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