"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

World Mind vs AI and Big Brother

People's versions of the Apocalypse are particular to their culture. When I lived in rebel Humboldt County, it was all about the red dawn, visions of economic and/or ecological collapse, etc. Down in Silicon Valley, you get a lot more people talking about a technocalypse, some variation on Singularity theory, concern that AI will undo us all. Additionally, the recent revelations of the NSA's vast surveillance programs have cast a shadow over the optimistic vibe that comes long with a growing internet.

In this post, I want to talk about why I believe humanity will likely not be overmatched by machines, with bonus observations on how digital democracy can still thrive in an era of Big Data Big Brother.

Moore's Law Has Been Broken For About Ten Years

There is no good account of how "powerful" the human mind is as an information processing system. There are random-ass guesses from futurists and AI researchers, but nobody really knows what the capabilities are for the mind to run, let alone how to compare it to silicon based computers. That said, the random-ass guesses generally conclude that it will take a lot of CPU power to model a brain. Like, more than all the computing power that exists in the world today.

No big deal, say the preachers of AI - computing power is growing ever more rapidly, because Moore's law, etc. But that's not actually true. Moore's "law" was more of a smart observation: that circuit density was doubling about every 18 months. However, this hasn't been true for a while — Moore's law is collapsing, because of the physical limits of silicon.

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All The Blogs I Want To Write

Oh man. I'm home sick for the first time in a long time, and being stuck on my back with only a few phone calls to occupy my time has left my mind a-wandering. Unfortunately, I'm not feeling well so actually writing anything substantial feels like too tall an order, but there are so many things I wish I could write. A short list follows.

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What Is To Be Done?

This is a follow-up to my previous post on Gentrification, which received quite a few thoughtful responses. Thanks to everyone for those. I really appreciate the stimulation.

So far I've ducked the question of right and wrong. My mode was one of reflection on my experience of living in places that are changing, being a part of that change. However, the themes of development and displacement have a moral dimension. People naturally go right to this; so why fight it? Let's get into it!

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Notes on Gentrification

Earlier this month the Vara — the building where my wife and I currently live — attracted some protesters, anarcho kids decrying the police presence and influx of new money. I missed out on the action as I was away on honeymoon, but it got me thinking.

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Elizabeth Warren vs Hillary Clinton in 2016?

An interesting piece by Noam Scheiber in TNR about a potential challenge to Hillary Clinton by Elizabeth Warren for the democratic nomination in 2016. He's absolutely right that "inevitable candidates have a way of becoming 'evitable'", and in drawing deja-vu parallels around Clinton's potential mis-alignment with the base (if not the nation in toto) over how to handle inequality and the finance sector vis-a-vis her positions on national security (esp Iraq) in 2008. It's an interesting read.

He also does a good job of describing how Warren wields her influence, by being willing to violate some of the social norms of Capital Hill in very public settings, for instance asking regulators "when was the last time you took a bank who broke the law to trial?" (to which they had no answer). I am a fan of Warren's rhetoric and style, and pedigree as an antagonist of the neoliberal establishment.

Still, I'm skeptical that Warren will make the run, but Scheiber makes a compelling case that she's motivated enough by her belief in economic policy and what it means for working families that she'd do it even as a long shot. He notes:

Of course, any prediction of a populist revolt against the party’s top brass must grapple with the tendency of such predictions to be wrong. From the Howard Dean campaign in 2004 to the Occupy Movement in 2011, the last decade in Democratic politics has been rife with heady declarations of grassroots rebellion, only to see the insiders assert control each time. Even the one insurgency that did succeed, the Obama campaign, was quickly absorbed into the party establishment, from which Obama was never so far removed in the first place.

But concludes with a quote from an insider:

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Daddy's Got a New Pair of Shoes

After close to five months of inactivity, I've updated my design in an effort to break the logjam of writers block. I've based my theme on meedjum, which is of course inspired by medium.com. I have a long history of "borrowing" my design concepts, and this is no different. I love the way this design puts emphasis on the text.

Depending on my motivation level, I have a few clever ideas regarding images, twitter integration, and popularity tracking to add as features. I wouldn't hold your breath, but optimistically I'd like to find time to noodle on the innards of the site. Web development is fun, and I miss it.

As for what's been going on lately in life... oh man; a lot! Pantheon has been going gangbusters, and my fiancee is living in the Bay Area now, and we're 43 days away from our wedding. The vendors are booked, and we're collecting RSVPs. It's been a lot of work, but her parents have been doing an incredible job helping with the organizing, and we have a lot of support from my family and all our friends. It should be pretty rad.

While still stressful — everyone will tell you wedding planning will "test your relationship", and it's true! — I feel like we've turned the corner, and it's getting kind of exciting. I've got butterflies in my tummy when I think about it. I also think I'd like to have a little less tummy by the time the date rolls around. But that's another story.

In terms of what to do with this old blog, I have a bunch of substantive posts rattling around in my head that I think are halfway good. It's the usual kind of stuff, and I'm still doing it for mostly selfish reasons. Writing helps me think more clearly. Maybe someday I'll write for an audience or with an impact in mind, but for the time being you can expect the same 80%-baked thinky things as I make my stumbling way in parsing our common reality. Frankly, I'm looking forward to it.

It's good to be back!

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Metadata, PRISM, and the Surveillance State

UPDATE Seriously, just go watch this video with the whistleblower who is the source all the below.

I've been tweeting up a storm and got a couple questions along the lines of "what do you think of PRISM?" so I thought I'd sit down and exercise my ability to explain in long-form what I think is going on, and what it means.

The News

Late last week, Glenn Greenwald broke a story at the Guardian about how the NSA — the National Security Agency; the camera-shy and more data/computation driven cousin to the CIA — was collecting phone records for millions of Americans:

National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

Then, the day after the Guardian and the Washington Post published stories based on leaked documents about a program called PRISM which allows the US and UK intelligence services to mine data from popular internet destinations:

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Arts, Sciences and Sufficiently Advanced Technology

Reading a bit of trashy sci fi over the past weekend — good "hardboiled cyberpunk" about the encoding of consciousness into data and transferring between physical bodies as a way of managing interstellar exploration — while traveling in Mexico got me thinking about the old "sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" argument. I think I came up with some good riffs, and even some navel-gazing about me and my weird mercurial career, so here goes.

It's easy to dismiss outlandish ideas about interstellar travel as flights of fancy, and indeed there are good physics reasons to be skeptical we'll make it beyond the Solar System in any real way in the next few generations. But that also kind of misses the point. The original quote by Arthur C Clark is meant to position us as "people of the past", encountering some awesome technologogy of the future, possibly alien. How can we not react with awe? But what about all that we've learned to take for granted already? There's another threshold which we pass over when fantastically complecated and difficult processes become six or seven-sigma reliable and ubiquitous, things like Big Macs or indoor plumbing. You go from magic to assumed fact of life.

Take for instance the MP3 player going poolside on a carribean beach resort, playing Elvis. Here you have a device manufactured from raw materials that might come from three continents (rare earths, etc), forged into components in a number facilities about 8,000 to 10,000 miles away, assembled and delivered via an international shipping and retail process that is literally hundreds of thousands of people's jobs to operate.

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Linkage

I've been slammed against the wall. No time to blog, but I've run across a bunch of links that are working through the back of my mind. Collecting them here so I don't forget:

The Locust Economy

The Case For Less

Bitcoin, Energy and the Future of Money

The Moral Limits of Markets

Destructo Salon: Does Matthew Yglesias Enjoy Murder?

And this quote from Atrios:

The full employment fairy will help, if it ever arrives, but I'm just not sure it can when we have a nation of low wage workers and a political class who has no understanding of what that's like.

Imagine what I'll have to say!

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On The Ethics of Knowledge Work

Recently I tried out the service "99 Designs", largely with good results. However, this got some pushback from peers of mine in the web development community, which prompted a good bit of thinking on my part about the various ethics and contingencies of Knowledge work and Digital Labor. So, here goes.

First Principles

I'm sympathetic to the "No Spec" movement, especially when considered in the historical context of design and creative as a profession. To this day, much of the business of design involvs doing the work first, "on spec", and then only getting paid if the client liked it. If you're a fan of Mad Men, you've seen this. Don Draper forces Peggy and the gang to pull an all-nighter in a desperate bid to try and land a big new account. It's a staple of the show.

At its most extreme, the spec work process requires a completely finished product before payment, and a buyer will solicit this from several different individuals or firms, ultimately choosing only one to get paid. Or in the ultimate dick move, choosing nobody and "taking the campaign in-house" — which usually means stealing the best ideas and assets but handling the final execution internally, without paying anyone.

Clearly, this is no bueno: as one of my internet heroes Mike Montiero says, "F-you, pay me".

But, It's Maybe a Little More Complicated

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