Thursday, November 17, 2005

More predictive hits...

Where’s that Predictions Registry?

In the Fifteenth predictive hit of my novel EARTH (1989), a character says “I want my lawyer program.”

Now this from Ray Kurzweil’s tech-newsletter... “By 2015, most clients will get the bulk of their legal advice online from expert systems, maintained and honed to near-perfect reliability by teams of lawyers,” says Richard Susskind, author of The Future of...


A cool source of information is the Progressive Policy Institute  which offers the following:

America's first patent law, said to have been partially drafted by Thomas Jefferson, dates to 1790. Since then, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted about 7.4 million patents. Many are extremely useful: Until the granting of the stapler patent in 1923, magazines bound their pages with wire and inter-office memos were punched and tied with ribbon; the telephone patent dates to 1876, the computer mouse to 1964, and penicillin to 1946. Others are less so. Either way, the number of annual applications has risen steadily as time passes; the PTO now receives over 380,000 applications a year and grants about 180,000.

About 1.4 million of these U.S. patents have gone to foreigners, who were granted the right to file for U.S. patents in 1836. (Under a peculiarly anti-English law which charged Americans $30 per application, British subjects $500, and other foreigners $300. An international agreement cleared this up in 1887.) American patent grants have become steadily more international over the years. In the 1960s only one-in-five patent applications came from foreigners, by 1984 the figure was over two-in-five applications, and in 2004, 48 percent of applications came from abroad. Japan accounts for over one-third of foreign patent applications at 65,000 filings per year. Germany is second at 18,000, followed by Taiwan at 15,000, South Korea at 13,000, then Canada and the United Kingdom. The 2004 list extends to 117 countries and territories and includes Cameroon's first patent filing ever, Ethiopia's second, and Bosnia's third and fourth.

The fastest-growing sources of patent applications seem to be China and India. In 2004, residents of China filed 1,655 patent applications, and residents of India 1,303. These are still small figures in absolute terms (China ranked 14th in the world and India 16th) but they are rising fast. Chinese residents filed for only 100 patents in 1994, and Indians only 70. Applications from other regions have grown more slowly. For example, in 1994 the PTO took 446 applications from Latin American countries -- more than twice the combined Chinese and Indian total -- and in 2004: 715. (This includes five to 15 applications from Cuba each year.) India's applications seem heavy on methods: one recent Indian patent is a process for treating organic wastes, another a way to manufacture rare earth-doped optical fiber, and a third is a new means of making frozen dairy dessert. China's patents are more often new gadgets. One belongs to a Guangdong resident and covers a complex circuit arrangement of transistors known as a Current Amplifier Structure; others range from power switch gears to electrical connector assemblies; a clever Hong Kong resident, meanwhile, has patented an improved fishing reel.


Other stuff:

see: Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election and is Rigging 2008, available at and, and, with Steve Rosenfeld, of What Happened in Ohio (spring, 2006).

They comment on recent events in Ohio, where Diebold touch screen voting machines -- inherently UN-autidable and programmed without external checks by a company run by a top neocon donor -- gave weird results entirely at odds with opinion polls.. ”... thus the possible explanations for the staggering defeats of Issues Two through Five boil down to two: either the Dispatch polling - dead accurate for Issue One - was wildly wrong beyond all possible statistical margin of error for Issues 2-5, or the electronic machines on which Ohio and much of the nation conduct their elections were hacked by someone wanting to change the vote count. If the latter is true, it can and will be done again, and we can forget forever about the state that has been essential to the election of every Republican presidential candidate since Lincoln. And we can also, for all intents and purposes, forget about the future of American democracy.”


And now, from the fringes, something either funny and on target or kinda creepy... “a new Podcast for Stiftung Leo Strauss Acolytes available at: Hear the latest updates about the Chalabi visit to AEI and other news as we track the Realist and Reality-Based Conspiracy to undermine the Empire and Freedom. “Also take the poll at

The Question: Who Are The Greatest Threats To The Empire?
The Answer So Far: The American People

“Our poll asks you, who understand the Secret World. Cadre experts say preliminary results show the American people resist our psychological conditioning. For Sacrifice and Endless War in the name of Freedom. Va banque!”

Not endorsed, but there is some acid creativity.


Woozle said...

Did I already post this?

Issuepedia Prediction Registry

It's obviously not the database which is ultimately needed, but it could serve to start gathering data. I'm up for a design discussion for the next version :-) (If I did post this before, I apologize for being a card-carrying member of the department of redundancy department, and hopefully next time I will remember that I really did actually already post that link before. The self-promo horn has been tooted, aye. Over.)

Oh, and also Pohl's Gateway had a psychiatric computer program; in the sequel, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, similar but more sophisticated software handled science briefings, secretarial functions, accounting, and legal advice.

Anonymous said...

My favorite science news nugget of the day:

"The food you eat may change your genes for life"

"IT SOUNDS like science fiction: simply swallowing a pill, or eating a specific food supplement, could permanently change your behaviour for the better, or reverse diseases such as schizophrenia, Huntington's or cancer.

Yet such treatments are looking increasingly plausible. In the latest development, normal rats have been made to behave differently just by injecting them with a specific amino acid. The change to their behaviour was permanent. The amino acid altered the way the rat's genes were expressed, raising the idea that drugs or dietary supplements might permanently halt the genetic effects that predispose people to mental or physical illness.

It is not yet clear whether such interventions could work in humans. But there is good reason to believe they could, as evidence mounts that a range of simple nutrients might have such effects.

Two years ago, researchers led by Randy Jirtle of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, showed that the activity of a mouse's genes can be influenced by food supplements eaten by its mother just prior to, or during, very early pregnancy (New Scientist, 9 August 2003, p 14). Then last year, Moshe Szyf, Michael Meaney and colleagues at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, showed that mothers could influence the way a rat's genes are expressed after it has been born. If a rat is not licked, groomed and nursed enough by its mother, chemical tags known as methyl groups are added to the DNA of a particular gene.

The affected gene codes for the glucocorticoid receptor gene, expressed in the hippocampus of the brain. The gene helps mediate the animal's response to stress, and in poorly raised rats, the methylation damped down the gene's activity. Such pups produced higher levels of stress hormones and were less confident exploring new environments. The effect lasted for life (Nature Neuroscience, vol 7, p 847)."

If this applies to humans, it could explain why poverty and limited educational success go together . . . and seem to be "inherited."

If this research is correct, they effectively are inherited, but not via genes! Bad nutrition sets up a generation for poor achievement in school, career, and relationships, setting the stage for more misery and failure.

Another poke in the eye of Bell Curve afficianodoes.


HarCohen said...

Regarding the Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman editorial, it reads much worse than arguments I've seen in favor of teaching Intelligent Design.

The University of Akron ran its own poll (which I posted to the earlier blog where this was brought up) and never got the results the Dispatch did for Issues 4 and 5 and was more conservative about Issues 2 and 3.

The Plain Dealer did its post mortem, interviewing RON (Reform Ohio Now) officials (something the erstwhiles above did not do) and there was no cry of foul. The Democratic precincts did not come out the way the Republicans did. The Democratic Party did not give any support. RON ran a negative campaign to "throw the bums out" rather than educating voters about the complex wording.

Right or wrong, it did not require any chicanery to defeat these poorly promoted issues. Had RON spent more time educating voters on how other states use similar measures, it might have lead to different results.

I can go back to the Andromeda Strain to find remarks about computer based medical diagnostics ("developed by NASA but the AMA won't let it out of the lab") and I don't think that's the earliest. So a lawyer app merely puts the concept in a different field.

I hope these lawyer apps from you and Kurzweil work with fuzzy logic, because I would hate to think my lawyer worked with binary principles. ;) So I start a negotiation with a customer and quickly come to a standstill because our lawyer apps haven't been taught to negotiate, just ask and answer questions.

I don't want to appear totally contrary nor ornery so I'll just close by saying you've given me a lot to think about in the remaining parts of the blog.

Anonymous said...

Actually, in a rather silly Piers Anthony novel titled Hard Sell, the main character gets legal advice from a computer program when he is sued for slander by his employer.

Tony Fisk said...

'Lost in Space' had an episode that featured a cyber judge...

FreePress also features Molly Ivins, who usually has a wry take on matters Southern. This piece prompts the following doggerel:

While New Orleans residents floundered in ooze,
Condi got into opera... and shopping for shoes.

While they shuffled and jostled for a place in the 'dome,
The President elected... to stay back at home,

When confronted with heartbreak, and mountains of dirt,
'Heckuva Job' showed concern... about the cut of his shirt!

All of which can be summed up in one word: narcissistic (as in personality disorder).

@Stefan. I saw the bit on how food can affect you at Worldchanging (although they were using a negative example: well adjusted mice who became shy and insecure after certain additives are given: sort of makes you look at the communion goodies in a new light!)

Anonymous said...

Don't go congratulating yourself quite yet. Until we actually have lawyer programs, I don't think it's legitimate to call that a predictive hit.

Anonymous said...

I *believe* Kurzweil's general vision and even I don't expect lawyer programs. It's not a technology problem, but a social problem. Social change may accelerate, but not with Moore's Law.
Stefan: Have you ever *read* the Bell Curve? This would absolutely not contradict it in any way. Hernstein and Murray aren't biologists and don't pretend to be. Murray's a statistician. Neither of them care about the causual chain of events leading to low IQ. The important issue is
a) as a society, our attempts to raise IQ in a long-lasting and substantial manner are pretty near to being total failures
b) this matters because social outcomes among people with IQs under about 110 are overwhelmingly driven by IQ

In terms of their factual beliefs, as opposed to style and attitude, I don't think either differs substantially from Howard Gardner. The main difference is that they are interested in social pathology and he is interested in genius.

Anonymous said...

By the way, calling everyone, what happened to the original vision held out by those who called themselves "modernists"? Some of it was authoritarian, or simply stupid, but a lot was economically sensible, practical, and a simple extrapolation of century old trends, but still didn't happen.
Many of the ideas held by Juan Trippe, Walt Disney, H.G. Wells, and others made sense.

Interestingly, it seems to me that the Japanese hung onto their version of the modernist vision, but that much of our vision involved inexpensive housing via establishment of planned communities on former farmland, a mixture of socialism, congregationalism and frontier ideology economically and culturally sensible in the US but not in Japan. Actually, this idea was so much a part of us that many extrapolated it into the unimaginably distant future where it, more than any other idea, expounded primarily by Star Trek, became the root of the public conception of space travel.

Anyway, shortly after Star Trek, that idea was grossly unpopular. Part of it is that our attitudes towards development of land shifted from pride to shame, but why did that happen? What else happened? We still have the development, and the expansion onto ex-farmland, but in the psychotically consumerist antisocial form of modern exurbia.

Anonymous said...

People already get their legal advice from software -- in jurisdictions where it's not illegal, that is. But consider the difficulty in regulating lawyer 'bots: if something goes wrong, who do you sue for legal malpractice? You can't file suit against the software, so it has to be against the software developers. Yet a nonlawyer can't practice law, so there has to be a lawyer or lawyers who takes full responsibility for the operation of the software ... nope, too tough a knot to cut.

Although I don't expect software to replace lawyers in the field, I always felt that expert systems would go a long way to making legal research more reliable. Hell of a toolset for practitioners.

Speaking of this are you aware that your "fabricows" are already in existence? I suspect that you and Bruce Sterling could corner the market on prediction futures....

Anonymous said...

Stefan: Have you ever *read* the Bell Curve? This would absolutely not contradict it in any way. Hernstein and Murray aren't biologists and don't pretend to be. Murray's a statistician. Neither of them care about the causual chain of events leading to low IQ.

Actually, Murray is not a statistician, as demonstrated by the statistical analysis problems in TBC -- he's a social scientist with limited statistical training. Herrnstein did much remarkable work at the Pigeon Lab, but he didn't have a background in either genetics or human sociology.

Insofar as their arguments go, M&H do assume a significant hereditable and immutable component to intelligence; the fact that they don't really discuss genetics (except for, oddly enough, a few random bits about Galton -- not exactly someone I would choose to cite given their subject matter) does not change the fact that they explicitly assume biological inheritance to be the primary driver of Spearman's g, tacitly assume g to be the primary factor in intelligence, and argue that socioeconomic status is directly and primarily predicted by IQ. (Prediction tables developed using their own data do not bear out this last argument, by the way.)

This doesn't even get into the use of journals like "Mankind Quarterly" in TBC. There are some very, very ugly thoughts underpinning TBC, pretty much all of which came from Herrnstein; there's also a lot of bad science and bad statistics to try and support those bad thoughts, which appear to have seduced Murray.

I rather liked Murray's work prior to TBC, especially "In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government." It's a shame that a well-qualified and intelligent conservative thinker drove himself into an intellectual cul-de-sac that he can't seem to get out of.

Anonymous said...

Watchfulbabbler: OK, do you think that this article refutes that there is a effectively immutable and hereditable element in intelligence, at least given current or 1980s technology for large scale intervention. Obviously, for sufficiently advanced tech, nothing biological is immutable. This study suggests a direction to look in the attempt to develop such tech. Significant biological drivers to 'g', primarily immutable drivers, not significant immutable drivers and primarily biological drivers. There's a big difference between these two statements.
I think that essentially all researchers who have examined the question except for Sternberg have been lead to consensus that within a group randomly selected from the general population IQ is the primary factor in intelligence. Most people don't see this because most people are rarely in groups randomly selected from the general population. Frankly, I can't see it myself. Most normal people seem pretty uniformly vacant regardless of IQ (inferred from University attendence). As stated earlier, Gardner doesn't appear to disagree with Murray on facts, but rather on whether it is better to focus on random samples of the population, among whom IQ matters a lot, or on random samples of (say) the Harvard student body, among whom it matters very little. Because Gardner has usually argued his case without much actual data, and because I agree with him, I actually wrote up a piece that strongly matches his position but which uses actual data yesterday. Find it here.
What research do you have that argues against IQ being a if not the primary driver of socio-economic status within society as a whole? Have you seen his study of siblings ?
Discussing Galton was certainly very odd and very stupid of them.

Is someone interested in the other question, about Modernism? It's much more important.

Anonymous said...

Off the current discussion, but of general interest to this board:

Democratic senator speaking about the war very well, and he *does* mention the crisis with our plummeting military readiness.

--Mark W

Anonymous said...

For readers of The Bell Curve I recommend reading Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man as an antidote. There are many other critical examiniations of the problems with the book.

You might view this page as a good non-patisan summary of what The Bell Curve says and the various critiques of the points. There are many criticisms, but a big one is that H&M treat IQ as a driver rather than an output - the classic confusion of correlation and causation. This topic is also discussed in Freakonomics which is well worthwhile and fun to read.

Anonymous said...

Good link on DIY cell phones on worldchanging.

This is an excellent example of the Age of Amateurs struggling uphill against classic human impulses to control through hierarchy.

The need was illustrated during the Hurricane Katrina crisis, when half a million americnas had fully-charged, sophisticated two way radios in their pockets and no way to use them as anything more than door stops.

What is needed goes beyond skype-wifi opportunism. What we need is a parallel utility to empower citizens to use their cell phones when all macro systems are down. I am working with a few others on some ideas but it is hard to convince FEMA and Homeland security that citizen self-organization is even a desireable thing. (For more on this see an essay on the war between citizens and professionals at

I hope this DIY project sails ahead.


Anonymous said...

"I am working with a few others on some ideas but it is hard to convince FEMA and Homeland security that citizen self-organization is even a desireable thing."

Tell them your effort is faith based DB! That is a sure way to get your foot in the door. :-)

Anonymous said...

LOL! Faith-based technological solutions. That is just the homerun the Department of Faith is looking for!

Here is an interesting article on framing the debate and why the liberals/progressives always lose. Doesn't enhance much our belief in a rational population, I'm afraid. It does bring in the Enlightenment as the ancestor of liberalism, though.

Anonymous said...

It is not just that liberals are doing a bad job of "framing" and that Conservatives are better at pressing people's buttons.

The administration, through new organizations in the DOD, is deliberately manipulating the news, using very sophisticated techniques to mold public perception of the war. From a Rolling Stone article:

Last year, he [John Rendon] attended a conference on information operations in London, where he offered an assessment on the Pentagon's efforts to manipulate the media. According to those present, Rendon applauded the practice of embedding journalists with American forces. "He said the embedded idea was great," says an Air Force colonel who attended the talk. "It worked as they had found in the test. It was the war version of reality television, and for the most part they did not lose control of the story." But Rendon also cautioned that individual news organizations were often able to "take control of the story," shaping the news before the Pentagon asserted its spin on the day's events.

"We lost control of the context," Rendon warned. "That has to be fixed for the next war."

Got that? They're talking about arranging for total control of what we see and hear in order to further the administrations policy aims.

Cripes, we've seen this in action. Virtually identical letters sent to newspapers from troops in Iraq . . . they'd been written for men to sign. And that ludicrous "Q&A" session between Bush and some soldiers over in Iraq. Did you see the practice session where a Pentagon flak made sure the soldiers knew who would deliver which canned answers, and even went over the lame joke the president would crack? Shameless, transparent bullshit!

And if someone stands up . . . smear them, the way Rep. Murtha is getting smeared.

Given the current administration's triumphalist neocon ideology, and leaders like Rumsfeld, what will stop the Pentagon from using its information office from screwing with our elections? Right and wrong won't matter. Democracy won't matter. We'll have a oligarchy of spin masters working to futher the aims of the military and plutocrats.

One more thing, to return to the predictive SF angle: Mention Farenheit 451, and people will think of book burnings. How many remember the political situation? While the populace drones away in front of their big-screen interactive TVs, a state of constant war is underway. Bombers roar overhead. Men get called away to battle. No one knows, no one cares; there are things to buy and stuff to watch on TV.


Anonymous said...

I think George Carlin summed this idea up very nicely: "We think in language, so when people want to control what you say, they want to control what you think."

Steering news coverage and framing debates in order to take control of them is hardly new with this administration. I don't think the process was really formalized until WW2 (when mass media first became really massive), but I suspect it reaches back to Sargon.

The question is, is it unethical to do that? Don't forget, the left has a few victories on the "framing" side of things: nobody cared about saving the "dwindling wetlands" when they were "miasmal disease-ridden mosquito-infested swamps".

And if you feel like you want to take the moral high ground and not use language as a manipulative tool... what else have you got in your toolbox?

Anonymous said...

'nobody cared about saving the "dwindling wetlands" when they were "miasmal disease-ridden mosquito-infested swamps".'

That is disengenuous bullshit.

People started caring about saving wetlands when they took a close look at them and realized where they fit into the grand scheme of things. You can spin and shriek and howl about property rights and self-hating environmentalists all you want, but it won't change the fact that wetlands, by any name, have an ecological role to play. Whether they realize it or not human communities depend on a healthy environment. That is reality, not a talking point in a rhetorical game.

Is control over language as a political weapon a new thing? No, duh!

What is dangerous about the new trend of information warfare is that the military bureaucracy is involved. This makes it doubly dangerous. The military and intelligence agencies can play the National Security card and get away with things we normally won't stand for.

Undermining the mechanisms by which citizens learn what they must know to be informed participants in democracy is becoming a goal of the military and intelligence agencies.

Anonymous said...

Whoops! I hit Login and Publish before finishing the above post.


If we let the military and intelligence community become masters of public perception, we'll be in the same boat as the Soviet Union as it blundered toward its demise.

Just as you can't, in the long run, ignore environmental realities by talking about conspiracies and sowing "F.U.D." and maligning your opponents as tree-huggers, you can't, in the long run, get away with ignoring political and economic reality by making everyone around you belive the same bullshit you've convinced yourself is reality.

Like the man says: Criticism in the only known antidote to error.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I guess I struck a nerve.

Let me rephrase that so it's clearer what I meant:

There was a time, back in the day, when most people would look at a swamp and say, "Wow, there's a disease-ridden mosquito-infested swamp. Somebody should drain that and turn it into useful rice paddies."

Nowadays, an arguable majority would look at a swamp and say, "Wow, there's a dwindling wetland full of endangered birds and frogs and stuff. We probably ought to hang on to that."

People started caring about saving wetlands when they took a close look at them and realized where they fit into the grand scheme of things.

My point was, I don't think they did. I don't think the average person really gives two shits about a wetland. But they stopped thinking about them as being evil when they started thinking about them being "wet land" and not "miasmal swamps". Therein lies the power of "framing the debate".

Anyway, your other point doesn't really hold up. What is dangerous about the new trend of information warfare is that the military bureaucracy is involved.

As opposed to WW2 when not only was every news snippet censored, but the War Dept. was actively funding funding propaganda in every medium available? What about this trend is new?

Ben Tilly said...

A major point of disagreement about wetlands.

I think that when the average person looks at wetlands they think, "Ugh. A bog." And want nothing to do with it.

But when they read about someone destroying wetlands they say, "Geez, that's a bad thing. Someone should do something about it."

That is, the debate has been successfully framed. (And for good reason.) But it hasn't been framed at a truly visceral level.

Anonymous said...

"What about this trend is new?"

i) Television

ii) The expertise to use it.

And SHEESH, this is NOT World War II. This is not about a clash of civilizations; this is about a regime of kleptocrats, oil men, and ideologues covering its ass.

David Brin said...

The "wetlands" vs "swamps" thing has it backwards.

Value is based upon scarcity.

When towns and farmland were rare and forests were everywhere, myths saw forests as dark and vile. Today, we establish in a movie that the dark lord is evil by setting him to chopping trees.

We have plenty of food and cities and farmland now. Wetlands are scarce, hence their higher value than before.

We needn't dismiss our neighbors as fools or manipulated by propaganda.

The better hypothesis is that a majority really do get it. When swamps are scarece, their functions have few reserves and the ones that are left had better be given a new and nicer name.

Oh! use science fiction to help kids might look at If you have a special interest in coastal lagoons and estuaries see

I'll resume posting soon. I am also about to send out my annual David Brin News-o-gram to about 1,000 fans....

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

The economic argument (scarcity = value) might be the whole story only if all else is equal. I think that in addition to that and the framing, we have begun to learn what function wetlands have in biodiversity, coastline protection, and water quality. Thus, wetlands have greater perceived value than before, in part because we see the place it holds in the ecologic network and that the functions a wetland performs hold value to us as well.