Jul 13 2012

LIBOR Scandal Is Opportunity For Transparent Currency


While here in the US, we are barely hearing a peep about it in our mainstream news, in Europe, the LIBOR scandal is being understood as the greatest financial scam perpetrated thus far in the kleptocratic 21st Century.  LIBOR shows that a handful of banks have used their power — which is supposed to be limited by honest statistics — to define the interest exchange value of currency dishonestly and to their own advantage.   It is being revealed that these “banks” (and they hardly qualify as banks anymore) have been dishonestly manipulating the unthinkable sum of approximately 800 trillion dollars  on a regular basis.

For those who have been decrying the occult (hidden) nature behind our signifiers of value, this scandal provides the greatest opportunity ever to demand that the issuance and valuation of currency be made transparent to all.

Indeed, for those who have been trying to expose — or at least start a discussion about — the arbitrary nature of contemporary monetary value, LIBOR is not merely the last best lesson but an opportunity to flip the script.  Rather than being perceived as trying to “upset the apple cart” by trying to delegitimize the value of currency, advocates for transparency can actually be in the forefront of legitimizing or religitimizing currency on a global scale, while at the same time, opening space for diverse, multiplex, independently coded “alternative” currencies that lean towards transparent and nonhierarchical values.

LIBOR throws everything open, including the legitimacy of national debts and deficits and provides an opportunity to carefully and intelligently hit the reset button in a way that everybody — or almost everybody — wins.  Grab hold of this puppy for dear life and use it to end the scarcity/austerity squeeze.

May 30 2012

The Not-So-Fine Line Between Privacy and Secrecy


As weird as people familiar with my work and the subjects I write about might find this, I only recently acquired a copy of The Transparent Society by David Brin. I have been told many times that most of my views about transparency have been discussed by David, and indeed, I’m laughing my tail off at the sheer number of phrases and examples we share in common, and I’m not even all the way through chapter one yet.

Now, David and I correspond on occasion, ever since I was one of the very few people who responded to a challenge he wrote to find a “Global Warming Skeptic” who is not merely blindly following the conservative playbook. While we agree to disagree on AGW, and probably many other topics as well, when it comes to transparency and it’s inevitability, we are in pretty close agreement, and one of David’s examples in the opening chapter struck me as a very good starting point to explain the difference between privacy and secrecy, and how it is possible to have privacy even in a society in which there are no secrets.

It’s even one I’ve used before myself – a restaurant. So imagine you are sitting at a restaurant filled with numerous tables, with groups sitting at each one. Would you brazenly listen in on the conversation of the table next to you? Would you try to look up that pretty girls skirt sitting two tables over? Would you reach over and simply take the bread basket from the table behind you?  How about moving over to another groups table uninvited?

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the answer is no. Why? It’s a little convention called social invisibility. Even though you can do any and all of these things, you make a conscious choice not to, because if you don’t, the negative consequences to yourself outweigh the potential gains. You are in plain view of everyone else, so if you fail to give them the same courtesy they are giving you by not doing any of those things to you, the entire restaurant full of people could see you, and take any number of actions to show you how displeased they are at you. This could range from embarrassment to eviction from the restaurant depending on your offense. In other words, you are completely accountable for your actions, and as such, make a decision to give everyone else privacy in exchange for them giving it to you. So long as you are not putting yourself on display in a manner that intrudes on their privacy, you have the same freedom to talk about anything you wish with your group, and behave in whatever manner you choose that is not disruptive, and they will pretend you don’t exist and that they cannot hear a word you say.

This little scene plays out millions of times daily all around the world, and it is a simple, almost automatic reaction regardless of culture. We grant those around us privacy in order to receive the same courtesy of privacy back. That privacy comes not because we are hidden but because it is an active process of society. I couldn’t tell you what the table next to me was doing, despite it being in full view, because I actively wasn’t paying attention due to the fact that I didn’t wish to suffer penalties from society for violating social invisibility.

Now, David takes this scenario a step further. Take the same restaurant, but put up silk walls between each table, so that no-one can tell if there is anyone sitting next to them. You don’t know if what you say is being listened to by someone unknown. You don’t know if the person at the table next to you is eating a hamburger, or their fellow diner. Perhaps the person has a pinhole thorough the wall and is staring at you. Maybe they have a microphone and are recording anything you say. You have no idea what, if anything, is going on behind that silk wall. You have real invisibility to anyone, but note the difference. You are hidden away from everyone! You can dance naked on your table, cut your table mates throat, and do anything! There is no accountability to your society, no penalties for any action, utter freedom to do anything you want, right? All those things you wouldn’t do in the previous scenario, you would be far more likely to do in this one, because you could escape being held accountable.

Secrecy is a threat to society precisely because it allows people to escape accountability. It protects dictators from masses of angry protestors, because it keep those protestors from knowing exactly how harmful the dictators’ actions have been. It’s the enabling force behind nearly every single form of authoritarian leadership ever conceived. It shielded Mubarak and Gaddafi for decades, and still protects numerous other “unpopular leaders” in both nations and corporate offices. Once that secrecy is pierced, and what was hidden is revealed, society enforces an accounting.

And that is the point that both David and I try to make constantly. Transparency forces accountability. Secrecy enables an escape from accountability. It really cannot be made any plainer than that.

We are going to become a Transparent Society despite David’s fears that the “elites” will find a method to retain secrets while forcing complete transparency on the rest of society, because the simple truth is that unified effort by all the various competing “power groups” at the level it would actually be required to prevent any group from forcing transparency on another group is so unlikely I would bet on air spontaneously turning into gold first. While I have every confidence that efforts to preserve secrecy on the part of the PTB will be attempted, the Surveillance Arms Race is going to render those efforts pointless in the not very long run. There is no encryption that cannot be cracked; no technological fix that can prevent universal surveillance from becoming a reality; and far too many uses for such ubiquitous monitoring of everywhere that we will find too liberating and convenient to use to make me believe that any of the efforts of “privacy advocates” who can’t tell the difference between “Privacy” and “Secrecy” will have any real effect. Sooner or later, everyone will be as visible to us as those diners at the next table.

And just like that restaurant, we will be every bit as visible to them. And we will ignore that fact, as they ignore us, and we in turn ignore them, and everyone will have all the privacy that they are willing to give. Yes, the “elites” are going to try and keep their secrets, and even succeed for a brief time, but in the end, even they will lose that ability because they will whittle it away in their paranoid need to peek at each other’s secrets for non-mutual advantage and because it is impossible to prevent all progress. And that is where David and I disagree. He fears that it will be possible to create a perfect “one way mirror” while I can see no manner in which it could be achieved.

And that is how, despite all the constant accusations from paranoid conspiracy theorists that I endorse totalitarian government by supporting the rapid proliferation of numerous surveillance systems, I can view transparency as a wholly positive force for improving the lives of billions, and one of the most basic enablers of a truly free society. Accountability is the key, and it can only exist where secrecy does not.

That isn’t to say very bad scenarios in which enormous numbers of people die at the hands of a totalitarian regime supported by one way surveillance systems cannot occur, simply that such scenarios are inherently self limiting and unstable, and will almost certainly proceed to a revolution and the creation of a society in which complete accountability and complete transparency eliminates secrecy and permanently ends any possibility of further authoritarian governance. While such scenarios are extremely undesirable, and should be avoided if at all possible, they are not dead ends, merely hazardous and costly detours.

Because if you truly want privacy, and a free and permissive society, where you can do anything you want so long as it causes no harm to another, nonconsenting, individual, then understanding the difference between privacy and secrecy is essential. It’s what will ensure we avoid the paranoid “Big Brother” detours and chart a much more pleasant course into the future.


Jan 22 2012

Le Future According To Val Part 2: Consequences


If you recall in my last section, I discussed how I see the human race as being driven by instincts that cause us to form societies and then compete within those societies for “sex rights” by the creation of pecking orders. I also discussed how many of the technologies I have covered over the last few years are tied up in the “status game” and are being developed precisely because they appeal to the instincts we have as humans to seek ways to improve our personal status. I also ended by pointing out that those desires make these technologies so irresistible that we as a species are pursuing them heedless of the consequences.

Wait, did I just say consequences? Aren’t I supposed to be this hedonistic amoral optimist wearing rose colored glasses about the future? I keep telling people I’m a cynic, and people keep refusing to believe me. But yes, there are consequences. I discuss some of them in my article on “VR Integration Will Require Total Transparency.”  To be blunt, everything comes at a price. The only question is whether the prize is worth the cost.

So let me ask you this. What is it worth to you to never have to worry about whether you will be able to eat today? How much are you willing to pay to never have to worry about having a home to live in? What would give to be healthy and young for as long as you chose to live? What sacrifice would you offer to ensure that you would never be the victim of violence or crime? What’s the price you’d give to have your every question answered or to be the one who finds the answer?

Would you be willing to give up Tyranny? How about Human Suffering? I’m willing to bet you’d think Death would be something you’re willing to do without, no? Disease, physical handicaps, starvation, poverty… those would likely be things you’d want to give up too, right?

Because that is the price we, as a species, will have to pay for following our instincts. No matter what you might think about any of the uses for technology I have discussed, it’s meaningless, because you, as an individual, have no control over the pecking order. In truth, as individuals, there is little any of us can do except stay out of the way of the evolutionary forces that are currently reshaping our world. This is a war of giants, a battle between two profoundly different systems of economic organization. We will get every one of these technologies because both sides in this war demand them. As the conspiracy theorist loves to scream, they are Bread and Circuses. We’re just lucky that they are also so very much more.

Martin Ford discussed how the economy is likely to develop over the next decade in his book Lights in the Tunnel. In short, the era of cheap overseas labor is ending. Greater awareness of the exploitation that has been occurring — as well as demands by those exploited for higher wages — is making it more and more expensive to maintain human labor, while automation has become ever cheaper. 3d printers are largely automated, and as I discussed in “Watson’s Descendants Will Make You Obsolete” enormous numbers of “high skill” jobs that required college educations and are considered “high status” like lawyers, doctors, and financial consultants will soon be replaceable by automation. As CEOs and stockholders demand ever higher profits, the “job situation” will grow progressively worse. More and more of the low tier “wealthy” will find their wealth sucked up by those higher up the pecking order as they continue to try and preserve their own wealth. As more and more people are laid off and replaced by software, the “Market” will become more and more divided, with fewer and fewer actors able to participate as “consumers.” In order to be able to sell any products at all, manufacturers will have little choice but to find means to make products cheaper, and in an effort to concentrate on smaller demographics in “The Long Tail” they will have to produce goods capable of being far more customizable to the individual. This will require major investments in 3d printing, resulting in a gradual abandonment of production lines as “product generations” become ever shorter. Between this pressure to make products cheaper, faster, and ever more customizable, and the continuing escalation of the “class divide” by the highest social tiers resulting in ever greater numbers of people removed as “consumers” with large amounts of available assets, companies which do not switch to 3d manufacturing methods and automation will likely flounder and go bankrupt.

This isn’t going to happen all at once, nor evenly, as there are likely to be areas in the world where the economy experiences massive growth. because the “Long Tail” has numerous “open markets” that are exploitable. The shift to automation and 3d printing will make this much easier to exploit, so don’t think that any given nation is “an exception” to this process. Due to the massive “divide” between the top and bottom, this inequality of “developed markets” will provide many opportunities for creative exploitation. But remember that since these markets have little “available assets” they will increase the pressure to produce goods via automation in order to make the products inexpensively and thus accelerate the cannibalism of the “low tier wealthy” in the developed markets. Short term “Booms” can’t make up for the overall trends of “unemployment” accelerating as the industrial processes are more fully automated.

Now, what do you suppose this ever-growing group of “formerly wealthy” is likely to do as their fortunes are systematically removed by the higher tiers? I mean, seriously, when in all of history has the “rabble” simply sat and starved to death quietly? OWS and the “Arab Spring” should illustrate exactly what will occur, which will encourage the “Powers that Be” to look for ways to keep the masses distracted, divided and unorganized. Cheap electronic entertainment devices, VR, sexbots, all the good little “opiates” intended to keep many people happy and contented will be tried. As I’ve had countless conspiracy theorists and “Privacy Advocates” point out, many of the technologies I’ve discussed have a very strong potential for authoritarians.  They’re just screaming for some “power group” to grab hold and try to use it to enforce a dictatorship on the masses. And they are absolutely right.

Based on current trends, we have to face the reality that many of the world’s democracies are facing a crisis of epic proportions. We are developing hundreds of ways to know every single thing about an individual that anyone — especially someone seeking power or a means to exploit — can use to attempt to control the masses. I’ve discussed the surveillance war many times. Even VR, which I view as a major factor in the coming decade, will require the building of a sensor grid that will make it impossible for an individual to remain “anonymous.” But as I’ve pointed out, that same technology also makes it increasingly hard for the top tiers of the pecking order to remain blank ciphers as well. In addition, we are simultaneously developing technologies that will make it ever easier to record and analyze all of that data coming from all those sensors. We have to face the reality that soon, privacy, as we know it, will come to an end. And to be blunt, this is not actually a bad thing, at least not in the long run.

So, let me ask you if you’ve noticed that two entirely separate forces are at work here?

The direction of future business is the “Long Tail” and ever-greater customization, and individuation in order to maximize profits, while the direction of future government is likely to be a push for greater authoritarianism. One force leans towards “freedom” while the other leans towards “tyranny.” This is because you have two different “elites” at work here, and even that is a simplification of the reality of hundreds of different “elites” all working for completely different ends. However, to keep the overall groups separate, I will classify them as “The Old Guard” and “The New Guard.”

“The Old Guard” is essentially those whose fortunes have been based on material goods. This covers nearly every sort of long established business model that’s more than a few decades old. These are the “Old Money,” the success stories of the Industrial Revolution — the descendants of the “Robber Barons” and the “Giants of Industry.” These are the people who already “have it made” and are desperate to ensure that their gravy train is not derailed. In fact, if they had their way, nothing would change ever, because progress is threatening to their continued dominance of the pecking order.

The problem is that their “cash cow” is dying. They are becoming victims not of failure but of overwhelming success. The entire drive of the industrial revolution was to overcome scarcity, and it has succeeded beyond their wildest dreams of avarice. With the aid of government, they created centralized distribution systems, centralized factory systems, and centralized marketing systems. They built production lines that crank out ten million items a day; supply systems that can feed billions of factories raw materials; stores that sell billions of dollars of merchandise a year. And they succeeded so well that now they are facing a crisis that they will not survive. Why? Think about that long and hard. Think about a factory that creates ten million items a day, every day, for years. Then ask yourself what happens if you only sell five million of those items a day? What about if you only sell five million a week?

And there you run into the conundrum of the centralized industrial system. It’s designed to run at maximum no matter what the market demand is.  It’s a fixed system of supply, with no way of matching that supply to demand quickly. Now, there are ways to compensate, such as advertising, opening up new markets, planned obsolescence, etc, but on the whole, the system has few ways to keep supply and demand balanced. Once a demand has been met you either have to find a means to create new demand or you have to face bankruptcy. That’s because the entire system is based on scarcity. If demand is high but the supply is rare, then the product has “value.”  But if the demand is low, and the supply is high, that product has little to no “value.” Prior to the Industrial revolution, almost every product was scarce relative to demand. Now, there is almost no product that is not available in the millions — if not billions — of units. Every industrialized nation in the world is a “saturated” market for these “Old Guard” industries and those whose wealth is based on them. The only reason the rest of the world isn’t saturated as well is because they lack the same centralized systems of distribution and manufacture — and control — of the industrialized nations.

These “elites” are entirely dependent on these systems for their wealth, power and influence.  The fact that these systems have effectively eradicated scarcity within the context of the societies within which they have reached the top of the “Pecking Order” is causing their “wealth” to lose “value.” In desperation, they are seeking every possible means to maintain their “Status” by cannibalizing those below them in the pecking order, as well as seeking ways to try and use the government to “stop time” by attempting to create laws to support their business models, or by diverting government resources into propping up their falling “profits.” And this is only possible if they can establish a system of control that is inherently dictatorial and tyrannical. As such, they desire to use government totalitarianism to enforce their continued “status” as the “top dogs.”

Arrayed against the “Old Guard” we find a group of “upstarts” that have earned their “wealth” through “Non-material” goods. These are the industries whose “products” cannot be picked up and handled because they literally have no physical existence. Can you measure a pound of WINDOWS 7? Can you pour me a gallon of FACEBOOK? Can you pass me a can of GOOGLE? These are products that work in the exact opposite manner of material goods. Their value is minimal if they are scarce. What value is a copy of Windows if it had only been installed on one single computer? Only the fact that Windows is the single most common computer operating system on the planet makes it worth billions. It’s “Value” increases the more abundant it is. And while you can indeed make a case for there being a material component to such “abundance dependent” products as computer processors, and electronics, their “material component” is a tiny fraction of the value of their “non-material” components — the designs of the circuits, and the patents protecting them. And these companies are killing the Old Guard, because they are the driving forces behind the evolution of an entirely new economic system based on massive abundance. And the best way to promote their interests is to create a market of infinite diversity to maximize the number of demographics they can sell too. As such, individuality, and as a side bonus, Liberty, are primary drivers for the “New Guard.” After all, it’s hard to sell something unless someone is free to have a demand for it.

And if you want an example, just look at the recent events that played out over SOPA — a bill intended to give tyrannical levels of control to business interests based on material products that was universally opposed by businesses which offer nonmaterial products. Don’t fool yourself thinking the mass protests by the giant corporations against this bill were because they supported individual rights, or that the “grassroots” protests had any influence at all. This was all about money, and the “Old Guard” trying to prevent the “New Guard” from being able to make it by using the government as a shackle around their ankles. SOPA was all about protecting an obsolete and no longer profitable set of business models from competition by new models promoting nonmaterial value.

These two systems are diametrically opposing methods of creating a pecking order, and rely on fundamentally different “markers” to determine status within those pecking orders, yet they also currently share many “common interests”. These “shared” interests are being pursued for different reasons by both sides because they serve very specific needs for both sides, and are seen as absolute necessities in order to reach their goals. The really funny thing is that the deck is stacked entirely in the “New Guards” favor. There is literally no way for the “Old Guard” to win in the long run, and many of these short term “shared interests” are extremely detrimental to their long term survival, no matter how much it might appear otherwise.

So let’s take another look at that “vicious cycle” I described above, involving increasing automation. More and more automation will occur as “Old Guard” businesses attempt to cut costs in order to increase profits, eliminating workers in ever higher status tiers, as continuing advancements in electronics enable more sophisticated “software workers” while continued advances in 3d printing make it cheaper to manufacture a greater variety of goods and those goods begin to incorporate more and more electronic “intelligence.” Eliminating “high cost” employees in favor of “low cost” automation will ensure “increased profits,” but at the same time that it’s removing the middle tier players of the market. As such, automation is a short term “Win” for the “Old Guard,” but because of the cannibalization of the workforce — it removes “Consumers” from the market — so it’s a long term loss.  The “high end” market is already saturated, and as it grows smaller, that saturation level will simply increase. Their “system” for creating wealth is “mass production,” and that system demands billions of consumers to work. A few million “ultra wealthy” is too miniscule a market to sustain it, however many “liquid assets” there might be available.

So, as the high end market becomes increasingly smaller, more and more focus will be put on the low end… the “long tail” of individuation, customization and upgradability. This will also force manufacturers to focus on making those products using new materials that require less “material” per product. They will also need to be more “intelligent” in how those materials are used. By increasing automation and moving from Industrial Era “production line based” mass production to “printer based” mass production, manufacturers can not only limit production runs to actual demand, but switch products with a simple file change. That not only eliminates the “saturation effect” of production lines, but also eliminates “backstock,” since any conceivable part could be made on demand. Auto manufacturers are already looking at 3d printing as a means to provide parts for every make and model of car ever made for restorations. If you understand anything about economics, then it should be obvious that 3d printers allow for goods to behave as if they were nonmaterial. All you need is a single item and you can make an infinite number of copies. Yes, it will be several years before we begin approaching that level of capability, but this is the inevitable end result. And as 3d manufacturing becomes the normal way to make something and units move out of the factories and stores and into the homes, this ability to treat “Material goods” in the same manner we do computer files will be eradicating the “value” of those goods in the status game. Since many of these goods are human needs  like food and shelter, this sudden “infinite supply” will eliminate their value as hostages in the status game (as well as the ability of the “elites” to use them as means to enforce control). It should be obvious that such “abundance” could  eliminate many causes of human suffering by removing basic human needs from the market as commodities by making them nearly free.

At the same time, as the demographic divide increases, more and more political pressure will come to bear on government from all sides to “do something.” The “Old Guard” will likely seek ever more authoritarian measures to try and keep control while the “New Guard” will fight back against any measures that are directed at preventing their market invasion — doing more and more to promote individuality and “uniqueness” in order to capitalize on nearly every single niche market it can create. As technologies such as VR and 3d printing mature, they both will be seeking to utilize and promote their use at all levels of society to try and give themselves an “edge” against the other.

In addition, as “software workers” and 3d printers increase in capability while decreasing in price, more and more of the “disenfranchised” from the “knowledge worker” tiers that are being replaced by automation will be able to acquire the “means of production” and enter the market as competitors instead of as consumers. This increase of competition will accelerate the vicious cycle, giving greater and greater resources to the “New Guard” who will eventually gain a much larger share of the government’s attention, and gradually eliminate all the “special protections” won by the “Old Guard” in favor of laws and regulations favoring their new economic system. As new technologies continue to develop and can be applied to “the market;” most of the “markers” in the current “Status Game” will have their value eliminated in favor of new markers who’s value will be determined by how quickly they become widespread enough to be “commonplace.” This isn’t going to happen overnight, and I rather strongly suspect that “terrorism” is going to be wide spread due to various groups who will resist this eradication of the status markers. And rest assured, both sides will use that resistance to promote the adoption of technologies that they see as vital to their goals.

And yes, some of those technologies have long-term effects that will be very difficult for many to cope with. The most obvious of these is, of course, surveillance and sensor technology, which both the Old and the New Guard will be avidly pursuing as part of the “Surveillance Arms Race” I have talked about previously. The Old Guard wants cameras and sensors everywhere because they desire control. The New Guard wants it because the more they know about you; the better able they are to target a given product to you. Neither one of them gives a damn about what you think about it. Your privacy is meaningless to them, though they will both seek to give you an illusion of it. But as I have said before, increased ability to spy upon is an increased ability to be spied upon. The Old Guard will want to spy on the New Guard. The New Guard will want to spy on the Old. They both will want to spy on the government. And the government will be spying right back, right alongside the media, paparazzi, bloggers, and who knows how many other “interested parties” — all eager as can be to share what they see with “the public” as a way to “score points” in the “status game.” And this will continue until no place on the planet is immune to surveillance and likely no-where else, either. And once everyone, everywhere, at every tier of society, is “on camera,” it becomes possible to restore “accountability”, as I discussed in “How Transparency will End Tyranny.”

The same goes with medical technology, because the Old Guard doesn’t want to die or get sick, and will spend billions to find ways to prevent it and the New Guard is just as interested, because it’s something that will universally sell. No matter how hard the Old Guard tries to prevent access to rejuvenation technology, the New Guard will want to give universal access because the “Old Guard” is just far too small a demographic and far too tiny a profit. As for the more “outrageous” abilities I’ve described, such as full body reconstruction? The Old Guard will want it but they will claim to oppose it because they will be trying to use it as a means to keep the “masses” divided and in conflict, while the “New Guard” will want it because people will want to pay for it.  The same goes for VR, BCI, robots, 3d printers and many other technologies. Both sides of this paradigm shift between economic models will have uses for them and will promote their development and adoption — with these entirely different goals in mind. And because of the difference in how these technologies affect these very different economic models, the long term result will be the continued shrinking of the “Old Guard” and the continued growth of the “New Guard” until only the “New Guard” is left.

But that’s not the only card stacked in the “New Guard’s” favor. Because unlike the “Old Guard,” the “New Guard” is not reliant on over a hundred years worth of physical infrastructure designed to promote centralized management of resources. This means that they are far more flexible, and their “distribution” systems are far more decentralized. Like I discussed in Building the True Decentralized Net, physical infrastructure takes time and massive resources to construct. As more and more “New Guard” rise to join the “upper tier,” they will likely do so from places in which such infrastructure is nonexistent — and because they have bypassed such systems in favor of far more robust, decentralized and upgradable systems which capitalize on matching supply to demand, instead of trying to force demand to match supplies.

And as the “New Guard” eliminates the “Old,” that massive increase in competition that has occurred as this paradigm shift proceeded will make it untenable for the current “Corporate Model” of massive multinationals to continue as a dominant form. The “Giants” of the “New Guard” won’t survive either. Like the “Old Guard,” they too rely on an economy of scarcity to feed their voracious appetites, and in a world of micro markets they will eventually starve.

There are many other factors that will come into play as well, but these are the ones I believe are central to the overall outcome. To summarize; the economy will not likely recover in the manner most people wish for because it is in a collapse mode due to the evolution and replacement of the underlying systems of determining “value” and the shifting of the paradigm from a “Scarcity Model” to an “Abundance Model.” And this collapse is being accelerated on the part of the “Old Guard” by the continued elimination of human “labor” and increasing “automation,” while simultaneously being accelerated by the “New Guard” through the technological innovation making it possible for the “Old Guard” to continue to “profit” as it self-cannibalizes. This will result in both efforts to impose totalitarian control by the “Old Guard” as means to try and prevent the erosion of their “profits” and prevent unrest by the increasing number of disenfranchised; and counter efforts by the “New Guard” to promote democratic measures in an effort to prevent such “blocking tactics” by the “Old Guard” and promote their own interests as they pursue greater profits by promoting “individuality and customization” as they seek to enter ever smaller demographics of “The Long Tail”.

Because of this “War of the Giants,” there will be some very dramatic and chaotic effects on the social organization of the human race, and the instinct driven “Status Game” that it plays. The paradigm shift from “Scarcity” to “Abundance” will necessarily eliminate almost every marker currently used to determine status, such as material wealth, physical traits/abilities, and access to physical resources needed to survive.  It will also likely cause traumatic disruption to many, if not all, belief systems currently used to divide individuals into cliques within the “Pecking Order.” This social “disruption” could range from fairly mild to severe, and unfortunately, will likely cause an unknown number of casualties as some “cliques” will attempt to desperately cling to the obsolete markers and the increasingly defunct pecking order they supported. The transition period between these two paradigms will be neither pleasant, nor peaceful, but the end results will be the elimination of most forms of human suffering due to lack of the material necessities of food, shelter, education, medical care, and security, and remove many of the current causes of war, crime, and misery. Because of the changes caused by the reorganization of the “pecking order” into a “Status Game” based on non-material resources, and the removal of “material resources” from that game, as well as the return of accountability to the whole of human society due to the final results of the “Surveillance Arms Race” — that new “Pecking Order” will be far more level than the current one, and the lowest tiers will not lack for physical needs nor “social mobility” due to denial of same by the highest tiers.

And that, my friends, is the future I see, and which determines what technologies I cover and the “optimism” I am so often accused of. Believe what you wish, but I’m neither an advocate nor an optimist. I see this as a straight forward exercise of logic based on a rational analysis of the current situation extrapolated to a logical conclusion. The “Singularity,” if it ever actually occurs, will follow many years after these developments.

But yes, we are indeed facing the beginning of the end of the world… as we know it. Le Roi is Mort. Vive Le Roi.

Oct 21 2011

How Transparency Will End Tyranny


I’m sure most of you followed the story about the revolution in Egypt, and the uses which the protestors were putting Twitter, Facebook, etc, and the effort the government made to “shut down the internet”. It should illustrate very effectively how the internet is a tool that is inherently hostile to “information control.”

Sure, the government shut it down. But they did so far too late, and the populace simply built a makeshift new internet out of mesh networks, dial-up lines, and basically has kept right on. It’s a story that you should really pay attention to because you are going to see it repeated more and more frequently. Why? Because the internet has taken over the role that cities once had.

No civilization in history has been created without cities, because cities were “hubs of information.” Traders could get knowledge of the best areas to trade goods; politicians could get knowledge about other cities’ the common people could hear about ideas from far and wide. Cities have driven the advancement of human civilization precisely because they allowed knowledge to be shared among far more people than was possible without cities. But we’ve been growing beyond cities, first with radio, TV, and cars, which allowed ideas to be distributed between cities and from cities into the rural areas, and now with the internet, which not only allows distribution, but exchange.

As a medium of knowledge exchange, there is nothing humans have ever created before that comes close to the scope and spread of the internet. You no longer have to be able to go to a far away library to have access to knowledge, or even to your local one. From scientific papers, to news, to opinion, to knock down drag out information exchange brawls, the internet has created a “nervous system” for the human metaorganism. It’s primitive, but it’s allowing people all over the world to communicate, and making us all aware of the larger world outside the walls of our homes.

And, as Egypt’s former president learned, when people can share knowledge, they grow ever less willing to be controlled.

Tyranny relies on isolation. It relies on control of information and making those tyrannized have a worldview that makes them feel isolated and alone. A tyrant wants everyone to be suspicious of everyone else, and to believe that rebelling is pointless because they would be one lone voice that would be quickly silenced. They want people to feel terrified of the “world outside” of the tyranny so that people will tolerate the “lesser of two evils.” But that’s impossible to do with the internet. When people can connect without borders and can talk to people all over the world, isolation is impossible.

But just by itself, the internet is not enough, because, as Egypt again shows, just being connected is not sufficient. There’s a second element that is needed to eradicate tyranny, and that is accountability.

If you are unsure what I mean by “accountability” let me refer you to my blog because a full explanation would greatly exceed my word limit, but in short, let me give you my usual example. If you look at a small tribe, everyone knows everyone else, and if any member is “up to no good” i.e. acting in a manner that jeopardizes the well-being of the tribe for self serving gain, then they are easy to spot, and easy to penalize. They steal food from others, then they don’t get to share in the hunt, or get thrown out of the tribe if it’s bad enough. The internet is allowing us to gradually return to this state of “knowing everyone” again, in the sense that it allows us to create and access records of even the most trivial events, like twits, or, as Jon Stewart often does, pull up video records of political figures saying the exact opposite of what they currently say.

So how can the internet be used to make humanity “accountable” again now that we lost that small tribe intimacy? That answer lies in the fact that now that we’ve made a basic nervous system, we’re in the process of giving the net “eyes” and “ears.” How? Certainly not deliberately, but I’d be willing to bet that if you don’t own a smart phone now, you are planning to get one, no? Even if you are not, I recommend getting used to the idea of owning one eventually, because having one will be your key to entering the world of mobile VR. Within the next ten years, we are going to not only increase the abilities of smartphones far beyond what your current desktop can do, but we will integrate them with either wraparound “virtual lenses” made of lightweight plastic that have cameras, lidars, and displays built in (via printed electronics) or we will be wearing contacts or have implants that do the same thing. In essence, we will give the internet OUR EYES and OUR EARS, so that it sees what we see, all so that we can create and interact with augmented reality and virtual worlds.

For a bit more in depth look at that, I recommend reading some of my articles on H+ magazine, particularly the 3 part essay “Virtualization” (links at the end of the article) but understand this, we will shift to living a life “on camera” not because of “Big Brother” but because we have no other choice but to do so to make VR work, and with the advantages VR and AR will give us, we’ll be no more likely to reject them than we have smartphones.

So what does “life on camera” mean? It means that we will be recorded, our actions outside of our homes available to anyone who wishes to look. And, it will indeed be used for “surveillance” and attempts by tyrants to control the masses. But the more cameras that exist, and the greater the ability to become aware of the actions of others, the less ability that “Big Brother” has to escape being “On Camera” himself. The “Spy” can only spy in secret. If the spy is himself being spied upon, it pretty much negates the purpose.

Sure, tyrants will seek to use universal surveillance to tyrannize. But with the improved ability to spy comes the improved ability to be spied upon. Governments and “elites” will love the opportunity to spy on everyone, including each other. We’re about to enter the age of the “Surveillance Arms Race” as new and better ways to spy on one another are created, defended against, and then innovated. The elites will be spying on the governments, the governments will be spying on the elites and each other, and as each and every spy technology becomes “obsolete”, it will filter down into the hands of the masses who will be using it to spy on the governments, the elites, and of course, each other.

Get over your notions of privacy. There is nothing you can do to prevent this. By the time the Surveillance wars are over, there will be no-one and no-place on earth that is not observed, recorded, and available for access at any time. I’m sure we will pass laws to protect personal lifeblogs or “private” information, for all the good it will do, but in the end we’ll just accept it.

Why? Because when everyone, and I do mean everyone, is on camera, it will be impossible to escape accountability. If you break a law, it will be known. If you steal, it will be found out. And after a very short period of time, in a world in which crime is no longer possible, and in which no CEO can inflict misery on large masses of humanity without penalty and no politician can lie his country into a war on false pretenses, we’ll come to wonder how we ever managed to survive in a world in which people could not be held to account.

You don’t have to like this reality, and I’m quite well aware that it will terrify many of you, but that’s because you’re not thinking past the “horror of Big Brother” to the inevitable result that will follow those attempts to tyrannize, when tyranny is finally and forever laid to rest.

For recommended reading:

Virtualization, The Rise of the Avatar & the Open Sim Project | H+ Magazine

Virtualization: From Avatar to the Mirrorworlds (Part Two) | H+ Magazine

Virtualization: From Virtual to Reality Part 3 | H+ Magazine

Fly Your POV Around with Your Own Personal Quadcopter | H+ Magazine

The Truth Machine by James Halperin

Jul 24 2011

VR Integration Requires Total Transparency


I’d like you to imagine it’s the year 2019. You are wearing a set of extremely lightweight wraparound lenses and have just gotten off the train in an unfamiliar part of the city to meet your friend at a new club. As you look around, you see a floating icon over a board against the wall. You point at it, and before your eyes, a transparent map of the city opens, floating in midair before you. You tell it your destination, and the map zooms into where you are, highlights a path to where you want to go, and then zooms in even more as it tilts and merges with the scenery around you, the path now an illuminated line on the floor.

You follow the path out to the stairs, and up to the street, but as you come to street level, a warning pops up advising you that it’s started to rain and that its previous path will result in you getting drenched, so would you like to reroute along a longer path that will keep you dry? You nod in acknowledgement and follow the line into a shopping district across the street. As you enter the mall, a small sign pops up in front of you asking if you’d like to see a list of current sales. You shake your head, and the sign vanishes. You continue to follow the line through the mall, looking around at the various people standing in front of store windows, making waving motions as they browse through the inventories. For you, all you see is a blank screen with the store’s logo and a button saying “touch here for catalog”.

You do happen to notice a logo for a store you frequent, and pause to hit the catalog button. The window clears and an attractive lady with horns and a spaded tail appears. “Hiya, and Welcome to the Succubus’s Den! We’re having a special today on horns and halos, all models are 50% off. Would you like to browse our selection?”

“Sure” you say, as a three way mirror pops up in front of you showing your present appearance. You frown as you take in your business attire, and decide it’s just way to boring for a night at a club. A request sign pops up asking if you’d like to deactivate “professional mode” and you think “yes” at it.

Suddenly the mall around you transforms from a rather dull set of storefronts to a sylvan glade, with elves, and centaurs, even a couple of fairies mixed in with trolls, Klingons, and what appears to be a storm trooper shopping behind you. Your suit and tie have also vanished and you look at the brawny barbarian warrior you chose to wear when you were playing an MMO last night. As you think about changing it, a menu pops up and you decide to go with your goth avatar, the image in the mirror changing. The sales clerk smiles. “Ohhh, I have a nice pair of wings and a black light halo that would match that avatar so well!”

You tell her to let you see it, and in an instant, you are admiring the smoky black wings and the shimmering purple halo. You nod in approval, and tell the clerk you’ll take them. A small icon shows the price and you think “yes” at it. A note comes up showing that “Goth Angel” has been added to your inventory. You thank the clerk and start following your guideline again.  As you walk down the mall, you note a couple of vampire girls licking their fangs as you pass. At the far end of the mall a shimmering portal opens onto the city street, where you can see the rain is still falling. Your guideline leads under an awning along the sidewalk, and down the street. You can see a glowing arrow pointing down at the club you are heading for. You head down the sidewalk, then stop when a warning sign pops up pointing at an alley entrance just ahead of you, and you wait as the delivery truck pulls out onto the road.

As you enter the club, you look around and note that there’s a nice mix of reals and virtuals, only a small icon over the heads of those visiting entirely in VR enabling you to tell who’s physically there, and who isn’t. A flashing icon calls your attention to where your friend is waiting, and as you head towards him, a small fairy flutters up and asks you what you’d like from the bar. You order, and by the time you get to the table, the waitress, who the fairy was a small sized copy of, has your drink waiting.  You smile as you anticipate a nice evening and settle down to have some fun.

That’s just a taste of a world in which VR and reality are intermixed, and I’m sure it’s pretty simplistic compared to what we will actually experience, but nonetheless, it’s sufficient to make this article’s real point, which is  actually not the uses of VR. Instead, I’m hoping I can get you thinking about what’s going to make this sort of VR possible, and the implications of that technology.

So let’s start with our map, shall we? How, exactly, did we call it up in front of us?  It should be obvious that we’re wearing a pair of video lenses capable of overlaying graphics on our view of the world, but how did the map know we wanted to access it? How did the sign realize we clicked on it from who knows how far away?

The short answer is that there’s communication between our glasses and the sign, but the reality is that it’s not quite that simple. In order to position a button on the map, our glasses had to know where in our field of vision the sign was, which means our glasses had to be aware of the environment around us. It had to be aware of the 3 dimensional space surrounding us; be aware of the physical objects in that environment, and on top of everything else, know that the map was a map. It could do this many ways — by scanning our environment with a lidar, or THz wave scanner; it could link to a local system which has a 3d map of the station already created; it could communicate with a set of lidars or other scanners in the environment, and their are quite a few other methods it could employ. The common factor in all of them is still the same. You are being watched continuously by an untold number of sensors and cameras.

Got it? Every person in that station has a device just like yours, watching you and your every action, recording every twitch of every muscle. For that map to provide the “guideline,” it has to know to a millimeter where you are. Same for the “weather warning.” The “mall” knew when you entered. The store knew when you were standing in front of it, and who you were, what your avatar looked like, and how to access your payment info. To allow others to see your avatar, they had to be enabled to know what that avatar was, and overlay it over your physical position, again, requiring sensors able to map you to millimeter precision. And what’s more, to enable such things as the warning about the truck, your lenses had to know more about the environment than you did. It had to “see around corners” by connecting to sensors in the alleyway. In both the mall and club, it had to access not only the “real” environment, it had to know the “virtual” one as well, and be able to distinguish which one you desired to see at any given moment, as well as create the appearance of virtual objects overlaying the real world. In other words, our environment was “self aware.”

Now, think about that for a second — think about how many cameras and sensors it’s going to take to make our environments “aware” of itself and us, so it can enable such VR interactivity.

Then think about being able to walk onto an airplane without having to pass security, because no one with explosives would be able to get within ten miles of the airport. Think about being able to walk down the darkest alleyway in NYC in perfect safety, because there are no more muggers, because everyone knows that it’s impossible to escape arrest it you try. Imagine your car speeding down the road at 200 mph while you are surfing the web without the slightest fear of being arrested for speeding or crashing because you’re distracted, because your car knows where every other car is on the road, and is driving itself. Imagine working in space, while living in Iowa, telecommuting to a remote teleprescence unit building a new and much larger space station. Imagine a classroom filled with students from nations all around the world, learning about ancient Rome by visiting it. Think about a million other uses for VR that we will demand, and the endless other potentials made possible by a self aware environment.

Think about it, and maybe you’ll understand why I laugh at those who continue to believe that we will never become a “Transparent Society.”