Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Sci Fi Futures, here and now

Okay it's official.  I am author Guest of Honor at Westercon 2020 in Seattle, alongside other fabulous guests and even more fabulous readers, watchers and fans of far futures and farther-out ideas. So sign up for great 2020 visions -- And fight for an optimistic and confident civilization!

And hoping to see many of you at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California (Silicon Valley) in August.

Hong Kong journalist Paul Kay interviews me in the (Hong Kong) South China Post, covering the gamut, from history and evolution to the future and science fiction's role in exploring the phenomenon of change. And while we're in the region...

My colleague Hao Jingfeng – author of the Hugo-winning story “Folding Beijing” – talks about cyber systems that might enable future cities to synergize, like living organisms. 

And Chinese SF scholar Wu Yan joined a passel of U.S. mavens, actors and futurists on a panel at Comicon International, celebrating the release of a 4K version of “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Warner Bros, honoring the film classic’s 50th Anniversary. Note Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea on the far left… “Frank and Dave.”

Panel moderated by Dr. Erik Viirre, of UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift.  Home of the TASAT Project - There's A Story About That!

== Depletion of a precious commodity: our World Rascal Resource ==

Jason Sheehan gives a terrific and open-eyed eulogy to our irreplaceable rascal, Harlan EllisonHarlan was wickedly witty, profanely-provocative, yet generous to a fault. His penchant for brilliantly skewering all authority – including the bossy voices in our own heads --would have got him strangled in any other human civilization, yet in this one he lived – honored - to 84... decades longer than he swore he would, much to our benefit with startling, rambunctious stories that will echo for ages.

Hence, I list Harlan Ellison -- along with John Perry Barlow and others -- as among the most-American beings I knew. Most-Californian. Heck, like Ray Bradbury, Harlan was among the most-Angelino, and most alien-ready of humans. And indeed, perhaps he was beamed-up, to confront and shake and amuse and offend those out there who most deeply need it.

Solace to Susan, and to all who love disturbances in the force. (There’ll be others.) One regret? Harlan should have held out till Shatterday.

== Sci Fi Miscellany ==


The fascinating and odd intersection of Science Fiction, popular culture and Rock ’n Roll in the late 60s and 70s is explored in the newly released book: Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi exploded, by Jason Heller, writer for Rolling Stone and the New Yorker.

Predicting the future: Here’s a seriously excellent and insightful podcast video by Simon Whistler on YouTube presenting a top ten list of novels that eerily and correctly predicted aspects of the future.  Books like Infinite Jest, Vonnegut’s Player Piano, Neuromancer and - counter-intuitively - Childhood’s End,  

Many of the on-targets have to do with creepy prescience about our, well, weird present-day politics, and on that note I would have added certain Heinleins. 

And yes, since you ask. Toward the very top of the list, I am just barely outranked by three heavyweights: H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and… John Brunner for Stand on Zanzibar, a choice that won this fellow serious props and cred, in my book! 

All told a riveting and excellent podcast.

== And more SF news ==

We liked the film A Quiet Place, very much. Emily Blunt is outrageously good.

In contrast, the new Lost In Space series, which started with some cool creativity, had one of the worst episodes (number 4) I have ever seen, in which not one of the characters makes even a single decision that makes even a scintilla of sense. A great example of how one director and writer can come close to killing a whole project. 

DOWNSIZING is a very weird movie that has many positive traits. For example, it is rare to see an sf'nal extrapolation of a new technology that is portrayed being used the way techs are actually used, in the real world... by everybody, instead of monopolized by conspirators or the rich. Many refreshing things... and some weird logic and bizarre/sudden turns in unexpected directions. Definitely more of an art film than you'd expect. And thought provoking, if weird.

ZION’S FICTION (or “Zi-Fi”) is the first authoritative volume  of Israeli fantastic literature. Showcasing a Foreword by Robert Silverberg, the book offers stories originally crafted in Hebrew, Russian and English by a gallery of genre-savvy Israeli writers. To be released in September, available for pre-order.

The mighty and charismatic science fiction author Cat Rambo has a new book in her “Tabat” sci-fantasy series. Check it out!                                                                                                   

A vivid tech thriller that delves into mathematics, cyberwarfare and terrorism, try Matt Ginsberg's new novel - Factor Man.

The solution to the Apocalypse - from SMBC Comics.

Just released, in commemoration of Sir Arthur Clarke: 2001: An Odyssey in Words: Celebrating the Centenary of Arthur C. Clarke's Birth: an anthology of speculative fiction stories, each 2001 words in length, by Bruce Sterling, Emma Newman, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Chris Beckett, Alastair Reynolds - as well as essays by Neil Gaiman and China Mieville. 

A new Magazine - Martian - wants drabbles! Exact, super-short stories of 100 words. I like the 250 word length. I try to put one of those in each of my collections. WIRED ran a contest for 6-word tales. (I won ;-) And there's the "One Page Screenplay Contest in LA. (Won that too.)  Is this a sign we’ve fully entered the Twitter era?  Wasn’t there a “Short Attention Span Theater” that -- 

-- oh, look, squirrel!

166 comments:

Jon S. said...

For fiction entering the Twitter era, check out @MicroSFF, a Twitter account that tweets out stories of 280 characters or less. (Sometimes he indulges in longer-format stories that take up multiple tweets; each year during Advent he posts a 24-part seasonally-appropriate story. My favorite of those was the tale of the young man(?) and his cat, journeying to the place the seasons live to persuade Winter to release his grip on the countryside.)

The account's most recent story:

"Dad, there's a monster under my bed!"
"Yes, the bed they used to live under has been razed."
"But it's a monster!"
"Maybe, but we are not."

Tony Fisk said...

One of Clarke's essay collections includes an introduction to an Asimov talk. It was hilarious in its own right, but Asimov's retort (which Clarke included) was brief, and even more hilarious!

Martian 'drabbles' are 100 words, rather than the 250 implied, and general submissions are currently closed. Ah well. I still have some Hugo nominations to go through (I can quibble but, overall, the candidates are vastly superior to the debacle of a few years ago).

TASAT needs a few more scenarios.

donzelion said...

Alfred: From last post, LOL, I suppose 'trillionaires' would work better than kilo-billionaires, no? But yes, I mangled my Latin there something awful.

LarryHart: Also from last post, you wrote: "I imagine a consortium approaching the state legislature proposing a scheme for mass producing automobiles, and pitching, "Give us limited liability and other corporate powers, and we'll be able to supply cars for all the interested buyers cheaper and more efficiently than otherwise possible."

That's essentially how it worked up until the Dutch and English abandoned that approach. Other countries applied the older system (the chartered entity must abide by the government's whim) - and stagnated in relative terms: it's not that the Ottomans, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. were silly or foolish, but their systems choked off the innovation that the Brits and Dutch mastered.

Under the old system, if GM said "we want a charter so we can sell cars!" - but was banned from making its own rubber, steel, etc., whoever controlled the raw materials could name their price provided they obtained a monopoly (or a cartel). But if GM was free to make its own rubber, steel, etc. (which they had enough capital to be able to do), then that whole profit system could be broken - you were better off simply selling at a fair, negotiated price (unless you had government friends to protect your monopoly...).

By the 19th century, it was a lot more like "We think selling cars is a great scheme for making lots of money. Give us corporate powers..." If New York balked, Delaware wouldn't. If New York tried to block Delaware goods, the federal government would stop them.

Even then, old-fashioned progressives in the William Jennings Bryan orbit wanted a 'federal' corporate charter system, which they thought could block Delaware from granting these charters to anyone who asked. Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson all bought into that.

It was Brandeis who saw more clearly: keep the innovations in corporate law that have helped defeat feudalism, but rein in corporations by, among other things, fostering transparency ("light is the best antiseptic, electric lights the best police officer'), vigorous use of 'anti-trust' laws, labor unions, federal income taxes, bank regulations, etc. Brandeis should be placed on a pedestal right next to Adam Smith in these discussions: he grasped exactly how the 'big usurp the small' and deployed expertise (in all fields) to alleviate that.

But there's another way to look at it: no parent raises a child by constantly threatening "I brought you into this world, I can bring you out of it!" Converting that rhetorical statement into a legally permitted choice would NOT help parenting in the slightest. We must look elsewhere, and more finely tailor our childrearing, encouraging the good and discouraging the bad. So too with corporate progeny. We've actually been pretty good at turning them into 'productive persons' believe it or not.

Alfred Differ said...

@Donzelion | I had to learn those prefixes for science, but I’ve had to be extra careful when talking to my relatives around the world. One person’s billionaire is another’s kilo-millionaire.

I remember being pretty happy the first time my W-2 said I’d grossed a deci-million, but no one calls it that. Deci and Deca are practically orphaned children and Centi’s sister is treated like the ugly one never brought out in public. Three really IS a magic number. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | I’d have to side with donzelion when it comes to the value he describes when corporations broke out of the old trust model. I didn’t learn them as ‘trusts’, though. I learned about them as ‘Charters granted by the Monarch.’ Pay off the King… receive a monopoly grant. Protect that grant even if it costs blood because the King won’t protect it for you… without another payment.

If New York and Delaware both balk, Bermuda won’t. The lack of unity regarding a regulatory framework can lead to some abuses, but it also prevents other abuses. In our modern setting, online poker and other types of betting was illegal, so operators set up outside US borders. It actually took a while for Congress to get around to making the transfer of money intended for these purposes illegal and it … sorta … still doesn’t work. Nowadays, it is pretty clear The People don’t want it to be prevented and sports betting online is just a start. Like alcohol prohibition, some lessons have been very hard to learn.

Donzelion lists a variety of alternates to enforcing charters. Transparency and Light are really quite good, but the one I like best is to prevent government from preventing entry by competitors. Trusts DID focus on breaking rivals, but they had help. Block that help and one changes the costs. Instead of breaking them, it might be cheaper to buy them. Instead of using certification/licensing to block entry, it might be cheaper to offer product and service suites AND buy the entrants to flesh out those suites. Everywhere you see a lobbyist informing a legislator how things should work, always ponder whether their rival agrees. Everywhere you see license, permit, or certification requirements, always ponder whether established interests defend de-facto trusts.

Does the person who knows how to do cornrows as a hairstyle really need a cosmetology license?
Does the makeup stylist really have to do their work from a permitted office?
Does the guy you hire to build a shed in your backyard really need to be certified and licensed by the state?

One could make a very long list of questions like these. Some we might answer ‘No’. Some we might answer ‘Yes’. All should be treated carefully because the rules we follow (and occasionally break) are likely the result of lessons learned by past generations. Without in-depth education on their problems, we can blunder into preventable problems.

Tim Wolter said...

I'm with you on the recent Lost in Space concoction. The science was mostly crock and the Robot just a thinly disguised Transformer. But the characters and their interactions had a degree of authenticity to them. Dad not as an oafish Homer Simpson but a guy who fell from grace for doing the right thing as he saw it, and was now trying hard to reunite with his family.

But it went off the narrative rails and I never finished it.

While driving through Small Town America recently I came across a nice mural marking the birthplace of an early Sci Fi author unknown to me Raymond Z. Gallum. This sent me looking for specimens of his work (not all that good, alas) which I found at a nice compilation of free SciFi stuff. Interested folks here are welcome to waste a bunch of time discovering lost treasures...

https://www.freesfonline.de/Authors.html

TW/Tacitus

Larry Hart said...

donzelion:

But there's another way to look at it: no parent raises a child by constantly threatening "I brought you into this world, I can bring you out of it!"


Actually, many do.


Converting that rhetorical statement into a legally permitted choice would NOT help parenting in the slightest. We must look elsewhere, and more finely tailor our childrearing, encouraging the good and discouraging the bad. So too with corporate progeny.


Are corporations really accurately perceived as progeny--as a new life form we're reproducing--rather than as useful but potentially dangerous tools? The former requires raising them into autonomous beings and then letting them go, whereas the latter requires careful design and safeguards to insure functionality and safe use.

I tend to think of a corporation as a particularly intricate tool, but still a tool, whereas most here apparently, including Our Host and locumranch, conflate corporations with AI. Which is why I don't think anyone really understands where I was going with the Three Laws of Corporatics.

Larry Hart said...

Tim Wolter:

But it [Lost In Space remake] went off the narrative rails and I never finished it.


Sadly, I've found this to be the case with all modern attempts at re-makes of 60s and 70s and 80s tv and movies. They degenerate into self-referential parody. That doesn't even seem to be a flaw, but an intended part of the writing. I have no other expectations of such remakes, which is why I have no interest in them, no matter how much I might have liked the originals.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

but I’ve had to be extra careful when talking to my relatives around the world. One person’s billionaire is another’s kilo-millionaire.


Yes, don't the British call our billion a "thousand million", and when they say a billion they mean what we mean by a trillion?

I seem to remember something similar in French as well.


Centi’s sister is treated like the ugly one never brought out in public.


They might be confusing her with the similarly-named witch. :)


Three really IS a magic number. 8)


Ah, Multiplication Rock. Y'know, when I'm in a nursing home with advanced dementia, and I can't even remember my daughter's name, the brain cells with those songs will be among the last to go.

Larry Hart said...

Benedict Donald:

(emphasis mine)


I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!


I wonder if this will confuse his base, who had been led to believe that Eurasia is our friend.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | Are corporations really accurately perceived as progeny

Among the people I know who have started any, the perception ranged from seeing them as extensions of themselves to seeing them as a child. I know one guy who might have seen them as a tool, but only OTHER people's corporations. His own was his baby and he bought others for a less intimate purpose.

The people who make shell companies are doing something different. Those are fictions, so no one gets emotionally invested in them.

Once founders leave, though, I'm not convinced the 'my child' notion works as well. For some I've known the answer would be a qualified yes.

Three really IS a magic number -> multiplication rock

Something locumranch misses out on (I think) when he focuses too much on dictionaries. Six words strung together make a phrase with a special meaning for someone fluent in the culture and this meaning won't appear in a dictionary. The meaning is lodged in those brain cells that will be among the last to go.

That meaning is distributed among many of us and exists at all because of something we can't do just as individuals. It is a social construct distributed across millions of brains. It is something that could not be in a world without our markets. What IT is goes to the heart of what a civilization is. 8)

Here's another. "One is the loneliest number"

Sometimes I wonder just how many of them there are for Americans. Order of magnitude estimate would be enough. 100K? 1M? We make up new ones all the time, but we also retire them as older generations pass on. 23 skidoo.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Underground lake, approximately 60 sq km, found under Planus Austalus, Mars.
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jul/25/huge-underground-lake-discovered-on-mars-say-astronomers

Tim Wolter said...

Trying to think of "remakes" of 60's and 70's shows that were better than the original. Not Lost in Space for sure.
Maybe Battle Star Galactica?
There were actually not all that many Sci Fi movies/shows back then.
If you want to broaden the field I guess other genres are fair....and an equally barren field for remakes.
Tangential question, what 60's or 70's Sci Fi shows not yet remade would seem to have promise?
I'll put out The Invaders....

TW/T

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Sometimes I wonder just how many of them [culturally distributed meanings] there are for Americans.


What you're talking about is the realization I had when I came to understand the point of the "Darmok" episode. Even that one-word title exemplified the theme of the episode, as it was meaningless until one became fluent in the underlying mythos. I didn't fully get it the first time, but on my second viewing, I realized what the episode was trying to say--that our language is essentially metaphors and allusions as well, supplemented with sprinklings of strictly-denoted words like "that" and "the" and "and".

And try assigning a text definition to those words. They're more like "I can't explain them, but I know them when I see them." Strictly speaking, all dictionary definitions are circular, so the whole structure should fall apart like a house of cards. But somehow, it works. I guess that's what Yogi Berra meant by, "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is."

Larry Hart said...

Tim Wolter:

Trying to think of "remakes" of 60's and 70's shows that were better than the original.
...
Maybe Battle Star Galactica?


My wife thought so, but I couldn't stomach it.

When people talk about remakes of that sort being "better", they seem to mean that it's darker, grittier, more uncomfortable. That's supposed to be a good thing, as in (I suppose) "more like real life." But those characteristics are so antithetical to the whole idea of Battlestar Galactica that I couldn't get into it. For me, it was like, "Why not just create a whole new show instead of pretending this is that same thing."


If you want to broaden the field I guess other genres are fair....and an equally barren field for remakes.


I wasn't limiting my disdain to sci-fi, so I agree on both counts.


Tangential question, what 60's or 70's Sci Fi shows not yet remade would seem to have promise?


That's almost a trick question as the era seems to have been strip-mined already. :)

"Have promise" is also a kind of trick question (for me) because if I try to imagine what a 2010s remake of (say) Banacek or Columbo might look like, I'm immediately imagining the ways I expect it to suck.

When my daughter was young last decade, I was forced to see the movies that remade the Smurfs and Yogi Bear and such. Geez, does every movie about kids' characters have to be about how difficult the characters find it to live in the real world??? The worst of all was the Muppets remake, which tried to relive the old Muppets Movie, but really spent 90 minutes telling the audience, "This movie that you're watching right now is pointless."


I'll put out The Invaders....


You probably expect I know the reference, but you'd be mistaken. To me, "The Invaders" is a 1970s comic book about superheroes in WWII.

Larry Hart said...

I said:

Strictly speaking, all dictionary definitions are circular, so the whole structure should fall apart like a house of cards. But somehow, it works. I guess that's what Yogi Berra meant by, "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is."


A better example would have been, "It's pretty much turtles all the way down."

Berial said...

A remake I'd like to see is someone making a comedy sketch TV show along the lines of Monty Python's Flying Circus or The Carol Burnett Show. Why do all the comedians these days have to have a 20 minute show set as an episodic family comedy?

As for other old TV shows and genres I always loved shows like Big Valley and Rockford Files but I cringe when I think of what a 'modern' take on such shows would be like.

Tim Wolter said...

The Invaders 1967, Roy Thinnes. Two seasons and the quality of writing was pretty good.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061265/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

TW/T

Larry Hart said...

Berial:

but I cringe when I think of what a 'modern' take on such shows would be like.


That's exactly what I was talking about.

Tim Wolter:

The Invaders 1967, Roy Thinnes. Two seasons and the quality of writing was pretty good.


That practically guarantees that a remake would be disappointing.

Larry Hart said...

Tim Wolter:

The Invaders 1967, Roy Thinnes.


This is freaky, because at first glance, I thought you said "Roy Thomas". He wrote Marvel comics in the 60s and 70s, but his passion was imitating old WWII-era comics, and he was the creative force behind the comic called "The Invaders" that I mentioned earlier.

Small world? Or as Vonnegut's character kept saying in Hocus Pocus, "How much longer can I go on being an atheist?"

Zepp Jamieson said...

@Tim Wolfer "Trying to think of "remakes" of 60's and 70's shows that were better than the original. Not Lost in Space for sure."

The original was pretty dire, but had a certain amount of charm. I was hopelessly smitten with Penny, which was pretty normal since I was 13 at the time.

Battlestar Galacticta is emphatically better than the original.

And I'll probably make enemies, but I think Star Trek Discovery is better than TOS.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | I used to think it was turtles all the way down too, but not anymore. I suspect there is a cloud at the bottom where we acquired sensory experiences we can’t remember anymore. The cloud isn’t just in the past either since ‘passion’ means something very different for a kid than for a sexual mature adult. No dictionary needed to explain the difference if you are that adult.

When I was a kid of about 8, I had a favorite cup I used when I wanted a drink. My mother sold Tupperware, so it was that kind of green plastic and just the right size for my hands. It had a rough texture to help prevent slips and vertical scoring marks near the top most of the way around. Other cups like it in the cupboard had a similar texture, but no scoring. I asked my mother (exactly) once why that cup had those marks and the others did not. She told me I had done that. I had no memory of it, of course, but I eventually understood. I was looking at what I had done with my first set of lower teeth. I was reflecting upon a memory I couldn’t recall, but it was still there as a kind of ghost. That cup wasn’t just my favorite. It was one I had used all my life.

It turns out I don’t need a dictionary definition for ‘cup.’ If anyone says that word, that particular cup springs to mind. I still know how it feels and what the teething marks feel like against my lower lip and tongue. The definition of ‘cup’ (for me) is THAT cup recalled as sensory experiences and not a circular reference from a dictionary.

I’m pretty sure sight words work in a similar way. Somewhere lost in our infancy, we learn ‘that’, ‘the’, ‘than’, ‘many’, and a slew of other small words we get to learn to read in kindergarten by a brute force memorization process. That icky thing. That brother who took my cookie. Many cookies. The sun. Etc. From there it seems we start stacking the turtles.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Beriel: "along the lines of Monty Python's Flying Circus..."

MP had a level of erudite sophistication that would never make it on TV in this era. I bet half of Americans' couldn't identify even one of the philosophers mentioned in the Wallamalu Drinking Song.

The Beeb is still a good place for comedy, though. "That Mitchell and Webb Look" was one of the funniest skit shows around in the Naughties.

Alfred Differ said...

The newer Battlestar Galactica WAS better, but mostly because they actually looked at what humans might be like after facing the destruction of their civilization and possible extinction. The first series went WAY to soft on that leaving the scripts looking more like a fantasy description of humans.

Seriously. Your people have just been nuked to near oblivion. You are going to be hopeful? Hmm... You might get to that point eventually, but there really should be some intervening emotions. Desperation? Praying to wake up from a bad dream? Blame? Science fiction concerning humans without realistic humans is fantasy.

Alfred Differ said...

Benny Hill? Heh.

locumranch said...

I will add a "mrmee, mrmee, mrmee, mrmee" in the honour of the late & great Harlan Ellison, author of 'Repent, Harlequin'. He will be missed:

https://compositionawebb.pbworks.com/f/%255C%27Repent,%2BHarlequin!%255C%27%2BSaid%2Bthe%2BTicktockman%2Bby%2BHarlan%2BEllison.pdf


Best
____

A 'Star Maidens' remake is long overdue. Remake it, post-haste, updated with a politically-correct 57 flavours of gender! Schnell, mach schnell!!

Jon S. said...

"I bet half of Americans' [sic] couldn't identify even one of the philosophers mentioned in the Wallamalu Drinking Song."

Okay, maybe Heidegger or Schlegel, but I'm pretty sure even us ignorant Americans are familiar with names like Socrates and Nietzche... :-)

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Somewhere lost in our infancy, we learn ‘that’, ‘the’, ‘than’, ‘many’, and a slew of other small words we get to learn to read in kindergarten by a brute force memorization process.


One thing I've always wondered--and watched for when my daughter was the correct age--is how children learn that when they say "I" or "you", they're not talking about the same person as when someone else says those same words to them.

The conclusion I reached is that they pick that up not from direct conversation, but by overhearing other people talk to each other.

One of the cutest early talking stories I remember about my daughter is when we were out at a restaurant, and the waiter came to take our drink orders. My wife asked, "What do you have in a white wine?" After going through the list with her, the waiter asked my daughter for her drink order, and she dutifully asked, "What do you have in a Sprite?" She had mistakenly but understandably grasped that there was a particular way you gave a drink order at a restaurant and went along with it.

Larry Hart said...

Zepp Jamieson:
I bet half of Americans' couldn't identify even one of the philosophers mentioned in the Wallamalu Drinking Song.


I'd take that bet that they know Socrates.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

In contrast, the new Lost In Space series, which started with some cool creativity, had one of the worst episodes (number 4) I have ever seen, in which not one of the characters makes even a single decision that makes even a scintilla of sense. A great example of how one director and writer can come close to killing a whole project.


A similar thing happened when Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing and no one else knew how to write the show.

Or for the 1980s comics fans out there, when Howard Chaykin left American Flagg!

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "Are corporations really accurately perceived as progeny--as a new life form we're reproducing--rather than as useful but potentially dangerous tools?"

No, not really. But one might call them an early rough draft on artificial intelligence...or perhaps, severely, permanently, irreparably developmentally disabled on account of performing all thought processes via committee. ;)

My point though was to assert why it's best to leave the basic form intact, and look elsewhere. Woodrow Wilson tried to restrict corps in New Jersey; Delaware (which already had a deep history) replaced them handily. The progressives tried the 'charter gambit' - but better progressives focused on transparency, wage and hour rules, labor relations, etc. Go to the real problem: it's not that these artificial creatures are born in sin - it's that humans err, and we must address those errors as they arise, not by seeking the perfect programming, but rather, the appropriate mix of suasion/compulsion.

Corporations are tools, and tools with a fairly simple purpose - to better deploy capital for socially useful purposes than was common under earlier business structures (sole proprietorships, partnerships, and...trusts...by which I'm using the term broadly, somewhat as our host uses 'feudalism' to describe a power system with certain consistent features that predated medieval Europe by a loooong time). In an ecosystem where one state can restrict but another expand action, corporations will flow to wherever they are least regulated (leaving New Jersey and New York for Delaware).

But there's a different ecosystem outside capital - a power system that is less interested in the skillful use of capital than in capture (Veblen referred to this as the distinction between 'industry' and 'business' - and was generally disdainful of the 'business' side). Kill off corporations, and that alternative scheme operating in tandem but subject to restraints will show itself as far more important than most realized. Kill off one form of organization, alternatives that coexisted in that system's ecosphere rise up...and in this case, the alternative is ancient, powerful, and quite threatening.

I don't think anyone here conflates corps with AI though, not really. They do show us a lot about the rights and prospects AI may experience, when we actually have 'sufficiently intelligent' artifices to bother with being concerned with these issues. I'm just a serial critic: I think you're working on something interesting, but I have different background. Convince me I'm wrong, and you'll strengthen your own argument and views - which is why I challenge folks who are interesting when I can.

donzelion said...

Alfred: "The newer Battlestar Galactica WAS better"

For reasons you cited, but also because it took the cylons and religion seriously enough to make them intriguing. But far more than the original, the new Galactica took all sorts of myths seriously, borrowing extensively from Exodus for plot elements throughout, rather than just disposable backdrop.

LarryHart: I couldn't stomach the new BG for the first time around, esp. the torture scenes in early season 1, and other really nasty bits and pieces. But it's rather bingable...speaking of which...

Berial: "A remake I'd like to see is someone making a comedy sketch TV show"
Try Portlandia...esp. their own Battlestar Galactica skit.

Showrunners tend to prefer 'episodic' structures because any single writer isn't crucial to the success of the show - no single vision, by a single fallible mortal to disrupt the 'enterprise.'

And to the "Tangential question, what 60's or 70's Sci Fi shows not yet remade would seem to have promise?"
I would put Black Mirror at its worst right up there with Twilight Zone at its best, and I've been a TZ fan for a very long time...

TheMadLibrarian said...

I wonder if a remake of Space: 1999 would be superior to the original, which had scientific holes one could pilot a Star Destroyer through. Perhaps a military base testing some sort of new drive for spaceships could propel the Moon out of orbit; it could also account for the incredible number of planets they ended up close to.

TheMadLibrarian said...

BTW, the new commenting format makes it incredibly annoying to add a comment. I don't know if blocking everything that doesn't come through a gmail or Blogger account is your idea, however.

Duncan Cairncross said...

SciFi shows from the 60's - does Dr Who count? - the re-launch was IMHO a LOT better than the original

donzelion

To paraphrase your "take" on corporations we should leave the "animal" alone but we should alter the field that it works in - use rewards and punishment to change its behaviour

Is that what you mean?

matthew said...

Larry, I quit collecting "American Flagg" when Howard left.

Alfred Differ said...

@TheMadLibrarian | We were getting a lot of spam. Our host flipped the switch to stop it.

Zepp Jamieson said...

@Alfred Differ: "Benny Hill? Heh."

I couldn't understand half of what he said, and I was RAISED in Britain. Granted, London isn't the same as Abergavenny.

Larry Hart said...

donzelion:

Corporations are tools, and tools with a fairly simple purpose - to better deploy capital for socially useful purposes than was common under earlier business structures (sole proprietorships, partnerships, and...trusts...


Well, corporations are legal "persons" in the sense that they are legal entities separate from their individual members. But these persons are constrained by law to single-mindedly pursue profit without regard to such considerations as citizenship or compassion. Apparently, the only humanity that a corporation is allowed to possess is a deeply-held religious belief forbidding contraception or gay marriage. :)

Because of this designed-in lack of humanity, I think it is a mistake to consider a corporation to be a full "person" with all rights and privileges associated with the term.

Loc argues that a corporate person is equivalent to a natural person, but that's absurd on the face of it. Even before gay marriage was a thing, corporations were allowed to merge without regard to gender, and to buy each other without regard to accusations of slavery. Corporations can't hold public office, even after they've been around for 35 years. Congressional representation based upon "whole number of persons" in a state or district does not count the corporations therein.


I don't think anyone here conflates corps with AI though, not really.


Maybe not, but everyone seems to think that the Three Laws of Corporatics are meant to be something programmed into computer systems. And whenever I suggest a fantasy story in which a corporation really does come to life Pinocchio-like and develops a conscience and independent action, most listeners assume I'm talking about their computer systems starting to act independently rather than the corporate person itself. So there's that.

Zepp Jamieson said...

@Duncan Dr. Who " IMHO a LOT better than the original"

The original had a lot of range, what with 5, or was it 6 different Doctors. I hated the William Hartnell version: he reminded me of nothing as much as Doctor Smith on the original "Lost in Space"; cowardly, duplicious, whiny and amoral. Smith, Frank Burns and Donald Trump all rolled up into one.
I absolutely ADORED Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.

Larry Hart said...

matthew:

I quit collecting "American Flagg" when Howard left.


You didn't miss anything. I should have done the same.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Larry Hart: "I'd take that bet that they know Socrates."

They would recognize the name. ("He was the mouse on that cartoon show, right?") But they couldn't describe a single one of his tenets.

donzelion said...

Zepp: "They would recognize the name (Socrates)...But they couldn't describe a single one of his tenets."

But if they KNEW that they didn't know his tenets, then Socrates would hold that they're on the right path...

Jon S. said...

"I hated the William Hartnell version: he reminded me of nothing as much as Doctor Smith on the original "Lost in Space"; cowardly, duplicious, whiny and amoral. Smith, Frank Burns and Donald Trump all rolled up into one.
I absolutely ADORED Peter Capaldi as the Doctor."


Which is very funny, because Capaldi said that he was basing his performance on the First Doctor (Hartnell); he felt that after the Time War, and the shenanigans his last three incarnations had got up to in order to move past that, the Doctor would return to his roots for a time.

locumranch said...


Our 'Three Laws of Corporatics' friend makes at least 3 incredibly absurd claims about corporations:

First, he argues that corporations are somehow "constrained by law to single-mindedly pursue profit without regard to such considerations as citizenship or compassion" which is total BS because plenty of the soon-to-be defunct corporations have & will continue bleed themselves dry in the pursuit of their pathologically altruistic agenda (as in the case of the EU).

Second, he argues that "corporations were allowed to merge without regard to gender and to buy each other without regard to accusations of slavery" which they couldn't do due to anti-trust legislation.

Third, he argues that "Corporations can't hold public office", even though they routinely hire & purchase public office holders to do so in their stead.

Corporations are 'persons' in the same fictive & legal sense that each and every collective organisation is a legal person, and they prove this time & time again when they bend the public interest over a metaphorical barrel & roger it.


Best

Zepp Jamieson said...

Donzelion wrote: "But if they KNEW that they didn't know his tenets, then Socrates would hold that they're on the right path..."

Aye that.

"Oooh, look. There's a penguin on the teleevisen set..."

donzelion said...

LarryHart: It's exceedingly difficult for me to respond to interesting thoughts respectfully without producing walls of text. Sorry.

It's fine to be wary of legal persons, so long as you bear in mind the alternatives that existed before the current system was erected (and which actually never really disappeared...). Efforts to restrain one entity may empower those shadowy entities that lurk behind the scenes in ways we didn't anticipate (just as the effort to rein in executive compensation packages in the '90s backfired spectacularly).

The courts agree with your impression: corporations are not 'full persons' in America, and do not possess all rights of citizens. No corporation may exercise 2nd amendment rights... But the big problem tends to be the 14th Amendment, where the term 'citizen' is used in one instance, '(naturalizable) person' in another, and finally, in the crucial 'due process' and 'equal protection' portions, without any clearly written limitation. Courts held that corporations have 'due process' and 'equal protection' rights largely because nothing in the text clearly states they do not have such rights, and the text itself was written to expand rights to people previously denied them.

The trick that FDR and civil rights litigators focused upon was recognizing alternative stories of rights: corporations are allowed to earn profits, BUT must pay taxes, must honor contracts, must not cheat to restrict contracts by employees through various management schemes...this was how the 2-day weekend came about, among many other major improvements. It's worth continuing that path, even if today we see plenty of problems with where it has led.

Jon S. said...

Turing protect us, the bots have found a way through already.

Larry Hart said...

donzelion:

"Are corporations really accurately perceived as progeny--as a new life form we're reproducing--rather than as useful but potentially dangerous tools?"

No, not really. But one might call them an early rough draft on artificial intelligence...


I can see that. But as they are deliberately designed to be sociopaths, it's a bad idea to consider them as equal to natural humans in terms of autonomy and voting. One might as well argue that cancer cells inside your body have equivalent rights to autonomy as you do.


and finally, in the crucial 'due process' and 'equal protection' portions, without any clearly written limitation. Courts held that corporations have 'due process' and 'equal protection' rights largely because nothing in the text clearly states they do not have such rights,


I don't have a problem with those things, as that seems to be exactly the point of considering them "persons" in the first place. Within the legal system, I agree that corporations are persons. They are not "people", though. They don't have emotions, suffer pain, experience regret, exhibit sympathy, get outraged at injustice, or any of a myriad other considerations around which human civilization has evolved over millennia. Recognizing them as autonomous beings with the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as human beings is a fool's game.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"Are corporations really accurately perceived as progeny?"

Among the people I know who have started any, the perception ranged from seeing them as extensions of themselves to seeing them as a child. I


This might be a small nit to pick, but I think you're talking about a business, not a corporation. While they are overlapping concepts and certainly not opposite things, they are different things.

locumranch said...

They are not "people", though. They don't have emotions, suffer pain, experience regret, exhibit sympathy, get outraged at injustice, or any of a myriad other considerations around which human civilization has evolved over millennia. Recognizing them as autonomous beings with the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as human beings is a fool's game.

Haters say this about each & every identity group, just before they murder them & steal their stuff.


Best

Darrell E said...

Regarding remakes, in most cases I find myself wishing for some sort of hybrid between the original and the remake. In many ways the new BG was much better. But not in all ways. Admittedly I am biased because I loved the original, cheese and all. And I agree with LarryHart about the nitty-gritty, dirty, darkness that seems to signify "like real life" these days. It is almost always taken too far for my tastes and it's something I found to become tiresome in the new BG. It's as if every fucking episode was a challenge to be more nitty-gritty, dirty, dark, dreary, hopeless and beyond any possible redemption than before. As with so many modern shows every episode has (had) such an extreme dramatic situation occur that it can't (couldn't) plausibly be topped and probably should be (have been) the end of the story. But they continue(d) trying to be more extreme every episode and it quickly becomes (became) at least as implausible as anything in the original BG, cheese and all.

I have to agree that there was some pretty dire writing in the new Lost In Space, but overall I enjoyed the series and am looking forward to another one. I think the remake is better than the original. I hope they don't follow the same pattern so many modern shows do, but they probably will.

Zepp Jamieson said...

@ Darrell E
I can think of a remake that absolutely shone for its first two seasons: Sherlock. Cumberbatch was at least as good a Sherlock Holmes as Jeremy Brett was, and the writing and staging were inspired.
But then it went off the rails in season four when Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss decided that Sherlock Holmes would be ever so much cooler if they turned him into James Bond, and guess what? He wasn't.
It was just announced yesterday that there will be a "Deadwood" movie that presumably will wrap up the series.

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

I'll partially take your bet from last time, though it's that 'sucuumbed' that's the stkicking point, as they eventually got to that point. There were several times in Japanese history when everything wasn't owned by groups of alpha-males. Most of these were early on and if you look at the early land-allocation systems and their effects you'll find them. There's examples of farmers asserting (and getting) their rights. Also worth reading on this score is The World Turned Upside Down by Souryi, which is a history of the Samurai. For example, the ji-zamurai (village samurai, or de-facto samurai rather than by class) could not have existed in your even loosely defined feudalism.

As far as the rebooted Lost In Space goes, it was uniformly awful, with large holes in the plot. OK, so we have people chipped for ID, but we open spacecraft doors by jacket sleeve tags? That's not what would happen. There is one huge consistency with the original, though. The action comes to a dead stop every time Dr. Smith is on the screen.

What would make for good reboots? How about some more radical choices.

How about a new version of ArkII? Where global warming has killed most eveyrone off, but where the fact-using professions still send out envoys to educate who's left (that's a terrible pun, I know)?

Or a new Space Academy? Where a bunch of precocious adolescents are being schooled into being fact-users in an Elon Musk-sponsored space station?

Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea? If we stick with the global-warming theme, the Seaview could have wheels...

Douglas Fenton said...

Rebooting old TV series is all and well but I would prefer new sources of inspiration than just a rehash of something already done. I think that TV series taken from good sci-fi books would be, at least from my point of view, much more interesting because it is new. With modern techniques we can build sophisticated and believable visuals that we couldn't do before for a much cheaper cost and that opens the door to bringing very good stories to the public.

Dr. Brin wrote his excellent Uplift Saga in the 1980s and 90's. A series made from these books then would have been difficult but today a good producer could unfold its genius to TV. I wish that will happen soon.

matthew said...

Hey, Doc, is it public knowledge who owns the adaptation rights to Uplift? I understand the need for secrecy in pre-planning but often these things are not secret. Can you share if possible?

Douglas Fenton said...

Br. Brin did say that he was disappointed in not having even a bit role in The Postman. In the new Uplift War Series I see him as a human bartender in a neo-chimp bar on Garth. I would say more but I won't give any spoilers.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: Hmmm...looks like a longer post I'd posted in response was cut somehow, so I apologized for a wall of text you never got to see. ;-)

"Within the legal system, I agree that corporations are persons. They are not "people", though...Recognizing them as autonomous beings with the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as human beings is a fool's game."
My longer post (a veritable wall of text) dissected the wording of the 14th Amendment at length ('privileges & immunities' for citizens, 'naturalization' for 'natural persons,' and 'due process/equal protection' for all kinds of persons - citizens, natural persons, and non-natural persons - including aliens and corporations. 'Due process' is most important - once a thing has a right to any 'process,' you cannot restrict that thing without 'duly' demonstrating why, how, and to what extent. Whether the thing in question is good or evil, we must honor a process before constraining it. But that's from the vantage point of restricting Leviathan...here's another way of looking at it:

Imagine: Friday night during a conf call with his cronies, imagine the following exchange:

"Hey Donald, we've taken several big positions on oil that assume the threat of war with Iran is imminent, but they just haven't paid off so well yet. If we're right, we'll make $500m, if we're wrong, we'll lose $300m, so if you drum up something threatening for us over the weekend, we'll gladly split the difference and put $100m into your PAC..."

In a universe of 'trusts' (which capitalism constrained but never eradicated) - the people on that call will own/operate pools of money, accountable to no one. The form of the conversation would be about the same, whether in the ancient Roman Republic (we hear good things about Gaul and Iberia!) or the 21st century. The key is that the insiders position themselves for 'chaos' before it strikes, then stir up the chaos, then either profit or (more often), lose slightly less than their rivals.

In a universe of corporations, the same call MIGHT occur - but the proposal would require a resolution from shareholders to be heard - "Be it resolved, thou shalt tweet the drums of war Sunday night (in all caps)!" - the ploy would be memorialized, the profitability plan in place, the contributions tracked, dividends or capital gains paid to investors. The schemers would know that their whole plan to profit might get discovered by the public. Trump may have a handful of cronies on that call, but if he brought in the CEOs of Exxon/Lockheed, even they may have obligations to report certain plans to their shareholders if the scheme might dramatically affect valuation (esp. if they have any personal stake in the conflict).

This constrains their behavior better than trying to force them to 'stop warmongering' or alter the purpose of the entity to include 'compassion' or other social virtues. If you force the corporation to include certain virtues into its chartering purposes, the folks who might be constrained by such rules will simply revert to the older approach immediately.

Darrell E said...

Zepp Jamieson,

I agree about Sherlock Holmes. The first couple of seasons were very good.

I don't see it as a remake, rather a retelling, but another Sherlock Holmes series that I've really enjoyed is Elementary. It has, for my tastes, maintained its quality better than most series. It is in its 6th or 7th season and I think it is still quite good.

Darrell E said...

Anybody remember the short lived series Seaquest with Roy Scheider? Plenty of cheese, but I liked it. I wouldn't mind seeing a well done remake of that.

Or, how about the cartoon Johnny Quest? A favorite of mine when I was a kid. A well done series based on it could be good I think. A couple of young kids with a scientist father, living on a huge research vessel running around the planet having amazing adventures? Sounds great! Huh, just did a quick search and it looks like there is a Johnny Quest movie in the works.

There is a favorite early science fiction novel I read as a kid that I would love to see on the big screen or as a series. Anybody ever read Secret Under the Sea by Gordon R. Dickson? Great story about a kid who lives in a cool underwater home / laboratory with scientist parents, has a trained dolphin friend (somewhat uplifted if I recall correctly) he swims with, and there's a martian "monster," terrorists, secret government agents and more.

donzelion said...

Douglas: "Dr. Brin wrote his excellent Uplift Saga in the 1980s and 90's. A series made from these books then would have been difficult but today a good producer could unfold its genius to TV. I wish that will happen soon."

Me too. Pieces of 'Uplift War' in particular ought to be particularly interesting post 'Planet of the Apes' reboot. 'Planet of the Apes' mostly applies tropes of 'us v. alien' in a standard format (the 60s version posited racial overtones) - the reboot offers us apes as Jesus, Moses, martyr, concentration camp/slave, but presents the ape/human relationship as oppressor v. minority (and ingeniously deconstructs the normal expectations in that story by casting humans are either unintentionally cruel, or fully cruel by design). There's never been a presentation suggesting 'colleague' - neither better than, nor worse, than human.

Rocket Raccoon comes closer to that, but even then, his status as a raccoon is secondary, and the plot, rather than the concept, drives his outings.

Berial said...

Hey Darrell, if you want a twisted/perverted view of Johnny Quest you could always watch 'The Venture Brothers'. Johnny and his crew even show up in several episodes. (Johnny is a strung out middle aged man hiding in a bathysphere at one point.) The POV of the show is "just how screwed up would a 'boy adventurer' actually be as an adult?" Another big theme of the show is failure, of course.

I quite enjoy it, and the latest season starts next week, but it is DEFINITELY not for everyone.

Douglas Fenton said...

donzelion,

Planet of the Apes was boring to me maybe because I read the book in French and that colored what I thought the message should be. The first film was excellent. The sequels sucked and the remakes are just another apocalypse movies of which there are legions. I couldn't get into them because to me they had nothing to do with the book which I loved. That's just me. I know many people loved them and that's great.

The human/ape relation in Dr. Brin's books are very thought-provoking but is ultimately secondary to sheer survival. He built a unique way of escaping the the slave/master situation. The ability to uplift a species sidesteps that quandary. I mean who would want to be adopted by the Tandu. Too bad Rocket Raccoon is alone. I feel for him.

The limited corporation along with the development of insurance really allowed us to overcome the "hump" that prevented the Ancient World from developing into an industrial civilization in my opinion. It should be rated up there with the invention of the wheel. It facilitated the existence of large, complicated and very efficient organizations to take very big risks, innovate and exploit rapidly. It was a Declaration of Independence for the companies. Till then the economic unit was the extended merchant family or individuals. After the invention of the limited liability company, the company could use people rather than be used by them and we all have profited from this. Many have become effectively immortal.

sociotard said...

Did I miss Dr. Brin commenting on the possible lake recently (maybe) found under the Martian South Pole?

https://www.vox.com/vox-sentences/2018/7/25/17614918/vox-sentences-mars-liquid-lake

Larry Hart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

I can think of a remake that absolutely shone for its first two seasons: Sherlock. Cumberbatch was at least as good a Sherlock Holmes as Jeremy Brett was, and the writing and staging were inspired.


Yes and no.

I agree that Sherlock is a terrific series. My daughter is a huge Cumberbatch fan, and she got me hooked on that series just as she did with "Hamilton".

I disagree that it counts as a remake. Cumberbatch's Holmes is not meant to be the 1890s character, but a sort of re-imagining of the concept. I'm not even sure that's the right term. What I generally call a re-imagining is something like NuTrek, where the original concept is rebooted and doesn't have to stay true to the history that came before, but it's supposed to be the same kind of thing as the original series, e.g., still adventures of the starship Enterprise with Captain James T Kirk at the helm. Sherlock isn't even like that. It's more "What if Sherlock Holmes was a 21st century man instead?" I'm not sure what you'd call that, but "remake" isn't it.

Larry Hart said...

donzelion:

the [Planet of the Apes] reboot offers us apes as Jesus, Moses, martyr, concentration camp/slave, but presents the ape/human relationship as oppressor v. minority


Didn't the original movie series do that as well? The first movie had humans as the oppressed minority and Conquest of..., earlier in time, had the reverse?


There's never been a presentation suggesting 'colleague' - neither better than, nor worse, than human.

Wasn't that the ending of the final movie in the original series?

Mark Gast said...

I would love to see a series based on just about any Robert Heinlein novel. It would need to be on HBO or Showtime because of the nudity and "adult" themes. My top 3: Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love and Number of the Beast {it’s a hoot}.

Larry Hart said...

Douglas Fenton:

The first film was excellent. The sequels sucked and the remakes are just another apocalypse movies of which there are legions.


You could be describing Star Wars. :)


I know many people loved them and that's great.


Well, I also liked the first Planet of the Apes movie, but thought the sequels went downhill. I did have a soft spot for the one when they come back to the present day (Escape From...) in part because I was exposed to that one even before I saw the original. So I saw the original already kinda/sorta knowing the surprise ending, but that didn't ruin it for me.

The "Simpsons" riff on the Planet of the Apes musical (with Troy McClure as the human) was hilarious:


I hate every ape I see
From chimpan-A to chimpan-Z.
Oh, you'll never make a monkey out of me...

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | but I think you're talking about a business, not a corporation.

The founders I know never made the distinction.
Buyers who pick up after a founder exits occasionally do.

Are you trying to make the distinction between partnerships and corporations? I don't know much about partnerships except they've NEVER been the right approach for what I wanted to do. They look too much like marriages to me. A few benefits, lots of liability, and you better trust your partner a great deal. Without hormones and children being involved, I never saw the point. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding Americans knowing anything about philosophy, I'd be stunned if more than 50% of us could actually name a philosopher. I'd be double stunned if more than 10% of us could name one who wasn't an ancient Greek.

de Tocqueville had something to say on this about us. I think a paraphrased version goes as follows.

We live our philosophical positions passionately every day, but prefer to remain ignorant about them as intellectual exercises.

In other words, I could be passionate about liberalism and have no clue about Smith, Hume, Locke, and so many others. I might actually PREFER not to now about them, but in my case the preference isn't true.

Douglas Fenton said...

Larry Hart,

An ex-movie critic once said that job ruined him from ever enjoying any movie again because you notice the errors and inconsistencies too much and sometimes I feel the same way as I get older. Like when the apes were hiding out in a redwood forest. There is nothing an ape can eat there, absolutely nothing except I suppose an occasional hiker. Anyway I enjoy more a movie that makes no pretense of scientific accuracy like "Guardians of the Galaxy" that are great fun than a badly researched one that cuts too many coiners. Star Wars is fun because it is fantasy and has with no connection to anything real. The story does get old though; always the same old theme with no change.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Are you trying to make the distinction between partnerships and corporations? I


No. More like distinguishing between the business enterprise itself and the fictional avatar that represents the business in the legal system. I think there's some metaphorical "confusing the map with the territory" going on.

donzelion said...

Douglas: Plot-wise, none of the 'Planet of the Apes' remakes were particularly original, riveting, or even distinctive. Image-wise...presenting the ape as protagonist, instead of antagonist at best, sidekick, or similar secondary role, was novel.

"The human/ape relation in Dr. Brin's books are very thought-provoking but is ultimately secondary to sheer survival. He built a unique way of escaping the the slave/master situation."
Not escaping per se, so much as shifting the story behind why that situation might be created by reasonable beings (rather than the Hegelian/Marxist notions that the master/slavery dynamic arose from fear and ensuing struggle).

"The limited corporation along with the development of insurance really allowed us to overcome the "hump" that prevented the Ancient World from developing into an industrial civilization in my opinion."
I would link the two together, but yes, these are innovations that reshaped the feudal regime, offering an alternative for the first time ever that is remarkably robust in its own right. As with the wheel, the concepts of insurance (and limited corporations) have ample precedent (even the Aztecs knew about wheels, but without large mammals to pull them, and through rough terrain, they held minimal utility) - but within the right scheme, they are incredibly powerful.

It's NOT that corporations are more efficient than other forms - it's that investors have better probability of reaping a benefit from that efficiency than alternative forms even if they never control the operations themselves. From a broader social level, this structure results in enormous efficiency: none of these companies can play the negative sum game for very long, unlike feudal stakeholdings, which sometimes worked for profit, but could more cheaply work to extract the profits from other feudal lords (and if those were too difficult to rob, then from peasants).

"After the invention of the limited liability company, the company could use people rather than be used by them and we all have profited from this."
The Catholic Church didn't invent 'corporation' concepts from a vacuum - these were ancient concepts even in the Middle Ages. Silk Road merchants often sold shares in the profits from caravans intended to endure long after the current leaders passed on - but always, the mechanisms reverted to the feudal form, largely because many feudal lords noting a passing caravan could more quickly profit from it by raiding it than promoting roads and securing it. Much later on, when the local feudal lords gained the chance to buy shares in the enterprise (which was more often shipping than caravan-based), they saw a safer, easier mechanism, sacrificing a smidgen of control begrudgingly in exchange for greater profits.

But the feudal operation never entirely disappeared: it evolved. Behind the scenes in most corporations are a handful of major family players, operating through funds and leverage dependent on that complexity. It's BETTER than 300 years ago, but still not perfect by any stretch.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: Perhaps I miswrote my meaning here -

"the [Planet of the Apes] reboot offers us apes as Jesus, Moses, martyr, concentration camp/slave, but still presents the ape/human relationship as oppressor v. minority"

Yes, the original series did that as well, and that was actually the point of it. In a racially charged world at the time, there was the implicit thought "what if the African-Americans rise up and take over?' But while the original series could show the occasional 'good ape,' none of it was written from the apes' vantages.

"There's never been a presentation suggesting 'colleague' - neither better than, nor worse, than human."
The final movie (and actually, several others) hinted at it, but none of them really treated the social dynamic very well - what does it mean for humans and non-humans to work together, live together, rely on one another, build things together.

What, if anything, is different when dealing with a life form that is still very much like us, but is one that we've 'created' - v. a life form we simply discover? We have ample precedent for discovering new human tribes, so we frame 'first contact' with those tropes. We have ample precedent for creating tools - so we frame 'robots' in those tropes. But chimps and dolphins? Animals that we might shape into sentience that could cooperate, collaborate, and become just like us, better in some things, not as skilled in others? It's a very different concept, merging the 'alien species' tropes with the 'robot' tropes - and looking at humans in relationship with 'other' very differently.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | Okay. Let’s examine this with variations.

In Asimov’s robot stories, one can imagine a software architecture plan for each model. The plan would be instantiated with each robot. Add the potential for error in the plan and more error while instantiating them and one gets the fodder for stories. To which thing would the robotics laws apply, though? A plan can’t harm you, so it would have to be an instance of the plan.

A business founder creating an instance of a ‘corporation’ isn’t going to care much about the distinction. Lawyers and Courts would because the location of an error might influence the proposed remedy.

Have I gone astray yet? Is this close to how you see things?

Personally, I’ve never had to create a corporate instance to pay off a Playboy model yet, but I know how it would be done. I also know that creating the LLC transparently for that purpose would probably lead to tax trouble for me as the IRS would point out (in an audit if it happened) that the LLC wasn’t really a business. It was an extension of me, thus the tax rules that applied to me would be applied. The state in which the LLC was established might object too for their own tax reasons, but primarily about business charter rules. Instances are supposed to be businesses even if they are short-lived stubs like we see in the construction industry. Maybe the state won’t mind, though. Setting up a business to pursue a dumb idea that won’t produce profit probably isn’t illegal. Setting one up to commit fraud probably is.

I’m still with Donzelion, though, when it comes to remedies regarding instances that do immoral things. I’m more inclined to tinker with the environment making those instances not worth establishing than I am to tinker with the architectural plan. If environmental alterations work over the long haul, we can come back around and look at the instances and ask what the plan should say in the future. In other words, I’m more inclined to discover law than create it.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"I’m more inclined to tinker with the environment making those instances not worth establishing than I am to tinker with the architectural plan. If environmental alterations work over the long haul, we can come back around and look at the instances and ask what the plan should say in the future. In other words, I’m more inclined to discover law than create it."

But you complain bitterly when I propose doing just that to "tune the engine of our economy"!

Alfred Differ said...

That's because you propose that the economy is an engine. You put forward an overly simplistic architecture for something profoundly more complex.

People who pretend the brain is a kind of computer are doing something similar, but they are a tiny bit closer to the truth. Brains compute.

Engines do work in the physics sense. Economies don't.

Alfred Differ said...

Also, tinkering with the environment is like tinkering with the road down which you drive with your engine. If the road is full of potholes, you'll alter your engines (without anyone having to force you) to be robust enough to cope. Fewer fragile parts. Your fellow engineers working on the vehicle frame will adapt even faster.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
So you think we should use an animal trainer as a more appropriate model?

That is a LOT cruder than my engine model

donzelion said...

Duncan: Perhaps 'biochemist' - remember, these animals are no smarter than your average bacteria. They can't 'learn' - they can respond to stimuli.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | That's the point. Engines are wonderful things designed by intent for a purpose. Economies aren't.

We get ourselves into all sorts of unimaginable trouble when we mis-categorize these things.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
And in both cases we aim for optimums - always - which is why I have never understood your objection to trying to optimise the performance of our economy

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Engines are wonderful things designed by intent for a purpose. Economies aren't.


But corporations are.

As to our earlier discussion, all I'm really saying is that the we'd be better off designing the tool to maximize utility and minimize harmful externalizes.

I have a hard time understanding why that is a controversial idea. Any time you create anything, don't you want it to be as useful as possible and as un-dangerous as possible? You build a car with a steering wheel and brakes, not with an autonomous AI which you hope will take you where you want and not kill you, but if it decides to do something else instead, it has as much right to do that as you do.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Engines are wonderful things designed by intent for a purpose. Economies aren't.

Yes they are! - we just don't know as much about the problem as we do about engines but we still write laws and procedures and taxes to create an economy

Greg Byshenk said...

A note about 'design'...

It is true that economies are not pure products of design, as things like automobile engines are. Engines are the result of a design process, and do not exist apart from the specific intentions of the designers. Economies are in origin "organic"; that is, they have grown from various types of interactions (and intentions) without any particular overall intention or designer. Nonetheless, economies do have elements of design in them: things like rules for the functioning of contracts, and so forth.

The same is true of many other complex systems. The origin of governments was also organic, but we have since designed various systems of government. Roads and road systems were from origin organic, but we nonetheless design roads and road systems.

If the point of saying "economies aren't designed" is to highlight the risks of changing things that we may not fully understand, then it seems a good one. We should be careful in changing things that we do not fully understand. But such often seems to shade into: "you can't change anything by design", which seems plainly false.

(And I would add that even fully "designed" systems can have unexpected failure modes if they are sufficiently complex.)

Duncan Cairncross said...

"even fully "designed" systems can have unexpected failure modes if they are sufficiently complex"

And THAT comes in at surprisingly LOW level of complexity!

Larry Hart said...

There is self-evident hypocrisy in asserting that one may not constrain a corporation from being harmful while insisting that violence, lethal force, and torture are justified against MS-13, al-Quaeda, ISIS, etc.

I presume that if you discover a burglar in your house at night, you're ok with shooting him to prevent harm to your family and theft of your property, having nothing whatsoever with "killing him to take his stuff."

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | And in both cases we aim for optimums - always

…and that is the error. It is not possible to know what ‘optimum’ is for an economy. We can delude ourselves into thinking we know, but we can’t know. I’m not saying it is hard to know. I’m saying it is impossible. Literally. In quantum mechanics it isn’t possible to know an electrons location and momentum at the same time beyond a certain level of imprecision. It LITERALLY is not possible.

What we CAN do with economies is know SOME of the things that create sub-optimal conditions. We can resist the temptation to do stupid things. For example, I’m hard pressed to find a case for price controls that doesn’t create scarcity of the things being controlled. I’m hard pressed to think of an example where it is not the case where socializing production and distribution of a thing (no one pays, everyone gets it according to their needs) eliminates our understanding of how much of the thing is needed relative to other things. In both of these cases, we can THINK that we know how to do it right, but they are among some of the rare instances where economists from different schools all agree that they are sub-optimal and event stupid.

When humans come together and trade freely, there is no such thing as an agreed upon set of objectives. We all have our own goals. Absent global objectives, the linear algebra problem for optimization can’t even be constructed. The equations DO NOT exist. The error we make is thinking local optimization can apply globally. You can optimize according to YOUR objectives, but your neighbor may have a different idea about what they want.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | But corporations are.

I haven’t given as much thought to this as with economies, but my suspicion is that you are mistaken here in roughly the same way Duncan is. Corporations are sketched at best, so I’m not sure they qualify as designed. The CEO comes close to expressing the intent of a corporation, so there certainly is a design attempt, but I’ve never met a CEO that has succeeded at the kind of control necessary to impose their design.

Unless you’ve been in their seat, it’s not necessarily obvious what CEO’s actually do. In one sense, they are the chief salesman. The are called in to close big deals. When they aren’t doing that, though, they are supposed to be guiding strategy. They create objectives that conform with their strategy. They then manage to those objectives by getting the people under them to turn strategy into tactics. It is often the case that tactical plans do other things as well, so the imposed design is less than perfect.

Because it is possible to state the objectives imposed from above, it is possible to discuss the meaning of ‘optimal’ relative to them. The CEO can certainly do that. They rarely get what they planned, though, because the organization under them is far too organic. It is composed to people who shed only some of their local objectives in favor of the global ones from above.

maximize utility and minimize harmful externalizes

I’d be very wary of maximizing utility. Whose utility? What about all those other good behaviors we want the people in a corporation to express? Utility is essentially prudence when looked at from the perspective of ethics. There is a lot more to being a good human being than prudence.

Any time you create anything, don't you want it to be as useful as possible and as un-dangerous as possible?

YOU do. Others might only partially agree with you regarding what is useful and un-dangerous. That shouldn’t stop you from acting, but it should stop you from thinking you know what’s best. What you know is very local… at best. As a good human being, you'll negotiate the rest.

Tim Wolter said...

The previous and now deleted spam sure made a visit to Jaipur sound frisky. Or was it the Jophur attempting First Contact? Probably good not to be Uplifted by stackable Party Animals....

posting in the only place on the internet where the play on words will make sense...

TW/Tacitus

Alfred Differ said...

@Greg | If the point of saying "economies aren't designed" is to highlight the risks of changing things that we may not fully understand, then it seems a good one.

It’s more than that. I agree that failure modes are important, but the solution is well known. Ensemble testing. Diversification. Nibble away.

The point I keep coming back to is people make a fundamental error when they think about things that are the result of human action but not the result of human design. It is the kind of error that everyone used to make when they saw biological complexity and concluded “God”. There is a space between raw chaos and designed order.

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

Oh man.

Now I’ve got an image in my head blurring master rings with the equipment sadists use on their partners. 8)

Not that kind of frisky? Heh. I spent my college years in Vegas before the city became more family friendly.

Douglas Fenton said...

donzelion,

You left out the most important aspect of the limited Joint-stock company and that is that the shareholders have limited liability meaning that the most money that they can lose is the money they put in buying the shares. Before this innovation owners were personally liable for all debts and losses incurred by the company. Selling oneself into servitude to pay off debts was not unusual in the Ancient World and even into early modern times. The Church of course supported this view that all debts, especially those owed to the Church, must be paid. Leave it to the Dutch Protestants to find a loophole and they did and sailed a fleet of East Indiamen through it. Since investors knew their maximum potential loss they could more easily risk scarce capital. Paradoxically bondholders came out better too since a limited company could now sell shares to the public if need be to finance debt and investments. It was a perfect win-win.

Larry Hart said...

Tim Wolter:

Or was it the Jophur attempting First Contact? Probably good not to be Uplifted by stackable Party Animals....

posting in the only place on the internet where the play on words will make sense...


My wife (who actually introduced me to the Uplift books) is sure that "traeki" is a subtle (or maybe not so) jab at Trekkies. I wonder if that's a clever observation, or if it's so Duh!-obvious that I'm the only one who missed it.

Larry Hart said...

Douglas Fenton:

You left out the most important aspect of the limited Joint-stock company and that is that the shareholders have limited liability meaning that the most money that they can lose is the money they put in buying the shares
...
Since investors knew their maximum potential loss they could more easily risk scarce capital.


That's a big part of what I was getting at when characterizing corporations with tools. A corporation is not simply a collection of people like a flash-mob or a sports team. The corporation is given certain powers and protections by society in order that it may more efficiently perform its function. Is it really too much to expect that those powers are given for a perceived purpose rather than just, "You can't be held responsible for any externalizes, now do as thou wilt."

When the state grants limited liability, who is then responsible for losses the company racks up? Does the state take on the responsibility itself? Or does it just absolve the company and leave its victims without recourse? I'm really asking, by the way. But in either case (or one I haven't thought of), limited liability is not a mere emergent property of a collection of individuals. It's a purposeful grant to the corporation by society. Again, I ask, is expecting that to be part of a contractual arrangement rather than a complete gift the moral equivalent of Stalinism?

Douglas Fenton said...

Larry Hart,

You point out a valid one. Corporations do have some attributes of a physical person. If a person losses money and goes bankrupt it is generally considered his fault or a least the fault of someone else or an other organization but the important thing is that there is a legal framework for bankruptcy of both an individual and a company. In both cases there are in principle legal limits to liability. The victims in both cases are those who are owed money but who will never be reimbursed. The important issue is that it is in the "contract" that if the worse happens then limited liability is invoked so all actors go into the association with their eyes open. There is of course very complicated recourse in case that the worst happens but the idea is that the contract is legal and is clear to all parties.

Alfred Differ said...

@Douglas | Before this innovation owners were personally liable for all debts and losses incurred by the company.

There was more on top of that. Even if you escaped servitude, having your innovation collapse carried with it a social stigma. There was little dignity to be found among the bourgeoisie before and it could be stripped for being found out as a failure.

The Dutch also altered that rule by finding a way to forgive failure. We've carried that farther in the US. Some investors are leery of corporate founders unless they have experienced failure and learned from it. Bankruptcies on your record aren't as bad as they could be. Bankruptcies from which one fails to learn are of more concern.

Limiting maximum loss to something that can predicted upon entry is huge.

Formalization of "forgiving failure" (and getting it out of The Church) enables another way to predict ones potential losses upon entry.

Larry Hart said...

@Douglass Fenton,

I'm not arguing that limited liability is a bad thing. Just that it is given for a purpose, and I don't find it unreasonable to expect consideration from the corporation to society in exchange for the grant of super powers. That consideration is what I've been referring to as "not doing (net) harm" and "fulfilling one's chartered purpose".

donzelion said...

Douglas Fenton: "You left out the most important aspect of the limited Joint-stock"

It's quite important, but the social relevance of limited liability is more subtle than meets the eye. In a feudal world, 'joint ventures' were common, BUT every participating venturer confronted at least three strategies after pledging something to a joint venture:
(1) foster the success of the venture (honor thy oath, yet in practice, that was more likely if one profited more than the 'rivals' from doing so)
(2) sabotage the venture (break thy oath, esp. once the others have sunk their costs, and then either renegotiate better concessionary terms, or leave them stranded in a venture doomed to fail, likely to bankrupt them)
(3) shift burdens onto others (as long as they don't threaten you as much as they do your rivals)

The 'limited liability' feature comes into play largely in mitigating the potential benefit from the second strategy. If loss of 'risk capital' is the worst harm one can do to 'rivals' - the benefits of strategic default are reduced dramatically. You won't drive the rival into debt, then get a chance to obtain his assets at a discount in a crisis. Corporations reduce incentives for certain players to play zero/negative sum games.

"Since investors knew their maximum potential loss they could more easily risk scarce capital."
The traditional story: it's accurate, and applicable then and now. Quite important. However, it's easy to overstate this story and apply a modern lens: for much of the 15th-18th centuries, merely calculating interest on a debt required 'expertise' in mathematics, let alone enforcing it. In that era, a merchant or feudal lord would be less concerned about maximum potential loss of risk capital than about probability of betrayal by a rival family/lord.

Creating a separate entity to enforce the contracts entered into by that entity bound all participants - no matter how large or small - to abide by the terms, lest they offend not only every other shareholder, but also, the entity itself in which they owned shares.

There was also a remarkable feature by which minority shareholder - e.g., Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise - could induce the corporation to enforce debts against a powerful noble, who could not assert rights of privilege to duck his debts. Spanish, Portuguese, Austrian, and Ottoman feudal lords were relatively cautious about corporations largely for this reason...(French were quite mixed).

donzelion said...

LarryHart: If my walls of text aren't boring you, my response to Douglas Fenton above is also in response to your complaints about corporations.

"Is it really too much to expect that those powers are given for a perceived purpose rather than just, "You can't be held responsible for any externalizes, now do as thou wilt.""
Not at all. Corporations are about changing how the games of power are played: limited liability is not about helping rich capitalists get richer, it's about constraining the incentives so that rich nobles do not continue playing a game that benefits them almost as much by making rivals POORER as the benefit they'd receive from making themselves richer.

"When the state grants limited liability, who is then responsible for losses the company racks up?"
Generally, if a company goes bankrupt, any creditors get stuck with the losses. Employees awaiting a paycheck become one kind of 'creditor.' Banks another. Customers owed rebates yet another. And so on. The government picks 'preferred' or 'senior' creditors, pays their debts from a sale of the company's assets (when possible), then distributes to less senior creditors from the remainder (if any). The company's leaders normally don't get to choose winners/losers themselves if their enterprise fails.

"Or does it just absolve the company and leave its victims without recourse?"
Sometimes, yes.

"Again, I ask, is expecting that to be part of a contractual arrangement rather than a complete gift the moral equivalent of Stalinism?"
Goodness, only an idiot would accuse you of Stalinism for seeking reform! The thing is to recognize the full story of why corporations in and of themselves, even without moral underpinnings, reshaped how commerce operates dramatically: once you recognize the benefit, trying to determine if any given reform is a good idea will require evaluating the risks differently.

The issue isn't, "will investors complain if we require their investments to honor additional contractual terms for the benefit of society?" Rather, it's "If we require the investments to honor additional contractual terms for the benefit of the society, what will investors likely do - in practice?" It's not like they're FORCED to operate through corporations - not when they can work so much mischief through trusts...

Tim Wolter said...

Alfred Differ

Your vision was worse than mine. I had them wearing Jodhpurs.

TW/T

donzelion said...

Alfred: "Bankruptcies on your record aren't as bad as they could be."
I used to sneak into Elizabeth Warren's bankruptcy classes when she was completing her research on this.

Turns out that a businessman who strategically opts for bankruptcy in order to shift debt burdens for the benefit of his other businesses is treated far better than a family that goes bankrupt because one member needed $500k in medical expenses, and all the other family members made those expenses by taking out $10-50k credit cards...

Bankruptcy isn't so bad in business...provided you only screw 'certain people.' The lesson to learn tends not to be 'how to perform better in the next business' (every business is unique, and lessons learned in one context won't necessarily help in the next) - but who you can and cannot screw, and why. Default on a group of New Jersey bankers, while repaying New York bankers, and those New Yorkers might just pass your name along to some friends of theirs...

But one of the great advantages for investors in the ending of the feudal era: it's quite hard to lock a corporation into a debtor's prison...

Douglas Fenton said...

Alfred,

It was indeed a revolution not only in legal terms but also in mentality. It especially took hold in the United States more than in Europe by the way. I believe it was de Tocqueville that said that if a Frenchman is ruined he would kill himself out of shame. If an Englishman is ruined he would hide himself away but if an American is ruined he just goes back clerking and plans the way back to riches.

few Americans know the financial history of their country. They do not know that since the beginning Americans were bigger speculators than the British ever were. We got our start in land speculation and turned before the Revolution to speculating in everything else. The volumes of transactions, the money involved and the sheer audacity of the projects eclipsed what even the British were doing at the time. Little know but true.

Larry Hart said...

donzelion:

Goodness, only an idiot would accuse you of Stalinism for seeking reform!


Well yeah. One of them as much as equated enforcing civilized rules of conduct on corporations with "killing them and stealing their stuff."

I don't want to repeat the same points any more than I already have, but understand that I'm not arguing that corporations are evil or should be banned or anything like that. I'm only arguing that a corporation is a tool, meant to serve a purpose, and I don't see anything wrong with rules of conduct that seek to insure they act as they're intended and that the harm they can do is limited. In this, I see little difference between corporations and cars, knives, or Asimovian robots.

Douglas Fenton said...


donzelion,

The invention of the limited stock company and the legal structure justifying and enforcing it did change the game and opened new ways of cooperation. However it did not happen overnight. The idea cropped up in China, Europe and the Middle East in the Middle Ages but it never caught hold. The supporting conditions just weren’t there. The first breakthrough was in Amsterdam with the formation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602 but it never really became ubiquitous until the 1820’s or so. Good ideas do take time to mature. I wonder when the next big financial/legal innovation will come but it probably won’t come in my lifetime. Nothing new has come in finance since Amsterdam four centuries ago. They invented it all.

Yes one needed experts in mathematics to make financial calculations in the 16th century like today but sometimes that is not enough. Sir Issac Newton lost 20,000£, his life savings, in the South Sea Company. He first calculated correctly the company’s worth and sold at a good profit but the price kept going up. He then bought shares again at three time his original price. He knew it was vastly overvalued but it was going up! He was sucked in and lost his shirt (almost literally). It can happen to the best of us.



Douglas Fenton said...

Sir Issac allegedly said, "I can calculate the movement of stars but not the madness of men."

How true that is.

Alfred Differ said...

Tim Wolter,

Heh. Okay. Now I've got a mix of both images and it's fluid since I can't quite figure out how to make them fit. I'll have to go back to one of the books at read up on a good description of one of them since gummy lifesavers don't have feet.

Thanks. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion | Obviously those family members should have left the one needing all that money out on the ice to drift away. Of course they’d be punished more for their imprudence. 8)

I’ve seen what you describe. Don’t piss off the people who could cause you trouble later if you can help it. If anyone gets stuck with a loss, pick the guy who can afford to let it go if possible. I had to deal with someone robbing Peter to pay Paul in our charitable group because he was low on cash personally. Messy. Fraud-y even. Convincing the last creditor holding the losses to let it go was a challenge. No one went to jail, though, let alone debtor’s prison.

The way I look at it, if it weren’t for limited liability, the vast wealth owned by the masses wouldn’t be worth capitalizing and putting into action. Since most small businesses get funded that way, our way of life utterly depends on it.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | "fulfilling one's chartered purpose"

I can go for that if you don't mind me leaving the purpose very vague. it would say something like 'any business activity that isn't illegal'.

Alfred Differ said...

@Douglas | I think the joke version of that quote has a phrase stating that a Scotsman who is ruined prefers to kill an Englishman. That might help explain part of the American perspective. 8)

I wasn't ruined by two failures, but I did return to 'clerking' for a while to make more plans. I think de Tocqueville's quote is still applicable.

Douglas Fenton said...

Alfred,

That's a good version! I will have to remember it.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I can go for that if you don't mind me leaving the purpose very vague. it would say something like 'any business activity that isn't illegal'.


Maybe. It seems to me that if the business model changes--manufacturers of buggy whips decide to make tires instead--that would involve a change in mission statement, which is intimately tied in with the Second Law. "Vague" is ok to a point, but if the risks, rewards, and externalities are all drastically different from what they were before, then is it really the same tool?* Some sort of renegotiation of terms with society might be in order.

* Metaphorically, is it still Grandfather's ax when the handle has been replaced twice and the blade replaced five times?

Larry Hart said...

@All discussing economics,

Liability, risk, and bankruptcy are (I think) instructive on what kinds of things might happen with time paradoxes.

Borrowing money that your creditors expect to be repaid (with interest) is a sort of time travel. You're kinda borrowing from future earnings in order to spend start-up capital. You can't start the business without making use of future profits of the business, which is kind of like a time paradox. And if your business succeeds and your creditors are made whole, there's almost no discernible difference between borrowing from investors and borrowing from future earnings.

The instructive part is what happens if your business fails, and the future earnings don't ever exist. Isn't that the same kind of paradox as "going back in time and killing your grandfather"? But in economics, there are no supernatural events intervening to force the universe to remain consistent--it just does. If future earnings never materialize, someone else has paid for it. Depending on how the contracts, laws, and customs apply, it might be the creditors, the partners, the customers, local charities, or the federal government, but someone's money ends up paying the missing amount. There's no paradox. I suspect that were backwards time-travel ever a reality, something of that sort would govern what we fancifully think of as time paradoxes.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | Some sort of renegotiation of terms with society might be in order.

I would oppose that as long as the corporation wasn't doing anything illegal. It's none of y'all's business unless you are an investor, employer, creditor, or someone closely tied to the corporation.

I get why you would want this, but it smacks of begging permission to do something not otherwise prohibited by law. IF after I've changed things around you want to drag my sorry behind into court and smack me for damages done, THAT should be allowed. Pre-approval? No way! What if you are wrong and I'm right? How would we ever find out?

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | Grandfather paradox? Hmm. That’s a stretch. 8)

You are describing ‘present value’. A good creditor is supposed to consider the probabilities associated with all possible outcomes. Earnings exist, earnings vanish, earnings partially fail to meet goals, collateral vanishes… etc. When they do it right, the calculate backwards from the value of the loan they want returned to a start point where the money has a present value and that’s all they’ll risk. How much interest they should charge depends on the branching ratios for each event considered. Mathematically, the thing is a tree of some kind and they calculate an ‘expected’ value weighted by the probabilities.

[The tree is probably implemented as a set of ‘what-if’ spreadsheets for most people.]

but someone's money ends up paying the missing amount

No. That is a legitimate concern that donzelion keeps pointing out. Cost shifting is an issue. However, your generalization goes a step too far. You are assuming money is a conserved quantity. It is not. We can create and destroy it easily.

If you and I go out to lunch and you pay this time on the expectation that I’ll pay next time, the moment you believe that, you’ve created money. Money is a debt instrument. When I pay you back next time, I destroy that money. The fact that it was never instantiated as silver, federal reserve notes, or a written IOU doesn’t matter. Money is a belief that a debt will be paid. It always represents the expectation of a future trade. It exists when we are confident. It can vanish when we lose confidence.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"but someone's money ends up paying the missing amount"

No. That is a legitimate concern that donzelion keeps pointing out. Cost shifting is an issue. However, your generalization goes a step too far. You are assuming money is a conserved quantity. It is not. We can create and destroy it easily.


I'm not making that assumption, but I can see how you'd think so. It underlies every Republican argument about welfare and unemployment insurance and medicare--that the government is robbing someone else to get the money to pay for those things.

So I shouldn't have said "someone's money", but the money comes from somewhere. My point is that even though the expected future profits don't materialize, the purchases that were made with that expected-future money don't disappear. The transactions still happened. Whoever got paid for that stuff still has their money, unless they accepted credit, in which case it might be their money that disappears. In any case, some money does disappear but (subject to the terms of contracts and laws and such) it's clear which money that is. There are no paradoxes. Money that has already been paid in cash to a vendor doesn't fade away. People don't "forget" the transactions that took place with that money. The laws of economics exactly determine where the losses are assigned.

My point wasn't really about economics, but about time-travel, using economics of borrowing from the future to suggest what it would be like if time-travel is ever a reality. The laws of physics will apportion the effects of changing the past in a similar manner to the way the laws of economics do. It won't involve paradoxes, or memories of things that never happened, or buildings fading out of sight because they were never built after all, or any of that sci-fi/fantasy stuff we like to imagine. A simple solution to known formulae will determine the precise outcome of alterations to the past which seem (now) to negate themselves.

In truth, I doubt we'll ever know who is right on this issue, but I find it fun to speculate.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"Some sort of renegotiation of terms with society might be in order."

I would oppose that as long as the corporation wasn't doing anything illegal. It's none of y'all's business unless you are an investor, employer, creditor, or someone closely tied to the corporation.


You don't consider the people whose air and water the corporation gets to foul or whose property it gets to devalue to have a say?

I'm saying that if you are someone likely to be harmed by the corporation's limited liability, then you should have a say if the terms under which that perk were granted are radically changing.

Larry Hart said...

I said:

The laws of physics will apportion the effects of changing the past in a similar manner to the way the laws of economics do. It won't involve paradoxes, or memories of things that never happened, or buildings fading out of sight because they were never built after all, or any of that sci-fi/fantasy stuff we like to imagine.


I meant to add...And it sure as heck won't involve an entire universe being created every time a change is made, any more than the failure of a business started with money borrowed against future earnings creates an alternate timeline in which the business succeeded in order to account for the money that was already spent.

locumranch said...

Actually, Larry_H makes a valid point about 'time travel' in the sense that our society routinely uses transparent accounting tricks to borrow non-existent money from an imaginary future.

First, we create a fixed sum of money by borrowing that fixed sum from future earnings and, second, we repay that fixed sum to the future with a deliberately debased, devalued & inflationary currency that guarantees that we will repay LESS than what we borrow today ...

As in the case of borrowing (and spending) $ 100 USD today in exchange for the equivalent of a $ 70 USD repayment in 10 years time (or a $ 40 USD equivalent repayment in 20 years time) if & when we assume an USD currency inflation rate of 3% per annum.

It's what David calls a positive sum 'win-win' strategy.

I mean, what could go wrong?


Best

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
You appear to have a much higher opinion of "engine" design than I do if you think that we can simply go to a calculated "optimum"

What we do is make changes - and then measure the result - an iterative process

And THAT is what I am talking about for economic "tweaking"

When doing that with an engine we do NOT always know which way the tweak will move things -

"it seemed like a good idea at the time" is a common engineering expression

And we CAN do this for the economy

In engineering terms we call this "suck it and see"

A good theory - so that we can "predict" the results is a very useful but not essential part of this

donzelion said...

Douglas: The concept of 'limited liability' goes back AT LEAST as far as Hammurabi -

"102. If a merchant entrust money to an agent (broker) for some investment, and the broker suffer a loss in the place to which he goes, he shall make good the capital to the merchant.
Which applies a 'full liability' theory - BUT then -
"103. If, while on the journey, an enemy take away from him anything that he had, the broker shall swear by God and be free of obligation."

That is the earliest written term conferring a 'limited liability' status on any party that I am aware of. [Now if only Neal Stephenson had incorporated THAT into 'Snow Crash'...]

But Hammurabi probably adapted the code from much older conventions, quite likely, rules and norms applicable to food (grain) storage. Math and law were probably both developed in tandem from that set of challenges - and in the earliest days, the mere storage of grain would have entailed risks not unlike those involved in shipping goods by Babylonian period.

But what changed massively in the 15th century on was mathematics, specifically algebra, and its application to commercial operations. Merchants could calculate expected revenues, costs, interest in ways they'd never been able to do before. Suddenly, it became possibly not only to play positive sum games with some form of certainty, but the cost of the zero-sum games in opportunities foregone became apparent...

Whereas everywhere in the world, for millennia, feudal lords had traded with one another occasionally (but pursued zero sum/negative sum interactions nearly as often as positive sum trade), 'suddenly' folks could calculate how to maximize returns through forming together. The Dutch were among the first innovators in this (as were the Florentines, Venetians, and a handful of others).

donzelion said...

Alfred: "If anyone gets stuck with a loss, pick the guy who can afford to let it go if possible."

Alas, normally, the parties with preferred positions in bankruptcy are the folks who can afford to let it go, but opted to arrange things so that they wouldn't be the ones hurt by the loss. It's always the little guy who gets screwed (quite often often the employees, which is a reason for several forms of insurance to begin with).

"...if it weren’t for limited liability, the vast wealth owned by the masses wouldn’t be worth capitalizing and putting into action."
Yes, but there's both a positive case and a negative case as to why this is true.

The positive case, which you and Douglas Fenton have correctly raised, is that "but-for limited liability, people will refrain from investing their assets into risky ventures, for they may wind up paying debts far beyond what they thought they meant to put at risk." Quite so.

LarryHart responds to that positive case with a very reasonable question: "Yes, well the tool worked...now let's build a better tool."

But the negative case is more subtle. But-for limited liability, any specific merchant looking at investing would know that his rival merchants (some of whom may be 'mortal enemies') could cause his enterprise to go disastrously wrong at a critical juncture, and destroy his entire fortune. However, if everybody knows that only your 'risk capital' is exposed, nobody can reap the great windfall of a dastardly sabotage quite so clearly - you might sink their ship, but you won't wind up taking a pound of flesh (or an estate) - and most merchants are probably better off launching successful ventures of their own than investing in sabotage of rivals.

LarryHart is being quite reasonable in offering rules for corporations and seeking to examine why we have these rules. I'm trying to explain a different side of the equation - why this problematic tool has to be left as is - for now, in spite of its massive and evident shortcomings - because the world that exists when this tool isn't present is one in which 'bad men' wreck one another's kingdoms for profit as often as they build better kingdoms.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: After grappling with how to put this succinctly - let me try one last time:

"I'm only arguing that a corporation is a tool, meant to serve a purpose,"
Investors, economists, and even lawyers will tell you one purpose. Here's a different way of stating it: the purpose of corporations is to reduce the probability that investors play zero-sum games with one another, and induce them to play positive sum games.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | the money comes from somewhere

Okay. That makes more sense now. What you are doing now is treading the path from which Bayesian probabilities come to life. If you roll two six-sided dice playing craps, you can calculate with some objectivity, the odds of winning various bets. Such a thing is possible because all possible outcomes are known and one can assign frequencies to them. In a Bayesian game, one has to discover the possible outcomes, so probabilities speak more to what is believed about the frequencies. An odd result can cause one to reconsider what one actually knew compared to what one believed they knew leaving it all looking like a paradox resolving itself without universes being created or timelines vanishing. Instead, it is beliefs that are created or eliminated.

if you are someone likely to be harmed by the corporation's limited liability, then you should have a say if the terms under which that perk were granted are radically changing.


If you are likely to be harmed, it is because of the corporation’s intended action and not by the limited liability its investors face. If the harm is intentional, I think you’ll find the directors on the board are NOT protected from criminal liability. It’s not easy to pierce that veil, but it can be done. Directors buy a form of insurance to protect themselves in a financial sense, but they ARE exposed to some degree.

If you are likely to be harmed, it is because of the corporations new purpose and I have no issue with you dragging them into court to defend yourself. Most things that can harm you either are already illegal or can be made so if you can make a good case for a new one being made so. Each new protection, though, will be scrutinized if I’m ever on the jury. It would be a lot easier to convince me if the harm had already happened and I could see the result. I know you won’t like that, but it’s true of me. I’m highly skeptical of predicted harm and demand a lot to convince me.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | much higher opinion of "engine" design

Heh. Not as high as you make it sound. I have a physicists view of engines. I know reality rules and engineers are the real talent when it comes to design, but I also know there are physical constraints they simply can’t avoid. Together we make a potent team marking what can’t be done from one direction and discovering what can be done from the other. With each iteration, we corner optimal designs.

What I’m trying to get across is that DOES NOT work with economies. You can try to improve things as engineers do, but it is a mistake to think there are such things as global optima. Your improvements corner local optima at best and even that is rare.

To see this, you might need to back away from your engineering skills and look at this in a more theoretical sense. Consider this as a biology question. What is the optimal way to design a brain? Does that question make sense? Can it? I argue it is nonsense much like this question. What is the difference between a duck?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
When you are a LONG way from a good solution even a local optimum starts to look good!

For me and people like me - life is good!

But for the hundred million or so unemployed or underemployed Americans life sucks - and we CAN make it better
We have the better designs - still sub optimum - that we can look at and learn from

But if we refuse to do ANYTHING then we are condemning those hundred million people to a shorter nastier life

Greg Byshenk said...

@Alfred:
The point I keep coming back to is people make a fundamental error when they think about things that are the result of human action but not the result of human design. It is the kind of error that everyone used to make when they saw biological complexity and concluded “God”. There is a space between raw chaos and designed order.

But what is the relevance of that point? I don't see anyone (at least not anyone here being confused about evolutionary development versus strict design, and my comment very explicitly recognized the difference.

Yes, many systems originated without design, but we have also modified those systems, by design after their origination. As I pointed out: roads and road systems originated and originally developed without design, but we have been designing them for rather a long time, and now we design them carefully. Something similar is true of many types of social organization.

It is true that we probably cannot effectively design something as large and complex as an entire national economy, but it is also true that many aspects of a modern economy are the products of design.

All of which means that simply saying "it wasn't designed in the beginning" seems (at least to me) to be a red herring, if not a straw man.

The same seems to be true about your last comment. No, of course we cannot design a human brain: we really have no idea at all how a human brain works. But there are other aspect of human biology that we could very well improve by design, if we had the capability to do so.

I would add that if you really believe that disagreement about ends or optimal behaviour is a knock-down argument, then I submit that it proves too much. By that same argument, we could never write a constitution.

Larry Hart said...

@donzelion and @Alfred,

Maybe the word "purpose" is confusing things. How about "mission statement"?

The Second Law would be that a corporation should work to fulfil its mission statement so long as blah blah blah.

To Alfred's point, a corporation is free to change its mission statement, but whatever it is at the time should be what it is doing. Is that clearer (if not self-evident)?

And to donzelion's point about doing other things (a car company also producing tires, etc), nothing I'm saying would prevent that. Those other things just wouldn't have Second Law priority, unless they were in the service of the mission statement, viability, or mitigating harm. GM producing its own tires could easily be argued as part of the Second and Third Laws.

Zepp Jamieson said...

@Larry Hart: "What if Sherlock Holmes was a 21st century man instead?"

The genius lay in taking the man, complete with personality, and seamlessly integrating him with 21st century London. He remained a "high functioning sociopath", one that now had the tools to label his distinct approach to others. He stood on the shoulders of new giants, and could add DNA and social media to his repetoire, but in the end, he was all about observation and deduction.
Londoners were intrigued by how little the TONE of the city changed even as everything else changed beyond recognition. I note that Moffit and Gatiss avoided using the city landmarks dating from Doyle's time and before as props.

Douglas Fenton said...

donzelion,

You mentioned in Hammarabi's Code as a possible case of limited liability in a business venture and it does look like it.

"103. If, while on the journey, an enemy take away from him anything that he had, the broker shall swear by God and be free of obligation."

However could that also be seen as an "Act of God"? I say this because I noticed that the broker must swear by God and that in the Code perjury is punishable by death.

You are also right when you mentioned the advances in mathematics in the 15th Century facilitating the calculations of profit and loss. The Italian monk, Luca Pacioli, was a mathematician who was a pioneer in algebra and who is considered the founder of modern accounting. In one of his papers he set forth the principles of the Double-entry bookkeeping system which used these new mathematics to allow merchants to make much more accurate calculations. It was also a revolution. He did not invent it, Jewish bankers did, but he popularized and once its advantages were seen, everyone started using it.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | The mission statement? That set of words the CEO understands and the rank-n-file thinks is either misleading or written in Ancient Greek? 8)

I’m much more inclined to agree with you, but I see two issues you should consider. If people start holding corporations to their mission statements in the legal sense, executives everywhere will rewrite them to be ambiguous or very broad. The second is rank and file employees often don’t understand them or see the relevance they have to their day to day work. Mission statements as they are written today are primarily about motivating attention on the purpose of the company. They are sales documents aimed at people already in the organization. They work (sometimes) when the CEO and directors successfully persuade the employees to surrender part of their personal sovereignty in exchange for having their actions amplified by being part of a coherent organization.

The mission statement you imagine would begin to carry a legal purpose in addition to the original sales purpose. Do that, and I suspect the legal purpose will dominate, the mission statement will morph away from what you want, and some other document with a new buzz name will fill the role of the old mission statement. Perhaps the Vision statement will expand?

Unintended consequences seem likely, but I agree with our BOI objectives.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Conservative George Will destroys ‘socialist’ Trump for putting America on ‘the road to serfdom’

https://www.rawstory.com/2018/07/conservative-george-will-destroys-socialist-trump-putting-america-road-serfdom/


Hmmm. Has anyone else noticed that we never seem to see George Will and Doctor Brin in the same room at the same time?
That's quite a coincidence! I want to try cutting a lock of Will's hair just to see if that meek, mild-manner reporter is in fact that Hugo and Nebula Award winning super star.

Winter7 said...

Do you want a real democracy? We have all seen how democracies are handled today. Fortunately, there is a solution:

First law: A corporation; A civil grouping or individual can not interfere in the democratic processes controlled by the Hadraniel AI.

Second law: A corporation; civil group or individual can not interfere with the AI responsible for democratic processes.

Third Law: Any infraction of the previous laws carries a penalty of fifteen years of imprisonment to the leaders who violate the two laws. The same penalty will apply to anyone who participates in the infringement of the first two laws. If the offenders commit other infractions, the appropriate punishments will be applied. Punishments will be cumulative.

Of course. Not everyone can build Hadraniel. Ideally, I would build that AI, because I really want everyone to live a true democracy. But obviously I can not build that AI ... I guess.

Winter7 said...

Of course. Democracy requires recalibration and severe changes. Those who are present certainly know what changes are necessary. Of course, those who want nothing to change in the feudal kingdom, would like to know what those changes we want are. But the feudal will not receive any signal. It will be a surprise.

Winter7 said...


The heat in Mexico is terrible. I've noticed a lot of new research confirming that the planet is warming up faster than predicted. (Which I already predicted before, since before nobody included in the calculations all that methane evaporating in the atmosphere, 209 died from unusual storms in Japan, and now they expect a typhoon.
And the oceans continue to die:


https://phys.org/news/2018-07-ocean-acidification-major-impact-marine.html

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

If people start holding corporations to their mission statements in the legal sense, executives everywhere will rewrite them to be ambiguous or very broad.


I was actually thinking of the Second Law more as something that would protect the corporation from external interference rather than the other way around. Someone tries to sue to prevent GM from "unfairly" manufacturing their own tires? Sorry, it's right there in the mission statement that we make cars, and last we checked, tires were car parts.

That a corporation should work to fulfil its mission should be a no-brainer, akin to a robot obeying commands. That's what it's for. The whole point of prioritizing the Laws as Asimov and I both did is to make clear that the tool's utility is of more importance than its continued viability (though both are important).

Now, I think where your argument is leading is that "maximizing profit" really is the mission statement, which makes the Second law almost redundant. If that's the case, let's acknowledge that explicitly rather than dancing around it.

@donzelion and @Alfred,

If incorporation is a societal good in itself, irrespective of mission statement or purpose, then why not have every individual citizen incorporate himself and grant limited liability? Or why even make people beg the favor from the government? Why not have incorporation take place at adulthood, or at birth (or conception if you're a Republican)?

donzelion said...

Douglas: "However could that also be seen as an "Act of God"?"
I don't think so. My expectation would be that the 'swear by God' terms (there are others) = "pay the priests to evaluate your oath" - a process that had analogues throughout the medieval era (e.g., Anglo-Germanic cultures adopted 'oath friends' as a precursor to 'juries').

My bigger point was that even with 'limited liability' as a known concept, it was mathematics advancements that made it possible to calculate benefits from playing a 'positive sum game.' Once those benefits were knowable, legal mechanisms evolved to help capture those benefits. Feudalism persisted by shifting to zero sum/negative sum games, even if trade itself was (almost) always a 'positive sum' game. Moving away from that required law + science working in tandem.

Hence my response to LarryHart: he offers a good faith proposal to improve corporations, and turn them toward social purposes. My argument is that their simply existing at all in their present form is socially useful - not merely because they incentivize investment (a generally good thing, but occasionally problematic), but because the alter the dominant form of calculations from 'self-interest' in zero/negative sum terms.

Pacioli was impressive - as were many others. To me, the most impressive feature of the early Renaissance was the extent to which thinkers started serving businesses/merchants - rather than hereditary lords. Our host thinks that Republicans are at war with science; my nuance is that they 'merely' want to privatize the sorts of knowledge conducive to building wealth, and 'own/control' the producers (for all intents and purposes, this amounts to 'enslaving' scientists - no better than 'war,' but imminently more logical).

These days, few businessmen even think in zero/negative sum terms - buying Stock X is not performed to hurt Stock Y. Exceptions are hedge funds and real estate barons. To a significant extent, corporations restrain the scope of their zero/negative sum frame - but alter corporations too much, and they'll lose their resilience to old operators doing things the old way. Trump is no 'novelty' - he represents a very old way of mingling power with business.

Larry Hart said...

@donzelion,

My thinking behind the Laws of Corporatics was to mimic Asimov's thinking on robots. Prior to Asimov, robots in sci-fi had always been presented as Frankenstein's monsters which would inevitably slip the creator's controls and become bulls in china shops. The lesson was always "Attempts to create or imitate life are acts of hubris which always end in tragedy." Asimov took the approach that robots are tools, and just as knives have handles, robots can be constructed with constraints to make them useful but not dangerous.

I was applying the same reasoning to corporations, beginning with the oft-stated Campbellian belief that corporations invevitably slip from control and become bulls in china shops.

locumranch said...


Larry_H is guilty of gross oversimplification when he assumes a singular corporate 'purpose' or 'mission statement', the inconvenient truth being that even the simplest corporation has multiple purposes that often contradict each other.

The corporation exists to generate profit or income for the owner & stockholder. That is its first reason for being.

It exists to produce a certain product for sale or barter. That is its second reason for being.

It exists to provide benefit & employment for its labour force. That is its third reason for being.

It exist to provide a tax base for its society & government. That is its fourth reason for being.

It exists for the benefit of the affiliated industries, service providers, tradesmen, wholesalers, retailers, consumers, secondary industries, secondary providers & recyclers.

It also exists to enrich its collective, penalise its opponents, generate conflict (aka 'competition') & serve the purposes of CITROCATE.

Each & every corporation serves a multiplicity of purposes, insomuch as NO corporation can be said to serve a singular (and/or 'optimum') purpose.


Best
___
And, like corporations, I wonder what singular purpose do persons like Larry_H serve and how soon, pray tell, can we revoke HIS charter & relegate him to the dung-heap of history?

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "And to donzelion's point about doing other things (a car company also producing tires, etc), nothing I'm saying would prevent that."

I think you're assuming a world where people would not use these rules to prevent corporations from expanding into new businesses. My point was that certain parties (rarely shareholders, more often, 'nobility' in some form) used the 'do what we chartered you for' rule to prevent/delay corporations from entering new fields. For example -

"GM producing its own tires could easily be argued as part of the Second and Third Laws."
Indeed, it could be easily argued - and would be. How long would that take? 5 years? 10? During that period, feudal lords would busily annex the best sites for rubber plantations, and then sell either the land or raw materials to GM at a profit acquired not because they were more efficient, but because they had power to delay and then acquire the land. GM might want to set up its own rubber plantations, but the well-placed lords would already be there (either physically occupying the field, or less often, acquiring a monopoly).

Colonialism and empires both took a form that permitted 'capitalist' activity in the urban core, feudalism in the periphery. The feudal lords tended to be power rich/capital poor - so they used their power away from corporate 'threats' to acquire 'low value resources' (e.g., land occupied by other people who needed to be subdued or evicted), then sold at a profit to corporations later on (either sold the land itself, or sold raw materials produced there).

The nobles who lacked the means to acquire/annex territory tended to side with the corporations themselves - collectively, both prospered more than the 'traditional' nobles, and recognized that the way the nobles had structured power (slavery, land grants, etc.) blocked them from expansion - thus setting the stage for 17th-19th century conflicts (technically, WWI also took this form, as nation-states maintained what feudal lords could not).

locumranch said...


Larry_H's thinking behind the Laws of Corporatics was to mimic Asimov's thinking on robots; Asimov's thinking behind the Laws of Robotics was to mimic the Abrahamic position on humans; and Larry_H, Asimov & the Abrahamic position was that corporations, robots & human persons are tools that can be constructed with constraints to make them useful but not dangerous.

This begs an interesting question: Who is the USER & who is the TOOL?


Best

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "My thinking behind the Laws of Corporatics was to mimic Asimov's thinking on robots."

Understood. I know you're speaking in good faith here. My response is critical, but supportive of your overall goal.

"Prior to Asimov, robots in sci-fi had always been presented as Frankenstein's monsters ..."
Asimov set rules for how to treat autonomy as a literary device: Shelley had already written her story, and rehashing that with new monsters gets tedious. By focusing on the workings of autonomy, the treatment of robots as characters could shift from cliched tropes and ask instead, 'who are we, humans?' What do these rules mean to us? What if a being existed that could never violate those rules? Asimov modified the 'tool' of robots to serve as a 'lens' for reconsidering ourselves.

Corporations are 'tools' more like 'lenses' than 'hammers.' If they 'efficiently allocate productive capital,' one part of that is limited liability (see my exchange with Douglas - it's important!), but another, subtler part is altering our own perception of 'proper operations' - limiting the negative/zero sum tactics by crowding out that sort of player with others generally adhering to positive sum tactics.

It is relatively easy to make a better hammer - certain physical properties, cost, etc. can be tweaked. A little harder to make a 'better lens' - because 'better' is relative to the desired perception of an actual percipient being - does for a particular PERSON, will this particular lens enable better sight at a distance? reading? scrutinizing stars? microbes? The lens effect of corporations is limiting zero/negative sum thinking, and fostering positive sum thinking. They don't always work (no lens is perfect). They do help. And this function could be lost if we forced the lens to show us certain things...

"Asimov took the approach that robots are tools, and just as knives have handles, robots can be constructed with constraints to make them useful but not dangerous."
My read is that he saw them as tools that were slightly more like 'lenses' - able to tell us interesting things about human beings, to alter our perception of what certain rules might mean to us.

"beginning with the oft-stated Campbellian belief that corporations inevitably slip from control and become bulls in china shops."
Our host is right on the money (hehe) when he criticizes corporate myopia on quarterly projections - but if you start with the assumption that rather than 'bulls in the china shop' these are lenses, you'll quickly get back to the same point: we really ought to 'see' better.

FB lost @20% of its value in @ an hour - $120 bn vanished into ether - based on a few sentences about quarterly growth patterns! In some ways, our tools (corporate trading bots) are looking at other tools (corporate social platforms) and acting upon one another. This is...unprecedented and amazing. It is not really 'intelligent,' but certainly some element of 'autonomy' is afoot.

donzelion said...

Locum: "Larry_H, Asimov & the Abrahamic position was that corporations, robots & human persons are tools that can be constructed with constraints to make them useful but not dangerous."

I suspect that thinking of these 'tools' as 'lenses' reshapes the question: either a lens helps us see something better, or we tend to discard it: very few of us want opaque lenses (save maybe in a handful of contexts, e.g., blinders on horses). God might worry somewhat about how humans see God - but if God does worry about that, God isn't very godly. For all the rest of us, we're both 'users' and 'tools' - or to borrow from existentialism, we're all both 'subjects' and 'objects.'

That said, you do sometimes appear to prefer blinders, esp. when it comes to certain 'tools' (like our President). ;-)

"The corporation exists to generate profit or income for the owner & stockholder. That is its first reason for being."
The corporation exists because we permit it to do so. It's not that we look at its purpose and say, "ah, well and good, our faithful creation! do thy purpose!" It's that it changes US, and how we interact in ways that make us better. When we operate in a 'corporate' universe, rather than a 'feudal' one, we are less likely to screw one another precisely the way we would in the simpler, older world.

That is the first reason for being - others come later. As with legal persons, so with natural persons - we make each other 'better' than we could be on our own.

Larry Hart said...

donzelion:

I know you're speaking in good faith here. My response is critical, but supportive of your overall goal.


And I take your criticism in the spirit intended. I realize I often speak from "Mike's summer daydream" perspective, but then as Batman (actually Bruce Wayne) once put it, "But, what is a dream if not a blueprint for courageous action?"


"Asimov took the approach that robots are tools, and just as knives have handles, robots can be constructed with constraints to make them useful but not dangerous."
My read is that he saw them as tools that were slightly more like 'lenses' - able to tell us interesting things about human beings, to alter our perception of what certain rules might mean to us.


Here, we're talking about two different things. I was describing Asimov's treatment of robots within the stories itself, while you're describing his meta-reasoning for writing stories using robots in the first place.

I'm reminded of a discussion I had here a long while back about H.G. Wells, during which I mentioned that Wells's scientific hypotheses--invisibility, Martian invasions, time travel--have so far been pure fantasy, as opposed to Jules Verne's submarines and moon rockets which have actually come to pass. Someone here, I forget who, suggested I was wrong because the future posited in The Time Machine was an extrapolation of certain socio-economic trends of the Victorian age. To me, that was an interesting comment, but beside the point. The sci-fi premise I was saying remained un-realized was not the vision of a possible future society, but mechanical time-travel itself.

Larry Hart said...

I'm presuming that adham's Arabic posts are adequately refuting locumranch's rants on Abrahamic religion.

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | Two issues.

1) I don’t advocate doing nothing. Far from it. I advocate doing something local (I don’t mean geographically local) because we can and history shows it works… though slowly. Doing something local means doing what YOU can do to improve your lot and those who voluntarily agree to coordinate their actions with you.

2) It’s quite possible you and I would agree on much of what makes up a ‘good solution’, but I’d argue the problem isn’t well formed enough to call it a solution. Many of the inputs to the problem are not knowable, hence the matrix in the resource problem can’t be defined, hence it can’t be inverted to describe the solution. Besides the fact that the dimension of the matrix is roughly ten thousand-million-million, large swathes of it can’t be quantified even as bounds. Parts of it can be reduced by a factor of a thousand or so, but that doesn’t help know what can’t be known until long after the universe is cold and dead.

I’m for making it better.

I’m against the hubris people display when they argue that their way of making it better is better AND SHOULD BE IMPOSED over the objections of others. This happens when we take our opinions and get legislators to back them and declare opponents as criminals of some sort.

The root of the hubris is a belief that is demonstrably false.

Economic global optima are not knowable. They are only believable.

Alfred Differ said...

@Greg | I agree that no one here is that confused about biology and evolution. The reason I used that as an example is because they aren’t. I was hoping they could accept that part of the argument and then follow the steps backwards into the fact that I’m making the same point in economics. If you trace the intellectual history of Darwin’s theory, you’ll find he got it from economics, but few people realize that.

but we have also modified those systems, by design after their origination

That doesn’t change the point. In economics, we ARE the system. We aren’t blind genes replicating and winning a larger share of the population if we prove to be fit. We are more complicated and capable of design. However, we are NOT so complicated that we can attempt global design of the system and have it prove fit relative to a system composed of semi-uncoordinated local designers. No matter how smart we think we are, we aren’t THAT smart.

Your example involving roads is a good one for local design. We know how to build them better now than before, but we don’t go so far as to predict in any real detail who will use them and when. We usually DISCOVER users and use patterns and adapt to what we learn. We have a sense that good roads contribute to global happiness because everyone seems to clamor for them, but that is more about discovery than prediction. In a Bayesian sense it becomes both, but conclusions are always vulnerable to discovery.

It is true that we probably cannot effectively design something as large and complex as an entire national economy, but it is also true that many aspects of a modern economy are the products of design.

Local design only. Attempts to achieve global optima lead to serfdom. Always.

Also, I’d argue you don’t need ‘probably’ in the first part of the sentence. We cannot effectively design a national economy without becoming serfs again. Push hard enough and we won’t even be human.

we really have no idea at all how a human brain works

We know quite a bit, but that’s a different issue. What I was trying to get Duncan to think about was this. Pursuit of an optima implies we know the purpose of a system. That means pondering the optimal design of a brain means we have to know the purpose of a brain. Do we know that? If we ask what a heart, kidney, or pituitary gland is for, there are some pretty straight forward answers. What is a brain for?

What I was striving for was the analogous question. What is an economy for? What is the purpose of a national economy? Global economy? Community economy? Family economy? Do we know the answers?

I would add that if you really believe that disagreement about ends or optimal behaviour is a knock-down argument, then I submit that it proves too much. By that same argument, we could never write a constitution.

I’ll disagree. We can agree to act toward local improvements. We can increment our way toward a better world without the belief that we can know what that better world might look like. We can locally envision it, but reality might prove very, very different.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | If incorporation is a societal good in itself, irrespective of mission statement or purpose, then why not have every individual citizen incorporate himself and grant limited liability?

Ding! Try it and you’ll see why it is both a good and bad idea.

1) On the bad side, you’ll find people have a hard time distinguishing between you (the person) and you (the corporation). There are certain transactions they won’t do with the corporation but will do with you. There are other transactions that will change depending on who is involved on your side. For example, who exactly owns the property in your possession? Who is responsible for the children? This could be worked out, but you’d find some of us unwilling to trade with the corporation for certain things. Would your wife marry you (the corporation)? Heh.

There is also an issue analogous to research done by Ronald Coase exploring the maximum effective size of a corporation. He looked at transaction costs and argued that corporations exist because they minimize those costs. After they reach a certain size, though, their own internal costs balance the savings to be made. The tend to fracture after that size. The maximum is a Coasian Ceiling. The flip side of this is the Coasian Floor. Below a certain size, transaction costs are larger because more and smaller groups trading are coping with the overhead. Those costs multiply.

The biggest bad, though, is present law is rigged against this. Society is too. We find it hard enough to trust strangers as fully liable entities. However, we’ve already invented SOME mechanisms that limit liability, so it wouldn’t be impossible. Most market transactions involving people negotiating in good faith are well covered without the need of a corporate charter.

2) On the good side, you’d be able to print money/bonds/equity and isolate certain transactions from impacting the financial soundness of other assets. You’d learn an awful lot about how things actually work. Do it right and you’d see why employment is just a step away from serfdom, but avoidance of that relies upon a deep understanding that the value of your efforts has nothing to do with the magnitude of the efforts.
____________________

Rather than incorporate individually, I’d recommend something on the scale of a family. History would back this up as analogous to familial partnerships. In the US, it probably makes more sense to use LLC’s than C-corps, though. There is still a lot of LLC case law to establish compared to precedents for C-corps, but we are well along in doing it. Last I checked, the States were at work establishing extensions to structures like UCC that would enable them to bypass the feds, but that was a while ago. I’m sure a lot has happened since.

David Brin said...

Alfred, whileCentral economic planners generally do it badly, and we know this since the Pharaohs. But Guided Allocation of Resources - or GAR - has improved over the centuries. The Soviets used simple accounting tools and firing squads to build massive, primary infrastructure... dams & steel mills etc. But they were incompetent at the secondary economy... making a refrigerator anyone wanted. The Japanese took computerized skills and capitalist zaibatsu structures and planned their way to great success... that hit a wall in the tertiary economy. The brainy engineers in the Chinese politburo think their shiny AI models can evade any wall. They are probably wrong, but we'll see.

Our system is based on a belief - rooted in our success over 200 years - that you cannot define optimum conditions for an economy, but you CAN create general attractor states. Example: the existence of any flat-fair-open competition at all is an attractor state that results in vastly more creativity and production…

...but that condition is unstable and critically vulnerable to cheating. Our society achieved a semblance of flat-fair-open competition by intentionally - and with deliberate foresight - altering the boundary conditions of market forces so that that attractor state can flourish. Among those boundary conditions was vigorous rules against cheating.

Case in point the breakup of toxic pools of economic power - like monopolies and duopolies. Anti-trust rules enacted by several generations (under several Roosevelts) were spectacularly effective and limiting cheating and opening up genuine competition. Take the auto industry. With 25+ major car-makers out there, competition is genuine and we get better cars for less money, every year. Add in further regulations to incentive emission and efficiency improvements, and the result is consumers having saved scores of billions at the pump, since the CAFE rules were enacted.

Of course, eliminating all such regulation, especially against toxic concentration of market share, has been among the top goals of cheater-oligarchies, who seek economy-warping power.

See how Robert Reich explains the “Monopolization of America.” And be outraged that the Boomers let slide the wisdom of their parents and grandparents (who adored Roosevelts for good reasons.)
http://robertreich.org/post/173655842990

Yes, I am libertarian enough to want a light hand! I am fiercely liberal about eliminating unfairnesses, cheater conspiracies, prejudices and poverties that waste talent. Liberal interventions that enable all children to shoot for their potential aren't just moral, they are pragmatic -- any society that wastes talent to poverty or oppression isn't just evil, it is stupid.

And clearly we need the boundary conditions to include incentives and deterrents that account for externalities like planetary health.

On the other hand, HOW liberated and healthy-education young people then sort themselves out to work for truly competitive companies should be up to them. This is a conversation that the two cousin philosophies - liberalism and libertarianism - could be having! And the top priority of the Murdoch-Putin-Mercer-Koch oligarchy is to prevent those cousins from every recognizing what the share... a common enemy.

====

L: “It's what David calls a positive sum 'win-win' strategy.”

No. It’s not. It’s what an ignorant person callsa positive sum 'win-win' strategy.

Zepp: “Hmmm. Has anyone else noticed that we never seem to see George Will and Doctor Brin in the same room at the same time?”

Ooh you devil.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
I'm with Dr Brin
We need to break up the fatbergs in our sewage system
The anti competitive concentration of of power - in corporations and in the 0.01%

This is NOT directing the economy - just breaking up the blockages
And the "optimum" is having it flowing - NOT having huge concentrations of wealth because they cause blockages

Adding additional "water/money" where it will do the most good - for money at the bottom not the top

And I want to do this "over the objections" of the fatbergs that I want to break up

Tony Fisk said...

Economic theory is not something that normally floats my boat but, as we are speaking of fatbergs, I have been toying recently with the idea that wealth is an asset sink, and that supply-side fails because it directs assets (ie tax cuts) straight into the sink, rather than having it do work as it trickles its way up through the social system.

On interesting series to resurrect: what about the intrepid marionettes in Space Patrol? It had some pretty cool concepts: suspended animation, robots, non-lethal weapons, pneumatic transportation (got that, Elon?). The aliens would definitely have to be extra-solar, these days.

Before Doctor Who, there was Professor Quatermass. He did get one reboot in the form of "Five Million Years to Earth", which was a pretty heady blend of occult, horror, and SF.

There are still the untried delights of Poul Anderson to sample. Other than "The High Crusade"*, I can't think of any of his stuff that's made it to screen.

Of course, there is the radical option of leaving old stuff to the era it was created, and making up new stuff instead.


* A very bad parody made with a very low budget. It would fare better as a straight remake.

Greg Byshenk said...

Alfred Differ:
I agree that no one here is that confused about biology and evolution. The reason I used that as an example is because they aren’t. I was hoping they could accept that part of the argument and then follow the steps backwards into the fact that I’m making the same point in economics.

Maybe I didn't express myself clearly, but my point is that -- at least so far as I can see -- no one here is confused about the difference between design and evolution in complex systems in general, including economics.

Maybe it would be clearer to me (and others?) if you could explain what you mean by "global redesign of the system". If I understand you correctly, you are here, also, arguing against something that no one is proposing. Rather, what people seem to be talking about are changes to various aspects of the economic system, which are themselves "design" decisions.

The problem is that something like an economy is the result of both "evolution" and "design". Yes the economy "evolves" in various ways within its environment, but that environment itself is in part he product of design. All of the laws, rules, and so forth within which the economy functions are products of intentional human action and decision, and to at least some degree, of "design". Rules about corporate charters, contracts, and so on are not products of nature, but products of human design. To say "we can't change anything because we don't know what is globally optimal" would seem to presume that the original drafters of those rules somehow could know this, or at least somehow know better than we do now.

Even if we accept as true that "[a]ttempts to achieve global optima lead to serfdom", that seems to me to be completely beside the point in this discussion. No one is claiming to know what the "global optimum" is, or attempting to achieve it. Instead, people are pointing out aspects of the economy that are manifestly non-optimal, and thinking about how they might be better.

Continuing discussion about "global optima", like "global redesign", seems to me (at least) to be either irrelevant or a diversion.

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

I have been toying recently with the idea that wealth is an asset sink, and that supply-side fails because it directs assets (ie tax cuts) straight into the sink, rather than having it do work as it trickles its way up through the social system.


I've been trying to make that point for years--that money doesn't "trickle down" like water, but "trickles up" like heat in your oven, and that if you inject the heat into the top of the oven instead of the bottom, it doesn't do the work of cooking the food.

Supply-side presents the illusion that money tends to flow from the top down, and that introducing more at the top means more flow-through. In fact, money tends toward concentration, so introducing it at the top just bypasses the work it would usually do on the way there.

I'm not arguing with you--just glad to hear someone else point that out.


Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

Of course, there is the radical option of leaving old stuff to the era it was created, and making up new stuff instead.


If only.

But it seems we're in the declining years of Hari Seldon's empire, in which archaeological research consists of reading other archaeologists and deciding which one of them has the best theory.

Douglas Fenton said...

Larry Hart,

Do you see real evidence of that happening now?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Douglas
I think that Larry was talking about SciFi movies - and they have always been like that!

Douglas Fenton said...

Duncan,

I remember reading that line in 7th grade in one of Asimov's novels. I often wondered if Asimov was making a comment on something he was seeing then in the 50's and 60's or was it just a literary construct. Heinlein also had a contempt for scholarship vs science and made it clear in his books. Did they see science degrading to mere scholarship? I wonder if it does happen today. Please do not take this as an anti-science thing. My background is in science.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: Your original point - "Asimov took the approach that robots are tools [that] can be constructed with constraints to make them useful but not dangerous." My response - "My read is that he saw them as tools that were slightly more like 'lenses'..." Your rejoinder - "I was describing Asimov's treatment of robots within the stories itself, while you're describing his meta-reasoning for writing stories using robots in the first place."

I suppose I was describing the meta-reasoning for writing stories using characters, robots or not: they're all tools, in one sense -gotta shine a spotlight on someone, or it's not a very good story!

But I hope the gist of my argument comes through: neither a sapient robot nor a corporation is a 'tool' quite like a hammer or a knife. We can look to the definition of 'hammer' and 'knife,' isolate the properties that make a thing such a tool, and refine the characteristics of those properties immensely. These are self-contained 'functional tools.'

Yet to make a 'better' sapient robot, we'd have to BE better ourselves. A sapient robot would presumably be able to make itself 'better' - but only to the extent either we or the robot envision what 'better' means. To make a 'better' corporation-like entity, we'd first have to see ourselves more clearly, how we organize, why we organize like we do, what the alternatives are. These are interactive 'perceptual tools' - we cannot look only at the tool and isolate properties to enhance, but must also look at ourselves to understand what enhancement would even mean.

In the mean time, I'd settle for a set of slightly 'smaller' corporations, rather than altering the fundamental structure, focusing on the precise harms I'd wish to avoid. Rules can help immensely with reducing social harms - and those can be laws, or norms. A few I wish were more widely held:
(1) Bigger corporations cease to benefit from economies of scale at certain points, and when they grow beyond that, they often operate more from 'political advantage.' "Too big to fail" always equals "big enough to extort." The only reason we tolerate it is because we've been told - by pseudo-libertarians fairy tales about 'positive sum' operations, efficiency, etc. - none of which was objectively true, all of which was exceptionally 'useful big lies' for oligarchs.
(2) Executive compensation was never about 'payment for value rendered' - it was always variation on extortion (the compensation committees, of course, prefer NOT to discuss things in that way). No single individual is as dangerous to a corporation at the CEO - yet if Facebook's CFO can cost the company $120 bn in an hour (well...not exactly), he's pretty damn close (and his worst offense? sometimes, making a statement of common sense logic...is dangerous). Shucks, if you believe Russian meddling influenced America's election in 2016, then you believe that one can buy a government for a thousandth of what the #2 at FB can do in an hour...

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "And the top priority of the Murdoch-Putin-Mercer-Koch oligarchy is to prevent those cousins from every recognizing what the share... a common enemy."

I suspect more of a Murdoch/Adelson/Mercer/Walton/Koch oligarchy (with Trump as a junior partner now). Putin's role is complex: oligarchs tend to nuance their arrangements with unstable powerbrokers who attained a position by means unconnected with wealth, but who can dramatically alter the balance of wealth others possess.

Most likely, they regard Putin with suspicion, much as they regard Carlos Slim, Jeff Bezos, Gates/Buffett, Bloomberg, and the other names at the top of the global billionaires list: those people are WEIRD, dangerous, disruptive, uncontrollable variables. Those folks formed GOP Inc. as their personal 'trust' to dominate political affairs in America for their benefit: they'll trade with Putin today, but they and Putin both know that they'll sell each other out tomorrow.

Or put another way, if the Murdoch/Adelson/Mercer/Koch alliance REALLY wanted to stop Mueller...Sessions would never have recused himself from handling the investigation.

Or yet another way, when two parties meet publicly, repeatedly, in the face of other priorities - they MAY do so because of deep love proclaimed for one another, but more often, it's because there's some serious problem they wish to resolve personally (and if they proclaim such a meeting was premised on their mutual love, that's actually evidence that there's a big problem they're trying to resolve quietly).

Douglas Fenton said...

donzelion,

Oligarchs compete is what you are saying. Oligarchs also look for allies among other oligarchs but if that is not forthcoming then they will ally with other forces such as the bourgeoisie, those in the top 10% only, and if the situation is dire, with the populous leaders fully expecting that themselves will be able to control the forces thus unleashed. Every revolution had oligarch allies who were then destroyed after their utility was over. It has happened in every revolution. An oligarch faction, seeing that they are losing to stronger oligarchs, seeks support from below. Sometimes it works out and a new equilibrium is found. Other times it backfires and the old oligarchs are eliminated and new pre-oliarch factions take power.

Larry Hart said...

Douglas Fenton:

Do you see real evidence of that happening now?


By "that", I presume you mean the Asimov thing about archaeology.

My comment was specifically about movies, and yes, for a long time now it seems that the most popular films are all remakes or sequels or sequels of remakes. Are you old enough to remember back in 2004 when the great hope that was supposed to save the flagging movie industry was...a re-make of The Stepford Wives? Or in 1998 when the popularity of Titanic was explained as owning to the movie audience's hunger for anything with an actual human plot? Those are anecdotal examples, but neither is all that recent.

On the broader topic of whether society in general shows signs of such decadence, I suspect that Asimov was commenting on a trend he noticed in real life even back in the 1950s. I wouldn't say scientific inquiry has completely degenerated to the point of Asimov's Lord Dorwin being the norm yet, but the trend is there. I even see signs of it in discussions of economics, where the debate seems to be between Keynes and Hayek, neither of whom (if I'm not mistaken) have been alive enough to actively participate in some time.

Larry Hart said...

I said:

Those are anecdotal examples, but neither is all that recent.


And I should have added...and I haven't seen any signs of improvement since.

Douglas Fenton said...

Larry Hart,

I see trends also.

donzelion,

I believe the corporation is a another type of life-form and that to understand it you need to have a solid understanding of accounting. I have been looking into it for a good time now. I have worked in these large multinationals at various levels and my conclusion is that these beasts have all the characteristics of the most sophisticated eukaryote cells and even mimic behavior of multi-cell organisms. You may laugh but accounting is to these creatures as the Standard Model is to physics. Accounting explains how they operate and is useful in predicting how they can do new stuff. What is missing is an organized brain to pull it all tightly together. CEO's have to work through too many layers to do much. AI would be the next logical step and I am sure shareholders would be for it as long as the share price benefits. They might already be there in some ways and could be an evolutionary process. My question to you is to look at the legal aspects. Can an AI be named to head a corporation and if yes what are the legal implications?

Deuxglass

David Brin said...

onward

onward