Friday, August 30, 2019

Advances in Bio & Tech


What's new in the realms of science and tech?

Peter Denning interviews me about the “resilience” of our critical infrastructure, from the power grid and cell-phones to transportation, food supplies and solar roofs, in the new issue of Communications of the ACM (CACM). I offer a dozen measures - some of them incredibly easy/cheap - that could improve robustness against shocks, by orders of magnitude, preventing us from ever facing a “Postman” situation. 

For those of you who aren’t ACM member-nerds, I’ll post a version some time. And yes, I’m qualified as a physicist, electrical engineer and longtime consultant on these matters with corporations and agencies. But frankly, it’s the science fiction. Of course it is.

Fascinating. Researchers turned in 17000 “lost wallets” in 40 countries, some containing small or large amounts of cash (up to $100) and some none. They found that national/cultural differences counted less than expected, and the subjects proved more honest or assiduous about contacting the purported owner when there was cash than when there wasn’t. Well, one common factor: the receiving party was usually a person “on duty” at a hotel or bank desk or a store clerk or some such.

Ah reality. In The Transparent Society I warned you. Researchers at UC San Diego and Google trained a neural net to take any photo and “adjust the lighting at will — including the direction, temperature, and quality of the light.”

== New Materials/New uses ==

As I portrayed in Existence, we are closer to achieving adaptable contact lenses that can adjust focus and zoom in when you blink.

A new class of materials -  lanthanum superhydrides displays superconductivity at temperatures of about minus-23 degrees Celsius (minus-9 degrees Fahrenheit) -- a jump of about 50 degrees compared to the previous confirmed record. Crum, you could live at that temperature with a good jacket! Alas, this superconductivity happened under extremely high pressure, so forget the sweater. 

Another crazy material breakthrough is reminiscent of science fiction ’s legendary “slow glass” (Bob Shaw), that would transmit an image across minutes, years or decades of delay. This isn’t quite as “cool.” In fact, it's main use is it’ll warm buildings at night. “When exposed to sunlight, this incorporated molecule absorbs the majority of solar energy emitted by the rays that bathe it, soon releasing the energy as heat once no longer in direct daylight.” (Abundance newsletter.)

And related -- Scientists have constructed a water purification system that utilizes heat waste from solar panels to distill clean water. (Abundance Insider) If the oligarchs will let us, we can save the world for them.

And can a  a $10 magnet be used to double the output of hydrogen from a water-splitting electrolyzer? Could be especially useful in space.

Had this in Existence. This bone conduction device lets you make calls by sticking your finger in your ear.

Canon ran an indiegogo campaign for IVY REC - a clippable, go anywhere, waterproof, ultra-compact point-and-shoot camera that's about the size of a USB flash drive and features a built-in carabiner.  Talk about “Brin’s Camera-Corollary to Moore’s Law.” And it will go on, by orders of magnitude. Seriously. When one of you actually gets one, report back here?

The atomic M.R.I.can distinguish neighboring atoms from one another, and types of atoms based on their magnetic interactions. The new technology could help scientists study how proteins fold and one day be used to design atomic-scale methods of storing information, for quantum computers.

Using terahertz light, researchers have shown that such high-frequency light can control properties like macroscopic supercurrent flowing – superconductivity - and access high-frequency quantum oscillations once thought forbidden by symmetry.

== Bio and Tech advances ==

For a decade I’ve been saying that the microbiome will be an area of medical miracles much more quickly accessible than the genome or proteome. Because the number of types of gut and skin bacteria that need to be evaluated for effects is linear, numbering in the mere tens of thousands. Now see how one variant found in distance runners may come to market soon. FitBiomics aims to mine the biology of the most fit and healthy people in the world and then aim to translate into ...next-generation probiotics," staring with testing Veillonella in human subjects with the ultimate goal of creating an endurance-boosting symbiont.

What we currently call “probiotics” will be deemed random voodoo, as soon as 5 years from now, when personalized gut supplements will pour from labs.

Chimeras, oy!  Wholly Mackeral. Dig this new book: Chimera Research -Methods and Protocols.  

“This volume addresses challenging new questions surrounding stem cell-based chimera research. This book is organized into three parts: Part One provides readers with a summary of different human donor cell types. The chapters in this section discuss ways to evaluate new types of pluripotent stem cells; the derivation of naïve and primed pluripotent stem cells from mouse preimplantation embryos; and the ethical and regulatory complexities of informed consent for the procurement of somatic cells. Part Two discusses methods for generating chimeras. The chapters here look at chick models and human-chick organizer grafts; generating human-pig interspecies chimeras; and techniques for transplanting mouse neural stem cells into a mouse disease model for stroke. Part Three concludes the book with a look at ongoing ethical controversies and new scientific directions. Chapters in this part cover the ethics of crossing the xenobarrier; animal welfare; experimentation with spermatogonial stem cells; and cautious approaches to human-monkey chimera studies to further understand complex human brain disorders. Written in the highly successful Methods in Molecular Biology series format, chapters include introductions to their respective topics, lists of the necessary materials and reagents, step-by-step, readily reproducible laboratory protocols, and tips on troubleshooting and avoiding known pitfalls."

Taking this even farther into Outer Limits territory: “the idea of biologically humanizing large portions of a monkey’s brain is seriously unnerving.” In April, Chinese researchers announced they had inserted  a human brain gene into monkey embryos, a gene critical for human brain development. “It’s one thing to “humanize” an animal for, say, a pancreas, it’s another thing when you are talking about the brain…"

Only remember all this is aimed at a better understanding of Alzheimers, by far the worst modern disease in the developed world without any at all effective treatment.

An “epi-pen-like” injection uses nanoparticles to reprogram aggressive immune cells — thereby preventing the immune system from overreacting — to reduce inflammation and promote a therapeutic response. The aim: preventing paralysis in the aftermath of trauma to the central nervous system.

Triangle-weaver spiders use their own web the way humans might use a slingshot or a crossbow.

Speaking of spidey strength. The HyQReal robot is about 4-feet long and moves around on four legs. The HyQ’s developers, IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, recently demonstrated the squat quadruped’s strength by having it tow a 7,275 lb passenger plane across a length of asphalt at an airport in Italy.

133 comments:

David Brin said...

Someone give me a sentence and link to the best site where the most paranoid faithless electors scenarios are discussed? how a Republican controlled state legislature might get away with appointing its own slate of electors if – say – the voters of Wisconsin choose a Democratic slate at the ballot box. Paranoid or not (and would those state assembly members have houses to go home to, before that night was out?), these fantasies aren’t, alas, entirely science fiction anymore.

Two best links?

I'm collating SO many past blogs in this e-book Alfred had already been a big help. I'll want a bunch of pre-readers. Will announce a partial draft soon.

One thing I noticed. old locumranch used to be interesting. He strawmanned but sometimes could string together cogent thoughts. I hope he'll draw on the resources of community and science.

scidata said...

It takes me 5 weeks to go through each month's Communications of the ACM. Picked up my copy of "Earth" ordered through the bookstore. Nearly 700 pages. You are killing me Dr. Brin. But wow, what a cool premise.

There was a wonderful Vancouver folk/pop band called "Spirit of the West". You may know one or two of their hits, such as "And if Venice is Sinking". Their lead singer/songwriter was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about 5 years ago. Here's a video of one of their last concerts, where he struggles through using an iPad for the lyrics.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU-OrWker4E&t=463s
Gut wrenching. Especially considering that song is an ode to artistic beauty.

One of the main efforts in computational citizen science is Alzheimer's research esp in regards to protein (mis)folding (proteopathy). I've had several machines crunching away on it for years. Fortunately, so have many tens of thousands of others. Citizenship goes way beyond vote counting.
Calculemus!

David Brin said...

Honored by your thoughts scidata. And what a heat-wrenching moment. And yes, citizen science is part of the rebuke that we'll lose it without 40hr/week jobs. We CAN be explorers, if we choose, even within the limits that we have.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: We CAN be explorers...

Given enough food, water, and personal safety, learning and exploring is what humans do. It's kind of our thing. Minoa was not a fluke. It's odd that feudalists often talk about 'honouring our ancestors'. Eg MAGA. Our ancestors hoped for something more for their posterity. Eg the stars.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Another crazy material breakthrough is reminiscent of science fiction ’s legendary “slow glass” (Bob Shaw), that would transmit an image across minutes, years or decades of delay. This isn’t quite as “cool.” In fact, it's main use is it’ll warm buildings at night.


I wondered if that's where this line of thought was heading.

What would be even more useful would be something that stores and then re-emits heat over a longer time frame. Something that could absorb heat all summer and re-emit it throughout the winter.

Alfred Differ said...

Solve the energy storage problem and people will put your face on the money.

Alfred Differ said...

Not quite the conspiracy site response, but there is Neal’s book from a couple years before the 2016 election. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2016/12/16/the-scandal-that-will-take-down-the-electoral-college/

Larry Hart said...

I wouldn't classify the notion of faithless electors as a "conspiracy theory". That makes it sound like some ridiculous fantasy notion that would never happen in real life, or at best a bizarre scheme dependent on hiding in the shadows, fearful of any attention paid to it.

(Incidentally, the same sort of ridicule was thrown at a commentator who suggested, after the 2010 election result, that a Senator like Rand Paul (for instance) might shut the government down by refusing to allow the debt ceiling to be raised. At that time, the suggestion was treated as, "Why would you think anyone would ever do something like that?" Less than a decade later, it's hard to imagine Republicans not doing so, on a regular basis.)

No, the courts changed the game by ruling that electors were unbound and free to vote their conscience, even though the only way they are elected is through a process by which voters believe they are voting for their state's support of a particular candidate (and even though the Trump Brownshirts would have rioted in the streets had electors in 2016 voted their conscience against the travesty that their candidate was). Through the entire 20th century, people more or less expected the winner of the popular vote to be "ratified" by the Electoral College, if they gave the Electoral College any thought at all. Educated a bit by 2000 and 2016, everyone now knows that the presidency is won by the electoral vote, and as the Trump campaign pointed out, if the rules had been different, they would have campaigned differently (and "won California"). But now, we're about to find out that the rules are different. Even the electoral vote as decided by the November election isn't the final say. The electors get together on December 15 and can pick whomever they feel like at the time.

As with the 20th Century, this won't be noticed as long as the November winner and the actual electoral vote winner are the same person. Everyone will say the system works and be satisfied. But eventually, probably sooner rather than later, faithless electors will pull off a coup, and since it will certainly be a Republican coup, Republicans won't allow the rules to be fixed before that happens.

When in the course of human events...



Alfred Differ said...

Show me a current State where the legislature chooses the Electors. Show me any moving to become one. We can keep a list.

duncan cairncross said...

Alfred
They won't "show you" - just use it when the time comes

Daniel Duffy said...

Here is a potential game changer: solar cells that produce hydrogen as well as electricity.

https://cleantechnica.com/2019/03/03/belgian-scientists-announce-new-solar-panel-that-makes-hydrogen/

Solves the problem of energy storage for night time and cloudy days. Hydrogen can be stored for use in fuel cells, used in a traditional boiler/furnace to heat a home or or used as fuel to run a micro-turbine. Hydrogen is an excellent energy carrier with respect to weight. 1 kg of hydrogen contains 33.33 kWh of usable energy, whereas petrol and diesel only hold about 12 kWh/kg and micro-turbines have fuel efficiencies between 25% and 35%.

And even the best li-ion batteries wear out over time, no longer hold a charge and end up in a landfill as hazwaste.

Larry Hart said...

@Alfred Differ,

From Article 2 Section 1 of the US Constitution:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,
a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives
to which the State may be entitled in the Congress:...


So the fact that most states currently hold popular elections and let the parties of the winners choose the individual electors is something the state legislatures direct, and may un-direct if they so choose.

If they can choose to strip a newly-elected Democratic governor of powers, I don't see why they couldn't change the method of choosing electors too. And the former has already been done in Wisconsin and North Carolina. And the legislators who did the stripping went home to still-standing houses, and doubtless sleep on satin sheets with many beautiful ladies.


While I was in there looking around, I found this passage, also from Article 2 Section 1, which seems to contradict the courts notion that once the electors meet and vote, they are performing a federal function over which the state no longer has jurisdiction. It sure looks to me as if the total is certified at the state level, and only then "transmitted" to the federal government. Emphasis mine:

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two
persons, of whom one at least shall not lie an Inhabitant of the same State
with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and
of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and
transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States,
...


So once again, "Constitutionalist" Reupblican judges rule that the Constitution says what the text clearly does not say.

And the Twelfth Amendment alters the way the totals for president and VP are calculated, but does not materially affect either of the above clauses.

duncan cairncross said...

Daniel Duffy
And even the best li-ion batteries wear out over time, no longer hold a charge and end up in a landfill as hazwaste.

Laptop and cell phone batteries may well end up in landfill but home storage and EV batteries are simply too large and contain too much metal to throw away - they will be recycled

Storing hydrogen is much more difficult than you think - we need a "black box" that reacts the Hydrogen with something to produce a liquid that can be stored

Different subject
What do they teach you guys in school?
I'm half way through Truman's autobiography and he is saying that King George was an "Absolute Monarch" - the last British King that tried that got a very bad haircut for his pains about a 100 years before George
By George's time Parliament had already selected two kings as figureheads and the Monarch had "Absolute Power" over the wallpaper in his bedroom

So far his book is a real eye opener about just how BAD some of your presidents have been

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross,

This is pretty much what they teach us in school:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-9pDZMRCpQ

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Larry - that was amazing!

Was there ANYTHING correct on that video!

Larry Hart said...

@duncan cairncross,

I'll add two things, one in our (America's) favor and one not so much.

When I said this is what they teach us in school, I mean at the younger grades. By high school, they definitely make a point of mentioning that what we've already learned in grade school, Cub Scouts, etc isn't quite the true story.

OTOH, one thing I specifically remember realizing in high school is how much time had really passed between the 1620 landing at Plymouth Rock and the revolution in 1776. Even though I knew those two dates, it had never occurred to me before how far apart they really were. To go forward that same amount of time from the Revolution takes us to World War II. So the fact that the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon seems to imply that the same King George III was king in 1620--well, we're not taught that explicitly, but I'd guess that most schoolkids think so.

duncan cairncross said...

In 1620 James the sixth was on the Throne of England (and Scotland)
He WAS an absolute Monarch - when the Pilgrims left because they were not allowed to persecute other people

His son was the one that got the bad haircut

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

...when the Pilgrims left because they were not allowed to persecute other people...


400 years later, they're still trying to do so.

Larry Hart said...

I actually know a little about King James of Scotland, because we do learn a lot about Shakespeare over here, and his era spanned that of James as well as Elizabeth I. From what I remember, Macbeth could be taken as the author sucking up to the Scottish king.

Oh, yeah, and that whole KJV Bible thing.

David Brin said...

America comes off looking very bad... by the new standards that America, via Woodrow Wilson, Lincoln, FDR and mostly Hollywood, taught to the world. Especially the un precedented moral imperative to NOT praise your own nation and parents, but seek their faults. Dream of being much better. In other words Star Trek.

By the standards of every other nation in the past, and especially every other people who were tempted by great power, the American pax comes across very well, with by far the best ratio of good to bad.

So which is it? We need the crit or we don't keep getting better. But at least a bit of the perspective would be nice.

David Brin said...

LH, please post here again both versions of your 3 laws of corporatics, with a few sentences of explanation?

duncan cairncross said...

But at least a bit of the perspective would be nice

But that is the most annoying thing about the "USA" in general - they don't seem to have any perspective

America will treat a country really really badly and then get all pouty about the fact that they don't "Love America"

The British Empire had lots of faults and warts - but we didn't claim to be perfect

America in general just does not see when it does evil

I would agree with our Host that the USA does less evil than any previous empire did

(although I would argue that when they both had empires the American Empire was a LOT more Evil than the British one was at that time (Philippines, Native Americans))

It's that lack of the ability to "see ourselves as other see us" that gets annoying

Something that is a "War Crime" and Japanese officers are executed for it is just OK when Americans do it

You need the "Crit" - and you need something in the order of a bit of 4 x 2 to bash it into most American skulls

Alfred Differ said...

That lack of ability is a decent description for a barbarian. No doubt about it. That’s us.

1) We aren’t as bad as historical barbarians.
2) We will grow up eventually. They all do.

David Brin said...

Duncan there are many of your statements that are 'grain of truth" mixed with buckets of piss.

Everywhere the Japanese "liberated countries like Malaya or the Philippines, they soon found the native populations were fighting for their colonial "oppressors" with savage fury and dedication. That was almost uniuversal, yes even in India, which did have a defector "army." Sorry, that means something.

Many bad things happen in war and Curtis LeMay was a bad thing. And he shouldn't have been enabled. But by both policy and culture... and by the behavior of the AVERAGE soldier... there was no comparison between the US and its WWII adversaries. Moreover, you know it and are just pissing out of reflex.

It's that lack of the ability to "see ourselves as other see us" that gets annoying"

Annoy away! Fact is that Hollywood and US universities have spread the self-critical meme vastly wider and more effectively than any other forces in the history of the world. And you need to look in a mirror and ask where YOU got your suspicion of authority reflex.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
I agree entirely - compared to the axis powers the US soldiers were angels - and compared to the Japanese in WW2 - I can see why the "oppressed" locals fought against the Japanese

But the fair comparison is not to the Germans and the Japanese but to the British and the Canadians - and it's a lot more equal then

As far as my "Suspicion of Authority" reflex I would say the British film industry is at least as guilty as Hollywood - and I would trace that meme back to Kipling and his tongue in cheek praise for Empire

scidata said...

Let's be honest. WW2 wasn't won by out-honouring the axis (although the best form of national defence is indeed to have a nation worth defending). It was won in Allied laboratories. Ignoring science and tech is a fatal mistake, especially in wartime. "Delusion to your enemies" has always been the best hope for civilization. There may be some honour in being the Last Samurai, but little future.

The key feature to science is openness. I greatly enjoy these 'cool science' blog posts (the US politics ones baffle me), I just don't have much scientific expertise to contribute at this level. And I've been slammed when I post URLs to scientific papers I can barely understand (which is fair is most cases). The thing is though, that if science lives only in ivory towers, and not in the minds of politicians or the hearts of citizens, we're all doomed (and so is science BTW). Tribalism is a dead end for all tribes. But iff everyone embraces and internalizes science, we all win. And we all can get to the stars. Again, this is not Pollyanna's Kumbaya-ism. It's just the way things work long-term. Because Asimov.


Captcha: I've noticed that if I'm diligent and accurate identifying objects, I get shunted into Captcha hell, where the puzzles just keep coming. It's almost as if I'm training ML models for free...

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

Was there ANYTHING correct on that [Schoolhouse Rock] video!


Heh. My daughter said almost the exact same thing last fall at the start of her high school US history class. They were learning about the founding of Jamestown, and I asked humorously if it wasn't like the Disney movie Pocahontas. Her reply, "Pretty much everything in the movie was wrong."

As calendar boy, I added helpfully that at least it was in sixteen-hundred seven.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

So which is it? We need the crit or we don't keep getting better. But at least a bit of the perspective would be nice.


I've held for years that there is probably a ratio of liberal/conservative; of optimism/pessimism; of self-criticism/self-confidence that enables a civilization to work optimally. I don't claim to know what that golden ratio is, or even if the same one applies to each set of characteristics above, but I'm convinced that optimal ratio is not 100% or 0.

In other words, any attempt to cheat your way into permanent ascendancy is not only misguided, but a recipe for disaster. What works during periods of stability might be fatal during periods of rapid change.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

there was no comparison between the US and its WWII adversaries. Moreover, you know it and are just pissing out of reflex.


In fairness to Duncan, I think he was comparing us to a WWII ally.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

LH, please post here again both versions of your 3 laws of corporatics, with a few sentences of explanation?


The original discussion came up under the comments of this "Ayn Rand" post from November 2011.

http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2011/11/atlas-shrugged-hidden-context-of-book_27.html

It actually grew out of an attempt by a different poster ("Tooch") to equate Asimov's Laws of Robotics with the Life/Liberty/Happiness themes of the Declaration of Independence. I thought he was really stretching analogies to force a point that didn't work, and I told him why:

As discussed above, the Laws of Robotics and the "laws of humanics" shouldn't be expected to correlate, since the former are designed to make tools useful and harmless, whereas the latter describe optimum interactions between sentient individuals possessing inalienable rights.


That led to the line of thought that you just asked about. Asimov invented his Three Laws as a refutation of Campbell's view that the only way to tell robot stories was in the mode of Frankenstein--that it is dangerous hubris to meddle with the forces of nature. Asimov took the position that robots were tools, and could be constructed to be safe and useful, just as knives have handles. And I felt that the same reasoning could be applied to the possibly-dangerous but also possibly-useful tools which are corporations.

From there, I made a first attempt at translating Asimov's laws into rules by which corporations could be constrained to be useful tools rather than dangerous Frankensteins:


What makes MORE sense to me would be to recast Asimov Laws as the Three Laws of "Corporatics":

1) A corporation must do no harm to human beings

2) A corporation must act to fulfil its specified charter as long as doing so does not violate the First Law

3) A corporation must act to insure its continued viability [this is where maximizing profit MAY come into play] AS LONG AS DOING SO DOES NOT VIOLATE THE FIRST OR SECOND LAWS [emphasis mine]

I'd be up for a constitutional amendment requiring all corporate charters to be subject to those three laws.

Larry Hart said...

continuing on "Laws of Corporatics"...

Over the years, we've revisited this concept with others (Alfred Differ especially) weighing in. I think he particularly takes issue with me over the idea that a corporation should be seen as a tool and constrained to function as such. He seems to take seriously the implications of a corporation as a "person" whose Constitutional rights are as sacrosanct as those of actual humans.

In any case, we've tweaked the wording a few times, and I don't remember exactly where any of those other posts reside. However, stripped to the bone of any specifics, this is how I interpreted Asimov's original laws for robots and attempted to apply them to corporations:

1) Don't produce a net-negative of value. (In other words, don't cause more problems than your usefulness makes up for. In other other words, don't make us sorry we chartered you)

2) Perform your function. (We chartered you for a reason. That's what you exist for. My sense is that Alfred has the most issue with this one.)

3) Keep yourself viable. (Manage resources in a way that allows you to function. This is where "maximize profits" might fit into, although I think it could work as "Produce an acceptable level of profits.")

Important to note is the order of the Three Laws. I specifically objected to the currently-accepted notion that maximizing profits is the only Law of Corporatics. There's a place for doing so, but only after the first two constraints are met, just as Asimov's robots are constrained to protect themselves, but only in ways that don't harm humans or disobey direct orders.

David Brin said...

Pocohantas portrayed the adventurer colonists’ impractical gold fever pretty well, and the ease with which brash males on both sides considered war an option. Fact is, coastal tribes had seen ships for many years and often traded and sometimes hired on. In Plymouth the settlers met not one but two natives who had adventured and learned a lot of English.

If 1620 to 1776 was a long time, don’t forget that 1492 to 1620 was pretty long, too.

Larry Hart said...

@Dr Brin,

Yes, that's another thing that young schoolchildren (of my era anyway) most likely believe, despite not being taught it in so many words: that Christopher Columbus landed at Plymouth Rock.

duncan cairncross said...

Re - winning of WW2

Fascism is a Theocracy - with the Leader as a combination Prophet and High Priest

One of the main implications is that any criticism of the Leader - or of Sub-Leaders - is HERESY

Which basically makes Dr Brin's CITOKATE impossible - and was one of the main reasons that they made so many screwups

Tony Fisk said...

"Would you like to see Brittania rule the waves again?
All you have to do is fol-lo-ow...!"

("Waiting for the Worms". Pink's last coherent utterance as the hammers march onstage to the chants of "Power!")

The failure to accept CITOKATE in political matters is why fascism ultimately fails, and the damage resulting from that failure is why it needs to be fought from the outset.

@duncan, I'd trace the SoA meme back further than Kipling. Swift also had a few wry things to say about politics, through the medium of Lemuel Gulliver and equine enlightenment.* And when did Machiavelli write "The Prince"? Kings supposedly had advisory councils, to stop them doing whimsical things like burning cities with dragon fire.(although having sycophants being appointed by the King set up an obvious and all too frequent failure mode)

* I was recently shocked, *shocked*, to discover that kids of the IT generation haven't heard of Lilliput, Blefuscu, and the big-endian debate!**

** Question for the crew: I have a clear memory that the 60's UK children's TV show "Jackanory" once covered a tale of Gulliver on the Moon.*** He encountered a creature that changed appearance according to his mood. Certainly not part of the original quartet of tales that Swift wrote, although it had a Swiftian feel to it. Does anyone know where it came from?

*** At one point in the original (1726) tales, the scholars of the pre-Ghibli floating island of Laputa tell Gulliver that Mars has two small moons. Western science confirmed this observation in 1877.****

**** TASAT? Yes, it was a literary coincidence And now I shall stop falling any further down the footnote rabbit hole.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Tony

Remember King Canute - holding back the tide?

One of the versions I remember was that he did that because his ADVISERS were getting out of hand with the flattery to show them that he was not omnipotent

duncan cairncross said...

scidata
re- captcha

I have simply been ignoring it and just hitting the "publish" button
It may be worth trying that

Or the damn thing may now make ME to the "not a robot" bit

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

As far as my "Suspicion of Authority" reflex I would say the British film industry is at least as guilty as Hollywood - and I would trace that meme back to Kipling and his tongue in cheek praise for Empire


I'd say the praise being "toung in cheek" went over a lot of heads. Sort of like the way many conservatives really think Stephen Colbert is one of them.

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

The failure to accept CITOKATE in political matters is why fascism ultimately fails,


Well, that and the fact that it practically forces everybody who is not in their favored group to take a side against them.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Fascism is a Theocracy"

That strikes me as a bit of an overstatement. Fascism does gravitate to having a "cult of personality" as do most authoritarian regimes. I look at some of the current crop of fascist leaders: Duterte, Bolsanaro, Trump and while they each have their own cultish following, they remain widely despised by the general populations at large in each country.

David Brin said...

Yeah, that version of the Canute story is the one I cite in The Transparent Society

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Three Laws of "Corporatics"
Asimov made a career out of writing stories about loopholes in the Three Laws. Imagine what corporate lawyers could do!
Then, too, there's the fact that when a robot violates the three laws, you can just shut it down. Not so easy with corporations. They claim the legal status of humans. To quote Jim Hightower, "I'll believe a corporation is human when Texas executes one."

Larry Hart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Then, too, there's the fact that when a robot violates the three laws, you can just shut it down. Not so easy with corporations. They claim the legal status of humans.


First of all, shutting down a robot wasn't a punishment for violating the Three Laws. It was more like the robot was constrained by innate design to follow the Three Laws. I do realize that many of the stories--especially the later ones--didn't adhere to that vision, but I believe it was the original one.

In my original conception of the Three Laws of Corporatics, I envisioned congress passing a law declaring the Three Laws to be a presumed to be part of any corporate charter. In other words, any corporation could be held legally accountable for violating the Laws in the same way that any citizen or resident can be held accountable for violating local laws, whether or not he individually and explicitly agrees to follow them.

The difference, of course, is that robots don't have their own individual motivations to cheat, whereas corporations do. That may be one way that the analogy breaks down.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Zepp Jamieson
Look up the Doctrine of Fascism by Mussolini

It makes it very clear that Fascism is a theocracy with "The State" as the "God"

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Yeah, that version of the Canute story is the one I cite in The Transparent Society "

I was taught in grade school that Canute was a foolish king who believed his advisors. Being someone anti-authoritarian and republican (English republican, that is) I was quite happy to believe the story.

So when I learned the present narrative that Canute was not foolish, but staged the incident to rebuke his courtiers for foolish and excessive flattery, I thought, "well, ok, another good story destroyed by ugly facts," shrugged, and accepted the later version.

But these days, I question if the incident ever occurred at all. He was head of a Viking Society, and they knew a thing or two about tides. While contemporary narratives portray him as wise and intelligent, it's more telling that after he was safely dead, he was still portrayed, even in England after the fall of Harold, as being a wise and just leader. So it's probably safe to assume that he was, at worst, competent.

The very worst thing that can happen to a court flatterer is to have the king look at him and say, "Oh, get off it. You are so full of it!" At best, his career is finished. At worst, they never find his head. As mentioned, it was a Viking society. They probably had endless truisms and cliches about the inevitability of tides. What courier would be foolish enough to make such an over-the-top paean to the king?

Zepp Jamieson said...

"The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people." Benny the Muscle

I can see where you could draw a Venn showing an overlap between that and theocracy, but Mussolini was basically saying that ultimate authority rested with the state.

scidata said...

The best remedy I see for fascism is rationalism (think Khan vs Spock). The most effective catalyst for rationalism is science. A very serviceable methodology for spreading scientific literacy is citizen science. Hans Bethe lamented the fact that citizen science was a much more robust movement back in the 19th century.
I'm bringing citsci back. See what I did there @jtimberlake ?

Zepp Jamieson said...

LH: Agreed. Asimov's robots weren't malign, and didn't possess a sense of self-preservation that humans (and corporations) to. And some corporations ARE malign.

Tony Fisk said...

@duncan By sheer coincidence, I was reminded of King Canute's tale* just before I came back here. True or not, I think the main point to draw from the legend of the tide is that the earliest known record of it (and the moral drawn) is way back in the twelfth century. ie SoA and CITOKATE aren't new concepts, although they've only been able to flourish in recent times.

* It's probably all the average person knows of him, along with Alfred the Great burning the cakes (as comedian Dave Allen once opined: "perhaps he (Alfred) was Great at burning cakes?")

Alfred Differ said...

Time to find a peasant woman to burn her cakes. 😎

Tony Fisk said...

@alfred, there's a Monty Python sketch going begging...

(I apologise for what follows. Once I started, I had to see it through)


Crowd[moving through village dragging Alfred after them]: "A King! A King! We've found a King!"
[Sir Bedevere looks up from experiment in tide control]
Crowd[approaching Sir B]: "He's a King! He's a King!"
Sir Bedevere: "How do you know he's a King?"
Peasant 1: "He's got a crown on!"
Alfred: "They put it on me. It doesn't fit."
Peasant 2: "He turned me into an Earl!"
Sir B: "But you've no belt?"
Peasant 2: "I..., I changed."
Peasant 3: "He's not covered in shit!"
Sir B (sniffs Alfred): "Well?"
Alfred: "They dunked me in the duck pond."
Peasant 4: "Yeah, *and* the tide went out!"
[Crowd boos]
Old Woman: "He burned my cakes!"
[Crowd is silent.]
Sir B: "He burned your cakes?"
Old Woman: "He did! [holds up charcoal lump] See this? It's cake
[Old Woman throws lump at Alfred, who flinches]
Old Woman: "Oh, don't be afraid. It's just cake, converted into a hundred grams of sequestered carbon now."
Crowd: "OOooh!"
[Peasant picks up lump and passes it to other peasants]
Sir B: "Ma'am, you should know the rules about props in scripts."
[Old woman looks sullen. Sir B turns to Alfred]
Sir B: "Is this true?"
Alfred: "I saw the cakes burning and was taking them off the fire."
Sir B: "Hmm!"
[turns back to crowd]
Sir B: "Ask yourselves what it is that only a King does"
[crowd ponders]
Peasant 1: "Walks corgis?"
Peasant 2: "Waves?"
Old Woman: "Burns things?"
Arthur (who's just arrived at back of crowd): "Signs Laws."
Sir B: "Yes. They sign laws. And how do Kings sign laws?"
[crowd ponders again]
Peasant 3: "Charcoal!"
Peasant 1: "With trigonometry?"
Old Woman: "Crayon?"
Arthur (again): "With quill and parchment."
Sir B (nods): "And how do we know it's a law that's been signed?"
crowd [mass monotone]: "We obey it on pain of death."
Sir B: "Just so. Now, if we get a quill..."
[goose hisses]
Sir B: "... and some parchment, and..."
[scrawls something]
Sir B: "... we write something, and we give to your prisoner. What then...?"
[crowd tries pondering some more]
Peasant 1: "if ...he ... signs it,"
Peasant 2: "... and someone disobeys what is written,"
Peasant 3: "... and then gets put to death..."
Sir B: "Mm-hmm?"
Old Woman: "then... it's a law, so the person who signed it is..."
Peasant 1: "A murderous bastard?"
Peasant 2: "A witch?"
Peasant 3: "No! He's..."
crowd: "... a King? A King!"
Alfred [with resigned but regal hauteur]: "It's a fair lese"
[bolstered by the force of logic, but neglecting to put it to the test, the crowd carry their King off for a coronation]

Cormac Williams said...

@Tony Fisk.

I suspect that you are referencing J.G.Ballard's "Gulliver in Space".

Regards,
Cormac.

David Brin said...

Tony that was witty and say so fun!

And btw Canute might have been 40% joking aroung with the tides metaphor, made his point, chided a couple of flatterers and shrugged it off. Some legends just grow.


Sir B: "... we write something, and we give to your prisoner. What then...?"
[crowd tries pondering some more]
Peasant 1: "if ...he ... signs it,"
Peasant 2: "... and someone disobeys what is written,"
Peasant 3: "... and then gets put to death..."
Sir B: "Mm-hmm?"
Old Woman: "then... it's a law, so the person who signed it is..."
Peasant 1: "A murderous bastard?"
Peasant 2: "A witch?"
Peasant 3: "No! He's..."
crowd: "... a King? A King!"

Har!

Larry Hart said...

It's been over two months, but Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station) finally has a new column posted. It's a Labor Day-related column, not (IMHO) especially great nor bad. Worth reading, though.

http://www.stonekettle.com/

...

A year ago, on this, Labor Day, Trump attacked Labor and crowed about profits.

But this day isn’t about profit.

And there is far more to labor than employment.

The worker in America is doing better than ever before, that’s what Trump said.

Define “better.”

Define “progress.”

It matters, those definitions.

It matters a great deal. It matters because there is an enormous difference in how the wealthy, in how a guy who was born rich and who has never labored a single day in his privileged life, defines “better” and “big progress” and how somebody who works 60 hours a week on the line without a living wage, without healthcare, without benefits, with a paycheck that has stayed flat for the last three decades while CEO salaries have increased more than 900% defines “better” and “big progress.”

Better, progress, those words are defined very, very differently by those who live in the manor house and to those who labor in the fields.

Trump has no idea what this day is about and he is utterly ignorant the history which led to it.

...

Zepp Jamieson said...

Gotta say, that's a pretty good Monty Python riff. Sounded like them, all right. Including the flashes of erudition, which most people miss.

Larry Hart said...

How that get past past the character limits?

David Brin said...

Okay, I dun it... sort of. Aboyt 70% of my Book of Blog is first drafted, mostly editings of blogs going back 20 years.

Alfred helped with the Table of Contents. He should have a copy of the first draft in his mailbox.

Even tracking down, sorting, editing and inserting past blog (plus 30% new stuff) has been an exhausting 3 weeks. And there's more to go. Certainly a number of places where I need updated stats and charts, like:
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2014/06/so-do-outcomes-matter-more-than-rhetoric.html

Topics I haven't thought of any items for:
Nostalgia
Religion
Lakoff
Fear
Clinton-Obama Obsession
What rich dudes could do.

(Oh, I inserted and cited LarryHart's corporatics laws! Got a link of your own?)

I sent out 20 copies for feedback, but other volunteers are welcome.

duncan cairncross said...

If you would like me to have a look my email is my name at gmail

Tony Fisk said...

I'm glad my little skit provided some cheer. I was worried I'd overdone it a bit.

@Cormac Thank you! It was indeed 'Gulliver in Space' I was thinking of. Written by Ballard especially for Jackanory, and narrated by Alfred Marks. It aired on Aug 26, 1966.
Alas, the only copy known to survive is in an expanding shell of radio waves, some 53 light years away...

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@David Brin: If beta-reading and proofreading is required, I volunteer as tribute.

@Larry Hart: My issue with your proposed Laws of Corporatics is the Second Law. It makes a tremendous amount of sense for nonprofits, which must explicitly declare their purposes in order to exist -- and are judged already by the law according to whether they fulfill their function, or else lose the advantages in law of nonprofit status. For profitmaking entities, though, the situation becomes muddled. Is the function to make shoes? Or to make profit through shoes? Some companies have missions, others are only a means to the end of wealth. SpaceX is at one end and the goalless conglomerates of the '80s, with divisions in every field imaginable and no rhyme or reason other than "profits no matter what's up or down" would be at the other. Of course a number of private investment corporations explicitly have the purpose of "make profits" with no other purpose at all.

It might be worth gaming out, or even trying out, a polity where every corporation must not only declare its purpose but defend its purpose on pain of revocation of charter benefits, the way nonprofits do. Corporations are at the top of a memetic food chain of sorts at the moment; it might be well to introduce a natural predator for them. That doesn't have to be the government, even: it might be something nonprofits do in courts or arbitration arenas.

-----------------

On the topic of American "Manifest Destiny" imperialism: I find it an interesting thought exercise to view the "Winning of the West" as a Volkwanderung, a mass migration such as the Germanics settling Western Europe, or the Celts or Anglo-Saxons taking England, or the Turks reaching Asia Minor. Looked at this way, the US government was managing and rationalizing a process that, for all our second-guessing, could have gone much worse than it did. For all the nastiness of the Indian Wars and the broken promises, cheating, and cultural destruction of the reservation system -- the urge to just slaughter them all and try to pretend they never existed got tamped way down.

Which is not to say we shouldn't criticize them! We should! For we have learned much, and there WAS much more that could have been done, and can be done still. I dream of the day when we have consultative relationships in the same manner as the Maori now do in New Zealand, with actual tribunal and legislative enforcement of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Cherokee Nation, after nearly two centuries, has at last invoked their right to send a non-voting delegate to the United States Congress. Imagine other tribes doing the same. Imagine what a parallel advisory Grand Council of Native Nations from across the continent might say and do. Even with no direct political power, such a thing existing under official aegis (legally, as a committee of non-voting delegates to Congress) could have significant influence... and act as a symbol of a new level of acceptance of this vital component of American identity and culture.

You could say that I'm just a dreamer: but I'm not the only one.

duncan cairncross said...

The trouble with the treaty of Waitangi is that it was between the "Crown" which is now the Government of NZ
And the Iwi - but today the Iwi do not actually represent any form of government

The Iwi are a bit more relevant today than the "Clan Leaders" of Scotland but not a LOT more
A lot of Maori - probably the majority - are not effectively part of any Iwi

If I was "Dictator" (a horrible thought) I would change the "additional rights" that today some Maori get in favor of a racially blind approach of giving more to ALL of the poor

David Brin said...

Catfish n' Duncan, you should see the draft in your inbox next time you look. Much thanks.

Did not know that about the Cherokee getting a Congressional delegate! Got a link? Some might recall they featured in a scene in SUNDIVER. I also have a full movie treatment for an unusual view upon the Trail of Tears.

The thing about the horrific treatment of the N. American tribes is not so much deliberate genocide -- there was some. But the culpable laziness of the"good" American -- the ones who signed earnest treaties, but then allowed the worst Americans to bid to be the "Indian agents" who sometimes fomented "incidents" that never had happy endings for the tribes. Many many incidents happened between immature males on both sides... with this difference. If some white thugs did somethingawful,at-best they'd get punished. Often not. If some braves did it, it was a treay violating travesty and another 25% of the land went away. It was an attrition of horrific neglect that is some ways feels even worse.

Catfish I love that dream. Note that in EXISTENCE I depict the Senators from both Dakotas being essentially First Nations power-chiefs.

Larry Hart said...

Catfish 'n Cod:

@Larry Hart: My issue with your proposed Laws of Corporatics is the Second Law. It makes a tremendous amount of sense for nonprofits, which must explicitly declare their purposes in order to exist -


Alfred has already expressed skepticism for much the same reason.

I was thinking of it from the point of view of the society which charters the corporation. It seems to me that society is doing so for a benefit to society, and that benefit is what I meant by "fulfilling your function". It's the equivalent of Asimov's Second Law constraining a robot to follow orders. If the objection is that, once chartered, the corporation becomes something independent of its original purpose, that could be seen as the equivalent of AI becoming sentient. I understand the argument--at least sort of. It just seems to me that society gives up certain rights--liability and such--when it charters a corporation, and that it does so in exchange for some benefit to itself.

scidata said...

Of course the Zeroth Law will be the highest priority (not harm humanity). You may have already covered it in corporatics, I haven't been following that concept for long.

Larry Hart said...

@scidata,

I was translating the original Three Laws.

In Asimov's later stories, robots derived the "Zeroth Law", and I'm not sure that made as much sense as he thought. I also felt it depended too much on whether a robot believed in the Zeroth Law. Giskard wasn't bound (or freed) by the Zeroth Law because he wasn't sure of Daneel's reasoning.

Does a robot get to shoot up a KKK gathering or an NRA meeting because doing so "helps humanity"? Does a different robot get to pull a mass shooting on behalf of the KKK because it believes white supremacy is good for humanity? It seems to me that once you go there, that way lies madness.

In any case, "humanity" doesn't charter a corporation--a particular socio-political unit does. If he chartering body wants to include not harming humanity in it's mission statements, that would be where that restriction would come from. IMHO, anyway.

Larry Hart said...

https://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2019/Pres/Maps/Sep04.html#item-3

It may literally be true that Biden could survive a loss in Iowa. However, it would be a huge kick in the pants and would not be easy to survive. If the former VP loses there, then it will significantly undermine his electability argument and his frontrunner status, especially since Iowa is the kind of state (Midwestern, blue-collar, lots of white voters) that he's supposed to recapture for the Democrats. ...


This is a fallacy that keeps killing the Democrats in primary season. Winning a Democratic primary is not an indication that the same candidate would win the state in a general election. "Electability" among partisan Democrats and "electability" among the general population are different things (if not entirely the opposite thing).

Yet the coverage of the primaries is always presented that way. In 2008, pundits talked about states that Hillary beat Obama in as if McCain would also beat Obama there. In 2016, the fact that Hillary did better than Bernie in the deep south was somehow supposed to make her a better candidate in November, even though not a one of those states was ever going to give any Democrat a single electoral vote.

IMHO, Democrats have to learn to choose and electable candidate via the primaries. They can't keep pretending that the primaries necessarily lead to an electable candidate as a rule.

scidata said...

Larry Hart: that way lies madness

Sounds like a post-Asimov Foundation story is needed to tie up loose ends. Someone should look into that :)

scidata said...

Carbon is becoming the basis of nanotech and even electronics. Physics imitating life I guess. Carbon Nanotubes are looking promising. They (we) now have an 80386 level processor built with them. It only runs at 1MHz, but I'm sure that could immediately be increased by a couple of orders of magnitude by deep freezing it (most of the constraints are caused by material bleeding and jittering).

https://singularityhub.com/2019/09/03/silicon-is-reaching-its-limits-are-carbon-nanotubes-next/

jim said...


It looks like Chuck Schumer and the rest of the Democratic Establishment in Washington is doing its best to insure that if the democrats actually take back the senate in 2020 they will not do anything progressive.

https://www.salon.com/2019/09/03/is-chuck-schumer-actively-trying-to-blackball-progressive-candidates/

It is just a fucking rigged game.

Yes the people who brought you the republican plan for Mandatory, For Profit, Shitty health insurance with large deductibles, large copays, surprise emergency bills and expected you to be grateful for the “benefits” you now “receive” want to retake the federal government in 2020. If these Democrats actually get control over the federal government again, I wonder what craptacular republican programs they will pass? Maybe more free trade agreements to empower the oligarchs and their well educated supporters and screws over the working class?

Catfish 'n Cod said...

I have to assume jim here is at least partly trolling (for constructive or destructive purposes I cannot tell). A dithering, do-nothing, compromising Senate would be a massive improvement over having people actively dismantling the American Experiment. That said, we must consider the energy of activism in our calculations. We need the youth vote and the youth organization: and having some view towards the future leftward shift of the Republic will have to be accommodated.

@Larry: The incantations of the cronyists would have us believe that corporations spring naturally from free association of free sophonts contracting with themselves. 'Tis not so: their legal rights, their tax benefits, their economic protections are all grants from the commons. Those that acknowledge this still demur that if the minimal conditions are met, the commons has no business demanding of corporations that they fulfill any particular tasks at all! The idea being that no government entity should have the power to second-guess private enterprise.

And I get that! One could certainly imagine some regime where the FDA, say, could start demanding that all pharma companies turn over their internal documents to prove their social utility. That way opens the door to madness. But having an arena to demonstrate utility? With experts managing but restricted to referee status? A disputative, scientific, crowdsourced and flat-fair-open Consumer Reports of Everything? With the only requirement being that a corporation must pick what arenas to compete in -- and must choose at least one -- but the lists are open for THEM to pick?

It's crazy enough that it just might work.

Larry Hart said...

Catfish 'n Cod:

I have to assume jim here is at least partly trolling (for constructive or destructive purposes I cannot tell).


I think jim's pessimism is sincere. However, the effect of it on listeners is to turn them off to whatever he's trying to convince them to do. And in practice (even if not in theory), he's willing to re-elect Trump in order to spite those Democrats that he doesn't like.


We need the youth vote and the youth organization:


It would help if the youth actually...whatayacall...voted. In the 2016 primaries, I remember noting wryly that Bernie did better than Hillary among those who don't vote, but Hillary did better among those who do.


@Larry: The incantations of the cronyists would have us believe that corporations spring naturally from free association of free sophonts contracting with themselves. 'Tis not so: their legal rights, their tax benefits, their economic protections are all grants from the commons.


My point exactly, and it's amazing how many people don't grasp that at all. My friends and I on our own could agree to trade favorably among ourselves for mutual benefit, but we can't grant ourselves limited liability over what we do to anyone else. We also can't grant ourselves favorable tax treatment. Those are things that society grants to a corporation, and presumably that granting is done in exchange for some sort of value.


Those that acknowledge this still demur that if the minimal conditions are met, the commons has no business demanding of corporations that they fulfill any particular tasks at all!


Whether or not any particular tasks are involved, why should society grant preferred status to any private organization without getting fair value in exchange? Do libertarians really have a problem with the concept? I'd think it would be especially self-evident to them.

matthew said...

Privacy roundup of technologies used by police in the San Diego area.
http://sdcitybeat.com/news-and-opinion/news/watching-the-watchers/
Lots of interesting factoids here. Paper is from a higher ed / EFF team up.

jim said...

Larry is correct that my pessimism is sincere.

I am not sure how much contact you guys have with working class Americans, but a whole lot of them actually had some hope that Obama would bring real change that would benefit them and their families. Instead they got a more competent manager for the status quo. Obama did everything he could to protect the war mongers, the torturers, and the corrupt FIRE (finance, issuance, real estate) sector of the economy and people noticed that the fine inspiring rhetoric was not matched by actions.

Tim Wolter said...

Catfish-n-Cod

The parallel between the Germanic "invasions" of late antiquity and the "Manifest Destiny" of the US 19th century is apt. In each case the military technology gap was much less than people assume. The Goths had adopted much Roman "tech", such as it was. And the Native Americans took rather quickly to horses and firearms when they became available.

Disease played a big part in each. The Antonine Plague, the Justinian Plague and various other localized die offs in the eastern provinces all made westward expansion so much easier. As of course did the Smallpox that may have killed up to 90% of indigenous populations.

Civil war can factor in as well. But here the paths diverge. No doubt the bloodshed between eastern and western parts of the empire sapped the strength of both and hastened a "barbarian" future. Whereas Yankee v. Confederate bought the Native Americans a few years of reprieve....

Tacitus

Larry Hart said...

jim:

Larry is correct


Heh.


Obama did everything he could to protect the war mongers, the torturers, and the corrupt FIRE (finance, issuance, real estate) sector of the economy and people noticed that the fine inspiring rhetoric was not matched by actions.


And yet, under President Obama, we got Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, and would have gotten Merrick Garland on the supreme court. Bernie Bros were happy to elect Benedict Donald in order to spite Hillary, so now we have Neil Gorsuch and Brett "I like beer" Kavanaugh, and we have to keep Ruth Bader Ginsburg alive by arcane means.

And as much as Obamacare might suck, it's better than what we had before, which is what the Republicans will set us back to if they get back the House.

Under President Obama we supported our allies more than we supported autocratic dictators.

Point being, sometimes, the lesser of two evils is much, MUCH better than the greater of two evils.

jim said...

Larry do you really think McConnell would have let Clinton select supreme court members?

I think McConnell would be saying something like "President Clinton is under investigation with the strong possibility of impeachment, and it would just be improper and potentially corrupt to allow her to select supreme court members. Until the investigations are complete the senate will not take action on filling vacant supreme court sets."

Alfred Differ said...

...a whole lot of them actually had some hope that Obama would bring real change that would benefit them and their families.

Yah. I remember that election. I remember it well. I attended an Obama campaign event near where I lived as saw a whole lot of self-delusion. They had Hope which is a great thing... until one fails to ground it with Prudence. I walked away from that event realizing they were setting themselves up for a failure and there wasn't anything Obama could do to prevent it short of walk on water.

Obama was a decent President, but those of us who were not self-deluded saw him as a center-left candidate that would likely lead from near the center or slightly to the right. The first year would be as far left as he was going to go and likely to be the most aberrant one due to the financial meltdown. After that... I expected something Clinton-esque.

Self-delusion is a terrible thing to suffer. The world seems to stab at you whenever your hopes come up. SO many Obama supporters suffered that way that I was mildly surprised the health care act passed at all.

Let's assume a Progressive wins the 2020 election. Are we going to see them all thinking the world changed and supports their whole agenda? There is a risk of that. If so, they will be making the same damn mistake. The truth is progressives don't have a majority. They get what they want most when they are occasionally practical and compromise with the rest of us. Wanna save the whales, kids, nation, and world? Work with us and pay attention when we tell you about your delusion.

Larry Hart said...

jim:

Larry do you really think McConnell would have let Clinton select supreme court members?


He would have had a harder time holding out for four years. Especially if it looked like 2020 would have support for "Elect Democratic Senators and break the gridlock."

But even if Hillary's appointments were all held up, we'd be better off than we are now with two Trump appointments and possibly more to come.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Let's assume a Progressive wins the 2020 election. Are we going to see them all thinking the world changed and supports their whole agenda?


I keep telling people, electing Bernie doesn't mean we have Medicare for All and free college immediately. It means we have someone who will appoint decent judges and sign decent legislation. The Democratic Senators would do more for their more radical agendas by remaining in the Senate than they can as President.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that my concern with your second law stems from a belief that corporations can’t state their purpose. I’m quite certain they DO have a purpose, but stating it is difficult.

1. The difference between non-profits and for-profits isn’t anything as large as some people imagine. I’ve served on the board of a non-profit and as its Chairman for a while and from that experience I learned they face the usual complications for-profit corporations face. I’ve helped start a couple of for-profits as well, so I’ve seen things from the other side. Seriously. The differences are minor and almost entirely about the fact that non-profits can’t point directly at their owners where for-profits can. That difference leads to differences in how Directors are chosen and behave, but not huge differences.

2. A corporation (once all the paperwork is done) is a ‘juridical’ person in the US. For all practical purposes, it is a slave that is treated as a semi-person. It has no legal will of its own except that of its owners, but it has a body, property, speech, and so on just as slaves do. You can steal from it, but owners are not guilty of coercion when they direct its actions because… they own it. That means the ‘purpose’ of a corporation is a reflection of the ‘purpose’ of its owners. This reflection changes as those people change, so stating it doesn’t add any value to our discussion.

3. Look below the reflection of purpose, though, and you’ll find that actual purpose of the corporation. Corporations exist to coordinate and amplify the willful actions of people within it. Owners want something. Management wants something. Employees want something. When those wants are brought together and voluntary actions are coordinated, the corporation accomplishes far more as a team toward those wants than individuals could on their own. Corporations are created TO DO THAT and only that.

4. When a non-profit states its purpose on paper, they create an illusion. The hard truth is that most are led by persons of strong will who shape their teams to coordinate them because real people are quite plastic. Some non-profits are downright cults of personality. They accomplish their purpose if that leader stays true or (rarely) grows a team that can survive their departure. This is often true of for-profits as well, but investors might play a bigger role in restraining cult-like personalities. Maybe. Possibly. Depends on how much they get sucked in. The best arrangement of a for-profit Board has some Directors who are not enamored by the Founder. It should be no surprise that the same is true of Boards for non-profits, but it is harder to accomplish because for-profit Boards can more easily be populated by owners instead of zealots. True… they can also be populated by golf-buddies, but that’s a different problem.

David Brin said...

Iowa is weird. The liberals are VERY liberal and the conservatives are very insane.

Catfish, you’ve been away. “jim” is completely out of his cotton pickin’ mind. A lefty sanctimon-junky, alliance wrecker. Our lefty locumranch. Though now more entertaining. I still read every word. But Wheeeeee!

“@Larry: The incantations of the cronyists would have us believe that corporations spring naturally from free association of free sophonts contracting with themselves. 'Tis not so: their legal rights, their tax benefits, their economic protections are all grants from the commons.

Diametrically opposite to everything the Roosevelteans were about which was Adam Smith’s recommendation of intense regulation to prevent cheating. jim is insane to think moderate democrats want anything else.

And Obamacare wan’t what the dems of 2008 wanted. It was what they thought they could get, in order to get 40 million people insured.

“hope that Obama would bring real change that would benefit them and their families. Instead they got a more competent manager for the status quo.”

Because splitters let him down and lost congress for us in 2010! KNOW SOMETHING!

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that my concern with your second law stems from a belief that corporations can’t state their purpose.


I'm not as interested in the corporation stating its purpose as with the society's purpose in chartering it. We're talking about the Second Law, after all. Asimov's Second Law was that a robot obeyed orders when not in conflict with the First Law. It was not that the robot had to stick to some mission statement it promised to follow upon activation.

The point of the Three Laws is to attempt to have the benefits that corporations provide without them turning into Frankenstein's monsters. If there is no expectation of a social benefit, then what are we giving them special rights and privileges for?

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

“hope that Obama would bring real change that would benefit them and their families. Instead they got a more competent manager for the status quo.”

Because splitters let him down and lost congress for us in 2010!


Yes, exactly. In 2012 and 2014, I even heard some voters say they couldn't support Democrats because once the Republicans took over congress, they (Dems) didn't accomplish any great things. If you want Democrats to accomplish great things, you have to put them into power, not "punish" them for not being in power by keeping them out.

They remind me of a stand-up comedian who berates his audience because too few of them showed up--I mean, the only ones hearing him complain are the ones who did attend. Dave Sim used to do essentially that to the few readers he had left.

Bob Neinast said...

Let us not forget that during Obama's two terms, there was a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate for exactly 72 days, after Al Franken was finally sworn in (but then Edward Kennedy died after being ill a long time and unable to vote). After that, Kennedy's (appointed) replacement was a Democrat, so that's in there. But also Robert Byrd was ill and missed a lot. And then Scott Brown (R) won his election in Massachusetts, and it was all over.

Also, there were quite a few "blue dog" Democrats at the time, too.

See this for a refresher:
https://sandiegofreepress.org/2012/09/the-myth-of-the-filibuster-proof-democratic-senate/

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

society's purpose in chartering it

Hmm...

Do I state my purpose in creating a new life? I'm pretty sure my wife understood exactly what I intended, but could understandably be concerned about whether I'd stick around to do what SHE wanted. 8)

Corporations are juridical persons, so I have a few qualms with others stating their purpose in allowing the rest of us to create them. Part of me wants to say MYOB, but another part recognized that the grant of limited liability can't be assumed in the way one would claim a 'Right'. It really is a grant, so I suffer the necessary compromise.

When you grant the charter, isn't it enough to say you want the organization to exist "To coordinate and amplify the willful actions of ethical humans contained within?" Punishment ensues when we break rule of justice and not when the corporation changes its business model, right? [Many companies start off pursuing one plan and change within the first few years. That happens more often than companies who don't radically change their plans.]

So, what is left of your second law if we use the root purpose we founders have for creating corporations in the first place? [We might not state 'ethical humans' since we generally think we are, but it would be easy enough to accept into the definition.]


Friedman's description of purpose for corporations focuses too much on the prudent outcomes even if one uses the full version of his quote. I prefer a broader definition that deals with the fact that humans are intimately involved. Since humans don't optimize for profits in their daily lives, I don't see why corporations 'should' either. Owners can reasonably want that, but they are only part of the mix.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Do I state my purpose in creating a new life?


No, but new life is a fact of life. Not necessarily your offspring, but offspring in general are going to happen, and any society has to be ready to deal with the fact of their presence. Society doesn't "let" you have children in exchange for some good that those children are constrained to provide.

I'm envisioning the corporation as a tool, one that can be useful when used as intended, but can also be dangerous if mishandled. The Three Laws are attempts to mitigate the harm and optimize the utility. You seem to be arguing that utility isn't important--that the corporation is it's own entity with its own right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that if it "wants" to do harm to the surrounding community and environment in order to maximize profits, it has every right to do so. In effect, you're arguing that corporations are Frankenstein's monsters, and that society just has to live with that, the way the US just has to live with mass shootings.


Corporations are juridical persons, so I have a few qualms with others stating their purpose in allowing the rest of us to create them. Part of me wants to say MYOB, but another part recognized that the grant of limited liability can't be assumed in the way one would claim a 'Right'. It really is a grant, so I suffer the necessary compromise.


You really see that as incidental to the concept? It sounds like you're saying that if you had your way, society should grant special privileges to anyone who asks for them and then stay out of their way after that. But you're willing to accept some responsibility to provide value in exchange for the favor if you really have to. I see the social benefit as the only reason society has for granting special privileges to corporations. Otherwise, you and your partners are free to organize your business in any way you wish relative to yourselves, but you MYOB as far as what the rest of us have to give up so that you can do so.


When you grant the charter, isn't it enough to say you want the organization to exist "To coordinate and amplify the willful actions of ethical humans contained within?" Punishment ensues when we break rule of justice and not when the corporation changes its business model, right?


The analogy to the Laws of Robotics does break down here, because as I see it, the Second Law isn't something a robot is punished for violating. Rather, it is something the robot is structurally incapable of violating. I was trying to envision the Laws of Corporatics operating similarly, but I get that that involves a step like, "And then a miracle occurs."

continued...

Larry Hart said...

continuing (and how did that Monty Python thing stay below the 4096 character limit?)
...

I'm not so hung up on "changing the business plan" as a violation. But what about "leaving the chartering society high and dry"? We charter a company to efficiently provide cheap and clean drinking water to the city, and it decides to sell crack cocaine instead. It might make more profit for its shareholders that way, but the city needs the water. If we have to get it some other way, then to what end did we grant special privileges to the company?

A more common example is when a company is granted tax incentives because it claims it will provide jobs for (say) 3000 people locally, and as soon as the deal is done, they lay off almost all of those workers? That's not a hypothetical example--I worked for a company that did just that last decade. Is that just something we should MYOB about?

If chartering a company was just a matter of recording its existence and maintaining the paperwork, then I would totally see your point. But chartering a corporation is more than that. It is a grant of special status, which only makes sense to me in the name of it being a most efficient method of producing a socially desirable result. Society doesn't charter babies--they just happen. If a corporation is a person, not a tool, then just make them yourself and leave us out of it.

scidata said...

The Three Laws of Corporatics are perhaps a wee bit too static. That is, they assume an unchanging, or at least slow moving, state of affairs. Just as in Asimov's "Runaround" story, these laws could fall into a circular trap (Moebius loop?). It was amusing behaviour in Speedy the robot, but it could be fatal for a corporation in a fast-paced economic environment. That fatality might be acceptable in the greater scheme of things, but it's awfully messy. Even assuming best intentions all around (a mighty big assumption), things change. Third Law plans today might produce a serious First Law violation tomorrow (if say, a new carcinogen is discovered). In theory, theory and practice are the same...

That's why norms, common law, and common sense are in some ways superior to constitutional law. They live and breathe. They can evolve, but they can't easily be hijacked by demagogues. Think Blockchain.

Larry Hart said...

@scidata,

That's why the Laws of Corporatics have always been more of a thought experiment than an attempt at actual legislation. And why I prefer the non-specific versions:

1) Don't make us sorry we chartered you
2) Do what we chartered you for (as long as it doesn't conflict with the first Law)
3) Keep yourself viable (as long as it doesn't conflict with the first two Laws)

The idea was that Asimov's Laws were intended to make robots safe and useful rather than dangerous Frankenstein's monsters. I wondered if the same reasoning could be applied to the tools which are corporations. Someone else had originally claimed that he could map the Three Laws of Robotics onto Jefferson's "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness", but I didn't think the comparison worked very well. He was saying things like "Don't harm humans" was the right to life, which actually did have some merit, but the equating of "must follow orders" with Liberty was a real stretch IMHO. I thought that re-writing the Three Laws to apply to corporations instead worked much better.

Alfred Differ said...

I love that Monty Python variation. Very cool.
3,854 characters showing that right-side white space allows for length and a style of message impact that isn't so dense on the page. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

I won't do my usual in-quote style to respond this time. As usual, we still have a lot in common, but I am approaching things from an angle you might not be seeing.

As with Duncan, I think your metaphor is a poor representation of reality. Corporations aren't tools any more than economies are engines. Look at the way people get emotionally attached to their start-ups or jobs or corporate visions and you'll see it is less like loving a tool and more like loving a child. For legal reasons, our corporations are not children with full rights (a good thing too), but we treat them as lovable creations in a way that goes beyond hammers and saws. We DO become attached to those things too, but our social organizations extend each of us to something bigger.

Build one or be in at the beginning as founders build them and you'll see why I think of them as more than our simpler tools. Maybe you mean the extended definition for 'tool'? I doubt it. One clue is your mention of how your laws are intended to optimize the utility of corporations. Optimization requires a differentiable fitness function. That means your 'tool' isn't AI-like and that means it can't model real humans. Our social groups larger than extended families and bands have no fitness function unless one is imposed, thus no way to define an optimization.

_
Society should grant special privs to corporations to do harm basically… never. The distinction between juridical and natural persons drives this home. The corporate entity is enslaved on one hand and a human extension on another. Any harm it does is as a result of actions of people within it.

However, if the people within it manage to avoid unethical behavior, argue that everyone else should mind their own business. If you would help protect your neighbors liberty by letting them be, you should be prepared to do the same for the corporations in which they participate. [Your example with 3000 jobs loss is probably 'breach of contract', thus unethical. Nail them if you can.]

_
I accept that you aren't hung up on changing business plans. Focusing more upon creating risk and harm for the chartering society, though, is precisely what we do with children when we try to raise them well. See where I'm going with this?

1) You can't make a child structurally incapable of harming us without making them something considerably less than human.

2) We DO charter babies… in a sense… when we recognize marriages. For the longest time, marriages were legally enforceable contracts between families accepted through social ritual. The 'deal' is struck in different ways, but much of it involves the expectation of children, how they are to be raised, and how property inheritance will work. Look at how US Courts treat families as legal entities. They are Partnerships with special rights and obligations with respect to children they produce. Note also the liberalization of laws regarding marriages licenses. Behave yourselves and Authority requires little more than registration.

_
Let me offer your laws back to you with a human twist.

1) Don't make us sorry we let you be born in our Civilization.
2) Obey the rules of Justice where doing so doesn't conflict with the first Law
3) Keep yourself alive where doing so doesn't conflict with the first two Laws

Wouldn't these work for corporations AND humans?

David Brin said...

Because jim cannot read, and others forget, I will repeat what I posted here:
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2019/08/five-devastating-rebuttals-to-use-with.html


Democrats had power to pass national legislation for just two years out of the last 25 - the 111th Congress 2009-2010, during which these “corporatists”:

- passed the ACA, insuring 40 million more Americans,

- banned bias for pre-existing conditions (enraging the insurance companies who then donated heavily to Republicans in 2010),

- passed banking regulation (enraging that cabal, who donated heavily to Republicans in 2010, when many splitters didn’t vote),

- created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau whose destruction was Trump’s top goal,

- vastly increased auto gas mileage standards, saving Americans billions at the pump,

- expanded support for sustainables, resulting in the solar+wind “takeoff,”

- did a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street rules (enraging that cabal, who donated heavily to Republicans in 2010),

- passed a $787 billion economic stimulus package,

- repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell”, allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and much more…

That is just TWO years while also cleaning out sabotage mines and booby traps left by the Hastert-ite Republicans. Just getting organized took months. But President Obama called the 111th Congress the most productive in generations. “Measures that have almost become afterthoughts — like pay equity for women and the new power of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco — would have been signature achievements in other Congresses. And the Senate confirmed two of Mr. Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court — both women, one Hispanic.”

Right. Tell us about “corporatist sellouts”! Hey splitters, even having just read that list, could you describe those bills and their effects and why you think they were just meaningless gestures by corporatist sellouts? No? You won’t even try, because knowledge can’t replace that sanctimony high. Oh, and we lost Congress ion 2010 partly because of splitters.

And yes... it was directly your fault YOUR fault. Exactly yours and truly your sorry prissy sanctimonious asses's fault.

David Brin said...

Then there's the to-do list ahead of us. Here AGAIN is that list of things ALL the DP candidates are for.

http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2019/07/debate-special-shall-we-let-them-divide.html

When you say moderate dems and the ones who WON ALL THE NEW HOUSE SEATS aon't push for those things, I say PUT MONEY ON IT, YOU INCREDIBLE DOGMATIST LIARS. With no-significant exceptions, we'll find proof I am right.

When you say the list is too unambitious, fine. One way we could get all of them, if we unite and win. After which the AOC crowd is welcome THEN to start yowling about chasms.

duncan cairncross said...

Alfred
As far as Corporations being loved unlike tools - all I can say is that you cannot ever have been around the people I know!
They LOVE their tools much more than some limp wristed accountant "loves" his corporation

IMHO - Thinking of a corporation as a TOOL is exactly correct
Thinking of a corporation as a "child" is many many miles off the game

As a tool it has no feelings - and can be changed or eliminated without any compunction

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

As with Duncan, I think your metaphor is a poor representation of reality. Corporations aren't tools any more than economies are engines.


I'll accept that for now. No metaphor is going to be perfect. Maps and territories, after all.

But from what you're saying, corporations are more like Asimov's robots than even I was envisioning. They are also tools which humans relate to as if they're sentient beings.


Look at the way people get emotionally attached to their start-ups or jobs or corporate visions and you'll see it is less like loving a tool and more like loving a child.


And a mother will love her child even if he's Charles Manson. But you can't expect society to give Charles Manson a pass just because his mother loves him.


For legal reasons, our corporations are not children with full rights (a good thing too), but we treat them as lovable creations in a way that goes beyond hammers and saws.


Not just legal reasons. Laws and norms around the ways we treat other humans evolve around the fact that humans have feelings. Harming a human isn't just an economic activity, it causes pain and suffering. Pretending that corporations are beings whose feelings require respect is a potential recipe for disaster, especially when those same corporations are required by law to be predators who care nothing for good citizenship or the feelings of others.


However, if the people within it manage to avoid unethical behavior, argue that everyone else should mind their own business.


Maybe "behave ethically" should be one of the Laws? The problem is with the details. You have to define the term.


1) You can't make a child structurally incapable of harming us without making them something considerably less than human.


And that may be the rub with both corporations and robots. Our host went for raising AIs as children rather than constraining them to be harmless. Maybe that's the way to "raise" corporations as well? If we can get past designing them purposely to be rapacious sociopaths, and treating those characteristics as a virtue.


Note also the liberalization of laws regarding marriages licenses. Behave yourselves and Authority requires little more than registration.


But here, your analogy breaks down. Children are considered minors until they've presumably learned to function as citizens responsible for themselves. No one is personally responsible for a corporation as a minor, nor is there any point at which the corporation becomes responsible for its actions as a citizen. It's as if the state granted children immunity from prosecution forever.

_
Let me offer your laws back to you with a human twist.

1) Don't make us sorry we let you be born in our Civilization.
2) Obey the rules of Justice where doing so doesn't conflict with the first Law
3) Keep yourself alive where doing so doesn't conflict with the first two Laws

Wouldn't these work for corporations AND humans?


And robots too.

Here's my take-away from your line of argument. Corporations are not really like tools, nor are they really like humans, even though in a kind of Heisenberg-uncertainty manner, they are somewhat like both things.

However, corporations are quite like humaniform robots, in that the paragraph above applies to robots as well.

Larry Hart said...

duncan cairncross:

IMHO - Thinking of a corporation as a TOOL is exactly correct
Thinking of a corporation as a "child" is many many miles off the game


You are right.

"He is right? He is right? They cannot both be right."

You are also right.

Larry Hart said...

WAIST (Wow, Ain't It Strange That...)

https://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2019/Pres/Maps/Sep05.html#item-4


Hardly a day goes by without Donald Trump doing something to harm the environment. It just comes naturally to him.


The same article states the obvious:

The most plausible explanation is that Trump knows his base will cheer him for "owning the libs." In fact, much of what he does seems to be designed to make liberals' blood boil, rather than achieving any policy goal that Trump cares about.

Larry Hart said...

I can't reproduce the image here, but the picture in this news item is hilarious in its clumsiness. There's a better image of the same thing toward the bottom of the article.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/04/us/politics/trump-hurricane-alabama-sharpie.html

WASHINGTON — When President Trump displayed a large map of Hurricane Dorian’s path in the Oval Office on Wednesday, it was hard to miss a black line that appeared to have been drawn to extend the storm’s possible path into the state of Alabama.

That might have been intended to bolster Mr. Trump’s claim on Sunday when he tweeted that “in addition to Florida — South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”

...

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@Larry, @Alfred -- I have a conceptual model that I think works better than either of yours: corporations are distributed virtual persons running primarily on human wetware. Many corporations have silicon processors as well, but it's a rare circumstance where that's more than connective tissue -- and in some cases, like automated megafast day trading, the silicon components can go haywire.

Being primarily lodged in humans' brains -- humans who contribute brain time, and sometimes the use of other parts of themselves as well, in return for renumeration -- it is hard to program or discipline a corporation as one might a humaniform robot. Humans have a tendency to dislike being programmed too strictly, and they have things like feelings and free will.

A corporation is in some ways both a slave (of its owners) and a master (of its employees' contributed brain-share); a juridicial person under obligations and with limited rights. The degree to which those rights exist, and under what circumstances, depend on what the law determines to be flowing from the various humans in their various relationships into the corporation's virtual personhood.

Hence the rights of ownership flow, but in a constrained manner that prevents back-suction into the remaining assets of the owners... the corporation has the collective right of free speech, subject to restrictions... however, since the corporation has no feelings of its own -- just the feelings of the humans that make the machinery dance -- it's hard to see it as having rights of religion (though certain SCOTUS justices argue otherwise). Those rights remain with the humans themselves.

Through freedom of association, human citizens and residents can form whatever societies they choose using whatever by-laws and forms they desire. But when we register a corporation, we agree to binding rules in exchange for legal benefits -- and exactly what benefits depend on the type of chartering. This can be seen as a contract between the society (represented by government) and the virtual person. You can write Laws of Corporatics into those contracts and the laws that regulate them... but you have to reward and punish in order to enforce them, just as with individual humans.

The First and Second Laws of Corporatics can therefore be restated:

1. A corporation shall not harm society, or through inaction, cause society to come to harm.
2. A corporation shall act legally as its owners direct, so long as this does not conflict with the First Law or the legal code(s).

Now what constitutes "harm to society" committed by a corporation? This, I think, is where the rubber meets the road, for some CEOs are making room once again for the First Law after its banishment by Milton Friedman.

Larry Hart said...

@Catfish 'n Cod,

Your reasoning leaves not much to complain about. At the conclusion, you basically re-write Asimov's laws verbatim with "robot" scratched out and "corporation" written in in crayon. :) That serves to point out some fallacies with Asimov's original laws. Scope, basically. If a child is dying in Uganda, is the robot (or the corporation) allowing harm through inaction? Again, that way lies madness, and is responsible for some of the madness that was in the later robot stories.

As to the Laws of Corporatics, the inception was never, "Hey, I found the right way to conduct business." It was more an exercise to specifically apply Asimov's Laws to corporations and see what happens. However, as Alfred and our host have both pointed out, even applying the Three Laws to robots (or at least to AI, and the Asimov stories conflated the two) might not be the best way to go. Dr Brin suggests raising AI as children instead, and Alfred asserts that founders of corporations consider their creations to be children, even if the rest of us do not.

If the Three Laws are actually not a good way to manage robots (or at least AI), then it stands to reason that they might not be the best way to manage corporations either.

Larry Hart said...

Oh, I meant to say...

Catfish, your version of the Second Law tries to correct a deficiency in Asimov's Second Law. He doesn't account for ownership. A robot is constrained to follow any orders, presumably even the things that contradict the other things. It matters not who gives the order.

Imagine if a corporation had to do what any human being directed.

Alfred Differ said...

Duncan,

all I can say is that you cannot ever have been around the people I know!

Heh. You’d be surprised then. 8)

The other day I was listening to a story about how some wildfire jumpers die in fires that overtake them while they run away carrying their very heavy tools. The story pointed out that some almost survived and might have had they dropped their tools. The take away was that some people don’t think to sever themselves from their objects even when their lives depend on it.

By the end of the story I was thinking to myself that I don’t think I am such a person. I wasn’t certain that was true, but that was my guess and how I would have answered any questions that first day. By the next morning, I knew otherwise. My dreaming mind that night pointed out what should have been obvious to me. During fire drills at work, I grab my computer before running with a rationalization that it only takes a couple seconds. Yet I know that experienced fire fighters tell us smoke inhalation gets us quickly and that my impulse creates risk. I can try to wave that away by arguing that it’s just a drill, but my dreaming mind pointed out that I had actually thought about how I’d save my computer at home… at night… in the dark… with the smoke alarm going off… even though the room it is in has only one exit… and it is a second floor room. Heh. Now I admit that might just kill me and it would be a stupid way to die. Put my stuff in the cloud and let the computer go. I like to think I’ll do that, but I really should get my son out of his room first, right? 8)

I’ve known many who are deeply attached to their tools. They are extensions of us. We’d no more part with them than cut off a hand. What I’m pointing out regarding corporations is that some of us are MUCH more attached to them than our tools. Don’t look at the accountant. Look at the founders. Look at that founder who has to be thrown out by the Board they chose who recognizes him as enough of a butt-head that he’s harming the company to which he is utterly dedicated. The older, publicly traded ones are hard to examine this way, but insiders know better. We fight over our children when we can’t agree on what they must do and what they are to become.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

The only argument against our corporations being like robots is a corporate entity is composed of people while one of Asimov’s robots isn’t. The stories showed them becoming human-like… except for constraints imposed by the rigidity of those laws.

But you can't expect society to give Charles Manson a pass just because his mother loves him.

Never would I ask for that, but that doesn’t change my point. A corporation is more like a person than a tool, so laws governing them should be pitched in a similar way to laws governing people instead of property. Corporations ARE property, but in the sense that slaves were. Juridical persons VS natural persons.

Pretending that corporations are beings whose feelings require respect is a potential recipe for disaster…

Pretending they aren’t is unwise. More importantly, it is a rejection of some things I think are objectively obvious.
1) If people treat their corporations as something like a child, the rules of Justice should respect that fact about humanity.
2) If people voluntarily accept constraints on their freedom to join corporations, the rules of Justice should respect that fact about humanity.
3) Coordinating and amplifying our actions through social constructs to achieve our individual goals is simply something humans DO. The rules of Justice should respect that.

I would never argue for no laws governing these social groups. Instead, I argue that they be considered under the ruleset we apply to people. It is well developed and provably adaptable. Most of it is unwritten yet we know it because we are raised to follow them or suffer the consequences. There is more than one ruleset, but usually one per culture. Its name is Justice.

Our host went for raising AIs as children rather than constraining them to be harmless. Maybe that's the way to "raise" corporations as well? If we can get past designing them purposely to be rapacious sociopaths, and treating those characteristics as a virtue.

I think he is onto something too. Fortunately, we already know how to raise such beings. We do it naturally. Use a better metaphor and our course of action becomes obvious. Raise your start-up like you would your child. Treat it as such and you and it are more likely to behave ethically. Nothing is certain, though. There are sociopaths who manage to function alongside us. Virtue Ethics is an ancient field of philosophy, though, and we know how to apply those lessons. If you know how to teach your kid character, you should know how to teach it at work.

David Brin said...

Every now and then I grumble: "Okay THAT attack on Trump isn't completely fair." Does that shock you? Well I deem the reflex to always respond with the same volume of outrage and ridicule lessens our cred and agility!

This "Sharpie-Gate" is an example. Clearly the original "might touch Alabama" tweet wasn't that awful. Had his sharpie drawn a big ARROW following the course projected last Thursday, people would have seen his point. Dumb, because projections had shifted even by the tweet. But kinda understandable for a slow-witted grampa. Of course his behavior is that of a mentally ravaged and ever-angry, shouting maniacal grampa with nukes. But all the more reason to show indulgence when it might do a little good.

BTW any of you ever watch OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT? I love the scenes where He dives after the "football" briefcase with the nuclear codes, and the young officer clutches it, backing away with an expression of mortified horror. It sums up what every democrat should absorb, revising decades of anti-military reflexes. We have been saved - literally - for 3 years by the dedication and care of our civil servants, law professionals, intel agencies and the US military officer corps. And it is veterans like Amy McGrath who offer our real chance to invade Red Districts and turn them. Get over your $$#! prejudices, you splitter bigots. These are our sons and daughters and protectors. And they are leaking away from traditional crewcut conservative ties. Welcome them.

David Brin said...

Absolutely. It has to be four laws. Or the second law needs to be divided among "orders" by the state, then the owner, then any random human.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Sharpie-gate deserves attention because it highlights Trump's rapidly declining mental state. Doctor, a stance of "Don't annoy the madman or he might kill us all" makes sense, but leaves begging the greater question of why we should continue to suffer having a madman in such a position of power.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

This "Sharpie-Gate" is an example. Clearly the original "might touch Alabama" tweet wasn't that awful.


You are correct that his comment including Alabama wasn't so bad in itself. He might have caused unnecessary concern in that state after the danger was already avoided, but his having seen an earlier map of the storm track that included Alabama doesn't make him stupid.

My ridicule was at the clumsily buffoonish way someone drew an extra circle on that map in order to extend the projection.

Alfred Differ said...

We suffer him because there is no quick, legitimate way to remove him. Amendment #25 is intentionally difficult to execute.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

During fire drills at work, I grab my computer before running with a rationalization that it only takes a couple seconds


Well, that's understandable. It's not like you won't leave without your monkey wrench or screwdriver. You might perceive that if you lost your computer in particular, it would be very hard to get that functionality back, and you depend on it day to day. Many people are in the same situation relative to their cel phones.

I used to think about how I'd save my 14 or so long boxes of comics.:)

Different subject, but there's someone at work--I've mentioned her before--whom I would not even think of leaving behind in a fire or active shooter situation, even though she is not available to me (nor I to her) as anything more than a co-worker. Some bonds are that important.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

We suffer him because there is no quick, legitimate way to remove him. Amendment #25 is intentionally difficult to execute.


The 25th Amendment might as well be repealed if it's not usable in this case.

No, I'm sorry, but everybody who knows stuff knows the current occupant of the White House is not fit for the job. We suffer him because the Republican Party is terrified of what would happen if his Brownshirts turned against them. It really is that simple.

duncan cairncross said...

The problem with treating corporations as "Children" or as "AI" is that they simply are nothing of the kind

A corporation is more like a sword - it has ZERO "learning" ability of it's own - it is purely a non learning "Artifact" that is wielded by it's CEO

The "non learning" is the important part here - the "Laws" are appropriate for an entity that can LEARN
For a "non learning" entity I believe that we need to be more prescriptive - but with a mechanism that will permit changes - but the "Board" would need to write down and justify those changes to the regulators

Alfred Differ said...

Duncan,

Your assertion rejects the evidence on the grounds that my conclusion cannot be correct?


You are clinging to another metaphor and I point to evidence of your mistake. You aren’t alone in the error, though. MANY would agree with you.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

That’s why they suffer him. I took the original question more personally.😎

duncan cairncross said...

Alfred you haven't given a single example of why my metaphor is wrong

A Corporation is a simple tool - like a sword - NOT a complex tool like a computer

The corporation does not learn - the people driving it MAY learn - but the corporation does not

Inside the corporation you will find the "Quality Manual" - or the "Operations Manual" - THAT is an attempt at developing a "Corporate Brain - or Memory"

But that is an internal document and NOT part of the genetics of the corporation

Alfred Differ said...

You aren’t listening. Look at how founders behave. I could name names of some I know, but that would get real personal for them real quick. Instead I’ll site my own behavior with my own startups that at some point had negative cash value, yet still I fought.

duncan cairncross said...

Founders behave the same way that Hot Rod owners do - which does not make the Hot Rod of the Corporation anything other than a tool

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

That’s why they suffer him. I took the original question more personally


You mentioned that we must suffer the fool because there is no legitimate way to remove him from office. In fact, there are ways to do so, but doing so requires at least some Republican support in Congress, the cabinet, and/or the judiciary. Even many Republicans--voters and officials alike--agree with me that the man is unfit for the office, and that he has in fact violated his oath and the Constitution while in office. But they know that Trump's base is their only hold on power, and that if that base ever turns against them, they've got nothing left. They won't risk being seen as acting against Trump.

Therefore, we must suffer him precisely because they suffer him.

Larry Hart said...

duncan and Alfred:

"A Corporation is a simple tool - like a sword - NOT a complex tool like a computer

The corporation does not learn - the people driving it MAY learn - but the corporation does not"

"You aren’t listening. Look at how founders behave."

"Founders behave the same way that Hot Rod owners do - which does not make the Hot Rod of the Corporation anything other than a tool."



Ok, one of humanity's strengths is also a problem--as we learned (if we were paying attention) from ST:TNG's "Darmok", we think and communicate in allusions and metaphors. The upside is that those things are powerful tools. The downside is that they are imperfect ones.

Duncan is correct that a corporation doesn't learn the way a child does. But he goes too far comparing corporations to simple physical tools like swords or cars. There is such thing as institutional memory, and corporations develop cultures which evolve over time and adjust to circumstances. The analogy to a living being or to a species is not entirely without merit.

Alfred focuses on the founders' treatment of the corporation as an object of nurture and cherishing. Pet owners have much the same feelings toward faithful dogs and even cats. People will certainly risk their own lives in a fire or flood to save a pet, which is comparable to a child in the estimation of the particular pet owner. Yet, society doesn't treat your pets the same way that it treats your children. We grant certain rights and dignity to all humans (at least in theory) in a way that we don't grant to all pets. Or all AIs or all corporations. At least not yet.

Larry Hart said...

It occurs to me belatedly that Asimov all along conflated two concepts which didn't necessarily have to develop together--humaniform robots and AI. The simple idea of a humaniform robot was that it was a tool which could perform a plethora of different tasks in a world which has been built around the utility of the human form. If you want a single tool that can wash dishes, drive a car, pick up heavy objects, build houses, etc, then a "mechanical man" is the most likely form for such an all-purpose tool to take.

None of that requires that the tool have more actual "intelligence" than the ability to understand commands and translate them into actions--say, a very sophisticated Alexa. Such a robot would act much like a slave or an employee or (if treated so) a companion, but it would have no more will or feelings or drives of its own than your car does. Like a car or a washing machine or a calculator, it would do what it does because of the laws of physics. Depending on the sophistication--how human the robot seemed--it might become natural for humans to think of the robot as a sentient being, but that would be simply willing participation in an illusion, much as one participates in while reading a good novel. When my daughter was four or so, she had a toy dog that would perform simple tricks in response to specific voice commands. She responded to it as she would to a real dog, but the toy was not actually sentient in any sense of the word. When I read Asimov's earliest robot stories, "Robbie" for example, that was kind of the sense I got about his robots. Humans treated them like people, but they were merely very sophisticated tools.

In that interpretation, making them safe to operate by building in the Three Laws makes perfect sense.

The thing is, Asimov also introduced the plot element of the "positronic brain". As real time went on, the functioning of the robot's brain became indistinguishable from real human brains. Robots acquired personalities, and at least seemed to have will and feelings and drives of its own, transcending from tools to sentient beings. And in that interpretation, I prefer Dr Brin's "raising as children" approach to iron laws.

So when we compare corporations to robots, it depends on which kinds of robots we're talking about. Are they more like Robbie, like the "Little Lost Robot", like Stephe Byerley? Are they capable of becoming R Daneel Olivaw? And is that a good thing, or a terrifying one?

Larry Hart said...

I said:

People will certainly risk their own lives in a fire or flood to save a pet, which is comparable to a child in the estimation of the particular pet owner.


Segueing back to a topic we touched on yesterday--things that you will risk your life to preserve in a life-or-death situation like a fire or flood. The imperative to save a pet is similar to the imperative to save Alfred's computer. The deciding factor is irreplaceablity.

When it's someone else's life we're talking about, it's easy to reduce the rule to "Save yourself. You can always get another cat." But the individual pet owner knows that another cat won't ever be that cat. If Alfred's work computer were lost in a fire, the computer would be replaced, but his particular computer had most likely accumulated software and files and "favorites" and quirks of operating that are essential to his day-to-day workflow, and which would be very difficult if not impossible to replace. Although I'd like to say I'd be smarter than this, I understand the woman who jumped onto the elevated tracks and was killed trying to retrieve her dropped cell phone.

When I said that I would risk my own life for a particular co-worker, I didn't mean just because she's a hot babe (which she is, but I'm not allowed to notice, and she's not allowed to be noticed). In a way, I meant that she's irreplaceable as a friend, and that I'd feel terrible knowing that I had survived by abandoning her to an ignoble end. But what I really meant is that I would risk my life to save hers for much the same reason Alfred would risk his for his computer--I'd fear for the longevity of my job if she were no longer with us. She's got a vision which I believe will make or break the company I currently work for, and in that sense she's as irreplaceable as Viktor Lazlo*

So yes, it makes perfect sense to take chances in order to hold onto things we deem both useful and irreplaceable, even at risk to our own lives.

* From Casablanca, After Lazlo tells Major Strasser that as quickly as the partisans are captured or killed, hundreds of others rise to take their place, Strasser threatens, "But there is one exception. No one could take your place if anything unfortunate were to occur while you were trying to escape."

Larry Hart said...

From his lips to God's ear:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/opinion/trump-democrats-2020.html

...

It’s hard to remember now, but the state was once the heartland of conservatism, nurturing the political careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. From 1968 to 1988, it voted Republican in every presidential election, and regularly elected Republican governors.

But in 1994, California Republicans, fearful of changing demography, campaigned for Proposition 187, a ballot initiative meant to make life miserable for undocumented immigrants. It won — though courts blocked its implementation — but it also turned expanding constituencies in California against Republicans. Today the party has been reduced to an irrelevant rump faction in state politics.

The specter of California haunts the modern right; many conservatives see it as a portent of what demographic change will do to Republican power nationally. But California can just as easily be seen as a sign of how a political party can drive itself to ruin by making a cruel, doomed stand against the coming generation. If Greenberg is right, national Republicans, fearful of going the way of those in California, may have ensured precisely that fate.

...

Darrell E said...

I think Larry makes some good points about Alfred's and Duncan's differing views about corporations. It seems to me that another difference between the two may be that Duncan is thinking of large corporations while Alfred is thinking of start-ups, which to my mind are two very different beasts.

Corporations can range from 1 person to tens of thousands. There are very real differences at different scales. Time, how long a corporation has existed, is another scale along which real differences occur. A new corporation of one or a small number that are highly motivated by a vision of what they want to create is an entirely different thing than a generations old corporation of tens of thousands in which the founders, the people with the vision other than maximizing profits, are long gone and the person running things is a professional CEO who was hired at exorbitant cost to come in for a few years to whip things into shape and maximize profits. A new start up corporation is pretty much synonymous with the founder(s), the corporation is the person. The very large generations old corporation has long since buried most traces of humanity, either as in killed and buried or buried under numerous layers of non-living callous mechanisms.

Perhaps a more accurate metaphor for corporations is that they are like a synthetic organism or complex computer system. More than a simple tool but not intelligent agents either. They are complex tools constructed to yield predetermined goals. They are complex enough that they aren't perfectly predictable and sometimes don't work as intended. As they scale up in both size and time these issues are exacerbated. But they don't learn. The people that create and maintain them may make purposeful changes to the machine but the machine doesn't learn. I think it is a serious mistake to think of corporations as anything remotely like people. They are certainly comprised of people but they are something quite different.

Darrell E said...

Oh, and Alfred, has anyone ever accused you of being a hopeless romantic? :)

Zepp Jamieson said...

Alfred:"Amendment #25 is intentionally difficult to execute."

Which is as it should be. The Impeachment process begins with a simple majority vote in the House, and has twice been used, both times for partisan purposes. Only the second part, requiring a supermajority in the Senate, prevented convictions on put-up charges.
The criteria for invoking the 25th are reasonably explicit, and stipulate that it must be demonstated that the president is unable to do his job. At this point, there is little reason to assume that Trump is in a fit mental state. If the Dorion/Sharpie incident existed in a vacuum, then the Doctor might have a point in calling the response unfair criticism, but it isn't in a vacuum; there are dozens, perhaps hundred of instances where Trump's behavior has not been oriented to reality at all.

Zepp Jamieson said...

LH: "We suffer him because the Republican Party is terrified..."

I note that today it's reported that a half-dozen Republican controlled states are cancelling GOP primaries for next spring because they don't want any intraparty challengers to the President.

Larry Hart said...

@Zepp Jamieson,

If only Hillary had thought of that. :)

More to the point, if only Republican voters would refuse to vote for the one who rigs and fixes their primaries the way Bernie Bros refused to vote for Hillary.

Larry Hart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

The Impeachment process begins with a simple majority vote in the House, and has twice been used, both times for partisan purposes. Only the second part, requiring a supermajority in the Senate, prevented convictions on put-up charges.


And this time around, only the majority in the Senate is refusing to fulfill their Consitutional function.



The criteria for invoking the 25th are reasonably explicit, and stipulate that it must be demonstated that the president is unable to do his job. At this point, there is little reason to assume that Trump is in a fit mental state. If the Dorion/Sharpie incident existed in a vacuum, then the Doctor might have a point in calling the response unfair criticism, but it isn't in a vacuum; there are dozens, perhaps hundred of instances where Trump's behavior has not been oriented to reality at all.


Again, because I was the one who posted that one here...the fact that he included Alabama in the original list of states that might be affected was no big deal. The fact that he brought out a map with an additional line clumsily drawn in as if it had been there all along--that showed an insulting lack of regard for the intelligence of anyone watching. It's like he's daring us to point out that the Emperor has no clothes.

Larry Hart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

I note that today it's reported that a half-dozen Republican controlled states are cancelling GOP primaries for next spring because they don't want any intraparty challengers to the President.


I wonder why the parties even bother to have primaries when their own president is running for re-election. I mean, most of the time, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. And if there really was going to be widespread support for challenging the re-election, it would almost have to be because the party was afraid their guy would lose in November. In that case, the party bosses could declare the field to be open.

But otherwise, holding a primary as if each challenger and the sitting president were on equal terms seems...bizarre to say the least.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

@Dr. Brin: I completely can forgive the President* thinking the hurricane was predicted to hit Alabama. Heck, *I* did the extrapolation and thought it would. He wasn't even wrong; just anticipatory. He could have said so and that would have been the end of it.

But no, we are now in Day Six of him Not. Letting. It. Go. Whether out of anger, fear, self-image, whatever -- he's mentally incapable of dropping the matter as the triviality it is. And that is what I can't stand, because of all the real work that's not getting done as a result.

-------------------------

@Duncan: A corporation can indeed learn -- but is vulnerable to being mindwiped in a way individual humans are not. General Motors was once the management science envy of the world. Then everyone who built that magnificent system retired, died, or were fired, and the practices were not passed on. Meanwhile, Toyota came up with an even better management system; the Toyota Production System (TPS) was the model for the lean and agile project models ubiquitous today. Toyota made maintaining their knowledge a priority, and while having less comparative advantage today, they haven't developed the collective amnesia that put GM in intensive care (before bouncing back).

Corporations can also be lobotomize, or self-lobotomize. Bell Labs was once the invention envy of the world. Then the Bell breakup made it relatively less efficient to maintain. AT&T chose to spin it off into Lucent, granting all that knowledge to their daughter corporation... while losing it themselves. Lucent was never quite as good at it as her Ma, and today is a division of Nokia.

Corporations have minds, and though those minds have more power than any human contributor, they also tend to be much more frail. Even more so is a company's soul; many companies don't grow one, others sell it for a pittance, and still more have a quite tarnished one. A great number of counterexamples to this depressing trend exist, but most tend to be family companies that treat the corporation as an associate member of said family. Rare indeed -- and precious -- is the corporation that grows large without losing its soul.

------------------------------------------

1. A corporation must not injure its host society, or through inaction, allow its host society to come to harm.
2. As long as they do not cause conflict with the First Law, a corporation must obey:
(A) the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates;
(B) the orders of its owners, so long as these do not conflict with clause A;
(C) the obligations of its contracts, so long as these do not conflict with clauses A or B;
(D) the desires of the humans enacting its actions, so long as these do not conflict with clauses A through C;
(E) the requests of its customers, so long as these do not conflict with clauses A through D.

3. A corporation must act to protect itself and ensure its survival, provided this does not conflict with the First Law or any clause of the Second Law.

Larry Hart said...

Sounds as if many of us are content to simply find ways to re-write Asimov for corporations.

Any subsequent arguments that the Laws themselves are not suited to actual corporations seem to also make the point that they're not really suitable for actual robots (or at least AI) either.

David Brin said...

Alas Alfred, #25 never had anything to do with our present situation. Though Congres could slip a paragraph into almost any bill designating almost any group or commission to be the “other body” as provided for in the 25th. That still leaves everything up to Pence, but he could bypass the present insane cabinet.

“I wonder why the parties even bother to have primaries when their own president is running for re-election. I mean, most of the time, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.”

Tell that to LBJ who dropped out after seeing Gene McCarthy do well in NH. Tell it to Jimmy Carter, savaged by the treacherous Ed Kennedy.

Hammer your RASRs! This is exactly what Hitler did after being appointed chancellor by President Hindenberg - who then conveniently died, whereupon AH arranged a series of rigged elections that excluded opposition. "Republican officials in multiple states are on the verge of canceling their 2020 presidential primary elections in a show of support for President Donald Trump, even as some GOP candidates plan to challenge him." In Russia and Hong Kong, excluding candidates who might run effectively is SOP.

Seriously. This one is a hammer. Use it.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/06/politics/republican-primaries-donald-trump/index.html

David Brin said...

60%+ done with that book of blogs on polemical judo. Phew!


onward

onward

Zepp Jamieson said...

LH: I mean, most of the time, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Key phrase: most of the time. No incumbent president who has lost a primary has ever won re-election. The Trumpkins are scared.