Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Black Lives Matter! So demand TECH!

Again and again, I try to point out that dogmas are seldom our friends.  Take the trend, in our civilization, toward expanding our horizons of worry, opportunity and (above all) inclusion. That moral arc has been historic and important and it must continue!  Indeed, passionate agitation for reform has its vital place. Though as I show, the advances we’ve made (and must keep making) have also happened because of economic and psychological and pragmatic reasons. 

This should make fans of progress happy! It means that our moral march forward, toward inclusiveness, tolerance and diversity, has strong support from traits other than just indignation. 

Shall we test it? I am about to say something about the “BlackLives Matter” movement -- something that is utterly friendly and supportive… and I hope this pragmatic suggestion will be well-received.

Yes! Absolutely, almost-weekly tales about tragic victims-of-racism like Eric Garner and Walter Scott (shot in the back), Samuel DuBose (shot in the face) and Sandra Bland have rocked America, revealing what black activists have been telling us for years.  About the danger they face – each day – from that percentage (even if it is small) of police officers who are thugs in uniform. It has to be frustrating for the righteous activists.

“Oh, now you’re finally starting to believe us?  Now that cameras are catching the bastards in the act?”

Well… um… yes?  Many of us believed you before the current wave of video revelation began with Rodney King. But of course the balance of credibility shifted dramatically when cameras spread even wider. And yes, visual proof is sure gonna help. Which raises the central question here –

Why aren’t you making the cameras themselves more of an issue in all this?

Think. What is making the biggest difference today? Technology! The phone-cam is turning into a Great Equalizer, even more than a Colt 45 was in the old west.  Every year cameras get faster, cheaper, better, more numerous and more mobile, at a rate faster than Moore’s Law. And so far, the chief result has not been Big Brother! It has been empowerment of average citizens. Cameras - and other tech - are helping people hold elites accountable.

== This was inevitable ==

All right, I predicted this way back, via a 1989 novel Earth, portraying ghetto youths and the elderly defending themselves this way, in the 2030s. It’s happening quicker in real life. 

Even closer was the forecast in my nonfiction book -- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? (1997).  There I described a scene of the near future, when each cop would be wearing a recording device… and every person stopped for a traffic violation would step out of the car asking “what’s the problem, officer?”… with a blinking shoulder cam of his or her own.

Can you honestly doubt that day is far away, any longer? Which brings up again that core question.  In addition to hands up! and Black Lives Matter! Why aren’t you also shouting “We want more tech!”

Why aren’t you focusing on what has actually made the biggest difference, so far – getting more and more cameras out there, into the hands (better yet, onto the shoulders) of youths and others who are in danger?  Perhaps demanding pertinent tech classes in minority area high schools? Or asking your nerdier kids to help equip the others with tools they need to save their lives? 

Here’s where a couple of billionaires might be approached for grants, financing the development and distribution of hands-free (that’s important!) shoulder-cams that upload directly to free storage in the cloud. Flood some problematic city with these things, as a test… and watch how quickly the balance starts to change.

A balance between bad cops and the more numerous good ones, who now will feel empowered – and highly motivated, with active citizen help -- to rid their ranks of bullies and thugs.

Sure, "Black Lives Matter!"  But if you really want to leverage the trend that is practically changing everything, you will add another cry:

"Give us more tech!"

==You have the right to film ==

Following up. This Slate report gives detailed background to the growing legal consensus that you have a right to record your interactions with police, a right that has been declared "settled law" by both the Obama Justice Department and four federal circuit courts. This abstraction gained fiercely palpable pertinence in the case of the recent arrest of Sandra Bland, which was captured by the arresting officer's dash cam.

"Dashcam footage of Sandra Bland’s arrest is disturbing for a number of reasons—including trooper Brian Encinia’s apparent use of excessive force in subduing Bland. But for civil liberties advocates, a less dramatic moment of the footage is nearly as disquieting. When Bland attempts to film the encounter on her cellphone, Encinia demands that she “get off the phone.” When Bland insists that she has “a right to record,” Enchain repeatedly barks, “PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN!” Eventually, she does. It’s clear she had no choice."

And there you have the reason why we need special Shoulder Cams (as I portrayed in The Transparent Society). Autonomous and automatically uploading to the Cloud. So that you can emerge from the car with completely open hands.

Demand this tech. Work with a Good Billionaire. Choose a city and distribute these things en masse. Do the test now.

== An inexcusable omission ==

Sorry, but the point must be belabored. What activist or pundit seems willing to emphasize the role that technology has played in this ongoing revolution, transforming and shifting power on our streets? That omission is bizarre… and somewhat culpable… since our main goal should be a pragmatic one. The practical ending of these abuses! 

It is time to add a new slogan.  One that may offer less opportunity for righteous rage, but that promises a stronger chance to actually solve problems.

Give us more tech!


SINCE POSTING THIS:  From yesterday's NY Times on the Cincinnati case: "She (Dubose's mother) and other family members said that if it were not for the body camera worn by Officer Tensing, his story would have been accepted and he would have gone unpunished. Choking back tears, Terina Allen, a sister of Mr. Dubose, said, “Every day now, I’m going to be marching for video cams."

Right on.  Turn em on.


Alfred Differ said...

Some people get this, hence the large number of Russian dash cams. We will probably learn all sorts of extra things too like they did when they caught that meteoric airburst many months ago.

Paul SB said...

I was thinking that dash cams for police cars might not be going far enough. After all, if tiny cameras were more ubiquitous and they could upload to the cloud automatically, they could prevent a lot of more run-of-the-mill crime. Police are not the only people guilty. It might even come to pass that every motorized vehicle will have an equivalent of the flight recorders & black boxes that have been on aircraft for decades.

There is a small remote control receiver on the ceiling of my classroom that vaguely looks like it could be hiding a security camera. Most of the kids never notice it, but once in awhile someone points up and tells their biddies that they're being recorded. I've told them it's not a camera, because I'm compulsively honest, but some of them don't believe me. When we were dissecting owl pellets I got a little toy plastic owl that has a solar panel. All it does is the head moves back and forth. A lot of my students are convinced I have tiny cameras in the eyes, and they freak whenever the head moves. Generally the ones who are most certain they are being recorded are the ones who behave badly anyway. But I would not expect adults to exhibit the same behavior.

Alfred Differ said...

Dash cams are just a first step, I'm sure. What I'm pointing out is that Russians will probably fund this if we don't. Russian lives matter too. 8)

Anonymous said...

There you go again, indignantly ranting about other people's indignation. The guy addicted to wrath is in the mirror.

Tony Fisk said...

Our Nonny Mouse may well say that, as they look in the mirror...

David Brin said...

Hilarious. Even if it wren't a coward, anon also is too stupid to see the irony, and its second level. His wrath at my denouncing wrath is psychologically predictable for a wrath addict!


Paul451 said...

Re: Trump.

I agree with those saying don't expect Trump to burn out early, as happened with Republican fringe candidates against Romney. Candidates only drop out when they run out of money; meaning donations, which usually depends on big backers. Have a pocket billionaire and you run as long as you want. But...! Drop too far in the polls, or lose early races too heavily, and your pocket billionaire drops you for a higher probability investment. Trump is his own backer, he has no reason to drop out until he gets bored with it all.

Even better for him, if that 20% he is polling is sticky, he will be first or second in the first handful of state primaries until most of the other candidates drop out; and even then only if all their votes go to Jeb!. If Trump instead picks up some of the spill as the weaker candidates drop out, he'll stay first or second all the way to the Convention.

However, I'll go further. Dems and the media laughed at GWB's prospects, he was an idiot, he could barely string two words together. It so lowered expectations, all he had to do was not fall over his own feet during the debate and he was seen as either winning or at least holding his own. While Trump is an utter buffoon, IMO he is exactly one smart speech away from winning the Republican nomination. One speech where he lays out a Sanders-style agenda of nation rebuilding reform, phrased in Republican shibboleths, with a sprinkling of his own weird "you're a loser" "I'm a smart guy" bluster, and he'll pick up every disaffected Republican voter. (Plus a bunch of male blue-collar conservative, but rusted-on, Democrats.)

That's because what his bizarre bluster has done is, ironically, given him the perfect reputation for a politician: Sincerity. People, on all sides of politics, voters and media alike, now assume he believes every bizarre word coming out of his mouth. One smart speech... while expectations are zero but people believe he is speaking without censor and without obligations...

No other Republican has that. And no Democrat has it except maybe Sanders.

Paul451 said...

In case you're sick of all the Pluto hysteria,

Exaggerated vertical relief flyover of Ceres:

(Aside: Ceres is apparently producing a periodic haze over the Mysterious White Spot, suggesting active venting. Looks like it is turning out to be an icy fumarole.)

Image by Rosetta of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko finally being comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko:

Reminiscent of Vega 1's images of Halley's Comet in the 1986 flyby, the first look at a comet nucleus by the human race.

Paul451 said...

And if you're not sick of Pluto, people are now playing pareidolia with over-zoomed images.

The slugs of Pluto.

Herded by the slug-riders of the plains (of Pluto).

Yippee yi ya, yippee yi ohgoditssocold, Slug Riders in... the skyyyyyy.


Cat-Face Plateau, of course.

Paul SB said...

"Hilarious. Even if it wren't a coward, anon also is too stupid to see the irony, and its second level. His wrath at my denouncing wrath is psychologically predictable for a wrath addict!"

This one has second thoughts, and third thoughts as well! - Esme Weatherwax.

Other Paul, so the next mission to Pluto should extend the paw of friendship by carrying Cat Chow? That ear looks awfully floppy for a cat, though the face seems rather leonine. And while we're at it, see if we can get tickets to the next slug race. Earth is going to have to start training slug jockeys so we can get in on the action.

Pareidolia is such fun!

raito said...

I'm not exactly seeing why 'give us more tech' would enrage the 'black lives matter' people, especially if properly framed.

'black lives matter' is a goal. 'give us more tech' is a means. Casting these as 'philosophical' vs. 'practical' is probably where the problem lies. No one wants to hear that their desired outcome is 'impractical'.

Since the 'black lives matter' people believe that certain segments of society believe that their lives >don't< matter, it would be pretty silly for them to believe that those segments will change their thinking just because it's right.

So what's a means that can get to the end without requiring the consent of those whose thinking won't change?

It can also be pointed out that many of the various rights movements (of which this is one) could not have happened without visibility, and that this tech gives visibility.

Could the early 60's civil rights movement have been as effective without television? Doubtful. On a slightly different axis, could the gay rights movement have happened before they started coming out of the closet? Again it's doubtful.

locumranch said...

As a response to 'black lives matter', 'give us more tech' is unlikely to generate an adverse response, mostly because it's a non-sequitur, very much unlike the much maligned conservative 'all lives matter' response that conjured up the villainous mantra from 'The Incredibles' (When everyone's super, no one is), suggesting to diversity advocates that, when ALL lives matter, no particular life matters more than any other, illustrating (yet again) inclusivity's inherent incompatibility with diversity, for when everyone is said to belong to the 'In Group' & is thought 'equal', then no one can be said to be 'special','diverse' or worthy of individualised treatment.

At best, tech & video surveillance are only a temporary salve to issues of UNEQUAL diversity rather than a solution, mostly because increased video surveillance will destroy the illusion of equality, egalitarianism & inclusivity, tipping us toward either totalitarianism or anarchy. 'Push back' is also inevitable as law enforcement will become increasingly unwilling & unable to perform its job duties which are (namely) the enforcement of conformity, the subjugation of the economic underclass and the suppression of diversity, the non-performance of which will lead to societal breakdown, anarchy and/or revolution AND the over-performance of which will lead to Orwell's Boot standing on diversity's neck forever.


Alex Tolley said...

Tech will certainly help, but will it really change attitudes? Lots of video of mistreating people may do little more that instill indifference. It would be hard for racist cops to treat black people badly if it was the white people who were the economic underclass. It isn't just cops, it is the societal treatment of blacks that needs to change, and that will take more than cameras and statistics. Inequality in the US (and elsewhere) is well known, from underpaid women to racial disparity in getting jobs. This has to change, despite the social forces maintaining inequality. How we do this I don't know, other than mandating pay equality in some way (not a good idea) and ensuring racial and gender blindness during hiring (how does that work in face to face interviews)?

Transparency in other ways is helpful, e.g. statistical data on firm's employees (incl. the voluntary racial questions on employment applications in CA) that can be used for corrective action. An ideal, but unlikely to work, and we have seen pushback with "religious" firms only hiring people of their religion, and of course demanding exemption from employment rules.

This is a hard problem, but the liberal ideal of fairness needs to be pushed much harder to break teh cycle of inequality that is evident to anyone not blind.

Jeff Swim said...

Every time I see one of these stories appearing, almost daily now it seems, I think back to your novel "Earth" and how prescient you were.

There certainly will come a day when every cop knows that every minute he is out on the job in public his actions will be recorded and behave accordingly. But even today I'm astounded when I see an incredible stupid police bully who has no thought of "could there be a camera around here somewhere recording me?". This will sink in to them eventually.

DP said...

We should call a society where everone (including cops and politicians) are under sousevaillance the "Heisenberg Society", as in the very act of observing something changes the way the thing behaves.

Everyone acts differently if they know they are being watched.

DP said...

As someone from Cincinnati I'd like to provide some additional information.

Actually it was a Cincinnati University cop who did the shooting, not a real City of Cincinnati PD cop.

These university "cops" don't the same level of traiing or meet the same standards as a majjor city police force,and this guy probably never should have been a cop in the first place (and I'm not quick to judge cops working what has to be the most stressful and dangerous job in America, I know its a job that I could never do).

U of C decided to have its own cops rather than pay for real cops from Cincinnati because it was cheaper. Now they are going to be hit with a massive civil suit. Classic case of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Back in 2001 a Cincinnati cop shot and killed an unarmed Black kid and that led to the nation's worst riots since LA in 1992.

Out of those riots came police reforms and commmunity outreach programs that have made the Cinci PD a model for the nation (other police departments come here to study our methods).

DP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DP said...

Alfred, car cams are everywhere in Russia (one of them recorded that meteor strike a few years ago) because frauds like to throw themselves at a moving car, bounce off and then claim that the driver struck themm - law suits and legal shakedowns for money usually follow the accusations.

So Russian drivers have bought car cams to protect themselves from fraudulent claims

Paul SB said...

Alex, my suspicion is that omni-surveillance will change attitudes, though it will be slow. Were you in the US in the 1970s? In those days the highways were quite the blight. People just tossed their garbage out their car windows, and it added up to a hell of a lot of litter. Efforts to turn that around were twofold. One was $1000 fines for littering, but the other thing was flooding the airwaves with PSAs, the old Crying Indian commercials being the most famous. By the time I graduated from high school in the mid-1980s, it was pretty clear that attitudes had changed. if it was just fines, people would bitch endlessly about evil Orwellian government, and I will admit that $1000 seems pretty draconian for littering. But the ad campaign raised enough awareness that people's attitudes did shift. There are still litterbugs, but they have gone down as a percentage. Likewise the number of flaming racists has gone down from what it once was, though it may be that those who persist will become more vocal for a time as they perceive their impending extinction and/or irrelevance.

I agree with Daniel Duffy about Heisenburg, though this is old territory in the social sciences.

Alex Tolley said...

@Jeff - It would seem rational for cops to be much more circumspect when they are being recorded. But given how many do not suffer permanent job loss and their union protects them, it seems that the penalties are not sufficient.

Just today I received yet another video of threatening police behavior from a plainclothes detective no less. Yet the accompanying text was already trying to exonerate him with "30 years on the force with an excellent record" as if that excuses the behavior - threatening a driver with shooting him in the head.

Cameras are useful, but as with any control of "cheating" there must be appropriate punishment. If I threaten to kill someone, that is a criminal offence. Cops need to be held to very similar laws if they make unjustified actions in their "protect (who exactly) and serve (again who?)" capacity.

Jonathan S. said...

"I'm not exactly seeing why 'give us more tech' would enrage the 'black lives matter' people..."

For the same reason a lot of them are getting upset at the outrage over the man who killed the protected lion in Zimbabwe - they seem to think there's only room for outrage at one thing, and only in terms of simplistic slogans rather than actual plans for gradually reducing the threat. (If it isn't all gone all at once in the immediate future, the effort just isn't good enough, you see. And that's not new, nor original to the #blacklivesmatter folks; I remember that attitude from social-justice types in the long-ago days of my youth...)

David Brin said...

Paul451 - cogent appraisal. I will agree with you about the emotional tradeoffs of expectation and sincerity.

But don’t forget the rule in the GOP. The nomination goes to whoever’s TURN it is! GWB won the nomination because of royal succession. Another thing affecting “turn” is the Vice Presidency… but Cheney is poison and Paul Ryan for some reason is silent. So “turn” falls this time almost surely upon Jeb. Especially when more moderate GOP voters arrive at the polls, who are embarrassed by Trump.

The VALUE Trump could give would be to go for a truly populist, anti-oligarch message. Ironic, of course! But if he said: “I am super rich and I know my kind… and you should break their chains!” Wow. he’d rise WHILE doing us some good.

Thanks for the comet/ceres links. I’ll use em.

Despite incrediblly tendentious illogic, locum’s latest was cogently stated, contained only moderate non-sequitur strawmen, and seemed less ANGRY. Way ta go, son.

AT: “Lots of video of mistreating people may do little more that instill indifference.”

Um… an example please? That is not what is happening.

Our main hope is that good cops (and good teachers) will realize their self-interest demands eliminating the rotten apples.

Steve Outing said...

From yesterday's NY Times on the Cincinnati case: "She (Dubose's mother) and other family members said that if it were not for the body camera worn by Officer Tensing, his story would have been accepted and he would have gone unpunished. Choking back tears, Terina Allen, a sister of Mr. Dubose, said, “Every day now, I’m going to be marching for video cams."

You may not get flamed much, David.

Wolf said...

Years back when I was at school, I took a "Human Relations" course. I found it quite fascinating, but I did bump heads with the professor on one specific topic. It was with a concept that she (and the text) put forth where part of the side in denying/resisting/retaliating against things like Racism, Sexism, Prejudice, etc was what was called something like the "Progress is being made excuse." It was the concept that you essentially excuse various injustice by claiming that progress is being made, etc.

I told her that that was a concept destructive to essentially any of the justice/equality being seeked in the first place. For one, If you can't measure progress, how do you know if you ever achieve success. Second, I point out that the counter force that they are essentially working against are using a "Progress to success" strategy.

I gave her an example, The anti-abortion people worked to ban all of them. When it failed, they then work on banning some of them, and then 2nd, and. Then more of them. They do it everywhere they can starting with one town, then county, city, state, and get what ever sum they can reach in effort to reach their goal. The counter forces use and excel at the goal of progress. I said to her the those seeking fairness and justice seem afraid of achieving success.

I gave her about 10 examples and analogies but was not sure if I was convincing.

David Brin said...

Wolf, the compromise position would be "Yes there's progress. That means those who RESISTED that progress deserve no credibility and those who fought for it deserve MORE credibility, when they say more is desperately needed.

Those who would deny or belittle past progress are doing the exact opposite. They are proclaiming that past heroes accomplished nothing and we should therefore shrug and give up.

Those railing against the "Progress is being made excuse" are, in fact, well-meaning evil-doers. No less than that.

Ioan said...


I don't disagree with your message. Yes, all the reforms you suggest should be done, as part of this movement or others. However, a movement must remain focused on one thing. If it becomes to broad, it may flame out (the Occupy protesters). Now, once the movement becomes organized enough, it could spread out. Second, they don't need to march for more cameras, that's happening anyway. The protests are the societal censure of the behavior. Cameras are great, but are useless unless there is a process of combining the footage with social censure, if criminal censure isn't possible.

I could see an appeal for more coding as part of a protest movement for education reform, either from Blacklivesmatter or from another movement. Perhaps one which includes cameras in the classroom? But for now, it is best that the movement doesn't protest for (a) things that are happening anyway, and (b) things that dilute their message. In other words, limit themselves to police reform, for now. We're talking short to medium term strategy, not long term strategy.

David Brin said...

Diametrically opposite to the case, Ioan. The public awareness is happening EXACTLY in tempo with the arrival of cameras and cell phones are too dangerous. You have to hold em, making th cops afraid. They want to see empty hands.

A public demand might lead to some billionaire funding the creation of shoulder cams and choosing one city to give em to EVERY ghetto youth. That experiment would have huge effects.

You have it entirely backwards.

Ioan said...

I fail to see how my hypothesis disagrees with the fact that the public awareness is exactly in tempo with cameras? I'm saying that "give us more tech" is something already happening, and that the movement is just applying the pressure to use the results of the cameras to prosecute based on the evidence.

Furthermore, unless shoulder cams can turn 360 degrees, police might shoot from the back, wherever the camera is not looking.

David Brin said...

"I fail to see..." Yes! What puzzles me is how I could make it clearer. Just please be assured... you are talking like a blind man describing the sunset.

Ioan said...

I'm curious, what argument do you think I'm making? Could you please restate my argument in your own words?

LarryHart said...


very much unlike the much maligned conservative 'all lives matter' response that conjured up the villainous mantra from 'The Incredibles' (When everyone's super, no one is), suggesting to diversity advocates that, when ALL lives matter, no particular life matters more than any other, illustrating (yet again) inclusivity's inherent incompatibility with diversity, for when everyone is said to belong to the 'In Group' & is thought 'equal', then no one can be said to be 'special','diverse' or worthy of individualised treatment.

You willfully misunderstand why some take offense at "all lives matter". The slogan "black lives matter" is meant to assert that, well, DUH! all lives matter, but black lives are being treated as if they don't matter, and let's call attention to the discord between what should matter and what does. In other words, "Let's live up to the ideal of 'all lives matter' by not treating black lives as an exception to that rule."

When you counter "black lives matter" with "all lives matter", as in "well, it's not just black lives that matter", you willfully obscure the intent of the message. It's not to say that blacks have special privileges as the only ones who matter. It's the opposite--black lives should matter, but seem not to. "Well, all lives matter but seem not to" doesn't exactly work.

David Brin said...

Ioan two things go together... cameras and unambiguous nailing of police abuse. Yet you claim "the cams are coming anyway (yawn.)" I find that utterly unbelievable and stunningly appalling.

ONE thing is making the difference, yet you find it boringly inevitable.

It has taken incredible labor to get this far in the camera revolution. And it is teetering in the balance. ONE philanthropist and $10 million could give every ghetto youth in East St Louis a GoPro and a link to the cloud and training to step out of the car with hands up and that camera flashing away. Within a week, all would change in that town... and word would spread like wildfire.

Within a year, designed-for-the-purpose lapel cams would be on shoulders everywhere people feel disempowered. I am simply amazed you dont' see that.

But then you aren't alone. I have been shouting in the wilderness since 1997.

Alfred Differ said...

@Ioan: If I were restating David's position pitch it would go something like this.

Black lives matter, so get us more of the tech that we are using to make our case. Yes, the tech is arriving anyway, but we want specific things to make it much, much harder for the police to defend these abuses. We want cameras (and microphones) that can record while our hands are obviously empty of all threats. We want this because black lives matter.

Obviously too many words. The point is one part describes purpose while the other describes the means to achieve it.

Acacia H. said...

You're sounding like Bernie Sanders, Dr. Brin. Mind you, he's talking about how we need to economically uplift minorities so they are equal economically... and from there, socially will follow. You're talking about using technology to ensure equal treatment... but let's be honest. Without the economic backing, none of that technology would help black people.

And Sanders is ultimately right. Why do the police harass minorities and poor people? Because they can't afford lawyers to legally fight back. If they had equal access to lawyers that the rich had, then the police would be toeing the line.

There is of course a third factor here: The new Vietnam Veteran. We failed to adequately learn the lessons of Vietnam when we went overseas into Iraq and Afghanistan... or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Bush and crew refused to pay the externalities of their little war. Specifically? Reintegration of veterans back into civilian life.

What is one of the one greatest job source of veterans returning from overseas? Police departments around the country. And these soldiers are returning, having been stressed tremendously with an insurgency that looks just. like. everyone. else. So Veterans-turned-Cop go out on the street... expecting at any moment for someone to try to kill them and not caring if they die in the process.

As Commander Adama said in the remake of Battlestar Galactica: There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

Well, our military has become our police. And as a result, we the people have become enemies of the state. I know I fear our police. I very much doubt I'm alone. I do my absolute best to not speed, not to break the law, not to attract their attention because if I do, I'm dead. It doesn't matter that I'm a greying-haired white man... the police will consider me an Enemy and I'm going to die. That is the thought that goes through my head. Every time I see a cop I think if they notice me, I'm dead.

All because the military failed to train our soldiers how to become civilians once more... thus leaving police who expect the American People to turn on them. And then the police are given military weapons and military hardware and they start practicing military maneuvers and all at once these aren't police. These are soldiers who are occupying the United States... and we made them what they are.

Putting cameras on all the cops and all the civilians won't stop the deaths and the killings, Dr. Brin. All it will do is put soldiers in jail for acting out as they were trained to do... because we as a society failed to turn them from soldiers into civilians once more.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Rob H... while your scenario is colorful and vivid and logical... it is a sci fi tale and has almost nothing to do with present day America. If anything, most constabularies are much TOO autonomous and local. Hence in places like Ferguson the white power structure and white cops have an imbedded fear that at any point the political power will shift to the minorities they grew up despising. Big cities have bit less of this, especially since minority cops and politicians have become more common and more transparency has fallen on big departments. But they too need more cameras.

In fact, there is very little overlap between today's military and police and the officers I know are desperate to keep it that way. The two worrisome overlaps are:

1- the flood of military hardware encouraging the creation of SWAT teams where they just aren't needed. (and accompanying mentality.

2- Vets with PTSD joining the force.

I worry about those... plus...

3- Private security armies, which slowed down considerably when Bush Cheney went away, but still simmers... and will return BIG time if Republicans get back in.

David Brin said...

How did the guy make bail? What jerks would put it up for him?

Tim H. said...

Another angle on this, if we can make sure black lives matter, it becomes that much easier to say LGBT lives matter, the lives of folk practicing minority religions, even white trash lives matter. And that shoulder cam, specify a ballistic material for the backing, because someone's liable to try and shoot it out.

Ioan said...

Let me see if I understand your objections, Dr. Brin. Your argument is that I'm discounting the importance of the tech and I'm taking it for granted that the cameras are inevitable?

Jonathan S. said...

"Ioan two things go together... cameras and unambiguous nailing of police abuse. Yet you claim "the cams are coming anyway (yawn.)" I find that utterly unbelievable and stunningly appalling."

And a tad optimistic - the city of Seattle, for instance, has been purchasing body cameras, at the insistence of the new police chief. The police-officers' union is fighting tooth and nail against body cams. If they get their way, there won't be any more cameras, and they'd like to get rid of the dashcams as well.

David Brin said...

I give up. Every single one of the recent cases that nailed bad cops featured cams. Their EVENTUAL arrival seems somewhat assured now, after the hard efforts of folks who weren't complacent. They could sweep every ghetto rapidly, if that trend got support, empowering minorities. Or the trend could be reversed.

But Yawn away! By all means take it for granted and veer attention away from the only thing that has made a difference.

I am done here. There are times when a brick wall is a brick wall.

Ioan said...

Alfred Differ,

Thank you for the explanation. However, you don't understand my argument. I'm not arguing Dr Brin's position. I agree with everything except "the movement should campaign for more cameras". I am arguing that this is a VERY good idea. However, it is not the job of the movement to campaign for shoulder cams, for two reasons. The first is that, unless the philanthropist is black, giving everyone in those neighborhoods shoulder cams or dash cams would be viewed as an insult. Whatever the logic of the movement, no good ideas will be accepted if they violate pride.

The second reason is that I think that those cameras are going to be common soon anyway. What I mean by inevitability is that there are economic forces that are going to "encourage" people to have shouldercams or dashcams, whether or not they live in a bad neighborhood. That's what I meant by inevitability. Within the next few years, you're going to have drones following people around taking selfies, dashcams in the car for the purpose of collision avoidance, possibly even shouldercams as part of google's smart clothing.

Furthermore, the ACLU does offer a smartphone app which automatically records everything when tapped and automatically uploads the video to an ACLU server. It's not a shoulder cam or a dashcam, but the app is free and anyone can download it.

In light of the above, what I was arguing is that, this isn't the main task of Blacklivesmatter. Right now, their limited time and capital is best spent trying to punish police officers caught in the act, because without punishment the effectiveness of the cameras are lessened. I do think that even if they don't succeed now, this movement will focus energies where passions currently lie and make the existing cameras more effective, and future cameras more effective when they do emerge.

Thinking it over, one thing Blacklivesmatter can do is encourage people in poor neighborhoods to download this app.

Let me repeat, that was the only disagreement I had with Dr. Brin. I thought that a division of labor would be better than having Blacklivesmatter accelerate what tech companies are doing anyway.

This was the message I was trying to communicate.

I hope I've done a better job detailing my position.

David Brin said...

"The first is that, unless the philanthropist is black, giving everyone in those neighborhoods shoulder cams or dash cams would be viewed as an insult."

Now THAT is an insult. Spectacularly patronizing.

"The second reason is that I think that those cameras are going to be common soon anyway. "

Yes, you said that. what is "soon"? because I have been yammering for them for 18 years. And every teen who dies for the lack of one is an indictment on those who yawn and say to relax, they are coming anyway. Again, this is the ONLY thing that will make an instant and immediate difference.

Yes you've done a better job... and I so deeply regret having bothered to answer yet again. Everyone kick me if I make that mistake again.

Tony Fisk said...

Another facet to Rob H's 'SF scenario': many of the returning vets are coloured.
(Actually, I recall one scene from the Occupy protests which showed a black Marine Sergeant pouring derision on the actions of the NYPD. He wasn't challenged)


Making hand-free video recording equipment readily available will have many effects on excessive authoritarianism: some good, others not so good.
- There will be provocations to set police up (this is why police should also have videos)
- There will be a lot of noisy outcry as each and every video is proclaimed an example of the violence inherent in the system (also why police should have videos)
- Most officers will pause, think 'ah!', and mute their behaviour, possibly to excess.
- Some will try to take back the advantage by demanding that the filming stop, or moving out of the FOV, or covering the lens* (a bit of spray 'capsicum' paint would do the trick)
- A very few will wave their backsides at the lens while jumping on the bloody pile that was wearing it (a little graphic and hyperbole, but psychopaths really don't get that people may not like them, and ought to. These guys would be the first to be yanked, one hopes)

The real payback comes with how people react to the videos taken: how readily they can filter out the chaff, and how hard they push to make the Authority crack down on offenders (the bail just given to the Cincinatti Officer is likely to be a point for discussion)

It is unfortunate, but the 'thugs in uniform' have a fair degree of organised back-up, and aren't going to vanish overnight because someone was watching. It is up to people to keep holding those authorities accountable, not accept inadequate knuckle-rapping, and not get discouraged as perpetrator after perpetrator is put on paid-leave pending the [mumble]-gation, or transferred. That simply means the flame has to be applied further up.

*Shoulder mount with a 360 fish-eye lens would be more fool-proof than a chest mount that can be easily countered by telling the person to lie face-down on the ground, but we're also discussing economy here. "Siri? Film on!"

David Brin said...

The ACLU's latest policy on cop cams

David Brin said...

The tactic of spraying or fouling the camera only works when there are few cameras. If you do it and there IS another camera, all you've done is committed a felony witnessed by that other camera. There's already a cop in prison for that. Come on. I have you trained better than this! Think out the next step.


did NONE of you read The Transparent Society ? This is all there. Every... last... bit of it.

Alfred Differ said...

@Ioan: I get your point. I used to chair a non-profit and understand the need to stay on message. There is only just so much money and volunteer time after all.

Except that isn't true. Money and volunteers show up when they have something specific they can do about something they care to fix.

My only issue with David's version is it sounds too much like the "Obama got me a free phone" meme. I get that he is going for something that can act as a cultural cruise missile, but I don't think he has hit on the right phrase yet.

@David: I got through about 1/3 of it before life intervened. I fell in love with the woman I eventually married and never got back to it. 8)

I have used paraphrased versions of what I understood from it since then. The usual reaction I get if someone thinks about it for more than a second is that I must be from another planet.

David Brin said...

Alfred, I deliberately wrote The Transparent Society with busy people in mind. There are interludes BETWEEN th chapters that are concise and poetical -ish. They make a lot of key points in bite sized bits.

But if I am to have any competition... you cited one that does not offend me at all! Higher priorities.

Tony Fisk said...

Next step, in what direction do you mean?

Well, here I have been caught out thinking in terms of holding increasing levels of authoritarian over-reach and push-back to account. That does sometimes occur, and will continue to do so; especially if parties aren't aware of being recorded. But is it the likely outcome?

As it happens, I've just read New Scientist article on the rise of body-cams. One of the points raised there is that (surprise!) cameras act to de-escalate confrontations on *both* sides. This was mentioned as a likely outcome in TTS (on p 159, you introduce the idea as a speculation of Sandy Sandfort's, and then expand on it over the next couple of pages. Yes, I have read TTS. A long time ago, admittedly, but I still have a copy. The NS article can now back the idea up with studies)

PS: I sent a link of this post to Alderman Antonio French. He was one of the guys on the ground trying to keep it cool in Ferguson last summer after the shooting of Michael Brown. He might, one would think, have an interest in the idea. (Well, one can only suggest)

Anonymous said...

Note that Brin has now removed the "addicted to wrath" link from this article, and most of the previously included ranting about other people's indignation.

locumranch said...

Police target minorities, the unemployed & the economic underclass because its their JOB, specifically because UK, US & EU law exists to criminalise those particular categories, meaning that no amount of video feed can alter outcome without a concomitant change in law. What omnipresent video surveillance will do, most likely, is criminalise the police in the lawful performance of their duties, either by rendering them unable & unwilling to perform their assigned tasks or by forcing them to become criminals themselves.

From many of your statements, it's clear that most of you do not regularly interact with law enforcement personnel who are (1) universally reviled by the social strata with whom they interact, (2) trained in the rapid escalation of force, (3) expected to defend themselves in all scenarios and (4) required to jeopardise their personal safety on a daily basis.

Ergo, the omnipresent camera is a start but not a solution to police brutality: The police are mere enforcers; they represent the will of the status quo; and a solution to police brutality can only come from a complete overhaul of a corrupt & prejudiced legal system.


Q said...

"Ghetto youth"? You really think that's a good term to be using for young Black people in the 21st century? I mean, it's better than "pickaninny", so I guess you should get points for that, but damn, did you learn everything you know about Black urban culture from 70's cop movies? I'm surprised you aren't suggesting they equip themselves with "fro-cams"!

Oh, and your claiming to have predicted every current trend in your "prescient" stories is as bad a joke as Chekov in ST TOS claiming Russians invented everything. You are doing it as a joke, aren't you?

Tim H. said...

Locum, I'd like law enforcement to get back to "Dirty Harry" standards, they've been making Clint Eastwood's character look like a bleeding heart liberal. And since you seem to have a soft spot for libertarian politics, how about doing some pruning on the legislation cops are asked to enforce?

Wolf said...

David, I totally for got to mention. At the time I took that course, I did loan the professor my copy of "The Transparent Society". She ended up finishing it before the end of the week.

locumranch said...

Law ceased to be about crime in the 1980s. Now it's all feeehlings, outcomes and Big Boomer Government in loco parentis saying "play nice, eat your vegetables, clean your (planet), don't take drugs". Always "do as I say, not as I do". It's disgusting really, especially after they made this whole mess. Let them them pay the piper. Let them give up their pharmaceuticals, comforts, pensions, cars and air-conditioning first. Let them reap what they've sowed.


Paul SB said...

Q, my favorite was when Chekov said that the Garden of Eden was right outside Moscow.I thought the irony was delicious, since them evil commies are supposed to be a bunch of atheists. But more seriously, I have known a couple writers, including one older friend who became a writer years later (he's from Wisconsin, and you can probably guess the adjective that describes his writing best). One thing I have learned is that making a living as a writer requires a hell of a lot of self-promotion to survive. Once the habit sets in, it's probably hard not to. I don't mind it at all.

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

Bail is not a bond, and the reports I've heard was that he posted a million dollar bond, not bail. It's nearly unheard of these days for a judge to insist on cash bail.

Bail is cash given to the court to ensure attendance. It is a type of bond. But there's others.

More likely, he posted a surety bond, which is what the bail bondsmen specialize in. The bondsman guarantees the cash in case of non-attendance, and the defendant pays the bondsman some regardless.

Like any other actuary, the bondsman decides to ensure a bond based on his opinion of how likely the defendant is to attend. In this case, I do think it's highly unlikely that the defendant won't appear in court, so it's a good business move by the bondsman.

And the judge is probably correct in allowing a bond. The guy really isn't likely to go shooting anyone else at this point. The amount, in my opinion, just represents the profile of the case, rather than anything actually related to the risk of flight.

This stuff works for the guys we like as well as the ones we don't.

David Brin said...

I hate Microsoft Word. I truly hate Microsoft Word. Anyone who does not hate Microsoft Word is probably psychopathically masochistic. It is a taste of hell to have anything to do with $%#! hate Microsoft Word.

sociotard said...

Speaking of your novel Earth . . . Helvetia Delenda Est? Not with Hillary in charge!

Hillary Helps a Bank—and Then It Funnels Millions to the Clintons

The US was suing a Swiss Bank (UBS) to reveal secret American accounts. Hillary stepped in and arranged a settlement (the bank turned over 4,450 accounts instead of 52,000). Having scratched their backs, the Swiss Bankers scratched her husband 1.5 million in speaking fees, plus large donations to their charitable foundation.

Oh, what an age of transparency the Democratic Heir Apparent will give us.

Alfred Differ said...

I prefer to write in Open Office. I've got MS Word at work, but I use templates and then cut and paste from elsewhere. I won't put up with Word at home.

Jonathan S. said...

Don't hold back like that, David. It's not healthy. How do you really feel about Word?

Duncan Cairncross said...

I was going to write a rant about the US Bail/Bond system but this article says it all

This is how it works here (NZ)

Here "Bail" is dependent on "risk" - there is NO MONEY involved and people charged with "non custodial offenses" cannot be kept in jail

I believe the same is true in the UK
The US seems to be the only country regularly requiring a "Bail Bond" before release

Alfred Differ said...


Specialized orthogonal genetic systems... by designing functional ribosomes.

Properly translated into common English, this might get some attention. 8)

David Brin said...

Duncan there is a trait in human societies & nature. When a nation has leaped ahead of others and they are forced to emulate... they often emulate BETTER, while the originator is stuck with whole bunches of grandfathered, legacy version 1.0 systems. The US was the first to make absolutely protected -- by constitution - many rights and due processes, like fair bail.

And therefore we keep earlier versions that seem archaic to those who watched and learned from v 1.0

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi David
I agree with that
One of the biggest examples is the stock exchange
The USA and the UK have Mk1 stock exchanges - developed from the London Coffee rooms
Germany (and Japan) have Mk2 exchanges

On the subject of Bail the US cultural conquest of the world is so complete that I thought the US system of bail money was the "default"

I was not too surprised to find that we didn't use it but I was surprised to find that most other countries don't use it either

Alfred Differ said...

Pax Americana works that way. 8)

We are an empire now, but many of us are still uncomfortable with the idea. We'd rather not dictate all those little details.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

I see what you are saying about the US originating a democratic system then fixating on v. 1.0. The question then becomes, how can that be rectified? Most people in this country are very nation-centric. Few Americans watch foreign films, listen to foreign music, learn foreign languages and fewer still show any interest in foreign institutions. Even scientists, who are supposed to be an international community, show some of this same centrism. When I was in grad school someone brought up a study in which a team of multilingual American scientists started tabulating how many times they saw American scientists publish experiments and findings that had already been done by scientists elsewhere in the world, often years or even decades before, but had been published in different languages. It was pretty embarrassing, especially with the Spanish speaking students gloating at the majority monolinguals. Maybe we need some good meme-slingers to start pointing out real, meaningful contributions from the rest of the world to break down some of that resistance.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan. What is a mk 1 exchange? If it is what I think you mean, I think you are behind the times.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul SB. With translation engines doing a fair job, there really isn't any excuse to ignore foreign journals any more. When looking up research, I've found Google does a better job than the specialized search engines unless it it within a publisher's journal set and looking for a specific paper. My guess is the real problem is getting through a paywall of a foreign journal that isn't part of the university package. Foreign journals might well benefit from having at least the abstract in English to aid deciding whether to read the paper.

How hard would it be to have all archived papers translated by machine, or at least the abstracts?

Alex Tolley said...

Re: religious S/W wars. Publishers have standardized on Word. Get over it. I personally have found the clones like OpenOffice inferior. For most of my writing, I use Wordpad on PCs and TextEdit on Macs. They are lightweight, do basic formatting and can add images.
For collaborative documents I use Google Docs, which I have found to be excellent for simulate ours editing, albeit with fairly poor formatting. I also use Google docs to save copies of web articles and to import/export in various document formats.

Alex Tolley said...

That would be "simultaneous". Damn iPad.

David Brin said...


Unknown said...

One problem with a Transparent Society as described here, and one way that "law enforcement" coult re-tip the balance of power back in their favor (presuming the citizenry were able to tip it toward them by wearing their own body cams), is by having so many laws on the books. Not to mention ones written to favor the balance of power toward the lawmakers. Otherwise good people will "catch" themselves doing all kinds of wrong. For example:

i.e. you can be prosecuted for just about anything, if someone wants to prosecute you. For the transparent society to work, your legal code has to be a lot simpler and more balanced with regard to the average person than ours.

Jr. Williams said...

Police vs Black Lives Matter: who's side are you on?
Black Lives Matter

siska said...
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