Friday, April 29, 2016

How to maintain a vigorous, positive sum society… in theory

I’ve long urged folks to go have another look at one of the founders of the Western-Pragmatic Enlightenment, Adam Smith. Lately, Smith has been picked up by ever more economists and thinkers seeking to understand how we’ve gone astray.

Liberals are surprised to discover Smith’s compassion, along with his denunciations of oligarchy and inherited power. Open-minded conservatives and libertarians are reminded that Smith’s recommendation of vigorous market competition can only happen when things are relatively flat-open-fair, but cheaters are only thwarted by rules, by regulation. (The same is true in sports, democracy, science etc.)

Both sides need to be reminded that human beings are essentially delusional, and we prosper best when we are shown – competitively – our mistakes. 

In an article - Stop Using Adam Smith and F.A. Hayek to Support Your Political Ideology - on the fast-rising Evonomics site, I show how both Smith and Friedrich Hayek offer no support for conniving, monopolistic concentrations of economic power.  For markets, democracy, science, etc to deliver their fabulous, positive sum outcomes, there must be reciprocal accountability.

In response, economist Nicholas Gruen agrees with most of my points, but complains that my emphasis on competition overlooks how much of our system depends on cooperation. Go have a look at his critique.

In fact, I had felt the cooperative aspect to be implicit, since where else would the regulations come from, that keep competitive markets and science and democracy, courts and sports flat-open-fair?  Those regulations – to maintain a healthy and vigorous commons – might be deliberated and negotiated competitively (in the arena called democracy) but they can only pass and be complied-with in a generally cooperative atmosphere and meme of shared citizenship.

(An atmosphere and meme that have been deliberately destroyed in America, rendering the U.S. Congress completely impotent. See below.)

Perhaps I should have commented at greater length about the implicit cooperativeness that allows for the creation of regulations that then empower creative competition.  But this twinning seems natural to me! Cooperation and competition are essential partners – not opposites – at nearly all layers of life that achieve any degree of health.

== How do cooperation and competition depend on each other? ==

At one level, individual creatures – predators and prey – seem totally competitive; yet we all know that a myriad defeats and victories add up to the “circle of life” of a wholesome ecosystem. But it goes farther. We now know that cells inside a fetus’s brain compete with each other, frenetically, to become nerve cells. Most are defeated, but the result is the most effective macro-entity ever formed. Adam Smith described how – when cheating and war and oppression are thwarted – normal human competitiveness engenders so much creativity that wealth pours forth in gushers, engendering the cooperative thing called civilization. 

(Karl Marx quite agreed, though his scenarios cynically assumed that there would always be cheaters, until there was so much wealth available that competition might – suddenly – be dispensed-with.)

What I just described are called “emergent properties.” From the competitive jostling of molecules within our cells, on up, we see subsequent layerings of regulated rivalry spawning an appearance of effective collaboration, in which entities of the next-higher level then commence competing, yet again… and forming what seems to be cooperative… and onward, building order.

Along the way, there are potential traps and pitfalls that cause such agglomerations to fail. When a type of predator or parasite gets too strong, it may gorge on prey and drive species extinct, destroying the ecosystem  it relied upon. Across millennia, ever since we began recording agricultural societies, competitively vigorous men would win local games of power, then seize way too much, cheating for the sake of short-term reproductive success (lordship and harems), stifling competition, thus starving the health of their tribes or nations.  

Indeed, both great Pericles and Adam Smith preached that we must stymie this trap by cooperative design, thwarting cheating, not only for justice and freedom but for the pragmatic reason, that only such limits to power can let flat-fair-open-creative competition resume its generative miracle, making us all better off.

== How all of this applies to Artificial Intelligence ==

This is, indeed, the whole and entire answer to the Problem of Artificial Intelligence… how to prevent AI from going berserk as in Terminator or The Matrix, a concern expressed by Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and others.

What do we dread about the arrival of new, smarter beings? 

Well, the simplest and most-feared scenarios depict coolly determined and cunning robotic beings conspiring to treat us the same way that human overlords treated peasants... or worse, the way they treated sheep. Seizing the top position on a feudal-style pyramid of might-based oppression.  In other words, we fret the possibility that AIs might behave in the way all-too-many human males have, when tempted by access to overwhelming power!

But any such robot-dominated hierarchy is likely to suffer the same disastrous effects of winnowing system health and delusional-governance which comes about when a predator or parasite is too successful... or when human leaders get strong enough to evade competitive criticism. 

Moreover, this argument is not an artifact of my being a dumb-organic, oldstyle human. Since the competition-cooperation emergent tradeoffs manifest across all levels of organization, from the cell to organs to species and ecosystems and societies - including the only human society creative enough to make AI(!) - it can be presumed that any robot overlord claiming to be an exception is likely -- no matter how "smart" -- to be ... delusional.

This is not about IQ.  It is about wisdom.

== Neoliberalism ==

I know it's gone a bit long. But let's hang in to a conclusion.

This piece appraises “NeoLiberalism,” a powerfully influential political and economic theory that took over the West during the 1980s and still persists with the zombie-never-dying-though-always-wrong Supply Side economic theory and the meme to “hate all government.” 

The insidious thing about NeoLiberalism is that its basic premise is entirely correct: "Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty."

You can see how this fits today's theme. Competition is indeed the fundamental process that allows positive sum outcomes to spill from markets, democracy, science, courts and sports, highly refined "arenas" wherein miracles of productivity arise out of flat-fair-open competition.

The insidious lie of NeoLiberalism is that there is only one enemy of competitive enterprise... government.

That is a towering and stunning falsehood, since Adam Smith would tell you to look (as he did) across 6000 years of brutal, grinding feudalism and see the force that destroyed flat-open-fair-creative competition in 99% of human cultures... inherited oligarchy and lordly-monied cheaters.  The testimony of 60 centuries shows this, despite the Neolibs desperate efforts to distract with hate-all-government ravings...

Oh but some top conservative idea-folks have taken this further, suggesting: Could the GOP be facing an intellectual exodus? Daniel Drezner asks, "Forty years ago, neoconservatives started migrating toward the Republican Party. Is a reverse migration possible?”  

Well… it depends on what you mean by “intellectuals.” Under the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and its relentlessly expressed hatred of science, medicine, teachers, journalists and almost every other clade of knowledge in American life, we’ve already seen almost total abandonment of the right by scientists and others who deal in facts.

Which leaves the airy realm of political theory and fact-free dogma incantation. There you can still find ‘intellects’ willing and eager to defend never-once-right and always-utterly-disproved doctrines like Supply Side Economics.  You’ll certainly see no defections from that quadrant. 

What about other elements of the right? Take the so-called “neocons” of the early 2000s, who concocted rationalizations for 'nation-building wars' in Iraq etc, based on the spells of Leo Strauss. (Noecons only overlap with neo-liberals; they aren't the same.) Where are the Nitzes, Perles, Adelmans and Wolfowitzes, nowadays?  Hunkering in faux-academes like AEI and Heritage, eking out a political dotage, abandoned and disdained even by the Bushite-Cheneyites they helped empower.

== coda ==

Okay, hold on for the stunning aftermath of this riff, which poses a question.  Who said this? 

"It is important to have a national notification system to help safely recover children kidnapped by child predators. But it is equally important to stop those predators before they strike, to put repeat child molesters into jail for the rest of their lives, and to help law enforcement with the tools they need to get the job done." 

Who? Former Speaker and GOP head Dennis Hastert said this after another Republican was caught molesting congressional pages. 

Hypocrisy R Us. His "Hastert Rule" wrecked negotiation in Congress, making it the laziest do-nothing legislature in US history. He made gerrymandering an art and elevated cheating to the norm. His Bush-Cheney era was the father of the Trump-Cruz era. Be proud.

Finally, see: Why Garbagemen Should Be Earning More Than Bankers: How more and more people are making money without contributing anything of value”… again on Evonomics.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Brin's random ramblings! And is a PhD worth it?

For this posting, let's go all over the place! In a semi-random walk of items that share one trait.  They're... well... interesting! Starting with --

A wide-ranging interview – covering future interactions with extraterrestrials and artificial intelligence agents, the Kardashev scale of planetary civilizations, possible means to deal with climate change, ‘Brin’s Corollary’ of cameras ... on MacObserver.

Hear me blather on the Future Thinkers Podcast about transparency, reciprocal accountability and future societies. 

== Random Musings ==

The most Interesting Man in the World is on his (one way) trip to Mars? Okaaaaay then.  Any nominations for a successor?  

Teen pregnancy in the U.S. has fallen to an all time low… though there are substantial regional differences. And the problem is worst in states that prescribe “abstinence only” sex education.

The 100 jokes that shaped modern comedy. No Monty Python... the list focuses on American humor.

Does the Web now contain everything? Far from it.  Let me give one example.  Late in 1979, when I was in grad school, our PBS radio station ran a hilarious special called “Unpacking the Eighties.”  I believe the writer/singer/actor was “Jesse” or "Jerry" something.  Over the years I have searched for it. And nowadays, one would imagine someone would have cached it online somewhere… or at least mentioned it! But there’s zilch via any search method I have used.  And mind you that was a media item of some substance, nationally broadcast.

Likewise my brief-run television pilot the Architechs.  The History Channel long ago stopped selling DVDs or downloads. (There were actually TWO pilots, both of them so way cool.) Since HC has no interest in (or memory of) the show, I had hoped someone would have put it up online by now, for all to enjoy.  Especially since the ideas in the Fire Prevention and Escape pilot could save thousands of lives.  Alas, it hasn’t even been done on bit-torrent or Russian pirate sites. Alack. (Not that I am encouraging such rapscallion goin's-on.)

On the other hand... Books that top US college students are required to read: My nonfiction The Transparent Society ranks 6th at Brown! Just below... Karl Marx. Interesting. Anyone know which professor(s) at Brown are assigning it? Nice to know there are intellects out there with great taste.

== Are there too many PhDs? ==

Speaking of academe... one member of my blog-munity wrote: 

"The rise of the Ph.D. is more a cause for alarm than celebration as it reflects educational inutility & creeping credentialism.  Encouraged by poor job prospects in a contracting economy, the Ph.D. candidate forgoes gainful employment & pursues a specialized educational career path which qualifies them for little more than education and research.

University diploma mills churn out a surfeit of Ph.D.'s, depressing the relative value of this degree even further. "Only 12.8% of Ph.D. graduates can attain academic positions in the USA", and "In the UK, almost 80% of people achieving PhDs in science will eventually find careers outside science". See: Does Science Produce Too Many Ph.D.'s? in Discover.

Where this grouchy fellow has a point is that many science graduate student PhD candidates submit themselves to being used as driven labor, 80 hour weeks at pennies per hour, sometimes for magnificent mentors - the smartest and best people our species ever created - and sometimes for slave-driving egotists. (There is a slight field-correlation, with physics being more of the former and biology containing more of the latter.)

To which I reply, so? This is exactly the kind of retro pattern that nostalgia junkies moan for! Master-Journeyman-Apprentice stuff. All the way to medieval gowns in which the newly minted "doktor" gets to wear a monk's cowl! It goes way, way back. You guys should love it!

What's changed is that this path is now open to many, many more (and boy do they come, flocking) -- and the process is more moderated and fair (though I experienced unfairness that made me test the system... and I won, big. Oh, I'd make changes.)

Jiminy Cricket, if there are more doctorates than academic slots, guess what. It's freaking competitive! It's a market and you knew it was when you applied to graduate school. And even so, they come in droves. Why? Because the Big Prize is the best job, ever, in the history of the species! Pushing the envelope of knowledge while nurturing scientific skill and curiosity in both future winners and and those who won't attain any prized professorships...

... but who will go into the job market with clear proof that: "I know how to study a problem to its very core, dissect it and discover something that no one on Earth - possibly anywhere in creation - ever knew before. It may have been a small thing, BUT I ADDED SOMETHING PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN TO HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. 

"That is what PhD means. And sure, that's credentialed. So sue me. Better yet, hire me. For enough to make up for those 5 years as a lab (or theory) slave -- which also happened to be the best and most fascinating and most wonderful years of my entire f***ing life."

Dig it. In 1930 Galbraith and others predicted that industrial productivity would render the 40 hour week obsolete and millions would have to find new ways to occupy their time, outside the tsunami-productive factories and farms. Galbraith looked foolish for a while. But perhaps he was just 100 years premature. And if so?

I can think of worse ways to occupy our very brightest than spending their youths seeking a "credential" that says "I spent some of this time and wealth at the very frontiers of human knowledge."

== And finally... ==

Here's a Tech Trick... Want the simplest way to take a slug of text from somewhere and strip it of all codes and formatting and links, so you just have the text you actually want? I need this all the time and found a great way.  If you have gmail, open a new message, then paste the code-polluted text into the email's SUBJECT LINE. You can then immediately SELECT ALL and CUT and you will have the stripped version of the text, ready to insert anywhere without noxious codes embedded "helpfully."

(Seriously, it is getting worse!  I cannot paste a URL into an email anymore without gmail and /or Yahoo "helpfully" replacing the Http address with the title and thumbnail of the website. Who would want that... ever? I have never wanted it once, ever. But can I make them stop? Also, is there a simpler way to unlink email addresses that Word "helpfully" makes active, without going through multi-step menus?)

Productivity hint! I use QuickKeys, so many complex productivity steps are all one-flick stabs of my index finger onto keys on the numeric keypad. Quickeys saves me at least 15 minutes of lifespan, every single day.  I barely recall how to mouse drag a cursor onto a scroll-down menu, anymore.

...And now you all see what I do with random snippets that don't fit into my normal posting categories. Goulash!  Yum.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Looking to space

Homesteading in Space! This recent February, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) worked with NASA, Fox Studios and the National Academy to assemble a gathering in Los Angeles  Homesteading in Space – Inspiring the Nation through Science Fiction, aimed at “imagining how manned space efforts can take us to our neighboring planets, not just for a short visit, but for longer durations.” Co-sponsoring the event was Washington D.C.’s developing Museum of Science Fiction.

In his 2015 State of the Union, President Obama noted that we want to go to space, “not just to visit, but to stay.” That theme carried throughout the LA event. The morning portion – at Fox Studios – featured Ridley Scott, director, and Andy Weir, author of The Martian, as well as Bill Nye, Adam Savage and many Hollywood notables.  The later, UCLA portion, gave perhaps seventy film and media myth-spinners a chance to interact closely, in breakout sessions, with actual space scientists.  I found myself filling both roles!

Said OSTP Policy Director Tom Kalil: I believe that science fiction can provide a simulator for the societal risks and benefits of new technologies. This is useful in the same way that scenario planning helps organizations prepare for the future.”

The meeting was covered in this gizmodo article, with terrific artwork.

Help solve the problems of space exploration: The 2016 NASA Space Apps Challenge is happening right now... See the challenges in aeronautics, Mars or techsploration. Join a team and collaborate to innovate, code, and design our future in space.

== Living and exploring space ==

What can we learn from living in space? Col. Chris Hadfield, who logged more than 4000 hours in space, offers his inspiring perspectives about humans in space and innovative problem-solving in his recent book, Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything -- which will help you think like an astronaut... a citizen of our ambitious future.

So, what are some good destinations? A fascinating article by Lee Billings on the tradeoffs re where on Mars astronauts should land. The first meeting on site appraisal – in Houston – brought out the Groundlings and Trailblazers, Conservationists and Burrowers and so on.  A conference I would have very much enjoyed. Though apparently there were no Smackers… folks who’d harvest some comets and just smack the Red Planet real good, slapping it (perhaps) back awake again.  AH… read HEART of the COMET. 

As a next step in its Journey to Mars program, NASA is seeking ideas for deep space habitats to house astronauts during long-duration missions, such as a trip to the Red Planet.

My NIAC colleague Ariel Waldman also has a terrific book - What's It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who've Been There. It received a mention in Oprah Magazine(!) this month: "Houston, we have a winner." 

Of course it won't just be humans -- our robotic envoys will explore on our behalf.... The latest cubesats are amazing.  When coupled with new instruments and new propulsion methods, they may soon enable mere universities to send robotic emissaries – not just to Low Earth Orbit but exploring across the Solar System. 

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) arrived at the Red Planet on March 10, 2006 and has done yeoman's work in the decade since. To mark the occasion, NASA created this video celebrating the MRO's 10 years at Mars .

Phil Plait waxes effusive and poetical about a dustdevil (a twister!) caught with its stereo cameras while exploring the rim of a giant crater. On Mars. For you. 

Interesting list! Space missions that never/almost/barely happened.

Boeing has patented technology to 3D print objects while levitating in space.  

Even more cool is the Made In Space endeavor, which, having won a NASA contract, aims to make zero G 3D printers for use in space.

ARPA-E has granted a contract with Aurora Systems to develop a unique VTOL aircraft that will rise vertically, thrust upward by 24 ducted hybrid-electric fans embedded inside the wings. (In a sense, it is a biplane.)   Cool and next. And aficionados will recognize it from William Gibson's prophetic-gritty "The Gernsback Continuum" -- from his collection Burning Chrome.

Mercury!  What makes so many portions of the innermost planet so dark? (Low Albedo.) It appears to be carbon, remnants of a graphite layer that floated on the surface of Mercury’s ancient magma. Wow, and this while scientists are calling graphene the wunder-material. Calling all self-assembler robots.

Cool to this cosmetologist: JPL and Goldstone managed to radar image comet  P/2016 BA14 on March 22. The comet, about 1 kilometer in diameter, passed about 3.5 million kilometers away, making it the third closest comet flyby in recorded history. Also fascinating.  It has an albedo of about 3%, which is lower than fresh asphalt.

Pluto: another world with an ice-roofed, liquid water ocean?  Meanwhile, on the surface, signs of recent Nitrogen rain and lakes.  If a methane-breathing astronaut from Titan were to visit, she’d evaporate these lakes just by walking nearby!  I guess everything is relative. 

And Pluto's moon Charon may have once had a subsurface ocean that has frozen and expanded, causing massive fracturing of the surface.

A look back at the early days, remembering how we got to space: Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon and Mars, by Nathalia Holt honors the hard-working women pioneers of the 1940s and 50s who helped launch NASA into the space age, and win the space race. Holt relates the life stories of the early "human computers" who performed the extensive mathematical and calculating work (with pencil and paper, not silicon chips) which was vital to the success of NASA's early missions -- in that long ago era before we carried computers around in our pockets!

== Further out in space ==

Just as we look to other stars to detect transits of orbiting planets, perhaps intelligent extraterrestrials have adopted the same astronomical methods as us. Therefore, it might be a good idea to identify which sun-like stars are at just the right angle to see our Earth pass in front of our sun from their perspective. Researchers have now mapped a thin band they call the Earth’s “transit zone” that projects along the plane of the ecliptic. Any denizens of that band will be able to see Earth orbit in front of the sun, thus realizing there’s a small rocky world orbiting within the habitable zone of a star. 82 nearby sun-like stars occupy this zone and could therefore be very inviting SETI targets. 

Phil Plait – the “bad astronomer” – can be so interesting!  Here he correlates gamma ray bursters and Fast Radio Bursters and the recent detection of Gravity Waves…. And pieces are falling into place!  

Zowee. See this the spectacular X-ray producing jet from an 11 billion year old quasar and its possible implications.  

Want to go even farther back?  The Hubble Space Telescope has found a galaxy that formed only 400 million years after the Big Bang.

But wait! Perhaps Fast Radio Bursters don’t come from massive collisions, after all! FRBs are bright radio flashes that last just a few milliseconds, and until now have never been known to repeat. But if they do repeat, there goes the neutron star collision theory. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sousveillance, Surveillance and Accountability

It's been called "Brin's Corollary to Moore's Law." That cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, better and more mobile at a rate much, much faster than Moore's Law.  This article clues you in to the latest aspects, e.g. lensless cameras that won't even have that telltale glint. Micro air vehicles (MAV) - drones the size of flies, that will follow you and "go-pro" your life, whether you're the camera's owner or not.  And cameras that see around corners.

The lesson to all this? Stop imagining that you will ever protect freedom and privacy by hiding! 

We can live in this looming future while retaining some freedom, even enhancing freedom! 

But only if we learn to stop worrying and love the drone.

In The Transparent Society I have a chapter titled “The End of Photography as Proof of Anything at All.”  And yes, way back in 1997 there were fears that digital image processing would ruin our ability to trust images. Now see this stunning new product – Face2Face – that uses RGB video data to superimpose expressions and face movements onto a target persona in a video. In the demo, George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are shown grimacing, smiling or mouthing words, exactly mimicking the studio actor… visually plausible at the low resolution of this YouTube example.  But of course easily refuted by any group that analyzes the footage in a modern lab.  The question is: will that suffice in the minds of millions who see such doctored images, then refuse to listen, when those labs denounce the fake?

Public figures will take to recording themselves 24/7, in order to have time stamped refutations, ready at any time.  (Put that one in the predictions registry!)

Meanwhile, Kuwait has become the first country to require residents —1.3 million citizens plus 2.9 million foreigners - to enter their DNA on a national database. 

Slowly at first, then more rapidly, drone surveillance has been entering our skies, with every agency from the FBI and ATF to local sheriffs acquiring unpiloted aeronatical vehicle (UAVs) equipped with cameras and more. The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation express concern, but how do you draw the line between legitimate uses and Big Brother? 

My dear friends in EFF etc are right to be concerned. But any notion of restricting such powers by law or regulation? Over any extended period? When the drones are getting smaller and cheaper and more numerous and capable at rates vasty exceeding Moore's Law?  

Here's an ultimate irony.  The only way you could ever enforce such restrictions is if citizens and their NGOs (like EFF and ACLU) have extensive powers of sousveillance and supervision over the Protector Caste.  Only then could we know what they are doing, well enough to say "stop looking!"

But think this through, will you? If we have such supervisory power, we won't need to say "don't look!"  Because if we can supervise the drone controllers and their commanders, then their looking will be circumspect and respectful and studiously unintrusive. 

Again and again it must be repeated: Screaming "don't look at me!" is a pathetic whine.   The only way to hold power accountable is to forcefully and effectively say to those with guns: "We are watching you in every detail. So be professionals."  

Only then will public servants nod and say: "Yes, boss."

An example of this process is this current debate over changes in the FBI's rules for accessing the NSA's PRISM program that monitors traffic to and among foreign telephone numbers. Already ethically and legally iffy, "section 702" searches can sweep up information about U.S. citizens who are at one end of such conversations.  Believe me, I am deeply unsatisfied with the current state of affairs, especially the wispy layers of supervision - almost none of them adversarial - that keep these programs from being Orwellian. On the other hand, we are arguing about them. And our officials know that trying to hide it all from us completely will not work. All that will do is result in a phenomenon they'll find deeply irksome.  More Snowdens.

The solution is to negotiate a win-win… a positive sum set of reforms that empower our protector caste to do their increasingly complex and difficult jobs… while submitting to much improved systems of supervision and accountability that will enhance citizen confidence.  The alternative, a steady decay in trust between the protectors and protected, is utterly pathological. Solving that decay should be the caste's number one priority.  How sad that it would be so, so easy to do, except for some unnecessary reflexes and bad habits of thought.

Nor is this just a dichotomy of private folks against the state. Police agencies have been using "stingray" technology to make fake cell towers to sift for target/suspect phones… and now it seems the technology has leaked to major corporations, foreign spy agencies, commercial IP thieves, and even criminal gangs… an all-too familiar devolution of powers that we should worry about when drones start being used in felonious activity.  IMSI catchers - or cell-tower spoofers -- are now available on gadget sites for a few thousand dollars.

"Two years ago, China shut down two dozen factories that were manufacturing illegal IMSI catchers. The devices were being used to send text-message spam to lure people into phishing sites; instead of paying a cell phone company 5¢ per text message, companies would put up a fake cell tower and send texts for free to everyone in the area." 
And: "By 2010 senior (Indian) government officials publicly acknowledged that the whole cell network in India was compromised. “India is a really sort of terrifying glimpse of what America will be like when this technology becomes widespread,”"  

To some, the 'obvious solution' is ever more encryption, a race that average people intrinsically can never win. I prefer self-erecting mesh systems, but those will require better hardware than the cell companies are willing to sell us, and we'd still have to trust one mesh-organizing consortium over others.

In the long run, what all this proves is that we will never be able to base our safety and freedom on some illusion that others do not know something. Concealment may have practical aspects, here and now, but its sanctuary is temporary, at best and ultimately delusional. We can still have safety and freedom! But only if we realize that freedom and safety do not depend upon preventing others (who are much mightier than you) from seeing.  

It comes from being able to see them, well enough to deter what they might DO to you.

== a canny metaphor ==

A member of this community came up with the following illustration of this key point:

Our collective folklore contains a story about belling the cat. 
Not one about blindfolding the cat.”

Wow… cool metaphor! 

Note that a cat can easily remove a blindfold, but can't do much about the bell on the collar.

Is it easy to bell a cat?  Find for me where I ever said this was easy.

== Block Chain and BitCoin ==  

Interesting. For those of you who have been following the development of block-chain based, autonomously validated currencies like BitCoin, there have been many, many questions. Such systems “mint” new coins not from a central agency or cabal of secret managers, but rather by a system of “mining” in which you can (for example) create a new BitCoin by computer-solving a difficult mathematical puzzle or problem. Setting up such a system so that no government or bank can ever take charge of it was immensely clever.  And yet, quite predictably, BitCoin mining has come to be dominated by a few savvy, well-equipped players. 

And let’s be clear about what’s inherently vague. We have no way to know whether those miners happen – by now – to overlap with certain, well, agencies, who have all the computational power they would ever need. Seriously, you doubt that a system designed to bypass government is not, by now, almost wholly run by government? Truly? There's a bridge I know that's for sale....

But never mind that aspect. Across the last half-decade, innovators have put forward variants on the block-chain cash model. One of the more interesting alternatives is CureCoin, which asked: “shouldn’t all that computational power that is poured into coin mining actually accomplish something?”  CureCoin miners win new units by solving problems in protein folding that are brutally complex and essential for advances in organic chemistry and cancer research. They hope thus to amplify the all-voluntary system already in place, called Folding@home, which in turn was based on SETI@home, the first voluntary distributed computational network.

The CureCoin system leans also toward philanthropic applications and donations, but the coins themselves are negotiable currency, like BitCoin. Do I know anything more about it?  Nope, and I certainly cannot vouch. In fact, those among you who are experts are invited to report back here, after giving it a try. 

== How Transparency makes a difference ==

And you didn’t see this coming? New lip-reading technology could help solve crimes by deciphering what people caught on CCTV are saying, researchers have claimed.  Along with lie-detection and personality profiling, these techs will either ensure that we have Big Brother forever… or else Big Brother never.  One word will make the difference.  Transparency.

A cache of leaked emails appears to reveal that billions of dollars of government contracts were awarded as the direct result of bribes paid on behalf of firms including British icon Rolls-Royce, US giant Halliburton, Australia’s Leighton Holdings and Korean heavyweights Samsung and Hyundai, all of it funneled through an obscure petro company called Unoil and Dick Cheney’s Halliburton.  As author of The Transparent Society I have to ask… you are surprised that stuff leaks?  

Finally, see this: How Mickey Mouse evades the public domain -- with lobbying and ever-changing copyright law.