Saturday, September 04, 2010

Brin's Corollary to Moore's Law

The cameras will get smaller, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile every year.

We are in for a time of major decision as the Moore's Law of Cameras -- sometimes called “Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law -- takes hold and elites of all kinds are tempted to utilize surveillance in Orwellian/controlling ways ...often with rationalized good intentions.

Alas, many "champions of privacy and freedom" push the nebulous notion that dark outcomes can be prevented by passing laws against this or that elite looking at this or that kind of information. In other words, by restricting information flows.

For a decade, I have challenged such folks to name a time, in the history of humanity, when that general approach has ever worked for long, at keeping elites blind, let alone in a world where cameras and databases proliferate like crocuses after a rainstorm.  No one has ever come up with a single major example, of any kind, ever.  Yet, they would bet our future freedom on that nebulous approach.

As Papa Heinlein said: The chief thing accomplished by Privacy Laws is to make the (spy) bugs smaller: "A law guaranteeing privacy simply insures that bugs -- microphones and lenses and so forth -- are that much harder to spot."

The alternative concept -- to look back and watch the watchers via sousveillance -- or counter- surveillance is a hard sell, because it is counter-intuitive and easy for elites to propagandize against.  And yet, it is the essence of what the Western Enlightenment has used, as its tool set for achieving the miracles of the last three hundred years.

I explain issues of transparency and sousveillance in more detail in my nonfiction book -- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom? ... and illustrate it in my novel, Earth.

Looking back... or upward or sideways ... is what John Locke and Adam Smith and James Madison et al recommended in order to create the reciprocal accountability that keeps abuse of power in check.

All of the main enlightenment systems - democracy, markets, science and justice courts - rely upon transparency-enabled reciprocal accountability to operate.  To achieve their positive sum games.  Games that benefit us all far better than the older (and more naturally human) zero sum games that emerge out of simplistic human nature.

For more on the balance between these four enlightenment systems, see my article: Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit.

==The Options We Face==

As the tools for either surveillance or sousveillance proliferate, we are entering a time of choice between two potential equilibrium states:

Option 1: a perfect Orwellian (or more-likely Huxleyan) hegemony, empowered by universal elite omniscience…


Option 2: a wide open citizen-driven society, empowered by sousveillance and universal omniscience.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no pollyanna.  I know that the latter might go sour, as portrayed in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and I explore possible drawbacks in some chapters of The Transparent Society!  There are many potential failure modes inherent in mass citizen empowerment and ubiquitous accountability.

But one thing we know from 5,000 years of recorded history... and evidence that goes back farther still.. is that Option 1 is guaranteed to be calamitously wrong. (Indeed, an oligarchic attempted putsch is currently underway.)

Moreover, as I point out in The Transparent Society, general omniscience does not automatically mean an end to privacy!  In fact, it is logically the only way we can preserve some.

The real question is; can enough of the world's citizenry be radicalized for transparency-based accountability to ensure an end to corruption and to make our growing institutions work well, world wide?  I depict such a radicalization in EARTH.  But mass populism appears to be deliberately steered in other directions, right now.

sousveillance-quote-david-brinFor updates on this issue, see the links posted at: Transparency: Privacy and Accountability in an Age of Increasing Surveillance.

=== And some Misc  Science! ===

Anyone interested in improving science education for kids should have a look at LabRats! I know "Dr. Shawn"... who is Dr. Shawn Carlson, MacArthur grant winner and former Scientific American columnist and founder of the Society for Amateur Scientists.  Useful fellow and cool-looking program.  

The era of personalized energy systems — in which individual homes and small businesses produce their own energy for heating, cooling and powering cars — took another step toward reality today as scientists reported discovery of a powerful new catalyst, nickel borate, that would be a key element in such a system. They described the advance, which could help free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company and the corner gasoline station, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. 

While antibiotics officially date to the discovery of penicillin in 1928, a chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Nubians (today's Sudan) shows that they were regularly consuming tetracycline, most likely in their beer, 1,700 years ago.

How Charles Darwin began the Ascension Island “terraforming project”... pointing the way to Mars?

Anybody seen this book? Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. If so, can you recommend it?

More than one "What the heck is THAT?!" photo. (Thanks Mike Gannis.)

Crispian Jago has developed a draft timeline (based on an original London underground map) showing the last 500 years of science, reason and critical thinking “to celebrate the achievements of the scientific method through the age of reason, the enlightenment and modernity.”

For years, claims have circulated that red rain which fell in India in 2001, contained cells unlike any found on Earth. Now new evidence that these cells can reproduce is about to set the debate alive.

==Brin Updates==

I’m off to London in a few weeks, for a gathering of the Royal Society, where I’ll debate the question of METI... whether a few individual have a right to gamble humanity’s future by beaming “yoohoo!” messages into interstellar space, under the blithe assumption that all advanced races will automatically be altruistic.  For background see my introductory essays on SETI & METI.  Or else, see a lurid encapsulization of the stakes in this trailer for the movie SKYLINE. (Appearing in November.)

PRIVACY PIRACY host, Mari Frank, interviews scientist, inventor and ny times bestselling author, David Brin, about privacy, transparency, surveillance and other crucial issues, on monday, september 6, 8-9am pacific time, kuci 88.9 fm in irvine, ca and audio streaming on KUCI. You can find updates of my audio/video interviews on ScoopIt.

Last time I plugged a much longer, wilder and more diverse podcast on the GEEKS ON show. They call it their most successful episode ever.  Here’s what one fan wrote in: ”Your last episode with david brin was by far the best episode ever. That man should be president. Please drag him back kicking and screaming if u have to. it's a shame he doesn't have his own podcast, should encourage him to do so!” Um... well... glad you liked it.  But I still think it is possible to have WAY too much brin!

Here is the listing for the e-book version of Star Wars on Trial. (Come on, you’ve been hankering to dive into the debate, admit it!) A luscious self-indulgence.

Keep looking ahead...


Deep Trunk said... is part of the Great Coverup. This image is not of "volcanic cones were formed by hot lava running over water or ice". It is obviously a cease and desist order visible from orbit from the Martian Imperial Navy against our continued spy missions over their sovereign territory.

They have already destroyed several of our spy craft. When will we stop this imperialistic assault.

David McCabe said...

Check out the Amazon reviews for Merchants of Doubts: 88% of them are either five-star or one-star.

Tim H. said...

Funny you mention METI, came across a story on about an opera performed in Klingonese, they sent an invitation via radio telescope to where they guess Klingons live.

Stefan Jones said...

The GEEKSON link is bad. Here is the direct link to the episode with dbrin:

Tacitus2 said...

A minor quibble, although Pennicilln was at least foreshadowed in 1928 it took until 1943 for it to attain practical use. Sulfa beat it to market by almost a decade. And for that matter, there were some "antibiotic" substances before either...just nasty inorganic stuff like mercury and bismuth. I recall as a young medical pup still seeing xrays of folks with heavy metal deposits in their, ahem, nether regions from pre pennicillin treatment for syphillis.

When in London drop by the Forbidden Planet bookstore. It will cheer you on the state of SciFi. You could look up the address, or do as I did, stumble across it by accident when trying to figure out where the British Museum had gotten off to!


Lorraine said...

@Tim H., Why would we want the content of our First Contact message to be earthers performing a minstrel show in 'alienface?'

TheMadlibrarian said...

Counter-transparency: is that why a number of police departments across the US and around the world get so irritated when citizens tape and broadcast what they do in the course of arrests? If you are an officer performing your duty in a public location, you should have no expectation of 'privacy'.

mecifig: an alternative to the acai berry, only available online. Get it now!

Tim H. said...

Lorraine, I think it's a particularly bad idea, we don't know if anyone's listening, or if someone is, who.

rewinn said...

On Government Transparency: "We Need To See What The Police See" makes a strong argument in favor of lapel cameras for all cops, all the time.

It's a little bit creepy but then, so is not knowing what really happens when a cop shoots a citizen.

On broadcasting Klingon Opera: what if the Elder Races are Critics?

Jonathan S. said...

What if the Elder Races are Critics?

Then we have nothing to fear - everyone knows Critics never actually do anything.

Now, if they're Reviewers, there may be an issue...

TwinBeam said...

OK, Skyline looks stupid, but perhaps I'm being premature.

Can we come up with some possible GOOD reasons why aliens might come (or send machines) to suck up human beings en masse?

- Cleaning up the planet in preparation for the new owners, taking care to minimize damage to the furnishings.

- They have a deep psychological need to dominate others, so in order to maintain peace among their own kind, they need slaves - lots of slaves. Robots don't tweak their brain-chemistry. Sure they could do it with pharmaceuticals - but who'd want to, when they can have the real thing?

- A school science project for an ultra-advanced alien kid.

- They believe they're doing us a big favor, reducing our population.

- It's the rapture - the mechanics are a bit different than most evangelicals had assumed, but ironically quite parallel to the idea of "rapture of the nerds".

- Inter-galactic vacuum cleaner sales demo.

Tony Fisk said...

What about a hyperspatial expressway routed through our solar system? (Check with the planning department over at Alpha Centauri)

trimp: a tender seafood delicacy prized throughout the outer eastern arm of the galaxy. Not to be confused with the less tender 'crottled greeb' (although the mistake is often made, if seldom twice)

Hank Roberts said...

> whether a few have the
> right to gamble

You might suggest they extend that ethical question past contacting aliens to other notions. Here are some ideas from the NYT today:

"... microbes that might help turn coal deposits into cleaner-burning natural gas.....
... a “gasoline tree.” ...
... synthesize influenza virus strains as a potentially faster way to make flu vaccines.... “What if we can make algae taste like beef?”
Hey, what could go wrong?
Story ideas abound ....


David Brin said...

correct link is:

Ian said...

Given their Saudi links, does it surprise anyone that Newscorp is doing busienss with North Korea?

Tony Fisk said...

News from downunder:

And the flapping butterfly has the independents going 2 Labor and 1 Lib. That gives the ALP + 4 others a 76-74 (1-seat) majority.

Interesting times. Musical chairs, anyone?

Scott Granado said...

David, thanks for this article and the great interview with GeeksOn (which is also available via iTunes as a podcast). The ideas you shared re: the ability (if exercised) of humans to anticipate problems and develop resilience resonated with discussions I've had with associates on how/why open systems adapt and learn (or not). A knarly point here is that adaptation and learning may not necessarily always lead to improved resilience. If this is true, in what ways can we further enhance our understanding of resilience? Also with respect to developing SF plots, I appreciated the discussion about being aware to the "idiot plot." Thanks! And, looking forward to your new novel--Existence--soon.

Rob said...

Bruce Schneier: "In at least three U.S. states, it is illegal to film an active duty policeman:

The legal justification for arresting the "shooter" rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where "no expectation of privacy exists" (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.

Massachusetts attorney June Jensen represented Simon Glik who was arrested for such a recording. She explained, "[T]he statute has been misconstrued by Boston police. You could go to the Boston Common and snap pictures and record if you want." Legal scholar and professor Jonathan Turley agrees, "The police are basing this claim on a ridiculous reading of the two-party consent surveillance law -- requiring all parties to consent to being taped. I have written in the area of surveillance law and can say that this is utter nonsense."

The courts, however, disagree. A few weeks ago, an Illinois judge rejected a motion to dismiss an eavesdropping charge against Christopher Drew, who recorded his own arrest for selling one-dollar artwork on the streets of Chicago. Although the misdemeanor charges of not having a peddler's license and peddling in a prohibited area were dropped, Drew is being prosecuted for illegal recording, a Class I felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison.

Full article

David Brin said...

I am usually an optimist. But this is where freedom could go up in smoke.

Tony Fisk said...

It sounds like a test case is going down...

Rob said...

Published on Thursday, August 26, 2010 by Al-Jazeera-English
Facing Prison for Filming US Police

by Chris Arsenault

When police arrested Anthony Graber for speeding on his motorbike, the 25-year-old probably did not see himself as an advocate for police accountability in the age of new media.

But Graber, a sergeant with the Maryland Air National Guard, is now facing 16 years in prison, not for dangerous driving, but for a Youtube video he posted after receiving a speeding ticket.

The video, filmed with a camera mounted on Graber's motorcycle helmet designed to record biking stunts rather than police abuse, shows a plain clothes officer jumping out of an unmarked car and pointing a pistol at the motorcyclist.

After he posted the video on Youtube, police raided Graber's home, seized computers and put him in jail.

Even though he had never been arrested before, Graber is being charged with illegal wiretapping and could face 16 years in jail.

Full story

Magento Theme said...

Did you the Huffington Post's review for "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming" - Tried to bring up some insight?