[ExI] What surveillance solution is best - Orwellian, David Brin's, or ...?

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Mon Jun 25 18:37:02 UTC 2007

On 6/25/07, TheMan <mabranu at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Jef Allbright <jef at jefallbright.net> wrote:
> > The cosmic race is simply a fact of nature,
> The _cosmic_ race? You mean the fact that tech races
> will go on throughout universe for eternity anyway,
> with or without mankind's participation? Don't you
> care whether this particular race going on on Earth
> now is going to continue leading to better and better
> things for ever, or soon stop itself by creating
> something that kills us all?

My point was that "the race" is simply a fact of nature, "bloody in
tooth and claw", and that rather than framing it as a "nightmare", we
might do better to recognize it as it is and do our best to stay
ahead.  Yes, it's significant that it was going on before, and will
continue after, the existence of what we know as humankind.

I realize that my writing tends to be very terse, and I compress a lot
into metaphor, but how did you possibly get the idea that I might not
care? Is this your way of inviting further clarification, or do you
really suspect that?

I identify as a member of humanity and care very much that our
**evolving** values be promoted indefinitely into the future.

> > as
> > fundamental as the
> > entropic observation that two can move a large mass
> > that one can move
> > not at all.  Whether this is considered a nightmare,
> > a
> > dream, or
> > merely the way things work, is entirely in the mind
> > of
> > the observer
> > but it's worth recognizing that our very existence
> The tech race on our planet in inevitable - until it
> stops itself by leading to something that extincts
> all.

So here we come to the significance of my statement that it is a race
within a cosmic context.  There is no "until" -- the race will
continue with or without our participation, and this is significant,
not because we should care if we're out of the game, but because it
helps us understand the rules.

> The race can take differing paths, and we should,
> at least to some extent, be able to influence what
> path it will take, because we are the ones creating
> it.

Yes, it is critical, from our POV, that we exercise choice as
effectively as possible.

> What I wonder is what path is safest, what path
> minimizes the risk that the race stops itself through
> a disaster (or an evil deed).

We can never know "the correct" safest path, but we improve our odds
to the extent that we apply our best understanding of the deeper
principles of the way the universe works, toward promotion of our best
understanding of our shared human values, expressed in an increasingly
coherent manner.  In practical terms, this implies the importance of
an increasingly effective cognitive framework for moral

> > and our future
> > -- depends on it being so.
> >
> > I tend to favor a model of our subjective awareness
> > in
> > the form of a
> > tree of the probable, exploring the possible.  As
> > subjective agents,
> > we are each but the tips of the branches.  Looking
> > back, we see
> > increasingly thick branches -- increasingly probable
> > principles --
> > describing the "reality" of our subjective branch
> > converging all the
> > way back to the thickest branches representing our
> > most fundamental,
> > and therefore most general, principles of physics.
> > Looking forward,
> > we see the growth of increasingly diverse branches
> > of
> > the possible,
> > supported by the probable, to be pruned by natural
> > selection in ways
> > consistent with what has gone before, but always
> > surprising from our
> > subjective point of view.
> >
> > Staying in the Red Queen's race, from any subjective
> > point of view,
> > involves the discovery and exploitation of
> > increasingly effective
> > configurations -- configurations representing that
> > with which we
> > identify: our subjective values -- and increasingly
> > effective not only
> > within existing degrees of freedom but in terms of
> > synergistic
> > configurations presenting new dimensions of
> > interaction with the local
> > environment, the adjacent possible.
> >
> > In principle, this is a race of information,
> > supported
> > by
> > configurations of what we currently see as matter.
> > This reflects on
> > the question of surveillance and sousveillance --
> Sousveillance implies watching "from below", meaning
> there is someone "above" you, someone who still has
> more power than you. This is not the only alternative
> to surveillance. A society is thinkable where there
> are no governments with any of the advantage in terms
> of surveillance and overall power that they have
> today, a society where everybody has equal ability to
> watch each other, and equal power to stop each other
> from doing evil. That would not be sousveillance
> but... equal interveillance?

Sorry, but again it comes down to information.  You're neglecting the
ensuing combinatorial explosion and the rapid run-up against the
limits of any finite amount of computational resources.  To function,
we (and by extension, our machines) must limit our attention, there
will always be gradients, and that's a good thing.  Gradients make the
world go 'round.

> Would you rather have that kind of system than the
> kind of system we have today?

I passionately desire, and work toward, a system that increases our
effective awareness of ourselves and how we can better promote our
evolving values. Such a system does not aim for "equality", but
rather, growth of opportunity within an increasingly cooperative
positive-sum framework.

> If yes, do you think extropians can increase the
> probability that mankind will choose and implement
> such a system globally? If yes, how?

I think that the philosophy of extropy has everything to do with
increasing our chances.

> > while the tree can
> > and will branch unpredictably, a fundamental trend
> > is
> > toward
> > increasing information (on both sides.)
> >
> > We can take heart from the observation that
> > increasing
> > convergence on
> > principles "of what works" supports increasing
> > divergence of
> > self-expression "of what may work."  If we recognize
> > this and promote
> > growth in terms of our evolving values via our
> > evolving understanding
> > of principles of "what works", amplified by our
> > technologies, then we
> > can hope to stay in the race, even as the race
> > itself
> > evolves.  If we
> > would attempt in some way to devise a solution
> > preserving our present
> > values, then the race, speeding up exponentially,
> > would soon pass us
> > by.
> >
> > In short, yes, we can hope to stay in the race, but
> > as
> > the race
> > evolves so must we.
> Nice word ambiguity! :-)
> I don't really understand whether you answer my
> question though.

Sorry that I appear ambiguous; I strive to be as clear and precise as
possible, but not more so.

TheMan: "How should we travel, to get through the increasingly complex
and dangerous territory that lies ahead?"

Jef: "We should take an inventory of ourselves and our equipment, and
apply ourselves to making a better map as we proceed."

TheMan: "No, I mean specifically, how should we go?"

Jef: "The best answer to that question is always on our best map."

TheMan:  "You are so irritatingly vague!  Don't you even care about
this journey?"

> Basically, I was wondering what is
> the best way to minimize the existential threat from
> technology, in terms of _what_ people should have the
> right to watch _what_ people, and to what extent, and
> how, and how it should be governed (if at all) etc.

My thinking in this regard tends to align with the Proactionary Principle:
but I realize you're looking for something more specific.

I don't have a specific answer to "what people" should be able to
watch "what people."  Personally, I tend to like the idea of public
cameras on the web watching all public areas.  I think this will
improve public safety dramatically, and that concerns about privacy
will adapt, and that additional unforeseen benefits will arise.

> Who stays in the tech race and who doesn't is a
> decisive factor, but this doesn't automatically mean
> that you are more likely to survive if you choose to
> stay in the race as strongly as possible an
> individual, as opposed to staying in the race as a
> part of [society's staying in the race - through the
> power of governments - against certain people]. You
> might be better off handing over a lot of power to
> your government, or you might not. That's the question
> I want to discuss.

Personally, I think "government" as we know it will collapse under the
weight of its own inconsistencies, and that radical libertarianism
will never flourish.  I favor a system possibly describable as anarchy
within an increasingly cooperative framework.

- Jef

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list