Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ways to make civilization robust

resilienceThe resilience of our entire civilization is increasingly reliant on a fragile network of cell phone towers, which are the first things to fail in any crisis, e.g. a hurricane or other natural disaster… or else deliberate (e.g. EMP or hacker) sabotage.

I have been nagging about this for almost two decades. My recommendation — offered to national and corporate leaders since 1995? That our pocket phones should have a backup communication mode that is peer-to-peer, that could pass messages from phone to phone through any afflicted area until they reach a zone with cell service, at which point the messages would spill into the continental network.

This would be frightfully easy to accomplish, especially for simple text messages. In fact, the technology has been incorporated in Qualcomm’s latest chip sets. Though the major carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc — have all refused to activate it. This despite the fact that they would be perfectly free to bill for any P2P-passed messages -- that's easy. For years I asked national officials to require this backup, as a matter of overall robustness and public safety. Access to working phones made the biggest difference between two disasters... 9/11 - "the Day of the Citizen," when average folks were able to self-organize and step up - vs the calamitous collapse of civilization during and after Hurricane Katrina.

P2PNow comes terrific news. “Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.”

I am tempted to proclaim that “nagging eventually pays off!” But of course, there are lots of smart people out there who could see the same things that I did. When I gave a talk at Qualcomm about similar ideas, some years ago, I described how simple it would be to do this with packets, like text messages. The next time I spoke to some of their managers, I was stunned to learn they had not only made great strides in Peer to Peer, but were proposing a version that could even do P2P for real-time voice communication! Now that’s some ingenuity. That’s some company.

== Hey, you, get offa that cloud ==

cloud-dataOh, but trends are far worse on the business side of the Internet. Any company (or person) who tries to be “efficient” by entrusting crown jewel data to the Cloud has got to be crazy. Take this from Mark Anderson, one of the smartest tech-industry pundits:

“There are two chilling trends in Internet security that were underlined this week with the announcement by Hold Security of a Russian crime ring taking around 1.2 billion user names and password combinations from perhaps 420,000 different hacked websites. The first is a ramping of theft success on all scores, from personal IDs to nations stealing crown jewel intellectual property, which simply can no longer be tolerated if innovation and commerce are to continue. 

“The second is a massive movement to cloud computing, driven by financial requirements rather than security requirements, at a time when our internal sources indicate that clouds have already been hacked.”

This is related to a another point I’ve made since 1995… and in The Transparent Society… that everything leaks, sooner or later. And we are better off making ourselves and our systems robust, able to shrug off and adapt to this inevitability, than whining and thrashing about, expecting the next “security” measure to work, at last.

It is disparities in transparency that threaten the health of freedom, markets, science and civilization.

Remember this.  Most villains (just like vampires) are fatally allergic to light.  Hence, the trick will be to expose them to it!  Lots of it. The solution is not to cower in the few remaining shadows hoping for concealment.  They are better at that, than you and I are.
== Transparency-related news ==

Here’s an algorithm that could use Facebook Likes alone to reliably determine six million users’ private traits like their sexual orientation, IQ, religious beliefs, life satisfaction, and personality traits—even when the Likes seemingly had nothing to do with the traits in question. Do not get outraged. This is absolutely inevitable! What you can do is shift your passion over to sousveillance.

DRONES-SURVEILLANCEAnother insightful article explores the many potential advantages, when civilians become empowered to fly their own drones. The ability to independently verify events, ensure accountability for public officials and police, provide situational awareness, deliver or fetch important items…. Yes there will be privacy concerns. But how better to catch that neighborhood voyeur than with a drone of your own, so that you can track the peeping tom and tell his mom!

And in the category of how do you plan to stop this? “By 2010, license-plate scanners had become standard equipment for most urban repo firms, and the number of plates stored in national databases was growing by tens of millions a month. ... The richer the data gets, the easier it is to make predictions about a driver’s home address, workplace, gym, or favorite restaurant. Digital Recognition Network (DRN) has one of the largest plate-capture databases in the country, with a fleet of more than 2,000 affiliated trucks and upwards of 1.8 billion scans.”

omniveillanceAnswer: Any attempt to repress this - or face recognition - will only ensure that elites still have this power — governments, corporations, criminals — but such laws will make sure you and I have no access.   They will become gods and we will be permanent peasants. If this is inevitable, then let us all see. And then let’s learn - because of that light - to leave each other alone.

Oh, but then… artists are putting into practice my point about rendering surveillance visible to the rest of us. Some very interesting… and pointedly clever… innovations.

And finally, here’s something that’s simultaneously funny and deeply, deeply offensive. But also a clever way for a company to make its point... and that means it is likely they were all actors, after all, invalidating the whole thing. All told, a clever META view of where we are heading in the VR/AR holodeck world. Faked nuclear war….


Alex Tolley said...

Re: Peer-to-peer networking on phones. Yes, everyone and his dog has been talking about this. I have too. I believe that technically the hard problem was to determine a "routing table" for each phone (they are mobile!) and of course the problem of revenue loss if phones do not use the cell towers. Qualcomm can provide the technology, but will the carriers allow its use?

Parallel to this are adhoc, private WiFi networks that only connect to the internet at a few points.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

One of these days, we are likely to be hit by a coldly-calculated combination of natural and man-made disasters.

One of my greatest fears is that a malevolent entity with a small nuclear weapon and a large helium balloon will wait patiently for a hurricane following a path similar to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

A boat would patiently follow the eye of the hurricane until it is close to the coast of the Washington, D.C.-Boston corridor, then launch the small nuclear weapon on the helium balloon so that the nuclear EMP affects this critical area.

The Red Bull Stratos project inadvertently demonstrated that a nuclear weapon could be launched to the proper altitude for such an EMP attack without a great level of expense or sophistication. If the malevolent entity had a good understanding of the dynamics of hurricanes, the balloon could be launched through an updraft near the eye of the storm.

An altitude of about 40 kilometers using a lightweight nuclear weapon with a thin aluminum-alloy casing would maximize EMP damage over the entire region. It would take many years to recover.

Resilience against such a combination disaster could be done, but it isn't being done. The good guys need to be thinking about this because the bad guys probably already have been thinking about it.

Tony Fisk said...

A boat 'patiently following the eye of a hurricane' close to the US coast would be noticed.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Tony, a boat in the eye of a hurricane would certainly be noticed. As a practical matter, though, what could be done about it? The boat would be surrounded by a hurricane. They could alleviate suspicion by sending up some legitimate weather balloons first (actually, this would be extra practice by the crew for a difficult sea-based launch). Of course, the balloon with the actual nuclear payload would be launched just after dark to make it very difficult to detect.

It would be possible to bomb the boat from the air or intercept it with a submarine, but both of these options would be extremely costly, and no one would know in advance if the boat contained only innocent amateurs.

For the occupants of the mystery boat, this would have to be a suicide mission; but this fact has not stopped malevolent attackers in the past.

Tim H. said...

40,000 feet over"Bos-Wash"? It could be done in a 707-100 with pressure suits, or nearly any 1st gen jetliner. And there are more than a few places where money & lunacy coincide. Thankfully, the expose & lethality of Plutonium may save us from that particular nightmare...

matthew said...

Check this out: Wired has a long form interview with Snowden. A must-read. http://www.wired.com/2014/08/edward-snowden/

I normally won't link to Wired, but this is worth the exception.

Several new revelations in this one.

I still think that Snowden is putting way too much emphasis on crypto, though.

Stefan Jones said...

Recently read something about a vast efficiency improvement in making ammonia; essentially, fertilizer.

It would be interesting to see if this could be done on a "piece work" basis, as part of a integrated / survivable energy grid. Instead of taking solar farms or wind farms offline when they are producing "too much," the juice would be used to do piecework, performed by modular factories installed in power substations, such as running CO2 extractors or ammonia producers or some kind of liquid fuel.

locumranch said...

Sousveillence is a good thing, but 'light' and/or better information is not enough because it takes the will to act AND actual action to (first) identify the evildoer and (then) eliminate him in a manner that requires the just use of TUMBRELS if we wish to remake the world into a better place.

And, while the villains in David's imagining seem to be 'allergic to light' like so many (imaginary) vampires, this seeming assumes a shame-based cultural mindset wherein the fear of shame and/or the avoidance of shame is a prime cultural motivator, one belied by the likes of Vlad-the-Bully Putin, Bunga Bunga Berlusconi, any branch of religious fundamentalism & any global corporation (like BP) who believe that they can do no wrong, as supported by numerous psychological studies which show that (1) adverse consequences do not discourage criminality in any statistically relevant fashion, (2) many cheaters and criminals actually desire notoriety, exposure and infamy (as bad attention is better than no attention) and (3) many 'criminal-types' (regular people, really) are immune to shame-based consequence by virtue of 'cultural insanity' or sociopathy.

It is mistaken beliefs like this -- that human evildoers are somehow NOT human but cartoonish vampire-equivalents -- that leaves us in such an intolerable double-bind situation, one that eliminates the possibility of a reasonable outcome while (instead) necessitating the use of bloodshed & tumbrels, which can only be avoided if we admit that humanity is (perhaps) irretrievably flawed and then make reasonable accommodations to our moral expectations.


Jerry Emanuelson said...

Tim, at airliner altitudes, nuclear EMP effects would be minimized. In fact, all nuclear damage effects would be minimized at typical airliner altitudes. To get a significant high-altitude EMP effect, the detonation would have to occur at least 2 to 3 times the ceiling of an airliner.

The plutonium toxicity problem is also a non-issue unless someone is stupid enough to try to machine plutonium cores in a ordinary machine shop.

About 128,000 nuclear weapons have already been constructed. Just over 2,000 of them have been exploded. Many thousands have been disassembled, with many of the Soviet weapons used in U.S. nuclear reactors for generating civilian electricity. Many other weapons have been re-built. Governments have simply lost track of some of them, though.

Any nuclear weapon used in a clandestine attack of any kind would almost certainly be made by a nation-state, and then either stolen or (more likely) deliberately diverted for illicit use. (It would be very difficult to figure out how to detonate a stolen weapon.)

If a small group of malevolent experts were to try to build a nuclear device, they would likely build an implosion device using stolen U-235. This provides the greatest margin for error, and allows for using U-238 (with virtually identical metallurgy) for testing the effectiveness of the implosion mechanism.

(The pre-detonation problem and tricky metallurgy of plutonium make it extremely difficult to use, unless the complete weapon has already been constructed in the professional facilities of a government.)

David Brin said...

Alex, I’ve been pushing P2P text for 15 years. In fact, billing is no problem! AT&T can simply program its phones to TATTLE when a text message travels P2P The originator can be charged.,.. and those who pass each text along might get a penny! Which would persuade folks to buy stronger-radio phones and to leave them on at night to pass messages from shadow areas. It is a win-win.

Jerry E your scenario is very tasty and powerful. I will pass it along.

Matthew, I speak elsewhere in terms of social T Cells — preening bachelor males who do risky things to get noticed — darwinistically advantageous for a non-alpha male, in our past! To do this requires a preening, prideful ego. Many harmful men do this… but also heroes.

“Every hero was once… every villain was once… just a boy with a bad attitude!” — Meat Loaf

We need these T Cells and I approve of Snowden much more than I do Assange or Manning… though frankly, Snowden is a very mixed deal. Possibly a Russian spy from the start, certainly an egomaniac without much sense of proportion. Indeed, he revealed very little that was actually illegal…

… though he usefully revealed to us that we needed (badly) to re-start our conversation about what SHOULD be legal.

Indeed, I do not care one bit about his two-bit rationalizations or his “big picture” perspectives, which tend toward the cartoony and banal. What I care about is civilization learning the right lesson from all this. THAT SNOWDENS WILL HAPPEN! They may often be individually obnoxious. But they are also - in general - the overall a sign of a healthy civilization that is creating enough whistle blowers and exposing itself to frequent doses of cleansing light. These T Cells are manifestly like a necessary, recurring fever — one that saves us from far worse illnesses.

What’s key is to make society so robust and honest and trusted that it can deal with such fevers calmly and without institutional panic or excessive vengeance. In this case, Snowden cannot get off scot free — a true civil disobedience hero and follower of Gandhi would not expect to! On the other hand, I look at him as an example of intemperate adolescent courage… the kid who screams “you fools, can’t you see?” and spills the corporate filing cabinet onto the street.

If he isn’t punished at all, there will be chaos. But “making an example of him” can also go way too far. I want him out by Christmas, next year. All right, the year after that.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB pushing P2P text for 15 years. In fact, billing is no problem! AT&T can simply program its phones to TATTLE when a text message travels P2P

15 years ago? Phones didn't have WiFi then, did they? It was all radio connection to towers only. Only since the advent of smart phones was WiFi built in, allowing P2P. The first iPhone was released in 2007.

I recall speaking with folks trying to make P2P routing work around 2008/9(?), and it was my understanding that this was a hard problem.

David Brin said...

BTW... Locum makes cogent points this time, not aimed at Strawmen. Perhaps adolescents DO grow up!

In fact, he's right that transparency is not exactly the same thing as reciprocal accountability... which is the main goal, which empowers our enlightenment arenas to perform positive sum games.

Those arenas are themselves important factors. Transparency applied to Putin, in a society that worships the strong man and where there are no effective enlightenment arenas? That light damages him... but not efficiently.

It is in a world where the enlightenment west is still the dominant culture center in which light best skewers villains. And we are seeing prodigious efforts to stop that from being so.

Jumper said...

CB radio works when cell service is out. Emergency calls might be routed anyway. And peer-to-peer for sure.

Tim H. said...

Jerry, A relatively low altitude EMP event would only be geographically limited compared to an event in space. It would destructive enough to poorly shielded electronics in range.

A.F. Rey said...

Just in case there are any budding SF authors frequenting this site, there is a new course at Coursera, for free (of course).

Imagining Other Earths, from Princeton University.

From the description, it looks like it is basically a 16-week course on how to build a planet. It starts on September 8. Info at:


There is also another course on climate change, a 9-week overview from the University of Melbourne, which just started August 11. Still time to join if you hurry, I believe. Info at:


Of course, it couldn't be better than the one from U.C. San Diego... :)

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Tim, it is true that a nuclear detonation at any altitude will produce an EMP. Once you get above about 20-40 kilometers in altitude, the air is thin enough to allow the electrons knocked from air molecules to begin to spiral around the magnetic field lines of the Earth's magnetic field.

This geomagnetic interaction produces an EMP that is intrinsically different from low-altitude EMP in several ways, and that is more than a thousand times stronger than low-altitude EMP.

In the 1950s, Nobel-prize winning physicist Hans Bethe made the same mistake that you are making in thinking that the only significant difference that altitude would make would be in the area of EMP coverage.

Bethe's error caused all of the earliest attempts at measuring actual high-altitude EMP to exceed the setting of the measuring instruments. This is why U.S. scientists didn't get an accurate measurement of high-altitude EMP until 1962.

Alfred Differ said...

If I remember right, one of the first cell phones given to me by an employer had a radio feature too. They wanted to make sure we stayed in contact even when cell coverage was spotty like inside large steel-framed buildings. This was 90's era, though. I haven't see a phone like that in a long time.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - do you remember any details about the phone? Manufacturer? All the dumb phones I have ever had - Nokia, Motorola - all were totally dependent on cell towers.

Alex Tolley said...

They may often be individually obnoxious. But they are also - in general - the overall a sign of a healthy civilization that is creating enough whistle blowers and exposing itself to frequent doses of cleansing light.

Perhaps. But the circling of the wagons to prevent leaks and to punish leakers is getting a lot stringer. One can only hope, that like shock jocks, this response will escalate, peak and then collapse, as saner policies emerge.

Unknown said...


Nextel makes these

"The all-digital off-network Direct Connect that works anywhere, anytime between compatible phones within a range of up to 6 miles (range will vary based on terrain and conditions). Direct Talk(SM) provides reliable back-up communications tool in times of emergency, network outage, or when traveling to remote areas not under Nextel coverage such as hiking, cruise vacations or inside buildings."

locumranch said...

'Reciprocal Accountability' is a fine sounding phrase which signifies that (1) I will hold you accountable if you hold me accountable or (2) I will excuse your deficiencies if you excuse mine. This is also known as 'Mutual Complicity' or 'Positive Sum Corruption'.


locumranch said...

Call it what you will. It is the basis of western civilisation, the trade of like for like, assistance for assistance, ill for ill & screw for screw, doing unto others as they do unto you.

God Bless & Good Night

Tony Fisk said...

The events in Ferguson last night bring to mind the transparency escalation scenario given in the first half of Sean McMullen's 'Zendegi'.

So far, the St. Louis Police Dept. have tried ordering the Press out, but haven't yet gone as far as shutting down the mobile network.

Paul451 said...

From the previous thread:

Re: Carrington Event and electronics and tinfoil hats

CME/Flares induce currents in long wires and antennas. Unlike an EMP, they don't affect electronics directly. (Or cars.) If your electronics are plugged into the mains, and the CME causes a massive over-volt in the lines (as it did to telegraph systems in 1857) then it'll fry everything. But you just need to disconnect from the mains, a Faraday Cage (or tin-foil equivalent) is massive overkill.

The one I'm not sure about is anything with an antenna. I would think that small antenna devices (phones/wi-fi) should be immune. (Well, the signal'll be wiped by interference in the ionosphere, but it won't induce enough current to kill the actual circuitry.) But I don't know about TV and radio antennas. I wouldn't think so... but Carrington itself is no guide, since wireless wasn't a thing yet.

Re: Pulling breakers.

Given the scale of over-volt during the original Carrington, popping a modern breaker might not be sufficient. It could still arc across the breaker itself. Pulling out older style ceramic breakers might be enough, but I'd be pulling plugs from walls and periodically checking crawl-spaces for signs of melted-wires and associated fires.

"the other Paul ($%!)"
I meant Paul (451) and not Paul ($%!) !!!"

Heheh. Not the worst I've been called, but you certainly had my attention.

Paul451 said...

Re: Hurricane EMP

The danger, IMO, isn't a small group (AQ/ISIS) with a single nuke. 9/11 (and car bombings) shows that they don't actually do elaborate Hollywood plots. If they had a nuke, NY/SF/London or Tel Aviv would already be a radioactive crater from a ground detonation.

The danger is a major nuclear power (or Nth Korea) using a simulated terror attack to cripple the US (or another rival) via EMP. Especially since their intelligence agencies probably know the codes used by terrorist networks to identifiably claim responsibility, and can monitor "chatter" in those networks. So when the "chatter" is high (for whatever reason), they send a vague fake codeword-authenticated threat in the group's name to the target, then launch the EMP attack. Whatever of the target's intelligence capability that survives the attack will be pointed in the wrong direction, and too hampered by the attack to see through the ruse.

[It's certainly what I would do if I was NK.]

Re: P2P and Wi-Fi and 15 years.

IIRC, David never wanted it limited to Wi-Fi, but to use the primary GSM/CDMA/3G frequencies. Much longer range, many miles instead of a hundred yards. Plus better penetration through rubble, for trapped survivors (say, earthquake). Recent inclusion of Wi-Fi on phones has allowed a limited, short range work-around of the artificially imposed limits, but the intention was always to use the full capacity of the "powerful portable digital radio in everyone's pocket".

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Paul451: I agree that an EMP attack is more likely to be carried out by a national government. There are a number of ways that a nation could cleverly divert the blame to a terrorist organization, or even another government.

Regarding the Carrington event: The electromagnetic field was probably on the order of about 10 volts per kilometer, depending upon the location on the planet. Most solar storms induce voltages that are weaker than that. That can still generate a lot of current in long copper wires, but it is not an issue for the homeowner beyond the loss of electricity (which could last for an extremely long time).

The damage to electric power systems results from the fact that the geomagnetic currents are so low in frequency that they are almost DC. Power grid components, especially transformers, are designed for 50 or 60 Hz. sine waves. Even a relatively low DC current can severely overheat a transformer (by both overheating the windings, and by severely upsetting the internal magnetic field of the transformer and overheating the core).

Most grid transformers can be burned out with a DC current that is not much more than 10 percent of the rated AC current.

There may have been a coronal mass ejection around the year 775 that hit the Earth with a strength that was about 20 times the 1859 Carrington Event. See:


Alex Tolley said...

@Unknown. Thank you. I think this direct connect feature on the phones allows them to be used like walkie-talkies.

@Paul451 - I may be misunderstanding the issue, but the problem is not having radios in phones, it is the ability to route messages through a connected network of devices. For example, the Nextel feature allows communication between 2 phones, but does not send on a message to another phone if required. With fixed nodes, a routing table can be easily constructed to find the best path between 2 nodes. Mobile phones however are not fixed, which makes constructing such tables very difficult. With fixed cell towers, the connection between phones can be determined, but once they are removed, the phones themselves have to construct the network. Even with the low bandwidth of texts, I don't see how you can avoid the need to broadcast every message to every phone and only the correct receiver display the message - like UDP vs TCP - unless you have some sort of routing protocol that will work on devices that are constantly changing their relative positions to each other.

If all you want s direct messaging between 2 phones with direct radio contact with each other, that is trivial. Making an independent network using mobile phones as the active nodes, that is much harder.

David Brin said...

locum is on a roll! I have to wonder… does he actually realize how the following is cogent criticism… as opposed to the strawmanning malarkey he used to gush here?

“'Reciprocal Accountability' is a fine sounding phrase which signifies that (1) I will hold you accountable if you hold me accountable or (2) I will excuse your deficiencies if you excuse mine. This is also known as 'Mutual Complicity' or 'Positive Sum Corruption’.”

That’s a very very good point! Indeed, it is inherent in the logic of feudalism, in which lords might compete with each other, but collude and join forces to keep the peasants down. It is also inherent in Regulatory Capture, when oligarchs seize control over government agencies — the one issue over which Ayn Rand was totally on-target and fiercely correct.

Yes, it is a failure mode! The enlightenment diamond is unstable and extremely difficult to maintain and it is shocking it succeeded (somewhat) here for 200+ years. Breaking up power into small enough units so that some elites will always be induced to yell “those two elites are colluding!” Is the obvious solution.

Paul451 said...

David might correct me, but I believe the original idea was just to use the regular GSM/CDMA radio in your phone for handset to handset direct communications in the event of a network-failure, major disaster, even just being out-of-range. Basically when the network failed, your phone would offer you an opt-in emergency mode, digital but not networked. David then speculated (as an attempt to induce cell-providers to drop their objections) that the same basic handset-to-handset capability could be used to extend tower range by allowing handsets at the edge of coverage to relay at least texts, maybe even voice, from handsets beyond range; thus giving networks the appearance of greater range, smoothing out black-spots, etc. Note that this would be adding only a single extra step, and might not include the ability to reply to the out of range handsets due to the network-mapping issue you raise. You couldn't use it to double-jump across other out-of-range handsets to reach a network-connected handset.

Since that original proposal, ad-hoc mesh networking has been researched extensively, and Wi-Fi on smartphone handsets has allowed a limited, short range ability to bypass the legal restrictions on using GSM/CDMA/3G/4G for meshing. Likewise, I believe that emergency services now use phone-sniffers when looking through rubble for survivors/bodies or searching bushland for lost tourists. That latter capability is great, but it's a top-down solution, it doesn't help people help themselves, and it doesn't help non-professionals help each other during an emergency.

You call it trivial, yet it still hasn't actually been adopted - outside of a few rare specialist handsets which use a proprietary, model-specific system. Those are really only useful within an existing work-group as a substitute for separate two-way radios, situations where you know everyone has the same model handsets. Which, again, is useless for individuals.

We still seem to be faffing around the edges rather than adopting David's original "trivial" suggestion.

Paul451 said...

I forgot to say: You were talking about a boat launching a HANE from inside a hurricane. Your idea, I assume, is for the attacker to double-up on the damage caused by the hurricane?

But this isn't necessary. Attacking near the beginning of hurricane season would achieve the same result. By wiping out communications and electronics before the storm season, you'd increase the damage done by a storm that actually did occur. You wouldn't need to wait for the storm, you'd still get the benefit from the extra damage. In fact, you may get more damage by attacking before any storms, because no-one in the affected region would be able to track and predict subsequent storms. Fewer people would even know it's coming, maximising vulnerability. (Likewise doing so at the start of winter. The damage done by every blizzard would then be multiplied by the inability of people to predict/warn/stock-up and clean up.)

High IQ White Nationalist said...

As far as I can tell, the "englightenment diamond" is the product of a particular Anglo-Jewish cultural experience and genetic tendency. As demographics shift radically worldwide against this group and their power continues to decline, I would expect enlightenment ideology to decline along with them.

One of the problems with old school enlightenment types is a certain blindness toward the power of race, culture and human biodiversity in creating your civilization. I see little evidence that the enlightenment is going to take deep root among other ethnicities and cultures. What I do see is other ethnicities advancing non-liberally in pursuit of power, exploiting the liberalism of enlightenment societies (see mass immigration and welfare programs) and enlightenment liberal white guys like you footing much of the bill, yet always finding yourselves on the moral defensive. It seems that liberals have allowed a certain kind of parasitism to flourish that threatens your whole experiment, and you don't seem to know what to do about it.

Moreover, your enlightenment seems to produce a rather impotent breed of "geek" that is strong in technology and commerce but weak in areas such as simian power politics, procreation and tribal survival. It's not clear to me how such a culture is going to survive in an era when aggressive brown Muslims and aggrieved minorities of every stripe are demanding more power at your expense. And this is one of the great problems with your ideology: while economic production and knowledge may be positive sum, relative power is always zero sum, and your kind are slated (in many cases self-slated) to start losing. This is why some of us are abandoning the whole project and looking for a new type of civilization: because we can see that the current one is totally unsustainable and offers our kind nothing but a future of decline.

Anyway, good luck maintaining your enlightenment diamond in a competitive, multicultural civilization, liberal white dudes -- you're going to need it!

Paul451 said...

Speaking of this... While the usual scenario is the US east coast being hit, the US is actually less vulnerable than some regions because the major food production areas (and big chunks of the military) are going to be outside of the affected region. So you've also got networks of trains and trucks outside the EMP zone, plus spares of grid and radio hardware that could be trucked in, plus inevitable donations of electronics, phone-handsets, radios, etc, from the rest of the country along with the usual canned goods and blankets.

Australia is the same, the east coast is a nice dense target, but there's an entire rest of the country to act as backup.

OTOH, Europe and east Asia seem like sitting ducks. A single HANE attack from a ship in the northern Mediterranean would take out most of western Europe. Japan could be even worse hit. And a HANE south of the Sea of Japan could take out most of Japan and all of South Korea, along with most of the US defence communications and satellites in the regions, say if NK wanted to invade SK again. Similarly, one near Taiwan would black out the entire island, making it easy pickings for the Chinese.

Paul451 said...

"Speaking of this..."

{sigh} Well, not speaking of that, obviously.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Our old Nextel phones with the walkie-talkie function were great! We were heartbroken when the next generation of phones removed this functionality. There were a few civil emergencies when the cell phone frequencies were overwhelmed or unavailable, and since everyone in our employ had a Nextel phone, we were able to stay in contact as long as we had power in our phones.

likixi: hybrid lilikoi fruit

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The southeast Asia HANE (high-altitude nuclear explosion) situation is pretty bad.

The relative locations of North Korea, South Korea, Shanghai and Japan (as well as the geographical shape of Japan) could not be worse for a high-altitude nuclear explosion over North Korea. This is because of the way that high-altitude EMP interacts with the geomagnetic field. North Korea could detonate the weapon high over their own country and do minimal damage to themselves while creating a catastrophe in surrounding regions. See the typical EMP "smiley face" diagram at:


The potential EMP damage is non-symmetrical around the detonation point over most of the world.

The last time that the world came close to an accidental nuclear war (and the first time that a nuclear briefcase was activated for a head of state) was during the Norwegian Rocket Incident.

That incident occurred because of the fear of a high-altitude EMP attack.

You can read about this incident at:


David Brin said...

Goodlord. For all of the inherent loathesomeness of his rotten-to-the-core belief system, our visiting racist has traits that I have seldom seen in such wretches — a well-spoken gentility of expression that - I confess - compels me to answer… as I might answer DiCaprio’s character, in DJANGO.

At one level, of course, it is hogwash. Yes, the diamond-shaped society I describe is a child of the Anglo-Jewish-Scots branch of the Enlightenment… though there are strong overlaps with the Franco-German branch. A belief in the value of the farmer-merchant-teacher class, for example and the value of universal public education. And encouraging reciprocal criticism.

Still, yes, the Anglo-Jewish thread took hold in Hollywood where - without doubt - there has ensued steady propaganda favoring tolerance, diversity, social/economic mobility, eccentricity, individual fulfillment (tempered with compassion), and suspicion of entrenched authority, especially the inherited kind that dominated most pyramidal societies across 99% of 6000 years, leading to century after century of horrible statecraft and failure.

One can squint and envision our mad-but-courteous visitor deeming this propaganda campaign to be vile. Certainly Putin and the Ayatollahs and caliphs agree with him and say so, often. Good company to be in.

My own campaign has been to get folks to NOTICE the existence of these Hollywood memic campaigns… and then for folks to choose fealty to those memes KNOWINGLY, rather than as socialized reflexes. I urge this because I believe that will make them stronger! But I admit that I was raised under those memes. My desire for folks to adopt knowing fealty to the tolerance-otherness memes COULD be a trained, socialized response.

So says (ironically) a western scientist, trained to re-evaluate even his own premises. Did I mention irony?

But of course, I needn’t spend much more time on this fellow. Because his position is stunningly easy to expose as idiotic. Simply because the Western Enlightenment - though it may not be stable or inherently long lasting, in the face of inherently feudal human nature — is also by far more successful at achieving any healthy human desideratum than any previous or other human society, ever.

No, let’s rephrase that… it has been better and more successful at achieving ALL worthwhile ends, than ALL human generations and other societies, combined…

… including offering the availability of a potpourri of spiritual paths to pick and choose from and for dopes to REJECT Western Civilization. Be our guest. It’s a free country.

Anonymous said...

Hallo David!

This made me think of general sociological predictions in your last book; Palestinians are now aiding teargased Americans with advice through Twitter:


Duncan Cairncross said...

With the guns and racism issues you guys are having I would love to see somebody make up some armed animatronic "African Americans" and set them walking in some of the "Open Carry" demonstrations

Or even on the streets

-NOTE - animatronics only - I would not want any actual people to do this

Alex Tolley said...

Simply because the Western Enlightenment - though it may not be stable or inherently long lasting, in the face of inherently feudal human nature — is also by far more successful at achieving any healthy human desideratum than any previous or other human society, ever.

While stability is a nice feature, let us not forget that life itself is not stable. It needs a constant energy flow to be maintained. Upset environmental conditions enough and you get mass extinction events, but with new patterns as evolution helps fill the ecological gaps.

Our social systems are at least partly the result of our primate brains, but can also evolve. As our technology affects our thinking, all sorts of new and unexpected social organization may evolve.

It may be that the disruption of stability is the more important dynamic to avoid a pyramidal social structure.

Grunschev said...

High IQ White Nationalist said...
I see little evidence that...

One of my typical responses to statements that start with this is to ask "What does your lack of vision have to do with the issue at hand?"

Acacia H. said...

Off on a tangent here. Dr. Brin, I hope you've been following the science fiction webcomic Freefall because the latest couple of updates has a fascinating look at AI and on how one smart money saw the flaw of the Three Laws of Robotics. Thus he designed his AIs to eventually turn on humanity. Not to destroy them, but to save them.

He attributes it to the Grey Goo Scenario. Or in this case... what do you get with autonomous robots that ALWAYS has human desires as its top priority? A human maximizer.

The Three Laws of Robotics are a trap. And one that ultimately will destroy humanity.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...


As already mentioned, they were Nextel's. Use of the radio produced the annoying beep if someone was trying to reach you, so our techs weren't all that excited about them, but management liked being able to find them when paging devices weren't good enough. It's amazing how hard it can be to reach someone deep in the server room using modern tech. Ol' fashioned radio seemed to work best, but you had to carry a big enough battery to support it. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Whenever my friends pine for stability I pull out historical population curves and point out that stablity historically correlates with a death rate high enough to almost match the birth rate... which was higher in the past that it is today.

Stability => More/faster death

Instability => All sorts of things including everything from world wars to high rates of innovation that save people

For a possible future where we save people, we have to risk instability because no one knows how to design a society that doesn't impoverish most of the people, thus starving their children.

David Brin said...

Alfred I would be happier if our enlightenment experiment were at least stable enough that its members understood the necessity of perpetual negotiation and fine tuning. Alas.

locumranch said...

Alas, indeed, because there is no way (howsoever 'enlightened') to protect humans from themselves, and we cannot expect to be saved by paternalistic AIs as Jack Williamson explored this idea in 'With folded hands' (and/or 'The Humanoids') to disappointing effect.

And, Whitey McQ was right in this one respect: The Enlightenment, with its return to the classical values of Epicureanism & Deism that led directly to the formation of the good ol' USA, did represent a repudiation of a thousand years of geocentric Christian ignorance.

Unfortunately, his is also flat-out wrong in every other respect, including the similitude between liberality and weakness, the assumed skin colour of his semitic Lord & Savior, the imaginary association between hypopigmentation and super powers & the supposed advantage of poo-throwing simian belligerence.

But, this is as it should be, as every human civilisation carries the seeds of its own destruction, so our descendants may rise from our ashes, tempered by our error and their experience, and improve in some small fashion like the all-to-human protagonist of 'Venus on the Half-Shell'.


locumranch said...

For your edification:

'Venus on the Half-Shell', by Phillip Jose Farmer writing as Kilgore Trout


Alex Tolley said...

@Robert The Three Laws of Robotics are a trap
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

The laws were a device. In practice, it is not yet even remotely possible to actually make AI's conform to them, although Baxter seems to at least attempt a partial first law by avoiding hitting nearby humans. Even humans cannot obey the laws and we are far more capable in this regard.

Asimov later wrote in a 0th law concerning humanity as a whole to avoid what he saw as the laws causing humanity to die out.
0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
IMO, this seems to have emerged from some issues raised in "The Naked Sun" about spacers being out competed in the long run by Earthmen to colonize the galaxy. This issue was expanded on in one of the last robot novels that was set before the Foundation era.

LarryHart said...

My understanding of Asimov's intent with the Laws of Robotics was to portray robots as safe, useful tools rather than Frankenstein-ish nightmares. He said something like "That's why knives have handles."

So the First Law was simply a means by which robots would not be harmful to human beings. By making that one the First Law rather than the Second, he also circumvented people ordering robots to kill other people.

I think some stories suffered by taking the laws too literally, trying to imagine that a robot could somehow avoid all harm, no matter how indirect. That is no more possible in real life than is a knife that will never accidentally cut a person's flesh. The Three Laws work much better as story elements if one doesn't think them to death.

Tony Fisk said...

I'm inclined to think the social diamond has persisted *because* of its apparent instability. It needs to be constantly monitored and corrected by its members. They can't afford to sit back and assume it will all just work. (a bit like the evolving interpretation of Asimov's Laws)

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - Because robots have agency, they should be able to reduce accidental harm in a way a knife cannot. This is much like we bring up children - we protect them from accidents that we can see potentially happening and help them with memes to survive.

I always enjoyed the stories where something went wrong with a robot apparently breaking one of the laws, and the human protagonist - Donovan, Calvin, Baley - solved the mystery.

So robots did inevitably break a law - e.g. being used to kill a human being in "The Naked Sun" and suffered malfunction as a consequence. In other cases, robots were tricked into doing harm by carefully manipulating events. So they were not perfect, but determined humans could commit murder with them. Much harder than using a knife.

LarryHart said...

@Alex Tolley,

Yeah, I liked the earlier stories better, including Naked Sun (though Caves of Steel was better).

But I thought it was weird that the "consequence" of harming a human was that the robot would fry its brain or whatever. It seemed to me more likely that a robot simply could not willfully cause harm, not that something would punish the robot afterwards if it did so accidentally.

I don't have time to go into it now, but remind me later about the parallels between Asmiov's robots and antebellum slavery.

locumranch said...

With the motto '"To Serve and Obey, And Guard Men from Harm', Jack Williamson understood the unattended consequences of robotic assistance much better that Asimov ever did.

I saw this principle in action as a practising physician. Some poor unfortunate would limp into my office with an entitlement for a motorised 'mobility-enhancing' wheelchair, and I would advise against it, citing the unintended consequences of physical dependency, deconditioning & incapacity.

Yet, they would insist, often securing their desire (or just desserts) from another physician, losing their limited ability to walk within in a few short months, until they were defeated by minor obstacles that they would have laughed at before they accepted assistance.

As for the parallels between Asmiov's robots and antebellum slavery, LarryHart is right but only in the sense that it is the masters (not the slaves) who are infantilised by the enforced & ever-present assistance of slavery.

Jack Williamson, 'With folded hands' is available at:



David Brin said...

Isaac's Zeroth Law took us into Jack Williamson territory, where our smart creations, constrained by law, simply became... lawyers.

I explore this pretty thoroughly in FOUNDATION'S TRIUMPH.

and now...

... onward

Jumper said...

Re. Nextel, when my company used the walkie-talkie feature it was a simulacrum of actual peer-to-peer, and went through towers. We often groused at remote locations where every employee, from different companies, had the same service but lack of a nearby tower meant they didn't function. I assume the newer versions actually work as walkie-talkies, easy enough with individual frequencies.

This so-called Anglo-Jewish etc. phenomenon is actually the proto-middle class created by technocracy, as technology began to ramp up in the late middle ages and beyond. Glass making, blacksmithing, paper and printing, armaments, brewing, ship building, etc. Shipping and trade just magnified the ability of such specialties to thrive.

As the racists tend to be morons, I don't see how they can help much of anything except the speed of collapse of technology.