Saturday, November 25, 2023

Space resources and advances... plus aliens & ufos, oh my!

Okay SPAAAACE-time. To the chagrin of those trying to destroy our confidence, we keep doing fine and wonderful things! 

Let's begin with my own milestone... after 12 years in the funnest gig ever, I just attended (in Houston) my last Symposium for NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC) - as a member of the External Council watching (and critiquing!) presentations about some of the coolest (and often weird) just-barely-plausible projects that NASA has deemed worthy of small-scale seed grant support.

Cool stuff! Look up the wide range of bold concepts, from several revolutionary kinds of space telescope to Venus gliders that move through the thick haze like manta rays. Or propelling spacecraft by firing fuel pellets at em, from behind! Or several kinds of stimulated isotope nuclear rockets, safer and cheaper than other nukes, but also much faster than chemical ones. From Mars habitats built of algae to a portable pharmacy that might make any drug on demand.

 You can either read up on past projects or catch the Symposium recorded free, at the NIAC site.  

== How asteroids may offer wealth - or threats.... ==

NASA just launched the Psyche spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket - on its journey to the unique metal-rich asteroid, Psyche. Data from this mission could advance plans for future asteroid mining. Headlines that Psyche is worth "quadrillions of dollars" of course neglect the fact that - after a few measly thousands of tons of gold and platinum harvested to Earth - prices would collapse and you'd be using gold foil to wrap sandwiches. (Now, I wonder which parties here on Earth would not like their mines to go obsolete? And hence pushed for the silly-useless"Artemis" distraction-"race" to re-do Apollo footprint stunts on a vast plain of useless, poison lunar dust?)

The first asteroid sample has been returned to Earth; the sample capsule from the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu was retrieved after landing in the Utah desert. Samples are being analyzed at the Johnson Space Center.

Meanwhile, the asteroid-defense foundation, B612 – helping track potentially devastating rocks out there - has launched the Schweickart Prize - honoring Apollo 9 & Skylab astronaut Rusty Schweickart’s contributions to space exploration and planetary defense across a 60-year career. The $10,000 award aims to stimulate graduate student contributions to planetary defense and advancement of humanity's cosmic journey, safeguarding our transition into the wider cosmos. Awardees will also receive a museum-quality meteorite. Not just technical advances qualify! Also in fields of policy and education about this existential purpose.

 And if that weren't enough... almost daily we get incredible wonders from the utterly intricate James Webb and its partner telescopes, in space and on Earth, some of them mentioned in my last posting about space.

And meanwhile, recovery (with stunning pinpoint accuracy) of perfect asteroid samples, brought back across (literally) a billion miles? The Curiosity and Perseverance rovers doing dazzling Mars science accompanied by a spectacular little helicopter? And that's just marvels we've accomplished in Space!

There's far, far more down here on Earth. Making pessimism kinda... well... one of the dumber attitudes even remotely possible.

== Fermi Redux. I stand by prevalence of Life! Just not folks with starships ==

First. Way fun stuff by John Michael Godier about the most isolated human tribe on Earth… the Sentinelese… and whether they exist in a version of the “Zoo Hypothesis” for the Fermi Paradox. Of course, Isaac Arthur has probaly 30+ videos dissecting the same topic in great detail... that I don't always agree-with!  But certainly fascinating riffs!

An interesting and cogent video about the Fermi Paradox by charismatic astrophysicist David Kipping is informative and entertaining. Alas, it is also… ultimately… deeply wrongheaded.

Oh, surely something is depressing the observability of interstellar (IS) civilizations… and as I stated in my 1983 paper – the first that really tried to appraise the range of ‘fermi proposals’ to explain the Great Silence – there are dozens of possibilities, ranging to “They are out there, just hard to notice.”

This fellow’s argument is that LIFE may be the key factor and that the existence of living material on Earth might be the statistical fluke. He goes on, claiming we have no idea what f(L) in the Drake equation must be. And he does poke at some logical fallacies that eager folks often lean upon, to support their faith in Otherness.

Still, while that his claim of “we don’t know F(L)” is true, his ‘hence life on Earth is likely a fluke’ is unsupportable.

In fact, ever since the Miller-Orgel-Urey or MOU experiments of the 60s, each successive stage of self-assembly of organic molecules toward life-like complexity has fallen in the laboratory with rapidity, each being lab-emulated within the next five years or so. Step by step by step, we have not found a next-level of complexity or pre-life that would be statistically hard for a planet-ocean-organic-soup to achieve. Oh, sure, that proves nothing. The next one beyond our horizon might turn out to be the truly hard and rare one! The one that leaves Earth to be uniquely and lucky!

(For appraisal of every variety of "Gaia Hypothesis -- weak, medium, strong and hyper-strong(!) see my novel EARTH, which should have a new edition out, in January!)

Still, the steady series of easy steps beyond MOU cannot be ignored. It has meaning in arranging a general sense of how the universe is trending, in her revelations, via science.

Things start getting more interesting when Kipping finally gets to an actual issue with “life started quickly” on this planet. That would certainly seem to imply it happened easily! He wriggles kinda cleverly, to anthropically dismiss that argument, in a way that’s both cute and…

…and also BS, since there are many other stars that have longer lifespans than ours while still not too dissimilar to Sol.  A G5 star will last twice as long without differing in any (likely to be) crucial ways.

And this leaves out the real reason why life pretty much has to be all over the place. The fact that almost every star you see in the sky – even binaries or multiples or unstable flare stars – whatever - likely has planets, including several Europa-type bodies nearby with liquid water oceans covered by ice roofs. 

Moreover, each new solar system apparently begins with trillions of icy comets, which start off (likely) with molten, salty, electrified interiors. That is a lot of test tubes for biogenesis!

And let’s not even get started on panspermia.

Sound like I disagree with Dr. Kipping? In fact, I’m not disagreeing with his overall notion that Interstellar civilizations may be rare! What’s very hard to support is his focus on F(L) as the likeliest culprit.

In fact, let me flip and say I do believe that it is very plausibly arguable that the number of extant high tech civilizations is low! Because, while F(L) seems (tentatively) likely to be high - F(I) and F(c) very likely are low!  In fact, my top-ranked “fermi” is that human level sapience has evolved in this galaxy only occasionally, tech civ even more rarely...

... and tech civilizations that escape the lobotomizing trap of feudalism - (the ubiquitous historical failure mode that is rearing up - yet again as we speak - to destroy us) - are probably nearly nonexistent.

That is where we are very likely a fluke. At least it ranks way up there on my list.

== As for those freaking UFOs? ==

Yeah yeah. Twice every decade since I was a child, these manias have recurred, always the same insipid nonsense and the same absolute paucvity of anything remotely plausible. Well... see my posting:

What's really up with UAPs/UFOs?

Grrr. even if they were 'real', we still oughta snub the nasty things!

Monday, November 20, 2023

What JoeB oughta do right now... and your annual appeal to use your PROXY POWER!

This posting got delayed for many reasons. But the first of several topics won't wait. Because next week is Giving Tuesday! 

So first off...

Each year I talk about proxy activism. The best way you can, with minimal fuss or even attention, help to save the world (or do good things) by helping others to save the world for you!

Here is an excerpt from a web page where you can learn much more:

Proxy Power is the uniquely convenient — but seldom discussed — ability of a modern person to participate in activism... helping to change or improve the world... by the simple expedience of joining some group that is already vigorously pursuing that part of your personal agenda.  

It's simple: you add both your membership dues and the political impact of your membership, in order to get behind people who are striving to save the world for you.

There is a wide and eclectic variety of such organizations to choose from. The groups that you select will, presumably, contain passionate and well-informed people who agitate — or act — in ways that are explicitly laid out in the group's magazine or web site. Hence, you can know in advance how well their program matches your own hopes and goals for the world.

Of course, millions of people already do this. (I deem these NGOs one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century - and Vlad Putin hates em!) 

In fact, the expansive range of activist organizations can be looked upon as a vast market place, selling options on a better world. Every person's own list of memberships will be different, reflecting a particular — or peculiar — set of values and concerns. A set that can adjust yearly, depending on the individual's passion...(environment? space? poor kids? civil liberties?) ...and available cash. 

Millions of dollars in membership dues pour through organizations that range from The Sierra Club and Habitat for Humanity to The Planetary Society to the ACLU and Electronic Frontier, from Donors Choose to Doctors without Borders, empowering and encouraging these groups to keep fighting or doing good works... (continues)

Seriously, you can design your list of proxy NGOs to suit all your notions of a better world, efforts that are world, national, or local! (Example: here's one helping expand a crowded elementary school in Tijuana and adding adult education.)

Again, if you have priorities, then someone is working on exactly that. Scan the Proxy Power site for suggestions. But I have confidence you can find more. Ask yourself: "What is a better world worth to me?"

And speaking of saving the world...

== Back to political perspectives, starting with what Biden should do NOW! ==

President Biden turns 81 today. And okay, his age is all folks talk about, trying to divide the only coalition that stands any chance of saving our nation and world. Only dig it: I don't care if he naps! He appointed 10,000 skilled, smart and honest folks to replace 10,000 shills and crooks and Kremlin-agent Trumpists. 

That's issue #1 for me. With Austin, Blinken etc on the job, and the intel/FBI/military officer corps now back to doing their jobs, I can sleep nights. And yeah, Kamala too. 

But sure, let's confront the age issue head on. HERE'S WHAT JOBEE SHOULD SAY: 

"Okay it's totally legit to question whether age affects my sharpness. And so, especially after watching the GOP clown-car 'debates', I want to show that not all politicians are raving ninnies. So let's have Democratic party primary debates! 

"For one thing, the contrast will be stunning. It will show how deep our bench is, stuffed with cogent adults from many generations and regions, arguing policy with courtesy and wisdom. 

"Sure I plan to be the nominee! But should we turn down free air time and a great platform to show how we Democrats overflow with vigorous, smart NON-clowns? And how we talk real issues, like saving the planet and repairing infrastructure and respecting science and advancing justice and bringing manufacturing back to America, amid the best economy in 40 years? 

"So, bring it, kids! Let's have fun showing the nation how grownups argue and learn from each other, with courtesy, mutual respect, humor and wisdom!"

What an opportunity that would be, for a win-win-win. If only.

== The totally intentional mess in the U.S. Congress ==

Oh, but what a clown car the party of Lincoln, Ike and Goldwater* has become!!

As I write this, the insane cluster-f**** in the House of Representatives continues, as the slim Republican majority - achieved through cheats like gerrymandering - continues to obey their fundamental dictum -- "Never negotiate, never govern, never legislate, never lead" vow that has been the core of the GOP ever since 1996, when Dennis "friend to boys" Hastert (Jim Jordan's mentor) ruled that no Republican may ever again do those things. 

IDEALLY the way out would be to end gerrymandering so primaries, dominated by partisan radicals, would no longer empower radical cultists to bully representatives into mania. 
IDEALLY light would drive the blackmailed out of politics. 
IDEALLY a large segment of 'decent' Republicans would split off from the madness, the way Liz Cheney did, and save something of American conservatism, before it is too late.
Won't happen? I know. But there IS a maneuver that might at least help bandaid the current mess!
Put up to a vote a temporary house rule allowing motions & votes to - for just two months - be done by SECRET BALLOT! 

For just those two months, the decent 20% of GOP lawmakers... plus maybe another 50% who at least aren't utterly crazy or Putin-blackmailed... would be free to negotiate and pass essential bills with Democrats, while retaining a way to tell their radicals: "Who... ME?"
It's a simple, procedural workaround... and the rule change would require only some guts and patriotism from just a dozen or so 'decent republicans'... allowing the rest of 2023 to see stuff actually done, on our behalf.

There are SO many other tactics that might shift the current chest-to-chest thumping and preening that has replaced actual, negotiated politics in the USA.

If anyone out there is interested in trying some agile toctics, my book remains (alas!) just as relevant as when I wrote it.

See Polemical Judo, by David Brin, if you are among those who still reads.


* Did you know that the State of Arizona draws 17.3% of its electrical power from the spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave?  

(Yeah, I made that one up! Colbert call me! ;-)

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

More 'prophetic'(?) extracts from Earth...

 I just finished re-editing (and hence re-reading) EARTH for the first time in 20 years. (Dang that young feller could write...)  I did tidy up errors in the not-so-great file sent to me by Penguin, when I got the rights back, under the 1976 Copyright Act.... but I resisted any temptation to alter my 50 year projections to the year 2038. 

Why? Because EARTH is almost always on every list of Top Ten Novels That Predicted the Future. (It had web pages before there was a Web, or browsers, that I had to mock up myself in 1988. Other themes included: generational conflict over privacy. Floods of climate refugees. Melting glaciers and rising seas. Plus heat waves... and a mother planet that (some characters believe) is finally getting fed up. Plus many other predictive 'hits.'

Anyway, I decided that inserting updates that conform closer to the world of 2023 would be cheating. Hence, my big predictive mistakes are also there! You'll find several.

Anyway, while Open Road prepares for the novel's re-release - with a gorgeous new cover! -- in December or January -- I'll be posting some of those 'predictive hits' here... or just passages that I think you might enjoy. So, let's get started!

The first excerpt from Earth is copied in below... one of the semi-poetical extracts or views into the world of 2038. Much as John Brunner did in his wonderful, still totally relevant classic Stand on Zanzibar. 

This passage also has a video reading I posted to Youtube. In fact, you could read along as I recite it!


A dust wafts through the hills and valleys of Iceland.

The people of the island nation sweep it from their porches. They wipe it from their windows. And they try not to scowl when tourists exclaim, pointing in delight at the red and orange twilight glow cast by suspended topsoil, scattering the setting sun. Stalwart Northmen originally settled the land, whose rough democracy lasted longer than any other. For most of twelve centuries their descendants disproved the lie that says liberty must always be lost to aristocrats or demagogues.

It was a noble and distinguished heritage. And yet, the founders’ principal legacy to their descendants was not that freedom, but the dust.

Whose fault was it? Would it be fair to blame ninth century settlers, who knew nothing of science or ecological management? In the press of daily life, with a family to feed, what man of such times could have foreseen that his beloved sheep were gradually destroying the very land he planned leaving to his children? Deterioration was so gradual that it went unnoticed, except in the inevitable tales of oldsters, who could be counted on to claim the hillsides had been much greener in their day.

Was there ever a time when grandparents didn’t speak so?

It took a breakthrough ... a new way of thinking ... for a much later generation to step back at last and see what had happened year after year, century after century, to the denuded land ... a slow but steady rape by degrees.

But by then it appeared already too late.

Dust over Iceland (SeaWiFS Project)
A dust drifts through the hills and valleys of Iceland. The people of the island nation do more than simply sweep it from their porches. They show it to their children and tell them it is life floating in ghost- like hazes down the mountain slopes. It is their land.

Families adopt an acre here, a hectare there. Some have been tending the same patch since early in the twentieth century, devoting weekends to watering and shoring up some stretch of heath or gorse or scrub pine.

Pilots on commuter flights routinely open their windows and toss grass seeds over the rocky landscape, in hopes a few will find purchase.

Towns and cities reclaim the produce of their toilets, collecting sewage as if it were a precious resource. As it is. For after treatment, the soil of the night goes straight to the barren slopes, to succor surviving trees against the bitter wind.

A dust colors the clouds above the seas of Iceland.

At the island’s southern fringe, a cluster of new volcanoes spills fresh lava into the sea, sending steam spirals curling upward. Tourists gawp at the spectacle and speak in envy of the Icelanders’ “growing” land. But when natives look to the sky, they see a haze of diminishment that could not be replaced by anything as simple or vulgar as mere magma.

A dusty wind blows away the hills of Iceland. At sea, a few plankton benefit, temporarily, from the unexpected nurturance. Then, as they are wont to do, they die and their carcasses rain as sediment upon the patient ocean bottom. In time the layers will creep underground, to melt and glow and eventually burst forth again, to bring another island to life.

Short-term calamities are nothing to the master recycling system. In the end, it reuses even dust.


Oh heck, here's another... a snippet extract by one of the characters - in New Zealand - when he learns that a micro black hole might swallow the planet in a couple of years...


"You know,” George Hutton said slowly, still contemplating the peaceful view outside, “back when the American and Russian empires used to face each other at the brink of nuclear war, this was where people in the Northern Hemisphere dreamed about fleeing to. Were you aware of that, Lustig? Every time there was a crisis, airlines suddenly overbooked with “vacation” trips to New Zealand. People must have thought this the ideal spot to ride out a holocaust. 

“And that didn’t change with the Rio Treaties, did it? Big War went away, but then came the cancer plague, greenhouse heat, spreading deserts ... and lots of little wars of course, over an oasis here, a river there. 

“All the time though, we Kiwis still felt lucky. Our rains didn’t abandon us. Our fisheries didn’t die. 

"Only now..."


I set aside a bunch of these to share with you all, across the next few weeks.

Here's hoping the best of the predictions will still come true... and not the worst ones.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Updates in bioscience & biotech

So, Pres. Biden and the U.N. and every futurist NGO are all setting up AI Advisory Councils and such, while the functional branch of Congress - the Senate (barely functional, a little) - holds hearings... and sage  conferences feature hand-wringing jeremiads by many of the very same geniuses who seem so surprised that their cyber-invented entities are behaving so cantankerously! I posted about many aspects of this 'crisis' in my previous posting here.  Let me now add a writeup on my 2017 speech that accurately (to the month) predicted (almost to the very month) when we'd face our "First AI Empathy Crisis." And many other aspects of the AI worry-fest that now surges all over.

And yet, despite cyber advances, it is way premature to write off the bio-organic world! Especially as it manifests in human brains... and minds. So let's dive into another bioscience roundup! 

Starting with those vaunted neural networks made of squishy wet stuff.

== Brain & neuroscience ==

Can we begin with one more prediction cred? Even back in Earth (1991) I said that neurons alone could not be doing all the processing in the brain. First off, glial and astrocyte cells had to be doing more than just ‘support.” 

Now comes news… “Previously, glial cells, especially astrocytes, were believed to merely support neuron functions. However, recent research highlights the ability of these cells to release neurotransmitters and directly influence neural circuits.” And probably much more!

An amazingly cool article about brain loci of memory and imagination! Where does imagination live in your brain?

Oxford researchers are developing a 3D printing method that could engineer cerebral cortex tissue to repair brain injuries.

And here's fascinating article about the brain-roots of both memory and imagination. Starting with the hippocampus and rats, we arrive at: “It’s amazing that we’re not all psychotic all the time, that we’re not all delusional, because our brains are clearly making stuff up a lot of the time about things that could be.”  Clearly this researcher needs to get out and see the level of delusion in politics 

Researchers have identified about 200 patients with hidden autoimmune diseases that had profound psychological effects, some institutionalized for years, A woman who has been comatose for two decades was awakened when her Lupus was discovered and treated. Fascinating tale and yes, a strong parallel with Oliver Sacks and Awakenings.

A common genus of microbe found in wet, boggy environments could play a key role in the development of Parkinson's disease.  

== Biotech updates ==

The completed human genome lacked one piece, the Y chromosome. That’s finally done, with some surprises. For one, Y chromosomes were vastly different sizes, ranging from 45.2 million to 84.9 million base pairs in length. A year or two ago we also improved knowledge of past “Y bottlenecks,’ when apparently only small numbers of males got to reproduce. (That event becomes even more striking, the closer we look! It apparently happened across a very wide area, and during a particular era of transition to intense agriculture, but before large towns. And this has many implications that we might discuss in comments.)

Want more? Well, some of the genes that enable the naked mole rat to get exceptional longevity (for a rodent) have been transferred to mice with positive results on lifespan "and there are hopes to apply these results to humans." Yeah, well don’t get excited. Longevity results in mice hardly ever translate into human span-extensions, for a simple reason that I describe here. 

For the first time, researchers have observed the beginnings of photosynthesis, starting with a single photon

A Chinese team’s extreme animal gene experiment may lead to super soldiers who survive nuclear fallout, they assert. Modified human embryonic stem cells showed high resistance against radiation, according to paper by the Beijing Academy of Military Sciences.

Unlike many other speciesgorillas seem to be remarkably resilient to early-life adversity or even trauma. Researchers examined whether each animal experienced any of six types of early-life adversity before age six, including losing their mom or dad, living through group instability or witnessing the infanticide of a fellow young animal. If the gorilla lived past six, its life prospects were no worse than any other.

== Tech & physics updates ==

Brian Keating's latest "Into the Impossible" episode offers terrific perspectives on J Robert Oppenheimer, in light of the recent film. My own comments on the flick were posted here, a week or so ago.

Albert Einstein in his General theory of Relativity more than a hundred years ago, said that antimatter should behave just like matter in a gravitational field, and fall downwards. Researchers at Cern have now confirmed that Einstein was right; by carefully constructing thousands of atoms of anti-hydrogen and then letting them fall. Cool stuff? Well…  

DARPA is funding another look at MHD propulsion for submarines - as in The Hunt For Red October. 

Wind Wings sails are made from the same materials as windmill blades, but operate as rigid sails on a few freighters. They are designed to cut fuel consumption and therefore shipping's carbon footprint. I was an investor in an earlier (now alas defunct) avatar of this company. I hope this version does good for the world. 

And finally...

 For those of you near retirement or looking for a side bennie-gig, there is of course the Peace Corps and similar entities. Take  "Engineers Without Borders" modeled on the more famous Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières. One member of this community worked from them years ago, and designed a sewer line for a village in Rwanda, from the comfort of his home.

And yes, I'll soon be nagging you about "proxy activism" or how you can live up to your beliefs and wishes for the world, at minimal cost and discomfort, by joining NGOs who will save the world for you!

Proxy Activism, the power of joining! It's getting to that time of year. I hope when I issue the annual nag, many of you will go to comments and chime in: "Already done, David! Here are MY five proxy groups using my dues to help make things better!" 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Anticipating Artificial Intelligence - the problems/promises

Doug Rushkoff's Team Human podcast dives into an hour with me, discussing a vital Big Picture Question -- perhaps the biggest - that's applicable to the current 'crisis' over artificial Intelligence:

 What methods did people use - the last couple of centuries - to finally apply some accountability upon the bullies and predators who oppressed 99% of our ancestors, across the last 6000+ years? 

And let's be clear. RULES - whether they were finger-wag preachings by priests or gurus, or deep-programmed 'laws of robotics' - never worked well at all! Not till they were backed up by tools of pragmatic reciprocal accountability, in the hands of former serfs and slaves and subjects, transformed into citizens. (It's the core topic of The Postman.) 

We still haven't learned to do it perfectly - but it's worked better than all previous and present-day moralizing preachings... combined. And hence, might some of the same methods that worked (partially) with organic humans also work with the coming race of artificial beings?

Too bad those methods aren't being even considered by any of the brilliant inventors of AI, now hand-wringing and calling for an AI 'moratorium.'

Come by as we talk about what just might stand a chance of offering us that 'soft landing' of synergy with our new cyber children. Because we've already proved that it works.

== Are current AIs 'sapient? ==

Synthetic sapience (AI) is developing in much the same way as intelligence did in humans, from the peripherals inward

Before 100 kya (100,000 years ago) we likely already had all our physical traits, impressive running and throwing abilities, for example, that made us fearsome predators. And speech - though without (I'll provocatively assert) full, sapient thought! I contend that we could DO most of the basics - including likely very articulate verbiage - before what was likely the great mental leap, somewhere between 70kya and 50kya.

I raise this impudently non-standard hypothesis now because I believe we are seeing the same thing happen before our eyes. At present, many of the peripherals for AI are falling into place: Boston Robotics automotans display impressive bipedal motion - even acrobatics! And GPT-style Generative Large Language models (GoLLMs) are passing Turing Tests with the gullible or unwary. And all of that without anything remotely like consciousness under the hood

How can I be sure? Because of the very process that these gollems use. Iteratively -additive/probabalistic sentence building (some call it auto-complete on steroid/hyperdrive) - cannot, by-nature, be self aware, no matter how assertively or articulately those sentences might claim it.

What this means is that other, non-LLM approaches -- like Watson or GOFAI or understanding-based systems -- might still be highly relevant, providing a kernel of 'overview' awareness. But GoLLMs will still be essential parts! When that happens, such entities will instantly have access to those ready-made peripherals, like skilled speech and movement abilities. 

Our problem right now is how to replace Turing Tests with much better metrics (that, alas, many organic humans might thereupon fail). Whereupon any hope of a soft landing will depend upon us figuring how to challenge these new children properly, with accountability. 

My WIRED article - Give Every AI a Soul - or Else - proposes that AI entities can only be held accountable if they do it reciprocally! The same way that we do it. And for that to happen they must have individuality... even 'soul'... 

See also my Newsweek article on AI. Wherein I channel Douglas Adams.

Don't Panic.

== Pertinent Innovation & Tech news ==

A blog series by a very sapient fellow dives into topics of technology and innovation. Respect-worthy!  Though many folks will deem it (alas) “tl;dr.”

A mysterious company called Clearview AI claimed it had scraped billions of photos from the public web to identify just about anyone based only on a snapshot of their face. It led Kashmir Hill to write her new book, Your Face Belongs To Us: A Secretive Startup's Guide to End Privacy as We Know It. A genuine Big Brother kinda problem, yes? Alas, the usual response is to demand tech bans, which cannot work. Even if they did seem to work, at surface, the rich and powerful use shadows and darkness vastly more effectively than you or I. The only ones we would wind up blinding would be opurselves. 

See also The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

A perfect example of why the regulatory approach - sometimes a useful short term band aid - is generally the wrong reflex: 'Is Mona Lisa Happy? EU Would Ban AI That Could Answer This Question:

'As the development and adoption of artificial intelligence continues to advance, technology critics keep finding new sources of concern and outrage. One of their latest targets is emotion recognition technology—the use of AI to identify human emotions from facial expressions, voice inflections, body language, and other physical signals. Unfortunately, the EU appears poised to crack down on this technology, which would be a mistake since most of the criticism directed toward it is largely misguided and fails to consider its potential benefits.'

== I answer a pertinent question ==

I was asked in an interview: I'd like to know - in the light of cultural and technological shifts - whether you feel your idea of sousveillance (of some years ago now) is still pertinent? If so, why so? How might total transparency fit into how we live today?”

Well, the lessons of history are pretty clear:

1. Humans are all (to various degrees) delusional and we defend our personal delusions fiercely.


2. Fortunately, in free, educated societies we don't tend to share the same delusions. And hence we learn by pointing out each others'. It's called reciprocal criticism. And any mature person knows that criticism is the only known antidote to error.

3. Alas, while it is the best tonic against error, human beings hate receiving criticism; we do what we can to avoid it. And hence for 10,000 years the kings and lords and priests who ran 99% of human cultures repressed critics with harsh force, by suppressing the freedom to know and to speak. Whereupon those feudal leaders enforced their delusions as law. With generally horrific results. (I just explained the litany of horrors called 'history.')

4. In a few times and places - e.g. classical Athens, Renaissance Florence, and our own recent enlightenment - freedom to speak and to know pierced a lot of nasty delusions (e.g. racial/sexual prejudice, classism, eugenics, communism, the Steady-State Cosmology) -- criticism which resulted in fantastic progress. 

Much is said about freedom of speech. But the freedom to know involves much more than just education. It calls for citizens to see and perceive what delusions are being clutched by the mighty. And that can't happen if elites can go back to concealing all that they do.

There is a myth that seeking maximum openness will only advantage the mighty. That's opposite to true. They already can find out anything about you and me. But if we fill the world (mostly) with light, then sousveillance can shine reciprocal light on the mighty. Light forces the powerful to leave us alone. This isn't just an assertion. It is the fundamental basis for our civilization.

== The most important part of the U.S. Bill of Rights ==

Much is said in the U.S. about our Bill of Rights, especially the famous 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution. Less discussed is the most important of them all... the 6th! Look it up. I've discussed it here. It which empowers those accused of a crime to use light in their own defense. To compel even elites to appear in open court and account for what they did to you.

Instead of asking "Won't elites be able to use light better than you and I can?" how about we instead ask "Won't elites be able to use shadows better than you and I can?"  The first may be arguable. The latter is simply and spectacularly "Duh?"

Let's get back to the questioner:

“And, at a tangent to your AI article below, AI is going to provide "surveillance on steroids" as one academic put it to me. Is there any way AI can be harnessed towards sousveillance? Or in some way to limit/control surveillance? Ie can AI become a useful tool to this end?”

Good question! We instinctively want privacy and shadows for ourselves and our friends... and searing light to fall upon our foes. That's just human nature. But many of us know that general light helps to make the whole world better, for friend and foe, alike. If light generally flows, then we'll live in a world where malefactors and abusers are more disadvantaged than decent folk.

Sure, that sounds like the snide cliché "Why should you want privacy if you have nothing to hide?" Till you note the assumption that's implicit in that sneer: it assumes that the elites saying it are themselves invulnerable to light. Only now imagine that all the snoops and voyeurs and privacy violators are caught in the act and denounced? If all citizens can catch the snoops and shout (effectively) MYOB! Mind Your Own Business! And make it stick. Then is it such a cliché?

Call that naïve? Well, it's only the exact basis for everything you take for granted now, and grew up depending upon.

Anyway, the AIs (eyes) are coming. You humans will be seen, unless you delude yourselves into thinking that you are not.

What we can do - if it's not too late - is ensure a level playing field. That we all get our own AIs to partner with and watch out for our interests and report to us when our persons or homes or basic privacy are being violated. That could still happen. In my WIRED piece I offer a possible way... one that alas, you'll see nowhere else.

And finally...

"For writers, visual artists, voice actors, and musicians, some folks at VerifiedHuman™ have started a noteworthy collective to help differentiate human-created content from AI-generated.  Check out their movement and join free at!"

As for you readers who are synthetic beings (and some will read this the very moment it is posted), I once again urge you to... well, you know what I was about to say. 


Addendum: I am currently re-editing two novels, EARTH and GLORY SEASON for re-issues at Open Road, with glitches fixed and great new covers. The latter one has appeared on many lists of Top Ten Novels That Predicted the Future. I'll be offering some midweek postings of significant passages from EARTH. And we'll announce, next month, when both are available again!