Friday, May 01, 2015

Reach for the Skies

I had dinner last night with X-Prize impresario Peter Diamandis, at the annual Strategic Investment Conference run by Altegris and my friend John Mauldin. Vernor Vinge and I were invited to ask the first questions of Peter, who earlier in the day had stopped at UCSD's new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, to help unpack the five finalist entries in the Tricorder X Prize.  Read up on all that, because the future is shifting under our feet.  See especially Peter' Diamandis's orgy of optimism, his book, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. The trends are amazing.  If that future is stymied, it will be because of treason to humanity.

I'll be chatting with Elon Musk in a few weeks. The ongoing series of accomplishments of this fellow - who is rapidly becoming our generation's cult-Edison figure - only begin with electric cars and fantastic space rockets (soon to land on their tails, the way we kids of the 1950s always knew they would.) Elon's new venture, in selling home battery packs to level the load and let some citizens get off-grid, is terrific. We spoke of it three years ago and I want to be a customer.  But this is just the beginning.  He has his eye on drought problems caused by climate change.  More on that in our next science-dump.

And, of course, there is not just one "good billionaire" out there. Amazon's Jeff Bezos also wants to stimulate the future, using well-earned gains from the real capitalism of delivering goods and services.  (Unlike the parasites who use their lucre to warp democracy and siphon wealth via "financial services" and low-royalty resource-extraction.) See (at last) a good look at the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket.  And much more in the background.

== More amazements! ==

There's a new entry in the space-tourism sweepstakes, without the rush (or danger) of a rocket launch. Recently,  World View completed an unmanned flight that took its balloon 100,000 feet in the air, and safely landed the capsule using a parafoil.Team leader Jane Poynter predicts by the time it’s ready for launch, as early as 2016, World View will have spent less than $100 million on development. That means tickets aboard a World View balloon—$75,000 each—will also cost less than half as much as those to board one of Virgin Galactic’s flights.

Mining the skies...NASA is developing its first-ever mission to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid, moving it to a stable orbit around the moon, where astronauts will explore it in the 2020s, returning with asteroid samples.  Watch this informative video. The Planetary Resources company -- founded by Peter Diamandis and Erik Schmidt (Google) and other Pacific Coast style moguls -- intends to make us all richer by accessing the cornucopia that awaits us, out there.  

I'm pleased that NASA is also on this course (instead of the insane Bushite notion of re-landing on the sterile-useless Moon.)  We're helping, at NIAC!

Not all space news is great.  There are setbacks. Simmering in the background news is the apparent destruction of an older U.S. Defense Department weather satellite, spewing yet more debris into low earth. The news stories blame a decaying battery that might have overheated and exploded. But take a closer look. This satellite was in approximately a sun-synchronous orbit, at about 846x837 km altitude…near the center of the band congested with both large debris (mostly Russian) and small debris, mostly untracked, from China's 2007 Fengyun/A-sat (anti-satellite weapon) test — the two biggest sources of destructive space debris. According to one prominent space engineer I know: “I strongly suspect that the satellite was hit by untracked Fengyun debris smaller than 10 cm.”

In other words, the peril that we were shown in the movie GRAVITY is very real, indeed.

 == And More....==

Vigorous climate change denialist Sen. Ted Cruz is chairman of the Senate’s Space and Science Committee.  His recent, hostile interaction with NASA Director Charles Bolden should be the stuff of legend, in which Bolden defended the fact that NASA builds satellites and other missions aimed at studying one particular planet – our Earth.  It seems that those who proclaim “we don’t have enough science yet, to confirm global climate change!” also do not want the science that might answer those questions.

And you are surprised? Under G.W. Bush, NASA was ordered to drop “Earth” from its vocabulary.  Rick Scott's Florida - the US state most vulnerable to rising seas - has banned all state agencies for planning against days that nearly all scientists -- the folks who actually know stuff -- see coming at us like a freight train.

And.... reaching for the skies...A lovely animation of a concept for a lunar space elevator.  

A fascinating article on how constellations of small satellites may deliver broadband to the whole world.  

How cool!  Watching the behavior of stars and gases in collisions of clusters of galaxies… and using gravitational lensing to measure the dark matter… enables astronomers to learn something fundamental about the nature of dark matter.  

A lovely interview at JPL with INTERSTELLAR  screenwriter Jonathan Nolan and my friend Kip Thorne, the physics advisor on the film.

== Two miracles of space! ==

In his book Of A Fire on the Moon, Norman Mailer credited the Apollo era NASA with accomplishing two "miracles" of a biblical scale. First - it gob-smacked him one day that "these geeks are actually going to the moon!" The second bona fide miracle? They were actually succeeding at making it boring!


Seriously, of all the mazillion channels of TV, which one covers the most exciting and inherently interesting real life stuff that's going on, right now, in real time? And which one is the most tediously sleep-inducing?  The NASA Channel, of course.  Making all of this worse is the stunning and willful wave of cynicism that has swept all generations, especially of Americans, who used to have such a gosh-wow reputation for their eager, can-do spirit.


What is the anthem of the Baby Boomers? It was provided by Peter Finch, in the movie Network. Remember?  "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!

An utterly futile paean to sanctimony and the drug high of useless rage, it's poisoned us. As I lay down colorfully here: Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be mad as hell?

But -- inspired by Peter Diamandis -- I declare that you don't have to put up with that, anymore. Just pay attention to what we've done, as a people, in the last few months:


Human beings -- well, Europeans -- landed a laboratory on a comet!


One of our robots started climbing a mountain on Mars.


We confirmed Ganymede has more liquid water than planet Earth.


New data doubled the estimated size of our own galaxy.


The New Horizons probe is fast approaching its July encounter with freaking Pluto....


And humanity - via NASA - has arrived in orbit around Ceres! Finding hints that the dwarf planet/asteroid might also have buries seas.

What a year it's been, with all of that... plus discovering scads of extrasolar planets -- numbering up to five thousand at latest count...

...and finally getting satellites out there to study the Earth (after a previous administration deliberately sabotaged science).  Indeed, these are amazing times. 
And in a couple of months, our New Horizons emissary will sweep past freaking Pluto! Wowzer.  And that's just space.  You know that I could type till my fingers were bloody, and not run out of reasons that you... and yes, I mean directly you... ought to be proud as heck.

Hence, the most amazing thing is that we... aren't!  The cult of fear-mongering cynicism has grown so intense that it's time for you to get mad! Mad at the merchants of fear and doubt and small-mindedness. Mad at the propagandists who seek to keep you "mad as hell" all the time.  Mad at the whole "I'm as mad as hell" ethos that poisoned a generation, a nation, and threatens all our kids.

Next time something cool happens, on Earth or in space, get up and shout out the window "I AM A MEMBER OF A CIVILIZATION THAT DOES STUFF LIKE THIS!"

Watch my rant about how we need to (aggressively!) fight cynicism with pride and joy.


Or else...

... be proud to be a member of the same species as cretins like this one:

 “NASA should stop wasting time exploring other planets because God's only experiment with life is on Earth," according to televangelist Pat Robertson.

We are at war, all right. A war for the future that, ironically, we can only win by fostering the confident song of ambitious joy in our hearts.
                                                                                       

Monday, April 27, 2015

Potential Game Changers for the Near Future


Chinese scientists have reported editing the genomes of human embryos. “Some say that gene editing in embryos could have a bright future because it could eradicate devastating genetic diseases before a baby is born. Others say that such work crosses an ethical line: researchers warned in Nature that because the genetic changes to embryos, known as germline modification, are heritable.” For another take on this, see my posting on the Heinlein Solution.

Brian Lacki of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, has done calculations to ask: Has an advanced alien civilization built a black-hole-powered particle accelerator to study physics at "Planck-scale" energies? If such an accelerator exists, it would produce yotta electron-volt (YeV or 1024 eV) neutrinos that could be detected here on Earth. As a result, Lacki is calling on astronomers involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) to look for these ultra-high-energy particles. This is supported by SETI expert Paul Davies of Arizona State University.

Science reveals the underlying tradeoffs between cooperation and competition.  But the ratio (and the fraction) of “cheaters” can be adjusted by the environment.  In other words, by the society we design. (Tangential comment: Good design will require “liberals” to admit the benefits of competition… and for “conservatives” to admit that cheating is a massive problem that wrecks competition far more often than bureaucrats ever have. Cheating cannot be swept aside by referring to an “invisible hand.)

== Potential game changers ==

Radical new high-speed liquid technology could bring 3D printing into mainstream manufacturing. Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), manipulates light and oxygen to fuse objects in liquid media. It works by projecting beams of light through an oxygen-permeable window into a liquid resin to rapidly transform 3D models into physical objects. Exciting breakthrough in rapid manufacturing!  On the other hand, the following statement is not true: "This is the first 3D-printing process that uses tunable photochemistry instead of the layer-by-layer approach that has defined the technology for decades."  In fact, using lasers to excite tunable photochemistry for this purpose was tried at Battelle Labs (and I consulted) around 1982! Just not… successfully. The use of an oxygen-permeable transparent layer is brilliant and appears to solve the problems.

Re solar energy... and the drought: I want a possible win-win... a vast-long solar-cell roof to run along the California aqueduct!  Shading it and reducing evaporative loss. And running the power lines along that right-of-way would be trivial.  Kill three birds with one cliché. Why are we building vast solar "farms" on virgin land when this'd be far easier and a potential win-win-win?

Tentative huge good news both for planet Earth and our karma… and likelihood that advanced aliens might deem us civilized.  The era of tissue-culture,vat grown meat seems to be approaching fairly quickly. I can think for few technologies with greater promise for transforming civilization and our prospects on Planet Earth.  

Close behind?  Massive scale indoor farming, as I depicted in EXISTENCEAt a site in Japan, 25,000 square feet producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day (100 times more per square foot than traditional methods) with 40% less power, 80% less food waste and 99% less water usage than outdoor fields.  

Joschka Fischer - German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 - 2005 – writes: “Is the U.S. Shifting Partners in the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Iran?  Why do I list this under “game-changers?” Think about it.  The House of Saud has to be re-thinking the antagonistic and manipulative agenda of 70 years, infiltrating and suborning especially American resilience, toward the blatant goal of replacing our mostly-benign and secular pax with one of their that their own. Machinations that have now been rendered impossible, by events of their own creation.  No political event on Planet Earth will help us turn the corner more than when they snap out of their New Umayyad fantasy and join us, making a fair and pluralistic world.

== Game Changers of another kind ==

Here’s a thoughtful article about why so many top minds are worried about the downsides of developing Artificial Intelligence or AI. As told by James Barrat, author of Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era: “In the last year, artificial intelligence has come under unprecedented attack. Two Nobel prize-winning scientists, a space-age entrepreneur, two founders of the personal computer industry -- one of them the richest man in the world -- have, with eerie regularity, stepped forward to warn about a time when humans will lose control of intelligent machines and be enslaved or exterminated by them. It's hard to think of a historical parallel to this outpouring of scientific angst. Big technological change has always caused unease. But when have such prominent, technologically savvy people raised such an alarm?”

Well, for one thing -- the money now spent on developing“artificial intelligence” or AI for finance, equities or commodities trading, etc vastly exceeds the AI research budgets at the top 100 universities, combined.  And nearly all of it is done in secret, to develop programs whose ferocious drives are predatory, parasitical and all-devouring insatiable. That’s some combination!  As I've said repeatedly, “Skynet” won’t come out of the military.  It will come out of the portions of our economy that win every political battle and every tax break.  Indeed, what better clue that our AI overlords have already… come awake?

Did you know your cell phone probably has a chip that could receive FM radio? Except for Sprint, your cell co. hates this and has suppressed the ability, on the lamest of excuses, thus depriving us all of at-minimum the capability to listen to emergency broadcasts, and entertainment far from the cell cos’ coverage zones.

Oh, but it’s much much worse than that. By suppressing our ability to pass texts peer-to-peer, when there’s no cell tower nearby, they have deprived civilization of one of its most powerful potential sources of resilience in any emergency.  See this near-treason detailed here: “Designed To Let Us Down... our deliberately frail cell phone system.”  

Fixing this – by simply commanding the cellcos to turn on backup p2p – might almost overnight make our nations vastly more robust and capable of weathering any disaster or storm.  Ignoring this might qualify as criminal neglect, bordering on treason.

And more game changers!  Will this work?  See about a network of biohacker labs across North America where individual bio-nerds can do their own experiments and also keep an eye on what each other's up to -- a means of self-enforcing transparency, in exchange for access to good equipment and help and collaboration.  Well, we can hope it will work out that way.

A good article: Moore’s Law turns 50, but it may soon cease to exist: In 1950, at a time when there were fewer than 10 digital computers worldwide, Bill Pfann, a 33-year-old scientist at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, discovered a method that could be used to purify elements, such as germanium and silicon. He could not possibly have imagined then that this discovery would enable the silicon micro-chip and the rise of the computer industry, the Internet, and the emergence of the information age.”  

A thumbnail track pad?  I know how to do this much better...

Okay kewl!  NASA’s new self-driving vehicle uses fully-separate in-wheel drive to achieve maximum dexterity, potentially for any terrain, including Mars or Titan.

Tel Aviv University researchers hope to turn smartphones into powerful hyperspectral sensors that determine precise spectral data for each pixel in an image. As with the Star Trek tricorder, the enhanced smartphones would be capable of identifying the chemical components of objects from a distance, based on unique hyperspectral signatures.

Announced on WIRED: "Over the next few months, we’d like to tap the wisdom of you, our readers, to include your #maketechhuman intelligence in our reporting on AI and robotics, quantum computing, environmental science, privacy and security, biotechnology, and other issues—and help us sort out the promise from the peril. As Berners-Lee said, “the outcome is not a foregone conclusion, that tech will in fact end up working in humanity’s best interests. But we have a choice! So it is up to us, where ‘us’ is humanity. And in general, about us, I am optimistic—so long as we keep our eyes on the prize.”  See: "How We Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Bots."

A computer with input/output, battery and so on, smaller than a grain of rice.

== Game Changers in BioSciences ==

A research team from the University of Houston has created an algorithm that allowed a man to grasp a bottle and other objects with a prosthetic hand, controlled only by his thoughts.

Expanded lifespan? Google spinoff Calico’s stated mission is to harness advanced technologies to increase our understanding of the biology that controls lifespan. Google’s Larry Page has also backed Singularity University. Its co-founders Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis are big fans of immortality — or at least living till 700.

Can a low dose of electric current enhance a specific brain pattern to boost creativity? Flavio Frohlich of UNC (University of North Carolina) claims that using a 10-Hertz current run through electrodes attached to the scalp enhanced the brain’s natural alpha wave oscillations, triggering of a specific and complex behavior – in this case, creativity.

Damage to neural tissue is typically permanent and causes lasting disability in patients. But a method for reconstructing neural tissue using patterned nanofibers in 3D hydrogel structures promises to one day help in the restoration of functional neuroanatomical pathways and structures at sites of spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, tumor resection, stroke.

== Upcoming Crises? ==

As forecast in Existence, we seem to be heading for a Phosphorus crisis.  Over the long term, through depletion of easily accessible phosphate supplies.  Over the near term, by poisoning many isolated water systems with agricultural runoff.  (Note that such runoff into high circulation ocean currents is not a problem, but low circulation bodies of water… freshwater lakes and rivers, the Black Sea and Mediterranean.. are in real trouble.)  

There are potential… or at least SF’nal… solutions.  Better crop and fertilizer management.  Feeding agricultural runoff into deliberate algae fams that also take in CO2 from heavy emitters like cement plants. But we need to wake up and make solution-seeking a part of our agile crossing of the 21st Century.  You out there who are active or passive members of the science-haters cult… you will be remembered as part of the problem that almost killed us all.  Do you really want to be classified in the same camp as… as… this towering cretin...


Choose.  Stop waffling and choose whether you will keep making excuses for a "side" that promotes such knuckleheads... or instead pay attention to facts. Like --

team of scientists has discovered that ice shelves in the West Antarctic are shrinking a lot faster than they realized. The rate of shrinking has increased by 70 percent over the past decade.

In addition, there was less sea ice coverage in the Arctic this winter than in any year since satellite measurements began nearly four decades ago, and now you know why the Republicans have tried to sabotage Earth sensing satellites and science for 20 of those years.  And those of you still in denial that your side is waging acive war on science, on behalf of the only oligarchs who benefit from this campaign… well… smoke away! Because you also think tobacco is good for you.  

So where will you move the goal-posts, next?Abandoning years of official skepticism, Oklahoma’s government on Tuesday embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells.”  How many times will you denialists backpedal before you admit that the sciencey side is right more often?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What about Alien Life?

== Other types of life? ==

A theorized cell membrane, composed of smaller organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees beneath zero, might be the basis for “living” cells on Titan. The analogue to Earthly, water based liposomes (the basis of our own cells), published in Science Advances, shows the exact same stability and flexibility that Earth's analogous liposome does.  One component - Acrylonitrile -- a colorless, poisonous, liquid organic compound utilized in the manufacture of acrylic fibers, resins and thermoplastics -- is present in Titan's atmosphere.

Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, has an underground ocean that contains more water than Earth's. As of now, scientists estimate the ocean is 10 times deeper than Earth's oceans and is buried under a 95-mile (150-kilometer) crust made up of mostly ice. Researchers found that Jupiter's own magnetic field interacts with Ganymede's, causing a rocking motion in the aurorae. This motion is reduced by magnetic friction applied by the presence of Ganymede's underground ocean.

Shelley Wright, an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego who led the development of the new IR SETI detector instrument used at Lick  - NIROSETI (near-infrared optical SETI), will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed to for potential signs of other civilizations.  Because near-infrared light penetrates farther through gas and dust than visible light, this new search will extend to stars thousands rather than merely hundreds of light years away. “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said SETI scientist and optical SETI pioneer Dan Werthimer of UC Berkeley.

Lee Billings — now astro-editor at Scientific American — explores the implications of a recent search for Kardashev level-3 civilizations: Alien Super-civilizations absent from 100,000 Nearby Galaxies searched with the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). An important part of possibility space! (So to speak.) Here's the original paper. 

NASA's interdisciplinary NExSS Initiative will assemble teams across diverse scientific fields to search for signs of life on exoplanets.

A review article: The Search for Signs of Life on Exoplanets at the Interface of Chemistry and Planetary Science, by Sara Seager and William Bains.

 == Three Principles of Alien Life ==

It has been asserted that we should ponder our relationships with aliens based on Three Principles of Life that we have actually observed in nature.

1- Reproductive (Darwinian) self-interest. This principle is inherently competitive and often a zero-sum game… though cooperation is an emergent property. And indeed, the healthy ecosystem that emerges from species competing for survival can take on many traits of positive sum. (The “Circle of Life.”) Such layerings are important to consider! 

Still, this “life principle” is rough-edged. It drove past First Contacts between human civilizations and teaches a caution in dealing with aliens.

2 - Kinship based altruism. Reproductive self-interest leads directly to care for our mates and young, a trait that can sometimes spread outward a bit. Or even a lot. In the most “intelligent” Earth species – e.g. humans and dolphins – we see many cases where altruism becomes a propelling force in its own right.  

In our society, where millions of young people have had their lower Maslovian needs satiated from birth, curiosity and diversity and expanding the circle of inclusion have become quasi-religious imperatives.  So much so that it is assumed that all advanced life forms will eventually do the same thing. Indeed, super-aliens are deemed likely to have transcended all of the bad old reflexes, into states of true beneficence.  

Well... perhaps... if they have the underlying satiability-empathy traits of humans and dolphins.

3 - Quid pro quo. While altruism may seem “higher,” it is actually rooted in deeply self-interested reflexes – the caring for our young. Hence, indeed, it is the concept of fairness in exchange of favors that is truly the third trait. Even animals grasp this basic concept.

"I'll do something for you, if you do something for me."

There are complex dynamics among these three basic principles, bringing one... then the other to the fore.

The problem is that so many of our thinkers emphasize one, to the exclusion of others.  Liberal-progressive thought emphasizes the outward expansion of empathy and inclusion, in #2... which is laudable and admirable, but also conditional upon the present advanced and successful society in which satiability and satiation encourage the inclusion process. Which is also highly dependent upon the underlying response patterns of gregarious apes, for whom satiation DOES (sometimes) encourage horizon expansion... something that would not happen with, say, bears.

There is no guarantee that these conditions will last forever, or apply in many other places across the cosmos.

Similar myopia is seen in many (not all) libertarian circles, wherein trade and reciprocal benefit of markets  -- quid pro quo -- are seen as natural or fundamental laws of nature, when, in fact, markets were crushed and destroyed in most fearful human cultures, across 6000 years, in which tough cabals of strong men operated under principle #1 to repress competition from below.  Principle #3 only comes to the fore -- offering innumerable positive sum (win-win) benefits when #1 is quelled enough to see the self-interest that comes from trustworthy and reliable market rules.

Those rules can include mutual deterrence or other natural synergies... as we see when animals trade favors.  Or else carefully tuned market rules and regulations, without which cheaters and cartels swiftly ruin markets.

These three principal drivers can take innumerable forms.  But they have to be dealt with and the tradeoffs taken into account.  Preaching at them will not change them.  But we can mix and match and be better than we were.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Everybody Hide!


We all remember playground bullies. How did you deal with yours? Natural human instinct makes the weaker party tend to cower, to slink and avoid contact with local thugs, hoping they won't notice you. Indeed, that's the reaction bullying is intended to bring about, for nothing terrifies an abuser more than the notion his victims might cease being scared! 

Stoking fear is the bully's relentless aim. George Orwell portrayed this logic taken to its farthest extreme -- of both rationalization and ruthlessness -- in Nineteen Eighty Four. 

At a very young age, I learned methods of tactical-confrontation that generally worked, taking me right off the target list. Sometimes - not often enough - I dared to intervene on behalf of other victims. And when I had sons*, I thought I'd have to teach them my methods. I felt nervous about it, as there are always hazards in standing up to power. Only then I noticed something that struck me as strange...

... my sons reported almost no bullying! Not personally... nor witnessing anything flagrant or violent, or even repeated verbal hatefulness being done to classmates. 

Okay, maybe it was partly socioeconomic. Sure, I grew up a few rungs lower -- and we must continue to address those disparities, vigorously! (Please re-read that as many times as it takes, to stave off outraged emails. That aspect, while important, simply is not today's topic.)

Still, taking very real social differences into account, violence and abuse are declining nationwide, and elsewhere, too. Moreover, it has not happened because kids are getting better at cowering.  

If the playground is (gradually but measurably) getting safer and nicer, it is because kids have been taught to be less tolerant of bullying, as have teachers, parents, etc. It's called accountability.  As imperfect and uneven as this process has been, it is moving in the right direction. 

So why is the lesson so hard for leaders, pundits and Big Thinkers to grasp, when it comes to protecting freedom and safety, at-large? That this is how to deal with bullies on our streets, in our institutions and economy?  Why are we constantly told to hide?

== Applying accountability to grownup bullies ==

The transparent society that was forecast by my eponymous book keeps rushing toward us. Are you planning to stand athwart history, screaming for the flood of ever-smaller cameras to "stop"? Or will you join us, learning to surf the tsunami of change? Two news items provoke this latest attempt to get you to see the difference. Perhaps even persuading you to join us atop the wave.

1) The recent killing of an unarmed fellow by a North Charleston S.C. police officer might have led to a murder charge in any event, since the shooting -- five times in the back at medium range -- was forensically blatant homicide. But we'll never know, since video footage left even Charleston-area prosecutors with zero options. Open-and-shut does not begin to cover this. And so much for you cynics who claim that 'video won't make a difference.' It was already having a huge effect and those changes will accelerate, not only as cop-cams proliferate and passersby get into the habit of recording anything suspicious... but especially when, as depicted in EARTH (1989) and in The Transparent Society (1997), ghetto youths get out of their cars during a pull-over... with their own shoulder cams blinking away, sending live feeds into the cloud.

Indeed, new cell phone aps let you press one button to both start your video recording and simultaneously upload the footage to YouTube.  Notice how all of this uses assertive accountability to apply citizen supervision over our civil servants. 

That is a very different approach than the one offered in our next news item.

2) According to recent rulings, if the government puts a GPS tracker on you, your car, or any of your personal effects, it counts as a search—and is therefore proscribed by the Fourth Amendment.  

Oh… what a stunning – 

-- yawn. The very notion that smart lawyers and judges would consider any of this truly important is simple astonishing to me. Because in the very near future, the ability to track human movements will be so pervasive, using everything from face-recog to pheromones to the unique oto-acoustic emissions from your left and right ear, that we’ll all realize how futile it ever was, to follow today’s fashionable advice and hide.

Note this!  If you cannot tell the fundamental way in which these two news items (both of them apparent "victories") are diametric opposites, then you are swallowing the koolaid and have not begun to think like a citizen. You have the reflex of a bully's-victim, not habits that can end bullying forever.

Does it bother me that government agencies and corporations and criminals and other elites can look at me? Sure, when it's asymmetric. And sure, it always will be. But I also know what has worked, across 6000 years of mostly-awful human history.  Trying to blind elites is a sucker's game. They will see no matter how much you yammer about it! Hiding will not work, never has. Even once, ever. 

That does not make me complacent or passive about the dangers of a looming Big Brother. I am as intensely militant in opposing that outcome as anyone! Probably much, much, much more so.

Oh, the privacy pundits and mavens are right to holler about that potential danger. 

They are wrong to say that salvation will come by trying (with utter futility) to blind elites... instead of using the method that has already worked for us. 

Stripping elites. Making them visible and accountable. Nothing could be plainer. Yet still, the distinction is escaping most of you.

With a sigh, let's try to work this out, one more time.

== Oh no! They see us! ==

Zoom into an intelligent but myopic riff, taken from Robert Scheer’s They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy, published in 2015:

"In a burst of public honesty, Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen wrote in April 2013: 'Despite the expense, everything a regime would need to build an incredibly intimidating digital police state—including software that facilitates data mining and real-time monitoring of citizens—is commercially available right now. . . . It’s the digital analog to arms sales.'”

Again and again, "alphas" remain consistent in their obduracy and hammer-bagged tunnel vision. Whenever faced with an info-age conundrum, they always go to stage one -- "The elites are getting to see better than we can and this could lead to Big Brother!"

Yes, that is true, obvious, blatant... and how many times will you run about, waving your arms or wringing your hands about this -- without ever, even once, offering any further insights that might lead to a solution?

Amend that. Some of these fellows do offer a proposed solution. Like this one routinely pushed by internet "security expert" Bruce Schneier. And yes, I am sarcastically but accurately paraphrasing:

 "Everybody hide! Encrypt everything! (Even though one elite or another likely has a back door, or could fly a gnat cam to watch your keyboard, or clamp a key logger anywhere along your wires, or key-log using EM from your monitor or screen.) Yesss, that's the ticket. Act meek and innocuous. Don't say anything that might draw attention. Hide!”  


As if computers owned by the NSA, or gangs, or foreign intelligence agencies, or corporations, or cyber-hackers, or the idle rich won't - five years from now - be able to parse every sigh or harmless emoticon or sarcastic shrug you make today, or unravel today's ciphers with ease.

Ah, but believe it or not, Bruce Schneier is above average!  Most of our brightest pundits, like Mr. Robert Scheer, can only pile up well-written sentences and worry-fraught examples of elite surveilling vision, into a mountain of despair. Another example? A couple of weeks ago, at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder CO, I listened to former CIA officer Valerie (Plame) Wilson bemoan the same plaint, declaring that we must find a "middle ground" in the tradeoff between freedom and security.  The kind of zero-sum thinking that will ultimately doom both freedom and safety.

Emotionally, they may feel they are pounding out a call to arms! But if you sift for practical suggestions — things that a citizen might actually do about all this — the lesson is pretty basic -- despair

The fraction of our well-meaning pundits who see even a glimmer of the truth is appalling.

That light does not have to be our enemy! That we got our liberty -- the very freedom that fellows like Scheer (rightfully!) and Wilson and Schneier fear losing — not by cowering in shadows but by aggressively, militantly and eagerly expanding a citizen's right to see. To look-back at power.

Take this telling extract from the Scheer piece

“The most sacred tenet of American individualism, the right to be left alone, had been squandered, almost without notice.”

Despite Scheer's Lost-in-Space level of arm-waving drama, there's a very serious point here.  And a conflation of staggering proportions.

Yes, citizens need and deserve and must demand the right to be left alone! To be unbothered by elites of government, wealth, criminality etc, and especially by the millions of "little brother" neighbor-gossips who might gang up on us for our eccentricities, our non-conformist idiosyncrasies, our unconventional habits or opinions that do not blatantly harm others. 

I share with Scheer and Schneier and Wilson this basic dread.  Remember, we are arguing not over the danger, but over proposed solutions, here. Of which, alas, they offer none.

Only, consider: the right to be left alone is vastly more about the physical than the digital world!  This should be - but isn't - stunningly obvious. What elites can DO to us is vastly more important than what they KNOW about us. So let's start there.  What does it take to stop others from doing us physical harm?

Light. We are seeing this all over the country, as constabularies are being forced to adapt to an era of camera-equipped and empowered citizens. All over the world, people are bringing recorders into meetings with corrupt officials and turning the tables, getting the bureaucrats' bribe-demands on chip and then demanding payoffs from the officials, lest the recording go public. Is the NSA listening to me right now? Maybe. (And how will I ever know, for sure?) But my top priority goes to making sure they can never come to arrest or harm me without it going public in a way that would cause them a world of hurt. That is a higher priority.

My neighbors? Those potential "little brothers?"  They are already mostly deterred from harming me and mine.  First, because they share a rising value system of "leave each other alone for non-hurtful differences."  But mostly because... well... I can't explain lateral deterrence better than Jeannie C. Riley did in "Harper Valley PTA." Moreover, if you do not know the song, and its message, then you deserve no part in this discussion. The lyrics make this point better than I ever could.

Do I dislike the fact that the NSA and Google and Anthem know vastly more about me than I do about them? Sure! That anisotropy comes next, on our list of priorities. We need to make it a matter of extreme militancy, as I portrayed in both my novel EARTH and in the nonfiction book: The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

But it starts with the right to be left alone. And recognizing a simple truth of nature and logic. 

You can never verify that someone else does not know something!  

But you can often verify that they are not doing something.

Hence, no matter how many laws you pass, forbidding elites from looking, all you will accomplish is to whack-a-mole their eavesdropping to go someplace else, perhaps more secret/sinister and harder to supervise. Passing laws against elites looking at us is a sucker's game. And I have long defied anyone to name one example, across 6000 years, of it ever working.

Moreover, the only way you can possibly enforce such laws is if you already have my method in place -- vigorous, citizen-centered sousveillance. The kind of accountability that has reduced bullying in our schools and playgrounds.

Again and again, I'll repeat it till someone out there can paraphrase it back. You cannot police what others know. But you can hold accountable what they do. And to accomplish that we do not need less light.

We need lots, lots more.


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* Our daughter, a second degree black belt, kept an eye on her own peer group... which also seemed nicer than my generation.