Thursday, January 18, 2007

How societies work... and improve...

I have just cross-linked my “Adopt An Ostrich” article on Daily Kos. (It took a little while to figure out the convoluted format.) I’ll only do this for the most “important” essays and I doubt I will do much comment-response there. So any Kos-ers who keep an eye open over there, please let me know if I ever need to pay closer attention.

ostrichpapersAnd yes, go thou forth, all of you, and Adopt an Ostrich! Seriously. People like you are only a couple of degrees of separation from the civil servants and skilled officers who we must reach. The inherently conservative -- but modernist and deeply loyal and sincere -- men and women who are members of the Protector Caste, who need to be awakened to a basic truth. That the Republic and civilization is in greater danger now than it has been for all our lives, and from an enemy as bad as communism ever was.

If we can waken enough of these sincere Goldwater conservatives, a tipping point may be reached and our civilization may yet be saved. Be tenacious, relentless.

==How Societies Work==

SOCIETIESSome of you may be interested in a paper by Rand Corp research David Ronfeldt, part of his continuing efforts to develop a framework about social evolution -- past, present, and future: In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes -- The First and Forever Form.

I’ll give the entire abstract here, because I think it is a fascinating topic and one worth considerably more sophisticated thinking than most of us apply to it.

ABSTRACT: "The latest in a string of efforts to develop a theoretical framework about social evolution, based on how people develop their societies by using four forms of organization-tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks-this installment focuses on the tribal form. The tribal form was the first to emerge and mature, beginning thousands of years ago. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging-the basic elements of culture, as manifested still today in matters ranging from nationalism to fan clubs.

"This report provides a lead-off chapter that sketches the entire framework, plus a "rethinking" chapter that shows why David Ronfeldt thinks that social evolution revolves around four forms of organization. A chapter then traces the evolution of tribes and clans, and the final chapter describes modern manifestations of the tribal form. An appendix reprints three op-ed pieces that sprang from Ronfeldt's efforts to understand the tribal form and its continuing relevance. Ronfeldt maintains that societies advance by learning to use and combine all four forms, in a preferred progression. What ultimately matters is how the forms are added and how well they function together. They are not substitutes for each other; they are complements. Historically, a society's advance-its progress-depends on its ability to use all four forms and combine them into a coherent, well-balanced, well-functioning whole. Essentially monoform tribal/clan societies and biform chiefdoms and clan-states, some dressed in the trappings of nation-states and capitalist economies, remain a ruling reality in vast areas of the world. It therefore behooves analysts and strategists who mostly think about states and markets to gain a better grip on roles the tribal form plays in both national development and national security.”

Fascinating stuff, by one of the brightest and most agile social thinkers around.

And while we are being intellectual, let me reiterate the recommendation that folks have a look at Must-know terms for the 21st Century intellectual by George Dvorsky. Another fellow who pours far too much energy into blogging... to our benefit. Dvorsky strives to come up “with a list of the most fundamental and crucial terms that are coming to define and will soon re-define the human condition.” Following all the links could keep you plenty busy. Too busy to go out to bars hunting for a mate. So it is a eugenics plot, after all.

==Mass-produced laptops==

See screen shots of the proposed GUI for MIT $100 computer... the project, the initiative to put $100 laptops in the hands of children around the world. The interface uses a highly abstracted spatial navigation metaphor, an extension of the familiar desktop metaphor, for easy, intuitive navigation that makes the most of the laptop’s networking capabilities. Children can move through four levels of view—Home, Friends, Neighborhood, and Activity—and connect with others in the network “mesh” formed by users.

Of course this is an area of great interest. Let me offer some thoughts.

1) by the time these laptops are mass produced, they will also have cheap cameras, augmenting the effect that cell phones are already having in the Developing World (see my earlier posting about this) empowering local activists with powerful tools of reciprocal accountability. (Obviously I am expecting that parents will also use these machines.) The proliferation of cameras, P2P computer nets etc will worry hierarchical despotisms... And yet the most sincere of those despotisms will WANT some of the anti-corruption effects of reciprocal accountability to apply upon LOW level public officials, whose waste and parasitism depletes the entire nation, the way an infestation of tapeworms can impoverish your body. You can expect nations like China to embrace grass-roots anti-corruption efforts, enhanced by these tools, while suppressing them at national levels.

2) As mentioned, there is discussion of empowering these laptops with peer-to-peer (P2P) capabilities so that they can network even without the existence of local hubs. If this happens, it will be one more example of how the 3rd world may leapfrog past the 1st world, with capabilities that we, here in the West, badly need. I feel that today’s cell phone companies, for example, have utterly betrayed the national and public interest by not engendering a P2P backup capability for at least text messaging -- capabilities that would have proved useful during crises like Katrina. (See more about this under “Comments” later, just below.)

If another disaster happens, in which many thousands or millions are cut off, with charged/sophisticated radios in their pockets that are completely useless when needed most, there will be hell to pay. Or there ought to be. Next time, the cell-cos themselves may get some of the blame.

3) Back to the $100 laptop. It is a great program and deserves massive support. And yet...

And yet... you keep hearing about how smart the interface design people at MIT are... and I don’t get it. The layered GUI of the proposed $100 laptop is sweet and intuitive... and still misses several key insights having to do with allocation of scarce human attention. It is an incremental improvement... and may do a lot of good. But it patronizes the ultimate users. And strenuously avoids the bigger steps that would actually help make things a lot better.

==Communication for the 21st Century==

EpoceneInteractionAnd yes, this segues into my Holocene invention. The recent awarding of my incredibly broad (126 claims) patent has somewhat raised the level at which people are taking these ideas seriously. Seriously... but often with a sense of heated rage... almost like the way a tsunami of geek-letters poured in, after my “Why Johnny Can’t Code” article, a few months back.

So far, I have been amazed by a rich variety of responses that seek to AVOID discussing the issues raised by my patent... how to help online users divide and allocate scarce attention across screen based environments, using methods and tools similar to those we already have used in the real world, ever since the caves.

Instead, a majority seem driven to complain at peripheral issues like:

“Why would anyone want to do that?”
“How can you patent something so obvious? Of course there’s prior art!”
”Patents are evil!”

Look... either these things are being done, usefully, right now, or they are not. The question is a simple one. And yet, a vast majority seems determined to avert their gaze in ANY direction but at the very basic issue, almost as if it hurts to look at a conceptual blind spot...

...but I won’t waste space here at the top level, answering this nonsense, especially since a few of the very brightest out there are starting to lift their heads from the depressing-dulling imagination-suppressing effects of the 21st-Century-So-Far.

I may add a little riff, below, in comments, elaborating. Overall, though. I am learning the value of patience. Waiting for the times to catch up, I suppose.


Anonymous said...

Your first two links to this blog over at kos are broken.

I read Startide Rising in college, about 20 years ago. Welcome to Dailykos.

Anonymous said...

I think that "BASIC", something like "God", might be one of those totemic words whose very presence clouds the intellectual faculties.

David Brin said...

Mark H thanks. I tried to fix the Kos postings. Do drop in now and then and let me know when something over there needs urgent attention.

Others, do you have a list of "favorite" past postings of mine here? Anybody who has compiled such a list (title and URL) is welcome to post it here. I can clip it and maybe off people elsewhere a "best of"...?

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...


Anything to do with the disputation stuff, and I'm sure the Kossacks would love "Age of Amateur" riffs.

" Today's "centrifugal" net is NOT an "arena" or commons."

Unfortunately, the server is currently keeping me from looking any further back.

Don Quijote said...

two unrelated but interesting stories:

So much space, so little time: why aliens haven't found us yet

It ranks among the most enduring mysteries of the cosmos. Physicists call it the Fermi paradox after the Italian Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, who, in 1950, pointed out the glaring conflict between predictions that life was elsewhere in the universe - and the conspicuous lack of aliens who have come to visit.

Now a Danish researcher believes he may have solved the paradox. Extra-terrestrials have yet to find us because they haven't had enough time to look.

The Unwilling Americans - More jobs the native-born won't do.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Evan Perez and Corey Dade offer support for this contention. Last September, a chicken-processing plant (one of those industries we're told Americans reject) in Stillmore, Ga., lost three-quarters of its work force after an immigration bust. In response, the company, Crider, "suddenly raised pay at the plant" by more than a dollar per hour and began offering better benefits: "free transportation from nearby towns and free rooms in a company-owned dormitory near to the plant." Miraculously, American workers materialized to accept the jobs.

Anonymous said...

DonQ, whenever I see the phrase "Doing jobs Americans won't do" I always remember to add the phrase "For under $5 an hour and no benefits!"

It's really funny, but if you offer the right pay and bennies, people will do pretty much anything, at least on the short term ("People will swim through shit if you put a few bob in it." - Peter Sellers, in 'The Magic Christian'). But people tell me there are jobs that "Americans won't do".

Anonymous said...

I can't do the math right now, but that guy's calculations about galactic exploration sound like they completely contradict everything I've ever heard on the subject. It sounds like he doesn't take into account self-replicating probes - that's probably why.

And they don't need to "find" us, anyway. WE should be able to see THEM, or their Dyson spheres.

Anonymous said...

Just when I wonder if Bruce Sterling has reinvented himself totally beyond his SF roots, he posts cool stuff like this:

"I like outer space.

If you're a science fiction writer, as I am, and you say you like outer space, it sounds very Captain Future and therefore kind of corny, but the thing I like best about outer space is the irreducible outerness of it. It's bigger than human pretense. It doesn't care what we think.

I mean: Saturn and the rings of Saturn, they're not merely our earthly myths and ideas and concepts of Saturn... you can blast a machine the size of a bus to go hang out in orbit there and snoop around Saturn, and by golly, it's all ACTUALLY THERE. The rings are braided, there's, like, lightning blasts and weird gravitational fogs flowing through them, giant permanent hurricanes, moons erupting, fields of dunes, lakes of methane... They're real, it's a real place, and it's unearthly. It's all churning along there, doing its vast and vigorous and utterly un-human thing, been there for billions of years, doesn't mind about us and all the tiny, distant issues that make us fret... That's a source of wonderment, really, and not the cheap sleight-of-hand mystification that commonly poses as wonder, but actual, irreducible wonder. I think that's a healthy emotion for human beings to have. Wonderment at our role in this very strange cosmos is a kind of realism. We ought to make it our business to understand a lot more about that."

David Brin said...

Sterling is a very vivid and smart guy.


Again, anyone interested in creating a fan site for "The ArchTechs"? Wouldn't take much....

Anonymous said...

Being in the UK I don't know too many republicans but I'm working on helping people over here see what's going wrong.
I'm looking through the Holocene stuff and it looks very nice, until I've read through the site I'm going to hold off on any detailed thoughts for now but can you please please please get you web designer to do something about the links? Having things change size when you mouse over them whilst still staying part of the document flow can cause the whole page to jump around and tends to make me feel seasick.
I do agree that the current state of 'chat' on the internet is quite woeful though.
Anyway I'm looking forward to more posts and I hope you efforts help to change things over there, because I've noticed a horrible tendency for our country to ape whatever you do. It's a bit worrying.

Anna Paradox said...

Here's the three I posted with annotations in the comments of Paul Phillip's blog.

That the war on terrorism was won to the extent it could by by the citizens of Flight 93 proving Americans had the will and backbone to defend themselves:

That the current administration is waging war on the officer corps of our military:

And, in an article rather than a blog post, that the left vs. right paradigm for evaluating politics has lost its usefulness:

cskendrick said...

Assessing the drivers and direcions of the future evolution of human civilization has been a personal project of mine for 15 years.

The World in 2100

In 2200

In 2300

In 2400

I've got sketches of this going forward three thousand years.

Speaking of future, I got two little boys to get to school. :)

- cskendrick (Dailykos member)

Don Quijote said...

China Criticized for Anti-Satellite Missile Test

The Chinese military used a ground-based missile to hit and destroy one of its aging satellites orbiting more than 500 miles in space last week -- a high-stakes test demonstrating China's ability to target regions of space that are home to U.S. spy satellites and space-based missile defense systems.

The test of anti-satellite technology is believed to be the first of its kind in two decades by any nation and raised concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. satellites and a possible arms race in space.

Apparently, someone does not believe in the wholesome goodness of the American People.

Anonymous said...

That the war on terrorism was won to the extent it could by by the citizens of Flight 93 proving Americans had the will and backbone to defend themselves:

Hogwash...and a poor example to use to support your contention. Did you interview some of the passengers in coming to your conclusion?

If Americans could defend themselves from Terrorism, Bush and his cronies wouldn't be in the White House right now, would they?

David Brin said...

Cskendrick’s future scenarios (cited above) are way fun sci fi and kinda thought provoking. Cool. Welcome to our community.

Shrubageddon sets mouth in motion without putting brain in gear. While it is true that we have only snippets of AirPhone conversations, to tell us details about what happened aboard fkight UA93, the effects are very clear.
(1) the fourth group of hijackers were prevented from completing their mission.
(2) Worldwide acceptance of the most likely story – a passenger rebellion – has put an utter kiabosh on the “Americans are decadent” myth, for now.

I say “for now” because this myth is absolutely guaranteed to reappear, every single generation. It was promulgated by Hitler and Stalin and yes, by Jefferson Davis. Every single generation, there are those who see the wealth and happiness and productivity and inventiveness and say to themselves “there must be an explanation; and the only one I will accept is that those people made a devil’s bargain. They traded something precious, in exchange for those pleasures.”

(There it is again… the logic and personality of zero-sum thinking. And zero-sum minds cannot comprehend positive sum scenarios. It does not matter what direction they are coming from or even how intelligent they are; it is a matter of basic personality.)

The alternative hypothesis… that Westerners are not irredeemably decadent*, but that they have all of these good things because they are better at running a civilization… is so abhorrent a concept that our enemies are completely guaranteed to come up with the Decadence Myth, every single time… and thereupon miscalculate that they can attack with impunity, without facing much grit, or gumption, or spirit, or “manhood” in response.

In fact, I cannot think of a time in history when such an event was so cheaply and so effectively answered. The heroes of UA93 disproved the Decadence Myth in a single hour, and simply won that war. On a level of inner psychology, that is, it might have been declared over, that very day.

Well, it happens that I agree that more was called for. The bringing down of Taliban Afghanistan – an operation planned under Bill Clinton and Wesley Clark – was effective and justified. (And performed with competence and doctrines diametrically opposite to those used in Iraq.) It could have stopped there, rather than using “terrorism” as an excuse to drag us into a grinding, debilitating, demoralizing, divisive, wasteful and often downright evil land war of attrition in Asia.

*(Please do not get me wrong. I DO believe that “decadence” describes many superficial aspects of contemporary American life. I am sickened by the wastefulness and by the shortsighted inability to plan. I just see much of this as laziness. It tends to evaporate quickly, in a crisis.)


Hey, did anybody see O’Reilly on the Colbert Report, last night?

Gawd what a twit! No wonder he and Hannity and Limbaugh never bring on their shows guests of high intellectual caliber, who might challenge them. He was such a putz. Here he is, on a freaking COMEDY SHOW, where he is being given the favor of air time touting his book, and all he can do is snarl at Colbert, instead of getting into the spirit of Colbert’s way-fun act. Accepting the TRIBUTE that the act is based upon HIM!

I have seen Colbert bring on other neocons who “get it”. They know he opposes them underneath the act and that the act satirizes their side. And yet they play along in a spirit of good fun. They make their points while having some natured laughs, too. William Kristol, for example, did himself no harm in his appearance on the Jon Stewart Daily Show, gaining cred as a friendly fellow (if loonier than a crazed cockatoo.)

But O’Reilly’s snappish playground mutterings and insults, last night, were not only low and self-demeaning. They showed that he is too stupid to operate at – or even understand – the multiple layers of good satire/comedy. Too dismally devoted to us-them enemies to even show a little fealty to the national character trait of fun.

“Culture Warrior” indeed. What a piece of work, egging half the country to declare “war” on the other half, helping turn America’s 21st Century (so far) into a divisive, nasty hate-fest. If a real foe of our civilization were to write down his dream-come-true, it would be monsters like this one.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Mr. Brin, my innuendo still stands. A couple of snippets of improbable cell phone calls (oddly contrived dialogue, at that) does not comprise a complete and thorough investigation.

I have no compulsion or compunction to prove my bravery, or the bravery of my fellow citizens to the world...especially in contrived and propagandized fashion.

My instincts tell me the events of 911 were a false flag, psyops event to be used as a catalyst for a new era of preemptive and permanent war. In that sense, the victims of 911, the dead ones, at least (because we are all victims until we collectively acknowledge the deceit), were collateral damage in a much greater, overarching campaign by those who purport to be in allegiance to us.

If you wish to survive, nigh, if we wish to survive, we have to make that call without signed confessions from the perpetrators, and take action from there. What action is the question and should be the focus of debate, not the onerous and ambiguous specifics of 911.

I agree with you on a number of topics, but obviously not this one. I suggest you take some of your own advice and pull your Ostrich Head out of the sand.

And, for the record, there will never be agreement on 911, and as such, no true and proper action will be taken. We will succumb to over and over again to the pipeline of new realities being foisted upon us exponentially and like the Jello Pudding Pops we are, we'll just melt rather than face the uncomfortable truth.

David Brin said...

Har! DOn't even try to draw on me, feller. I can out-paranoid an amateur like you, any day! I am a PRIME promulgator of the B-Movie "Manchurian Candidate" explanation of the Bushco behavior, after all. FInd me ONE scenario that's more noid than that!!!!

Having said that, the whole notion that the AirPhone calls were faked and the plane deliberately crashed by US operatives is just plain loco. The noid-schemes are NOT operating at the level of field operatives of the intelligence services, who are mostly loyal professionals... though ostriches.

Anyway, you'd need scores, hundreds of them to pull off something like that, utterly well-timed and without a single fallback if one element failed. DO YOU see any signs of competence like that? ANywhere? Crap.

No, your dismissal of the hero story drips of pure contempt for the masses. I know what I would have done, if I were on that plane, knowing what they (by then) knew. And I know most of the other men and women would be thinking and doing the same damned thing. EXACTLY what the AirPhone calls and the smoldering wreckage indicate.

Your grouchy doubts are not based on evidence but on personality, man. And if you are right about your fellow citizens, then we have NO chance at all.

Only if I am right... that underneath some laziness and ostrich delusion, there are real citizens to be wakened... only if I am right do we have a chance in hell of putting the monsters out of business.

ERic said...

Here's a blog entry about using the power of blogs and bloggers to debunk published lies. The whole thing is a wonderful illustration of a number of Brin discussion points.

matthew jones said...

Not that I believe that “shadow forces” in our government could pull off a UA 93 conspiracy (way too difficult to keep an operational secret), but in terms of civilian response to hijackings it doesn’t matter if it really happened at all.

Since 9/11 there have been numerous instances of passengers acting to protect “their” plane. See the ShoeBomber (,8599,203478,00.html), or here (, or here ( In all three of these cases, air crews were aided by passengers in thwarting / disarming / restraining would-be hijackers.

Whether or not UA 93 happened the way it has been mythologized, air passengers (and other mass-transit passengers as well) have now gotten the message that it is called-for to act in self-defense. The story has taken on a greater cultural significance.

True or not, it has changed the way people around the world act and react. It has become myth. A self-reinforcing lesson to all travelers. And eventually to all those in "public" spaces, IMO.

WorldMaker said...

On Holocene:

"Look... either these things are being done, usefully, right now, or they are not."

I hate to say it, but that smells like a False Dilemma. Communications, even limited to the subset of computer-based communications, is a hugely broad spectrum/continuum, and the particular combination of all of Holocene's chat components in a single application may be unique, but there certainly exist examples of portions thereof out in the wild.

matthew jones said...

More on the UA 93 conspiracy riff...

If UA 93 was a government conspiracy, then they picked the wrong heroes.
The cultural lesson from UA 93 is that average citizens, acting intelligently and bravely, made a decision to act instead of being passive. Does this sound like the desired lesson from an authority-worshipping neocon agenda?
Now, if it was an authority figure (pilot, air marshal, etc.) that had made the tragic but brave decision to crash rather than sacrifice more lives in the end.... Now that sounds like a neocon conspiracy. Message, "Sit tight and let the man in uniform make the tough decision for you."

Not what we got though.... We got heroes acting outside the law, outside authority. Acting like ornery Americans. And NOT waiting to be rescued

David Brin said...

WorldMaker... talk about a kettle calling a pot black! Har!

There are 126 claims, a dozen of them entirely independent. If you bothered to examine WHAT is being claimed ( you would quickly see that it is not a matter of whether some where else somebody has combined a set of narrow tricks in exactly a certain way.

It is that vast entire ranges of ways that human beings can allocate attention online have never been applied there... at all. Period.

And yes, you are doing exactly the same thing. "Of COURSE it has been done before!"

And I stick you with the same challenge. Show me. Show me where and when. Put up!

Gadzooks. The people who substitute sneers for openmindedness or curiosity. What the $%## happened to the nineties....

Anonymous said...

On the subject of hijacking survival, 9/11 was a major paradigm shift.
Old Paradigm: Hijacker's objective is attention from media, not death of hostages. Best survival plan: don't make waves, wait it out. People who make waves die. People who wait until negotiaters/rescuers free you live.
New Paradigm: Hijacker's objective is destruction, including death of hostages. Best survival plan: Do something to get control of aircraft before hijacker accomplishes objective. Since waiting = death, you might as well resist. Better to die in a cornfield resisting than die crashed into a building. Besides, you might survive.

Every 9/11 consipiracy theory I've seen that went beyond "Bush knew and let it happen on purpuse" (called LIHOP by theorists) into the "Made It Happen On Purpose" (MIHOP) always fell apart on the question "Why Bother?" If you need a Causus Belli for your War On Terror, the act of destroying 4 airplanes full of people would have managed it quite nicely. Flying the planes into buildings is all it would take, no need to plant explosives in the towers, no need to launch missiles at the Pentagon...

David Brin said...

The extremum of MIHOP is "Loose Change"... a bunch of leftie schizoids who make Intelligent Design/neoc-Straussian/black helicopter twits look absolutely rational and sane. Never, ever forget that jibbering loons can erupt out of all socio-political "spectra." Such people are not our friends.

And this is coming from a guy who promulgates his own paranoid conspiracy theory!

The difference is that mine does not require that scores, hundreds, of skilled and patriotic members of the civil service and intelligence/law-enforcement and military communities act like movie henchmen and knowingly betray their oaths and every fealty to the nation that they love.

Indeed, all that it posits is that a majority (not even all) of these men and women have let themselves drift asleep. So tuned to expect threats from communism, they have forgotten that opportunistic hatred of the Great Experiment can arise from any direction, even some that mouth patriotic phrases and wave flags.

THAT much is entirely plausible.

As for the conspiracy itself? Well, it could be multi-tiered, with only a few bona fide "manchiurians" at the very top. For the rest, you then pour partisan and dogmatic hacks into the top three or four political layers, atop Justic and CIA and Defense, etc... the kind who genuinely believe in the inherent superiority and wisdom of a movement that never, ever, ever has any meaningful accomplishments to show -- except for relentless damage to the republic they supposedly love.

Choose idiots who have contempt for the "reality-based community" and set them to work terrorizing the civil servants and professional officers, diverting their attention from forbidden subjects and forcing them to help implement policies that-- at-best -- represent "meddling interference by incompetent political jerks who never served a day themselves..."

The very same phrase that the right wing used, for three decades, to explain the loss in Vietnam.

Which brings us back to "adopt an ostrich." POINT OUT that the phrase above was exactly wht THEY themselves always used as the excuse for losing Vietnam. Ask them why they do not use it anymore.

David Brin said...

Oh, when it comes to patenting the obvious, see the “Web-based prediction marketplace”

And yet, if it spurs innovation, instead of hindering it? I am becoming convinced that one role of patents is to shout “Yooho! Hello? Mayby now you’ll pay some attention to what’s new, instead of staring, fixed and blinkered, at what is already familiar.”

Mark said...


It looks like you've updated your Holocene site tremendously since I last looked at it, but it appears there are some problems. Check out the questions in the FAQ like "paintings woman" and "celtic drawings". Those questions has some freaky answers as well.

I think Holocene has many interesting ideas, but I'm still not really convinced. Part of my problem is when I see hyperbole like "Yes chat -- a crude and confusing jumble of upward-scrolling, alternating-interrupting lines in which nobody gets to finish a sentence or track a thought for more than seconds at a time... No wonder realtime interaction remains a backwater, avoided by grownups."

I've said this before, but I and virtually everyone I work with uses IM for real work based communication. For one-on-one communications it really does server decent role. IM plays a nice role in between email and the phone call. In fact, I doubt seriously that this invention will do much to improve one-on-one communication.

Where I see promise is in aiding communication among people in larger groups in a semi-connected environment. Currently the only thing used for these types of communications are long email threads with large CC lists, and everyone hates those. Personally I don't like the idea of a "virtual cocktail party" but I think there is a large potential market for a virtual team room.

Anonymous said...


I've been working up a skeleton for a primitive Prediction Registry on Daily Kos' DKosepedia (political wikipedia). It's one of the few places I could think of with enough human-power and interest to actually build one of these things.

Is there anyone in particular you'd like to see go first? My current template is being built off of Thomas Friedman because he has a couple of pretty egregious bits to work off of, such as the "six months" that have stretched for four years, or admitting that he advocated for a free trade agreement that he didn't even see a summary of.

The trick at the moment in my mind is being able to get some semblence of balance (i.e., when heroes are wrong and villains are correct).


Anonymous said...

With a predictions registry, I think the trick first would NOT be to strive for "balance". The trick would be to strive for accuracy, first. You need to know who the "heroes" and "villains" are before you start deciding to highlight times they're wrong/right in spite of it. That same kind of false balance is the kind of thing that screws up large portions of the media, and encourages "moderate" liberals to lash out at anybody left of them every so often, to retain their "moderate" credentials. "Moderate" conservatives never do that, and not just because the moderate conservative is pretty much a dead breed these days.

Maybe the best way to do that would be to put up the predictions without names attached at first, or something along those lines.

And re: Chat, given I've been online for almost a decade now, and used IRC and other forms of chat most of it, I'd say the current chat can work quite well one-on-one, and pretty good for groups up to a certain size. Once you hit too big a size though, the scrolling does get too quick and things get missed.

Rob Perkins said...

Gawd what a twit! No wonder he and Hannity and Limbaugh never bring on their shows guests of high intellectual caliber, who might challenge them.

He was such a putz. Here he is, on a freaking COMEDY SHOW, where he is being given the favor of air time touting his book, and all he can do is snarl at Colbert, instead of getting into the spirit of Colbert’s way-fun act. Accepting the TRIBUTE that the act is based upon HIM!

Oh, come on! Did you see the other performance they gave, on O'Reilly's show?

The entire thing was a set-em-up straight man act, with O'Reilly as the straight man. It aired earlier and complemented the Colbert Report appearance.

The fact that O'Reilly did the exchange *at all* is an acceptance of the tribute. The man is more good-natured than your opinion of him.

cskendrick said...

Re: Predictions Registry

If it's accurate (ex: obliterating Iraq as a nation-state = really bad idea that might yet start World War III), score it as such, not as something that helps one school of political philosophy over another.

Personally, I'd love to see as much brand information as possible, to provide slice-and-dice comparisons across different criteria (ex. scientists versus engineers, Democrats v. Republicans, persons who like green eggs/ham v. those who will not eat them Sam I Am).

cskendrick said...

Re: O'Reilly, das gutes Mensch

I hear his female colleagues like him.... stay away from them.

Rob Perkins said...

I simply cannot help myself:

Re: O'Reilly, das gutes Mensch

"in Bezug auf O'Reilly, den guten Mensch"

Thank you. I now return you to a less pedantic world.

Look, there's no doubt O'Reilly is less than O'Reilly thinks. But what you saw on his show and Colbert's was nothing less or more than prepared schtick. From both ends.

David Brin said...

Mark, thanks. I did not know that a worm must have inserted two very weird FAQ questions that we should delete! Thanks for spotting it.

Re IM replacing chat, please pause and ponder a bit.

What does IM do that you are NOT allowed to do on any current fully-synchronous medium of online communication? (e.g. avatar worlds.)

It lets each person have his or her own window, within which they can say whatever they like, without interruption, actually getting to finish a complete thought. Generally people are brief in IM. Still, you can write more than a sentence, which you CANNOT do on current chat or in avatar worlds like Second Life.

Now think. IM is as close to synchronous as you can get, and still express a cogent thought. But IM is profoundly crude. It is a quicker form of email, essentially sending TELEGRAMS back and forth to people!

I assume you've seen slide #10 in the power point show at It tries to make this point when discussing Holocene trait #1... separation of individuals. But I had not actually made the connection to IM before, so I have changed that slide (it will take a while to update it on the site.)

Now I say
"This is what IM users like, the ability to say complete sentences or paragraphs or thoughts, without interruption, even in a rapid exchange."

Now I know it is difficult for people to wrap their heads around. But this capability simply does not exist, practically, in synchronous presence environments online. There are a couple of quirky exceptions. But the bizarre fact is that people are so used to suffering that they do not even know it isn't necessary.

I believe that Holocene's real potential is in empowering hosts. Right now, money pours into individual implementations of specific worlds, like Second Life or World of Warcraft. That is just plain stupid. What we need is a vast pallette of ready-to-use world-building tools that would let hundreds of companies, thousands of groups, even MILLIONS of individuals create hosted environments that suit their own needs!

Let some emphasize sexy avatars, pulling that capability off the shelf. Let others create "virtual team rooms" that emphasize useful planning tools and discourse and "meetingware." This kind of capability should be as diverse and widespread as we currently think of web site creation tools!

But this is a vision that I simply cannot communicate. I am supposedly a very good communicator! But I explained this to Google's very brightest, and at the MIT Media Lab, and a dozen other places, and all that their minds would let them see is "rectangular text boxes on a screen."

I kept hearing "of course that's been done before!" and never ever ever does the smartaleck meet my challenge by showing me that supposed prior art! Never. Ever. They just wander off, shaking their heads, muttering. "It HAS to have been done before. It HAS to have been!"

As if that matters!!!! What my patent proves is that it IS NOT being done in any useful or widely-known way. "It?" There are 126 claims, covering a VAST range of "its"... almost none of which are being done. At. All.

Thanks for at least raising interesting and related objections.

Odin, Predictions registries are another passion of mine. I think for starters it should just be a place where people list and "out" others for their past predictions, or post in clear language new ones, while inviting the original predictor to rephrase or disown!

I think that predictions that are too vague should be paraphrased! Challenging people to make it explicit.

Rob, I admit I did not know about Colbert's appearance on O'Reilly's show when I scribbled my screed about the other event. I had to go help my son with homework during the later portion when Colbert showed off his stolen microwave, alas! If O'Reilly behaved better on his own show, I am glad. He is still a grotesque person who actually wants America divided by an unnecessary and outrageously oversimplifying and IQ-busting "culture war" weakening us in dangerous times.

Naum said...

...I feel that today’s cell phone companies, for example, have utterly betrayed the national and public interest by not engendering a P2P backup capability for at least text messaging -- capabilities that would have proved useful during crises like Katrina. (See more about this under “Comments” later, just below.)

If another disaster happens, in which many thousands or millions are cut off, with charged/sophisticated radios in their pockets that are completely useless when needed most, there will be hell to pay. Or there ought to be. Next time, the cell-cos themselves may get some of the blame.

Thank the RIAA and MPAA and congress critter friends that have embarked upon a campaign to see that such devices ARE NOT PRODUCED, or if such functionality is provided, it is HOPELESSLY CRIPPLED to the point that renders the device useless in that regard.

While all the fanfare over the iPhone, 10 years later, and the PDA devices on the market are craptacular. Why I can't a get a Franklin planner sized (5" by 8") tablet that will allow me to (a) use Graffiti/handwriting recognition & drawing to take notes in mobile manner, (b) serve as a Wi-Fi/bluetooth/ethernet net device and (c) cell phone/SMS. Camera and voice recorder should be standard too. Technology exists to make this package but I don't see one available at the electronics store. People still buy PDAs but many (like me) gave up on them as Palm has not evolved the devices. Holocene invention... ...patent has somewhat raised the level at which people are taking these ideas seriously. Seriously... but often with a sense of heated rage...

So far, I have been amazed by a rich variety of responses that seek to AVOID discussing the issues raised by my patent... how to help online users divide and allocate scarce attention across screen based environments, using methods and tools similar to those we already have used in the real world, ever since the caves.

Instead, a majority seem driven to complain at peripheral issues like:
“Why would anyone want to do that?”
“How can you patent something so obvious? Of course there’s prior art!”
”Patents are evil!”

Looking at your team page, I see you, an old school project management pro and and an "intellectual property" officer. Not a recipe for success -- again, one just has to look at what software development efforts have succeeded. The next generation of interesting software isn't being written by by MBAs and "IP" officers, it's being written by hungry young programmers...

Not saying that there isn't merit in your idea pool here, but your blindly casting aside questions of "What will this do for me that existing and evolving tools cannot and will not?" isn't going to see it come to fruition any sooner... ...already, in reviewing your holocenechat site, I don't see any reference to spam, which is the biggest problem plaguing online community at this time. And what does holocenechat give me over Skype (where I have video/audio IM client that can easily conference a party and have done so many times).

Just the presence of an "intellectual property" officer drives away programmer interest. I know, as a programmer myself, my blood boils seeing the presence of such draconian tools. While I recognize that's the playing field, still, a new software endeavor that starts there seems to me, to be doomed.

The best thing you could do is open source it and let hackers loose on it. Otherwise, it will never arise unless it has M$ power backing and even then it will be dicey.

With all due respect, as I am a big fan of your writings, Sir, I am struck by your tone -- it reminds me of geeks that at first glimpse of http (the web), thought "what a waste, only getting 1 file at a time", I can get a whole directory with FTP...

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

Yes, I intended to credit you with the Prediction Registry idea. I'm just interested in seeing it happen.

Others - "balance" was the wrong word. I apologize because I myself have gone after the inanity of balance, finding that one ID idiot or global warming denier to stand across from a legitimate scientist and instantaneously make them equal.

However, I also understand in a project like this, there will be inevitable sample bias (we tend to remember what was bad about those we dislike and good about those we like) in which predictions to post. That may make it difficult for scoring to be accurate at first. I'm guessing that over time, this will become adversarial enough to flesh out a full speaker's record.

I will go with the initial testing first to see how this goes, and then try and devise a corrective.

Woozle said...

For what it's worth, Dr. B., when you said "a vast palette of ready-to-use world-building tools", the HoloceneChat concept suddenly started to make more sense to me.

I am now updating the inaccurate model in the back of my head and shall ponder further...

Mark said...

There are two problems with simple IM (between only two people). One, if both sides are talking you sometimes get to the point that lines are out of order and you can't tell what a line is in response to, or worse, responses look like they are to the wrong line. Like:

Dave: Did you see the new demo?
Dave: Did you like it?
Mark: No

It looks like Mark didn't like the demo, but perhaps he didn't see it. The longer the line, the more likely this is to happen. Holocene addresses this exact situation, you won't get things out of order, but largely that is because order is lost or not obvious. (Admittedly, this applies to many other chat programs as well.)

The easiest way to solve that is to actually let people see what you type as you type it, but people don't like that for other reasons.

The other problem is length. While you can write a large amount in IM, it never seems useful. Usually, if I have that much to say I would rather pick up the phone. Or, if I need to gather my thoughts better, put it into an email.

As far as I can tell, Holocene doesn't touch this at all.

But the power of Holocene is to be able to deal with groups better. And as long as the users are actually in active participation, I think it succeeds.

But that is a big if. I don't think the line you draw between synchronous and asynchronous communication is actually correct. It isn't a line, it is a continuum. The best (and perhaps only) true synchronous communication out there is the phone, including conference calls. Real users in chat rooms and so on tend to not be 100% engaged; they are doing other things at the same time.

So the question becomes can you compete with voice for true synchronous communication and/or can these methods be used to improve quasi-synchronous (partially connected) communication? I think the answer is no to the former but perhaps yes to the latter.

It would be interesting to see what the folks at Apple or some other UI wiz would do with this idea.

Anonymous said...

One more thing:

My father (a professor of electrical engineering) doesn't use AIM because he never learned to type. (He types with one finger and gets what must be less than ten words per minute.) Is typing speed a barrier to meaningful real-time communication?

David Brin said...

Naum, it ain’t our fault that the development team is so small. I have tried to find a “nineties guys” who is capable of actually “getting” what Holocene is about and who might take over company development, using skills that made the last decade so much more adventurous and bold and innovative than this on...

...or else a similar guy who would PARAPHRASE accurately what it is that we think we have and lucidly explain why it’s not interesting. The problem is that supposedly bright people keep staring at this stuff as if looking into their own blind spot, then speaking dismissive things that seem aimed at some strawman that they are looking at somewhere ELSE.

Note, my willingness -- EAGERNESS -- to have such a person paraphrase “Here is what I think you guys think you have here...” should at least give me honesty points. Of course the delusion could be mine. But I’d have thought that the patent would at least win us enough benefit of the doubt for people to try the exercise.

For example, you say: ”Not saying that there isn't merit in your idea pool here, but your blindly casting aside questions of "What will this do for me that existing and evolving tools cannot and will not?" isn't going to see it come to fruition any sooner.”

Uh, say what? The web site and PPT guided tour are filled with SCORES of examples of precisely that kind of thing! Again, I defy you, openly and to your face. Tell me exactly where I have “blindly cast aside” such questions? Sorry, but you are showing all the same symptoms.

”Just the presence of an "intellectual property" officer drives away programmer interest. I know, as a programmer myself, my blood boils seeing the presence of such draconian tools.”

Yet another complete crock! Using high moral dudgeon as a substitute for talking about the actual ideas. Any “programmer” who would let himself be driven away from good ideas by the mere hint of IP is no true programmer. Moreover, since the primary purpose of this IP is to get people to FINALLY ADMIT that something HAS NOT BEEN DONE YET, I refuse to apologize. What bull.

As for your last para, sorry, you are the past-fixated trog, not me. You are like the guys who dismissed hypertext without a thought, muttering “why would anyone want to click on a hot part of a page and make another page appear?”

Enough. Either take the challenge and study the innovation and PARAPHRASE back at me what it is you think it is about, or admit that you are throwing up side issues out of pure laziness.

Mark, you in contrast seem to actually trying to wrap your mind around the concept. Yes, Holocene allows IM conversations to be parsed according to order, time, priority, reputation and many other factors. The key innovation is allowing users to prioritize attention according to dozens of conversational traits, and to handle information better than ever.

But Holocene can be ACTUALLY synchronous, which IM is not. Hence it can take on many traits of a phone conversation. Indeed, actual phone talk can easily be incorporated.

(Hence I totally agree that there is a continuum between synchronous and asynchronous, as you seem to get that adults are repelled from the utterly useless synchronous extreme.)

I would love to present this at Apple. But after my experience at Google, I must tell you. I think there is a mass psychosis at work. I am honestly open to the notion that *I* might be the loony one, completely loopy (despite the patent) for imagining that a dozen innovative ways of interacting might find use online.

But I have been asking for bright guys to explain my lunacy to me for five years and almost none of them will even try to paraphrase. They just look away. Frantically.

Woozle said...

Given Our Esteemed Host's brief example chat between Dave and Mark, I felt I had to put in my 2 cents worth about what I see as the solution (or a solution) to that sort of problem.

Since I've put it in before, I thought I had better make my argument a little more substantial and actually draw the mock-up I've been saying I need to draw.

(Pausing only for a plea to Our Esteemed Host to understand that this is not my attempt to paraphrase my understanding of Holocene Chat, nor is it necessarily in conflict with the ideas in HC; I need to go back to the Holocene web site and read again, in the light of maybe-new maybe-understanding. And I don't think HC is loony, for whatever that's worth.)

All that said, here's the mockup.

Naum said...

Uh, say what? The web site and PPT guided tour are filled with SCORES of examples of precisely that kind of thing! Again, I defy you, openly and to your face. Tell me exactly where I have “blindly cast aside” such questions? Sorry, but you are showing all the same symptoms.

David, I DL'ed the PDFs and reviewed the docs again (no PPT for me please, and it speaks volumes that you have PPT instead of a working prototype or at least "net" enabled demo, i.e. flash/or any video file that can play in browser...) to be fair and see if I'm remiss here. But I see...

* mention of spam and/or how to handle unwanted intrusion. This is #1 issue in online discourse today, something that threatens its very useablity, and may throw us back into the throes of closed networks, "club membership" available by referral only. While ideal for some communities, a chilling end for the good of open access...

* ...and if it is a closed network (where potential spam is not a factor), what additional features are netted over a tool like Skype, instead of comparing to MySpace or 90s flavored IM clients (including IRC)... thoughts are that your descriptions are at a high level, and the proof is in the pudding, that is, many internet savvy are using tools like Skype in such a capacity, holding collaborative conferences (inc. video/phone) over encrypted channel w/ability to search/scan through past conversations...

* ...reputation systems are of great interest to me, and I've drawn quite a few algorithmic approaches to implementing them (and have implemented a few of my own), but again, proof is in the pudding, I can't assess until I see it working...

Your holocene concept does merge the online gaming interaction model with the crude IM model. And yes, I read through the nifty features that put it above anything in existence today, that I grant you...

...but the point I guess I am not making clear enough, is unless you can make it ubiquitous enough (i.e., via F/OSS route and free dissemination leading to rapid familiarity or via backing of major player), not going to happen.

But as has been witnessed through tech development, worse is often better. People get used to doing things a certain way and become quite resistant to revolutionary change. Not to say that it doesn't ever happen -- just that it needs a readily apparent motivator, or some other super-gel or colossal support backing...

Any “programmer” who would let himself be driven away from good ideas by the mere hint of IP is no true programmer. Moreover, since the primary purpose of this IP is to get people to FINALLY ADMIT that something HAS NOT BEEN DONE YET, I refuse to apologize. What bull.

David, if you truly believe this, then you haven't been paying attention to recent trends, at least in the realm of internet applications. Just frequent the online dens where programmers converse, and while I realize nothing is totally absolute (i.e., Windows programmers/older techs), you will come away with a different perspective.

That said, I wish the best for it... ...always excited to see innovative developments in online discourse...


David Brin said...

Arghhhh! Naum says: ”it speaks volumes that you have PPT instead of a working prototype or at least "net" enabled demo, i.e. flash/or any video file that can play in browser.”

I could not have asked for you to prove more perfectly that you CLAIM to be paying attention and are demonstrably NOT doing so.

There is, indeed, a net enabled demo that runs using any web browser, assisted by flash, demonstrating (albeit crudely) about a dozen of the 126 claims. If you had read the material at you would have known this fact. It is stated very clearly, very many times. Moreover, we have invited many people to view it, before we ever had IP. IP came AFTER trying to give it to the world.

” mention of spam and/or how to handle unwanted intrusion. This is #1 issue in online discourse today,..”

Another complete crock distraction.

a) One can offer new products without having to offer a solution to the one problem that fixates you.
b) in fact, were you to even glancingly have looked at the “reputation” portions of Holocene, you would see that such things are given serious attention. And do NOT try to tell me that reputation has nothing to do with spam. It only makes you look silly.

What boggles me is that you keep talking AS IF you understand what it is about... while relentlessly, in almost every paragraph that you write, demonstrating that you have not a single clue. Indeed, your objections relate to strawmen, having nothing to do with Holocene... or with prostheses to allow users to augment or control or allocate attention online.

Naum, with respect (and you are a good citizen of this blog!) I will waste no more time -- I have learned better -- discussing this particular matter with you. I recognize the symptoms. Till you are ready to paraphrase, what it is that YOU think that I think Holocene is about, please find something else to misunderstand and stop wasting my time.

Woozle, in sharp contrast, went ahead and scrawled together a bunch of schematics that experiment with different ways of dealing with time/position context problems in onscreen conversation. Very to-the-point! And Woozle, when you try the demo (you are invited) you’ll see that two of your schematics come eerily close to what you’ll see there.

Finally, with respect, to anyone who says the open source movement is sacred with programmers. I will surprise him by saying that he’s right. And that I approve of that trend in GENERAL. Hey, I am Mr. Openness... though I also believe in SANE IP. How can that be consistent? So obsessed with such issues have many guys become, that they wind up playing RIAA’s game by making it a polar, on-off issue. Bullshit. That is oversimplifying indignation junky-ism. It has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

To the point. I have been trying to get people to notice that we are in pre-GUI days when it comes to interpersonal online conversation. It is weirdly symptomatic to rant - “no we’re not!
and if you found something new, it ISN’T new!
and I don’t have to prove it!
and if it IS new, then it’s not important!
and if it IS important, then you are EVIL to try and make some money from it!
or even to use IP to prove that it hasn’t been done before!”

Yammer on. But it still has nothing to do with the challenge. Prove you understand the concepts, then explain why it’s not new, or not important.

With respect

Naum said...

a) One can offer new products without having to offer a solution to the one problem that fixates you.

It doesn't just "fixate" me, it's something that threatens open discourse on the net.

b) ... And do NOT try to tell me that reputation has nothing to do with spam. It only makes you look silly.


I have been trying to get people to notice that we are in pre-GUI days when it comes to interpersonal online conversation. It is weirdly symptomatic to rant...

/agree here too...

Yammer on. But it still has nothing to do with the challenge. Prove you understand the concepts, then explain why it’s not new, or not important.


Perhaps you are right in your assessment... ...I will conclude by saying that if it can't be explained in a sentence or two, then it's not going to resonate...

David Brin said...

Har! This is how it always ends. Never acceptance of the challenge. First utter denial. Then pointing in every direction EXCEPT at the innovation. And finally shrugging and walking away, instead of showing any curiosity.

Here's your sentence or two:

#1. In real life our brains and senses assist us to allocate scarce attention and exchange information with other entities, according to cues such as distance, orientation, reputation, time, and content of discourse, but people online have been forced to engage each other without similar tools, criippling discourse.

#2. Simple processes can evaluate similar attributes in the online world and smoothly alter the representation of text, avatars, symbols, video, audio and the content itself, in order to empower the user to allocate attention vastly better, sending, receiving and assessing information efficiently.

There. Just two (long) sentences. And to those who grasp what the sentences mean, nothing could be simpler or more obvious.

Now you go to the site and actually look with an open mind. Try to paraphrase. I bet you can't. Not your fault. Something very weird and psychological is going on.

Naum said...

Har! This is how it always ends. Never acceptance of the challenge. First utter denial. Then pointing in every direction EXCEPT at the innovation. And finally shrugging and walking away, instead of showing any curiosity.

David, let's see:

1. I downloaded and read thru the 3 PDFs listed here TWICE. On the "tour" page there, there is no flash, just PPT and PDF downloads. Your downloads page show no flash either. Or maybe "flash" to you means Powerpoint -- I don't know... I don't have Powerpoint installed (on this home machine at least) and like useability experts, consider its use to be a grave abomination. Now I am no genius, I confess, but I spend 10+ hours a day (most days) working on the internet and if it's not easily discoverable for me, it's not going to be found by most.

2. I've read thru the entire website, a very disconcerting website (the UI specifically that makes the page go tipsy topsy upon mouseover.

3. It isn't up to me to prove it can't, it's for you to show it can. That would be a terrible expenditure of my limited resources -- so I grant you, my cursory investigation is flawed and I concede that point -- you, far more intimately involved -- it is your baby. It doesn't sound like it in this thread, but I'm rooting for it to succeed as I would encourage any new net app venture...

4. /sigh, not "walking away", have followed with interest your endeavor here, and it's been a while and was puzzled why there wasn't at least a prototype implementation, given the length of time that has passed since I first read about it. If it exists, I was not able to locate it on the site.

Here's your sentence or two:

Thanks, better would even be one shorter paragraph... ...but it's not me that needs convincing... ...I'd try it out just to play with it and see what can be done... ...I was thinking more of the internet community in general where as time passes, become more and more attention deficit and are bombarded with latest and greatest applications that are "revolutionary" or "evolutionary" and promise unseen and never before goodness... ...a wonderous thing but OTOH makes for a crowded space in which getting noted is a tougher task...

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...


Reputation systems in chat will only significantly help spam if they completely lock out independant newcomers.

Spammers can and will "start over" every minute if that's what they have to do to get their message heard.

Indeed, that's what most do in various types of chat already, since any chat that provides some sort of banning mechanism plays whackamole on spammers the instant it sees them.

Second: You talk about a prototype, David, but you don't let us see it. All the site provided in the times I looked at it was generalities. The generalities are true, but that doesn't matter. I've looked at the site with the explicit intention of trying to hack together my own prototype of it ... and couldn't, because you don't give that information on the site.
I understand you may be doing that from the IP perspective ... but you're still shutting me (and I assume others) out.

I'd like to participate. I'd like to help. But I can't, because I don't know what holocene chat is, and since I don't know how to find out what the patent says, I can't look there either.

I've made an effort, I think I understand what Holocene is trying to solve, but all I have managed to see on the site are clear descriptions of the problem, and vague assurances that Holocene solves it.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be simpler to give a few college students a case of Yellow Dye Meth-Kola, three large pizzas and a copy of the Second Life client code, and come out with a Holocene prototype one long weekend later?

David Brin said...

Naum, I am tiring of this. Time and again I show you that you are apparently hysterically diverting your gaze from things that are right in front of you. You respond by insisting that your perceptions are correct. For example, you insist that you have read every word of the site. And yet, you continue to conflate a PDF/powerpoint "guided tour" with a working demo and claim that the latter does not exist.

Um? Then to what do the following words refer?

"Experience Our Holocene Demo:
Unlike many bold concepts, Holocene exists in reality. Holocene alpha already delivers many of the promises in a cool-fun prototype, illustrating (at a basic level) the potential for much more to come.

Interested in joining an appointment-only demo, participating in one of our online test communities?  Send a request!   Tell us your background and reason for interest in trying out this breakthrough, in its early stages.

These words are right there, in the open. Proof that this is a problem of your perceptions.

"It isn't up to me to prove it can't, it's for you to show it can."

Can... what? You don't even know what it's all about! The TOPIC does not interest you at all and you show no sign of curiosity about what the issues are. If your very life depended upon it, right now, you could not describe what Holocene is about.

Indeed, I even wrote the "two sentences" you asked for and your mind veered away from them, as well.

YOU are the one wasting MY time. If a topic interests you, and you dare to approach a person and say "you are full of it" then at least be able to paraphrase WHAT it is that you think they are wrong about. You persist in hectoring me with plaints that show only the extent of your laziness. I am done discussing it with you.

To the rest of you, I apologize for this. But it exemplifies the weird problem I face. Only one percent ever bothers to find out what the topic is before offering the six cliches that I mentioned earlier. Notice how Naum went through every single one of the six(!), without ever once addressing the things that the innovation or the patent deal with!

This is actually a pretty cogent example of what I talk about in the disputation arenas paper. The Paraphrase Challenge is the purest sign of intellectual honesty in any argument. If you at least TRY to rephrase what the other person is saying, then you will either
(1) find where you have misconstrued him
(2) increase your credibility to refute him.

I am happy to discuss Holocene with anyone who will do me the honor of paraphrasing what it is about and then show me where it is
* not original
* not useful
* trivial
* uninteresting
* evil to patent

I stand ready to see evidence for any of these broad-brush contentions. My problem is that whenever anyone DOES actually paraphrase, it is followed by huge enthusiasm for the whole project. There is never any overlap between those who get into the ideas and those who find them unimportant.

Yes, the one who is deluded may be me. But I have been seeking disputants to show me what's wrong, for years. And all I get is one guy after another shaking his head going "Nah! Nah!"

What a waste of time. I'm done here.

David Brin said...

Blake, every time I get a bunch of students riled up and raring to work on this, the same thing happens. Their prof comes in, shaking his head and - without showing a clue that he gets what it's a bout - tells them the following:

"If this was interesting or useful, some big company would already have done it."

They always use almost the same exact words.

Oh, occasionally, someone adds: "If this is so original, why aren't you devoting all your time and energy to it?"

Now THAT is actually a cogent point. In our culture, we have the mythology of the passionate innovator, like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, spending ninety hours a week building Amazon or PayPal from scratch. In contrast, I have poured a few tens of thousands and some years into Holocene, but only part time and never risking money or attention needed by my family. Cautioned, perhaps, by the tale of Mark Twain, who went bankcrupt pouring his life savings into the WRONG typesetting machine.

As is, Holocene is one of a dozen projects -- like defense/transparency consulting and nonfiction and this blog -- that have reduced my productivity in science fiction. So what would you have me do?

Yes, this thing probably would have broken through, by now "build it yourself and they will come" if I had poured everything into it with total risk and "passion." And yes, perhaps the whole online world would have changed by now...

...or I might have gone bankcrupt on the "wrong online attention management system."

This is what happens when innovation is done by generalists. I am able to step back and see Big Picture stuff that's missing... and maybe even patent the big picture... but carrying these things through to product requires the focus of specialists and I don't have it. Alas, the specialists seem incapable of seeing the big picture, so we're stuck.

Hence, I am closing this topic. I have my IP and I will let the world catch up. When people get sick of lobotomized online discourse, maybe this will help. Or not.

I have a novel to write.

Blake Stacey said...

Hey, I've said a couple times that "prior art" existed for Holocene, if you count the cyber-chat VR of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. (See here and here, probably amongst others.)

On the other hand, I've already written far too much about GitS:SAC without anybody paying me, so I'll be quiet now. But I would like to try out the current Holocene demo.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

David: You have your IP, and you have your IP in such a way that nobody else can, apparently, attempt to replicate it.

You've gotten me interested in Holocene. I'd like to try it out, I'd like to write my own version ... but as far as I can tell, I can't do either.

Yes, you indicate there's a demo somewhere, that I could somehow request to use. But the way the site talks about the demo, it seems as if one has to be a professional investor to get the permission to see the demo.

This may not be the case, but I don't know.

I don't think patents are evil. I do think that patenting the software idea behind Holocene may have been a tactical mistake - it makes it less likely that people will try to make a free software implemention of it. Depending on what you want, that may be good or it may be bad.

hmm. I've now searched for the patent, found an online version ... and it tells me little. I don't know what a "perception attiribute" might mean, for instance. I could envision it meaning "people can change their avatar's appearance", or "people can change who they see", or any number of other things, but all of those that occur to me are either uninteresting or alredy exist.

I can't view the images for some reason, so the possibility remains that those would be edifying ... but the textual description itself is ripe with jargon that I, despite my moderate degree of training in computer science, cannot extract meaning from.

If your attempts to get people interested in making an OSS version of Holocene were anything like the patent, David, no wonder nobody bit. Knowing what I do of your other work, I'm sure the idea is incredible ... but I haven't seen it clearly communicated anywhere.

David Brin said...

Blake, I have looked at "skin" computing and while I agree that it seems plausible that it could help implement Holocene ideas in tasty ways, I am not sure I grasp how it serves as "prior art" when it comes to appraising a user's online cognitive cues and then helps to allocate attention by adapting information inputs like size/font/gisting/opacity/alerts/reputations etc.

Complementarity looks plausible. But there just seems to be no overlap. I could be wrong, of course. I just wish people who hurl "prior art" at me would even MENTION the words "attention allocation" or anything even remotely related, in order to show that they know what the topic is.

It is a topic that almost nobody is discussing.

David Brin said...

Sotek, is it even remotely possible for you to notice that "you are doing it too"?

I have had dozens of emailed expressions of interest from people who were not investors, and who asked for - and received - invitations to try our demo. We restrict it in TIME not in access. Why? Because it is a creaky thing that was hand-built by a single programmer, working quarter-time for a few months! Yet you ascribe all sorts of malignant reasons, never the possibility that there's nothing unscrupulous going on, at all!

Indeed, if you and Woozle and Blake want to be put on the list, just write to me and we'll invite you sometime soon... when Mark and I find time to run another one.

Likewise, "it makes it less likely that people will try to make a free software implemention of it." is malarkey. We are still looking for people who even remotely get the TOPIC!

In fact, we do have a small coterie of bright guys who "get it" and are doing volunteer work, offering tweaks and images and this and that. None of them has a farthing to rub together... and I am starting to be kind of proud of the inverse correlation between money/power and who gets it. Frustrated, but kind of proud. In any event, it is complete nonsense to say that the patent is driving off would be innovators and implementors! That is like saying to a girl - "I know your dad taught you how to defend yourself, so I'm not going to ask you out."

Bull! A patent is a negotiating tool. If you have not asked a person their intentions, you have no right to diagnose those intentions as evil, just because they are CAPABLE of defending themselves.

So far, the patent has had one chief effect. It has stirred a lot of angry guys to come close, sniff a little and shout: "I don't get it, it's unclear, there's prior art and I don't have to tell you what it is, and even if there is no prior art it can't be original, and it's your job to overcome my hostility and prove it's original, even though I refuse to even try to address the topic or even know what it's ABOUT, because if it was interesting someone else would have done it and you CAN'T patent things that are so obvious, and if you have then you are EEEEEEVIL!"

But at least MORE guys are screaming at me, since the patent. That makes it worthwhile, I guess.

You say you've read the patent. It is written to be very very broad... and apparently we got away with claiming VAST ranges of potential interaction capabilities. You want to see clearer illustrations? Go to and download the "guided tour." And if you want to gripe about it being in power point, do so somewhere else.

As for your final paragraph, does it even parse any actual meaning, other than an insult? You have done the same thing... absolutely refused to even try to look at what the TOPIC is, let alone paraphrase or show curiosity about what "attention allocation" means.

I am stopping this thread because it is only rousing hostility with guys I generally like.

Either I am the deluded one (possible!) or else there is genuine mass hysteria going on. I am good with considering the former possibility! But so far, not one guy has actually stepped up with evidence that it might be so.

*PRIZE ALERT* WHo was the guy who spread the weird meme notion that some ideas CANNOT BE CONCEIVED BY MOST OF HUMANITY TILL A CRITICAL MASS HAS PONDERED THEM FIRST?

Oh yeah! Rupert Sheldrake.
I sometimes wonder if his weird idea may be right.

How else to explain why Xerox would refuse GUI? Or TEN years of internet guys would reject hypertext?

Anonymous said...

I finally read your Powerpoint presentations...

"Gisting" as you describe it strikes me as an AI-complete problem. How the heck are you going to program a computer to decide what parts of a segment of dialogue are important? Your own example has

"Are you folks discussing the strange weather? I hear there’s
a tornado watch in grove city. My cousin has a house there."

turning into

"tornado watch in grove city"

but I don't think we know how to make computers do this kind of thing yet without massive human assistance. If you have to specify what words in your own speech are important while you type them, the participants aren't going to bother.

The attention-directing tools, though, seem like a really clever idea, and you're right; I haven't seen anything like that anywhere else.

David Brin said...

Doug you are right that "gisting" is a tough thing to perfect. In fact though, it was the one Holocene idea that really clicked at Google! They got all excited about it, after Doug Engelbart (inventor of the mouse) and I presented complementary concepts there.

In fact, gisting does not have to start out perfect in order to be useful! As youy can guess. 4 years ago guys at DARPA said to us "we can supply that part" when they were about to fund Holocene...

...just before Total Information Awareness caused a scandal over there and zeroed their public/open info budget. Man we've had bad luck.

Do email to be put on the demo list. and good luck.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I'm not communicating clearly my (fairly jocular) claim of "prior art" in a Japanese TV show. DB's reference to "skin computing" corroborates this feeling. Let me, then, try to explain more fully:

The animators of GitS: SAC know that the fictional technology they portray (set in a world c. 2030) has to fulfill several criteria. It must (a) look cool, (b) appear plausible within legitimate SF extrapolation, (c) look cool, and (d) not confuse the viewer. To achieve these aims, they created a design for how a virtual reality, the "cyberbrain" interface, might appear to the user. It is the closest example I could think of to a system which addresses "attention allocation". Of course, the animators did not actually code software which implements this interface, but simply created the appearance that such software might exist in twenty-five years' time.

At various times, the GitS cyberbrain interfaces have shown abilities much like "gisting", though in a world where combat tanks are almost sentient, this is perhaps easier to achieve. Alerts, size/opacity modifications and geometric arrangements by priority are all commonplace.

When I spoke of a software "skin", I was referring not to hypothetical haptic sensory-immersion environments, but to a methodology which is alive and well today. A skin in 2007 parlance is just a collection of parameters specifying the appearance of a program. It's a decorative theme, which one can apply to the "surface" of a program to change its outward properties without affecting or having to care about the inner behavior. Apply the concept of abstraction barriers to interface design and this is what you get.

For example, the popular music-player program WinAmp has an exhaustive skin collection built by interested amateurs killing their free time. You can make your media player look like a slot machine, or an old MS-DOS program, or any of eleventeen million other possibilities, all without having to modify a line of code.

Assuming that Holocene ever gets off the ground, I'd expect that the client would be an open-source program whose user interface is highly skinnable. Popular skins might make the user environment look superficially like a Star Trek computer terminal, or the Light Cycle game-grid from Tron. Naturally, someone would craft a Ghost in the Shell skin before too long; given that the series's fictional software is a decently close approach, in a few dimensions, to the Holocene specification, this particular choice seems apt.

David Brin said...

Blake, I have ordered Ghost In the Shell in order to view it at home, thanks. Double, since I must study up my anime and Japanese SF before heading there for worldcon in August. Also visiting China!

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

David: we're talking past one another for some reason.

Yes, I don't know what Holocene is. I want to, and don't. I am saying that this is a problem, and the Holocene website is doing an amazingly bad job of explaining anything about what Holocene is, as opposed to the problem it solves.

And I didn't mean to say that you were requiring people to be investors to try it out - that's merely the impression the website gave me. I doubt I'm the only person who got that impression, but I might be.

On the less likely bit - the fact that you have people working on it for free doesn't disprove my point in the least! I'm saying that someone who isn't in communication with you is less likely to do it, and the patent produces a layer of discouragement for some people to get involved. (Like me, in fact - if you hadn't been ranting repeatedly, I wouldn't've bothered saying anything.) Less likely and not happening are, of course, two different things.

And I'm not going to say it's obvious - because I don't know what it is!

My final paragraph - yes. It is, honestly, an insult. My apologies. Specifically, it is me insulting the quality of your communication of what Holocene is. I'd paraphrase, but I already know I don't know.

But I'll paraphrase what think I do get:
Holocene is (somehow), a solution to the problem that people have trouble communicating well with the current online methods, because those methods make it difficult for people to pay attention to things in the manner that is natural - it's harder to focus on the people you actually want to listen to, and the flow of conversations is mangled.

Is that an accurate paraphrase of the problem?

On the powerpoint issue: I don't know of any way to view a ppt file on Linux. I'll go see if there's something that magically makes it work without me needing to do anything about it (openoffice /might/ have something, I guess), but if not, I can't view them. ... or hey, there's PDFs. I'm going to assume the PDF versions are the same as the PPT versions. I will go look at those and report back in a bit.

I'll also send an email about the demo once I dig up the address to send to.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Alright. I've looked at the PDFs. I think I have some idea of what's with Holocene. If I understand correctly, the main idea presented is that of adjusting "speech bubble" size based on a few controllable factors, which are based on the ways we use to manage our attention in the real world.

Aside from gisting, most of it looks technically easy, but the slides without someone explaining them aren't informative enough for me to understand it fully enough to implement it.

That said, I'd like to try. You say people are working on it - are they making an opensource version? If so, I'd appreciate the information required to track that down. (I noticed it was going to be implemented using Qt - that could indicate either way, although it would mean I couldn't legally contribute if it weren't opensource, though if it was I at least have a decent understanding of Qt.) If not, what would be your opinion of an attempt at an opensource version?