Saturday, July 09, 2016

Endearing visages

Recent events in the news are filled with transparency implications, from the dramatic videos of questionable shooting by a few police to horrendous sniper attacks on police to late news about attempts to destroy video records... and all of them, every last one of these items points in the same direction.  But let me ponder my words very carefully and get back to you all on this.

== The Robots won't have to conquer us physically ==

I’ve been pondering Artificial Intelligence or AI a lot, lately, with several papers and reviews pending. (Indeed, note who is one of the ‘top ten people followed by AI researchers.’) One aspect that's far too-little discussed is how robots are being designed to mess with human emotions.

Long before artificial intelligences become truly self-aware or sapient, they will be cleverly programmed by researchers and corporations to seem that way. This - it turns out - is almost trivially easy to accomplish, as (especially in Japan) roboticists strive for every trace of appealing verisimilitude, hauling their creations across the temporary moat of that famed "uncanny valley," into a realm where cute or pretty or sad-faced automatons skillfully tweak our emotions.  

Human empathy is both one of our paramount gifts and among or biggest weaknesses. For at least a million years, we've developed skills at lie-detection (for example) in a forever-shifting arms race against those who got reproductive success by lying better!  (And yes, there was always a sexual component to this.)

But no liars ever had the training that these new, Hiers or Human-Interaction Empathic Robots will get, learning via feedback from hundreds, then thousands, then millions of human exchanges around the world, adjusting their simulated voices and facial expressions and specific wordings, till the only folks able to resist will be sociopaths. (And sociopaths have plenty of chinks in their armor, as well.)

Mind you, this is not quite the same thing as passing the vaunted “Turing Test.” An expert – or even a normal person alerted to skepticism – might be able to tell that the intelligence behind the smiles and sighs is still ersatz. That will matter about as much as it does today, as millions of voters cast their ballots based on emotional cues, defying their own clear self-interest or reason.

Will a time come when we will need robots of our own to guide and protect their gullible human partners?  Advising us when to ignore the guilt-tripping scowl, the pitiable smile, the endearingly winsome gaze, the sob story or eager sales pitch? And, inevitably, the claims of sapient pain at being persecuted or oppressed for being a robot?

Will we take experts at their word when they testify that the pain and sadness and resentment that we see are still mimicry, and not yet real? Not yet. Though down the road, of course...

== From the Transparency Front ==

An impending rule change would drastically increase law enforcement’s authority to hack into computers. Look into EFF's fight against this. I support such paladins of freedom... even though over the longer term I deem it utterly futile to make freedom's defense dependent upon restricting what others know and see.

That won't work over the long run. Never has, and technological advances ensure that it never will. My emphasis has always been on improving our vision.  

Note that this very fight is only happening because our government is stripped naked enough to have to tell us about such proposed rules!  Ponder that. 90% of our fight should go to the stripping and supervision... or "sousveillance" ... and not so much to staving off an inevitable tsunami of light.

For reasons that I give elsewhere – and that the press and media entirely ignored – 2013 was the best year for U.S. Civil liberties in a generation. Now comes news that may or may not be almost as good, as Congress passes the FOIA Improvement Bill aimed at renewing and upgrading the venerable and essential tool for citizenship – the Freedom of Information Act. “ commends the efforts on the part of Congressional leaders, staff members, and open government advocates who have been working to push the FOIA reform legislation that is critical to ensuring government accountability.”

“The FOIA Improvement Act includes important provisions that OTG and our partners in the open government community have been working for nearly a decade to codify into law, including: codifying the presumption of openness for future administrations; harnessing technology to improve the FOIA process; limiting, to a period of 25 years, the ability of agencies to keep internal deliberations confidential; and increasing the effectiveness of the FOIA by strengthening the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).”

My response is mixed. Sure, what we see on the surface looks good, and if President Obama (who in 2013 declared that citizens have an ‘established right’ to record the police) signs it, then there probably aren’t many little poisonous details in the fine print.  Still: (1) I await word from other openness paladins about this - those who read the document in detail. (2) We need far more, including legislation to systematize a graduated process for whistle blowers. And (3)… I remain deeply suspicious of anything passed by this Congress, one of the laziest, most dogmatic and worthless in the history of the Republic.

So be glad, tentatively. But stay wary, citizens.

== From Facial Recognition to Crypto Wars ==

From The Atlantic: How Russia's New Facial Recognition App Could End AnonymityFindFace, an app launched by a Russian startup two months ago, lets its users identify strangers from pictures of their faces. It does so by matching the photos against profile pictures from VK—also known as VKontakte—a Russian social networking website similar to Facebook.  This article hand-wrings over whether the modality will come to Facebook.  But the real lesson is: “get used to it.”  Stop standing in the rising tide with your hand out, screaming “stop!”  That is not adaptability.

Elites will see. If we handle this right, so will we.  And then we’ll have to wrestle with how to behave.

Case in point.  U.S. law enforcement officials have – according to Strategic News Service head Mark Anderson – confirmed that intelligence agencies based on the Asian mainland are engaged in “Operation Bedbug.” State-owned, state-influenced, and state-controlled interests have embarked upon the largest acquisition of hospitality properties – especially American hotel chains -- ever seen.  Western diplomats and businessfolk who travel to that great nation across the Pacific have long realized that anything they bring along – especially into a hotel – is likely to be snooped and every bit of stored information copied. Anderson asserts, with some cred, that the hotel chain buyouts in the U.S. are aimed at empowering the same kind of activity along our west coast, especially wherever big tech conferences are held.

At FBI headquarters in July, the head of FBI counterintelligence, Randall Coleman, said there has been a 53 percent increase in the theft of American trade secrets, thefts that have cost hundreds of billions of dollars in the past year. In an FBI survey of 165 private companies, half of them said they were victims of economic espionage or theft of trade secrets - 95 percent of those cases involved individuals associated with the mainland government.”

These properties include the Montage, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood, Waldorf, Starwood and many others.

I’ve long taken an unusual position on the Crypto Wars… the struggles by activists to scurry into hand-crafted corners of encrypted "safety in shadows" would seem both romantic and utterly silly, over any extended period of time, given that every week we see news of some purportedly impervious digital wall leaking. And every single encryption from a decade ago can crumble like sugar in hot water, under assault from the computers of a decade later.

Officially, elites express worry about strong crypto. Intelligence agencies have long warned that increasingly encrypted communication will create a crisis "going dark" that will make it impossible to track terrorists. But it's long been my impression (I give it 60%) that these protests are more for show.

(What would you do, in their shoes, if you knew that 'encryption' was a honey pot that you could lure activists into?)

Elsewhere I've described the vast panoply of biometrics that fizz and roar from every human body. Now? A new study indicates that new technologies such as implants in items ranging from “toasters to bedsheets, light bulbs, cameras, toothbrushes, door locks, cars, watches and other wearables,” will give the government numerous opportunities to track suspects and "in many cases reconstruct communications and meetings."

The solution is not and will never be seeking some way to limit what Big Brother - or any other elite - can see.  If you think that can work, you truly are so deeply delusional that I wonder how you can drive.

One method can work and has worked.  It is even more militant (!) than demanding that elites “don’t look!” And it turns technology from our enemy to our friend. Instead of whining impotently “don’t look at us!” we can demand of all elites “strip down to your shorts!” So we can see what they are doing. Because in that case it won’t matter what they KNOW about us, because they won’t be able to DO anything bad to us.

Oh, ye who are now sneering “that can never happen”? Tell that to the folks out on the streets, using cell phone cams to hold police accountable.  When Obama and the courts declared that to be our absolute citizen right, I knew we were going to win this thing. Though the transition would be rough.

Do Body Cameras Really Work? A fascinating and balanced review studies the effectiveness of various kinds of cameras on crime and police and pubic behavior. The author finds signs for optimism that the promises will come true, but so-far the path seems bumpy, with the cams not instantly creating a panacea solution. Like me, he expects the positive trends to augment over time, as more officers do better policing and behave better, aware they are being recorded both by their own body-cams and by a tech-empowered public. But transitions take time and experiments should be handled in ways that are scientific, even skeptical and openminded to variation.

Chris Britt Copyright 2016 Creators Syndicate
These concerns grow stronger as we learn that new software may let law enforcement tap any networked camera that isn’t password protected. A new surveillance system CAM2 reveals the location and orientation of public network cameras, like the one outside your apartment. “Beyond the specter of universal government surveillance lies the risk of someone hacking the system.” To which I respond… Yes… and you expected… what? 

Cameras keep getting smaller...RoboBee micro sensor-drone weighs 4-thousandths of an ounce and can fly and now – perch against almost any surface using controlled electrostatics. 

A new challenge to government secrecy: A member of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), based at the National Archives, describes the mind-boggling dimensions of ever-increasing government secrecy. “The volume of the federal government’s classified “digital information assets” is growing at an astonishing pace.” This is not (for the most part) a reflection of any conspiracy or Orwellian creep.  Rather, the process of declassification requires human reading and expertise, while the volume of digital information for them to judge grows at the exponential rate of “big data.”  Even well-intentioned civil servants and journalists cannot keep up. 

The article offers some pragmatic proposals how we can cope. Some ways to speed declassification have even been offered by... the CIA.   

And here's an interesting item. Four states — Minnesota, Nebraska, Massachusetts and New York — have considered adopting “right to repair” amendments, which would update existing laws regarding the sale of electronic equipment. Amending these laws would make it easier to fix your devices and would help reduce “e-waste.”  It has become clear that many companies, even ‘goodguys’ like Apple, have connived and worked hard to make repair darn near impossible.


Paul SB said...

In the last thread a few people (and one vegetable) were discussing "reality tunnels," but no one seemed to notice that the idea is no different from the much older Confirmation Bias, which is often referred to as the "mother of all fallacies." I bring this up because the new facial recognition app from Russia got me thinking about the AR goggles used in "Earth." If people had an app like this that could recognize faces through a set of AR goggles, then feed the wearer some profile information about everyone they see, like known political, religious, even hobby associations, it would allow people to live in bubbles of their own making even more than ever before. You are standing in the check-out line at the grocery store and feel like chatting up the people near you, but your glasses feed you facts about them you would normally have had to find out by getting to know them, so you choose which ones to talk to and which ones to ignore (or yell angry epithets at, if you're an outrage junkie). What will this do for our already too strong tendency toward confirmation bias and witless partisanship?

David Brin said...

PaulSB see the title story in INSISTENCE OF VISION. It is all about that.

Paul SB said...

Okay, when Summer School is over...

BTW, I just finished reading Earth, which I mostly loved for all the fascinating discussions and conversations. Not sure about the ultimate villain turning out to be an eco-terrorist. It's not impossible, but it's also the wet dream of every right-wing demagogue who is tired of being associated with violence and wants to be able to blame some death and destruction on them damn liberals. On the other hand, though, I was glad that Colonel Spivey turn out to be one of the good guys. It would have been too easy to paint him as a cardboard jarhead villain. (And I predicted that the Atlantis would get off the ground in the nick of time to save a hero or two as soon as it showed up on Rapa Nui.) Fun story, overall, and a tough thing to do, making a realistic story about half a century in the future.

David Brin said...

Paul... watch the spoilers! But thanks. Now you can participate in the wiki re predictions scores from that (and other ) novels.)

Jumper said...

I saw a neat trick to overcome uncanny valley - exploit it. I saw a robotic ugly troll, very realistic, and so ugly the "uncanny" was very much secondary.

Jumper said...

I forgot to mention, body cams are available on Amazon and not too expensive, either.

I already audio-record every interaction with the property managers, they're so intransigent. Body cams for all is the next step.

Paul SB said...

Oh drat! Sorry for the spoilers! Sometimes I forget that there could be thousands of people reading this stuff, when there's just a few dozen regulars. Now I'm getting all self-conscious. Hopefully my last one meant for our anonymous Iroquois boy wasn't too strident or facetious. I sympathize with arguments that are critical of impulsively consumer lifestyles, but get annoyed when people put past societies on underserved pedestals. People are people, in every time, place and culture. They all produce saints and sinners in equal proportion - to claim otherwise is mere prejudice, which doesn't solve anything. Two wrongs make a what?

Jumper, I checked out Amazon. You didn't say that there are literally hundreds of different body cams. Now I see why police departments are taking time to choose! Did you notice if any of them can update to the net in real time, or are they all internal storage? That would make a huge difference, especially for an ordinary citizen who might be harassed by thugs of any kind (uniformed or otherwise).

Tacitus said...

I think it is prudent to ponder carefully the heated issue of the moment. Lives have been lost. More will be. It is not just a silly internet fluff discussion. Wise and cool heads please.

In the next thread of course.


Anonymous said...

Driving is too active a verb for the passive art of car-sitting; despite the proliferation of technology it remains completely legal for a car sitter to (while on camera! multiple angles! slow-mo replay! unf, techno-fix) crush and mangle their fellow citizens to death. Slow the cars down, build road diets? Certainly not, this is America, a nation not even in the running on traffic safety. Save upwards of 24,000 lives a year? Nope! Can't do! (As of 2013, America's traffic death rate per person was about double the average of peer nations, the CDC reports.) If you think a proliferation of cameras will fix this, well, I suppose you can guess where the delusion is, car sitter.

How about putting cops back on the beat? Yes, walking, interacting with the citizens, and other such traditional forms? Too easy! (Or impossible, given how American sprawl is too little butter over too much bread.) Better to bury both sides in tech and pretend that progress has progressed, eh?

locumranch said...

Are any of you familiar with Thomas P. Dunn's 'Clockwork Worlds' or 'The Mechanical God'?

Humanity becomes more infantilised as our machines become smarter & more dependable. This was confirmed in the late 1970's by a basic math study which showed that, when given a gimmicked calculator that produces erroneous answers, most subjects subjugate their intellect to that of the machine. I see the same principle applied daily in the practice of medicine as basic physical diagnosis skills are increasingly supplanted by high tech imaging options.

Increased Transparency also tends to lend itself to passive acceptance for, without some secrecy, there can be no shame and, without shame, there can be little or no human impulse towards overcompensation & transcendence:

Though not necessarily causative, the fat acceptance movement lends itself to the obesity epidemic, the destigmatisation of out-of-wedlock births & welfare dependency amplifies and augments both trends, and unceasing revelations of venality & corruption are well-correlated with social desensitisation & dissociation.

Shame trumps force as a means to social cohesion, the loss of which lends itself to social fragmentation, at least according to Social Control Theory.

And, much in same way that choice expletives become nonsensical with overuse, the overuse of transparency has devalued shame to the extent that shamelessness has become the new normal of our society in decline.

Feel no remorse
No sense of shame...

I killed the king of deceit
Now I sleep in anarchy


David Brin said...

Tacitus, I did not notice anyone here saying anything intemperate — other than the usual strange-guys.

Locum’s praise of secrecy and shame is both typical and outrageous on many levels. First that our escape from the brutality of petty local gossips and priests is one of the most blissfully wonderful aspects of modern life. And only a would-be tyrant would think otherwise.

Second that his assertions do not correlate with reality, as hesays: “the obesity epidemic, the destigmatisation of out-of-wedlock births & welfare dependency amplifies and augments both trends, and unceasing revelations of venality & corruption are well-correlated with social desensitisation & dissociation.”

What stunning counterfactual drivel! Red America scores worse - by far - in every such category. Every. Single. One. By. Far. Let me repeat that for locum though he has seen that fact again and again and absolutely refuses to deal with it. Red America scores worse - by far - in every such category. Every. Single. One. By. Far.

Along with gambling, divorce, domestic violence, STDs, teen births… find an exception.

SHOW us statistics for a “society in decline.”

Tacitus said...

A precautionary sentiment.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

I would like to go back to your previous thread about optimism and pessimism. I wanted to post it then but I got caught up with reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and I just couldn’t put it down.

I am one of those that believe that human evolution has never stopped and that it is accelerating today because of the rapid changes occurring in the modern world. You have pointed out that people have become less aggressive and more willing to cooperate than early man allowing the rise of civilization and urbanization. Egalitarian tribal structure changed into a pyramidal one and that this pyramid is the default order of humanity. You imply that the present diamond-shaped social and economic structure of society is therefore an aberration, albeit a good one, and is fragile and at all times in danger of reverting back to the default pyramid. Essentially you are saying that human evolution stopped or slowed down once the city stage was reached but what if evolution kept going? Being less aggressive and more trusting of strangers are necessary for civilization but what other characteristics are being selected as advantages in the modern civilization that much of the world now has now? There must be some.

One trait I see is the ability to specialize. Of course this is not new. The first specialization could have been the ability to knap flint tools faster and better than any of the others. This talent would have made him very valuable and might have exonerated him from dangerous duties like hunting giving him ample opportunities to spread his genes while the other men were away. Cave artists would have been in the same position as too valuable to lose. When civilization came scribes, priests and accountants were much more valuable to the leaders than any peasant and were treated much better as a consequence. Their genes spread but in a static pyramid civilization, the genetic ability to specialize would have less use for the peasants. A scribe just has to write and record all day long but a peasant has to do many other things to stay alive and feed his family. He has to do every job on the farm reasonably well and has to be a jack-of-all-trades. Having the scribe’s genes would not necessarily result in enhanced fecundity.

Deuxglass said...


The thing that strikes me with modern civilization is the extreme specialization of jobs. This proliferation is accelerating and has been since around the Sixteenth century. When you ask a friend what he does in detail at work you find that most are in very specific niches doing very specific things within their general profession. Having the ability to specialize is necessary but the real comparative advantage would be the ability to specialize well. To be brief, the ability to do it better than your peers.

What do you need to do your specialization better than your peers? Intelligence of course, but other characteristics are needed as well. They are easy to find because they are the same advice we give to our children and go ballistic when they ignore our wisdom. Intelligence is fine but you also need persistence, determination, concentration, attention to detail and something difficult to define called “hustle” among others. These are qualities necessary for specialization. If you have a specialization, then you bargaining power. If you are really good at it then your power is even more. You would be the one who gets a raise, are promoted and have better mating prospects. Tribal people possess these qualities as well but when you move to the city, these attributes become more vital.

What is important is the ability to acquire specialization and is not related to the specialization itself. If your specialization disappears, you have to be able to acquire a new one fast. This set of abilities has a positive influence on natural selection in a city environment and those who have these genes would be more prosperous and in theory, leave more offspring. In the surrounding peasant society, which changes slowly, these qualities would be less useful than the jack-of-all-trades genes.

If we look at the modern world, we see that our society and economics are based on specialization. I think we went from a pyramid shape to a diamond shape because most people are now specialized in something and therefore have more bargaining power than peasants who before made up 90% of the population. We have economic bargaining power but also political bargaining power. The two come together. The middle has bargaining power because those on the top need our services to maintain their life-styles. Peasants are easier to replace than specialists and specialization creates much more wealth than can be produced in a pyramidal society.

To sum it up, we changed from egalitarian tribes to hierarchal civilizations but now new mutations have changed our behavior again and this time to favor comportment giving us enhanced ability to specialize even more and through this, developed societies have become diamond-shaped by necessity and not just a consequence fluke conditions. In this is true then the new norm in human behavior will be a strong tendency to become a diamond-shaped society and have robust bonds to keep it that way. To go from tribe to city, the human brain had to reinforce the trust model, decrease the aggression module and increase the hierarchal module. To move from the city to the modern civilization required even more trust, less aggression but also the reinforcement of the specialization module as well as a decrease in the hierarchal module.

I see this as very positive for the future when it comes to preserving modern civilization. Maybe the diamond-shape is more stable than we think and maybe from a political point of view, consultation among the various strata of society becomes an inevitability and no long an exception. I guess I am an optimist.

Jumper said...

Once again I find an overlap with Carsitter, who should probably sign the posts with something - any nom de web at all - to avoid being named by someone else. That is more cops on a beat. And the sprawl and traffic deaths too. I hope "carsitting" as a meme gets wider exposure.

locum has managed what I see as a Freudian slip with his "overcompensation," surely a cause of all sorts of problems compared with its milder variant "compensation."


Unknown said...

If robots begin manipulating humans with simulated expressions and nonverbal communications - then the future belongs to the autistic, the further along the spectrum the better, for their (our) inability to read those signals. You cannot manipulate people when using methods they cannot receive, any more than you can talk to an unenhanced human using radio waves.

David Brin said...

I've posted a Quora Knowledge Prize answer to the question "How would you solve gun violence in America." You are invited to go have a look... and compare to other answers... and possibly vote.

Jumper said...

I say the reverse: we stopped evolving, mostly. Genes now being promoted are more from choice than fitness. Mormons and Mexicans, to be facile. Should we wish the rich had more children?

David Brin said...

Deuxglass fascinating riff on specialization. Of course the 20th Century was the age of Professionalization of Everything... the one and only monotonic trend.

Which is breaking right now as the 21st shifts direction into a rising Age of Amateurs. This is still speciallization! But it means that humans are understanding they can be good at more than one thing.

Jonathan Stills... you should see how I show autistic folks being empowered across the next century. Depictions approved by ... Temple Grandin!

Jumper said...

I'd just stop using the term "assault rifle." It's almost meaningless. One has to specify operational characteristics of the weapon.

If you're interested in my opinion, I support registration.

See what the aficionados are up to:

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

I would like to add one more thing. Since our brains have had to evolve rather quickly in this new environment, it could explain why certain mental diseases exist. An example would be Asperger Syndrome where the specialization module is developed to the extreme. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder could be another example of the specialization module being out of whack.

I am watching the France-Portugal soccer match for the Euro championship as I write and it is turning out to be a good one. Both sides are playing well and there is a lot of action. Still zero-zero.

Deuxglass said...

The rise of the Age of Amateurs just shows that the specialization genes are now widespread throughout the population. The future will be very interesting.

Paul451 said...

"we stopped evolving, mostly. Genes now being promoted are more from choice than fitness."

That is still evolution. The theory of sexual selection goes back to Darwin's Origin Of Species. In some ways it's more powerful than natural selection, because there's more room for self-amplifying feedback.

To a large degree, when humans reduced predation and starvation as a factor in our evolution, we actually reduced the restraints on sexual and cultural selection.

Paul451 said...

Re: Precautionary restraint

Not to you personally, but I have noticed that this call for care in discussing a tragedy seems to only ever be made in one direction.

When the Texas Lt. Governor sneeringly accused protesters of "hypocrisy" for running from the gunman(**), there was barely a boo from either conservative media or the mainstream. He was mocked by the shrill left, but that was about it. When others suggest that it might be time for a discussion about gun control, the conservative media and their commentariat screamed about "exploiting a tragedy", "disrespecting the victims", etc.

** (I really feel like there needs to be an annual international "Learn What The Word Hypocrisy Means" week. Coz, seriously...)

In the same way, "Respect the troops" seems to only apply when shouted at liberals. It never applies to conservative commentators themselves.

Paul451 said...

Re: The Jefferson Rifle Amendment

While I always enjoyed this suggestion in an appreciation of cleverness-for-its-own-sake, in the real world it would be a political non-starter, even if you could get an honest sit-down non-screaming debate.

A Jefferson Rifle (a fixed-mag, bolt-action, long rifle) would be useless in an insurrection. So would all the existing legal weapons, of course. You aren't going to stop the US Marines with your little AR-15, no matter how many rails and accessories you weigh the barrel down with. (And that's just on the ground. Forget AC-130 gunships and missile-firing drones.) But at the moment, "2A defenders" can delude themselves into thinking they are a realistic force (ironically falling for the same judging-by-appearance that they mock "gun grabbers" over.)

But the idea of being "Minute Men" against a tyrannical Federal government is just too strong a fantasy to give up. IMO, talking about the Jefferson Rifle makes the ridiculousness of the fantasy a little too plain to see. They can't allow it to be debated because they can't (psychologically) allow that door to be opened.

David Brin said...

Sorry Paqul451 but recent events simply show I am right about the bolt action rifle. In the hands of one skilled maniac it can terrorize. But the sucker's gonna dies. And it is useful in no other kinds of crime.

But if there had been a hundred such fellows on coordinated rooftops, the cops would have had to back out of the area and call in specialists, who would much rather talk than carpet bomb an American city.

Mutual covering fire is EXACTLY what bolt action rifles are good at. That and denial of access. This was shown in Sarajevo, where the enemy WAS willing to use artillery, and still got stopped cold.

No, the thing that will open the debate is not whether or not the Insurrectionary Recourse is fictional. But the arrival of the armed, nonwhite rebels against government repression. Hillary should NOT go there! But someone has to say... this is where your own logic was always headed.

David Brin said...

Deuxglass the ancient aspects of autism etc are addressed in EXISTENCE. We evolved many traits since developing agriculture. And especially since developing beer. A lot of guys died for us to have the amzing ability exhibited by 2/3 of humans… to be able to say “no, thanks. I think I’ve had enough.” Tho I’m not sure it applies to new addictions. Video. Games.

But… anyone who calls a zero-zero game “exciting” is… well…Vraiment? C’est absolutement fou!

duncan cairncross said...

Deuxglass, Paul451

We now have two (at least) types of "Evolution" going on
Darwinian biological evolution
This is quite slow and with large populations even slower
With the human population at it's current size IMHO - it is not going anywhere!

Cultural evolution
This is "Lamarkian" and much much faster

That is before we get into any type of engineered biology or society

The "Better Angels of our Nature" changes have to be cultural - as do all of the sort of changes you guys are discussing

One thing to add - biological evolution is slow but irreversible
Cultural evolution is much much faster but is it irreversible?

David Brin said...

Duncan I disagree. We have been altering ourselves genetically since agriculture at rates far faster than any time since the Great Bottleneck.

Beer etc probably caused an immense death rate by violence among males. The discipline and drudgery of farming. The ability of human tribes to technologically start living at high altitudes and thus needing to have babies who could thrive there. The list goes on and on.

And not all good! Today, woman who WANT 8 kids can have them with no other consideration so that want is proliferating, endangering us all.

Paul SB said...

While I agree with your statement that he should take a name or else he ends up with the ones chosen by others, our heyokha (car sitter guy, Iroquois boy)shows little indication of actually reading anything that is written by anyone else here. He seems to be a repeat drive-by. If he read our comments, he would get that many of us agree with some of the things he is saying, though probably few would go to the extreme he suggests. He's kind of like spam - the words just appear on our screens like so many leaflets cast to the wind.

Jumper said...

Uncanny valley, that.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
I agree that agriculture and then modern agriculture did cause a lot of "micro evolution" - we see that here with the medical problems the Maori have

This will work on relatively simple changes that have a BIG effect on survivability
And the change of diet when agriculture came in did have that

Darwinian evolution traditionally concentrated on small incremental changes - in a large well mixed population the mathematics says that these will not be able to change the total population

As far as the "woman who WANTS 8 kids" - for evolution to work that way that desire would have to be genetic
I suspect that the desire is cultural - or at least that the cultural part is much much bigger than any genetic part

Paul SB said...


As far as the idea of evolution being something that is ongoing, that is pretty standard among evolutionary biologists, but in the general public evolution is usually conceived in Spencerian rather than Darwinian terms. of course evolution hasn't stopped, but many people arrogantly assume that humans are the pinnacle of creation and all the rest of life is somehow trying to become us.

Paulenheit451 and Duncan have already mentioned two other modalities of evolution besides Natural Selection - sexual selection and cultural evolution, both of which are equally important to understanding how humans have been changing. Genetic change is important and has not stopped. Humans have been agricultural for around 10K years, and civilized (meaning organized into cities, not meaning nicer than anyone else), and though genetic change is pretty slow in a long-lived species, that is certainly enough time for some substantial changes in allele frequencies.

However, while your ideas about specialization are mostly sound (and not actually new, but without a background in old-school anthropology I wouldn't expect you to be familiar, but it goes all the way back to V. Gordon Childe around the turn of the century, and that notion of specialization was a key feature of Elman Service's taxonomy of social complexity that runs from bands to tribes to chiefdoms to nation states), but it suffers from the problem of over-generalization. (Wow, my verbosity gene is back in force! That was a long sentence!) Human social organization was pretty flat, egalitarian when population was very small (bands in Service's Taxonomy) but started going more pyramidal as population (and economic specialization) increased. Since the Age of Industry both pop and specialization have been increasing much more rapidly, and with these the rise of a middle class and the diamond-shaped social structure. It may turn out, if we look back several thousand years from now, that the pyramidal structure was the fluke, and the diamond structure represents a return to our more natural egalitarian state.

If this is the case, though, it will take awhile, because the pyramidal structure is perceived as our tradition, and people who know jack about our instincts (I don't think I need to name any names here, do I?) think that the way we have been for the past couple millennia represent our "nature." They keep trying to bring us back to that. While the level of specialization we need to survive today requires hominids who can work together and get along, our cultures are still packed full of throwback notions about the value of brute force, muscle, aggression and all those things that go under the heading of "manliness" (or machismo, mensch, whatever...). It might be that Dr. Brin's fears of a return to feudalistic, pyramidal organization will prove to be unfounded in the long run (the long run measured in millennia) but any return to that system, even if it is only brief, would be a humanitarian nightmare for anyone unfortunate enough to live through it (with the possible exception of the fascist dictators on top, but like alpha male gorillas, individual leaders usually die violent and untimely deaths, so probably not good for those bastards, either). I like to share your optimism, but I do not think that optimism should lead to complacency. As long as there are troglodyte throwbacks around, the decent hominids need to keep up vigilance.

David Brin said...

It's worse. Some who want a return to rough, nasty life -- yearning for Mad Max - offer as rationalization that we no longer cull the weak. It's for the good of the race. They are immoral morons, of course. And they have reason to fear. Because in the better world to come, new generations will list when they visit genetic advisors to select which sperm and ovum to combine... among the traits they do NOT want in their own kids will be "Oh... and don't let hm be an immoral moron asshole."

The only way to prevent that is apocalypse. So the immoral moron assholes are acting out a deeply moronic and immoral version of self-interest, I suppose.

sociotard said...

Thank you, Dr. Brin, for turning me on to Quora. I gotta say there isn't much love lost for Democracy (at least not US democracy). Maybe it's just that there are many active Chinese people on the site.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

I have heard the "cull the weak" argument not just from muscle heads, but even from people who otherwise came across as flaming liberals. While the logic you use here makes sense, my suspicion is that most people who repeat that line about stopping evolution by providing welfare, medical care, etc. are not really thinking about it very deeply, they are just repeating (mirroring?) it. However, they do jump to (very wrong) conclusions based on it. This is why more people need to know the difference between Darwin and Spencer. A lot of really bad ideas would lose traction if more people got the difference.

David Brin said...

Oh, there will have to be some kind of culling mechanism... but it needn't be Nature's cruel way... or Feudalism's. As I said, the Heinlein solution to genetic engineering transfers the 'culling' to getting profiling help to choose a sperm from dad to go with an egg from mom. Sure. Heinlein showed society bribing folks to retain older traits by breeding naturally! And taxing "frivolous" selection of decorative traits. But most people still went for selection for disease-free, healthy, robust, smart, calmly determined types of kids.

Beyond This Horizon. Heinlein's only book in which the talky-talky 2nd half is the GOOD half! (And the adventure-laced 1st half royally sucked.)

Paul SB said...

I haven't read Beyond This Horizon for a couple decades, so my memory isn't clear. But since hominid evolution these days is more cultural and sexual selection, it makes fro processes that don't necessitate the kind of bloody culling required by natural selection. Sexual selection, however, tends to select for rather useless traits, like those ridiculous antlers on the (now extinct except on the Hobbit) Irish Elk.Sadly many hominid females are still following the vestigial pattern of selecting high-T throwback males - the kind of morons who go to sports bars and yell at the ref on the screen. But on the other hand, it has also led to increased intelligence, since many like smart men who can make a living. But differential reproduction seems to favor the poor, who reproduce in larger numbers. High levels of violent crime in poor neighborhoods may be natural selection rearing its ugly head. Clinton's welfare reform of the 1990s would be a punctuation in cultural evolution, forcing people to get off their butts and learn marketable skills. The old feudal tradition of arranged marriage still short-circuits sexual selection in some parts of the world. I imagine other people can come up with examples of where cultural and sexual selection are going in hominid evolution right now. Genetic evolution will eventually become more a subject of our technology, which is itself cultural.

Howard Brazee said...

I'm of the strong belief that our public servants should only be allowed short-term tactical secrets. They work for us and we need the ability to oversee what they are doing. But defaulting to having everything secret?!?!? That puts bureaucrats in charge, with the rulers able to keep us in the dark about their mistakes.

raito said...

Re: Emotions

Why do you think Facebook and others are hiring sociologists and psychologists?

locumranch said...

It's fascinating, isn't it, how progressives like David are not opposed to a eugenic 'culling' per se, but simply wish to use it to further their own particular Clockwork Urban agenda of a blue, pacified & easily indoctrinated populace. This, and the following items, provides conclusive evidence of a West in decline:

(1) A depleted global fishery;
(2) A Consumerist mindset;
(3) A decline in EU, US & Japanese reproduction to below-replacement rates;
(3) An unfruitful & resource-intensive emphasis on individual life expectancy;
(4) A dramatic increase in mental illness (now affecting 34 to 50% of the Western population); and
(5) The environmental degradation of climate change.

Erin should also note that it is David, rather than I, that is most dismissive of our under-valued Red Rural Agrarian cohort.


Berial said...

How do we get "sousveillance" to help with basic economic inequality?

These days you can't tell who a property actually belongs to, and money is so easily hidden by those with a lot of it that it's barely taxed.
Then there is the quagmire of corporate 'ownership' and shell companies. How do we actually shine light there so that the average citizen is empowered?

Paul451 said...

"How do we get "sousveillance" to help with basic economic inequality?"

Go back one post. David's covered this many times before.

For example, creating a law that allows assets which are not identifiably owned by a human to be forfeited to the government. Prove it or lose it.

Paul SB,
"The old feudal tradition of arranged marriage still short-circuits sexual selection in some parts of the world."

Actually, it reinforces it.

[First world example. The game-play of local football (Aussie Rules) favours lean height, as well as general athleticism of any sport. To reduce the risk of very costly new recruits going off the rails (young fit men thrust into sudden wealth and fame), for many decades, Aussie Rules clubs have apparently arranged formal events with women invited from modelling agencies, which results in early pairing and settling down of the at-risk players. Essentially a defacto arranged marriage, arranged by the clubs rather than families. And since modelling favours preternaturally tall lean women... the children of these marriages tend to be extremely tall lean natural athletes, ideally suited for... Aussie Rules Football. Apparently third generation legacy players have become the norm over the last century rather than the exception. IIRC, one of the French kings did something similar with his guards.]

Jumper said...

locum, you should probably put those made-up doomer numbers of yours somewhere safe.

Alfred Differ said...

@Hank Fox: The climatologist you met might be making some unknown assumptions. The folks I’ve met who believe we are already doomed are guilty of assuming humans won’t be the kind of people we’ve already shown we are. If we assume complete incompetence at solving future climate problems, we make the same mistake some of the faithful make when they assume society can’t improve.

That a climate problem exists is pretty clear. The solution isn’t likely to come from science, though, unless one uses the broadest sense of the term to include all the engineers and entrepreneurs. Dig a bit and you’ll find people out there innovating solutions to each of the small issues climate changes cause. Are they enough? Who knows? We could choose to believe they won’t be, but we could also choose to believe we are all going to Hell absent being Saved. Time will tell no matter what we believe.

I prefer to believe we will avoid the worst by suffering some of the smaller irritations. I prefer to believe we need a bit of motivation to focus our innovative talents. I prefer to believe we will do what our most recent ancestors did when faced with Malthusian limits. If we choose to dignify the work each other performs and free them to do it, I suspect the gloom predictors will be proven wrong yet again.

LarryHart said...


but I got caught up with reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and I just couldn’t put it down.

Off topic, but my 14-yr-old daughter was just introduced to the music from the musical "Hamilton", not only has she become a fan, but she's got me hooked as well. Both the music and the storyline are incredibly compelling.

One trait I see is the ability to specialize. Of course this is not new. The first specialization could have been the ability to knap flint tools faster and better than any of the others. This talent would have made him very valuable and might have exonerated him from dangerous duties like hunting giving him ample opportunities to spread his genes while the other men were away. Cave artists would have been in the same position as too valuable to lose. When civilization came scribes, priests and accountants were much more valuable to the leaders than any peasant and were treated much better as a consequence.

One of Kurt Vonnegut's recurring themes is how interconnectivity has devalued those kinds of skills, because it is no longer sufficient to be an above average artist or tool-maker who is a credit to your clan. Instead, through technology, such people must compete with the world's best tool-maker or artist, or with machines that put them all to shame.

LarryHart said...


(1) A depleted global fishery;
(2) A Consumerist mindset;
(3) A decline in EU, US & Japanese reproduction to below-replacement rates;
(3) An unfruitful & resource-intensive emphasis on individual life expectancy;
(4) A dramatic increase in mental illness (now affecting 34 to 50% of the Western population); and
(5) The environmental degradation of climate change.

There was an old "B.C." comic strip whose punch line was "What do you have against fours?" The opposite would be the case here. You seem to like threes.

Erin should also note that it is David, rather than I, that is most dismissive of our under-valued Red Rural Agrarian cohort.

Erin is probably smart enough to gather that Dr Brin doesn't dismiss the rural agrarian cohort per se, and in fact praises their courage and loyalty. What he doesn't stand for is the Red Rural Agrarian cohort presenting themselves as morally superior to city folk.

Paul451 said...

Self-preventing prophesies may require that separation of the problem-identifier and problem-solver. If the problem-identifier can see an obvious (to them) solution, they might not bother to raise alarm. If it's obvious (to them) then they'll assume that others, better connected, better funded, should also be able to see the problem and solution.

Only when the problem-identifier can't see a solution (or can only see an unacceptably radical solution) will they be motivated enough to risk social exclusion and become an obsessed Cassandra.

(And obviously it also allows for specialisation. Problem-detector (researcher/scientist), Problem-publiciser (activist/campaigner/media), Solution-enabler (voters/market), Problem-solver (scientist/engineer/entrepreneur/etc).)

This (initial) belief in the absence of a solution seems to also be a requirement occurs in the wider society. The moment people start thinking "I'm not concerned, someone will figure it out, look at [previous crisis], everyone panicked but it turned out not to be a big problem", we've broken the very process that is required to fix the problem.

LarryHart said...


This (initial) belief in the absence of a solution seems to also be a requirement occurs in the wider society. The moment people start thinking "I'm not concerned, someone will figure it out, look at [previous crisis], everyone panicked but it turned out not to be a big problem", we've broken the very process that is required to fix the problem.

You're describing a cousin of the attitude "Since all of space-time, including the future moments, is fixed, there's no point doing anything to change it." Or as I like to say, confusing pre-determination with "post-determination." If a time-traveler from today went back to 1941 and assured President Roosevelt that the Hitler will be defeated in 1945, it would not be a good idea for FDR to conclude "Then we don't have to bother fighting a war."

David Brin said...

#1 your side’s anti-science & anti-Earth fault, not ours.
2- ditto.
3- your solution - enslavement of women won’t work. some of them have nukes. MANY of them have gene warfare capabilities. I treat my wife well. We reporduced above replacement. They tend (slightly) to do that when well-treated. Japanese and Russian males will learn that, the hard way. Meanwhile, the US should continue modest growth via immigration. NOT by the GOP approach - leet in millions of illegals while screaming the opposite… andNOT by the democrats stupid approach (family reunion) but by letting in the best/brightest/vigorous.
4- Bull… everyone was always crazy. We just notice it now and are able to help some. YOU guys promised mental health care when you emptied the mental hospitals onto the streets. Then lied.
5- Hypocrisy and anti-science drooling.

Jumper said...

locums mental health numbers were wildly overstated according to most data sets, such as NIH.

Jumper said...

Also, some of the guys seem to have some lack of experience with some of the various women who've had babies: some women really, really enjoyed pregnancy and having little babies and nursing. They don't use calculation so much as enjoy the process. There are jokes about the amnesia about the actual delivery memories, but nowadays most women who have lots of kids like it. Of course that's different from the past, but not entirely.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

I tend to agree with you about climate change
When things get really bad we will go to a proper "War" attitude - think the UK in WW2

On a "War" basis we would be able to do just about anything to fix the problem - solutions like orbital mirrors which would be incredibly expensive become doable

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: The curious thing about those earlier math studies is that most people don’t want to be machine-like calculators. We’ve taught them how to do it, but given a chance, many of us will defer to actual machines. Gimmicking a machine, therefore, doesn’t really show how stupid people are. It might instead show how much they wish to avoid that kind of work.

You keep using the argument that a lack of secrecy will lead to a lack of shame and then a lack of motivating forces. I don’t buy it. A failure to acquire praise motivates many of us to change what we do until that failure comes to an end. Getting praise for a behavior is known to reinforce the behavior. Getting new praise for behaviors (an award of dignity) that used to lead to sneer responses moves whole communities. People will still find things to be ashamed about in a world with few or no secrets because we are still what we are. In a transparent world, though, that shame may be short lived if they can discover a behavior that is praised. They will in a transparent world if they care to try.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I sincerely hope we do NOT go to a war footing. We are far less likely to find the solutions we need in a command economy like the UK in WW2. The UK had no real choices during that time, but then skewered its future by remaining that way afterward. In hindsight, it was a dumb thing to do, but not a lethal thing to do.

Rather than a war footing, think of it as an innovation footing. We are already in that mode of operation. Trade-tested innovation is happening now by people who appear to care about our collective futures. Not everyone is involved, but that is how things work on an innovation footing. Everything gets tried if some few people believe in each possible path into the future.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

That was not a "we should" - rather if things get really fucked up - we can

I hope that we will get it fixed first -
But I am confident that as a final back-up we could make that sort of effort

"but then skewered its future by remaining that way afterward."
Now that is cobblers
The UK was doing pretty damn well overall until Mad Maggie shot the tires out

Look at the figures for any economic variable from growth to unemployment the UK was doing better from the 40s - 70,s than it has done since then

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: My mother doesn't think much of Thatcher either, yet she left London married to a US airman in 1961 and would have left even if he had not married her. Her descriptions of the 1950's weren't rosy and she was quite explicit about not being able to imagine marrying anyone who planned to keep her there. Thatcher didn't shoot the tires out. Hitler did. After the war, many British were too in shock to remember how they'd managed to uplift themselves in the first place. It's a real shame since they are the people who showed the whole rest of the world how to do it in the first place.

(My mother went back many years later and extracted her parents too.)

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Not to ignore the point where we are agreed... 8)

If we need a war footing, I'm sure we will do it. I'm hoping it is delayed a good long while until we've beaten some other problems and the world is far richer. Those orbital mirrors could be afforded by the markets instead of government in that case.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

(My mother went back many years later and extracted her parents too.)

Back in the 50's to the 70's I agree the USA was THE best place to be for a normal working family
Back in the 70's the UK was the best place in Europe - not as good as the USA but better than anywhere else
Not even close
I worked in the USA from 1997-2001 and I had the opportunity to stay in the USA but I chose to return to the UK because it was better for my family than the USA
(Then I emigrated to NZ)

The best place now? - ignoring language differences Scandinavia or Germany

Thatcher and Reagan made the changes, set the course and the Anglophone countries followed them - off the cliff!

The USA and the UK went from a clear (1) and (2) to about (27) and (22)
IMHO the evidence is clear the Thatcher/Reagan neoliberal policies were a disaster for everybody except the 0.1%

donzelion said...

@Dr. Brin - jumping in late, conversation has flowed in myriad directions, but your original post has some intriguing nuggets not yet explored before moving on.

"One aspect [of AI] that's far too-little discussed is how robots are being designed to mess with human emotions."

I am quite curious at the various racial experiences of the uncanny valley, doubtless even more 'under-discussed.' For example, would an African-American looking at a police-bot that is designed to appear "friendly but imposing" experience that the same way as a white American? (I am referring to autonomous bots, not remote vehicles like the one that killed the Dallas attacker.)

Seems to me that a "robot-cop" handling traffic citations would take a heavy load off of police forces, while reducing certain types of recurrent tragedies, and while benefiting from instant-film/disseminate traffic cam restrictions to ensure nobody ever felt threatened by it. In time, I would expect such a "trustworthy" machine to gain extra functions - lie detector capabilities, full video records of each engagement - and the human role would involve analysis of data acquired by such a machine.

David Brin said...

The "shame" thing is utterly illogical. Transparency does not eliminate shame. It simply makes it fair. In the old shrouded world, shame came from you lack of CONFORMITY to rigid behavior litmus tests being discovered by brutally nasty gossips, priests and lords, who would shame you into conforming to be exactly like everyone else. Waiting for that discovery of your private perversions of belief, behavior, interest, was daily torture.

Transparency lets you say "Fuck you!" to gossips and priests and lords and conformity enforcers. All our media preach diversity and tolerance of eccentricity and transparency lets you catch the gossips at work and deter them.

But Transparency IS a tool for shame! Where a value is widely shared, your deviance will have no place to hide. Which is why it is vital that the current, liberal value set be the one enforced by transparency. You are only shamed if you HARM OTHERS (including future generations.) In matters of eccentricity, belief or style, the ones committing a breach are those too quick to judge.

In other words... not just untrue, old son. But demonstrably and diametrically opposite to true. Just a yammered pile of donkey drizzle disguised as dogmatic incantations. Poor donkey.

Tim H. said...

Alfred, I have to side with Duncan, Thatcher's industrial policy amounted to whatever weakened labor. The results were demonstrated with the "brexit" vote, she was PM of the tories rather than the United Kingdom.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

...shame came from you lack of CONFORMITY to rigid behavior litmus tests being discovered by brutally nasty gossips, priests and lords, who would shame you into conforming to be exactly like everyone else

I would guess that loc thinks that's exactly what you are advocating--that liberal urban progressives will enforce conformity to liberal urban progressivism. Apparently "looking at you disapprovingly" or "explaining why you are factually incorrect about something" constitutes enforcement.

Paul SB said...

Paul 451,

Your example of arranged marriages among football clubs is interesting, but probably not the norm. Most arranged marriage these days is in third world countries, and mostly in rural/agricultural communities where old traditions die hard and "honor killing" is easily accomplished. This works against sexual selection, as basically everybody is getting into a marriage and reproducing. Selection is not done by brides and grooms, but by parents who are trying to arrange for strategic alliances. This is very much the opposite of your football club example.


Whether a robot surrogate would be acceptable to a minority community depends on a lot of factors. It could always be argued by members of the minority group that a robot is programed by the majority specifically to target minorities. Proving that the robots are impartial would require transparency in their code, which would be a bad idea for security reasons (someone could hack the robot police and use them for nefarious ends).

Larry & Dr. Brin,

It seems fairly clear to me that Locum's objections to diversity (and fascination with shame) stem from the contradiction that being open-minded and accepting diversity is anathema to the narrow-minded, unaccepting views of some, who still see the world as an inevitable us-against-them battleground. Such people cannot imagine that acceptance (honesty, decency, fairness, etc) are anything other than fake precisely because they do not embrace these virtues themselves. "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" TANSTAAFL - right next door to Jagstaffel 11) translates in some people's minds as all people are dishonest and trying to trick you. No one could possibly be willing to share or help another human being unless there is some catch. I've found this mentality quite common.

Paul SB said...


As far as mental health issues, they are pretty epidemic, even if exaggerated by our purported country doctor. But Loci is doing the poor marksman thing yet again. Most mental health issues that are not purely genetic (a rarity) mostly result from stress, and a huge load of that is job stress. That pretty much throws it into the ball court of capitalism, the darling of the business Red. Your supposed urban Blue types have been working for decades to make the workplace a less stressful, more human experience, and are roundly ridiculed by Reds for it.

This article about a workplace stress survey just came out today, if you're in the mood for a read on the subject:

David Brin said...

LH said: “Apparently "looking at you disapprovingly" or "explaining why you are factually incorrect about something" constitutes enforcement.”

Let’s be fair. It goes beyond that. Chicks will no longer put either up-with or out-for disrespectful bullies. Those bullies’ reproductive success is thus under threat.

Paul SB said...

That seems to be most of the motivation behind the Taliban, Al Shebab, Promise Keeprs and the whole mail-order bride phenomenon in the U.S. Many women still drool over pecks rather than brains, but when they find that their manly men are just as willing to use their big muscles on them as they are to defend them, most work it out ditch them. I had a friend who took nine years and bariatric surgery before she pulled it off, but it eventually happened.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

A few threads back, I stated my opinion that high levels of transparency plus artificial intelligence would necessarily lead to greatly increased levels of freedom. I didn't explain my reasons for believing this to be true.

Some will argue that my projections for where we are headed (in the absence of much higher levels of freedom) is a ridiculous situation. I am in total agreement with the fact that it is a ridiculous situation. It is so ridiculous as to be impossible. So some alternative, much different from our present course, will have to be the course our civilization will actually take.

Up until sometime in the 1970s, my hometown newspaper occasionally published the total number of enforceable laws, ordinances and regulations in the United States. They were tracked by a company called Shepard's Citations (now a division of Lexis-Nexis). When this number was last published, it was some incredibly huge number. In recent years, every time I have gone looking for the current number of such laws, I only found details of people and organizations who had tried to enumerate those laws, and they had given up at a point where they knew that they were really just getting started.

Basically, people must break several laws every day. Most people have committed many serious felonies. In a recent thread, Locumranch mentioned a book called Three Felonies a Day, which is a book based upon a wild guess that every professional in the country commits 3 felonies a day. Most of us don't go to prison for our daily criminality because law enforcement doesn't have sufficient knowledge of our criminality and the evidence against us, nor is law enforcement aware of more than a very tiny fraction of the vast number of enforceable laws and regulations.

With transparency plus AI, it will be easy to cross-reference each individual's actions (while they are outside of their homes) with all of the relevant laws, regulations and court decisions. The AI machines could automatically send you a mandatory court date for each of your many crimes. Since the AI machines would quickly present video evidence of your crimes plus the exact text of the most applicable laws and recommended prison sentences, everyone should report for their court date expecting to go to prison to serve a long sentence. Being efficient machines, the AI would have irrefutable evidence of your many crimes (including the many crimes that you would have committed between your original summons and your actual court date).

Soon everyone would be in prison except the President and members of Congress. The President, whoever he was at the time, would have to be impeached before he could be convicted of his felonies. The Constitution does not allow members of Congress to be prosecuted until their terms have expired. But after six years or so, everyone in the country would be in jail. Most would be in prison for life.

I believe that transparency is good and machine intelligence is good, so our only logical course is to repeal most laws and regulations, en masse, and start our legal structure anew.
Otherwise, please search the legal databases and confess your crimes, and report to prison NOW so that you can beat the rush.

David Brin said...

Around 1985 Teddy Kennedy and a GOP moderate senator (when such existed) presented a herculean project... a trimmed re-writing of the Federal criminal statutes, combining and merging and eliminating some and reducing the number by 3/4.

They could not get a quorum to even discuss it.

duncan cairncross said...

The SEC is investigating Tesla

The worrying thing is this is what happened the last time somebody tried to set up a car company to compete with the big three
They got investigated by the SEC - exonerated but it was too late the company went bust

Jumper said...

On hiding wealth. Swiss art stashing.

Erin Schram said...

Howard Brazee said,
I'm of the strong belief that our public servants should only be allowed short-term tactical secrets. They work for us and we need the ability to oversee what they are doing. But defaulting to having everything secret?!?!? That puts bureaucrats in charge, with the rulers able to keep us in the dark about their mistakes.
As a former bureaucrat at the NSA, I found keeping people in the dark to be bothersome. The Need-to-Know principle slowed the flow of useful information to people who needed it. For a historic example, the US had broken the Japanese diplomatic code before World War II and knew a few hours ahead of time that the Japanese diplomats would declare war at 1pm Eastern time, dawn at Pearl Harbor. But since we knew that by secret codebreaking, we sent the news to Hawaii via secure communications rather than the fastest communications, so the warning arrived after the Japanese attack had begun. In addition, examples like the SARS epidemic in China illustrate that the bureaucrats will use the same techniques to keep secrets from their rulers.

Obsession with secrecy cripples the government. When the government needs to be efficient, it replaces obsession with sensible balance between Need to Know and Responsibility to Share. Planning for government transparency is a less desperate method of breaking the obsession.

Erin Schram said...

Alfred Differ said,
@locumranch: The curious thing about those earlier math studies is that most people don’t want to be machine-like calculators. We’ve taught them how to do it, but given a chance, many of us will defer to actual machines. Gimmicking a machine, therefore, doesn’t really show how stupid people are. It might instead show how much they wish to avoid that kind of work.

Even I, a mathematician, don't care for mental calculation. Nevertheless, I learned it because I was embarrassed to reach for my pocket calculator to perform a two-digit addition in the middle of a math lecture. I have some techniques for checking more complicated results that require calculators to ensure that I did not mistype any numbers, but those are heavy mental mathematics.

locumranch said,
Erin should also note that it is David, rather than I, that is most dismissive of our under-valued Red Rural Agrarian cohort.

LarryHart replied,
Erin is probably smart enough to gather that Dr Brin doesn't dismiss the rural agrarian cohort per se, and in fact praises their courage and loyalty. What he doesn't stand for is the Red Rural Agrarian cohort presenting themselves as morally superior to city folk.

David Brin spoke of moral decline in Red and Blue States, such as in
Many - even most - "red" voters proclaim they are motivated in large part by anger over America's "moral decline." Rick Santorum says it is Satan's work, undermining the moral foundations of the nation that is his biggest obstacle on Earth. But is this assertion subject to any kind of test or comparison with facts?

In a fascinating article, The Economist explores measurable things like divorce rates, abortion, violent crime, high school dropout rates and teen pregnancy... all of which have declined... most of them steeply... in the last couple of decades. (Unmentioned by the article: rates for these things, as well as domestic violence, STDs and teen sex, have all declined much less in purportedly "more moral" Red America than they have in Blue states and cities.)

I don't fault David Brin for repeating the truth. However, there is more nuance to the issue.

We like to elect politicians who verbally agree with our traditional values. Who doesn't? Unfortunately, the values that make the best sound bites are not the most solid values. An NPR interview at points out that the family values of the middle 20th century that encouraged reckless youth to form stable, mature marriages and which are not everlasting Christian values despite being preached from pulpits, are instead encouraging unstable marriages at a time when unmarried people are no longer so reckless. And as the statistics show, we are not in moral decline, so a political platform about reversing moral decline either scapegoated tolerance as a form of decline or is an outright lie.

By the way, I married at age 23 and conceived our first child two months before the wedding, so I guess I was a reckless youth. My wife and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary last month.

raito said...


The Aussie rules thing sounds like something I read a fairly long time ago. The Aussie Women's Crew team stopped recruiting women interested in rowing. Instead, they recruited women with the physical characteristics of champion rowers. And improved their international standing.

Dr. Brin,

"But Transparency IS a tool for shame! Where a value is widely shared, your deviance will have no place to hide. Which is why it is vital that the current, liberal value set be the one enforced by transparency. You are only shamed if you HARM OTHERS (including future generations.) In matters of eccentricity, belief or style, the ones committing a breach are those too quick to judge."

If it were only true that unharmful eccentricity was not punished or did not cause others to attempt shaming. But that's far from true today.

'Names can never hurt me' is one of the biggest lies we tell our children.

Hopefully having everyone's eccentricities in the open will just make everyone's indignation too tired to deal with it. But I'm not hopeful about that.

locumranch said...

David forgets 'Rule 34' of the Internet.

Secrecy & Shame once were fellow travelers insomuch as what was secret was shameful and what was shameful was kept secret. These were mutually reinforcing concepts, so much so that criminals, cheaters, statistical freaks & aberrants hide themselves away in closeted darkness, shunning the light of revelation.

Then, two social movements converged, the first being Transparency (and/or the light-giving internet) & the second being Otherness Acceptance (and/or diversity), and Shame & Secrecy have been banished forever, so much so that the once marginalised became mainstream & the once mainstream became marginalised.

Initially, this banishment of shame & secrecy appeared to be 'win-win' in which the Marginalised had everything to gain the Mainstream lost nothing; however, as a still-married Sarkozy engaged in socially-approved infidelity with an Italian porn star, a corrupt government gave special consideration to Big 3 Automaker & Wall Street incompetence, a swastika-bedecked Charles Manson consummated remarriage in prison, the BLM (representing < 15%) took over MSM & public consciousness, Bruce became Caitlyn, the LGBT contingent (representing < 10%) frolicked under a rainbow flag & Furries everywhere practiced public frottery, a strange & miraculous transformation occurred:

Those mainstream individuals (who once laboured silently under the threat of marginalisation, poverty, unemployment, divorce, shame & public censure) suddenly woke up, contacted each other over the internet & realised that they have absolutely Nothing of which to be ashamed, including their collective self-interests, politics, preferences, prejudices, ignorances, beliefs & parochialisms.

The fruit of the poisoned tree of shamelessness is more shamelessness; and, as you sow shamelessness, so shall you reap; and, what a bumper crop of shamelessness, hypocrisy, corruption, perversion, nationalism, racism & blatant self-interest the future promises to be.

Shamelessness is the New Normal.

To arrive at my opinion of Diversity, ask yourself the following questions: What happens to Otherness when we accept it? And, what happens to distinction when eliminated?

Unknown said...

Point of order, Paul:

The people being mocked by the Texas gov/lt gov (not certain which it really was) were the "open-carry" activists who were there to "make sure things stayed in line" at the protest. When someone did start shooting - they scattered like frightened waterfowl, in some cases running right through where the shooting was happening and forcing police officers to chase them in case one of them was the shooter.

Not one "good guy with a gun" did anything to stop the bad guy, and many of them just made things worse.

Deuxglass said...


On the book’s cover it says that it is the inspiration of the musical so maybe your daughter would enjoy the book as well.

Kurt Vonnegut foresaw the “winner takes all” pattern we see today whether it comes to music, literature, sport and even social media leaving less and less to those specialists who are just good but not the best in the field. It is definitely a strong trend.

Dr. Brin,

I will have to pick up EXISTANCE off my shelf and read the part about autism.

In the world to come, perhaps the culling would take place between those who can function well using a brain-computer interface and those who have trouble working with it.

The match was very good and was soccer at its best. It was fluid, energetic with two over-times and both teams played well. Portugal won fair and square but they had to really work at it. France lost but it was an honorable loss.

Paul SB,

It is interesting what you said about the pyramid structure is an aberration and that the human default structure is the egalitarian diamond. That may well be the case. In the pyramid model communication is up to down and down to up while a diamond structure has strong horizontal communication as well which explains why the diamond lasted for 45,000 years. It was stable. In the modern society of specialists, lateral communication and negotiation between specialists is essential to get any job done so maybe the diamond shape of our societies has an added brace that provides more strength to the structure than does the pyramid structure. It makes it more resilient to shock. If we look at how quickly the industrial economies of the most devastated countries of WW II rebounded and compare them to the devastated pre-industrial countries’ performance, I am inclined to believe that the diamond shape is much tougher than we think and that we are not a hair’s breadth from falling back into the Middle Ages.

David Brin said...

Erin, you speak well about the importance of subjective, as well as objective metrics for “values.” But may I answer with “By his fruits you shall know him.”

When the metrics – or fruits – of the way kids are brought up in Red America are so distinctly and inarguably worse than in non-ghetto Blue America… and yes, re Divorce, as well… then should that not give pause? And at least tone down the aggressive and perpetual sneering hurled at BA by RA over Red America’s purportedly better “values?”

I would never have raised these statistics except forced to, in fatigued and fed-up disgust over those endless, endless lying-slandering jeremiads.

Locum’s sentences are better than ever! They string together as if logical! And yet you come away scratching your head: what did he just say?

In fact, today we DO have “shame” but it is applied more often than not upon bullies. Bullies on the playground. Bullies who prey upon people. Bullies who try to enforce conformity and suppress harmless eccentricity. And soon… bullies who gossip-attack people behind their backs. The biggest shame! Accusation today manifests as MYOB! Mind Your Own Business, if I’m not harming anyone.

The fact that he resents this shows his voluntary acceptance of the caste of bullies. Indeed, one is tempted to ask him to confess his playground behavior, when his age was below 13. Or after.

And note. The “culling” I spoke up for was choosing among your sperm. Oh, a day may come when that is considered prejudicial and mean. But I won’t see it.

Deuxglass said...


When I saw the traffic police-bot pulling me over idea, my gut reaction was a strong NO! I wondered why and after some thought and I came to the conclusion that it was because I am a primate. Primates are obsessed with status, some even kill to acquire it. It is just the way our brains are wired and we need to know where we are in the hierarchy. If a human cop pulls me over I know where I stand and I know the posture I should take. A police-bot is a machine and for a primate, a machine is a tool and has no natural place in the hierarchy. It has no status. I would be obeying something that has no status therefore making me nothing. I would feel lower than a slave because at least a slave has a place in the primate hierarchy. Is my gut reaction right or wrong?

David Brin said...



Deuxglass said...


You get your facts wrong as usual. Sarkozy never had a liaison with an Italien porn star. His present wife is Italian and was model for a few years before becoming a singer but she was of the kind that modeled haut couture. In no way can she be described as a porn star. Maybe you ment Hollande. His present girlfriend was a grade B movie star and she is known for taking her clothes off in most of her movies but that doesn't work either. Although Hollande had four children with Segoland Royal, they never bothered to get married. Everything you said was false. How do you research your information. You can have any opinion you want but at least get your facts straight.

Paul451 said...

Jonathan Sills,
"Point of order, Paul: The people being mocked by the Texas gov/lt gov (not certain which it really was) were the "open-carry" activists "

No they weren't. And the fact that you don't even know who made the comment should have tipped you off that you don't know what you are talking about.

I was referring to Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's interview on Fox News the morning after the shooting, where he called protesters hypocrites. Not once during his interview did he mention the open-carries amongst the protesters. Note, I'm not just saying that his "What hypocrites!" comment wasn't aimed at open-carries, he never mentioned open-carries at all in the entire interview. Not once. All of his comments were aimed at "protesters" in general.

"I do blame people on social media with their hatred towards police, I do blame... I saw Jessie Jackson, I think he was on Fox the other night calling police racist without any facts... I do blame former Black Lives Matters protests... last night was peaceful but others were not, and we've heard the 'Pigs-in-a-blanket', this has to stop."

[He then goes on to claim that if protests don't stop, there will be no police.]

"All of these officers as has been said last night lost their life protecting people who were there protesting against them. This has to end."

"Too many people in the general public, who aren't criminals but have a big mouth, are creating situations like we saw last night"

"We have to have the backs of laws enforcement, they have to know, that the general public, we will not tolerate when people threaten to kill them. All those protesters last night, they ran the other way, expecting the men and women in blue to turn around and defend them. What hypocrites! You know, I understand the first amendment, I understand freedom of speech, and I defend it. It's in our constitution, it's in our soul. But you can't go out on social media, and mainstream media, and everywhere else, and say that the police are racist, police are hateful, police are killers... I'm sick and tired of those protesting our police, and putting their lives in danger. This has gotta stop, and it's gotta stop now."

Note: "All those protesters last night".

Whoever told you, wherever you read, that Patrick's comments had anything to do with open-carry, those people lied to you. You should remember that, when you listen to them or read them in the future. They are liars. There really is an objective reality, beyond "opinion" and "interpretation", there really are things which happened. Clear, and public, and documented. And sometimes you have to accept that when people - people you like, people you want to trust - keep saying things that go against that reality, it's not just their "opinion", it's lying. And you should ask yourself how much of the rest of what they say is probably also a lie, a deliberate distortion of the truth.

Paul451 said...

Amazingly, with no sense of irony whatsoever, Patrick followed up the above comments with: "I need [the Federal govt] to focus on what I just said. I was a little disappointed with [USAG] Loretta Lynch comments, blending in too many issues. Can we talk about five people who were killed last night, just focus on their lives and their families. We need a President who will stand up and focus on the police, the law enforcement, the men and women, black brown white asian officers, all together, who are protecting us, let's focus on them."

For the record, that is 'hypocrisy'. Manipulating an issue to make a political point, and then immediately accusing your political opponents of doing so.


Aside: Speaking of saying something that goes against documented reality, I should correct my own claim. I said that there hasn't been much response outside of the shrill left. But it looks like Patrick's comments are being reported more widely in mainstream media, and particularly "Lt Gov under fire" type stories have started. (The mainstream media loves when someone else makes a criticism, so the journalists don't have to make the suggestion or ask the question themselves, they can do the cowardly "How do you respond to people who accuse you of...")

LarryHart said...

Paul451 quotes Dan Patrick:

"But you can't go out on social media, and mainstream media, and everywhere else, and say that the police are racist, police are hateful, police are killers... I'm sick and tired of those protesting our police, and putting their lives in danger."

So protest against actual documented facts (police shootings of non-threatening black men) is the same thing as calling for cops to be killed? So you can never complain about police behavior, lest you put their lives (and therefore all of our lives) in danger?

Then I assume this guy was also critical of Cliven Bundy when he and his thugs openly carried weapons to threaten federal officers? What am I saying? Of course you won't find those criticisms in his background, because he doesn't have any problem with white people criticizing police. What he's saying is that black people have to keep to their place and stop being so uppity by demanding not to be killed.

BTW, that former Congressman Walsh, the same one who shouted "You lie!" at the president during a State of the Union address, is my new idea of a supervillain.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Deuxglass

Just a wee thing

"When I saw the traffic police-bot pulling me over idea, my gut reaction was a strong NO!"

Does that mean you refuse to stop at red traffic lights?

David Brin said...



but continue here if you like...

Howard Brazee said...

The Constitution lists two responsibilities of Congress which are being sadly neglected. Confirming justices is one - but the big one is taking responsibility to declare war. If war isn't declared - they should take responsibility to get the hell out.