Tuesday, July 23, 2013

From Google Glass to License Plate Tracking: Transparency Updates

I've been busy with a few national interviews. One of them, on the NSA, transparency and aggressively looking back, has already appeared on the David Seaman Hour; other topics ranged 
GenerationChallengfrom SETI to SciFi. See also my interview on NPR News:  The Man Who Predicted Google Glass Forecasts The Near Future: Every generation has been challenged by new powers of vision, memory, perspective, attention and reach. If wearable technology will allow for some segment of society, say, government, to "spy," then all of us should want and have the same technology available.

"How do you see research and innovation making a difference for a better future?" The European Union asked questions like this of about a hundred "sages" in preparation for the Horizon 2020: Digital Agenda for Europe conference that I will help keynote in Vilnius, Lithuania, in November.  You can view my 90 second answer… and the other participants' answers… or learn more about the conference.

== Transparency News ==

The most important civil rights matter of all - a citizen's right to record his or her interactions with police and authorities in public places - took several major positive turns last year, with both the courts and the Obama Administration firmly declaring it to be "established" that we have that right. Alas, it will be hard to implement day-to-day.

At the recent Future in Review (FiRe) conference, Google visionary Vint Cerf said: "Anonymity or pseudonymity is a very important part of democratic society. On the other hand, I don't think that people should be free to cause harm." His solution: an Internet "fire department" that analyzes and compares the IP addresses one's computer is communicating with to ID known botnets or malware IPs.  This is not my preferred approach, which is to create commercial pseudonymity services that are strongly encrypted and reputation linked… and to encourage all responsible sites worldwide to snub non-reputationed sources.  But Vint is very smart and I'll always try a Cerf idea on for size.

== Get used to it ==

blog-alpr-imagepool-500x280-v06Massive tracking of license plates -- via cameras mounted on patrol cars, bridges or stoplights. They snap photos of every passing car, recording their plate numbers, times, and locations. Data are stored for months or years in police databases. And you expected… what?

Predictive policing.  It's happening.  Give us the same tools. Reciprocal accountability to look back at the watchers.

Data privacy researchers have been able to identify the names of hundreds of participants in the Personal Genome Project (PGP) using demographic data from their profiles.  And you expected… what?

Oh but we'll do it to ourselves! Motorola researchers now propose a “vitamin authentication” pill --  a small tablet that contains an electronic chip. After someone swallows the pill, the stomach acts as an electrolyte in the chip’s battery and powers it. The chip has a switch that turns on and off, generating an 18-bit signal like an electrocardiogram. One's entire body would be the authentication token, just like the fobs that many office workers carry to get on corporate networks. The implications… the implications… my head hurts just tracking some of them….

Privacy: Does Face Recognition cross the line?  Bah. We'll only be safe when all of us can access multiple different and redundant and overlapping and independent face-recog systems, all the time.  And when those systems report to us whenever anyone is glancing at our face... exactly what happens in "real" life.

Oh, and blogmunity member Jonathan S offers this: "One of the prizes offered last week on The Price is Right was an iPad with a paired remote-control, camera-equipped electric helicopter. Total cost, including the iPad: about $850 US. Yes, that's right, for about the price of a middling computer, you too can have the surveillance capability many people in the US want to deny their police forces because it's "too intrusive". Go to the park, with fully-charged tablet and 'copter; sit on a nice bench somewhere, and watch everything going on in the park."

Yep.  And we are at the fork in the road. Ban these things - they will shrink, the mighty will get them anyway, and we won't.  Or else embrace them, and you will be able to access a million eyes, and catch those who are staring at you.  Choose.

== Micro-Payments to the rescue? Saving Journalism too!  ==

jaron-lanier-who-owns-the-futureJaron Lanier opines that the internet should be changed to incentivize a myriad micro, nano or pico transactions between sovereign users and dispersed content creators (like you and me) so that we benefit from others' use of our own information -- a new utopian notion to replace one that he helped to coin, but that hew now rejects, that "information wants to be free."  Alas, Jaron is rather vague about how such a new system would work and - more important - what powerful interests in society might be marshaled behind helping to make it come true. (read more in his book, Who Owns the Future.)

In fact, I agree with his goal, which would empower dispersed citizens of a vast, middle class commonwealth. But I'll settle (for now) for two important things:

(1) a much more transparent world in which our present institutions of democracy, science, justice and markets work more effectively and

(2) a system of micropayments that would save the profession of journalism from possible extinction.

As it turns out, I've long explored parameters of the former… and I am pretty sure I know how to do the latter.  Indeed, #2 is do-able in a surprisingly efficient, simple and probably-effective way that will - almost overnight - persuade millions to pay a nickel per article to, say, the New York Times and thus save that journal and hundreds of others.  Think that's impossible?  That folks are too addicted to the free?

I'll bet you a nickel.

== And Transparency Miscellany! ==

The Seattle Police Department became the latest department to equip its officers with wearable cameras.  You saw it in The Transparent Society - back in 1997 and in Earth (1989).

In The Verge appears a fascinating report about the company behind the non-lethal stun guns that have become commonplace around the world, Taser International, which has set out to transform policing once again – this time, with Axon Flex, a head-mounted camera with a twelve-hour battery life that officers can use to record interactions. The device is constantly on, but it only captures video of the thirty seconds before its wearer begins using it, and then both video and audio while police are speaking to a citizen. Footage is then uploaded to a cloud-based service where it can be accessed by the police department. It includes an audit trail to reveal who has accessed the information and when.  (from Watching the Police: Will Two-way Surveillance reduce Crime and Increase Accountability?)

In a major victory for the community radio movement after a 15-year campaign, the Federal Communications Commission has announced it will soon begin accepting applications for hundreds of new low-power FM radio stations.

theprivateeye_01enr00-1-300x181I'd be interested in folks' opinion of The Private Eye,  a graphic/comic series that posits a future when all internet secrets got spilled in a single day… and an over-reacting society clamped down to make "privacy" a fiercely enforced right. (A sham of course, hence the tale.)  Explore and report back here!

== Eyes and ears in conflict ==

Ever experience cognitive dissonance between your ears and eyes? This YouTubed remix of a speech by John F Kennedy is overwhelmingly worth a visit, to hear one of the finest odes to an open and transparent society ever delivered by any politician… at least since Pericles.  Alas, or else hilariously, the visual part is one long screech of paranoiac conspiracy theories, re-contexting JFK's words into attacks upon everything from Freemasons to mainstream media.

Especially amusing: while Kennedy is describing the skulking methods of the Soviet Empire, the youtubers show image after image of US government agencies. Pithy!  Gotta hand it to em! Mind you, I do believe there are conspiracies! The ongoing effort to re-establish rule by secretive owner-oligarchy manifests in many undeniable ways, such as the list of top owners of Fox. (Or the less numerous but equally nutty leftist "truthers" out there. Yipe!) But these fellows do us no service by plunging down kookooland.

Listen to JFK's words, though.  Please do. While chuckling and shaking your head over the use of dishonest imagery to repurpose them.


sociotard said...

Deer Trail, Co. is considering an ordinance to grant hunters a permit to shoot down drones, and a $100 bounty to hunters who brought in their tag and an identifiable drone. FAA warns them not to do that.

Oh, and a comment to which I had to respond "citokate accepted":
2012: Obama said he saved Detroit.
2013: Detroit files for the biggest city bankruptcy in history.

Jumper said...

I suppose I will have to get that Guy Fawkes mask I have been meaning to buy, for the facial recognition software. Or think about that Philip K. Dick story with the ever-changing face mask.


This is often discussed here; a high-speed trader has been busted for manipulation via orders and cancellations of orders.

locumranch said...

It's one thing to point out the 'false dichotomies' of others, and it's another to point out that all dichotomies, especially the dichotomy of paired opposites, are also false because 2-value logic (of the qualitative Either-Or, Win-Lose sort) neglects the relative value of both neutral & positive sum (quantitative) outcomes.

Giving rise to bizarre statements like 'no dogma equals dogma' & similarly illogical claims like 'amorality is morality' or 'atheism is merely a subtype of theism', it works by misrepresenting a quantitative statement about a relative absence, zero value or lack of value as a qualitative presence (IE. "Zero Apples equals an integer of Apples) and then concludes by arguing that Zero Apples (an absence) equals the presence of some Apples in a perverse & illogical manner.

We see the same dichotomous process in the Transparency (Accessibility) vs Privacy (Security) argument: We use the term 'Privacy' to denote either an absolute or relative absence of 'Transparency'; we confuse 'Zero' Privacy with 'Some' Privacy; and we are then asked to conclude that Privacy equals Transparency. And, visa versa, we use the term 'Transparency' to denote a lack of 'Privacy'; we confuse Zero Transparency with Some Transparency; and we are then asked to conclude that the dichotomies of Transparency & Privacy are paradoxically equal and opposite which, according to disparate perspective, they are and they aren't because they (these so-called dichotomies) are merely different qualitative word-game names for the same thing.

No dogma equals dogma, amorality equals morality & good equals evil, just as privacy equals transparency, strength equals weakness & freedom equals slavery. Hooah.


TheMadLibrarian said...

Locum, I haven't seen that much doublespeak since my last reading of 1984.
"We have always been at war with Eastasia."

Iswettm 459: the newest hand lotion

David Brin said...

Sociotard, Obama saved the auto industry. Since that industry now employs far fewer people, it cannot by itself make a mismanaged city flourish.

Locu.... blah blah blah. Fact is, we needn't rade security for freedom or vice versa, THAT is a fals dichotomy. We can have both, by embracing tools of light that will let us both catch evildoers and catch those staring at us too much.

But go ahead blah blah.

Tacitus said...

Journalism as it presently exists is not worth saving imho. Sorry.

Having a few major newspapers or television stations exist as apex information providers is a poor model. Through sloth and bias they have squandered their legitimacy and utility.

We instead have a developing 21st century media that is eerily reminiscent of the 19th century model.

Back then even a small town would have several competing newspapers, pretty much one for each political party and a few for sundry immigrant groups who spoke other languages. You subscribed to one or probably more than one based on your inclinations.

In the electronic world we have a vast number of information sources. You subscribe a variety of them based on your inclinations.

If you chose wisely you can use them to double check each other...what is this one saying that turns out to be nonsense? What is that one avoiding altogether mentioning.

Of course you can choose poorly or ignore them all. The phrase "low information voter" seems to have become popular of late.

who fears Detroit is only the biggest bankruptcy in history "so far".

David Brin said...

Tacitus always glad to have you around. Tho UR a grouch!

Anonymous said...

sociotard writes:
"2012: Obama said he saved Detroit.
2013: Detroit files for the biggest city bankruptcy in history."

2012: Obama saves the auto industry, which is based in Detroit.
2013: The city of Detroit Detroit files for the biggest city bankruptcy in history.

There, fixed that for you.

Tim H. said...

Concerning Detroit, if it could annex the 'burbs, the tax base becomes large enough, and why do they want to live next to a war zone, anyway?

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

Aren't most "truthers" on the right as opposed to the "left?"

Tacitus said...

Grouchy seems unfair!
Color me concerned.

Regards the "next Detroit" there are a number of municipalities on shaky ground. The factors are always the same. Generous public employee contracts, an economic downturn, ambitious public works projects, corrupt one party politics.

If you take concern to the next level up, there are some states that have issues. In my last discussion of this topic it was pointed out that no matter how daunting the future debt it was always, well, in the future. And to be paid out over a longish stretch of time. Fair enough, and in most recent instances ameliorated a bit by new hires getting a less generous package.

But a moment of contemplation of current cash flow...

In general you should try to keep your ongoing capital expenses to some reasonable percentage of your income. Oh, and keep reserves for downturns, but that is another matter. I have seen the suggestion that, for instance, your rent or mortgage payments be no more than 1/3 of your annual income.


If you muddle through to the link Moody's is estimating state pension obligations as a percentage of annual revenues. The Hall of Shame:

IL 247% of annual revenue
CT 189%
KY 140.9%
NJ 137%
HI 132%

You will note one Red State in the "top" five, so politicians have something in common.

Can Illinois and company keep paying at this rate? Yes. And maintain a high level of public services? No.
And so far as I can tell this study - which needs more references - does not factor in projected health care costs of retirees. This is the real elephant in the room, which is probably a driving force in the Obamacare machine...get those retirees into the Exchanges fast!

I should say that I take no pleasure in the plight of Detroit public employee retirees. Yes, a degree of comeuppance for these unions is only fair. But to make them paupers..a genuine tragedy, and one that the Democratic Party machine deserves to have laid upon their doorsteps.


Paul451 said...

Re: Schneier, encryption, privacy, transparency.

I agree with the general defence of Schneier. But I'd go further, although it's not what Schneier was talking about, his desire for a network which is a secure as humanly possible doesn't contract with David's desire for monitorable actions and greater oversight, it enhances it. If the network is as secure as possible, then for the police/FBI/NSA to monitor it, they'd need to "bust down the doors", to get warrants, etc. Those actions are monitorable (potentially). If an agency has a direct backdoor into a system, or has an uncontrolled pseudo-warrant like "National Security Letters", then there's no access-control or -tracking outside of the agency with the backdoor. So encrypt everything, obfuscate everything, including... hell especially... the mundane and innocent things. Make the bastards work for every drop.

Alfred Differ,
"Breaking or taking them does no good at that point [...] It would be a bit like someone running away from police the moment they see them. You know they are up to no good, right? 8) [...] The follow-up to that, though, is that there must be real consequences for police who break the rules."

Sounds like you need rules similar to that used for drug-cheating in sport. The the cover-up is precisely as illegal as the crime. Ie, merely detecting the masking agent is seen as proof of use of performance enhancing drugs, even though the masking agent itself isn't a performance enhancer. So if a cop breaks a camera, or bashes and phony-arrests someone filming, take it as proof that he is corrupt or criminally incompetent even if you don't have evidence of any other wrong-doing.

"Part of transparency is the ability to identify one another. On a few libertarian friends of mine I've used an argument that we should be supporting a universal requirement for ID's"

I would only agree with this if I can create multiple IDs. There's no reason why two different businesses should each have the same unique identifier for me (which they can and will sell to each other and to agglomerators), unless I want them to.

Paul451 said...

Jonathan S,
"Yes, that's right, for about the price of a middling computer, you too can have the surveillance capability many people in the US want to deny their police forces"

I think there is currently greater effort to block civilians from having drones than police.

It always feels like it's only ever the left that "gets their comeuppance" when they get too big/corrupt/entrenched, never those on the right. The unions, but never the outsourcers, or the Rand-spouting exploiters. The left's politicised "charities" (ACORN), but never the right's phony Koch-sponsored "lobbies" (ALEC), or the Murdoch media empire.

Tacitus said...

Oh, and for your own budgetary planning.

David, your California household has as obligations $3,206 per capita.

LarryHart, sorry, for Illinois it is $10,340 per person.

I encourage you to discuss with your elected officials how, when and by whom this tab will be settled.

and per my prior, if this number does not include projected health care costs for retirees, you can probably double it.


locumranch said...

I agree with David that about false dichotomies. Most certainly, we can have both security & freedom or vice versa, but I don't necessarily agree that more transparency is always a good thing.

As information is value-neutral, transparency & accessibility is not really the issue. The real issue, imo, is what people choose to do with that additional information:

Will they use it in accordance with my particular moral code or idiom, to encourage independence & individualism, or will they use it to divide, suppress & exterminate?

It's those pesky inherent assumptions that make us part ways. David seems to believe that people will do the good or 'right' thing when given complete information & 'enlightened' guidance; Tacitus seems to believe that society must continue to honour their moral & financial obligations to pensioners, etc, when the going gets tough; Ian seems to believe that numbers (financial or otherwise) always reflect reality; and I do not.

Before we all get chipped, tatooed & quantified, can anyone tell me where I can get a cheap cellular jammer?

Damn the Transparency, and full speed ahead!!


Rob said...

Researchers Find More Evidence That Dolphins Use Names - Wired Science http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/07/dolphin-signature-whistles/

Mel Baker said...

As a journalist I've been arguing for a long time that every online article should be paid for by micropayments deducted by some online coin purse. Imagine paying a tenth of a penny or so for an article. That would work out for most of us what we used to pay for for the old print newspaper. I'm annoyed at the current pay walls going up. While I'm willing to pay for the local paper, I'd love to read more articles from the NY Times, LA Times and many others.. but not at the rate of 12 bucks or so a month. There is a company called CENT UP that is trying to do micropayments for articles, but I think they're still in start-up mode.

Jumper said...

Mel is right. Big papers, I suspect, should shoot for 50 million people worldwide paying $10 a year rather than 1.6 million paying $300 a year.

Jumper said...

Let me Google that phone jammer for ya:

alawida said...

I owned a LPR and Facial Recognition software company about 7 years ago. Even then, the software was very good but the need for it was very weak. Even at the time, i struggled with whether what I was building was inevitable or if I was aiding and abetting the Beast. Our software caught wanted murderers in Vegas and stopped crime before it happened several times. But, everyone was scanned and that data was available to any agency who asked. The good news is that it was all easily hackable with dirt, makeup and even just a hat so I believe that even in a totalitarian regime, freedom, like life, always eventually finds a way to thrive. It certainly sucks to be the part of the story that gets stepped on though.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Just a comment about pensions

Current (State or City) income should not be relevant,

As the workers have done their work the city/state/company has taken on a future cost
In most countries money to cover this future cost is then immediately (monthly) locked away in a pension fund - which DOES NOT belong to the City/State/Company -

Now if the actuarial forecasts or forecast-ed return on the funds are incorrect then there may be a shortfall
BUT it should only be fraction of the total amount

The more I hear of the way it is done in the USA the more I feel that my decision NOT to stay there in 2001 was correct

Jonathan S. said...

"I think there is currently greater effort to block civilians from having drones than police."

You didn't hear the uproar in the Seattle area when the cops purchased three drones for aerial surveillance. You'd think they'd proposed deploying Predators with Hellfire missiles, not electric quadcopters with little Go cameras mounted on them and a range of about a mile or so from the control unit.

Then again, Seattleites won't even let the Parks Dept activate the cameras installed in a city park to watch for prostitution and drug use. That, somehow, becomes "invasion of privacy", like the cameras can crawl off of the posts they're mounted on and sneak into nearby apartment complexes or something. Maybe Seattle's just weird about this. But nobody's objecting to the civilian drones, often marketed as "children's toys"...

Jonathan S. said...

It occurs to me that not everyone's seen the newest toy commercials here in the States. Yes, civilian spy drones are being sold as children's toys, as seen here:


locumranch said...

Thanks for the info on jammers, Jumper, but that ship has sailed for most of the west:

Selling, advertising, using, or importing jammers are illegal acts, according to a recent interpretation of the US Communications Act of 1934 (which bans blocking radio communications in public. Its also illegal in the EU; not available to USA and EU due to FCC/CE restrictions.

The use of privacy masks is also illegal in Canada, most of the USA and the EU is coming soon in the footsteps of Belgium & France.

And, soon soon, the possession of a hat or facial hair may be considered a criminal offence. Damn those bearded anarchists.


LarryHart said...


Can Illinois and company keep paying at this rate? Yes. And maintain a high level of public services? No.

While you hold Illinois up as a cautionary tale, keep in mind that Illinois had billions in surplus during the boom times of the 90s. It was REPUBLICAN governor George Ryan who spent it all in a shot on his "Build Illinois" project, a massive pork-barrel construction binge which admittedly did some good things, but completely drained the surplus and then some.

It would be as if "Joseph and his Amzaing Technicolor Dreamcoat" instad advised Pharaoh to go on an eating binge during the seven good years because, you know, the good years will go on forever.

Once the economy tanked and state revenues were in trouble, it did occur to some politicians to say that maybe we should have created a "rainy day" fund. Ya think?

All by way of saying, the state's troubles can't all be laid at the convenient door of the public employee unions and Democrats.

LarryHart said...

Johnathan S:

Maybe Seattle's just weird about this. But nobody's objecting to the civilian drones, often marketed as "children's toys"...

No kidding. My daughter has a little race-car, the size of an old "Hot Wheels" car with a tiny mounted camera which picks up picture and sound. She attaches it to the cat's collar and lets the cat go nuts with it just to see where it ends up.

I'm continually amazed at the quality of picture and sound that such a tiny thing picks up.

Ethan Bradford said...

My idea for micro-payments is to allow the users to be in arrears up to some limit (like $20) until you charge them; that is, they get $20 worth of services before paying anything. Then they need to put some real money in (to avoid being classified as a bank, maybe they can only pay their outstanding balance, i.e. they can't have a positive balance).

This helps overcome the friction keeping me from pulling out my credit card, since I already know the sorts of stuff I'm getting.

This would have to be tied to an ID that's not easy to create lots of, so users don't just make a new ID when they hit the limit.

Also, the service providers would have a similar deal in reverse: they don't get paid till they have a reasonably large amount owed (so this only works for intangible goods, like article page views). But at least there's a promise of something eventually....

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin

I still can't buy Star Wars on Trial for my Kindle
(New Zealand)

Ian said...

My thoughts on payments and piracy:

1. Develop a universal identifier system for copyright material which identifies the rights holder.

2. Record how many copies of different files are transmitted.

3. impose a small tax on all data transmission - on the order of a fraction of a cent per megabyte.

4. distribute the proceeds of the tax to rights halders o na pro rata basis.

Ian said...

A quick look at the Detroit retirement funds shows that the average beneficiary in the general fund gets around $18,000 a year and the average beneficiary in the Police & Rescue fund gets around $29,000.

I can't say that either amount seems "overly generous".


Ian said...

A bunch of the problems with the US public pensions arise from the plethora of small local pensions funds, which push up administrative costs, make the funds dependent on a single payee and make them more vulnerable to adverse events. (Part of Detroit's problem is that the pension funds invested excessively in Detroit real estate.)

Either the states need to combine their public funds into a single state-wide fund for public servants both state and local or they need to set up some sort of facility to guarantee benefits.

So Illinois, for example, would issue a billion dollar bond issue and invest the proceeds then pay off the bond from annual revenue.Any future actuarial surpluses in the funds covered would be transferred to the state fund. Th state fund would then insure the benefits of the fund members.

StephenMeansMe said...

Here's the full JFK speech from Archive.org (and downloadable!), unedited and free of conspiracy theory images: http://archive.org/details/jfks19610427

Well, you can find some kookery in the comments, but that's to be expected.

As for micropayments, it seems like a Bitcoin-esque peer to peer payment system might do the trick, though of course the implementation of the Bitcoin protocol leaves a lot to be desired. Something to be refined by clever, committed amateurs, methinks!

Unknown said...

Question for David and the other many published writers here:

That 2001: ASO essay I was pimping a few blog entries back just got front paged at Long Form, a site sponsored by Pitts Writers of the University of Pittsburgh Creative Writing Department. I'm getting all sorts of hits, which is nice. Duh. But will this help me find a publisher for the novel and shorts I'm doing too? I've got most of a rough to the novel done and have a new short coming up for crit at critters.org.

Unknown said...

Oh, and BTW. Speaking of Google Glass, the novel has that kind of technology as a major component to the plot line, with a central character loosely based on Steve Mann of MIT.

Ian said...

A couple of less than cheering thoughts about privacy;

1. People concerned about Google Glass might ant to consider that, if they live in the developed world, at an given time most of the people around you have the technical capacity to tape your conversations.

Google Glass makes ubiquitous surveillance more overt, it doesn't invent it.

2. Face recognition software is passe, gait recognition and biomorphic algorithms that operate off data such as gait length and limb length are the coming thing.

Then there are the algorithms that can predict your likely political beliefs, hobbies and future location based on the social media postings of your friends even if you personally never use social media.

Ian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
doris said...

Tactius 2 wrote: "If you chose wisely you can use them to double check each other...what is this one saying that turns out to be nonsense?"

The trouble is that too many sources are copying each other, so you can't know whether what you are reading is the truth or plagiarism.

etc said...

The trouble is that too many sources are copying each other, so you can't know whether what you are reading is the truth or plagiarism.

etc said...

The trouble is that too many sources are copying each other, so you can't know whether what you are reading is the truth or plagiarism.

Alfred Differ said...


I certainly don't mind if you want to maintain several ID's for various uses, but I think you'll run into trouble from the other side of the transaction. A lender has lots of down-side risk and little up-side gain, thus they are motivated to know the totality of financial information on you before lending money to you. That alone will motivate them to pay people who collect information relating your various ID's against your wishes. Since your reputation isn't your property (and shouldn't be) I'm not sure you would have a reasonable expectation of stopping them from doing that.

Regarding treating the mask as evidence of the crime, it would be interesting to hear what prosecutors say about this. I'm inclined to be supportive, but I would worry about unintended consequences enough to ask.

Alex Tolley said...

People concerned about Google Glass might ant to consider that, if they live in the developed world, at an given time most of the people around you have the technical capacity to tape your conversations.

That doesn't mean they should, nor that it is acceptable even if inevitable. Anyone can tape a phone conversation, but it isn't legal without consent from the other party if the conversation is private.

The idea that surveillance is inevitable and therefore privacy is ultimately dead is not acceptable to me. It seems fairly clear that surveillance will be unpreventable even in our homes and ultimately our thoughts. So what happens when drones (military/police/civilian) are the size of insects and can spy on you through windows or even be a literal fly of the wall?

Is there a limit or is all surveillance ultimately fair game?

Nor am I getting any sense that sousveillance is really working to redress the power imbalance.

Unknown said...

Alex Tolley Wrote:

"Nor am I getting any sense that sousveillance is really working to redress the power imbalance."

Yes, catching wrongdoing on camera might, in some cases, work to redress some evils committed by those in power. However, I hate to say this, and with all due respect to Dr. Brin, but my take is that sousveillance is a double-edged sword that will have the unintended consequence of leading to a panopticon like dystopia of societal wide self-censorship and suppression of original work. Enforcing a blandness on society only made possible by distributed mass surveillance.

Alfred Differ said...

There ARE two edges to sousveillance, but I doubt we will tolerate a dystopia. People have more than enough power to change social rules to put a stop to the worst abuses. Some will occur as we figure out what those abuses are, but I doubt they will be much like what we think today. We are too much like the Victorian era 'civilized' person trying to predict what can be done with ubiquitous telephony if we focus too much on the notion that no one will get anything done because they will always be distracted by calls.

Tacitus said...


From the report you quote (albeit 2010 report)

"The General Retirement System is
stable and secure and expects to meet
all future retirement obligations to
its members. As of June 30, 2011
the ratio of the System’s assets to
its liabilities to pay future benefits
was 83%. When comparing the
Retirement System with other
public employee retirement plans,
the Retirement System ranks very
favorably against other such plans
as measured by its solvency and
ability to meet all future retirement
obligations to its members."

Well there you have it. No problems at all, they got it covered.

Alternate explanation: The Detroit pension system has cooked the books past the stage of heating the constituent molecules to the plasma state of energy.

Your choice.


Duncan Cairncross said...

"Alternate explanation: The Detroit pension system has cooked the books past the stage of heating the constituent molecules to the plasma state of energy."

If they have it should be easily found and the chefs and auditors have committed criminal offenses

Put them in jail!

locumranch said...

Tacitus seems to suggest that Ian's quoted numbers may not reflect objective reality.


He also seems to imply that the parties responsible may have allowed ulterior motives to corrupt and distort their subsequent projections.


Which suggests (in turn) that even the most sacrosanct of numbers, even those that predict climate change, may be equally distorted & corrupt.


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Maybe you should be put in jail for being overly credulous.


Ian said...

Tacitus so what is the "real' deficit in the Detroit pension funds?

What's the basis for calculating it?

Who calculated it?

Are they legally liable for the accuracy of the figures the fund's auditors and actuaries?

Alternate, alternate explanation: the Republican administration is running a scare campaign in order to justify cut to pension benefits.

Incidentally: will yo uat least concede that th deficiency is a short-term phenomenon relating to the poor state of US asset markets and that the pension benefits are hardly excessive?

Ian said...

Locumranch, the word that coems to mind when reading your posts is drekmaul.

I assure you its use is quite appropriate.

Tacitus said...


seems to get it about right.

Pension obligations around 3 billion. Other Post Employment Obligations (ie healthcare costs of retirees) 6.4 billion. The Brookings Institute are not exactly scare mongering Republicans. The source is the bankruptcy filings by the Emergency Manager, Mr. Orr.

Now, to be fair, some say he is fudging and making it look worse.


As the reuters article notes, an outside actuary brought in to look at this question painted a dire, if "preliminary" picture...not 87% and 102% funding of the two retirement pools...try on 32 and 50%.

I think numbers coming out at a time when they can't be hidden, and numbers that include the so often glossed over retiree health care obligations command our attention.

I also think Mr. Orr is less likely to be cheating that successive waves of Detroit officialdom.


Ian said...

Tacitus, the principal difference between the valuation of the assets according to the trustees and "rough preliminary estimate" lies in Orr's plan to sue the funds to get back $1.5 billion in contributions from the city.

That's highly leaglly dubious.

Tacitus said...


posting on the run these days, I missed part of your last post.

No doubt the state of the US equity market is a big factor here.

As to whether the benefits are excessive my answer(s) are:
certainly not.
and yes indeedy!

Yes, the amount these folks are getting as pension money is not a lot. And if they have to take less it is unfair.

OTOH....my guaranteed pension when I retire is zero, only what I have put away for my own future. Health care costs likewise. I pay my own premiums now and will have to continue doing so from retirement to presumably medicare qualification.
So in that sense the retired public servants are getting a much better deal than I am.

Now, you could argue that their unions made a bad call....fewer demands on the wages front, lots more on the benefits side. I think they have served their members very poorly indeed.

But as I said in my first salvo on this matter, I do consider this a genuine tragedy.


Duncan Cairncross said...

Now, you could argue that their unions made a bad call....fewer demands on the wages front, lots more on the benefits side. I think they have served their members very poorly indeed.

How is this the Union's fault?

They negotiated a deal

Do you mean that it is their fault because they should have known that management would not meet their agreed contract?

Is this not like saying it is the murder victims fault because they should have known that that guy would kill them?

Mc said...

Mc how about using it for years. because the dedain of that glass from left and right isw different

Alex Tolley said...

"No doubt the state of the US equity market is a big factor here."

Bond market. The equities should be just a small part of the portfolio. Given the low yields on long bonds, there could be a big problem when rates revert to their means.

locumranch said...

Assuming that the term 'drekmaul' is idiomatic for 'bad shit', I agree that its use is just as appropriate as my epistemological assertion.

In medical research, the Gold Standard for numerical epistemological validity is the Double-Blind Prospective Study because of the humanity propensity toward self-justification, self-validation & self-aggrandizement. The double-blind aspect prevents both the deliberate & subconscious manipulation of experimental data by both the experimenter & subject; and the prospective component prevents (hopefully) the accumulation of retroactive berry-picking data bias.

On the subject of pensions, finances, climate change, government policy & what have you, this is not the case. Data accumulation is neither 'blind' nor prospective. All data is collected for explicit retrospective purpose, presorted & distorted by hindsight, directed toward a set goal, subject to ulterior motive, subjectivity & all sorts of manipulation.

'Drekmaul' in deed, these unblinded retrospective studies are, whose consumption necessitates a healthy dose of skepticism, especially when these easily falsifiable & biased studies represent 'best available data'. To argue otherwise is to prove that you're an ignorant self-deluding Princess Bride Vizzini.

Such data corruption is eminently conceivable and, as previously mentioned, the term 'inconceivable' does not mean what you apparently think it means.


Alex Tolley said...

Another example of sousveillance failure due to power asymmetry.

Dear Detroit Police, Photography Is Not A Suspicious Activity

Maybe the DPD personnel are just worried about losing their full pensions?

Ian said...

"Assuming that the term 'drekmaul' is idiomatic for 'bad shit', I agree that its use is just as appropriate as my epistemological assertion."

You assume incorrectly.

Yet again.

Anonymous said...

Hmm - so now "the author" is removing things not on the basis of content (which was polite and on topic) but on the basis of...what?

Franklin said...

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety"

David Brin said...

Sorry. Been offline.

See my latest syndicated article (you've heard it all before) in the NY Times


and Christian science monitor (longer version)


locumranch said...

Gordon R Dickson would approve of the gist of David's article: Adapt-or-Die to current circumstance.

I try to accept & love the world the way is, despite all its drecky unclean vagueness, because God appears to love a mess, and I do my best to embrace & adapt myself to this imperfect world with my less-than-perfect knowledge.

Others of a more numerically retentive sort may take a different tack, demanding clean & perfect knowledge, so much so that they appoint themselves God's handmaidens ("Putz Frau" I believe the term is, ... or is it Frau Putz?), and they dedicate themselves to setting God's plan to right with definitive anality.

Putz Frau or Frau Putz, you know to which retentive I refer, and it is a label that remains a truth even when I am only half-right. Especially so.


LarryHart said...

"Putz Frau"???

My knowledge of German is from WWII movies, but "Frau" isn't "maiden" is it?

Alfred Differ said...

Frau implies marriage I think.

locumranch said...

Apologies for being obscure when exchanging linguistic pleasantries with Ian who started the ball rolling with the inconspicuously colorful term "drek maul".

Depending on the Germanic dialect used, the word "drek" (also 'dreck") can refer to rubbish, frippery, drollery, trash, waste or excrement, and the word "maul" can designate "mouth, gob, moan, assault, strike, smear or paint" in the Germanic and "incorrect, perverse, ill, earthy, hammer, phallus, male member or bad" in the Latinate, a tribute to my testosterone-fueled verbal artistry I'm sure.

Returning the compliment, I referred to Ian as a paragon of cleanliness, polish & finery, the original Germanic meaning of the term "putz" btw, often associated with the professional term "putzfrau" which is used to designate a dedicated "polisher, cleaner, cleric, clerk, servant or bootlick" (to God as it were), whereas the term "frau" is merely the receptive non-masculine diminutive form of the word 'spouse'.


Ian said...


"Nitrogen-fixing bacteria do occur in some varieties of Brazilian sugarcane, which is the reason such varieties of sugarcane are known for producing high yields. Nottingham’s Prof. Edward Cocking discovered that one strain of that bacteria could colonize all major crop plants, at a cellular level.

The process that Cocking developed, based on his discovery, is known as N-Fix. It involves covering seeds in a non-toxic coating that contains the bacterium. As a seed sprouts and the plant grows, the bacterium enters through its roots, and ultimately ends up in every cell of the plant. This means that every one of those cells is capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere – just like sugarcane does.

N-Fix has been undergoing lab and field tests for the past 10 years, and has now been licensed to Azotic Technologies for further development and commercial production. According to the company, the bacteria should replace about 60 percent of plant nitrogen needs. It is hoped that the technology will be available for worldwide use within two to three years."

Rob said...

"die Putzfrau" = "Cleaning lady"

"die Frau" is nothing more or less than German for "woman". Its use as a name title or in the context of a yeoman family is the only place where the context implies a married woman.

In any compound noun, it just means "woman".

"das Fraeulein" is a diminuitive form of "Frau" and means "young woman" or "girl", again only implying marital status when used as a name title.

"Dreck" is corrupted mud, a good substitute term for mud that's been passed through the lower colon of any animal. :-)

"Putz" in Yiddish means... something else.

Alex Tolley said...

"What about privacy? Will we trade one Big Brother tyrant for millions of little-brother busybodies? Well, one California company now offers a system that detects lenses a kilometer away, telling soldiers when they’re watched. Civilian versions are coming."

What you are describing is an arms race, the "little people" always behind the latest surveillance tech of those with resources.

I think that is a "tax on privacy"?
We make laws to prevent incurring such taxes on commercial information asymmetry, why is privacy so different?

David Brin said...

ALex, yes the citizen will have power discrepancies wrt the mighty. That has always been true but we in the enlightenment developed three methods to equalize.

1) Strong, transparent institutions.

2) The ability to gather as hundreds of thousands of citizens in pooled interest groups like the ACLU and EFF who can use our dues to then hire top lawyers.

3) Divide the mighty and sic elites against each other. Indeed, this is why the oligarchs try so hard to capture civil servants and agencies. It is why they gather for secret meetings. It is why Fox is waging war on independent science and journalism.

But equalizing CAn happen! You and I are living proof.


"Cleaning woman..." Did someone just say CLEANING WOMAN!!!!????????

Aw c'mon. No Steve Martin fans out there? Hilarious under-rated flick.

rewinn said...

Drek Maul was Darth Maul's little brother ... the one that went to cons dressed as a Vulcan.

rewinn said...

As for Detroit: some would say that our national industrial policy, centered as it is upon exporting jobs to low-wage nations, makes it difficult to sustain a middle class.

Is there any doubt that if wages had kept up with productivity, Detroit and indeed our nation overall would be worrying about what to do with surpluses?

Acacia H. said...

Damn. Now I want to get a set of Storm Trooper armor, and an extra-large red Star Trek shirt. When someone asks what I'm doing I'll say that I got time off from the Death Star to come to the Con and I wanted to cosplay as a Redshirt. ;)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Randy, we deliberately chose an anti-mercantilist policy after WWII when MArshall et al set up Pax Americana. It was deliberate, in order not to repeat the errors of all other Pax powers.

The results have been spectacular. Since 1960, textile sweat shops moved from the unionized US north to the non-union US south... (see IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) ... till those unionized (NORMA RAE) ... then to Japan, then HK, Singapore, Taiwan... then Malaysia... then China and now Bangladesh. In each case, a couple of decades of horrible sweat shops...

..left in their wake an engaged proletariat demanding better wages and conditions, with kids in school and hot water from a tap. NOT a sweet process, but one that has worked. (My own grandparents worked in textile sweat shops in NYC & Chicago.)

And yes, it took jobs from American. And for 60 years we made up for it with innovation. Till the turn of the century, when the American innovation miracle slowed down, along with the War on Science and plunging into multi trillion$ land wars of attrition in Asia.


No one remembers DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID?

Duncan Cairncross said...

"And yes, it took jobs from American. And for 60 years we made up for it with innovation"

Yes - a bit

But Randy was talking about the 70's onwards when the "profit" from increased productivity was taken exclusively by the 1%
This had little to do with jobs being exported and a lot to do with breaking the power of the common man (unions)
The example is Germany,
German companies exported jobs but the ones left at home kept increasing in value

If the American worker had had a share of his own increase in productivity then there would be a ton of extra money to be spent in America on things like infrastructure that can't be outsourced

Alex Tolley said...

"it took jobs from American. And for 60 years we made up for it with innovation. Till the turn of the century, when the American innovation miracle slowed down"

I think I noticed the rot set in when some of the better business press intimated that there was no difference between micro chips and potato chips from a trade perspective.
While true in the short term, it was a clear sign of the hollowing out of US industry.

David Brin said...


LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

When you mentioned Steve Martin and "CLEANING WOMAN???", I was indeed about to ask you if that was from "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid".

However, I can't for the life of me remember the specifics of the joke.

Hey, give me a break. It's been 31 years. I know that exactly because I saw it as part of a double feature with a sneak preview of "ET".

rewinn said...

Anti-mercantilism bah! as others commented, that's not what I'm talking about.

Look at actual cases: the Boeing 787. The story told us is that its parts were built around the world, so we could get entry into nations that would otherwise exclude us from their market. Accepting that story for a minute, what does it mean other than that when you are the only anti-mercantilist into the game, someone else ends up with your lunch?

And the lunch is, of course, the jobs AND the technology.

Playing off one batch of workers against another, resulting in lower wages for both. Playing off one government against another, results in more sweetheart deals and lower combined revenue for both. This is a losing game for ALL workers and ALL governments ... although in the short run, whoever offers the best bid stays ahead of the rest.

Now if you want to argue that the result is that angry workers will organize to force better working conditions and wages, well and good - that might happen. History suggests that they might instead decide to blame their problem on Evil Others. But if the happier result of better conditions for all is to be achieved, then the FIRST STEP is recognizing the problem, which is the point of my comment. Exporting jobs from group of workers A to group of workers B impoverishes A without necessarily enriching B; mutual enrichment doesn't happen magically, it has to be put into the system against serious and well-organized resistance.

To simplify: do you really want to tell the people of Detroit that they sacrificed their standard of living so that Asian oligarchs can thrive? I really think that if the proposition had been put to a vote, it might not have passed.

Alex Tolley said...

@Randy - you are essentially saying that non-zero sum trade maintained by comparative advantage is untrue.

If work is exported from country A to country B, it is certainly true that those country A workers will lose, but the rest of the country gains by having to pay less for those goods.

I do agree with you when you raise the issue of state/municipal subsidies (no taxes, etc) to attract companies is a net loss (c.f. David Cay Johnston on this). This just unlevels the playing field.

The Chinese may be playing a bit of a mercantilist game today, but it will not be sustainable and those US treasury holdings will have to be converted to tangible assets at some point.

The bigger problem is that technical expertise and innovation move to where production is. This hollows out the technological capabilities of the state that is doing the production outsourcing.

rewinn said...

@Alex Tolley - if what I wrote sounds like disparaging trade entirely, then I did not write clearly. The theory of comparative advantage is amply born out by evidence, I think we may agree.
However you may be suggesting that one problem is that comparative advantage changes; it is not static - for a real world example we can look at the auto parts industry. When the factories were *here* we had an advantage but the Chinese (not to demonize them, but they are serious players in the game) built their own factories. The "comparative advantage" of the Chinese auto part factory over the Rust Belt auto part factory is low wages, bad working conditions and environmental degradation ... plus a government that takes seriously the concept that the economy doesn't just magically feed its people.
I confess to a bit of impatience with theory-driven analysis rather than a fact-driven analysis; the example I gave of the 787 stands. "We" didn't build the parts to that aircraft around the world because of actual comparative advantage; the idea that fuselages built in Italy are so much better that those built in Wichita that it's worth paying the extra shipping costs is completely lacking in factual foundation. Labor rates are lower elsewhere NOT because they do a better job there, or because there is cheaper energy (Puget region hydropower is an excellent comparative advantage) or rare ore deposits or any other comparative advantage OTHER than government subsidies or the low wages themselves.
If the theory says that isn't happening, the facts say that the theory isn't right and a more pragmatic approach is called for.

rewinn said...

Alex, with great respect, this deserves a special note:

"... workers will lose, but the rest of the country gains by having to pay less for those goods. ..."


That's the theory all right, but the math doesn't work.

Oh, sometimes it does. You grow bananas in Costa Rica and wheat in Kansas because of comparative advantage in climate, and shifting the Kansas banana production to Costa Rica probably enriches both.

Or if you have a labor shortage, it makes sense to export low-margin jobs so you can shift workers to better-paying stuff. This is really good for the American worker since as a whole we're a pretty productive bunch.

But otherwise ... do the math for the population as a whole. When the population loses $X of income due to job exports and prices fall $Y from cheaper imports, then the population as a whole is better off only if Y > X. There is nothing magical about the market that says that's gonna happen.

In fact, it's unreasonable to think that lost buying power from lost wages is going to be made up by increased buying power from lower prices of imported goods (in the absence of natural comparative advantages or domestic labor shortages). Partly this is because of the lower productivity and costs of transportation from abroad, but mostly it's a reflection of the fact that the production costs saved from wage cuts, crappy working conditions and externalizing environmental costs don't go dollar-for-dollar into cutting consumer prices. Why would they? factory owners aren't running charities; they export jobs to make money, not to help America.

Seriously: how cheap do car parts have to get to make up for the loss of the car part industry - and do you think they will ever get that cheap (... at least, before 3D printers make up the difference)?

Alex Tolley said...

@Randy - I disagree with your last set of numbers. However embedded in your argument is a much more important point. With lost jobs/lower wages, we lose the multiplier effect. Worse, we can lose entire industry ecosystems (like cars and car parts) which, in the case of Detroit, proved to be a death spiral.

Economics generally start with equilibrium models, but that is not always a good way to model the world.

Your point that real world data is more important than models is something I very strongly agree with. It is the only way to ensure that we build good models.

AJ Snook said...

I think this ever increasing monitoring might cause the cross section of society that just decides to dropout to also increase. People will start relying on ever cheaper tech (and energy?) to live simple lives in rural areas. The expensive medicine might be the one thing holding a lot of folks back from this right now. I'm trying to explore this idea in my novel.