Monday, January 09, 2017

Perceptive and myopic views of our transparent future. Especially police cameras.

Let's veer from either science fiction or politics into our politically science-fictional new world of light. Starting with a reminder that my new anthology (with Stephen Potts) Chasing Shadows, is released this week by Tor Books, featuring contributions by William Gibson, James Gunn, Neal Stephenson, Vernor Vinge and many others, offering stories and insights into a future when light flows almost everywhere. Prepare yourself!  This might be a good start.

Steve and I will be signing copies, along with Scott Sigler, at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, on January 27!

== Floundering gradually toward wisdom ==

In a vivid article - Should We See Everything a Cop Sees? - McKenzie Funk of The New York Times describes the wide cast of characters in Seattle who are grappling with a pressing modern problem, how to comply with a court order to make police camera footage available to the public.

It's a can of worms, because the police department is also legally required to redact or blur personal details such as faces or identifiable voices, for the sake of privacy. While Funk's article makes for entertaining reading, the story is murky about the context for it all. That context is a proliferation of cameras, getting smaller, faster, cheaper, better, more numerous and mobile at rates much faster than Moore’s Law.  

Short-horizon myopia is common to every person I've seen weigh in - even very bright folks - on this topic.  Sure, a few of us predicted all this back in the 20th Century - e.g. in EARTH (1989) and The Transparent Society (1997) - yet the very notion of lifting one's gaze beyond this month, following trend lines instead for three or five, or ten years ahead, seems impossible even for intelligent and critical observers like McKenzie Funk.

Regarding just the zoomed-in dilemmas of 2016, Funk's article does a good job of showing us the trees (the dilemmas faced by police, prosecutors, attorneys and citizens in adapting to these court decisions), without even noticing the forest. The context of why this is all happening and how this amounts to - for all the tsuris and aggravation - a huge victory for our kind of civilization.

I have called it the most important civil liberties victory of this century so far -- perhaps in thirty years -- even though it was hardly covered by the press. In 2013 both the U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places.

No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

But the forest is rapidly changing! Next year, the same scene that was today only visible on a cop-cam’s footage will have been covered also by the suspect’s auto-record phone app, or a passerby’s dash cam. Or a store’s security system, or chains of cheap button cams pasted on lamp posts or bridge overpasses by activist groups, or even hobbyists. Follow the price curve a bit farther and you have the sticker cameras that I describe in EXISTENCE, stuck to any surface by 9-year olds who peel them from great, big rolls, each with its own code in IPV6 cyberspace and powered by trickles of sunlight.

In that context, not a single issue wrangled-over in the NY Times hand-wringing article will seem anything but archaic - even troglodytic - just half a decade from now. If there was ever an era in desperate need of the Big Perspectives offered by science fiction….

== The pattern continues ==

After which I listened to NPR's To The Point broadcast about the regulation of police body and dash cams. And despite generally liking Warren Olney - he always asks good questions - I must say I was disappointed in how this topic makes everyone myopic. The only interviewee who applied two neurons to a bigger view was the former Redlands police chief, who gave thoughtful, logical answers... though like the others, only focused on the here and now. (All right, the ACLU guy got a little better, across the interview.)

Not one of them contemplated how technology made all of it possible - this entire topic would have been (and was!) science fiction five years ago - and every interviewee on Olney's show ignored how tech will be utterly different five years from now. None contemplated the proliferation of ever smaller, faster, cheaper cameras.

How could they have gone an hour without mentioning the one fundamental... that other people than police have cameras? More and better ones, every day. This will -- and already has -- empowered citizens on the street.

Listen to the broadcast, then tell me how many hand-wringing statements will be even remotely relevant, as a skyrocketing percentage of police-citizen encounters will be recorded from more than just the police perspective, with both the suspect and onlookers loading their files into the cloud.

How, oh how, can we have such bright folks, who mean well and who want to solve problems, yet absolutely refuse to lift their gaze beyond the near-sighted today? Don't answer. We all know the greatest recent example: the entire political caste of the Democratic Party. 

A much smarter article that actually tries to peer ahead is this one in the Atlantic - Even the bugs will be bugged - by Matthew Hutson.

See a more in-depth analysis of central surveillance, predictive policing and tools for accountability from the new Scout site: Should the Future of Policing Look Like This? by Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath.

Futurist Glen Hiemstra discusses The Future of Policing -- looking at some of the problems and possible solutions for policing in the fast-changing world of today and tomorrow.

== Another try ==

More hand-wringing. Even when a writer tries to look beyond the immediate horizon, the usual result is short-sightedness.  As in this case: “Should Police Bodycams Come With Facial Recognition Software?”  Jake Laperruque, on Slate, warns that such technologies loom just ahead and will be used… unless serious efforts go into privacy protection.

Three plus points to Mr. 
Laperruque for at least trying.  And five more for an article that brings us up to date on current efforts to either introduce or construct facial recognition use by authorities… 

... then minus thirty points for failure to peer just a little farther, asking: “What on Earth do you think could possibly prevent this, over the long run?”

Take into account a crucial factor, technological drive. Reiterating a point made above: as cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, better and more mobile at a rate much faster than Moore’s Law (sometimes called Brin’s Corollary ;-) cop cams will get too small to see and the facial recognition databases will proliferate far beyond your ability to limit them with well-meaning, ACLU promoted regs.

This needn’t be a disaster, if common citizens share in the new powers of vision, able to scrutinize and criticize when no cop action can remain unobserved. If we can not only recognize any harm doer, but also catch and chastise eavesdroppers and gossipy peeping toms, who stare too closely, then a surprising side-benefit will be more, rather than less privacy. 

The increase in light flooding the planet could be prodigious, searing the harmful and helping drive trends toward our crucial victory condition. In other words, technological trends seem to work in our favor.

But first, our well-meaning paladins of freedom must get better glasses, and start looking beyond next year.


donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: I had started to respond to your points yesterday about the Arab Peace Initiative with an observation about sousveillance and the effect of the prevalence of cameras tied specifically to the Middle East.

Israel/Palestine (unlike Iraq/Syria, where the scarcity of such footage has made it easier for Daesh to create their own preferred and brutal branding) has the densest camera usage in the region - every single act gets recorded, rebroadcast, renegotiated. So many shootings, so many bombings, so many attacks.

Arabs peer at every abuse by Israeli authorities. Those images reinforce a narrative of persistent hostility, which in turn foments quite a bit of militancy. Americans don't seem to care.

We do care about terrorists attacking children (who are always evil), but not about missile strikes killing children (which are always unfortunate requirements of self-defense).

When a particularly galling image materializes - whether its an African-American shot in the back in broad daylight, or a Palestinian father crouching with his child behind a rock trying not to get shot - Americans graft a story onto whatever we see. Would that story be adjusted by the presence of a dozen more cameras? A million?

Dwight Williams said...

I don't expect such things to happen in Canada in the near future, barring either annexation or blitzkrieg scenarios under the incoming administration in Washington (and yes, there are Canadians who fear those prospects now in particular), but I expect concerns about the new bunch attempting to criminalize sousveillance in the States.

David Brin said...

donzelion, the radicalization of the Israeli majority did not happen overnight, nor their gradual conversion into yet another angry middle eastern ethnicity. It took many decades during which the liberal-western-socialist Labor Party founders made offer after offer after offer. When you are surrounded by millions whose elementary school textbooks and kiddie shows extol death to every member of your nation and your race, it can wear that spirit down.

And yet, last week, under clear video evidence, an Israeli jury convicted a soldier of killing a rioter who had surrendered.

I do not ask for complete exculpation of Israeli excesses. But I do assert we could have got out of this ages ago. The present situation suited the Wahabbists and Tehran Mullahs, for whom peace would be loss of a valuable distraction, allowing their people to look inward, for reform.

The Saudis' enemies - the Hashemites - wanted to welcome the Jews of Europe home, giving them a place and a principality in exchange for opening universities in every Arab city. It would have worked, there was plenty of room. Instead, Hitler's pal the Grand Mufti railed for palestinians to get out of the way so that the incoming arab armies could kill anything that moves. It did not work out that way. But the Saudis got something almost as valuable as victory. Not only distraction, but also a hypocritical world that holds surrounded underdogs to a higher moral standard than any of the neighbors who slatther to kill them.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "But I do assert we could have got out of this ages ago."
On that much we agree, and much else. I could correct your errors ("the Hashemites" did not favor Jewish settlement in Palestine - a Hashemite - Hussein, Sharif of Mecca, did) - but even if criticism is a useful antidote for error, you've raised a more interesting topic at hand, and I think, a more important line of issues about the use of cameras on a social level.

"last week, under clear video evidence, an Israeli jury convicted a soldier of killing a rioter who had surrendered."
Netanyahu has proposed a pardon. Israel is considering the possibility of blanket immunity to prevent this sort of legal review. The final play of things is still open, much with the Slager mistrial last month.

Yet how will Netanyahu explore that pardon? He won't lose much sleep over a dead Palestinian. Instead, he has to weigh the will of IDF commanders, who want (and need) to ensure that soldiers follow orders, retain discipline, against outrage from other factions in Israel, and against the viability of current IDF leadership as a future rival in a political battle.

Cameras will snap footage of the outcome - but will they change the calculation itself, or will that be parsed by factions seeking to exploit possible changes in the balance of power...pure interest disconnected from 'truth'?

What if a hundred cameras - ten thousand cameras - all showed this particular shooting from different angles: isn't it probable that one of them, from a certain angle, would show movement that someone might interpret as suggesting the wounded man might have been reaching for a bomb? Would people looking through those vantages search out the one that justified their pre-formed preferences?

Questions of sousveillance amid tribal cognition - strike me as more interesting and likely to endure despite technological change than the normal sorts of ACLU complaints.

Paul SB said...

As far as the normal ACLU complaints go, Thou Shalt Not is a meme as old as civilization itself, and probably that fact alone explains why so few think about the future. The idea that anything you don't like can be arbitrarily forbidden by authorities is a quick and easy notion to jump to, and when threatened repeatedly over a great length of time, the stress hormones start to shrink the hypothalamus, shrinking people's ability to think clearly and come up with creative solutions.

What Donzelion is saying about interpretation is important, too. Think about how you get people so stupid they can fall for obvious bull like Pizzagate. Tribal narratives repeat in the minds of member son the tribe, to the point that even the most outrageous accusations seem believable to many if the accusation is being leveled at the enemy tribe. As soon as one person says, "I betcha ..." the next person says it's true, and the third person adds some more "I bethcha" colorful detail, and the rumors rolls on like a shovel-powered downhill snowball. Cameras will show what happened, but human minds will often (not always) interpret what happened their own way.

But the "not always" caveat applies. When prolific cameras are a new thing, they will be abused horribly, and that natural tendency to see everything in tribal terms will feed that abuse. But eventually society will get used to it, and the cameras will normalize. People will become more skeptical of rhetorical obfuscations and scatalogical arguments use dot twist camera footage to mean something different than what it actually shows. My thought is that it is going to be a very nasty transition, full of peeping toms and public shaming, riots when one segment of society doesn't interpret the footage the same way the jury does, and so on. But it could gradually change the culture into one that evaluates evidence better.

Or maybe I'm just dreaming...

LarryHart said...

Dwight Williams:

I don't expect such things to happen in Canada in the near future, barring either annexation or blitzkrieg scenarios under the incoming administration in Washington (and yes, there are Canadians who fear those prospects now in particular)

I wouldn't be surprised if Canada builds a wall, and makes America pay for it.


Anonymous said...

A police slaughter of a woodcarver (caught on camera!) would be no more or less a slaughter with even more buckets of cameras as you so frequently and repeatdely claim; a review of that slaughter noted that the police were not operating in pairs (per the best practices manual) though of course doubling up officers would halve their coverage of the vast tracts of American-style sprawl; as to hiring more humans, err, hurm. Yeah. About that. How much tax revenue does all that car-strewn sprawl bring in, again? Heh. Far easier to nom Carbon poop cameras and pretend that all is well.

... and by light do you mean your ongoing experiment in circadian disrupting torture?

raito said...

Ah yes, the short horizon. An anecdote:

Some years ago, my ten-boss sat me down to talk. He began by telling me that for the products I worked on, I was always looking 3 to 5 years ahead. I though to myself that wasn't it nice that someone finally got it! (Many of these products had 20 year lifespans). Then he said to me that he really couldn't look more than 6 weeks ahead in development. Think of that -- a $300 million dollar a year company that can't afford to look more than a month and a half ahead in their R&D.

As for the camera thing...

It's been well established in the US that governmental use of something does not follow the same rules as private use. Most often, as in the case of censorship, the rules are more strict. Therefore, I can see why the discussion seems to revolve around governmental uses of cameras. Private use is a rather separate discussion.

As far as looking ahead, I feel that there are more important concerns than who can record what and when, or even who can present recorded material, which material, and when.

Dr. Brin, you decry encryption as something that cannot work in the long term. But the same math (as told to me by at least one PhD specifically in the field) is used for authentication.

What will we do when the recorded evidence is no longer admissible because it is easily tampered with? Can you prove that it hasn't? How? We're nearly at that point with photographs, definitely at that point with audio, and getting closer with video.

Can you prove that any discrete device has not been tampered with? Can you prove that your online storage wasn't hacked?

How about this scenario: There's some number of recordings of an incident. Many/most/all of them are stored on servers somewhere. Nefarious software roots those out and alters them. The combination of spiders, exploits, and AI makes this a rather likely scenario. And even if just some of the recordings are altered, how can one reconcile the various versions of the events one sees?

Even worse, imagine competing software, each attempting to rewrite the records to suit its (or its owners) own agenda.

A.F. Rey said...

I suspect sousveillance is inevitable not in the mathematical sense, but in the evolutionary sense.

Cameras will be recording everything in the near future as long as technology continues to advance (i.e. barring a zombie apocalypse or something similar (and more likely :))). But there are several ways we can react to it.

The recordings will be used, like every other weapon, to subjugate the powerless, the minorities, or the "other." To show that a Presidential candidate is a pervert. To implicate that a women's health organization is selling fetuses for profit. To insinuate to the neighborhood that your next-door neighbor is having an affair with the minister's wife. And, of course, for the government to keep track of its enemies to make sure they never become a threat.

And this may be as far as it goes. Certainly many parts of the world will get stuck in this use of cameras. People will become tied to their group/tribe/ethnicity/whatever the society uses to divide itself up, and trust information only from that group. Everyone else will be a liar and the enemy, no matter what is recorded. And the only ones who can use the recordings legally are those in power--until they are overthrown, and the new group comes into power to use it exclusively.

What I see Dr. Brin proposing is what I'd call the American Solution. That all recordings and information are recorded freely, distributed freely, and are treated equally in coming to a decision. That we hold everyone to the same standards, not having different standards to different groups. And that the government remains accountable to the people, so that they cannot abuse this new information.

For this to work we will need to prevent the governing from holding absolute power, to become skeptical and perceptive of forgeries, and to learn to ignore our neighbor's peccadillos. The society that learns to do these things will reap the benefits of an open society that exchanges ideas and works with a level playing field--basically, those aspects of society that have made modern Western society so powerful and knowledgeable.

So at first, and maybe for a long time, we will see the downsides of ubiquitous surveillance. And we may even stay in that state for the foreseeable future. But the society that embraces sousveilance will eventually become more powerful than those that don't and will one day supplant them. So the only question is, why wouldn't we want to become such a society?

Dwight Williams said...

Larry: I fully expect such a wall would bankrupt Canada as quickly as the like proposed for the US-Mexican line would do for the USA.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: "But [the 'Age of Light'] could gradually change the culture into one that evaluates evidence better."
Pardon if I've misrepresented your meaning in the parenthetical, but this is ultimately the question. And I am wondering: to what extent should hope be based upon two conflicting approaches to the world -
the one who proclaims, 'I have seen enough, no more!' upon seeing that evidence that was desired to be found,
another proclaims, 'I have seen much, but still do not understand as I wish to do'

I suppose I am thinking of Bhagavad Gita - "shall I act?" - when Sanjaya 'sees' everything, but those striving to be good are still perplexed at what path to take. A hypothetical 'homo pan cognito' is merely homo sapiens with better gadgetry - but what society does s/he make?

donzelion said...

Raito: A fair point this - "There's some number of recordings of an incident. Many/most/all of them are stored on servers somewhere. Nefarious software roots those out and alters them. The combination of spiders, exploits, and AI makes this a rather likely scenario."

Perhaps even easier would be to simply alter one set of recordings, and apply other means to limit the spread of the undesired variants. The loudest bullhorn, the most fake news websites, the largest number of shares...and thus 'truth.'

I've often found it intriguing that the three principle 'proofs' of the authenticity of the Bible are the internal evidence, external evidence, and bibliographic evidence. The internal evidence is actually rather problematic (and prone to contradiction), the external evidence is minuscule, and the 'bibliographic evidence' (the frequency by which a report is transmitted in the same form) would render 'The Enquirer' the most 'truthful' news publication in America (horrors).

Yet how do we discern fact from fiction, save through aligning with a tribe to 'err together'? To select how and what we filter, and call attention to things otherwise likely to be missed is also to disregard things which others claim to be important (the Kardashian's latest salon visit, the color of a Martian rock).

Jumper said...

Off topic mockery of Yoda.

sociotard said...

Dr. Brin, as the cost of mounting a camera gets cheaper, would you support adding a couple of cameras to cars as a government mandated feature? I'm told they already are requiring cameras (only rear mounted for backing up, and they don't record)

Perhaps one forward facing and another that would give a view of traffic stops?

raito said...


You're describing the social effect, which is not negligible. For centuries, rumor has been taken fro truth, and this may make it worse, but doesn't change the essential nature of that, only the scope. I'm a bit less concerned with shares, reports and retweets, because various software sniffers will construct graphs of that, and you'll then be able to see (assuming you want to) which things were copied from where. And you should then be able to see which things sprang from nothing, or got altered along the way.

But I'm more thinking of evidentiary effects. Even more, what about constructed alternate media: 'This video shows you at the scene.', "Yeah? This video shows me in another state.'

David Brin said...

Raito, you need to read “The end of photography as proof” in The Transparent Society. Seriously, I recommend the book.

Raito: private cam use is intimately and directly germane to use by public officials.
(1) because it is how we look back in order to restrict their actual behavior, or to (slightly) limit how much they can see.
And (2) if we all have cameras then in makes moot all the hand-wringing over who will get to see footage from cop cams. Seriously? When the same event was filmed from 12 other angles, you’re gonna stress over that?

I don’t DECRY encryption. I just think that counting on it is plain dumb. You can never verify that it actually worked! If… no, when… someone cracked in, they will hide that fact from you! Your only real hope is that light spreads enough so you can catch those who are peering at you. I don’t blame you for being unable to parse this. It seems so blatantly obvious to those who get it… and that’s maybe 10%. The rest simply cannot get it. They blink and just can’t grasp the concept.

“Can you prove that any discrete device has not been tampered with? Can you prove that your online storage wasn't hacked?”

Exactly! Now think. Follow it through…

“How about this scenario: There's some number of recordings of an incident. Many/most/all of them are stored on servers somewhere. Nefarious software roots those out and alters them. The combination of spiders, exploits, and AI makes this a rather likely scenario. And even if just some of the recordings are altered, how can one reconcile the various versions of the events one sees?”

Agh! The solution to all kinds of liars and mistaken witnesses has always been MORE witnesses! The situation you describe – in which an entity can reach out and alter EVERY witness -- is that of a god! If a God can change all records, everywhere, then we are in another universe and it’s over. But to PREVENT that, we should store lots of things in lots of place! Um?

“Even worse, imagine competing software, each attempting to rewrite the records to suit its (or its owners) own agenda.”

Sorry, but that is our IDEAL situation! It means that they are keeping an eye on each other and will scream for our attention, if they catch a competitor altering data. It is called open competition and it is the only reason we have an enlightenment, at all.

AF Rey gets it.

SOciotard of course cams will be required on cars, first by the govt and then by insurance companies. Much good science emerged from dash cams in Chelyabinsk.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

The situation you describe – in which an entity can reach out and alter EVERY witness -- is that of a god! If a God can change all records, everywhere, then we are in another universe and it’s over.

We'd be in the universe of "1984".

Our soon-to-be-president seems to assert that Eurasia is our friend, and we've always been at war with Eastasia.

Alfred Differ said...

@Slim Moldie: (regarding head injury)

I’m supposed to say ‘ouch’, but what I really want to say is ‘I remember doing something like that’ except that I don’t. Twenty four hours of memory vanished for me. My face plant didn’t involve a stunt, but in hindsight it was more than a little stupid. Isn’t that always the case? I was a grad student trying to work a problem my adviser was going to give to one of his students. My job was to ‘earn’ it and then build it into a dissertation. My journal entries cease, though, on the evening of my accident/dumb activity and don’t pick up again for six full months. I had been trying to learn Feynman’s trick for dealing with divergent integrations in QED, but six months later I was doing crude geometric multiplication tables. I couldn’t pick up the original problem for a full year and it is obvious from my journal that I was starting over. Needless to say, the problem went to the other grad student without the head injury, though in hindsight, he was better equipped to explore it and would have won it even without my accident. Instead, I got to tackle another problem when my mind returned, so I got to understand just how geometric classical field theories are.

My recovery time was relatively short by comparison with some of the other stories I’ve heard, but my story had the same features. I had a minimal ability to concentrate, high inclination to fall asleep if I tried, motivation in the toilet, and prefrontal lobe activity was almost non-existent. It all came back as far as I can tell, though.

(I like to twitch at this point in the story and then offer a big grin if I’m telling it to someone face-to-face to lift the mood. Head injuries are scary. Everyone knows some never come back.)

Patience with myself eventually did it for me. A new relationship helped too. I already had all the stubbornness I needed and the injury didn’t deplete my supply of it. 8)

Paul451 said...

Catching up after a couple of day. Reading the blizzard-tales at the end of the last post got so cold I had to turn the fan off and make myself a warm drink.

[Just coming off a series of 100+F days where it didn't drop below 70F overnight, which followed a humid 90+F week. That said, this week is damn near perfect. Ranging from 70-90F tops, from clear sun to one-day thunderstorms, then sun again. Overnights mostly 60F.]

I haven't heard the term "ten boss". Is that the corporate equivalent of a squad's staff sergeant? Or another example of semi-sentient autocorrect?

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: We'd be in the universe of "1984".

Nah. That would take something like one of Vinge's transcendents.

It's a much more complicated problem to fake video of people being people than it is to fake images of people. The Uncanny Valley is our friend here. Once people realize that, they'll learn to reject short videos and solid evidence of anything without incredibly good digital signatures. Even then, the usefulness of those signatures will rot fast.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

It's a much more complicated problem to fake video of people being people than it is to fake images of people.

True, but if you saw "Rogue One", you know how easy it now is to fake a particular person doing something that is really being done by a different person.

Alfred Differ said...

@ratio: Can you prove that your online storage wasn't hacked?

Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. CIA is the classic information security triad.

C: Information must NOT BE available or be disclosed to unauthorized persons or processes.
I: Maintain and assure the accuracy and completeness of data over its life.
A: Information must BE accessible to authorized persons or processes.

Many want to add a fourth involving non-repudiation.

R: Two parties in an exchange of information must not be able to deny having participated.

Your question about data storage pertains to all of them. People trained in InfoSec know that you need a lot more than good encryption tools to do this well. For example, leaving a file system hanging out in the open might not result in it being hacked, but no one can reasonably claim to know the state of C, I, A, or R except the very person who won’t want to tell anyone… the thief.

Those of us making careers in this field know that none of the parts of a good InfoSec plan ensure anything with certainty. That isn’t necessary, though. The information being protected usually has a lifespan which ends with erasure/destruction. The plan only has to be good enough. That’s the secret to using data as evidence too. Certainty is a seductive illusion, but Good Enough will tend to remove doubts in the minds of reasonable jurors.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: I've seen it and a certain someone did NOT get through the uncanny valley for me. I twitched when I saw the character on screen big as life yet moving as if botox had been applied where it shouldn't.

Paul SB said...


It's entirely possible that I am more of an optimist than I give myself credit for. Of your two approaches, the scientist in me would naturally favor the latter, but then there is a side that is concerned about privacy and not exposing people's embarrassing but harmless eccentricities that might go the other way. So it's probably more situational and context-specific than any hard and fast rule.

"A hypothetical 'homo pan cognito' is merely homo sapiens with better gadgetry ..."

H. pan cogito is not going to happen, even with better gadgetry, unless that gadgetry can somehow rework the entire human nervous system. The processing capacity just isn't there, so whether it's "Shall I act?" or "To be or not to be?" the human condition will ensure that humans will never be able to make perfect decisions, no matter how much relevant data they have.

"Yet how do we discern fact from fiction, save through aligning with a tribe to 'err together'?"

Our recent election (as well as the Brexit vote & others) have shown that huge numbers of people will simply choose a tribe and ignore their tribal errors, conforming to any outrageous thing that gets airtime among their group. How about Pizzagate? And competition isn't necessarily going to solve this problem, because competition doesn't always end with the truth on top. If it did, marketers would be out of their jobs, and religion would have never taken hold in the first place. To paraphrase Clifford Geertz, sometimes it is not the one who has the best evidence who wins, but the one who tells the best tale.

However, there are "tribes" out there who do value facts and evidence, and more importantly, they value facts and evidence for their own sake, rather than valuing facts and evidence selectively, wherever they seem to support preconceived notions. The most obvious of these tribes is the tribe of science, though there are others. Problem with these sort son tribes is that they are not geographical (which in many ways is a major plus), and no one wears this identity as their only or even their primary identity. You can side with this tribe, and probably be right more often than wrong because it is a tribe that allows itself to change minds when new facts don't mesh with old ideas.

Still, I prefer not to align myself with any tribe too closely, because all humans are individuals, and no matter how hard they try they can never match any tribe 100%. So why not admit your eccentricities, glory in them, and chose from the smorgasbord of tribal notions (or even create your own?). I know, it's too much work for a lot of people. But just conforming all the time gets really boring...

raito said...

Alfred Differ,

Those signatures rot as fast as encryption, because they're based on exactly the same math. And we'll cross the uncanny valley soon enough. Probably by figuring out something analogous to formants for speech.

Also, on head injuries...

I got a mild concussion last spring. I couldn't connect many names, faces, and memories of people for a few weeks. I'm not that good at it normally, so it was what went.

And I try to follow the various researches on concussive and sub-concussive hits to the head. I've had too many hobbies/sports where getting hit in the head was the norm. Everything from football to kickboxing to stickfighting, etc.

I often wonder if I'm just getting old (dementia does not run in the family -- my ancestors back for a couple generations stayed very sharp until their ends) or if my brain has been turned into swiss cheese by my choice of activities.

One particularly worrisome aspect involves a sport I've done for the last 40 years. Even accounting for the bias toward fame, there's a number of top guys who are absolute, um, jerks. They're on top, so the stories get told about them. And they're the most active, and so take the most hits. But I nearly never hear about how the guy was such a jerk at 20. Rather, it seems to come with age. Which very unfortunately some of the pathology in pro football players.

One friend in that sport, who also had a misspent youth, is down to using mostly ASL because his aphasia is so bad.

Fortunately, my expert there is an MD/PhD at the Mayo. Sure, her specialty is something else, but as she does similar activities, she's interested, too.


"Ten boss"? I don't see that anywhere in the comments except in yours.

Dr. Brin,

I think I said you decry encryption's effectiveness, not its existence. And what I stress over, a bit, is having a dozen different angle, all of which show something different and irreconcilable.

I think you overstate my case about a God-like power to ferret out every copy. I don't think I said that, or certainly didn't mean it. My point is more along with how can you reconcile multiple differing accounts of the same incident (always a problem, isn't it). But in this case, it get's likely that at least some have been deliberately altered, and (here's the big point) some of them by entities other than the recorder. There's a qualitative difference between a lying witness, and one who is saying things put in their mouth by another and doesn't even know it! (poor way of saying it, but you'll understand)

I'm not sure our ideal situation can be to know that something's been altered. Sure, maybe you can tell that your version has been altered (if you're smart, and don't try to do it just by keeping another copy somewhere), but can you prove it? Any more than you can prove another copy has not been altered?

My slight comfort is that a lot of this results in the same witness/testimony problems that we already have.

Paul SB said...


"Certainty is a seductive illusion, but Good Enough will tend to remove doubts in the minds of reasonable jurors." (Or people generally).

No truer words have been uttered...

Robert said...

And along the lines of surveillance and the like, stories have emerged suggesting Donald Trump hired Russian prostitutes to urinate on themselves on a bed that President Obama had slept on. And the response? Well, the Trump supporters are decrying that the surveillance is accurate.

But no one is saying "this isn't something Donald Trump would do."

He's going to be impeached and removed from office within the first 100 days. And I think Republicans are going to convince Democrats to do their dirty work.

Rob H.

ChuckE Chan said...

^^ Fake news. That's a 4chan story. You guys are so easily trolled. Another nail in the coffin for the Central Media Fake News Agency, formerly known as the "mainstream media".

A.F. Rey said...

Don't worry, ChuckE. We'll give President Trump more of a benefit of the doubt than he gave Obama over his birth certificate. :D

sociotard said...

As much as I hate to support Trumptylumpkins, that does look to be fake news. Or, at the least, the Golden Showers part of it. Seriously though, stuff that would normally be blackmail-worthy for a politician is downright boring for Trump. The affairs, the refusing to pay contractors . . . it would be like trying to threaten an auto mechanic with a small syringe of dirty motor oil. Trump can't be blackmailed, because he knows nobody cares about his nasty side. or at least his base doesn't.

Even worse than marring the reputation of mainstream media outlets, the story was picked up by the CIA.

Lorraine said...

Since too much activist energy has been invested in blinding rather than exposing the elites, it seems the elites have a strategy of, instead of financial disclosure to the public, blinding themselves, as it were, (in theory?) by putting their assets in blind trusts. It's a world of black boxes, folkx!

Catfish N. Cod said...

My suspicion is that there is a mix of fake and real news in this dossier -- deliberately so, because they can point to the fake parts to discredit the real parts. Serious intelligence and law enforcement won't be fooled, but the question is whether Trump will risk obstruction-of-justice, endangering-national-security, and potentially even charges of treason by attempting to shut down the investigations once in office.

I sincerely doubt Trump can be blackmailed over personal behavior. Over financial matters... that's another story. If Russian Intelligence knows the real state of his finances, he could easily be manipulated.

Darrell E said...


Actually I think many of Trump's base do care. All the things about Trump that most reasonably decent people consider bad, they consider to be a plus.

He plays tough (translate, he regularly gets away with unethical and even illegal shit that normal folk could not), he's not afraid to make hard decisions (translate, he has zero inhibitions about being an asshole), he's uber-manly (translate, engaging in sexual activities with woman, and maybe minors, whenever the urge arises and whether or not consent could be reasonably construed to have been given), he is a big business genius (translate, he is a pathological liar, cheater & stealer that is a textbook example of why economic markets need to be regulated), he's a straight talker (translate, he has about a 4th grade vocabulary and could not care less if anything he says has any correspondence with reality), he knows how to get what he wants (translate, he is a selfish narcissist that doesn't give a shit about anyone else unless in the moment it helps him get what he wants).

All big pluses for many of his base. Long before president elect Trump I came to the conclusion that a significant problem in our society is that precisely these kinds of character traits and behaviors have historically been, and continue to be, considered acceptable, expected and a sign of strength in men. So enough people tend to vote for strong assholes who will make the tough decisions, like starting wars for completely assinine reasons, instead of decent, deliberative non-assholish people. Enough to keep knocking us back.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Darrell E: those all can be summarized by "he is a Type-A personality, sociopathic alpha-male". Which describes most of the dictators and many of the more conquest-oriented kings in history, and precisely delineates the one type of person the Founders definitely did *NOT* want as President.

David Brin said...

Raito you still miss the point. When there are many witnesses… and one of them lies… then that liar faces possibly getting caught and thus a penalty (at minimum) of decreased credibility. Will this prevent all attempts at lying? No. But the deterrent creates a feedback loop that makes lies less common and thus less tolerated when discovered. It is an absolutely essential virtuous loop. I can’t guarantee it. But it is our only hope.

Lorraine said...

Why statisticians reject outliers.

Robert said...

The person who pointed out this is 4chan and laughing over gullibility fails to account for what I said.

'But no one is saying "this isn't something Donald Trump would do."'

Why did his supporters not say "are you fucking kidding me? Trump wouldn't do that!"

Answer me that, Mr. 4chan.

(And I really wonder if 4chan might have... ahem... pissed off someone leading into the inauguration that they shouldn't have. Trump has a vindictive side. Someone has made him into the widescale butt of jokes and pissed all over any hope of respectability. It doesn't matter that he's innocent. Tens of millions of Americans are going to believe Trump hired prostitutes for "water games" and that the 4chan claim is fake.)

Rob H.

Antonym said...

Have you watched the most recent season of South Park? So the Danes (of all people) build a super computer system called "Troll Trace" that allows anyone to look up the internet use of anyone else. In typical South Parkian fashion this leads to gloriously gratuitous mass violence. But that was the part I thought was the most realistic of the multi-story story arc. If a quantum computer was to trawl the interwebs and connect anonymous online activity to real people, the short term results would be pretty nasty. Recently one of the journalists (Kurt Eichewald I believe) that has been targeting the Drumpfire was subjected to a flashing gif that triggered his epilepsy. So he got a court to order Twitter to divulge the name of the anonymous troll responsible. Last I had heard the troll had managed to gain the protection of a very pricey law firm to fight the disclosure. I think this will end up being a bigger story in the next few weeks.

On another note this website/organization ( is attempting to get more engineers and scientists into political office. I keep trying to bug Tyson and Nye on their facebook pages to run for COngress, just as I will continue to bug our illustrious host to do the same. Frankly, I don't give a damn if life in the political spotlight sucks. We clearly need a better class of people willing to make that sacrifice to counter the fame seeking sociopaths so endemic to politics.


Alfred Differ said...


Those signatures rot as fast as encryption, because they're based on exactly the same math.

Yes. Surrender if you expect certainty in the short term or perfection in the long term. None of that will work. Good Enough is achievable, though. My signature on a simple financial transaction has to be good enough to survive audits the first few years. After that, I don't care if it rots. For real property and lien agreements and the like, I may want something that lasts a generation, but I'll probably settle for a sequence of improved signatures over the years with each validating the next before rot sets in. This kind of security will be desired by the banks, so I think David has it right in predicting that this will be a big part of their business model in the coming years. (The way some US banks fight this evolution makes me want to find a few arses to kick or move my money off-shore. Of course the US makes such movement difficult.)

And we'll cross the uncanny valley soon enough. Probably by figuring out something analogous to formants for speech.

Heh. I could predict this will be a long time coming and sound like the fool who said we'd never defeat the speed of sound. I won't, but I will say that I suspect this is more difficult than it sounds. Some of us have decades of experience trying to read what people are thinking from the clues written on their faces, intoned in their voices, and established in their poses. Some of us have far less experience and might fall for the earliest efforts like those who believe the models in cosmetic and fashion ads in women's magazines actually look like what they see. Many of us won't, though.

The real reason I'm optimistic that this is a tough problem is that we've been engaged in this arms race since we became human. It is very useful to discover those who lie to us and distinguish them from those who do not. We put a lot of effort into getting into each other's heads, though today I like to phrase it the other way around. I put a lot of effort into extracting people from their primary skull in order to examine a high fidelity copy.

I will be suitably impressed when they can consistently fool us, but I'll also participate in the arms race making it harder and harder for them.

ChuckE Chan said...

Robert, that was such an obvious troll that it was never a concern. But watching the Deep State blatantly colluding with the media to try to take down an elected president is a real concern. It's a good thing liberals aren't on the side of democracy-subverting, shadowy CIA-types, who are apparently trying to do in America what they've done so many times abroad: use fake news to take down governments (see Guatemala, Iran, etc.). Oh wait, the Dems are on their team now. Scary stuff. Fortunately, the housecleaning begins in a little over a week.

Robert said...

Chuck, the reason Trump won't last 100 days is not because of the Democrats.

It's because of Republicans.

Trump has already given them what they want. But by eliminating him from the seat of power, they can have President Pence, get Democrats to agree to anything Pence says because thank God it's not Trump, and then find they have signed away everything while Republicans solidify their hold on power for the next 20 years.

If you'd been here for a while you would have seen Dr. Brin state that Trump made a huge mistake in nominating Pence as his VP choice instead of a Republican who hates the current Republican leadership, such as whatshisface who used to be Speaker of the House.

He is going down. And fairly soon. And Republicans look forward to demonstrations and protests on the street by the alt-Right because it will be the new Night of Knives where they can decapitate the obvious face of bigotry and hatred and convince all the moderate voters and liberals who are sick and tired of the current inept Democratic leadership that they are listening.

Rob H.

ChuckE Chan said...

That would be a suicide move, because a large part of the GOP electorate wouldn't vote for a party that did that. This is probably some last desperate moves by a gang of inept old clowns who need to get out of Dodge very soon.

LarryHart said...

ChuckE Chan:

But watching the Deep State blatantly colluding with the media to try to take down an elected president is a real concern

It was disturbing watching them do that to Hillary, wasn't it?

Robert said...

Oh Chuck, do you honestly think the Republican Party cares for the alt-Right? Do you think they care about the voters? They care only for power. And their sponsors? Do not like Trump. They do not like his message. They do not like his unpredictability. They do not like the fact they have to cowtow to him instead of his knowing his place like Republican politicians do.

And do you honestly think that the American voter will give a shit in two years, especially if they can get a majority of Democrats on board so they can point fingers, say "Democrats got rid of Trump!" and lay the blame on their opposition?

You are truly deluded if you think Trump will stay in power.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

AZM I have been invited onto the board of

Recruiting scientists for politics isn’t as good as recruiting several thousand retired army colonels and Navy captains to run in every state assembly & senate district in every state.

Chuck by your demeanor you are no troll, and hence welcome to bring diversity to our viewpoints. You must expect to be outnumbered, for the simple reason that most of my readers are men and women of intellect, including doctors, scientists, engineers and so on. Moreover your party has been waging all-out war on almost all of the knowledge professions. Including doctors, scientists, journalists and almost every other group of folks who know stuff.

And now you are firing on the intelligence and military officers.

Sorry, under those conditions, could you explain why we should listen to anything said by such a know-nothing cult?

I say this in courtesy and curiosity.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Only in the minds of Republicans and anti-Democratic activists like Greenwald is an election in which the majority voted for you a "systemic collapse". Especially in the face of gerrymandering, vote suppression, &etc.

They see Democrats as being desperate because of loss. The reverse viewpoint is that Democrats... and independents, and libertarians, and Evan McMullin and all the establishment advisors who refused to join a Trump Administration... they are all reacting to something terribly and deeply wrong with the GOP.

I am thinking it increasingly likely that this document has deliberate false statements in it precisely to discredit even the concept of a reliable intelligence community. And Trump will try to use this as a tool to degrade or destroy the IC just as it is ever more clear that Putin is leveraging the KGB to attack the memes that underpin the existence of a free and open society.

Chuck, you best look carefully at the fire before you jump out of the frying pan. Do I think the Washington Establishment has problems? The "Deep State" as Greenwald calls it? You bet I do. And we can work on those, if we really want to. You can even find people inside it who will help.

But I will take those guys every day of the week and twice on Sunday over what Bannon and his counterpart Dugin are whispering in the ears of their respective and eagerly receptive Presidents -- ethno-religious clash-of-civilization populist-nationalist crony-capitalist show-election autocracy.

No thank you.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Oh by the way, Dr. Brin, what about having a parallel organization to 314action for your retired-officer phalanx idea?

donzelion said...

Paul SB: "there are "tribes" out there who do value facts and evidence, and more importantly, they value facts and evidence for their own sake, rather than valuing facts and evidence selectively, wherever they seem to support preconceived notions. The most obvious of these tribes is the tribe of science..."

Kuhn questions just how much the 'tribe of science' values facts/evidence for its own sake, rather than within a selective mechanism. His 'solution' to the problem, like that of our host, is 'competition' - and it's a pretty potent one within certain limits. The 'tribe of science' - like any bounded, competitive group - operates through certain rules: certain types of cheating are inconceivable. Scientists and football players compete with one another professionally, often in a 'cut-throat' manner - but never (extremely rarely) by actually cutting one another's throats, burning their houses down, etc. That expectation is so fundamental to members of the tribe that it never even occurs to them that they've adopted it - they do not need to search their rivals for weapons before engaging in competition with them.

Not so with other tribes, where the first consideration is "does that tribe wish to destroy my own?" Israel is quite illustrative here: many Americans (both Jewish and Christian) perceive Arab Muslims surrounding Israel as intending to destroy the Jewish state. They look at geography, history, actual statements, and some passages in textbooks, and conclude that a threat exists. Muslims (and Christians) similarly look at a number of facts and reach a similar conclusion as to other 'Others' that mean harm to "their tribe." These tribes cannot compete to establish 'truth' or 'falsity' of any claim - at least, not until they first establish that the Other is not going to try to destroy them (a demonstration that is, alas, not possible).

Given that uncertainty - 'Insiders' get the benefit of the doubt. 'Outsiders' bear the burden of proof. No 'virtuous feedback cycle' exists where truth and falsity are established in competition with one another, because all perception is driven by differential burdens of proof that preexist any cognition. Whether we have 10 cameras, or 10,000, or 10 million - people will still prejudge based on tribal affiliations they were unaware of even adopting, even as each individual believes s/he independently made their judgments.

Jumper said...

There are two most-likely ways Trump will exit the stage. One is resignation.

LarryHart said...


I'm not disagreeing with you, but maybe saying the same thing a different way.

We are not machines, but human beings with human motivations. Pursuit of truth is not a human goal per se. It is a goal because it is useful for human survival and comfort and happiness. When people more or less understand that a grasp of reality gives them a better toolbox for achieving their actual human goals, then and only then does pursuit of truth become a true goal.

When the "other" tribes are perceived to be an existential threat to your own, then obstruction of the other's goal becomes paramount--actually becomes more important (to your own survival) than pursuit of truth. This is a completely rational way of perceiving the world.

In order for competitors to agree to compete in the arena of pursuit of truth, they have to first come to the point where they're not threatening each other. They have to come to that moment in Star Trek ("Day of the Dove") where Kirk opines:

In the heart? In the head?
I won't stay dead.
Next time, I'll do the same to you.

...and proceed from that understanding.

donzelion said...

Rob H: Why would Republicans orchestrate Trump's removal now? Before removing him, wouldn't they want to ensure

(1) They get a 5th vote on the Supreme Court (and a 6th or 7th...RGB, Kennedy, and Breyer are all approaching their departure - if Trump displeases them with his nominees, they can reconsider at that time...)
(2) Their own people hold as many positions in the executive as possible (and as many of Obama's people are removed as possible - if Trump's people aren't sufficiently strident, they can take action at that time...)
(3) He signs enough bills so that after they remove him, they can then decide whether to maintain certain laws he passed, or go even further
(4) Most importantly, they get a supermajority in 2018. With 23+ Democrats defending, many in states that voted for Trump (Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, N. Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, W. Virginia, Wisconsin) - and only 8 Republicans (and only Nevada looks vulnerable) - they expect big gains. Not to mention 39 gubernatorial races. An impeachment could derail that: until they 'know' for sure, why take the risk? They can always go forward in 2019 if they don't get what they want.

Republicans maintained their grip on power for most of the last 22 years by pretending to act personally (e.g., opposition to Clinton the Philanderer or Obama the Muslim or Lobster-Boy, Welfare Queen, the Anti-Christmas League or whatever other phantom), while protecting their preferred constituents procedurally - fighting every last regulation that might rein in profits of their wealthiest benefactors. Why change a strategy that works when you can manufacture as many phantom menaces as needed whenever necessary to perpetuate the same machine?

David Brin said...

donzelion the scenarios in which the GOP removes DT are all assuming that Pence -- an eager Koch-Murdoch shill -- would step in. My sci fi thriller plot twist (that's very unlikely in real life) is that DT has protected himself by having blackmail on Pence. Perhaps even very recently as in: "Step in the next room for some pictures, Mike, and I'll make you my VP." Sure, it's a silly story! But knowing Trump, is it really impossible?

Jumper: "There are two most-likely ways Trump will exit the stage. One is resignation"

Three. Impeachment if he acts crazy ==> Pence
Resignation if he acts crazy ==> Pence
The 25th amendment in which all the Koch-Murdoch-Bush-Cheney boys DT has appointed turn on him and make Pence Acting President. Read the 25th! It does not take into account an adversarial situation! The Prez and VP can send alternating letters to Congress once per day, or hour or even minute!

DT might only appoint SC justices he can blackmail, too!

BTW Chuck... and any GOP lurkers, can you name one of the apocalyptic predictions about president Obama that came true? DHS internment camps? UN black helicopters? Swarms of henchmen confiscating guns? Forced abortions?

nd there's no embarrassment over there? None at all?

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "When the "other" tribes are perceived to be an existential threat to your own, then obstruction of the other's goal becomes paramount--actually becomes more important (to your own survival) than pursuit of truth. This is a completely rational way of perceiving the world."

Perhaps, and if so, how can sousveillance help us? If I see a million cameras showing people on the streets, doing their own thing with their families, pretty much the same way my family is doing it - I'm as likely to ignore all of that and look at the one passage in the one textbook that suggests it's all a lie, or part of some plot. Notwithstanding what I can see of their behavior, I can interpret an existential threat and take action to protect myself from it (by expelling people, and thereby creating new facts, which others see and respond to in turn...).

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "But knowing Trump, is it really impossible [that he's blackmailing Pence]?"'

Hmmm, which part of that is sci-fi? Don't we need some alien/android overlords pulling the strings somewhere? (Or am I being naive by assuming Koch & Friends are part of 'my tribe' - even if they're not exactly a part I care much for...) ;-)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Jumper: "There are two most-likely ways Trump will exit the stage. One is resignation"

Three. Impeachment ...
Resignation ...
The 25th amendment...

I took Jumper's other most-likely way to be along the lines of "Will no one rid me of this troublesome president?!"

TCB said...

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks has a good take on the Trump/Putin connection.

Do The Russians Have Dirt On Trump? Quoted below, preach it:

Cenk Uygur: "It is obvious, that no one acknowledges it now, but they will in two to three years when all this becomes more apparent: [Exxon CEO] Rex Tillerson IS the evidence. So you're wondering, well, how do YOU know he [worked] with the Russians? The Russians had a five hundred BILLION dollar deal with Exxon/Mobil. The sanctions that Obama put into place ended that half a trillion dollar deal. Now, the idea of picking Exxon/Mobil's CEO as Secretary of State is so weird, out of place, out of the ordinary, it doesn't make any sense.

"If you want to put him as, for example, Secretary of the Treasury, that would make, eh, MORE sense because he's a business person and maybe he could help there. Secretary of Commerce... Maybe you wanna, you know, really screw over workers, Secretary of Labor. But Secretary of State, Secretary of State is a 'Thank you very much, Russia, we really appreciate your help, so in return we will give you your favorite person'. The guy who runs Russia's oil, largest oil company, says because of the sanctions he's banned from America, he says his main wish is to come back to America and ride motorcycles on our highways with-- Rex Tillerson. He said that before the election.

"So Rex Tillerson got an Order, got a medal from Putin! So when you give the guy who has a half a trillion dolar contract with Putin, and whom Putin has given a medal to, the position of Secretary of State when he has NO qualifications and no one would have ever thought of that, that is your evidence that that is a giant thank you gift to the Russians who clearly helped you."

"Now, that's not the only reason Hillary Clinton lost the election, I don't think we should redo the election, I'm not..."

John Iadarola: "I don't understand why that's even part of the conversation."

Cenk Uygur: "I don't engage, people drive me crazy with that stuff. But if you think that the Russians didn't help Trump-- 'And there's no evidence, WHY? Pfft I dunno what you're talk, I never!' and all these intelligence officials are all making it up, they're all part of some global conspiracy, then why the hell did he put Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State? Wakey wakey!"

TCB said...

BTW, Dr. Brin, there's another Trump removal scenario: "accidentally" shot in crossfire between Secret Service, US Marines, and his sworn Academi guards; replaced (to everyone's surprise) by Emperor Claudius.

Paul SB said...


So should we start calling him President Trumperius?

David Brin said...

Guys... maybe let's have a reflex not to talk, um, violent scenarios. Just sayin'

TCB said...

@ Paul SB, I mentioned before that Caligula was a Latin nickname which meant 'Little Boot' and so Manicula means 'Little Hand, which is nice because it also has echoes of 'manic' and 'Dracula'.

So, Emperor Manicula.

TCB said...

But, yeah. Scenarios. Got it.

ChuckE Chan said...

Robert, I think you have it backwards: the night of the long knives will be when Trump purges the Deep State neocons who have been against him from day one. That is going to be the first order of business; like they said in Star Wars, these people are too dangerous to be left alive.

As for your prediction about Trump inevitably going down, again I think you're underestimating him. I'm sure a year ago you were saying things like: "No way Trump wins the election. He is going down. Fairly soon." The first tactical taboo is: "never underestimate your enemy." Now I may be underestimating the Deep State neocons, but based on their consistent record of failure, I doubt it. Democrats should be cheering on Trump's war to purge this gang of scumbags and criminals from our government, not siding with them, but I guess the grapes are still too sour for that.

Paul SB said...


I read Kuhn quite a long time ago, but I do remember getting the impression from him not that he was rejecting science as a "tribe" of people who value actual truth, but that paradigms can become so entrenched and institutionalized that people think that following one set of procedures rigidly actually is valuing the truth - at which point it becomes Truth, science becomes scientism (science in superficial appearance but not in actual behavior) and comes to share features of a faith. Shifting paradigms shakes up these rigid institutions and gets at least some people rethinking truth and how it is acquired.

Our host had brought up the idea of "horizons of inclusion" here before, though I don't think you were here at the time. The idea is in some sense parallel to Kuhn's idea of the paradigm shift. There was a time when a majority of Americans thought of themselves in very ethnic terms. They were Italian-Americans or German-Americans, Irish-Americans or Mexican-Americans. Now there are still some enclaves where that thinking continues, but for much of the country that kind of thinking is just trivia - a bit of color in the family history and that's all. A great many people think of themselves as Americans, and have no problem thinking of people who look very different from themselves or come v=from very different places as their fellow citizens, and some even go beyond to count all of the human race as people worthy of equal dignity.

You seem to see tribalism as inevitable and unchanging, and I can't say I blame you. It sure looks that way, but when you closer you see that it is more flexible than that. The prime mover, though, seems to be security. When people feel unsafe, insecure, they will tend to fall back on tribal loyalties and superstitious thinking. Their horizons of inclusion shrink. When times are more secure and prosperous, people feel less threatened and they become more accepting of difference, and their horizons of inclusion widen.

What we seem to be seeing here is essentially an end to our sense of security. The stats show that we are safer than ever, but yellow journalism and noisome politicians and business henchmen have perpetuated a false sense of insecurity. That false sense of insecurity leads people to become less inclusive, more narrow, extreme and religious. So much of the current hand-wringing over fact-free voters and fools stupid enough to fall for obvious fakes when those fakes hail from their tribe is an unsurprising result of the competition between our political parties and the businesses that profit from them. Every hellfire and brimstone preacher sets his congregation up for this effect by inuring them if fear. Fear becomes ingrained so much so that they can believe the worst without even bothering to sniff test (Pizzagate!)

But if we can get through these times, find ways to shame the fear mongers, it will help to put people's mind more at rest, and those horizons of inclusion can start to expand again. You are right that if millions of people look at millions of cell-phone videos wearing their tribal blinders, all those cameras won't amount to much. But we are a cosmopolitan civilization, and many of our citizens have been rejecting the narrow-minded tribalism of the Grope camp for a long time. I think that the cameras can be used by those people to start shaming the narrow-minded tribalisms into at least keeping quiet. That would allow the system to start repairing some of the damage of the Reagan Era, returning to more prosperous times.

I'm not suggesting this is inevitable, but it could happen. :) :/ :( Maybe...

Alfred Differ said...

Our tribes aren’t fixed features, but they are certainly resilient. A few cameras won’t be enough to break our inclination to defend those close to us, but erosion is certainly possible.

At the risk of sounding like locumranch, it is worth parsing the different definitions of a word commonly used to refer to virtue or grace depending on one’s upbringing.


1: An old definition treats this as a verb describing our adherence to something to which we are bound by a pledge or duty or something generally not broken. A close synonym is Loyalty. For example, scientists in a certain field supporting a particular paradigm have faith in it. They are loyal to it. Kuhn’s paradigm shifts, therefore, describe both the loyalty and how it erodes.

2: A newer definition treats this more as an estimate of the truthiness of a proposition. Close synonyms are Confidence, Credence, and Belief. For example, do you have faith that 2 and 2 is 4? Are you confident that the stars are other suns? Do you believe climate change is happening? Before Kuhn, we argued paradigm shifts happen when a proposition fails. He showed otherwise. Proposition failure leads to erosion of loyalty which unchecked eventually leads to research into competing paradigms which might win loyal followers.

There are a number of other definition groups with their clouds of synonyms and antonyms, but these two are enough to get to the heart of the issue when one asks how many cameras (and microphones!) will be needed to swing opinion. In firmly loyal groups, erosion will have to occur first. We can see this happening slowly with police shootings in the US.

David Brin said...

ChuckE you armwave a fun story... based on absolutely nothing. Across 6000 years who oppressed people and ensured that 99% of children never got a chance to compete. In 99% of societies it was feudal inherited oligarchic aristocratic lords. They were also the ones despised by Adam Smith as destroyers of enterprise. Smith recommended civil servants and regulations to keep this greedy feudal cheating to a minimum.

Try actually thinking, fellah. The propaganda you absorb and the koolaid you suckle gets you ranting "all givernment is evil!" But who subsidizes that propaganda? The oligarchs who want that old way of life back, when their sons will inherit ownership over your sons.

Your "deep state" is a danger, warned of by Orwell etc and I am libertarian enough to fret about it. But historically it aint diddly squat compared to feudal oligarchy. And you march to any drumbeat those lords beat.

Slim Moldie said...

@ Alfred Differ (on head injury)

Traumatic brain injury might just be a fairly apt metaphor to describe the state of the nation. Just add some pageantry to the symptoms.

Your story sounds like the start of a thriller. A graduate student scientist discovers a time traveling device and returns from the future to knock himself out. But why? Curious if you were aware/troubled by the change or if you reacted like me and rebooted in denial. Maybe administering regular problem solving assessments in healthcare clinic waiting rooms could be a practical way to gather baseline data to flag dysfunction, tumors, Alzheimer’s etc.

Diverging to media:

Today thinking about the fake news rash reminded me of the bizarre Q&A session I witnessed with Errol Morris following the screening of his documentary, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A Leuchter, Jr. If you haven’t seen it you’ll have to look it up for context, but long story short, gullibility was in vogue that night with the MOMA audience. Well-heeled looking people in the audience were raising their hands and offering Morris suggestions with condescending tone on ways to prove that the holocaust really happened and disprove the assertions of his film’s subject, Fred Leuchter. Morris kind of lost his shit after a few of these and yelled something to the extent of, “I do not have to prove to you that holocaust f-ing happened! We know it happened! That’s not what this film is about!” Truly bizarre and disturbing. I wonder if we added the olfactory sense to the auditory and visual of the television...would the audience better recognize the lies and cover ups.

On surveillance. Nobody brought up Scanner Darkly scramble suit. I’m still trying to build mine out of a digital projector, a canister of dry ice, a few laser pointers and the same vacuum cleaner motor I used to power the hover craft my buddy and I built using the plans from that Boy’s Life magazine ad. Power is an issue :)

TCB said...

Re: scramble suit. I never thought about it before, but the best way to make one would be to bio-engineer it from the octopus, which basically is a living scramble suit. Challenge: keeping it moist.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: My read on Kuhn is that he's agnostic on the existence of 'Truth' per se. To him, paradigms reflect the current state of play with respect to the 'puzzle solving' capacity of present theories. He wouldn't have used 'tribal' wording; that was me playing off your point.

"There was a time when a majority of Americans thought of themselves in very ethnic terms."
There's an interesting article on how 'vestigial' ethnic ties within 'white' Americans played during the elections season - 'which white people support Trump?' But even when Americans thought of themselves in very ethnic terms, they subdivided those ethnic groups (Italians tended not to trust Sicilians, Irish tended not to trust certain Irish, etc.).

"You seem to see tribalism as inevitable and unchanging,"
Not exactly. I see inevitability in how we process what we perceive: we apply differential burdens of proof, often unwittingly, particularly when judging claims by 'insiders' and 'outsiders.' What constitutes 'insiders' and 'outsiders' is dynamic - but we don't judge our own thoughts about what we perceive at the time we are perceiving.

"When times are more secure and prosperous, people feel less threatened and they become more accepting of difference, and their horizons of inclusion widen."
I don't think people perceive a 'time of prosperity' (except in hindsight). In 2016, America is significantly more prosperous than in 2008, or 1948, yet how many people perceive that? (Alfred continuously reminds us, and he always has a fair point) I also don't think people 'perceive' a threat: they perceive certain things, and then actively contribute a 'threat judgment' to what they perceive.

Are we 'more' threatened than before? Objectively, no: no country is on the brink of a global nuclear war. Are our perceptions of threat stronger than before? Maybe, but in other eras, we had Red Scare(s), and millions of African-, Jewish-, Latino-, and homosexual Americans had much more to fear (not to mention pregnant women). I can't imagine a mechanism to easily measure a change in perceived threat.

"if millions of people look at millions of cell-phone videos wearing their tribal blinders, all those cameras won't amount to much."
I'm skeptical that we can remove our tribal blinders at all - but I'm not so sure that it will mean nothing either.

My point isn't that sousveillance is conceptually futile, but rather, tribalism raises a line of concern that, unlike many of the transient complaints, is going to be around for years to come. Let others bemoan facial recognition software et. al. - this is a serious problem that could derail 'virtuous feedback cycles' that might otherwise limit liars and cheats.

LarryHart said...

ChuckE Chan:

As for your prediction about Trump inevitably going down, again I think you're underestimating him. I'm sure a year ago you were saying things like: "No way Trump wins the election. He is going down. Fairly soon."

Actually, Robert was surprisingly and consistently prescient about predicting that Hillary would lose to Trump.

LarryHart said...

Back for a moment to science-fiction, and specifically to the novel "How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe"...

I've just reached page 101, and I see what this book is supposed to be. Way back in high school, I was astounded (in a good way) when I saw the play "Death Trap", which is a play about a play called "Death Trap", and as you might guess, the play within the play is the very play that you, the audience, is watching. I was 16 years old at the time, and the experience kinda awakened in me a sense of "This is what a good writer can do!"

I can see that this book is aspiring to the same heights--a book about a book of the same title, such that the book you are reading is the book that that book is about. I'm anxiously waiting to see if this writer actually pulls it off.

I can see that entertainment is going to get me through the next four years (1470 days until inauguration day 2021). Science-fiction and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

I get your point. And if there were only one liar, I'd agree. My point is that if you can make one liar, you can make many.

Sure, the worst case is that all the recordings are changed to tell a different story. But that's way out on the end of the spectrum, and is about the same as collusion of human witnesses.

And the best case is that none of the recordings are altered, and all agree.

What about a case where the recordings are altered, but so that each is different? Now the waters are muddy.

If such becomes the case, then at least we're no worse off than we are now. Already, and has been pointed out, getting to the truth usually ends up being based on trust.

It's just a touch amusing to see this part of the discussion going on in parallel to a discussion of faux news, don't you think?

Ioan said...

Here's something I didn't expect. Can anyone who lives in Wisconsin or the general area please explain this?

David Brin said...

raito currently all witnesses are a bit wrong. What you ask a jury to do is interpolate. To bracket the truth as best they can by upping the credibility of some witnesses -- eg if they have solid reputes or if their story fits the physical evidence.

Seriously, if you have dozens of secret manipulative players competing to fudge cameras, would not some of them see interest in revealing THAT other forces are doing this fudging? Since fudging cams is a crime, would not catching fudgers become the central nexus of this competition, making the act dangerous to do?

Jumper said...

I'm curious why more people don't ask how long various state actors including Russia have been successful propagandizing Americans. Was Putin into the Tea Party movement? Did he and his people get a certain anti-Islamic video made and then promoted at the certain time it was? Does he have active people at Breitbart right now? What about the rest of the "alt.right?"
What similar stuff were they up to 15 years ago?

Alfred Differ said...


I suspect the intelligence people who might know those answers aren't in a position to tell us. They are probably more inclined to follow those leads back to sources and develop better information about the movers behind all this.

If someone here commits an actual crime, they might get arrested, but otherwise they might get developed.

David Brin said...

okay then.