Saturday, May 29, 2021

Toward sapience: A science of Uplift? But first... classic "uplifting" novels!

Before we get to the science of uplift.... Announcing the re-release this week of all of my Uplift novels from Open Road publications - all of them recently re-edited, with fresh cover artwork and newly written introductions! 

It all starts with my first uplift novel - my first published work of any kind - Sundiver, a murder mystery largely set right at (on?) the sun! And yes, the whodunnit part works... as do the characters and the physics!

That's followed by my second novel, Hugo Award winner Startide Rising, and Hugo-winner The Uplift War.  

Then my second uplift trilogy - (two Hugo nominees) - Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore and Heaven's Reach. Wherein the epic adventure of the dolphin-crewed Streaker resumes on a planet settled by illegal immigrants and refugees (a metaphor for our times?), then continues pellmell through white dwarf habitats, a dozen layers of spacetime and ructions tearing at five galaxies!

Read: the inspiration behind the Uplift novels. And sure, dolphins & neo-chimps rule! But so do Alvin and Huck and a band of alien kid-adventurers!

Oh, those of you lucky enough to be on my newsletter mailing list will find out about a lot more of my recent projects, too!

== Does Uplift have a scientific basis? ==

Researchers have recently identified a key molecular switch that can make ape brain organoids grow more like human organoids, and vice versa, and may help explain why  human brains grow much larger, with three times as many neurons, compared with chimpanzee and gorilla brains. (And you don't think secret labs are already doing this? Transparency!)

A study, published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, looked at 134 male and female bottlenose dolphins from eight facilities across the world, with each dolphin’s personality being assessed by staff at the facilities. The results of the study found a convergence of certain personality traits, especially curiosity and sociability....  The most widely accepted model of human personality is defined by five traits -- openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.” 

It sounds to me like there’s a lot of overlap there, but comparison to apes and dolphins remains interesting. And yes, Startide Rising, remains a favorite among dolphin researchers!

As for humans… I find it odd that bad forms of addiction are seldom correlated with positive behavior-reinforcement mechanisms - e.g. “addicted to love” of family, children, and skill - that use identical neural and chemical pathways! That is doubtless the reason why addictive pathways exist in the first place! 

   Arguably, these “dark sides of addiction” are hijackings of those wholesome reinforcement processes. 
   Perhaps the worst - certainly the most harmful to this civilization, crippling our ability to negotiate like adults - is addiction to pleasurable-but-negative mental states, like self-righteous indignation.
   I spoke on this at the Centers for Drugs and Addiction. See: “The addictive plague of getting mad as hell.  (And the scientific background is on my website. )

== Is sapience a galactic imperative, driven by evolution? ==


In “Terrestrial biological evolution and its implication for SETI,” Jean-Pierre Rospars theorizes that human and super-human intelligence are natural and expected outcomes under Darwinian evolution. 

A frequent opinion among biologists upholds that biological evolution is contingent and, consequently, that man's apparition is a random event of very small probability. We present various arguments against this view, based on chemistry, molecular biology, evolutionary convergences, the existence of physical constraints on the structure of living beings, and the evidence of acceleration in the evolution of many features, e.g. brain size, over geological times. 

"Taken together they suggest that “laws” of evolution exist and may have a universal validity. We extend this view to the evolution of “intelligence”. We show that it is an essential aspect of biological evolution and that human cultural evolution is just another aspect of it. Finally, we argue that brains more complex than the human brain are conceivable, endowed not merely with quantitatively better functions but with qualitatively higher cognitive abilities, of the kind found in the transition from, say, dog to man. 

"This thesis predicts that the usual concept of advanced civilizations merely separated by huge distances is too restrictive. It favours a different concept, in which the separation results predominantly from cognitive, i.e. temporal factors. This idea, far from being discouraging, offers a stimulating solution to Fermi's paradox and opens new ways to SETI.”


I have four reasons to doubt this.


1- Ernst Mayr's observation that it took Earth 4 billion years to make one - just one - sapient race out of billions of actual species, and that one almost vanished several times.


2- A certain baseline level of intelligence - simple semantic skill and basic manipulative tool use - appears to erupt quite often in nature... dolphins, 

apes some monkeys, sea lions, elephants, corvids/crows, parrots, even octopi, all seem to crowd under pretty much the same glass ceiling, implying that such levels truly are common emergent properties, as proposed in the paper. Perhaps velociraptors did reach that same level. 

Alas, that didn't ultimately help them. The significant lesson from this commonality of threshold sentience is that Nature and Darwin are generous up to that point and extremely stingy about going beyond.


3- Yes, we humans shattered that glass ceiling by orders of magnitude, especially in the Great Reprogramming Revolution that I speak of, in EXISTENCE. And yet, despite that incredible leap -- I deem that rarity of ceiling-smashing at the top of my list of "fermi" explanations for the Great Silence across the galaxy!

Oh, sure. We still crest at a level that averages just below what it may take to solve our obstinate cultural stupidities - like feudalism, the dour, lobotomizing system that dominated 99% of our ancestors.  Worse, evidence suggests that it is very hard to get smarter than our current smartest. Elite intellectual families like the Huxleys show what happens when brilliant people marry brilliant people. All too often, mental and neurological instabilities are rife as offspring dance along a razor's edge.

A good case is made that the most-rare event or fluke in Earth’s life story was the one-time joining of two separate genetic trees. “It’s the scientific consensus that a primordial eukaryote emerged 1.5 billion years ago when a less complex cell tried to ingest an anaerobic bacterium but was unable to digest it. The stalemate turned into a symbiotic relationship in which the bacterium became the power supply to the host cell, which provided a safe environment for it to thrive in return. Today we refer to the powerhouse of the cell as the Mitochondria.” 

       The resulting eukaryotes proliferated and experimented with multicellulatity for 800 million years before suddenly getting the hang of it and bursting forth with the Cambrian explosion of complex forms, including us.  Moreover, if that combination fluke truly was both necessary and hugely rare, well, when we descendants of that marriage forge across the galaxy, we may just find… soup.

5. Of all possible theories for the Fermi Paradox, just five satisfy my requirement for plausibility. As I said just above, number one (in my book) would be the notion that human levels of ambitious, constantly-reprogramming intelligence is likely extremely rare, which implies we may be this galaxy’s one chance for an “elder race” to go rescue everyone else. (Also alluded-to in both my serious future-projection novel Existence and in my sci fi comedy The Ancient Ones.)

Another of those Five Plausibles? Well, I alluded to this one, as well. The sick, lobotomizing trap of feudalism sucked in 99% of human post agricultural societies, rewarding those males who took such power, ruining their civilizations while winning 
Darwinian reproductive advantages for themselves.  The evolutionary imperative is so clear -- you see it throughout nature, from stallions to elephant seals -- that the amazing thing is that ANY sapient race found an alternative path, as we have done. A narrow, rarely tried path of Periclean-egalitarian enlightenment. 

If this periclean experiment fails... if dullard-stoopid oligarchy succeeds at re-establishing its tedious/boring/lobotomizing pyramid of privilege again, then we may have our Fermi Paradox answer. And the galaxy may have to wait for someone else to break through that trap.

== Going to the dogs! ==

Interesting advances in the origin story of dogs, perhaps domesticated by isolated Siberian human communities around 25,000 years ago, before migrating together to the Americas.

And they may not be anywhere near at full potential, being our best friends! Much is made – of late – about how dogs are being used to sniff out early signs of disease in people. See, for example, Doctor Dogs: How Our Best Friends Are Becoming our Best Medicine, by Maria Goodavage. Today, dogs have been trained and proven useful in detecting breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, malaria, Covid-19, and the onset of epileptic seizures, narcolepsy, and migraines. They can do this by sniffing breath, blood, urine, sweat, or even tissue swabs or socks / clothing from the subject. 

As explained by Strategic News Service’s Mark Anderson: “It would appear that the canine nose, with its 200-300 million stereoscopic sensors (vs. 5 million in humans), aerated at up to 300 pants per minute and processed by 35% of the brain (vs. 5% in humans), is exquisitely sensitive, and eminently trainable, to detect whatever the dog, or you, are interested in.” Alas, dogs tire easily and there is an inability to apply metrics to their performance. So the search is on for artificial nose technology. (Which would have many other uses.)

== To uplift... cats? Or not? ==

Why did I "uplift" dolphins and chimps in the main uplift novels... and parrots elsewhere and allude to dogs... but not cats?

Well, not to neglect the felines...  here's an image that's cute! prrrr. David Larks's lovely cat-uplift painting takes this idea in directions that are simultaneously way-cute and just a little worrisome! I am prompted to ponder Cordwainer Smith's "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell"!  See the artist's gallery page.

Still, the trait of neoteny is one that dogs share with dolphins and humans... but cats not so much. Just saying. And anyway, you think I'm suicidal? No. Just no.

And finally....Neanderthal footprints exposed on a beach in Spain were fascinating enough. Only now it seems we can trace signs of young children at play!

See the range of great renewed Uplift Books to enjoy! ... and so much more!


Sunday, May 23, 2021

More marvels from space -- starting with this UFO crap, then real wonders.

Okay, let's get the damned UFO stuff out of the way first.

No living human is better qualified to talk about alien life (I assert). I consult on innovative and advanced spacecraft design projects. I have spent almost 40 years as a leading investigator on SETI matters. My doctorate dealt with organic dust from comets, a possible source of 'panspermia.' Oh... and there's the science fiction, lots of that, constantly exploring concepts of 'otherness' - including a book by that title.  (See my new "Best of David Brin" collection!)

So when I call bullshite it is not from some stodgy unwillingness to imagine the unusual!  To the contrary, I have always found most (not all) UFO stuff to be shockingly unimaginative and dull.  I mean, look at purported UFO behavior! The universe is athrong with space-twerps?

Only now...  Omigosh!  The US Government now admits that there are sometimes reports and even blurry frootage of wildly veering and swerving "tictac" blobs! Not in any way saying it's aliens, but Unexplained Aerial Phenomena. Gosh-a-roony!

Okay, let's get my response-and-theory out of the way before we go on to real wonders of space! All this brouhaha (ha ha ha?) is blatantly over a freaking obvious cat laser. 

Cripes, I've been quiet about it because the ones messing with Navy pilots and the rest of us may have had some reasons for some confidentiality. But this has gone too far and someone has to point out the obvious. Look up the words cat and laser on YouTube, and tell me you don't see it!

Here is just one example of how the US Navy itself has developed ways to create distracting blob spots in the open air. And this doesn't even use the far better, more compact and agile method that I know they know about. (I mean if *I* know it...)

OMG you'd rather believe in aliens with 'ships' that break every law of physics and optics in order to mess with us, all of it while maintaining 1950s levels of blurriness when there are MILLIONS of times as many cameras, now, than there were then?
The list of absurd claims goes on and on. One of them might make a good sci fi tale. TWO make a decent cult belief. But all parts of this outrageously dumb scenario?

Sure, aliens may be waving the cat laser! But other wielders are far more plausible.

Looking further out...

“The most distant Solar System object, Farout, has lost its crown after just two years. As Inverse reports, astronomers have confirmed that the planetoid Farfarout is now the farthest known Solar System object. It's currently 132AU, or about 12.3 billion miles from the Sun (Farout is 'just' 120AU away), and its elongated orbit will take it 175AU away. For context, Pluto is 34AU from our host star...” 

A nice talk by David Jewitt about the Asteroid Belt and what a large fraction of the half-million+ belt roids are sublimating water, suggesting they are more primitive carbonaceous chondrite types breaking up via thermal stress... though he also discusses exemplars of asteroid-like comets and at 48’ he lays out the theory that I first presented in my doctoral dissertation (1981).  I think he may have missed a few things.  But a truly enlightening talk. 

Another truly wonderful Hubble image, this time from a star-forming nebula around 4,900 light-years away in the constellation of Gemini. 

Farther out, but still in our ‘neighborhood.’ Fascinating article offers TWO amazing results from the EU's Gaia craft that tracks the parallax of over a billion of the Milky Way's closer (to us) stars. (1) An embedded video shows the projected paths of thousands of the nearest of these stars across our sky across then next few thousand years. Note longer-faster streaks will be close passages! (2) a corrugation spur of super-hot/big OB type blue giant stars will likely erupt with supernovae across the next million years or so and some of them maybe soon. And (3) YOU are a member of a civilization that does stuff like this.

Which is the greatest of those three wonders?

Spectacular polar lightning shows on Jupiter!

And did lightning start life on Earth, by releasing trapped phosphorus to help make a biosphere? Phosphorous is  the rarest ingredient in LIFE ™ And cheaply available Phosphorous is getting used up fast from North America’s once vast deposits, leaving the largest lodes in Morocco, Iraq and Iran. Lovely. (As depicted in my novel EXISTENCE.)

And there may be a lotta wattah left under the surface of Mahz.

Seeking life farther out… Panspermia is back, being discussed as astronomers catch up with science fiction. It is stylish now to discuss how our sun’s cometary Ooort Cloud likely brushes against the comet clouds of other stars, intermittently, exchanging (perhaps) bio-materials that way, as bacteria exchange plasmid DNA… and as Gregory Benford and I posited in the 1980s in HEART OF THE COMET

And just prior to getting into singularities… Supergiant stars like AG Carinae are rare: less than 50 reside in our local group of neighboring galaxies garishly emitting a million times the output of our 70x less massive Sun and racing toward inevitable supernova oblivion. Kewl video.

== Singularities! We got your black holes here! ==

A stunning new animation from NASA shows the entrancing dance of two monster black holes in orbit around each other, each one’s titanic gravity warping the other’s “Thorne Thimble”… the unique way that a mammoth-hole’s glowing accretion disk appears to surround such monsters. (As first predicted by my friend, Caltech prof and Nobelist Kip Thorne, for the movie Interstellar.)

A single neutrino began its journey some 700 million years ago, around the time the first animals developed on Earth, when a doomed star came too close to the supermassive black hole at the center of its home galaxy and was ripped apart by the black hole's colossal gravity. That event was first detected by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) on Mount Palomar in California on 9 April 2019. Half a year later, on 1 October 2019 the IceCube neutrino detector at the South Pole registered an extremely energetic neutrino from the direction of the tidal disruption event. "It smashed into the Antarctic ice with a remarkable energy of more than 100 teraelectron volts..." and its path led straight back to that crushed star’s death throes. Wow. Ain’t we something? 

The black hole at the center of this galaxy – in the latest amazing Hubble and radio-VLA mashup – is spewing million-light year jets. It's an elliptical galaxy that's roughly 1,000 times larger than our own Milky Way. Same goes for the black hole the galaxy formed around; it's also about 1,000 times larger than the one at the center of our Milky Way, at around 2.5 billion solar mass. (Many galaxies are believed to have formed around supermassive black holes.) "Emitting nearly a billion times more power in radio wavelengths than our Sun, the galaxy is one of the brightest extragalactic radio sources in the entire sky.”

With this incredible, stunning image of a black hole - scientists have mapped using polarized light, the magnetic fields around a black hole at the center of galaxy Messier 87, which is located 55 million light-years awayAstronomers are still working to understand how jets larger than the galaxy itself are launched from the black hole within it, but these powerful magnetic fields have a lot to do with it.  (And my masters thesis slightly advanced the theory of polarized light passing through anisotropic media.). Just incredible. Look at this!  And know you are a member of a civilization that does stuff like this.

Even farther out, toward the edge! Astronomers had found about 50 of "quadruply imaged quasars," in which a foreground galaxy’s massive gravity has lens-warped the quaser’s image into four parts. (There are many more known with just doubled images.) The number of quads known has been grown by applying recent methods of machine learning. Among many uses would be checking on the two somewhat different estimates – local vs long range – for the expansion rate of the universe. “A quasar-based determination of Hubble's constant could indicate which of the two values is correct, or, perhaps more interestingly, could show that the constant lies somewhere between the locally determined and distant value, a possible sign of previously unknown physics.” Another use not mentioned is to see how the quasar’s four images change with time, since distance traveled varies!

Cosmologists are pressing rewind on the first instant after the Big Bang by simulating 4,000 versions of the universe on a massive supercomputer, all with slightly different initial density fluctuations. The researchers allowed these virtual universes to undergo their own virtual inflations and then applied a reconstruction method to check them.

And while we’re going cosmic… this paper asserts that the whole dark matter thing may be based on an oversimplification of the gravitational models of a rotating galaxy, leaving out general relativity effects or “gravito-magnetic” influences. The authors assert motion curves now fit without any need for a possibly mythical Dark Matter component.  Okay. Mind you that while I have my astrophysics union card -- a member of the priesthood, so to speak-- I am more of a Franciscan (I model orbits and spacecraft and comets and such… or did)… and this is real Jesuit stuff. Above my pay grade. Still…. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Back to the Moon? And on to Venus, Mars and the asteroid belt

Are we finally entering the golden age of spaceflight we originally expected (way prematurely) in the 1970s?

Mars mission successes - including China's impressive lander - are adding up. Samples are being returned from asteroids (the likely source of major riches.) The new generation of space telescopes is already revealing wonders, even before the Webb goes up. SpaceX has upturned launch economics with levels of re-use that forced panicking Lockheed/Boeing/ULA to run, desperately to Blue Origin to save them...

...and Sen. Shelby is no longer able to bully Congress into forcing the "Space Launch System (SLS)" down NASA's throat, a wasteful boondoggle so typical of Shelby's corrupt party... as the Spacex "starship," if fully successful, promises the possibility that another boondoggle - sending "American footprints back-to-the-Moon!" - won't be the calamitous distraction that is seemed bound to be (details below)...

...and new satellite comms constellations may soon deliver world access to underserved people, all over the planet. And much more. We are still a civilization that does stuff. And even more important stuff down here, on Earth.

== We're Explorers! ==

A while back I linked you to the announced Phase One awards given by NIAC -- NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program (I am on the advisory council). Great, pioneering projects! Some of them bordering on science fiction. Now come the Phase II and III announcements! Projects that proved themselves to have at least an on-paper or preliminary plausibility to dramatically change our access and future out there in the cosmos!

In case you missed it... here is the descent and landing video from the wonderful Martian arrival of Perseverance. Forget the audio thing! Watch the collated 3 minutes of incredible beauty and stunning competence during arrival. I did NOT expect my breath to catch at the sight of a parachute deploying, or my heart to race at footage of dust blowing from a rocky plain. 

More crucially, the "Sky Crane" landing system is now no longer a 'miracle," but a reliable system, proved repeatable. A routine miracle.

Again, we are a people who do such things. Stop letting mafiosi undermine our confidence.   

Nearly 11 Million Names of Earthlings are on Mars Perseverance...’ 

Ooooh, I did warn about this is a short story called “Mars Opposition!” 

And if you want to be scared out of your britches, give it a read in The Best of David Brin!

== Back to the moon? ==

I've been a lonely dissenter on the notion of U.S. astronauts rushing back to the dusty/useless lunar plain, when humanity for sure will be going there anyway, in the form of Apollo-wannabe tourists, eager for their coming-of-age ritual. The US+Japan+Europe can accomplish vastly more bypassing that playpen/sandbox, doing things only we can do. And yet... if Elon truly can pull off his next prodigious leap, not just perfecting Starship but especially the super-heavy BFR to launch it out there, and do the refueling thing, then I might change my mind. 

But Jeff B and Dynetics should still develop their landers... to sell to those tourists! (While keeping techs proprietary!)

What stands out is that NASA still intends for astronauts to ride to the moon aboard the SLS... there and back via Orion capsule. Using the SpaxeX ship ONLY as a lander! But of course that will happen twice... to use up the SLS monsters in the pipeline. Then Frankenshuttle can quietly fade away. 

SpaceX has built and tested a functioning prototype of the elevator that Starship would use to lift and lower astronauts to and from the lunar surface. In blazing speed. This despite getting the least development funding from NASA’s program to incentivize private companies to make lunar landers. “Known as the Human Landing System (HLS) program, NASA selected three providers – a Blue Origin-led consortium, Dynetics, and SpaceX – to build prototypes and compete for one or two follow-on contracts back in April 2020. SpaceX’s Starship offering was deemed the riskiest solution and the company received a middling $135 million to Dynetics’ ~$250 million and the “National Team’s” ~$570 million. For their ~$820 million investment, it’s unclear what exactly NASA has gotten from its two best-funded teams aside from paperwork, a few completed design reviews, and two low-fidelity mockups mostly made out of cardboard, foam, and wood. Meanwhile, in the ten months since SpaceX received its $135 million, the company has built no less than eight full-scale Starship prototypes, performed a dozen or more wet dress rehearsals and static fires with said prototypes, and performed two powered hops and two high-altitude test flights.”  ... Oh... the image in this article looks straight out of a 1950s Wiley Ley/Bonestall envisioning! 

While I am on record dissing the notion of the U.S. dropping more ambitious and rewarding ventures farther out, in favor of a rush to put more footprints on a dusty-useless lunar plain (yawn! leave that to the kiddies!) I am fine with helping US companies develop landers they can sell or rent to those Apollo-wannabe tourists!

== And on to Venus and Mars ==

The Parker Solar Probe (the author of Sundiver is an official ‘mascot) in one of its swings by Venus looked down on the dark night side... and could see through the clouds to heat-revealed surface features!  And more from Parker!  NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured the first complete view of Venus’s dust ring, a band of particles that stretches for the entirety of the planet’s path around the Sun.

Okay, as said above, I am still giddy over the success JPL/NASA had in landing Perseverance on Mars! Only, now that they are sure of the landing system and can optimize its weight parameters, then next time – a suggestion? Next time, LAND the darn descent stage after it finishes delivering the rover! And why not? a weather station? Seismic station? Practice?

Speaking of landers: the commercial lunar vehicle Peregrine, if successful this coming July, would be the first-ever commercial American lander on the moon — and the first United States spacecraft to touch down at all since Apollo 17 in 1972.  The same company will then target 2023 to land VIPER, a vastly more sophisticated water-surveying rover near a lunar pole, conveyed moonward by a SpaceX Heavy and brought gently down by a GRIFFIN lander. 

And it’s a moonrush! Japanese lunar robotics company ispace will deliver a rover built by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the moon in 2022, via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The Japanese startup says it supply the lander that transports the rover from the moon's orbit to the lunar surface.

Okay, like we needed this?  How about a space hurricane in our planet's upper atmosphere -- made up of swirling plasma and "rained" electrons... a 620-mile-wide (1,000-kilometer) plasma mass swirling above the North Pole. It had spiral arms and lasted for nearly eight hours. An amazing image.

== The Sky is For The Rich? ==

A fine review of a new book - Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut, by Nicholas Scmidle - about the New Space Race, in which whole nations - China, India, Russia and even NASA - struggle to keep pace with the upward momentum of a clade of billionaire dreamers and do-ers... Musk Bezos, Branson, and several you likely haven't heard of. Heinlein predicted such an era in positive terms. I portrayed plusses and minuses, in EXISTENCE. And Wil McCarthy's book Rich Man's Sky depicts worrisome, downside trends toward owner-feudalism in future space..

This article starts with an image of Branson's Virgin Galactic mother ship based at New Mexico's Spaceport America, which gets to use the USG's White' Sands tracking facilities, but is, in consequence, way out east of the town of Truth or Consequences, NM. Those buying tickets on Virgin's deluxe space super-experience will have to leave their luxury jets and ride an air conditioned bus for 40 minutes. Along the way, they will be entertained by an introductory video of yours truly, explaining in advance what they are about to see. Fiorty minutes of me blabbing about the spaceport> That alone is worth the price!

Perhaps that's the closest I will get, to riding the torch. But WTH. We are doing these fine things. That is, if we do all the fine things, including saving the planet, species, civilization, justice and a decent, worthy enlightenment.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Aiming for lateral accountability: Cameras will either help... or thwart... Big Brother

More and more we are seeing that the enemies of the Enlightenment Experiment Are not just opposing 'western decadence' or even the Rule of Law - though RoL hampers terribly the power and whim that topmost males have always deemed their birthright. 

No, the most fundamental thing that all tyrants, kings, owner-lords and priestly hierarchs have always dreaded was the possibility of accountability, applied upon them by those they rule.

Pericles spoke of this, at the onset of the age when the Athenian Democracy dazzled the world. Thomas Paine crystalized the notion, far more revolutionary than anything by Lenin or Robspierre or Mao. It is the core of every experiment in flat-fair-open-creative and free civilization.

== Is technology going to help... or end it? ==

“Massive camera hack exposes the growing reach and intimacy of American surveillance.” A breach of the camera start-up Verkada ‘should be a wake-up call to the dangers of self-surveillance,’ one expert said: ‘Our desire for some fake sense of security is its own security threat', reports The Washington Post.

I remain appalled that so many very smart people actually seem to think that each year's new tech levels - and menaces - will now freeze and stand still long enough for us to ban them. Cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, better, more mobile and vastly more numerous far faster than Moore's Law (Brin's Corollary!

Consider the recent case of San Francisco's City Council banning facial recognition systems, when keeping them open to public criticism is exactly how we discovered and then corrected many problems like racial and gender bias in the programs.

Anyway Facial Recognition programs won't be resident in police departments for long, where some city council can ban them, but will be cheap apps in phones and AR glasses, available from a thousand directions. Result? Cops who are banned from using versions that are open to supervision will instead surreptitiously use dark web versions, because it might save their own lives.

We need to focus not on uselessly trying to ban tech that might be abused, but on eliminating the abuses. And that can only happen with more light, aimed at those with power.

Oh, the dangers are very real! These techs will certainly empower agents and masters of despotism, if you already have a despotism. And hence the lesson and priority is to prevent despotism altogether! Because these same techs could instead empower vibrant citizenship, if we see to it they are well-shared and that no elite gets to monopolize them.

Which they will, if we try simplistically and reflexively to ban them.

It's not that the ACLU and EFF and EU are wrong to fret! They are absolutely correct to point at problems and to worry that surveillance techs could empower Big Brothers and render citizen privacy extinct. It is their prescriptions that almost always are short-sighted and foolish.

Making a tech illegal will not stop elites form having and using it. 

Let me repeat that.

Making a tech illegal will not stop elites form having and using it. 

What it will do is make them arrange to do it secretly, where the methods won't be appraised and criticized publicly.

As Heinlein said, "the chief effect of a privacy law is to make the bugs smaller."

Need I keep mentioning that both Martin Luther King and Gandhi credited cameras with saving their own lives, as they marched and took on entrenched power?

Meanwhile the thing propelling Black Lives Matter is the proliferation of public access to cameras, spectacularly increasing the number of bad cops being fired. Being convicted took longer and activism helped change the reflexes of juries!But none of it would have happened without the cameras. All of it, BTW, predicted in EARTH (1990) and The Transparent Society (1997.)

== Again and again… HOW to get the internet’s good and repress the bad? ==

Some of these concepts are hard, so let's go over similar concepts from a slightly different angle.

Evan Anderson of the Strategic News Service recently wrote an incisive piece on how the Internet is suffering near lethal harm from swarms of nasty users.  The Half-Percent: How A Few Awful Individuals Increasingly Threaten Our Future.”

For example “This March, in its The Disinformation Dozen, the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that in a sample of content posted 812,000 times on social media platforms, just 12 individual anti-vaxxer accounts on Facebook and Twitter were responsible for a full 65% of anti-vaccine content. The report also describes that many of these individuals are doing so simply to encourage skepticism because they have “snake oil” to sell, noting: ‘Living in full view of the public on the internet are a small group of individuals who do not have relevant medical expertise and have their own pockets to line, who are abusing social media platforms to misrepresent the threat of Covid and spread misinformation about the safety of vaccines. According to our recent report, anti-vaccine activists on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter reach more than 59 million followers, making these the largest and most important social media platforms for anti-vaxxers. Our research has also found anti-vaxxers using social media platforms to target Black Americans, exploiting higher rates of vaccine hesitancy in that community to spread conspiracies and lies about the safety of Covid vaccines.’ These 12 individuals account for 73% of vaccine misinformation on Facebook, are personally featured in 17% of anti-vaxx content on Twitter, and regularly feature sales attempts for alternative products that they claim can cure Covid-19.

Okay then. How to deal with badguys and sociopaths and predators? As far back as legends go, sages have preached we should be honest and forthright and honorable to each other. These preachings - on every continent and in every language - had positive effects, but only on those who already valued honesty and honor and decency

The sort of folks whom the dishonorable always view as prey.

Some kings and priests sought to apply other methods. Laws, policing, punishments. These deterred bad actors to some large degree by applying accountability. In strong, efficient states, businesses could operate and families had some recourse from gangs of thugs... but only some. And there was no redress from the capricious whims of the King, or lords or priests.

A few nations tried the Periclean approach... supply citizens with the means to apply accountability upward. Always a difficult, fraught and incomplete effort, it nevertheless was the focus of Adam Smith and the U.S. Founders and each generation of Americans has done it slightly better, except this one, as a worldwide oligarchic putsch strives to end the very notion of the idea that Rule-of-Law can apply upward.

In order to weaken us, those oligarchs have subsidized and encouraged the nasty predators that this post was about.  The anonymity that original Internet zealots called liberating has become a curse, as the worst men use it to evade any form of accountability, online.  More and more, we hear calls to banish anonymity... while those worried about Big Brother see what's happened in China, where online anonymity is banned for purposes of state control. 

Elsewhere, I've explored how we were able to harness competitive processes in five great arenas: MARKETS, DEMOCRACY, SCIENCE, COURTS and SPORTS, and in all five, strenuous, unrelenting efforts repress the human tendency to cheat, by applying very different styles of fierce regulation and accountability. In my paper I discuss a method that might let this happen on the Web. 

(For a rather intense look at how "truth" is determined in science, democracy, courts and markets, see "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition." 

Okay, here's the key point. This doesn't have to be ZERO SUM! We should be able to get most of the good aspects of anonymity while eliminating most of the bad!  We could do this with a regularized process of formalized PSEUDONYMITY in which you can rent a vetted pseudonym from a fiduciary you already trust for other credentials (e.g. credit or savings)... your bank. (Banks are already well placed to get into this potentially profitable business.) 

If you do bad things under that pseudonym, the "ding" would follow you back and affect your credibility scores without having anyone actually know your name (unless the ding is a felony.)

I go into this elsewhere, too. The crux: the key to reducing the harm done by badguys is accountability. But giving top rulers tools for applying it downward is always dangerous to freedom. 

The answer - as you'd expect from me - is lateral accountability.  And we can do it in a positive sum way.

== Tech as Freedom’s Friend ==

In 2013 I touted maybe the most important step in American civil liberties since the 1960s Civil Rights Bills... when the Obama Administration and the courts ruled that citizens have a right to record the police. As I predicted in The Transparent Society, (especially p.130), cameras became far more of a 'great equalizer' that the six gun, though it took time and phases and a stretch of pain that hasn't ended with the Chauvin conviction. 

But while we rightfully laud heroes in this struggle, let's spare a nod for technology? The thing that will either empower Big Brother forever... or else ensure we'll have Big Brother NEVER.

That choice still lies in our hands.