Thursday, January 16, 2014

Your Cell Phone becomes a tricorder!

See the heat. FLIR ONE, the first consumer-oriented thermal imaging system for a smartphone, displays a live thermal image on the phone’s screen, letting you see in complete darkness. A family can detect intruders in total darkness, find a lost pet, or see through smoke in an emergency.
seeing-detectingThis is just one element of the huge renaissance in detection and seeing which is about to proliferate into citizen hands. In this case though… it will also (let me predict here) let you see through skimpy clothing to the "warm" nudity beneath. (We went through all this 20 years ago with the SONY Handycam.)

Beyond the standard camera, microphone and GPS location sensors, smart phones are rapidly getting smarter. The growing array of capabilities includes accelerometers, proximity sensors, inertial and light sensors, as well as a magnetometer, digital compass, gyroscope, altimeter, and soon...chemical sensors to monitor toxins, radiation or air quality. How about sensors for pH levels, UV sensors, or carbon monoxide levels, plus healthcare monitors for heart rate, stress levels, body temperature, glucose or alcohol levels.
A new laser rangefinding and volume and location analysis device attaches to the back of your smartphone. It contains patented laser, compass, and bluetooth technology that integrates with your phone's camera and GPS.   Laser measurements are accurate to within +20 cm and correlates with GPS location within +1 meter.  Survey and map everything in front of you, outdoors, with a tool that fits in your pocket.

And is this for real? The GammaPix(TM) Lite App, developed initially for several federal agencies, turns your phone into a detector of ionizing radiation. 
All of which will pale in importance compared to facial recognition apps!  (The most dangerous thing we can do it to refuse them.) And soon after? Apps that turn face recog into a lie detector.  These are tools that - if some elite monopolizes them - will ensure Big Brother forever.  But if we all use them, it will mean freedom forever.  (Privacy is another matter.)

Next? You can expect localization features like iBeacon to tell stores that ping your device where you are, letting you have local, indoor mapping with varied degrees of info like store projections of what you might want or need.  Creepy factor aside - whether we finally reach a balance between Push and Pull - this will bring us augmented reality the way it must come.  Not with goggle-glasses (at first) but on carried screens.
Also, this year, Siri-style personal assistants will surge back.  Also on the horizon, tech-seer Mark Anderson predicts the under $100 smart phone and under $250 tablet. Low prices will be propelled by something very good… the arrival of two BILLION more consumers in the (lower) middle class, across Asia and the south.
That is, it will be good news if we can manage to provide them with that life style very very very efficiently. No tech will be more important than efficiency and sustainability tech. And those who obstruct such things are the purest villains ever produced.
Open-worm Oh but then there's this! A major breakthrough! Creating a virtual C. elegans nematode in a computer by reverse-engineering its biology—  has now developed software -- Open Worm -- that replicates the worm’s muscle movement. The failure to model C elegans - with just 302 neurons - has long been a glaring rebuke to neuroscience. If they truly have a model now, then mazel tov! Now… on to ants!
==Colonizing the Galaxy==
In “Virulence as a model for interplanetary and interstellar colonization – parasitism or mutualism?”  Jonathan Starling and Duncan H. Forgan  model the relationship between an intelligent civilization and its host planet as symbiotic, where the relationship between the symbiont and the host species (the civilization and the planet's ecology, respectively) determines the fitness and ultimate survival of both organisms. They perform a series of Monte Carlo Realization simulations, where civilizations pursue a variety of different relationships/strategies with their host planet, from mutualism to parasitism, and can consequently ‘infect’ other planets/hosts…..  As the colonization velocity is increased, the strategy of parasitism becomes more successful, until they dominate the ‘population’. This is in accordance with predictions based on island biogeography and r/K selection theory. 
Of course this scientific model appears to coincide remarkably with the more speculative and dramatic version that I present in my recent novel Existence. Their conclusion suggests that the galaxy might pass through very difficult times – waves of virulence – that eventually settle down to a pattern that rewards symbiosis and health.
Want a cool synergy? This is exactly the perspective that China's stunning new science fiction talent Liu Cixin developed for his amazing novel The Three Body Problem.  The galaxy may pass through very difficult phases, before growing up.
==A Rise in Infectious Disease?==
infectious-disease-riseBack in 1980 I was a graduate student in physics with medical school housemates.  One of them asked me my view on what specialty to choose.  Without pause I said "Infectious disease."  He looked at me, puzzled and asked: "Isn't that kind of… well… over?"
"Mark my words, I answered.  We are living in a fool's paradise, a narrow window of time when infection only seems to have been conquered. Any time now, we'll learn how flexible parasites are, as they come roaring back."
My friend took my advice, and was at the Centers of Disease Control, in Atlanta, when AIDS struck society like a hammer blow. Since then, we've seen inanities like the addle-brained anti-vax movement, hospital generated diseases and countless other signs of resurgence by old and new enemies.  Read more about it here: Major Gaps in Country's Ability to Counter Infectious Diseases. A majority of states reach half or fewer key indicators.
Interesting, if true.  Fungi found growing on the walls of the highly radioactive Chernobyl reactor core might -- and let's keep that contingent "might" -- actually flourish on gamma radiation. Hmmmm
==Genetic Markers and Identity==
Male-female brain differences? This new result suggests that men have more connections forward and back… between sensing and action parts of the brain… and women have more lateral connections between left and right … logical and intuitive… portions.  This is consistent with known differences in spatial vs communication skills.
break-stereotypesBut… always remember that any such differences between classes of people only apply to averages.  The study found many exceptions.  And protecting an individual's right to BE an exception to any class/gender/race generalization was one of the great breakthroughs of our civilization.
A truly excellent (long) article about a new theory of autism -- that is is largely a problem of over-sensitivity and over-stimulation by an "intense world." (Not at all inconsistent with my depiction in Existence.)
Scientists were stunned to discover that genomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.  This is getting complicated!  Nature had a long time to work this stuff out.
==The intersection of Bio and Tech==
Researchers have built a small vehicle whose flying motion resembles the movements of a jellyfish or moth — a new method of flight that could enable miniaturized future robots for surveillance, search-and-rescue.
While algae has long been considered a potential source of biofuel, and several companies have produced algae-based fuels on a research scale, the fuel has been projected to be expensive. Only now, Department of Energy researchers have found a new technology that harnesses algae’s energy potential efficiently and incorporates a number of methods to reduce the cost of producing algae fuel.  Add this to breakthroughs in continuously growing algae from CO2 from cement plants and agricultural runoff wastes, and you can see some of the promise that I describe (in passing) in Existence. The possibility of creating multi-path synergies .  This could be a large scale game-changer.
But this is the year for one medium scale game changer.  The year to start (if you haven't already) swapping out the light bulbs in your home (starting with high traffic areas) for super-efficient LEDs. Prices have dropped and the economics are so good, it isn't even "virtuous" anymore. Just practical.
IBM's predictions for five years from now seem a bit better and more on target, this time.  Some will make you go huh!  These are all plausible near-future developments.  They only require one thing.  That we go back to being people who believe in a can-do, pragmatic approach to progress and making things better,
Digital communication via -- aromas? Or pheromones or trace molecules?  In this research,  binary signals are “programmed” into pulses of evaporated alcohol molecules to demonstrate the potential of molecular communications. The first demonstration signal, performed in Canada, was “O Canada,” from the Canadian national anthem. It was sent several meters across open space before it was decoded by a receiver.
Message Passing Inference with Chemical Reaction Networks: In a related development, researchers showed that an important class of artificial intelligence algorithms could be implemented using chemical reactions. This kind of chemical-based AI will be necessary for constructing therapies that sense and adapt to their environment. The hope is to eventually have drugs that can specialize themselves to your personal chemistry. It also opens some sci-fi-ish possibilities for Chemical AI.
==Tech Run-down==
TechnologyNewsThree-D printing, using hot metals and other sophisticated techniques, has taken another step forward, making a complete, working loudspeaker.
Fascinating Infographic on temperature: a billion degrees of separation: from absolute zero to 'absolute hot.'
And now a tech run-down from Brian Wang - starting with:
A SANDIA roadmap for making 10 MW supercritical turbines commercially ready by 2020, using highly compressed CO2 as the working fluid. Combine this with molten salt cooling systems and fission power systems might shrink by a factor of 100 in volume and mass.
A real-life Turing Machine that does the whole thing mechanically… using LEGO pieces. "A group of students at the computer science department at Ecole Normale SupĂ©rieure de Lyon built a working replica of a Turing Machine out of Lego bricks, with 20,000 elements used including 32 pneumatic cylinders, 50 meters of pneumatic tubing, and over a thousand gears!" Maker culture does great things. (Remember this from Infinity's Shore?)
The new "bushite" federal government of Canada appears to be bent on outdoing any US administration in its hatred of science. The latest example is egregious.  Seven of the nine world-famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] libraries were closed by autumn 2013, with spectacular haste and almost no effort to either digitize or find new homes for materials going back to 1803. "…precious collections were consigned to dumpsters, were burned or went to landfills."
An astronomical object called SBW2007 - sometimes nicknamed SBW1 - is a nebula with a giant star at center twenty times more massive than our Sun. Within its late-evolution nebula, SBW1 shows similarities with a star that went supernova 26 years ago, the famous SN 1987A. Early Hubble images of SN 1987A show eerie similarities to SBW1. Both stars had identical rings of the same size and age, located in similar HII regions… This blogger says that … "At a distance of more than 20 000 light-years it will be safe to watch when the supernova goes off. If we are very lucky it may happen in our own lifetimes…"  Hm…. I agree it would be spectacular.  And maybe that distance truly is "just right." Still. Let's do more calculations before wishing…
This YouTube video describes fascinating work done recently on how the brain distributes work on visual objects according to their type: e.g. "mammal-> living" or mobile objects or immobile objects. The layout, on an unfolded surface of the cortex, is fascinating! In other words...
Some version of mind-reading will be here in ten years.
We need a decent, open accountable, calm and truly worthwhile civilization, by then!
It's the one vital thing.


sociotard said...

Digital communication via -- aromas?

I have to admit, your line:
"Others grew contemplative, or went catatonic, or began ranting and reeking madly."
is one of my favorites that you ever wrote.

ZarPaulus said...

Autism being a state of sensory and empathic overload is nothing new. Try watching this video: And looking up how autistic people tend to answer.

Alex Tolley said...

OpenWorm - C Elegans with its ~300 brain cells wit ~ 6000 connections is a great model to try to understand neural coding. AFAIK there isn't a good model species with a brain size between C Elegans and a fruit fly, which is complex. A C Elegans brain model could be put in a small chip that interfaces with a model body.

Virulence Model. I think this is classic math-sturbation. Build a model and then label the functions to map it onto some aspect of the world. galactic colonization. Seriously?

Radiation eating slime. I'd like to know how the fungi are protected from DNA damage and the costs of repair. Mind you, D. radiolarans is extremely resistant to ionizing radiation, so maybe the repair is doable. But actually trapping and fixing carbon? Color me a little skeptical.

DNA second code. I should read the paper. The bio community seems a bit skeptical that anything new has been found. "duons" - 6 bases long are exactly the sort of length that have been identified with gene switches and coding enhancers for decades. Is there something fundamentally new here?

Algal crude. The most sensible way to reduce costs is to have the algae secrete/excrete water immiscible carbon compounds and skim the surface to recover the "fuel". This is being worked on. The cost of algal biofuels is high, but I don't see this technique as being a game changer.

Binary chemical signaling. Look at nature. Serial signals in messages are acoustic or optically transmitted and received. Chemical signaling is a code, e.g. pheromone X=>action Y by organism Z. No serial encoding. A solution in search of a problem.

Chemical Reaction networks. Very interesting. Bio computing is more advanced, but I would love to see a "brain" that could be programmed using chemicals in some way. I've looked at it before, but I haven't seen any way to program it.

Knowledge Massacre. You've triggered my RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION. If true, I am appalled by this action. A small scale burning of the library of Alexandria at best, a Nazi-style book burning at worst. (Oops, Godwin's Law).

LarryHart said...

Catching up from the previous comments section...

Alex Tolley:

These measures are inevitable
I don't believe so. The hyper-wealthy can now live anywhere they choose and capital flow restrictions are still minimal. When the C21st tumbrels arrive, unlike the French aristocracy living in France, the hyper-wealthy will be living out of reach, mostly untouchable.

Maybe, but that's a double-edged sword (or gullotine blade, as it were).

If the wealthy aristocrats retreat to the mountains, what do they take with them? Sure, a certain amount of food, water, gasoline, and such will accompany them, but how do they maintain their control over what is left behind? What value to they abscond with in order to keep paying the private armies and servants? Bitcoin?

The 21st century revolution may not be one of tumbrils and guillotines. It may be the 99% simply deciding not to play the game anymore. Without court systems and county sherrifs and such, how do the "owners" enforce their property rights over what gets left behind?

* * *


History lesson it was industrious Germans who set up the 1st old-age social insurance program in 1889 and later lowered the retirement age to 65.

The righties already know that, Which is how they manage to equate Obamacare with Naziism.

cfiguy said...

A good friend's company is paving the way toward low-cost, simple disease detection using a proprietary device and an iPhone (probably Android in the future as well if not already). The company,, has developed some amazing technology; best of all, this serves as an excellent diagnostic platform for developing countries which can't afford larger, more complex systems.

Ain't technology grand??

locumranch said...

What a brave new world we live in, with virulence being used as a model for interstellar colonization, communications via aromas and the discovery of an artificial intelligence algorithm mediated by chemical reactions, except in my day the virulence model was used to simulate the spread of biological life, communication via aroma was marketed as Smell-O-Vision and 'chemically-mediated artificial intelligence' was known as either a natural or organic biological system.

Can I interest you in a few of these other grandiose-sounding inventions? A cephalic climatological protector (also known as a 'hat) ? A mobile plantar decelerator (aka a 'shoe') ? Or, something really cutting-edge, like a three-dimensional cellulose verbal language simulation (aka a 'book')?

I, too, am unduly impressed by new nomenclature.


Tony Fisk said...

locumranch is right: some of these brave new inventions are actually a bit old hat.

I first came across the concept of 'molecular signalling' in the (decidedely non-canonic) Doctor Who episode 'Curse of Fatal Death'. Since daleks don't have noses, it turns out that Rowan Atkinson's Doctor is a Master at 'talking Terseran'(so long as companion Julia Sawahla doesn't interrupt)

Somewhat less light-heartedly: another story (whose name escapes me) depicted a race of aliens that communicated by viral packages. First contact nearly wiped out humanity.

Finally, there is news of a breakthrough in battery technology: a flow cell that uses, not exotic toxins like vanadium permanganate, but something very like rhubarb juice!

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - I was thinking more that the wealthy would live in other, more friendly, countries, taking their wealth with them. Money facilitates wealth transfer - just sell your physical assets in the US and buy new ones at your destination. In extremis, they live in Elysium.

Jonathan S. said...

The major flaw I see in the Sally-Anne test, the one long used to suppose a lack of empathy in autistics, is one of assumption.

It is assumed that the autistic child will choose the real hiding spot for the marble because he can't put himself in the place of the doll that "left the room". I propose an alternate explanation, however, one that fits my own early experience as an Aspie: People know things about other people that seem inexplicable to us as children. (Since that whole "body language" thing comes so easily to you neurotypicals, no one thinks to explain it to a four-year-old - instead, they assume he just doesn't "feel" things properly.) Since, for instance, Mommy can tell when your brother Bill is lying even when you don't have a clue, why should it seem unreasonable to suppose that these dolls are employing the same strange, bizarre sense for what others are thinking?

Tacitus said...

Regards infectious disease I concur. Having a run on systemic sepsis of late, numerous cases of whom two (both of whom went on to die, alas) were both on broad spectrum antibiotics before they hit the ER. But of course after the holidays is always a time for crowded obit pages. Season of the Raven I call it.

I at least am fairly safe from smart phone snooping and distractions. When my 6 year old flip phone died a few months ago I had a backup. No camera, no features, no smarts. I have never sent a text in my life and plan to keep it that way.

Old enough to be retro..


DavidTC said...

I've heard the autism=overstimulated before, and what I haven't seen is the fact there's evidence for that in ADD.

Howso? Because we've basically demonstrated the problem in ADD is not that sufferers are over-stimulated, as used to be assumed(1), it's that they're _under_-stimulated, so they stimulate *themselves*. (Either by distracting themselves with thought, or, in the case of ADHD, actually creating movement.) This is, of course, why stimulates work to help.

And we know that ADD and autism are somehow linked. People with ADD often have autism-like symptoms, and recently genes have been discovered that appear to make it more likely to get either autism or ADD.

So, basically, it's looking more and more like it's one disorder. Most people have a wide range of levels of stimulation they can deal with. They wouldn't be happy in an sensor deprivation tank or a war(2), but they're find in the normal range.

But *something* can go wrong and remove one of the end of the range. Remove the 'under' end, and you get ADD, with people always stimulating themselves and unable to deal with calm, or remove the 'over' end, and you get autism, with people unable to cope with normal levels of action and withdrawing.

1) The real joke is that we've, perhaps, been treating *both* those problems exactly backwards. Kids with ADD get 'distractions' removed, when in reality they'd probably be better off if the radio was on when they did their homework. Meanwhile, kids with autism get constant stimulation to try to get them to interact. (Although it's hard to see what actually *would* help there.)

2) Incidentally, I've often wondered about that what you get when you get extremely stimulated for very short periods of time as an adult?

David Brin said...

Jonathan S… interesting theory!

Tony7 I have used Pheromone based communications in bunches of my novels. Also a tree-to-tree-to-tree signaling system in The Uplift War.

Tacitus… make an exception for the camera. Everyone should have one all the time and the phone is a great place for it

Anonymous said...

FYI, the $100 smart phone already exists. The Nokia Lumia 520 is a fantastic smart phone running current generation, upgradable moblie OS. I ditched my $600 high end model and am using it almost exclusively now. It's easy to find one in the $50-70 range.

Sub $250 tablets are a thing too. The Nexus 7 by all accounts (Don't have one myself) is a fantastic device. Pretty sure it runs about $230.

Tony Fisk said...

Terserans expressed themselves in wafts but, yes, I forgot about the 'Pandorian' tree vines ("You are not on Garth any more!")

Actually, that reminds me that a lot of vegetation does this: acacia trees emit "Help, I'm being eaten" scents, that cause other trees to hastily up the content of nasty tastes in their leaves. Elephants counter by moving upwind as they munch.

Who knows what's being communicated in the root system, though? Why are acacias herding hungry elephants upwind?

Alex Tolley said...

Who knows what's being communicated in the root system, though?

There is evidence that plants communicate information about insect infestation via their roots to their neighbors. Their neighbors can then up their flavenoid production in anticipation of an attack.

But as I said earlier, this is a "lookup" code, not a sequential signaling system.

David Brin said...

Tony: "Why are acacias herding hungry elephants upwind?"

Now this is why I have the best blogmunity on the planet.


LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

@LarryHart - I was thinking more that the wealthy would live in other, more friendly, countries, taking their wealth with them. Money facilitates wealth transfer - just sell your physical assets in the US and buy new ones at your destination. In extremis, they live in Elysium.

Of course, that's the general expectation of how it plays out.

But if they sell their stuff, they're leaving the "stuff" behind for the rest of us to use. They're not impoverishing us by taking it with them.

What do they take with them? Probably not even paper money, but electronic representations of money. Does that impoverish the country being left behind? Only if we play along with the game.

Even more fundamentally, if the 0.1% own most of the wealth, and they're going to leave, who are they going to sell their stuff to? I mean, who is going to buy it? It's the diametric opposite of that scene in Mel Brooks's "History of the World Part 1" where the poor beggars in 1789 Paris are trying to beg from each other. In this case, everyone with wealth is trying to convert it all to cash at the same time, and the only possessors of sufficient quanties of cash are themselves.

LarryHart said...


I at least am fairly safe from smart phone snooping and distractions. When my 6 year old flip phone died a few months ago I had a backup. No camera, no features, no smarts. I have never sent a text in my life and plan to keep it that way.

Old enough to be retro..

I also have never used FaceBook or YouTube for much the same reason that I've never smoked marijuana--the idea that it's better not to let "them" have anything on me.

But I see that self-censorship as cowardice on my part, not a trait to be proud of.

Lars said...

Thanks for helping to publicize the Tories' war on science here in Canada, David.
The more publicity they get, and the more that it's broadcast, the better a chance we have of getting them out of office.

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Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - As you say, the wealthy cannot sell assets if there is no one to buy them. The same applies to the baby boomers who will try to sell their homes over the next decade.

There are options to avoid this:
1. Take out loans against the asset in lieu of a sale. Default may be an option for the unscrupulous.
2. Have the assets bought by their companies and therefore handing any losses to the shareholders.
3. Become an absentee rentier (if that works, then it should be a salable asset)
4. Never own a fixed asset, just rent, lease or use it as a corporate expense.

LarryHart said...

@Alex Tolley,

I have spent much time thinking about this sort of thing in an amateur fashion. I also have no formal training in economics. So caveat emptor. I'm trying to engage in discussion of what is and isn't plausible rather than dictating any sort of final answer.

With that in mind, what I'm getting at is the question of what exactly is it that the fleeing wealthy can take with them that would:

1) be of useful value to them in exile in Switzerland or whatever
2) impoverish the rest of the country by being taken away

And of the two, I'm much more concerned with point #2. If they can live in comfort in exile by spending electronic representations of US money, the so be it, as long as the US isn't left poorer for the absence of those electronic representations of money.

Seems to me that an absentee rentier continuing to control the property only works if local courts and police back them up. Which is where I was going with the suggestion that a 21st century revolution may look like the 99% simply refusing to play that game any more.

If it came to that, what exactly would the absentee rentiers still hold to enforce their will while simultaneously remaining personally out of reach of the tumbrils?

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart impoverish the rest of the country by being taken away

So one issue is can absentee control be maintained over an asset. This requires laws to remain favorable to your control, even in your absence. An example might be police protection of an asset you control that has monopoly status and cannot be circumvented.

One way to do this is keep the remaining population in fear so that they support your asset, even as it strips away their wealth. Organized religion has been quite successful with that. I've been reading that the chemical leak in V. Virginia happened because local monitoring agencies ignored their duties. This was because jobs are so scarce that the population will act against their economic and health interests to preserve jobs at any cost.

So one strategy is therefore to leave the asset in place and use it to impoverish the population. This works very well when the profits are removed from the economies the asset operates in.

Removal of assets can obviously impoverish am economy. Imagine if all roads were private, especially bridges. You could extract rents until the bridge fell into disrepair. Then rather than repair it, just leave it to collapse. This would impoverish the economy by creating transport problems. It would take years for another bridge to replace it, either out of taxes, or for another business to build it and extract rents.

In both cases, paid politicians keep the status quo so that assets cannot be expropriated by the absentee owners.

BTW, did you see that the Freedom Company that owns the tanks that spilled the chemicals in V. Virginia no only filed for Chapter 11, they used some sleazy deal to put themselves in front of the creditors. You can bet the tax payers will be on the hook for any remediation. Leaving taxpayers the remediation costs is a classic approach of natural resource extraction companies. To me that all comes under "impoverishment".

LarryHart said...

@Alex Tolley:

All you say makes perfect sense in the context of a business-as-usual economic/political system in which the wealthy can exercise influence by providing useful value to enough of the population that those people will keep the system working.

I'm talking about a possible future in which the 99% or even 99.9% have come to the realization that there's nothing in the game for them and go revoutionary. It has been suggested that a 1789-French style revolution would not work because this time the wealthy would simply flee to gated communities (perhaps on mountaintops or islands) out of reach of the pitchforks, tumbrils, and guillotines.

It is in that context that I pose the question: What if instead of trying to kill the 1% and take their stuff, the 99% simply decided to not recognize the ownership rights of the emigrant 1% and rebuilt the economy without them.

LarryHart said...

...and to continue, I'm positing a situation in which the usual corrupt politicians and police realize that they are part of the 99% with nothing to gain from perpetuating the system at their neighbors' expense. That the only loyalty the emigrant 1% would be able to generate from them is by bribery or threat.

So I suppose the question is, what would they be able to bribe/threaten with in absentia in such a situation?

A secondary question being, what am I missing in all this?

locumranch said...

What Alex & Larry are discussing is the Social Compact -- the tacit agreement that holds society together -- and, as corporate events in West Virginia demonstrate, the US social compact appears irreparably broken.

As the initials 'LLC' may tell you, corporations owe much of their historical rise to prominence to limited liability status, a preferential condition counter-balance by a constitutional lack of corporate rights. Then, in 'Citizens United', the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations were (effectively) 'people', being entitled to the same rights & legal protections thereof, excepting that corporations are still granted limited liability status, meaning (effectively) that they are above the law.

And, by being 'above the law', companies like Freedom Chemical can thumb their nose at state & federal regulation, despoil the environment, poison the watershed, file for bankruptcy-protected reorganization, reincarnate as a 'different' new & improved corporation and maintain control over all fiduciary assets while divesting themselves of all liability for prior action, meaning that the average US citizen has become a corporate 'serf', just as F.A. Hayek predicted.

Welcome to District 12; the company owns you; and 'May the odds be ever in your favour'.


Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - everything is a risk. You put your money in a Carribean tax haven and there is a revolution, wiping out its tax haven status and possibly all records. You try living in Switzerland and they change the banking laws, and even extradition. Even western democracies might nationalize your assets away from you, e.g. Britain. Like investing, you balance your risk and reward.

So far the US cops seem to be siding with the 1%. But that could conceivably change once perceptions of how they get paid changes.

I don't think you are missing anything important. In the end, it comes down to money and power relationships. When the power of the 99% exceeds that of the 1%, there will be change. To some extent that drives the motivation for increased inequality even against the long term interests of the 1%. The inequality gets worse because you need more money to maintain power against the 99%. But as you do this, the 99% get more angry and motivated to restore equality. So you need even more money to oppose this and the cycle continues...until it breaks, either by compromise or revolution.

The thing to remember is that the US experience of revolution, conflict and the establishment of a republic is a rare event. Most revolutions do not end this way. My guess is that the wealthy are in denial about what would happen if there was a real uprising and the police and military either couldn't contain it, or "changed sides".

Alex Tolley said...

What locum said. We're just discussing the details of cheating on the SC.

LarryHart said...

locumranch's surprsingly-non-evil twin:


As the initials 'LLC' may tell you, corporations owe much of their historical rise to prominence to limited liability status, a preferential condition counter-balance by a constitutional lack of corporate rights. Then, in 'Citizens United', the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations were (effectively) 'people', being entitled to the same rights & legal protections thereof, excepting that corporations are still granted limited liability status, meaning (effectively) that they are above the law.

Not only do they have limited liability, but they are defined as being able to follow only one motivation--maximization of profit. The complexities of human society which balances individual desire with other characteristics such as conscience, justice, good citizenship, empathy, concern, love...all are alien to the corporation. In fact, by strict definition, those things are denied to the corporate character.

Thus, the proposition that those soulless machines/monsters/constructs have equal rights and privileges to human beings under the law is more than unfair, it is absurd. One might as well claim that the Fukishima reactor has as much right to irradiate Japan as the Japanese have to contain the damage. Or that a flu epidemic has as much right to life, liberty, and its pursuit of happiness as its potential victims do.

And now, you've got "Christian" corporations asserting their religous rights not to participate in paying for contraception? My immeidate reaction was, "Oh, so now corpratations are allowed to have a conscience? Not to prevent them from harming people or the environment--in those cases they're all about maximizing profit. But in order to circumvent regulation...suddently there's such thing as a corporate "conscience?"

Which reminds me...I still think there could be a good sci-fi story written around the idea of a corporation becoming self-aware and learning what it means to be "alive" and "a person". I even envision the thing not being evil, but wrestling with true questions of conscience and such that a real living being would.

locumranch said...

Done & done. Brunner did it in 'Jagged Orbit'; Lasker & Parkes did it in the 1983 film 'War Games'; and in both stories the AIs came to the same conclusion: The only way to win the game (maximizing profits) is not to play.

LarryHart said...


AIs "coming to life" in fiction is more common. I'm asking for a depiction of a corporation really becoming a person a la "Citizens United", and really extrapolating the consequences of that.

I realize that this may be more fantasy than sci-fi, because I'm not dwelling on the mechanisms by which a corporation could come to life as a self-aware being with volition, conscience, and some ability to mainipulate the real world. I'm starting with the premise that it does happen, and going on from there. In my defense, Kafka didn't have to explain how Gregor turned into a bug either--the story was all about what happened after that metamorphosis.

But I do like your "Only way to win is not to play" conclusion. That's the kind of thing a living corporation might conceivably come to without the story being a cheat.

LarryHart said...

In a long-ago posting here on Dr Brin's blog, someone else (I don't recall who) and myself posited an adaptation of Asimov's laws of robotics into what should be instituted as the Three Laws of Corporatics. The way it would work is that national and state laws would be ammended such that all corporate charters would be presumed subject to these three laws. They would be de-facto part of any corporate mission statement, and the corporation would be legally liable for damages, fines, or dissolution for violations of the Three Laws. To wit:

First Law: A corporation may not harm a human being/human community/life-sustaining environment or by inaction allow a human being/community/life-sustaining environment to come to harm .

Second Law: A corpoation must act to fulfil the mission for which it was incorporated to the extent that such action does not violate the First Law.

Third Law: A corporation must maximize its profits to the extent that such action does not violate the First or Second Laws.

The order of hierarchy of those laws is every bit as important as the laws themselves.

David Brin said...