increased social complexity that has made us (for better and for worse) the civilization we are today (and whatever we will become in the future).

Paul SB said...

Cont.d yet again
Don’t underestimate the intelligence of our ancestors. The human brain reached fully modern size and structure at least 208,000 years ago, and at that point all the evidence shows that they became masters of their landscape. Starvation is almost never seen among pre-modern populations, and in fact our Pleistocene ancestors had much better diets than civilized people have had since even before Sumer. Exchange may have been a big part of what gave H. saps an advantage over neanderthalensis just as you suggest, but it would not have been market exchange, it would have been kinship-based reciprocal exchange. I made this same mistake in an undergrad paper only to be exhorted with, “Pots don’t move, people move.” Unless you are metaphorically extending the meaning of the word /market/, the evidence just isn’t there for truly economic exchange before the Holocene.

Paul SB said...


I think I have an oops up above. I meant to type "unusually cheesy" not "usually cheesy." Fickle fingers!

Jumper said...

I've messed with crypto on a strictly amateur basis for a while, mostly looking at meta-analysis. Every time someone points out the importance of "trust" I nod my head. Trust is a much bigger issue than people realize. Snowden.

Looking at things from a very different angle, there's a certain type of authoritarian I stumbled across in an article recently. You'll see it among polygraph operators too, apparently. It's deep mistrust of honest people. (It was a former FBI agent who would get very suspicious of people who did not display fear of him.) This leads to a second-level fear which absolutely will be misunderstood: the realization that those representatives of authority are themselves dishonest and they consider it normal.

This is a good reason to hide.

Paul SB said...

Paul 451,

I got a little too involved in prehistoric musings and forgot to respond to your thoughts on class organization. (Not that I see musings on the past as trivial. Claims to continuity with the distant past are generally done to legitimize something we are doing today, as claims of discontinuity are often used to to legitimize change. Thus my suspicion of any claims regarding markets from people who grew up in the West during the Cold War, and my equal skepticism of claims about "sharing" (what Marx called "primitive communism") from people who grew up in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.)

Anyway, your suggestion about rearranging class sizes without changing the number of paid teachers was actually much more interesting than what I generally hear from non-teachers. I'll mention this to my principal if I get the chance, but I am afraid he has already slipped past the point of useful communication with underlings.

I can see some issues though, one of which is: 30 kids in a class? We only have that few kids in our dreams! In my district, and in a whole lot of urban districts with high poverty, you just wouldn't be able to get enough "low maintenance" kids to fill a lecture hall. I have seen schools where they take a few dozen marginal students and stick them in honors classes or the GATE program because they don't have enough bodies to fill them, and would lose grant money if those classes only had three kids in them. Very disheartening all around. However, I think your suggestion would work in districts like the one my daughter went to, especially if you advertised it as college preparation for the "advanced" students. We have AP courses, with sadly tiny numbers of students, but in wealthier districts they don't have enough AP slots for all the hyper-competitive students (or parents, just as often).

Ultimately it's the culture that has to be addressed, but that isn't easy to change, either.

Erin Schram said...

PaulSB said,
Erin, thanks for the quick summary of Sassinak. ... Any thoughts while I still have a couple days off?
McCaffery and Moon had a subplot about discrimination against heavy-worlders, whose ancestors had been genetically modified for high-gravity worlds. A few were murderous rebels against the interstellar government, which gave bigots an excuse to distrust all of them. The analogy of a fictional minority works as well for today as for 1990.

The trilogy, Death of Sleep, Sassinak, and Generation Warriors, was set in McCaffery's Dinosaur Planet universe. I suspect that Sassinak's cheesy romances were because she was married to her job. Romance was to seek a temporary bed partner, but the book avoided mentioning that outright, probably because Anne McCaffery had a sizeable teenage readership.

Deuxglass said.
It can’t grow out of a Mom and Pop operation because it would need sophisticated search algorithms right away for it to be able to provide decent service therefore it would either need money to develop its own algorithms or be in a joint venture with an established company who already has experience in this type of software.
Companies are already offering sophisticated search algorithms as a service, since small companies are developing need of big data services but not enough need to hire their own experts. On the other hand, I have seen a cutting-edge data company, Sqrrl, start at the size of a Mom and Pop operation with a handful of world-class experts.

David Brin said...

DJ: “we're really not that good at figuring out who is trustworthy

That’s the point. With personality testing and lie detection looming, we face a choice between elites hogging accountability-tech (Big Brother forever) and democratized lie detection (Big Brother never.) Only one thing will make a difference. Just one thing.

“I think most "crypto fetishists" know more about that history than you give them credit for”

Prove it. I have been asking for 20 years and not one was able to enumerate secret police methodologies that are unaffected by encryption. Most have never heard of Bakunin or Okhrana any other name from the long history of resistance to tyranny. They are all dilettantes and pretenders, top to bottom.

Yes, Open Source is an aspect where the community has the right idea. But when Edward Snowden touts encryption as our savior… the ironies make one’s head explode.

Midboss does the typical thing. Utterly ignores the fact that he is mostly free and prosperous and mostly left alone… so HOW did that happen? What flukes opened up this window of freedom and largely - not completely - accountable power? They never ask.

PaulSB if those pre-agriculture women had plenty of food they would have had plenty of babies grow to adulthood.

David Brin said...



hobbified said...

"The fact that agencies and corporations can trivially decipher encryption from ten years ago, so why won’t they be able to parse today’s best ciphers, ten years from now?"

Perhaps they will, but that's okay! Very few secrets need to remain secret for ten years (it's likely that they will leak through non-technological means before that anyway). Many only need to stand for ten days. If people today have crypto that will stand up for ten days against a determined attacker, then that's immensely valuable. If people ten years from now have crypto that will stand up for ten days against the best attacker then, then I'm satisfied. Whether the attackers of a decade from now can break today's messages is of little practical consequence.

And anyway, I question the factuality of your claim. Yes, there were some weak algorithms in use ten years ago for political reasons, reasons of ignorance, or just plain bad luck. But algorithms that were regarded as good by the community ten or even fifteen years ago remain undented to this day.