[ExI] What surveillance solution is best - Orwellian, David Brin's, or ...? (A mysterious ">" sneaked in!)

TheMan mabranu at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 25 14:04:58 UTC 2007

Something strange happened to my original post in this
thread - at least in the archive: for some mysterious
reason there is a ">" before the piece starting with
this sentence:

>From a utilitarian point of view, any existential
threat, no matter how small, to the survival of (etc)

I didn't put that ">" there!

For those of you who read that post and stopped
reading at the ">" because you thought the rest of the
text was a quote, here is the complete post again (I
hope nothing strange happens to it this time):

My impression is that there is a far from negligible
risk that nanofactories (and other extreme technology
for mass manipulation of matter/minds) will relatively
soon become effective enough, and cheap enough, for
plenty of anti-humanity cults and terrorists to do
things (manufacture armies of nanorobots etc) that can
terminate mankind before mankind or any human gets a
chance to become or create something greater that is
not vulnerable to such threats.

It looks like it will be a nightmare race. The part of
society that wants survival will incessantly have to
be winning the race, and the part of society that
wants society extinct constantly has to be losing the
race, if mankind is to survive. What's the odds for
that, every single second, year after year, until
singularity is reached? When technologies that can be
used for mankind extinction become really fast and
effective, the bad side may only have to gain the
upper hand for one brief moment, whereas the good side
has to constantly have the upper hand. So the odds
seem to be in favor of the bad side.

>From a utilitarian point of view, any existential
threat, no matter how small, to the survival of
mankind in the near future, should be taken more
seriously than any non-existential issues, because an
enormously long future of enormous amounts of
happiness (in this part of universe) may depend on the
survival of mankind in this critical time. (Whether
there will always be "far from negligible existential
threaths" is an interesting question, but let's
examine that one in a separate thread. It seems to me
that the next two or three decades there will be worse
threaths than both before and after.)

I can think of no other existential threat to mankind
the coming decades that can compare to the threat from
super-technology (like very advanced self-replicating
nanorobots) in the wrong hands. (wrong hands doesn't
have to mean evil hands - simply incompetent and naïve
hands can be just as dangerous - but I'll focus on the
threat from evil hands as that one is more obvious to

If we leave it up to our governments, our governments
will respond to that threat with, as usual, even more
surveillance and even more limitation of people's
freedoms. And the public will, as usual, even be the
ones who demand it. Some say we already live in an
Orwellian society, but I think the one we live in
today is more like *paradise* compared to the one that
governments may build in the decades to come in order
to protect us (or maybe mainly themselves) against
nano-terrorism and other super-hi-tech terrorism.

There is a considerable risk that governments, even in
the most democratic countries in the world, will abuse
that kind of omnipresent, automated surveillance
system when they have it installed, and become
dictators, using their surveillance system to detect
any opposition in time to snuff it, and to frighten
people so that very little opposition even occurs.
Power corrupts; total power corrupts totally.

That is, if we don't choose another solution.

Absolutely extreme levels of global surveillance seem
to become a must, very soon. But must governments be
in charge of it?

David Brin suggests, in his "The Transparent Society",
that we should create such a system that we can all
watch each other all the time (and while Brin thinks
we could still keep some privacy, I don't see how we
could, if we want to keep mankind safe from the
approaching threats from the super hi-tech weapons of
mass destruction that will soon be available to just
about everybody if the public is allowed any privacy

With a system that allows us all to watch each other
24/7/365 (and to listen to all each other's phone
calls, live conversations, read each other's emotions,
detect each other's lies etc), no government can seize
illegitimate power or do anything outside of their
official duties, because as soon as they try, they
will be immediately stopped by the public, because
ordinary people watch and control them just as much as
they watch and control ordinary people. The government
may watch suspected persons in their homes and convict
them for planning acts of terror, but any one member
of society can (and usually literally millions will)
scrutinize the validity of such accusations, because
whatever the government sees and hears, everybody can
see and hear whenever they want to, because it is all
broadcasted live. Every person in the government is
videotaped 24/7/365, and streamed over the Internet
for everyone to see and hear, just like everybody else
is. Possibly with a lie detector attached to the
screen (depending on how good lie detectors will be by
then), with a red light going off every time someone
lies or holds something back.

We would be just as thouroughly watched in such a
society as in Orwell's "1984", but the difference is
that we wouldn't be at all powerless. We would know
everything about each other, or rather, as much as we
would want to know (and have time to take in). That
might protect us pretty well from any terrorists -
and, perhaps just as importantly, from dictator
wannabes - among us and among the politicians and

Would such a solution make the existential threat to
mankind, from ever more powerful hi-tech weapons,
lesser than would the solution, where the governments
have all or most of the power, and the public none or
little power?

Actually, I'm not sure. It may even be the other way
around - an Orwellian world may be the *safer* one (if
survival is the only objective, that is). For sure,
David Brin's everybody-watches-everybody world would
_feel_ safer than an Orwellian world would. But what
if an Orwellian dictatorship actually would protect
mankind better from extinction (by enslaving mankind)
than David Brin's relatively free society would?

If everybody can see what everybody does, it means
that every technological advance becomes available to
everybody at the same time. What if at one moment, a
technology allows anybody to build a weapon so fast
that he can use it to terminate all other people
before they can stop it (they may all realize the
danger immediately, but they may not every time
sufficiently quickly be able to physically prevent the
person from doing what he is about to do)? Is a world
consisting of billions of equally powerful human
beings(/cyborgs/posthumans/whatever), with naturally
very diverse agendas, really safer (from the point of
view of the survival of mankind) than a world where
just one or a handful of human beings have all the
power and the others none? If all the billions of
human beings on this planet have equal power and
knowledge, maybe there is a greater risk that one of
them temporarily gets the lead in the technology race
and finds a way to terminate mankind (as some of them
will sure always try to do, as long as they have any
freedom whatsoever)? If only for example five people
have total power over the rest of mankind, at least
there is a good chance that no one of these five will
ever _choose_ to terminate mankind although they
could. At least one in six billion will choose to (try
to). Hundreds probably, maybe thousands, will try to.

>From a utilitarian ethics point of view, it may be
preferrable in the long run that we choose the kind of
system that as strongly as possible secures long term
survival of this planet's highly evolved intelligence,
rather than the kind of system that allows for the
best life quality for the people. Even if a global
Orwellian dictatorship would mean huge loads of
suffering for almost everyone on this planet for
decades, sooner or later even a dictator regime - no
matter how stubbornly it tries to stay conservative -
will reach singularity, and just expand its bliss and
intelligence until there is no room (and use) for
pain-experiencing slaves anymore. (And after that,
just expand further.)

I like utilitarianism, but I'm not sure I'm ready to
live in an Orwellian society for a long time just
because that's the utilitarian thing to do.

And maybe it is'nt. Maybe David Brin's society will be
not only nicer, but also safer for mankind's survival.
What do you think? 

And/or maybe there is a third alternative, an even
better one? Any ideas?

(When I say mankind's survival, I mean "the survival
of whatever needs to survive so that the development
towards greater and greater amounts of happiness that
has started on this planet will continue growing or at
least have a chance to grow in the future" or
something like that. It includes any posthumanity that
is desirable from a utilitarian point of view. And I
can't think of any way for a posthumanity to be long
term undesirable from that point of view - other than
by being more vulnerable than the alternatives.)

So, what do you say, what kind of surveillance system
and government and society structure would be best, as
protection against nano-terrorism and such, the coming
decades, before singularity arrives (so that it gets
to arrive)? Please feel free to describe in as much
detail as you wish.

Boardwalk for $500? In 2007? Ha! Play Monopoly Here and Now (it's updated for today's economy) at Yahoo! Games.

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