Saturday, November 02, 2019

Go Into The Light


Most of this posting is about Transparency  and issues like face recognition.  But essentially it's how those who are fighting hardest to prevent an Orwellian tomorrow keep making the same mistake -- falling into Big Brother's trap.

== Get used to light. USE the light! ==

This article - We Cannot Afford to Lose the Digital Revolution - from The New York Times repeats the same pattern we see every time a concerned and intelligent person looks at information-related dilemmas, nowadays. 

(1) by correctly listing threats to our safety and freedom that will arise from cheaters gathering powers of surveillance and 

(2) absolutely refusing to go beyond the hand-wringing stage, howling that the sky is falling, or demanding we all run and hide! Always ignoring the obvious solution.

“There are four key implications of this revolution that policymakers in the national security sector will need to address: The first is that the unprecedented scale and pace of technological change will outstrip our ability to effectively adapt to it. Second, we will be in a world of ceaseless and pervasive cyberinsecurity and cyberconflict against nation-states, businesses and individuals. Third, the flood of data about human and machine activity will put such extraordinary economic and political power in the hands of the private sector that it will transform the fundamental relationship, at least in the Western world, between government and the private sector. Finally, and perhaps most ominously, the digital revolution has the potential for a pernicious effect on the very legitimacy and thus stability of our governmental and societal structures.” - notes Glenn S. Gerstell.

And now the State of California’s legislature – responding with sincere worry about misuse and with copious good intentions – is threatening to “ban face recognition systems,” a move of stunning technological cluelessness and out-the-gate utter futility. Worse, because there are ways to fix the perceived problems without shouting at the tide – at a tsunami – not to come in.

There are ways to navigate these (and many other) minefields. Some are on the table. Allocate money to innovation aimed at prevention (including attribution and deterrence). Invest in a skilled and confidently well-prepared professional protector caste that can counterbalance elites of money or criminality or hostile foreign powers.

But above all, there is one antidote to all of the failure modes described in that hand-wringing paragraph. 

It's light. Light that flows ever more upon elites that might abuse power, or at the criminals who might prey on us. If we citizens are doomed to live exposed, how about recognizing and accepting that coming world, and using its salient trait in our favor?

 

It never occurs to them. Even when you explain it in detail and show a myriad historical examples… and even after they nod and say “wow, I get it…” the very next day they are running through the street screaming like chicken little.

Dig it. We have one way out – to go into the light. But none of our paladins of freedom will look, or even notice the light is there.  Sometimes I feel as if I am living in “Poltergeist.”

== Well… maybe a little illumination ==

A worthwhile endeavor I have touted before: ChangeAView.com exists to facilitate productive discussions between people who have different perspectives. “Posting to CAV is based on the idea that we only benefit from fully understanding counter-arguments to our opinions -- and whether or not our views change meaningfully as a result, we will most likely gain something, even if that's just an improved understanding of our own position. Responding to another post helps people understand your perspective on their topic, possibly earning a delta if you change someone's view in the process.” 

Of course this approach is based on an assumption that’s inherently ‘positive-sum’… the idea that I express with CITOKATE or “Criticism is the Only Known Antidote to Error”… or at least the human trait that comes in second only to love itself… curiosity.  If you are mature and confident enough to know that criticism helps to make you better – (it even helps refine your methods so that you can better defeat your enemies) – then you might use ChangeAView.

Alas, there are powerful forces within our society who are terrified by positive sum thinking. This includes many oligarchs whose sycophant flatterers tell them over and over that they really are smart; no really! Some do get positive sum (Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, so not all rich dudes are stupid). But those who would rebuild feudalism seem hell bent on crushing the very concept by riling us all against each other, delusionally imagining this might benefit them, over the long run. Hence, the very notion of mutually beneficial argument is in decline.  

I offer another approach, a bit more ferociously competitive, but still aimed at the same place. Helping us solve problems. Helping us grow up a little. For a rather intense look at how "truth" is determined in science, democracy, courts and markets, see the lead article in the American Bar Association's Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University), v.15, N.3, pp 597-618, Aug. 2000, "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition."   
Or else see a condensed version, on my website.

But for now, what’s needed is traffic and discussion and lively activity at positive-sum oriented sites like ChangeAView.com… and for different reasons the discussions at TASAT! Perhaps a better use of time than reading what you’re reading right now!

 == Visions of the Future =

Ring Let Cops Know How Often Their Requests For Camera Footage Were Ignored.” In this case the sousveillance is inherent in the news article and in you spreading it. 

There are two models for omnipresent cameras 
(1) state run and top-down... China and Britain, where cops get instant access
 -- vs 
(2) most cams in the U.S. are privately owned. When asked, everyone in Boston swiftly handed over footage that caught the marathon bomber. But the Seattle pepper spray cops got almost zero cooperation from locals. The difference between those evens in Seattle and Boston amounted to a plebiscite on public trust of the cops and the urgency of their need.

Are these two models of the future? The proliferation of cheap cams will make us all visible, all the time. So what matters is not futilely limiting police view, but the inherent right of citizens to look back and to express (when necessary) vigorous criticism and dissent.

There's an aspect to all of this that is seldom mentioned. In that world of pervasive cams, most kinds of crime will go down or be quickly solved, hence a decent society will have fewer cops. Will that actually be the outcome here? As opposed to China? That depends on us. 

“Every society faces not merely a succession of probable futures, but an array of possible futures, and a conflict over preferable futures. … Determining the probable calls for a science of futurism. Delineating the possible calls for an art of futurism. Defining the preferable calls for a politics of futurism. The worldwide futurist movement today does not yet differentiate clearly among these functions.”

        -- Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (1969), as related in a recent essay by John Smart. 

Smart also believes we are heading toward a “DandD world” – one where densification (the migration of leading complexity to physical inner space) and dematerialization (the growth of virtual inner space) will be far more important than our dispersal into outer space. Smart speculates that future humanity may use nanotechnology, and new architectures like quantum computing, to make even denser, more capable, and more intelligent systems than biology has to date.

But it goes on, the incredible foolishness of well-intended folks:

San Francisco recently banned facial recognition technologyThe city’s ban on the technology could set a nationwide precedent.  Okay, this raises a clear point, though not the one intended. Although it happens much less often, some liberals can be as dumb as their confed opponents. How is this supposed to work, when both hardware and software get better at exponential rates. And cameras get faster, cheaper, smaller, better and more mobile quicker than Moore's law? There are already face recognition apps! Nothing will keep all elites from having this, though by law you might prevent average folks, for a while. How is that supposed to help, again?

----

And yes, a reminder: See my new e-book POLEMICAL JUDO that sets our current crisis in many perspectives you’ve never seen before! I offer 100+ tactics to counter the would-be destroyers of our Great Experiment.  


103 comments:

scidata said...

Just an interesting bit of physics. Researchers have recently managed to non-destructively detect and characterize phonons (sound equivalent of photons). "Analogous experiments with light were the first step toward much of today's work on quantum computers" Lasers and mirrors might have sound analogies too.
- Scientific American, Oct 2019, p.18

Jerry Emanuelson said...

David, since I don't remember ever seeing you mention any of the transparency auditors that are operating across the United States, I wanted to make sure you were aware of them. An incident involving a transparency auditor here in Colorado Springs two years ago turned out quite well in the end.

A transparency auditor was photgraphing a local police station from a public sidewalk. As a result, the transparency auditor was illegally detained for 2 hours. The Colorado Springs Police Department agreed to pay the transparency auditor $41,000 and to update police policy and provide local police with training on transparency and citizen rights.

For details, see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1f8mrfw8_Q

and

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EvPFKmoiVw

Larry Hart said...




San Francisco recently banned facial recognition technology.
...
How is this supposed to work, when both hardware and software get better at exponential rates. And cameras get faster, cheaper, smaller, better and more mobile quicker than Moore's law? There are already face recognition apps! Nothing will keep all elites from having this, though by law you might prevent average folks, for a while. How is that supposed to help, again?


I'm not sure you understand what San Francisco is doing. It is not banning private usage of any technology (How could they?). They are making it illegal for their own police forces to use facial recognition to keep tabs on individuals in public spaces.

As you correctly point out, that doesn't solve the entire problem, but rather than a futile action against elites, it is an example of an elite forswearing the use of technology, at least "until our elected representatives figure out what's going on." Seems like a decent gesture, not all that different from a Constitutional government limiting its own power over its citizens.

Tony Fisk said...

The problem with monsters, as Sarah Kendzior keeps pointing out, is that they don't mind being seen, or caught, breaking the law. They may even revel in it (a 'tell').

What they do fear are consequences. This may seem obvious, but what have the consequences been for the current mob so far?

---

Something of interest that's just come onto my radar is a new game for PS4 called 'Death Stranding'. You get to wander a vast post-apocalyptic landscape toting packages to deliver to the people scattered across the countryside to re-establish and maintain connections between communities...
Sound familiar to folks here?
The gaming community aren't renowned for their caring, sharing outlook on life, but this just might be something extraordinary.

scidata said...

Some have already made 'The Postman' connection.
https://collider.com/death-stranding-review/

Oh great, more spoilers. That's what I get for being such a latecomer to the Brin universe. Why can't someone make a decent "Foundation" movie/game?

Larry Hart said...

scidata:

Why can't someone make a decent "Foundation" movie/game?


Seems like a natural for a game. Your mission is to keep the Seldon Plan on track to build a new, better Galactic society.

Tony Fisk said...

The connection is very hard to miss if you know "The Postman". I only came across the game today, so sorry if it's old news to some. We'll see how well it meets its creator's hopes as a counter to social media toxicity. The reviewers I looked at did seem to get it, and derove some pleasure in "getting the mail through". I am curious as to what the bebes are about, though.

Tony Fisk said...

@larry you'd have to avoid the linearity trap. A Foundation game might work as a systems simulation: here's a galactic empire. Don't break it too much. The problem then is keeping it simple enough to be enjoyed as a game.

Jon S. said...

Thanks for the review link, Sci. Sounds like they would have been better off to take the original ideas behind Death Stranding, then try to copy the mechanics of Fallout New Vegas (which parts of the description reminded me of strongly).

In fact, the central mission behind the game (try to reunite humanity and stop the invasions of Horrible Critters What Want To Kill You and Are Intelligent) is pretty much the way I play the latter-day Fallout series (the first two games are too linear, but starting with Fallout 3 and its DLC that becomes a goal you can see maybe happening one day, provided you don't set off the bomb in Megaton or join the Raiders in the Nuka-World DLC for Fallout 4). That's why in FNV, the faction I try to support is the New California Republic - Robert House wants what he wants for New Vegas and to hell with the rest of the Mojave, and leaving Yes Man in charge of New Vegas in your name would seem to lead inevitably to chaos. (As for the Legion, the less said the better - Raiders would be a preferable fate.)

And yes, FNV owes a lot to The Postman as well - your character is a courier for the Mojave Express message-delivery service who starts off the game being waylaid by someone determined to steal a platinum poker chip he/she is delivering, and the Lonesome Road DLC involves someone determined to bring your character to justice after forcing him/her to realize the horrors inflicted by an earlier delivery (a device dispatched by the Enclave, which unbeknownst to the character tried to activate the remaining nuclear silos in the area now called the Divide - sadly, the launch facilities were too badly damaged in the Great War, so all the missiles exploded on launch, with predictable results).

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

A Foundation game might work as a systems simulation: here's a galactic empire. Don't break it too much.


Maybe. I was thinking more along the lines of "Here's a galactic empire in the process of falling apart. Fix it." I suppose it could be called "Make the Galaxy Great Again!" Heh.

Howard Brazee said...

I'm willing to pay the cost of me losing privacy—my big want is that our "public servants" lose their privacy. We need to know what they are doing.

David Brin said...

LH The ban on cops using FaceRec is futile in a dozen ways. It chases a useful tech underground, where its use by authority can’t be monitored. If used properly and supervised, it can remove violent fugitives from the streets and help sufferers of abuse to enforce restraining orders. What is the objection to crime actually going down? In a tyranny, that causes the cops to up their number of crimes to enforce, but in a decent society, lower crime should mean fewer cops!

There’s no logic to it, at all. Especially at the level of “What exact bad scenario are you legislating against?”

Howard Brazee said…”I’m willing to pay the cost of me losing privacy—my big want is that our "public servants" lose their privacy. We need to know what they are doing.”

Well yeah, but I want criminal gangs, oligarchs mafiosi and foreign despots to lose theirs, even earlier.

David Brin said...


Yeah Tony, folks have been linking me to DEATH STRANDING, for obvious reasons. Frankly, I am tired of getting “homage” ripped off without even marginal efforts to show me minimal courtesy.

Scdata provided one link that made the Postman connection PLEASE PROVIDE OTHERS. If 3 or more made the connection…

jim said...

CITOKATE is such a 2000 era Brin quote.

2019 Brin’s CITOKATE * as long as the criticism doesn’t come from someone you don’t like. If someone you don’t like makes substantial criticisms of your ideas, you can just ignore them.

For example, if someone you are annoyed with challenges you to actually operationalize your idea of “positive sum”. If they want to see how you handle the multitude of methodological issues surrounding doing an accurate accounting of the positive and negative effects of a particular set of actions in the real world, (You know that annoying person who want you to show the details of why some actions are “positive sum” or not ) you can just ignore them. It is really hard work.

David Brin said...

Five devastating rebuttals to use with our worst allies... the mad ones who would "split" our coalition.

http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2019/08/five-devastating-rebuttals-to-use-with.html

David Brin said...

I love it (not) when people who have zero neuronal ability to grasp positive-sum lecture us about it. We have two mysogynist fellows of the trog right who do it. And yes, you find it on the "left."

For jim, who rejects coalition building and the consideration of inconvenient facts, in favor of trivially-refuted dogma-incantations, to lecture us about accepting criticism is rich. Look at the back of every one of my books. No author has thanked more tough pre-readers. In science I experience the hard knocks of what's called "objective reality" - the destroyer of blithe hypotheses. But jim? Can't even glance at my Five challenges to splitters" without cringing and fleeing.

"accurate accounting of the positive and negative effects of a particular set of actions in the real world" oh, that's rich. Apparently "incantations" are what he calls "facts."
Look up "projection," silly person.

scidata said...

I've made this point before, but it's simple and quick.
Homo sapiens teetered on the brink of extinction 70k years ago
We hit 1B around 1800
We are just shy of 8B now

How would this be possible without positive sum economics/tech/*culture/sociology? Please argue with me. I need some of that good, good CITOKATE.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:
There’s no logic to it, at all. Especially at the level of “What exact bad scenario are you legislating against?”


Against accusations and harrassment based on faulty data.

But maybe I'm just trying too hard to give the benefit of the doubt that there's a reason other than near-universal incompetence why certain things are done a certain way.

jim said...

Well thanks for demonstrating my point!

When challenged to actually do the accounting and show how you handle the real world complexity of your idea of positive sum, you insult the person making the criticism. How dare a “splitter” question the validity of one of your central ideas.

COCWIFPIL is the new CITOKATE
Criticism Only Counts When It’s From People I Like

scidata said...

Here's a clever title from a Malaysian newspaper:
Death Stranding: Post-apocalyptic postman
https://www.thestar.com.my/tech/tech-news/2019/11/04/death-stranding-post-apocalyptic-postman

jim said...

Scidata
Thanks for demonstrating how shitty accounting leads to the belief in “positive sum”.

In your schema the only thing that matters is the number of people and there are no cost to account for. So of course you think it is positive sum.

Is the number of people the only thing of value?
Were there not costs involved in growing the number of people into the billions?

scidata said...

jim: In your schema the only thing that matters is the number of people and there are no cost to account for.

That is the alltime TROG award winner.
So you think the Toba catastrophe was our high point?

jim said...

Scidata
I am trying to get you to think about how to actually operationalize the concept of “positive sum” in the sense that David Brin talks about.

I used to believe in it, I thought of it as a subset of positive feedback loops. But the more I tried to do the accounting I kept running into bigger and bigger problems.

The one that is real killer is that you need smash all the complexity of the good and bad things in the world into a single unidimensional measure. How much value is your mother love worth? How much value is a species existence worth? What is the value of a stable climate? What measure of value would allow you add in the love of your mother and subtract out the loss of a stable climate and do it in a quantitative, objective way?

scidata said...

70k years ago:
Total Mothers Love: ~10,000 ML
Species existence: teetering the brink, probably 10:1 against.
Stable climate: Toba supervolcano ELE

Today:
Total Mothers Love: ~1,000,000,000 ML
Species existence: on the verge of escaping Earth's deathtrap
Stable climate: the science is good, the general literacy isn't; fixable

jim said...

I was talking about the species we have driven to extinction. What are they worth?

Your assertion that climate change is fixable is not held by most climate scientists. How do you account for the fact that one group of people get the benefits of burning fossil fuels and other groups of people bare the cost of climate change? The people getting the benefits of fossil fuels may think they are positive sum but the people who did not get the benefits from burning fossil fuels but have to bear the consequences sure don't.

David Brin said...

Speaking ve-e-r-ry sl-o-o-owly for jim's benefit. I accuse you of projecting and whining... and you answer with more whining.

To the rest of you, some modeling: Dig it, criticism scales, like most human activities. The highest quality - and rare - citokate not only targets errors but offers huseful-helpful suggestions & alternatives. The 2nd tier is on-target pointing out of things that aren't working, though not how to fix it. I have on my large pre-reader list some of the first and a lot of the second.... including some who have flat out told me that my comedy novel would be a "career killer"!

An even larger tier is those who failed to understand what you said or wrote... and that failure is YOUR FAULT as a communicator. So even if their specific feedback is all-wrong, it can be very useful at helping you realize what needs refining.

Even larger on this critical pyramid, are raging asses who still help by showing all the deliberate misunderstandings that could be used against you by bozos who eagerly want to spew in order to bring down a public figure. And of course below that lies a vast, stinking stew of rage repeaters who have lately been riled by every dark force, in order to turn normal citokate into a cancer.

Now I did not type all of that in order to answer "jim," who does not merit any more of my time than his fellow zero-sum cripple, locumranch. But some of you might get a better perspective on how I've been able to overcome the natural human tendency to avoid crit, and instead benefit from vast amounts of it. Ten minutes of which would wither jim like a twig.

But, yes, I am human and can be irritated by swill-crit by -- yes -- idiots.

jim. What facts or challenges did you offer me? None. Just projection whines. I offered you Five devastating rebuttals to use with our worst allies... the mad ones who would "split" our coalition. You have never glanced at them, let alone spent the time or mental energy to refute them. The ball is in YOUR court, pretender.

Till then, here's the answer I generally give locumranch... except on vitamins day...


Zzzzzzzzzzz... snork... zzzzzzzz

David Brin said...

Eeep! He can't even be bothered to actually READ and understand the very brief lines that scidata wrote. Son, the core element of citokate... and science... is "there's a least a smidgeon chance my initial reflex to lash at what I just skimmed MIGHT BE WRONG."

Do what my friend Hal told me one awful day;
"Dave, I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over."

jim said...

David,

I will accept that your use of the term “positive sum” is a purely polemical device that you use to batter your opponents with. You have no interest in actually trying to make it factual, objective or in any way scientific. But it does sound very truthy so keep at it.

Jon S. said...

Yeah, that's why I shrouded jim a couple months back. He's a lefty locoranch.

What California seeks to prevent, Dr. Brin, is what China's using facial rec technology for - keeping track of individual citizens, whether or not they're subject to any sort of investigation. We do prize our anonymity in this country, after all. I'm not at all certain this legislation would succeed at its goal, but that is its goal.

The problem is, transparency in this setting depends on whistleblowers, because we obviously can't just throw open all police records of ongoing investigations to whomever - that would be the end of the very concept of stings. And recent history has shown us that we can't depend on police to, well, self-police - in my area, there has been instituted a policy wherein investigations into police actions must be carried out by unrelated police organizations (for instance, an incident in Spanaway, WA, in which a man reportedly threatened officers with a knife and was shot - the area is under the jurisdiction of Pierce County sheriffs, so the investigation is under the auspices of the Tacoma PD), in order to minimize the probability of cover-ups. If nobody's willing to cross the "thin blue line" and report misuse of the system, then transparency doesn't exist.

Phaedrusnailfile said...

I notice Jon S and others have brought up the similarities of a couple of games to The Postman. I was wondering if any one thought that the Bruce Willis movie "Surrogates" bore a striking resemblance to Kiln People. It may well be that the similarities are only minor like in say the Altered Carbon netflix series, but i am curious as to whether or not anyone else noticed.

David Brin said...

Another classy incantation response.

"*I* don't understand 'positive-sum?' Well.... well... YOU don't!!!!"

What a silly person. Some back when you have enough focus and courage to actually refute the stuff at: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2019/08/five-devastating-rebuttals-to-use-with.html

Get some vitamins, son.

Tony Fisk said...

To paraphrase Jim's last comment: "I will accept my definition of positive sum."

I daresay he will.

Larry Hart said...

jim is trying to say that the benefit of humanity's existence/survival might not be worth the cost to the universe.

YMMV, but I think that's an accurate representation of his argument.

Larry Hart said...

Phaedrusnailfile:

I was wondering if any one thought that the Bruce Willis movie "Surrogates" bore a striking resemblance to Kiln People.


I don't for sure remember the title of the movie that I saw a trailer for and immediately thought, "They're assuming no one watching this has read Kiln People", but I'm guessing we're talking about the same movie.

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

To paraphrase Jim's last comment: "I will accept my definition of positive sum."


"I'll accept it [that the election result is legitimate] if I win."

jim said...

You blather on and on about positive sum but when someone comes along and wants you to prove it – you know actually show how you are supposed to add up all the positive stuff and subtract out the negative stuff - you respond with insults for the person dares to ask for proof.

take some vitamins, put on that thinking cap
I double dog dare you.

jim said...

Larry, Tony

I have been pretty clear that the belief in positive sum is due to crappy accounting and deep methodological issues related to how you compare (and add and subtract) incommensurate things/ values.

Rather than just bitch at me sit down and think for a while about how you would actually do the accounting to decide weather or not the use of fossil fuels is positive sum or not?

I am serious, give it some thought you might find out that it is impossible to decide if the use of fossil fuels is positive sum or not.

David Brin said...

locum rules applied. I will ignore anything further from this silly-stupid coward for the rest of the month. Stop feeding the troll, guys. But let me know if he actually takes up the challenge.

A.F. Rey said...

It would be an interesting philosophical exercise to try to figure out a way to prove that, in the entire universe and taking into account everything, if there is a thing like "positive sum." But that's all it would be--philosophy.

Think in practical terms.

We know about negative-sum systems, e.g. entropy.

We know about zero-sum systems, e.g. poker. :)

So how do you describe a system where, for the salient characteristics of that system, you come out with more than you started with? Those are positive-sum.

Certainly there may be parts outside the system you are measuring that may be affected and counteract the positive-sum aspect of the system. But, by that reasoning, how do you know there are zero-sum or negative-sum systems, either? Have you, or anyone, examined every possible interaction of these systems to prove that there isn't some other aspect of the universe that changes them? Would the aspects that we are interested in change with that knowledge? ;)

If the salient aspects of a positive-sum system are positive, then why worry if they have negative consequences somewhere else when comparing to the other systems--negative sum and zero sum. And if there are negative consequences, then you handle them on a case-by-case basis.

But why waste time "proving" there is such a thing as a positive-sum system. By the same reasoning, no one can prove there are negative-sum or zero-sum systems. Just live with the knowledge that, for certain, limited (and probably defining) aspects of systems, some are negative-sum, some zero-sum, and some positive-sum. And go for the positive-sum systems when they truly are so.

David Brin said...

Proving positive sum to those who wallow in its benefits, experiencing more luxury and lack of fear and adventure and wish gratification than all ancestors, combined - but who need the added masturbatory rush of indignant ingrate resentment - is a total waste of time. They just don't have the neural pathways. We've seen it.

To be clear, the amazing thing is that we evolved that ability at all! Moreover, more than half of all Americans seem capable of grasping it at least dimly.

Alas, we nee dor the glass to be more than halfway full.

duncan cairncross said...

Jon S
We do prize our anonymity in this country,

And there's the rub!

The US population have been brought up to "prize our anonymity" despite the fact that said anonymity massively benefits the cheaters and Oligarchy

And not just the US population - we have all been hit by this
When I first read "Earth" one of the huge "hits" on my imagination was the idea of "Privacy" as a "bad thing"

jim and "positive sum" - if you spread the net wide enough then nothing is positive sum
As Larry Hart said
jim is trying to say that the benefit of humanity's existence/survival might not be worth the cost to the universe.

Fossil fuels - it is entirely possible that a civilisation could use up all of it's fossil fuels and end up back where it started
BUT - that is NOT what we have done!
We have used the cheap energy to develop replacement long term technologies that will mean that we can still use cheap energy long after all of the fossil fuel is gone
We now have Wind and Solar and Hydro - all renewable and all massively energy positive (provide more than 40 times the initial construction energy)




David Brin said...

Export entropy. Carbon in the atmosphere blocks that. Accessing space resources will let us get so rich ...

Alfred Differ said...

One of the dangers with using game theory terminology is the argument trap where we debate the entries in the reward matrix. Even the term 'reward' halts the discussion since it includes negative numbers which are better seen as costs. The trap is described thusly.

I describe Game X with Players A and B in terms of the rules, the choices, and the outcomes. The rules might be simple or complex covering everything from whether players take turns, act all at once, have perfect/imperfect knowledge, and whether the game iterates, stops, and whether the players know all this too.

Someone else points out there are other 'players' impacted by the game that aren't accounted for in the outcome table. Perhaps I should include them? Perhaps A or B is already including them? Until the ambiguity is resolved, the game I described represents nothing about the real situation.

I point out that the rules don't prevent A or B for addressing externalities if they wish, so there is no need to account for others. Besides, some of those others aren't even human. I have no idea what the cost table would look like for them. Since they don't get to decide anything, they aren't even a player, so I'm not going to address them directly as players or in the rules. The existing game is good enough because A and B can adapt to what they know if they wish.

The critic is unsatisfied because the game does not represent all the participants in the environment. At best, my game is an approximation that cannot morally be used by ethical people interested in the welfare of all participants. Well… this is where it goes when the game involves environmental trade-offs.



There are two errors of thought committed when someone lays out this trap.

1) Game theory is better described as 'strategic decision theory'. Players must be capable of strategic planning. Some non-human participants might be able to do this, but great caution is needed to avoid imagining them as more human-capable than they are.

2) We are participants in games trying to imagine the costs/rewards for other players. When we try to encode externalities, we risk trying to be both player and non-player and introducing bias.

Jim is guilty of both, but it is the second that will be hardest for him to address. How exactly are we to account for the huge number of species that humanity has driven to extinction? I don't know. I'm sure he doesn't either, but I'm pretty sure he will argue for a higher cost we must suffer for this act than I would.



Scidata's use of human population numbers is a decent proxy for the net cost/reward to humanity for the many strategic decisions we've faced over thousands of generations, but it is damn near certain to trigger people who argue for the notion that humanity is a kind of cancer on the Earth. The proxy avoids the need to know exact rules and exact outcome tables. It relies on human biology for its ultimate results table. On average, humans want to reproduce. Whatever rewards we acquire, they get spent on or handed down to our children. If economic growth is slow, human population is a perfect proxy for the accumulation of 'wealth' generated by games of previous generations. If productivity growth is higher than women can reproduce, then we must account for the various forms of stored wealth as well as population numbers. Tricky. For most of human existence growth has been slow, so we've been doing the positive sum thing at least since the Toba eruption. No doubt before that too, but it's hard to argue with a super-volcano.

Alfred Differ said...

jim,

I'll say this once and then stop.

You don't get to turn a human 'game' into an environment game in order to introduce an outcome table more along the lines you prefer for representing human history. I won't accept your table entries for non-human 'players' without considerable debate. I'll point out that humans can adopt different strategies and adjust their own perceived costs and rewards as they learn of impacts to non-human 'players' too. For the vast majority of human history, those other players were seen as competitors… or food. We've come a long way away from that and the game(s) we play have adjusted accordingly. So… human games only. We are the strategic decision makers on Earth.

You MAY argue that we have the outcome table calculated incorrectly. Some of us would agree. But please… don't pretend to be able to calculate the entries for non-human players.

You may ALSO argue that the real costs to us don't arrive until some piece of the environment collapses. Until then, fossil fuels seem like such a wonderful idea, right? Some games take decades to play out. That IS a reasonable position to adopt… until you are inclined to argue that you know the entries on the outcome table for those. I'll just laugh at your hubris… and grimace a little since I once held a similar opinion.

Argue about the human game and we might engage. You'll lose, though. It has been fantastically positive sum over the last couple centuries, but most of that has been in the last half century. It has been accelerating and LITERALLY changing what it means to be human. Our Toba surviving ancestors wouldn't recognize us as their children.

Phaedrusnailfile said...

A.F. Rey I really enjoyed you post and it brought to mind a question. Could the process of evolution be viewed as a positive sum game? And I know I might be stretching a bit here, but is our hosts central thesis that as beings that are capable of self awareness we should theoretically be able to take the approach of an eyes wide open(for as long as we are capable of anyway)participant in that positive sum game?

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

The proxy avoids the need to know exact rules and exact outcome tables. It relies on human biology for its ultimate results table. On average, humans want to reproduce. Whatever rewards we acquire, they get spent on or handed down to our children


It seems to me that there's a bit more at stake than the mere human desire to reproduce.

This may change in time, but for now and the foreseeable future, human minds are the only known examples of intelligent agency in the universe. Thus, if it a good thing for the universe to have intelligent agency acting within it, then the fate of humanity is important, and that weighs into any cost/benefit analysis which pits benefits to humans against losses elsewhere. If one takes the position that intelligent agency is not important, or is indeed a detriment, then the equation changes.

I'm sure you know which side I'm on, but that's not relevant to the point I'm making. The point is that there is something to consider other than "I'm human, so I like the things that humans like, and screw everything else."

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

So… human games only. We are the strategic decision makers on Earth.


Ok, I should have read ahead. :)

Anyway, agreed, except I'd go further than "on Earth". Until demonstrated otherwise, we're the only game in town. The "town" being everything.

scidata said...

Larry Hart: the mere human desire to reproduce

Um. Socrates? Hypatia? da Vinci? Newton? Mozart? Planck? Gandhi? Asimov?
We're not a virus.

This whole disgruntled confederate thing would go away if people just grew up a wee bit and internalized the 'we'. Again, don't we want the stars?

Darrell E said...

Positive Sum and Negative Sum have to do with human interactions not the laws of physics. When humans need to figure out how to do something there are 2 different categories of calculus involved. 1 is what can be done, what do the laws of physics allow. The 2nd is what should be done, which is a values question. If you're smart you use category 1 to inform category 2, but even so it comes down to a values question. This is where Positive Sum and Negative Sum are applicable.

Trying to treat Positive Sum as a generally applicable natural law, or something, is just nonsense. Trying to widen the concept to such a scale that you are actually doing an entropy calculation is way beyond the purview of the concept. If the concept doesn't fit don't use it.

Larry Hart said...

That positive-sum transactions do exist is not open to debate. They do. We engage in them pretty much every day.

I'm walking down the street and realize that I'm hungry. I could really go for a slice of pepperoni pizza. Luckily, the corner restaurant and bar does a brisk lunch business selling slices of pizza. They're selling at #3.95 a slice. I've got $10 in my pocket, and I'd have gladly paid all of it for a slice, but luckily, I don't have to. My hunger is abated, and I've still got $6 and change in my pocket that I'd have been willing to pay, but didn't have to. The store (presumably) makes a profit on every slice they sell or they'd set a higher price or go out of business. So they make a profit. I have more than I started with. Positive sum.

What's to argue?

Some Wall St types want to attribute an "objective" price to that slice of pizza. To say that it is worth exactly $10.2342837482749827 and I'd be willing to pay that much and not a pico-cent more for it. And that when I hand my $10.2342837482749827 to the store in exchange for the pizza slice, we are engaging in a zero-sum transaction, where the pizza is worth (to me) exactly what the money I exchanged was worth (to me) and the money the store receives is worth (to them) exactly what the pizza they gave up was worth (to them).

Which looks like nonsense. If I didn't gain any value in the transaction, why would I bother engaging in it? Why not just keep the money and call it a day? Likewise, the store with the pizza? I mean, both sides must feel they are gaining value or else they wouldn't bother. You might say one side is mistaken, but can false expectations really be the underpinnings of centuries of commerce? Wouldn't someone catch on eventually?

Larry Hart said...

Heh.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/rex-huppke/ct-bears-eagles-trump-impeachment-quid-pro-quo-tweet-huppke-20191104-olr4chxywjfklm7bov6s6ymbwi-story.html

The Chicago Bears are on a four-game losing streak, but the team can swiftly save its season by adopting President Donald Trump’s approach to reality.

For example, why acknowledge a four-game losing streak when you can just as easily claim a four-game winning streak and call anyone who questions that stretch of success an unpatriotic liar?

Sunday’s Bears game against the Philadelphia Eagles was a mess, particularly the first half, with the Bears managing a total of 9 yards on offense. That’s one view of it, anyway.

Another could be: “I read the stat sheet of Sunday’s game and it was a perfect game. The only ones who think otherwise are Green Bay Packers fans and their allies in the FAKE NEWS media!!”

...

jim said...

So positive sum is when a group of humans is able to secure benefits for themselves while successfully offloading much of the cost to the rest of the living world (now and/or in the future) and/or other groups of people (now and/or in the future).

Larry Hart said...

"The living world" doesn't care. The non-living world even less so.

You're arguing for defending the universe's right to have babies when it can't have babies.

A.F. Rey said...

Why do you believe that a positive sum system requires that something be offloaded to someone or something else?

And what have you done to test that hypothesis?

Phaedrusnailfile said...

Larry Hart, thanks for pointing out the Chicago Tribune piece. Genuinely funny stuff.

David Smelser said...

I find jim's "can't prove positive sum" argument very similar the "you can't treat the economy as an engine" argument because in both cases you can't come up with an universally agreed upon utility functions.

This is partially because the participants do in fact disagree on utility.
Then there is the problem of incomplete information (people don't know what they want).
Then there is the impossibility of a single entity able to crunch the numbers.

jim said...

Let me respond to David’s Splitter challenge.

‘FIRST: Democrats had power to pass national legislation for just two years out of the last 25 “

Hrmmm, lets see that period of time corresponds to when the “new – third way – democrats” came to power under Clinton. Clinton remade the democratic party into an economically conservative but socially liberal party. First they put Hillary in charge of expanding medical care for the population and she promptly poisons the well, preventing health care reforms for decades. Then it is onto free trade and reducing welfare benefits. Economic liberals no longer have a political home.

And the only time Democrats came to power is when they hoped for change under Obama. But, as Brad DeLong says “Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy.” Not a liberal agenda a continuation of the status quo.

Shitty mandatory for profit insurance with large deductibles, copays and surprise emergency bills.
Trillions in subsidies to the banks.
NO prosecutions for the criminality in the banking, finance insurance and real estate industries. Not to mention the war mongers and tortures.
And economic stimulus package too small by 500,000,000,000 $
An all of the above energy policy that poured huge amounts of money into Fracking – very destructive environmentally and a money loser, but hey it keeps the party going for a little while longer.
Rather than ending the Global War of Terror he brought in the “SURGE” and increased fighting in Afghanistan, and kept killing men women and children with drone strikes.

Larry Hart said...

@jim,

You're complaining about the things that Democrats had to concede to get anything past Republicans in congress. So what benefit is there to punishing those Democrats by electing Republicans instead? Eliminating the middle man?

Progressives apparently didn't think President Obama and the congressional Democrats went far enough in their first term, so they stayed home in droves in 2010 and let Republicans take over the House and most state governments, therefore enshrining gerrymandering in their favor. So how did that work out for you? Would Obama and centrist Democrats really have been "just as bad" as what we've seen since then?

jim said...

Second Challenge - Awesome state democrats

David uses California as an example – a state that is literally on fire right now. A state with 3rd world levels of electrical service, South American levels of inequality and a truly perverse property tax system. I am sure the rest of the country does not want to fallow California’s awesomeness in those areas.

David Brin said...


“How exactly are we to account for the huge number of species that humanity has driven to extinction?”

And explain why that rate of extinction is always (so far) far, far smaller, in any given decade, than was confidently predicted ten years earlier. Especially if you go by genus (which matters) instead of species (which matters far less over millennia),

“Wall St types want to attribute an "objective" price to that slice of pizza.”

utter parasites.

‘jim’: “So positive sum is when a group of humans is able to secure benefits for themselves while successfully offloading much of the cost to the rest of the living world (now and/or in the future) and/or other groups of people (now and/or in the future).”

AFR: “Why do you believe that a positive sum system requires that something be offloaded to someone or something else?”

Amazing how the color blind declare all sorts of traits of “blue.” jim is one of our 40% of neighbors have absolutely and purely no clue what positive sum means. He illustrates it again and again while declaring that he knows what positive sum is. And each grand declaration only shows that he has no clue what it means, when he offers up yet another zero sum “example.” I don’t think any reading of Adam Smith or anyone else will solve a problem of missing neurons in that pertinent part of the brain.

 Ah, he did, at last, look at the ‘splitter” postings. Stunning levels or armchair general whining. “Californians passed massive amounts of progressive legislation and lead the world in scores of ways and are the main reason America is still in the Climate fight. But… um… there were fires! Yeah, that’s the ticket. “Fires!”

Refutation accomplished!

No effort to even glance at the long list of desiderata SHARED by all democrats. No responsibility for the collapses of 94 or 2010.

A parasite, draining time from me that I might spend helping the world.

jim said...

Third – David’s 31, no 29 consensus goals.

I am glad you came up with this list. If the Democrats take office we can see how many they actually pass/ do. I am guessing it will be less than a 1/3 of what you have listed.

Fourth – This is not really a challenge, it is just David trying to limit peoples political rights to doing what he thinks they should be allow to do. (I will let you vote your preference only if you have Ranked Choice Voting otherwise I pounce {like a viscous kitten;-}.)

Fifth -Centrism is how Democrats retook the House. Maybe, or maybe it was because so many people hate Trump. The problem with the centrists is : are they going to pass anything good or will they pull a Liberman and stab progressives in the back?

Sixth – Putin is the boogey man. This is true, he is actually Rasputin reincarnated and he hangs out with Baba Yaga.

Larry Hart said...

jim:

Putin is the boogey man. This is true,


So it is. :)

The right-wing playbook seems to be to act so outrageously that the ones calling them on their bad behavior sound ridiculous. During the 2016 primaries, Ted Cruz made fun of debate moderators for suggesting that Donald Trump was a cartoon supervillain, even though he clearly is one.

Vlad says Sbacibo for playing, though.

scidata said...

Bad Humans - winning at the expense of other life forms:
Consider the shark. It evolved to be an apex predator. It either has a bigger bite, or swims faster, than anything else in the water. Barracuda are no match for the former and whales are no match for the latter. It's the Graf Spee of marine animals. The success of the shark never disgusts nature lovers, quite the opposite in fact. Sharks multiply constrained only by the environment, and would happily continue to multiply otherwise. No Newton or Mozart, no mother's love, no self-restraint, only countless prey. Look ye into its deeps and see the everlasting slaughter that goes on.

Finally, sharks met humans and have been losing out ever since. The only real friends sharks have are conservationists. Why is one noble and the other despised? Why is positive sum admired in one yet denied in the other?

BTW, I am a huge nature lover.

jim said...

Scidata
I think it is just honest to admit much of our success comes at the expense of the rest of the living world.

As for sharks – could you show me any evidence that sharks are driving other species to extinction?
The list for humans is huge and growing.

Larry
No republican voted for Obamacare, why compromise with republicans ?
Maybe it is because they really wanted mandatory, for profit insurance.

The donors (owners) of the Democratic Party are socially liberal and economically conservative, and for the Republicans their donors (owners) are socially conservative and economically conservative. Our Washington Consensus is to have vicious fights over social issues while agreeing to quietly move forward on conservative economic issues for the masses ( the rich still get their government hand outs).

Phaedrusnailfile said...

Hello again all and feel free to ignore me if this feels whiney. I was still wondering if evolution could be considered a positive sum game as some have argued that its context resides solely in human affairs.
Dr. Brin, am i completely of base in assuming that a central thesis that runs through a lot of your work is that evolution is a positive sum game and that humans(at least the best of them) can play a complementary role within its framework?

Larry Hart said...

jim:

No republican voted for Obamacare, why compromise with republicans ?


To appear more acceptable to Republican voters.

Also, they were naive enough to think that Republicans would like their own damn plan.


The donors (owners) of the Democratic Party are socially liberal and economically conservative, and for the Republicans their donors (owners) are socially conservative and economically conservative. Our Washington Consensus is to have vicious fights over social issues while agreeing to quietly move forward on conservative economic issues for the masses ( the rich still get their government hand outs).


You are indeed arguing that both parties are equally bad, so there's no point opposing Trump and getting Hillary or Biden instead. As if we'd have Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, hundreds of lower court judges, have pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, blown up the Iran nuclear deal, driven off all of our allies, kissed up to dictators who kill our residents, charged taxpayers millions of dollars to support the president's private businesses, and so on had Hillary been president.

There are none so blind.

David Brin said...

Phaedrusfile, good question. Nature provides some degree of 'progress" in that it is a fiercely competitive system and innovation is inefficiently rewarded. But no, it is not positive sum in any but a very long-broad sense. I win and you lose is the way in paranoid life in the wild... as it was in almost every human society. All of which leaves me boggled at how readily maybe 60% of Americans and westerners actually seem to grasp the basic PS notion at some level.

Alas, the other 40% are typified by poor jim, who went to the splitter page with absolutely zero intent to learn anything or to adapt or negotiate, only to skim the discomforting missive JUST long enough to contrive an "Aha!" incantation-rejection. He is reading this puzzled that any other approach would be even conceivable, as I am his zero-sum enemuy.

Any possibility of proving that say California has a 3rd world electrical system, or that regular democrats would never support the 31 desiderata is inconceivable... nor grasping the interesting fact that the list was COMPILED by one of his hated enemy mainstream dems. Cognitive dissonanxe!

This truly is a waste of my time.

duncan cairncross said...

Phaedrusnailfile
"I was still wondering if evolution could be considered a positive sum game"

Look at the outcome -
We started with a rocky ball with a weird atmosphere and no life
Life started and became lots of life - lots of different forms of life
Life evolved to be able to live in massively different environments
Life changed the world and the atmosphere
More life appears to mean more "ecological niches" that even more types of life can live in

The history of life and the two Billion years it took to go from "simple life" to "complex life" indicates that Earth life was not as a result of panspermia - but has earth life started panspermia?
The next step is going to be Earth Life spreading out into the universe

Sounds pretty damn "Positive Sum" to me

matthew said...

Example of a positive sum game - tabletop role playing games (d&d, GURPS, call of cthulu, etc). The goal is to cooperatively tell a good story that the group all enjoy. A whole lot of shared effort to produce something good for all participants.

Not an Earth-shattering realization but perhaps an effective metaphor.

Alfred Differ said...

Jim,

So positive sum is when a group of humans is able to secure benefits for themselves while successfully offloading much of the cost to the rest of the living world (now and/or in the future) and/or other groups of people (now and/or in the future).

Yes.

Positive sum outcomes are defined relative to the game being played. In less fun terms, positive sum outcomes are defined relative to the strategic options available to all who can contemplate them and then choose. An entity that acts without contemplation (most of life on Earth) is part of the game context for everyone else who can actually think ahead.

David Smelser nails it, though. Game theory isn’t applicable where there is disagreement on utility. No definable, universal rules exist. What we do instead is work with rule ‘patches’ applicable to groups of people who do agree and then have the market resolve things at the patch boundaries. No one… literally no one… knows how things will resolve at the boundaries in advance.

Most games we play are played with imperfect information and imperfect perception of what information IS available. No news there. One thing agreed upon by all who are using game theory, though, is decisions are made by those capable of contemplating decisions IN ADVANCE.

That you want other life forms to have a seat at the game is morally admirable in my opinion, but as non-thinkers you are going to have to stand in for them. You can do that and be entirely within your rights. What you can’t do is redefine the game we are playing. Do your part right and we have to recognize you, your allies, and your rule patch. No choice. We don’t have to play to your rules, though. At best, you can try to ensure there are consequences when we don’t. Same goes for us.


Please keep trying to paraphrase our host's points on splitterism. You don't have to agree with him, but you should be able to paraphrase him. Do that well because that is the actual path to attack his arguements.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

Anyway, agreed, except I'd go further than "on Earth".

Heh. When we are off-Earth in numbers that can't be mistaken for a round-off error for zero, I'll go there.

You're arguing for defending the universe's right to have babies when it can't have babies.

Jim is doing worse than that. He is arguing that He Knows What Is Right for us to do on behalf of a non-human entity/idealized entity. If I were a believer, I'd stay he is standing in for God and telling us what we are doing wrong. If I were a believer, I'd point out that there are specific instructions from Him telling us not to do things like that. I'm not a believer, though, so I'm 'just' irritated at his display of hubris. No biggie, though, since I can be just as bad at times.

Alfred Differ said...

I’m going to sound a bit like a purist, but Life on Earth absent humans isn’t about strategic decision making, thus “positive sum” isn’t a valid descriptor. When we use it as Duncan did (I like doing it too), we are imposing our value system and outcome table on a system that doesn’t actually have them. We say “Life good, complex life better, etc”. See the outcome table? “Asteroid strike bad.” “Human caused extinctions bad.” The outcome table is something WE bring to the setting, but we imagine one of those capitalized ladies (Mother Nature) when we use it to make decisions.

Scidata’s version with human population size is a safer example that avoids imposing human values on a non-human (possibly) non-entity. Our species WAS on the verge of extinction not long ago. Roughly 3,500 generations ago. Males of our species pass through a seriously gnarly bottleneck where the number of us who never passed on our genetics rose dramatically relative to females who failed to do so. That ratio is typically at 3:1 (male:female), but between 8,000 years ago and 4,000 years ago it rose to about 17:1. Only 200 to 400 generations ago, many males were utterly failing to reproduce. Since humans ARE strategic thinkers, our ancestors HAD to change their strategic choices. It was that or extinction for the first bottleneck. It was that or extinction along the male lines for the second.

Whatever decisions got made, though, either helped our ancestors survive the bottlenecks or helped them defeat them. It’s hard to know more than that but we do have reason to guess that humans both survived and beat them. Survival came in the form of genetic and social adaptations that were not the result of strategic thinking, but some adaptations might have been triggered by strategic choices. Consider the following example.
____________
A small band of humans living on the African coast survives during the Ice Age in a small climate refuge. It’s tolerable, but not large. Food can be found on land and in littoral waters, but not a lot. This band is at risk of genetic collapse due to inbreeding or environmental shocks when the unforeseen happens. The usual human defense against these two is mobility. They ARE nomadic hunter-gatherers, but they are trapped for a while by the climate. Maybe there are other bands like them, but they can’t get there without serious risk which they are disinclined to take because… well… humans are somewhat xenophobic.

One small band is pushed hard enough that it realizes it has no choice but to risk the dangers of finding others and actually succeeds. This band is likely less xenophobic or has a few members who are less xenophobic than the average. Anyway, they find a way to trade a few things with another band and eek out a living slightly better than the bands who don’t trade. They keep doing this for a few generations too because there really isn’t much of a choice. After those generations, though, their children are less likely to be as xenophobic and their ancestors were. Why? Because their ancestors were a little less so and survived to reproduce. The trading humans are now a little different than the non-traders and it isn’t hard to guess who gets out of their climate refuges earlier and more often. It’s not hard to guess who takes back territory (they ARE nomadic) earlier and with bigger populations when it becomes possible. Humanity diverges from here. It shouldn’t be too hard to guess which group is among the ancestors of the nearly eight billion humans alive today.

In this story, a strategic choice to take a risk could kill the people making it OR help them survive a little longer against harsh conditions. If the strategy is used over the long haul, though, it results in physical changes to the humans that aren’t chosen by those humans. Our choices reshape us. A small game played repeatedly that produces a win-win for the traders causes the traders to evolve to favor that game. THAT happens with positive sum choices if they are big enough.

Alfred Differ said...

hmm...

In the KY governors race, MSNBC lists the third place finisher as an independent, but the libertarians in KY claim him. Since he won about 2% of the vote which is far more than the margin between the GOP and DEM candidates, it looks like a 'splitter' just gave the DEM's the KY governors seat.

One of the accounts on FB claiming to represent libertarians in KY is telling GOP voters in KY that their tears are delicious... and how they could have avoided this... and what they think of McConnell.

Tomorrow will be an interesting day.

yana said...

Alfred Differ thought:

"results in physical changes to the humans that aren’t chosen by those humans."

Licking at the lap of Lamarck so soon? Just as the metagenome is coming into focus, and it IS exciting to watch unfold, its relevance is obliterated. From paleo to ancient to medieval to modern, physical space, geographical space, had an outsized role in evolution. This is no longer true. Might be, that it's pretty easy to look at futurism via wagers on pastism.

David Brin quoted:

Amazon’s Rekognition product has “greatly increased the ability of our law enforcement officers to act quickly and decisively” by reducing the time it takes to “identify criminal suspects” down from two to three days to minutes

David Brin thought:

If we citizens are doomed to live exposed, how about recognizing and accepting that coming world, and using its salient trait in our favor?

We agree, and now there is a synthesis. Some communities are moving to install oversight panels on policing, civilian and clergy and political appointees, yet holding a subpoena card.

We may soon see a flood of cop bodycam vids, and that's the death knell of television, which i predicted 20 years ago. Recent inquiry into the tv show COPS (you know the tune, 'bad boys bad boys, what 'cha gonna do') revealed that the vast majority of traffic stops on the show resulted in drug arrests, yet the national average is only 15%. When we can see them all, that will be a strong force to rehumanize all of us, in each other's eyes.

Careful what we wish for? Police bodycams could eclipse TikTok as pure entertainment, leading the quirky and mischievous among us (kids) to wait for a cop to show up before lighting up their best skateboard trick. The future is not a cause for worry, it's going to be hilarious.

Alfred Differ thought:

it looks like a 'splitter' just gave the DEM's the KY governors seat.

First off, one should never use the terms "KY" and "seat" and "splitter" in the same sentence. Second, Bevin was doomed. Assuming that L'tarians would have voted R if it was not Bevin is not accurate. No spoiler, Bevin was just doomed. Because he's a jackass. Can't yank doctor visits from 100,000 people in a blue-collar state.

Third, the more important results were in Virginia, Texas and New York. Virginia went all blue, Texas started a flood response fund, and NYC approved ranked-choice voting.

In VA, that means the results of the 2020 census will yield fair redistricting for the first time in almost ever. It's not even that Democrats are salivating over the opportunity to thrash Republicans over redistricting in Virginia, the new House of Delegates wants to push for an independent bipartisan panel, the operative term being independent.

In Texas, Prop 5 passed. That means sales taxes from sporting goods go to the parks and wildlife management. Prop 8 passed, building a half-billion fund for future weather extremes. And Prop 4 passed, virtually wiping out any income tax in TX for nearly ever. Libertarian's dream! Uhh, except for the socialist parts, like helping the parks and disaster victims by pooling the tax money of people who are not in floodplains and don't get outcountry much. Oh The Horror! Socialism doesn't actually come from Satan's penis? It actually helps people and wildlife?!?

New York City becomes the largest political arena in the US for ranked-choice voting, bigger than Maine. Can't begin to list the benefits of that.

* habitual voters become more interested in 3rd parties
* pre-election polls less likely to discourage marginal voters
* infrequent voters can be enticed to "stick it" to "the system"

Late Leonard said it long ago: "democracy is coming, to the USA."

TCB said...

Alfred Differ said: "Males of our species pass through a seriously gnarly bottleneck where the number of us who never passed on our genetics rose dramatically relative to females who failed to do so. That ratio is typically at 3:1 (male:female), but between 8,000 years ago and 4,000 years ago it rose to about 17:1."

Wow, I did not know that. But... it coincides with the beginnings of oligarchy. Wanna bet there was an explosion of harem-taking by the high-status males? I mean, this is something that has existed in some places long after written history began (looking at you, Genghis.)

TCB said...

And it looks like the voters really punished the Democrats last night for daring to investigate our wonderful leader Trump. Oh, wait. The voters punished the Republicans? That's unpossible!

Hahahah

Darrell E said...

yana,

Could you please unpack your response to Alfred Differ regarding his selection scenario? I can't make heads or tails of any of it. You seem to be saying in your first sentence that Alfred was flirting with Lamarckism? I see nary a hint of Lamarkism in Alfred's comment.

Larry Hart said...

For those of you who demand the most left-leaning Democratic nominee or bust...

https://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2019/Pres/Maps/Nov06.html#item-5

Obviously, Trump could still win re-election, particularly—it appears—if his opponent is Elizabeth Warren.


Just sayin'

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Heh. When we are off-Earth in numbers that can't be mistaken for a round-off error for zero, I'll go there.


You are correct that for now and the foreseeable future, we exist only "on Earth".

I had a different point, though. Until we see convincing evidence otherwise, we seem to be the only example of intelligent agency acting in the universe. If that is indeed the case, and if one concedes (and one may not) that active intelligent agency--someone doing analysis and then causing things to happen in a particular direction--is a positive thing in the universe, then it follows that the fate of humanity is quite important. In that paradigm, humanism is not mere chauvanism. One might plausibly say that "What's good for humanity is good for the universe."

If it were to be demonstrated that other intelligent actors exist, I would still maintain that assertion with "humanity" replaced by the more inclusive "sapient life". And then, one might argue morally against the notion of humans engaging in "positive sum" behaviors which dump the externalities upon others. Until then, though, humanity is the only game in town.

George Carty said...

Larry Hart, since the polls suggest that Warren is considerably more unpopular in the three Rustbelt states than the (also lefty) Sanders, how likely is it that misogyny won the 2016 election for Trump in those states?

Larry Hart said...

@Geroge Carty,

I'd say very likely. Maybe "misogyny" is too strong a word, because I don't think it's all about hatred of women. I do think there are many American voters for whom a woman president is just a bridge too far for them to consider. They want the president to be a tough Alpha Male who takes no s*** from others! And many of those voters are themselves women.

For that reason, I'd be nervous about making Elizabeth Warren our nominee, even though I think she'd make a great president. But I thought Hillary would have made a great president too.

Larry Hart said...


Tell me again why any American Jews, let alone prominent ones like Sheldon Adelson, think right wing demagoguery is a good idea. I don't get it.

https://www.nbc12.com/2019/07/08/get-out-my-country-hanover-mother-confronts-kkk-recruitment-group/


...

The KKK, hailed as one of the nation’s most recognizable hate groups, encouraged people to call their hotline and passed out flyers, according to witnesses.

“I wanted them to know my presence. I wanted everyone to see that they were here... that you cant ignore it. You can’t look away.”

Spiggle said she comes from a strong Jewish heritage.

“I’m the great great great granddaughter of America’s first reformed Rabbi," said Spiggle. "They told me to go back to Israel, which I found to be funny because my ancestors came to the Americas in the 1620s. They helped build this country. My grandfather helped change Judaism.”

...


jim said...

Alfred,
“So positive sum is when a group of humans is able to secure benefits for themselves while successfully offloading much of the cost to the rest of the living world (now and/or in the future) and/or other groups of people (now and/or in the future).

Yes.”

This is a little weird, we both have essentially the same understanding of what positive sum is but our host our host thinks I am jabberingly insane and you are one of the few people who really grok what he is getting at.

As for the rest of your comment, I don’t think that I Know What Is Right or that I have divine omniscience. I am pointing out that the idea of positive sum falls apart when you include all the externalities and disagreements on utility (or value).

Larry Hart said...

jim:

I am pointing out that the idea of positive sum falls apart when you include all the externalities and disagreements on utility (or value).


It seems that what you are pointing out is that there is a possibility that we're not taking all values into account. But then you speak as if it has already been proven that there must be externalities that reduce the positive sum to zero, even though that has not been proven.

That aside, I don't think you are using "positive sum" in the same way that our host does. You're thinking of it as something like "Hey, we can get energy from burning fossil fuels" and responding with "Yes, but you're making the planet unlivable, so that's really a negative sum in the long term." That's not how I interpret the term "positive sum". To me, it has more to do with interactions between separate humans (or intelligent agents, if you want to expand the definition). "I take your stuff and make into my stuff" is zero sum. "I try to take your stuff, and we then both expend energy and risk life and limb fighting" is negative sum.

Positive sum in that sense is that we interact with each other in a way in which we both come out ahead of where we were before we interacted. Mutually-beneficial trade is the obvious example. When I give The Village Inn $3.95 for a delicious slice of pizza, both the bar and I are better off than we were before. Where is the externality being foisted upon others, or upon the "living world", or the unliving universe?

Larry Hart said...

yana:

First off, one should never use the terms "KY" and "seat" and "splitter" in the same sentence.


LOL!


No spoiler, Bevin was just doomed. Because he's a jackass. Can't yank doctor visits from 100,000 people in a blue-collar state.


Kentucky might skew Republican, but they were one state that seemed to love their version of ObamaCare (which they called KyNect, and tried very hard to avoid mentioning that it was part of the ACA). And yet, newly elected Republicans seemed to think that getting rid of their constituents' health care was a good electoral strategy.

So while Trumpian voters do seem inclined to inflict harm upon themselves as long as it also makes liberals feel bad, it would seem that that strategy only goes so far.

jim said...

Thanks Larry
Your example is just perfect for what I am getting at.

If you limit the “system” to you and the pizza shop, you voluntarily give them some of your money and they give you a cooked pizza, and as long a you enjoyed your pizza, you both are better off.

But the pizza shop did not use a replicator to make the pizza. It used fossil fuels to heat the oven, fossil fuels to make oven and construct the shop, 10 calories of fossil fuels were used to produce and deliver just one calorie of food energy and on and on. You and the pizza shop are not isolated systems, we are all embedded in the rest of the world and our actions never have just one effect. So you and the pizza shop are able to offload significant costs of the pizza to the rest of the living world and to those people paying the cost of climate change.

Larry Hart said...

Thanks jim,
Your example is just perfect for what I am getting at.

The ways I might engage with the Village Inn are:

* Steal pizza from them (zero sum)
* Attempt to steal pizza from them, which escalates into increasing requirements for security on their part and for more force or subterfuge on my part (negative sum)
* Buy the pizza (positive sum)

None of that affects whether the shop or I exist in the first place. You want to say that the universe would be better off if we didn't? That's a whole separate argument.

Unless you're going full Young Alvy Singer on me, insisting that nothing matters at all because "The universe is expanding" and therefore "What's the point?"

scidata said...

Cherry picking externalities in order to drive the sum back towards zero is a mug's game. Maybe the pizza store hires a petty criminal off the street. The dignity of a job turns his life around. He marries and has a family. One of his daughters becomes a great physicist and invents cold fusion. The world's economy leaps exponentially, and poverty, war, and disease are quickly conquered.

See, two can play that game.

jim said...

No Larry,
I think we are talking past one another.
If you limit your analysis to just you and your interaction with the pizza shop, you and the pizza shop come out ahead. I think we agree on that.

But the pizza shop did not create the pizza out of nothing. And that is where the rest of the world starts to show up. It used lost of raw material who's cost is artificially low because the price does not include the externalities. I think we also agree that the price of fossil fuels doesn't include the cost of the externalities involved in using them.

(fossil fuels are just one example of a raw materials, I chose it because it is so fundamental to almost all economic activity.)

Larry Hart said...

jim:

I think we are talking past one another.


We agree on that.

I disagree that we're both equally at fault. I think I understand exactly what your argument is--I just don't think it's applicable to the question of whether an interaction can be positive sum.

Buying pizza isn't meant to be taken literally, it refers to any mutually beneficial commerce. Take modern technology out of the equation. Say we tend two farms in ancient times. One has a surplus of water, but is running low on food. The other is in the opposite condition. If we each agree to trade the extra stuff we don't need so much for the stuff that we really need, we both benefit. Again, where's the externality? Where's the harm to the world?

jim said...

Ok Larry
This is getting more interesting.

Small scale / local / low tech societies have a much harder time pushing their externalities onto others. Being small and local means that most of negative consequences of their actions stay with the people doing the actions. But I think you are on to something here. If you in a situation where you can’t push the costs off onto others the beneficial interactions you have with others are far more likely to be positive sum. For example, fermenting foods is probably positive sum.

But we are in a complex, global, high tech, fossil fuel powered society and the opportunities to push the costs off onto others while securing the benefits for yourself is a big part of the game.

Larry Hart said...

jim

But we are in a complex, global, high tech, fossil fuel powered society and the opportunities to push the costs off onto others while securing the benefits for yourself is a big part of the game.


But that has nothing to do with the transaction between individuals. You'd say that I'm pushing off externalities onto others by driving my car. That's not a transaction, though. That's just something I'm doing all by my own self.

The question about how I interact with the pizza shop isn't whether I or the pizza shop by our presence are hurtful or beneficial to the rest of the universe. That aspect of things is not affected by whether I interact with the shop or not. It drops out of the equation. The question is whether we are better off without the transaction or with it. And to your point, whether the universe is better off without us engaging in the transaction, or with it.

But whether the universe is better off without us being there at all--that's a different thing. It might be a valuable question to ask, but it's not the one we are asking.

jim said...

Well Larry the truth is we are always embodied in a much wider world and our actions never have only one consequence so externalities are always a part of what we do.

It can be useful to pretend that we are acting in an isolated system, and that may be the only practical way to make quick decisions but it is never the reality.

David Brin said...

Was off giving a talk about the future of... banking.

The Male Bottleneck of about 12,000 years ago coincides with the arrival of (1) agriculture and resulting (2) kings with life-or-death power over larger settled zones that folks find it hard to leave and (3) beer. Combine all of those and you get a lot of males killed for getting drunk. In fact, it was happening all the time in Polynesia during near modern (witnessed and recorded) time. And yes, you can bet there was an explosion of harem-taking by the high-status males.

LH: “Until we see convincing evidence otherwise, we seem to be the only example of intelligent agency acting in the universe…”

Intelligence, I doubt. There are DOZENS of Eartrh species that crowd against a glass ceiling and breaking through must happen from time to time. On the other hand are we rare, as voraciously outward and technologically systematic… and good at error detection? That’s currently my top Fermi hypothesis. Especially how RAPIDLY we gained the science that tells us about ecological matters. Goat herds and primitive irrigation were already wrecking ecosystems 10 ky ago. Had we got smart much slower - say across 500,0000 or a million years - Earth might have been a wreck before we realized anything. Hence I deem our RAPIDITY at moving from hunter gatherers to spaceflight to be a major "fermi" possibility.

In any event, the fate of the galaxy may depend on us not blowing it.

GC: “Larry Hart, since the polls suggest that Warren is considerably more unpopular in the three Rustbelt states than the (also lefty) Sanders, how likely is it that misogyny won the 2016 election for Trump in those states?”

Or that the less tolerant attitudes toward gays that are nursed by males in certain Democratic ethnic groups may deprive us of clearly by far the smartest of the candidates?

---
Why do you guys keep trying to describe positive sum to jim? You keep assuming that because he can string together polysyllabic assertions, he is capable of grasping the concept. But every time he attempts to paraphrase (and I honor that attempt, as superficial and blatantly strawmanning as it is, coming from him), every single attempt always comes out as a “Do you mean…” followed by a zero-sum or negative sum scenario,

Dig it, he CANNOT grasp the concept, even remotely. And this is something I have found utterly fascinating about him and locumranch and Treebeard. That it’s not about raw intelligence, per se. Though it is clearly about sapience.

Alfred Differ said...

TCB,

I think it’s called the Y-chromosome bottleneck in the literature. I didn’t know about it until recent years either and jumped to the nasty, brutish men explanations quickly afterward. Nowadays, I suspect the answer was more mundane.

1) The discovery relies on sequencing the genes of a lot of men. Not possible until recently and not possibly cheaply until very recently.
2) Evidence is still scanty and that always means several possible theories will be consistent with what little we actually know.
3) Other big things were happening around the same time… like adoption of agriculture. That alone had HUGE impacts on how humans lived. Nomadic hunter-gatherers are a rare breed nowadays.

Other evidence from the same time period suggests our lifespans got a lot shorter on average. Consistent with brutes running the place AND environmental shock ripples still working their way out. Remember that the ice melted back only a little before this time.

Other evidence is that the male:female birth ratio wasn’t steady. In some places there is a slight favoring of the first born to be male and of last born to be female. It’s not even, though. In places where the Y-chromosome bottleneck was weakest, the ratio appears to have held steady near 50:50. These numbers are statistically weak, tempting us to use just-so stories to explain things.

One counter-argument for all ‘brutish males’ theories is a simple question. Why did women put up with it? We ARE related to bonobos and human women are not even remotely weak. These theories must explain why women allowed themselves to be abused or turned into property or both.

The best theory I’ve seen that deals with it all is that during the early agricultural years, we had yet to domesticate the grains and animals we rely upon for survival today. Basically the grain quality sucked big-time and agriculturalists lived on the edge of malnutrition. THAT would certainly shorten lifespans. Add on to that that farmers are stationary, thus wind up living in their own filth. THAT would shorten lifespans too. How much do you have to shorten the lives of men before they aren’t around as fathers supporting the advancement of their second or third sons? If lifespan dips down to 25 to 30 years on average, every later born son is at a disadvantage in securing a mate. That’s not the case (so much) for women since there is always the polygamy model. Women would compete for viable men, but once the seed is sown, what they really need is resource support. If this story holds up, the end of the bottleneck should coincide with improved grain quality and successful domestication of a range of farm animals. So far, that seems to work with the evidence we have. It leaves the ‘brutish males’ notions as consequences instead of causes, so it’s not like those ideas don’t matter.

Then there are the ideas our hosts like involving alcohol. Could be right. That happens when all we have are scraps of evidence to compare. Therefore... MORE SCIENCE needs to be done. Heh.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

LH: “Until we see convincing evidence otherwise, we seem to be the only example of intelligent agency acting in the universe…”

Intelligence, I doubt. There are DOZENS of Eartrh species that crowd against a glass ceiling and breaking through must happen from time to time.


True, many other species seem to think intelligently. But do they have a sense of acting to affect the external world? That's what I meant by "intelligent agency".

Alfred Differ said...

Darrell E,

Stories like the one I offered might or might not have some truth in them, but there is always a risk of drifting into Lamarckism. I think I stayed on the safe side of that border, though, because 3,500 generations IS enough for us to change and for that change to be the result of some strategic decision we made that might only be loosely connected to the genetic variance. Whether it is crossing out of Africa to fish in waters along the south coast of Asia or moving north into the dark winters of northern Europe, our choices have consequences that reshape us.

For example, humans become lactose intolerant in late childhood except in populations that moved north in Europe. The ability to digest lactose correlates with the domestication of dairy animals after the ice melted back, but when care is taken to find a genetic foundation, one finds that lactose tolerance correlates with a mutation on chromosome #2 that appeared in the population of northern Europe and western Russia about 4,300 years ago. That mutation spread quickly among dairy farming cultures. Why wouldn’t it, right?

Tell that story the wrong way and it smells of Lamarck. Tell it the right way and you’ll still get a whiff. Humans needed the mutation… and got it. Some of us have it more than once and handle lactose easily. Some have it just enough to digest lactose as an adult, but not happily (like me). So… I don’t mind when people notice. I just smile and say I could be more rigorous if they want me to explain things in an academic style. I can do it, but this probably isn’t the right venue for it. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Jim,

we both have essentially the same understanding of what positive sum is but our host our host thinks I am jabberingly insane and you are one of the few people who really grok what he is getting at.

Well… we sound about the same in terms of definitions, but you certainly aren’t using yours the way I am. You demonstrate that with a following sentence.

I am pointing out that the idea of positive sum falls apart when you include all the externalities and disagreements on utility (or value).

No. It doesn’t. Externalities involve other possible players who don’t happen to be involved in a particular decision. They do not involve entities that cannot play the game. As for disagreements, they happen all the time. If your position were true, game theory would have been completely debunked.

Markets deal with disagreements regarding utility. Games are for transactions. Iterative games are for repeatable transactions. It isn’t necessary that players agree on much of anything since game describes how they go about making decisions relative to other players.

Try the ‘buy a pizza slice’ game again. It’s easy. Player A makes pizzas and sells them by the slice. Player B consumes pizzas by the slice. Both players get to decide what price they will accept in a transaction and the game is repeatable. Given a bit of time, player A will always charge more than it costs to produce and player B will always pay less than the maximum that B willing to exchange. Equilibrium price settles in with some possible noise. Both players are coming out ahead, so this is positive sum. Possible player C doesn’t get to play and has to suffer the smoke output from the pizza oven. Player C presents a negative externality and players A and B can adjust if they like to avoid countermeasures from C in other games where C IS a player. Equilibrium is jostled, but probably gets found again and prices settle down. Does Mother Nature get to have a say in all this as CO2 content in the atmosphere rises? No. Not within the positive sum game. She still gets to kill the players later, though, if they don’t adjust. When they realize their risks, they WILL adjust and THAT is how Mother Nature appears to get to play. She isn’t really a player, though. She’s a force that results in players re-evaluating their costs/rewards.

Your sentence as it stands shows you can state the definition, but you don’t comprehend it. That’s what provokes our host to react. I don’t think you are jabbering insane, but you DO appear to be mentally blocked.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi
Jared Diamond's books on hunter gatherer societies show that until we had a settled agricultural society the "Big Man" in a group had to show humility or he got a bad case of arrows
It was only after agriculture that the "Big Man" had a corps of enforcers

As far as "evolution" is concerned we are right on the cusp of replacing "evolution" with "intelligent design" - we will DECIDE what traits to introduce and conserve
And Darwinian evolution is too slow to compete

scidata said...

And not all design improvements are cognitive. The human hand is greatly responsible for homo sapiens conquering the planet. Attempts at augmenting it are under way.
https://www.daniclodedesign.com/thethirdthumb

David Brin said...

Let me develop this scenario slightly more: "the arrival of (1) agriculture and resulting (2) kings with life-or-death power over larger settled zones that folks find it hard to leave and (3) beer. Combine all of those and you get a lot of males killed for getting drunk. In fact, it was happening all the time in Polynesia during near modern (witnessed and recorded) time. And yes, you can bet there was an explosion of harem-taking by the high-status males."

What agriculture also did was expand populations. First, this let "kings" maintain armies (a couple of dozen tough guys, at first) and dominate a dozen villages whose farmers could not afford to walk away. Kings were no longer answerable to tribal opinion and could kill whomever they liked. And when beer made for addiction and bad behavior, you had the excuse to kill those males and harem-ize their wives. Effect: not just a Y chromosome bottleneck but major effects on our resistance to addiction.

But then populations got even larger and kings/lords reached their harem limits while ever more farmers got to be left alone.

Bob Neinast said...

@Alfred Differ: For example, humans become lactose intolerant in late childhood except in populations that moved north in Europe.

Pedant Point: Also the Maasai in Africa.


Here's a link: Africans’ Ability To Digest Milk Co-Evolved With Livestock Domestication.

David Brin said...

onward

onward