CONTRARY BRIN: Surveilance & technology

I was planning to publish today the final section (Part III) of “Aficionado” – a stand alone novella that’s part of EXISTENCE. Alas, my website host has flaked on me and I want folks to be able to follow up to the book’s page. (Suggested hosting alternatives are welcome, in comments.)

So, let me fill in with a little timely riff on surveillance tech.

First, many of you have already seen some of my postings about artificial Intelligence.  Here’s my Newsweek op-ed on the Chat-art-AI revolution. TONS more on the topic. 

But let’s zoom into…

== Light is coming… ==

UK enacts ownership registry for property held by foreign companies and to identify their true owners. It will seek to ensure criminals cannot hide behind secretive chains of shell companies. Oh, this move toward transparency will have a myriad holes that need to be patched under future scandals. But it is a huge step toward what I’ve demanded since late in the last century.  

Even more important, it will help corner the US into doing likewise… that is, if the GOP shills for criminal oligarchy are defeated, somehow.

Moreover, and I did not know this part! If you can’t prove who owns it, because you set up too many shell companies, the state will hold the property for you for five years, so that the proper owners can come forward and claim their property. After that set time, the state will sell it and take the proceeds to cancel public debt, much of it incurred because of the huge social costs of unaccountable shell corps.

Wow. It looks more and more like my “Declare Ownership!” treaty proposal! Which – (I assert) – could do more to save the world from a terminally stoopid world oligarchy AND zero-out the crippling public debt held by most nations – than any other action, almost overnight. Without inconveniencing honest citizens (even rich ones) even a little bit.

== More on the power of light ==

Is this evidence for the power of transparency? 50 US embassies have air quality monitors and tweet out the readings publicly. Including the embarrassing truth in capital cities whose regimes don’t want citizens to know.

Was it a useless gesture? “Cities that had a US embassy that set up one of these monitors and tweeted out air-quality data saw a decrease of PM2.5 particulates to the tune of 2 to 4 micrograms per cubic meter—compared to their air quality before getting the monitor and to other similar cities that do not have a monitor.”  

Moving on. An interesting article proposes that in an ultra-transparent world, we (humanity) could finally ban weapons of mass destruction, like nukes, because even average citizens could thereupon catch cheaters. 

In extremum, this is, of course one of only two solutions to the Ultimate WMD Problem: “what-if a technology is found that lets very small groups cheaply make world-wrecking weapons?”  

Indeed, this is often posed as a compelling possible explanation for the absence-of-any-aliens Fermi Paradox!  A theory that all techno civilizations wipe themselves out, when even teensy mad minorities can access the means to accomplish it.

Up to a threshold, universal citizen transparency would be one answer (though it requires some courage and wisdom that might be rare across the galaxies.) Alas, the only other solution is a total-surveillance despotism.  

Fortunately, that doesn’t seem imminent. And anyway, I doubt that the citizen equi-veillance prescription can be implemented in the near-future.

What can happen is for up-ratcheting sousveillance and empowered citizenship to render ever-increasing numbers of nasty plots moot. And yes, many of our current problems are happening because world elites see those days of transparent accountability approaching – as in the “Helvetian War” I depicted, in Earth. They are making desperate power grabs, while there’s still time.

Where I demur is when this author conflates a mostly transparent world of equi-veillance with an “end to all privacy.” 

Yes, that is a common leap of misunderstanding, and horribly wrongheaded, alack.

I have despaired over how difficult it has been to convey a simple truth… that preserving a substantial amount of privacy will be a SOCIAL decision. One that transparency can help, rather than doom.

== We’ll have some privacy, even in a Transparent Society… if we actually want it ==

If the vast majority of citizens deem privacy to be a core desideratum — that privacy-invasion by snoops, gossips, voyeurs and bullies is a nastiness that merits denouncing — then those behaviors will be the ones first caught and denounced! 

Please, please try to wrap your mind around that assertion.

If we all can see well, and denounce bad behavior, the common fear is that this will lead instantly to denunciation of eccentrics and mob enforcement of social homogeneity. Indeed that IS the goal and effect in some nations’ growing ‘social credit’ systems! 

(See an interesting (if somewhat suspect) survey of Chinese public attitudes toward the government run “social credit” surveillance system.)

But what about a society whose top values include “leave each other alone” and “mind your own business” (MYOB)? Isn’t that what YOU would want? Yet you assume only a select few share that wish, I’ll bet. Can you consider a possibility, though? That millions of your neighbors share that value system? 

Yes, that social value system of using transparency to protect each other’s personal space seems a reach beyond our current, immature and sanctimoniously denunciatory society. But the elements are already there, in most Hollywood films wherein suspicion of authority (SoA) and appreciation of diverse eccentricity are among the most-preached values!  I show that in Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood.  

You can see that value system in the mirror… in your reaction, just now, wishing “if only my fellow citizens shared my valuing of tolerance and eccentricity and MYOB and SoA!” I agree! Only consider perhaps that goal is closer than you think.

(One of the top stupidities of books and films that warn against privacy loss (e.g. the execrable The Circle) is how they rely on that very value system already existing in their audience, while preaching it at them, while insulting those audience members by claiming that – except for a few hero protagonists – none of us sheep actually have that value. Think about it.) 

Consider what a world filled with light might be like, if we also completed our build toward that MYOB value system?  If the FIRST people judged to be behaving badly are those caught bullying and snooping and not leaving each other alone?

Indeed, then we might not only have no despots and no WMD-nukes. We might also have few voyeur, conformity-enforcing bullies… and a golden age of eccentric diversity.

Please, please… speak up in comments if you know another way to get that. 

== Other Tech news ==

Interested in “Futuristic Design”?  I am, of course! And I’ve consulted with a lot of groups looking for the Next Thing.  One of those consultations, a few years ago paid me to offer scenarios for Earth 2050an attempt to portray planetary changes – especially social/economic/political — a few decades from now. And as you’ll see, the effort was led by the Kaspersky company, based in Moscow and at the time a leader in computer security software. (Now? Not quite so trusted for varied reasons, some in the news. Still, this is a separate matter.)

As it happened, I gave them a lot more material than anyone else did, for what aimed to be a vivid zoom-in to various parts of the globe, in 2050… a time frame close to my own near future novels Earth and Existence

I do think you might enjoy some of the speculations, and/or find them thought provoking. Like a dive into the great Phosphate Crisis of 2050, making Morocco the richest country in the world. Anyway, it’s good to see at last something come of this project, and it aims to be ongoing.  Though the timing is thought-provoking in its own right.  And now some in the media are actually talking about it!

== and lagniappes ==

QAnon – The Game that Plays People. – Lee Stein.

Amazon – after firing 110,000 employees in time for the holidays – may also be firing … Alexa.

Perpetual drone surveillance… or at least during public events… combined with advanced vision systems… is proposed to deal with mass shooters.

Looking toward the future: My 2015 speech at COFES (Congress on the Future of Engineering Software) covered a range of topics, including the context for a society that actually welcomes and invests in new things and progress. 

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