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Bruce Sterling on Geeks and Spooks 187

apsmith writes: "Bruce Sterling's latest Viridian piece is a written version of a talk on why we're in such a mess with crypto, why the computer industry is going nowhere for the next few years, and what Lawrence Lessig, the NSA, Echelon, Oliver North and Abdullah Catli have in common. Thought-provoking stuff, even if you might not agree with quite everything ("Why don't you geeks just sit down with your cheap, crappy plastic boxes, and shut up? Here in the TV biz, our boxes look nicer anyway!")." This is a lunch-time talk, and it's meant to be entertaining, and it is. :)
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Bruce Sterling on Geeks and Spooks

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  • Computer Industry (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Renraku ( 518261 )
    You know why its not really going anywhere? Because there isn't that much innovation anymore. I mean, you have two options for software. Make it yourself, or get someone elses'. If you can dream it up, its probably been done (within reason). So, basically, the need for the software has to overcome the energy consumed in making the software in order for anything to be done. And the energy to acquire the software is becoming less and less as more and more software is produced. Hardware is the same way, only more closed. Not many people have their own chip fabs that could anywhere near compete with the major players in the chip industry.
    • You know why its not really going anywhere? Because there isn't that much innovation anymore.
      There's a lot of reasons for that, but Mr. Sterling named one:

      The big time in modern outlaw geekdom is definitely Microsoft. The Justice Department can round up all the Al Qaeda guys they can wiretap, but when they went to round up Redmond, they went home limping and sobbing, and without a job. That is a geek fait accompli, it's a true geek lock-in. In 2001, Microsoft has got its semi-legal code in every box that matters....

      So: we don't have any crypto anarchy in computers in 2001. What we have is a feudal empire. Innovation is not bursting out of pirate utopias run by the mentally liberated. No, innovation has slowed to a crawl; no, it's actually crawling in full reverse. You can buy a top-end Wintel machine now: say [sic.] 512 meg of ram, 400 megaherz == with every rational expectation that machine will last you ten solid years. Maybe longer. Good luck finding any broadband for it, but as far as the machine itself goes, it'll sit on a shelf like a lump of putty, running Windows. Moore's Law, to hell with that. There's nothing new and fancy for a bigger chip to run. Nobody's thought that up. It's even worse than Detroit before the Japanese. It's all chrome tail-fins and creeping featuritis: it's unsafe at any speed.
      (Except he describes Lawrence Lessig as "an American Justice Department lawyer who had his head handed to him in court by Microsoft," which is pretty confused on a few levels.)
      • It seems like you are trying to grasp at any argument of Mr. Sterling's that sounds like something Anti-Microsoft or pro Open Source. He doesn't say anything about Microsoft's lack of innovation. He preceeded what you quoted with "So where are these imaginary earthshaking geek outlaws who laugh in derision at mere government?" So what did Mr. Sterling name? If there's no innovation it is because either there is no need for it, or because there is some lack of a free economy. If there isn't any demand for something, then by what standards is it innovative? And for what purpose is it? And if there is some lack of a free economy, which is the other choice, then you are complaining about an effect, without examining any cause.
    • Re:Computer Industry (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ttyRazor ( 20815 )
      I'd argue that it's not that there is any less innovation, it's just that thanks to the Internet, all the early adopters get the innovative new technology in some barely usable beta state, impressive but not exciting to the point where its called "innovative", and by the time its refined to a solid and usable point, we take it for granted. Also, alot (but not all) of the "innovative" stuff in the past was doing the simple and obvious stuff in a way that was far from simple and obvious becase to get it to run on the hardware of the day would mean all sorts of fancy optimizations. Take for example innovations like streaming video. Everyone went through all sorts of effort to make ultra-efficient compression codecs and stuff, but once broadband gets to a point where its as fast as your average LAN, it will become merely the transmission of a video stream over a network in a way that seems no different than playing it locally, and won't seem like anything innovative at all
    • Unfortunately, innovation in Open Source software, that is to say non-market-driven software, seems to follow the following formula:

      1) Get an idea
      2) Write an 0.1 version
      3) Archive at SourceForge
      4) Repeat

      Rigor is a function of one of two conditions: economics or obsession. Innovation based on economics/market is the Microsoft approach, which is why they're the 800-pound gorilla.
      • If the market isn't driving innovation, then what is the purpose of Open Source? If not for the market (willing consumers), then for who? The 800-pound gorilla is a movement that has no purpose.
      • Re:Computer Industry (Score:2, Interesting)

        by ichimunki ( 194887 )
        No. The reason MS is the 800 pound gorilla is that any time they see someone else's innovation they work it into their operating system, buy the company outright, or code a workalike and release it for free. And I think what you see on SourceForge is a very public process, beginning with the idea phase, early development and planning, up to the few mature beta projects and then no insignificant number of release quality packages. I bet if you had similar full access to all the developer machines at Microsoft you'd find a similar number of ideas that never gained traction, a lot of early code that got chucked after the skeleton was written, enough parallel development of certain things to make you wonder who's in charge and if they are awake, and plenty of beta stuff that never makes it to release, and a handful of release quality stuff.

        Note on the word release: *any* release is really just a beta until users get a chance to test it, only with Microsoft they can't call their first release beta because then no one would pay for it, the updates in the form of service packs are usually no charge-- free software can call stuff beta forever if they want, giving a package a release number is good for the public process of knowing when to feature freeze and do more rigorous testing for a while, but not much else.

        Personally I think Sterling is flat out wrong. He does give some okay insights into why geeks might be a little wary of the government (after all the spooks are scary to just about anyone, and the spooks are actually interested in the geeks), but as to his assertion that there is no innovation going on... I think that's just plain nonsense.

        Of course, when computing finally reached the level where you could put a really powerful machine on someone's lap there was a rush to fill in all the blanks, software-wise. But there's still plenty to be done, and people are working on it. Natural language parsing, non-mouse/non-keyboard interfaces, wearables, portables, AI, agent software, there may be lots of great clients out there (like Excel or Powerpoint), but just wait until there is an Excel server and two people can really easily start to work on the same spreadsheet simultaneously... I could go on and on with the things that are likely happening or have happened that we aren't really aware of yet...

        His quick dismissal of Moore's law is based on small computers, look at the things big computers are doing that before were essentially impossible! Even if the underlying software or programming paradigms are the same, the real world application of the tools is drastically improving.

        Finally, just because the last fifty years have seen this rate of growth in computing that's astronomical, we cannot and should not expect it to always feel like that: it's not even safe. When you get on the freeway you accelerate from zero to 60 rather quickly, but once you're on the road, just because you've stopped accelerating doesn't mean you're slowing down. Tech is perhaps done accelerating, but even at cruising speed we're still going places.
    • >>If you can dream it up, its probably been done (within reason).

      I think that's far too optomistic view of where we are.

      Right now, I would say that we are the caveman stage of using computers.

      There's tons of stuff that I've thought of that I'll never have time to write... Right now I'm working on some software that I think is fairly unique and inovative. I'll tell you in a month what it is maybe... ;) I've never heard anyone doing it anyways. And I'm just an undergrad.

      If you look at things like napster. Everyone thought about writing it but only one person actually did.
      • Comments like "it's already been done" remind me of the politician in the 19th century who wanted to close the patent office because "everything worthwhile has already been invented" or words to that effect. Just because *you* can't think of anything new doesn't mean there *can't be* anything new.
  • by ryanwright ( 450832 ) on Monday December 03, 2001 @06:34PM (#2651021)
    we geeks have all the cash and all the culture cred, and we're rich and sexy and cool

    Is this guy in denial, or what?! Sounds like the wet dreams of (insert favorite tech company CEO/Microsoft poster boy here): "I'm rich.... and SEXY.. and COOL... and I'm an 3l3t3 ha(k0r to boot!"

    A good read, though. Nice afternoon entertainment..
    • I got the distinct impression he was telling the back story during that paragraph; that's not about today, that's about a few years ago. Correct me if I'm wrong.
    • Are you saying that geeks are necessarily ugly? I beg to differ! Check out the hot undies that got thrown at me once! _0 12701/images/panties.jpg

      Oh wait, I guess I AM an 31337 h4x0r afterall (if you're going to make fun, at least do it right), what with the CopyLeft shirt. :)
  • Executive summary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Monday December 03, 2001 @06:40PM (#2651055) Journal
    Ummm, that gave me a huge headache. It reads like a Jon Katz piece, except by someone with a clue and a really annoying relentless hipster pose. I admit to hitting PageDn pretty quickly, but here's what I think the gist is. Readers with more patience are welcome to correct me:

    A few people care an awful lot about cryptography, but the overwhelming majority of people just want safe credit card transactions. So that's what we've gotten. Cypherpunk types have colorful fantasies but are a joke if you're talking about real world implications. So the anti-crypto forces have beaten them but it's a Pyrrhic victory since the real challenge to the secret-keepers is highly available global information sharing.

    Also, Sealand is stupid.

    • Sterling makes a statement of his own at the end. And proposes something useful.
    • Cypherpunk types have colorful fantasies but are a joke if you're talking about real world implications.

      I hate to say it, but that's about right.. the cypherpunks have got some great ideas for applying strong crypto, near-ironclad anonymity, secret cash transfers, et al, but if John/Jane Q. Net.user won't use them because they're too esoteric, it means precisely nothing.

      Now if it was suddenly cool to be able to use such software, then it would be a lot more widespread.

    • Um... no. If it was too complicated for you ("that gave me a huge headache") please don't try to summarize it for others. ;-P His main point was that the particular attitudes and priorities of those holding power in the crypto game -- M$ geeks and the spooks -- have managed to bore the public and run the whole thing into a dead end. He seems to think that cryptography actually has a whole bunch of practical uses that could make a substantive difference in our lives, but that's gotten lost thanks to misplaced priorities. The crypto issue, however, is just a representative example of how the dominant players in certain industries have detoured our huge push of technological progress off a bridge. (And, as is true with most any issue, the absolutists on either end of the spectrum are out of their minds.)

      Also, Sealand is stupid.

  • If we are approaching the age of cyberfeudalism, then cyberguilds (such as Apache, Jakarta, GNOME, and other self-styled independent "meritocratic" organizations) will be significant power holders. Good time to be a code artist, bad time to be a serf.

    Taking the medieval analogy to its logical conclusion I have one question: who gets to be the pope? Bill Gates or Richard Stallman?

    This is NOT off-topic...

    • by Bud Dwyer ( 527622 ) on Monday December 03, 2001 @06:57PM (#2651144) Homepage

      If we are approaching the age of cyberfeudalism, then cyberguilds (such as Apache, Jakarta, GNOME, and other self-styled independent "meritocratic" organizations) will be significant power holders. Good time to be a code artist, bad time to be a serf.

      OSS projects as centers of power? Are you kidding me? The manager at your local K-Mart has more power than Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman combined.

      What you're missing, is that the "code artists" are the serfs. Writing code is low-level labor--to the information age what plowing fields was to the age of agriculture. The only way you can cease to be a serf, is to cease writing code. Code is just a commodity, like wheat. Useless in and of itself. Useful if you can make money off its sale. The management class is the one that structures deals and creates wealth. That's the way it always has been and always will be.

      • No, no, what you are missing is that guilds often completely controlled vertical access to the work and its manufacture. They were the only ones with the necessary combination of expertise, resources, and political connections to go from raw resource to fungible commodity.

        If...wait, BIG IF...Sterling and Lessig are right about the concentration and fragmentation of power going on right now, then in order to attract new features/projects, the big remaining software powers, lacking all creativity, will eventually be forced to grant monopolies to the most promising software creators. (Just as in the medieval period, guilds were often established as a "recruiting tool" to snarf the foreign experts in some new field.)

        It is the combined package of code that works, lore about that code, and restricted access to the CVS tree that is interesting... Without this, I agree with you that serfdom is the unfortunate result.

        • Guilds in the past had some concept of ownership or property. This can't be compared to the examples given by the original poster. If there is no property, who is controlling access to what? And who is to profit? If large companies aren't "creating", it is only because there is no productive value in the creation. If there were some valuable thing to create, in a truly free economy, there would be a creator. By what criteria is open source "creative"? In a free market, there happens to be a *purpose* to creation. Yes, the current rate of creation is very slow, but by what logic can that mean that the answer is the dissolusion of intellectual property? It would seem that the problem is the lack of control of property.
          • If I'm not mistaken, although guilds certainly came in many forms (and evolved over hundreds of years), most of the time they were about control, mutual protection, and subsidy, rather than property ownership. There are many historical links to be Googled that gloss the concept - I think that you'll find that most support my viewpoint.

            I also was not saying anything about the "dissolution of intellectual property." Just like guilds, open source communities are often about control, mutual protection, and subsidy. Hardware vendors and device manufacturers, for example, often underwrite development efforts; businesses have been known to band together around shared interests or cost-sharing; individuals who have an itch wish to share the resulting project with an adoring public; etc. As Lessig says in The Future of Ideas, copyright is not based on the concept of tangible property...instead, it is about tangible control over who can use the copyrighted material. Property was only a secondary factor for guild success (if at all), and creation of source code may turn out to be secondary to ongoing nurture of that source code for my hypothetical "open source guilds."

            Most important was (and is) the successful commerce in services that resulted! (Neo-mercantilism must be just around the corner... :)

            • First off, the argument of an economic system of "mutual protection" and "subsidy" rather than property ownership equates to the argument for the dissolution of intellectual property. If you can't own property, then who owns intellectual property?
              Compare the advancements of the guild system in its own time (many centuries) vs. the advancements of a generally economic system such as the US.
              I never doubted the intention of the guild systems of mutual protection and control; I'm sure Google will support your point. Search for "Advancements in the Middle Ages" and I believe that Google will support mine.

              • I'll save your Comp101 instructor some trouble: using Google hits as primary support for your thesis is of dubious value.

                Just a few facts will serve to moot your comparison: literacy, currency, horsepower.

                Your construction equating value with property is a gross simplification. You should do some reading beyond the material supporting your political fetish.
                • I was using Google only in response to the previous poster. In what way did I equate value with property? In response to your facts- what do a single one of those items have to do with my post? If they have some relevance, you didn't provide enough of an argument or context to make those concepts mean anything.
                  • Forgive me, I mistakenly presumed your ability to follow a train of thought on a track other than your own.

                    You compare the rate of advancement (cultural/political/technical, I am unsure) during the Middle Ages to that demonstrated by America. The comparison is absurd in the extreme, partly by virtue of disparities in the three areas I mention, among a host of others, but principally in consequence of the fact that modern American progress is impossible without the historical foundation laid in the West. I was astonished at your snarky tone with a poster who was pointing out the benefits represented by a form of collective enterprise which predates and supports the latter development of mercantile capitalism and all the blossoms that tree bears.

                    As to the equation of value and property, perhaps you should consult your post again.
                    • You've said absolutely nothing. My argument is that the rate of advancement in the US is far greater than the rate of advancement in the Middle Ages under the guild system. By advancement, I mean any area that would increase the standard of living. This would include the items that you mention. You rebuke with- The comparison between the Middle Ages and American is wrong ("absurd") because of differences ("disparities") in cultural/political/technical advancement. I don't really see any point in that statment. You are saying that I'm wrong because there is a difference in the rate of advancement. You also say that the American economic system is some sort of evolution from the "collective enterprise" system used in guilds, but provide no argument to back up that statement. Because the Middle Ages predated American progress isn't an argument for some sort of evolution in and of itself. Even with sufficient argument that a free enterprise system was built off of or inspired by the Middle Ages, my original argument is rebuked in no way, nor would that argument support the guild system.
                    • You reply as though each post were taking place in a vacuum.


                      (middle ages - single digits, admit vanishingly small)

                      (1870 america - 80%*)
                      • SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970; and Current Population Reports, Series P-23, Ancestry and Language in the United States: November 1979.


                      Prior to the eleventh century, an effective currency of exchange did not even exist. Coinage was that left from Roman times and did not figure in the effective economy at all. Even as late as the fifteenth century, commerce was carried out via Bills of Exchange denominated in Moneys of Account. The vast majority of Europeans before this lived and died without ever seeing a coin, let alone using one in a transaction.

                      The United States has enjoyed a more or less stable system of currency since its inception.


                      Prior to the development of an agriculture based on animal husbandry in the fourteenth century, the use of draft animals in europe was effectively non-existent. Thus, available horsepower was contingent upon the size of one's family. Industry, such as it existed, was able to make use of wind and water to some benefit.


                      • SOURCE: The Cambridge Economic History of Europe. Vol IV: The Economy of Expanding Europe in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Rich, E.E. and Wilson, C.H. Eds. Cambridge, 1967.

                      You contend that a comparison between the rate of advancement of living standards in the Medieval period and even nineteenth century America supports your argument that the guild system is somehow inferior to a system of free enterprise. I suggest that a productive comparison between these two systems is effectively impossible, not least because a comparison of *rates of advancement* is untenable in consequence of the disparity of circumstance outlined above. This is merely *a precis*. Your argument is such a gross simplification as to beggar discussion. As to the evolution of capitalism, western economy in general and its relation to the medieval system of guilds, I refer you to the first chapter of the above book. Until you've done a deal of reading, further debate is impossible.
      • Well... with the amount of money any decent programmer is making, I think serf-analogy isn't much better than the coder-as-a-baron - analogy you laugh at. Also... usually people who claim writing code is monkey job wouldn't themselves be able to code their way out of a wet paper bag. It's pretty much impossible to "just write code" without design, architecture etc.

        Certainly, managers, leaders, executives earn even more money... But really, compare "code serf"'s income to that of general population, and see if it looks all that bad. About "programming in and of itself is useless"; I agree. Same can be said about practically any single activity known to humankind. Earning money is pretty much useless, in and of itself; using money makes earning much more interesting.

        • Writing code _should_ be a monkey job, given a decent design and a proper understanding of the language. That's why in large projects, the majority of ppl's time shouldn't be spent coding. I don't mean that they shouldn't _be_ _able_ to code, merely that they shouldn't have to hack their way out of trouble. To take an analogy, the best F1 mechanic is the one who never has to conduct emergency repairs on the car - he should only need to when someone else breaks it, and then he should be shit-hot.

          • Writing code _should_ be a monkey job, given a decent design and a proper understanding of the language.

            Well, this is an age old argument about "what is coding"... But I still disagree with notion of good non-coding design eliminating (or even seriously lessening) need for good code-level architecture and design.

            I don't believe in having a few barely literate programmers writing out stupid code based on smart design. If that is possible, then the design work has already been programming, to large degree. And if so, programmers have all but entered the source code to computer. The only stupid component required here is the compiler (compiler plus other tools that help people do their job, that is).

            In large projects, huge amounts of time are spent on requirements and design phases (I should know, working for a largish company). Most of that stuff is required, yet it doesn't even touch implementation. Business requirements, business logics, some high-level architectural questions, all are necessary prerequisites... After which implementation phase starts, consisting of more low-level design etc, including actual 'physical' implementation, programming.

      • Then again, the average person in the age of agriculture probably knew a hell of a lot more about plowing than the average person now knows about kernel hacking. Back then the serfs might have just been doing the manual labor for people who didn't want to waste their time with it, but now geeks are doing work that other people don't want to waste their time learning about.
    • Taking the medieval analogy to its logical conclusion I have one question: who gets to be the pope? Bill Gates or Richard Stallman?

      Who says there has to be only a single Pope? Ever hear of the Great Schism []? Even in the middle ages there were times when 2 or even 3 popes existed, each excommunicating the other(s).

      There's nothing new under the sun.

  • I thought CIA guys were spooks. Is that term reserved for NSA people too? IS IT REALLY A GENERAL TERM FOR A SHADY Guv'ment worker?!
    • I think be meant spooks as in people who enjoy spreading misinformtion (FUD) and scaring people. People who like to say BOO!
    • As a general rule, if you work for the government but prefer to be anonymous with no job that you can tell other people about then you are a spook.

      There are exceptions to this, the head of the CIA (I mean the real one, the Deputy not the politician at the top), for example has a job that is well known. He may even have a listed telephone number. As a manager of spooks though he/she (remember Stella Rimmington) is definitely a spook.

      The main point about spooks is their anonymity. I like uniformed police officer because whenever they think about breaking the law, they have to remember that their identity is known (think about that even the cars are identified on their roofs).

      Spooks are ghosts, there is no identity and no accountability.

    • In my (fairly limited) experience, a spook is a intelligence operative. THerefore, it can be CIA, NSA, even Secret Service. Anyone who operates in secret and who's job is intelligence.
  • Lynch mob? (Score:5, Funny)

    by DaoudaW ( 533025 ) on Monday December 03, 2001 @06:47PM (#2651097)
    The point of this device would be to arm the population in surveilling and recording acts of unconventional warfare.

    Now, if you turn the entire population into anonymous snoops and peeping Toms, it's a nation of snitches, which is very destabilizing. I'm not suggesting that.

    This is the civilian militia Minuteman version of surveillance.

    How does Bruce distinguish this from a lynch mob or posse of surveillance?

    I read through those paragraphs several times, and I really can't figure out how Bruce gets around the destabilization problem that he himself points out. Somehow the fact that these are really sophisticated, cool devices is supposed to make them immune to mis-use.
    • His distinguishing bit is having each device be inextricably linked back to a real person. There would obviously be some sort of penalty to call in false reports. The anonymous piece is what he believes would be very destabilizing.
      • Re:Lynch mob? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Winged Cat ( 101773 ) <atymes AT gmail DOT com> on Monday December 03, 2001 @07:31PM (#2651318)
        So, what happens when - not if - the identity information gets stripped out while it's being reported by others, because the others care about the dirt and not so much about who vouches for it? ("A bunch of people sent me video of you doing this thing we object to. No, I'm not gonna tell you who they are. No, I'm not gonna spend the bandwidth to forward you all that video so you can see it yourself and see if they're faked, or all actually the same person. I'm just gonna find you guilty.")
        • He's talking of something that would be reporting to a government archive. Assumedly the only time something in this archive could be used against you would be in a court of law. He says all the images and voice would be cryptographically cross-signed to prevent easy fakes. Also that the devices themselves would be strongly tamper-resistant, e.g. they report themselves to the government whenever anything happens to try and crack them open. Sure, it wouldn't prevent someone dressing up like you and doing whatever, but geez, that possibility is out there right now with camcorders... He's just talking about making it widespread.
          • He's talking of something that would be reporting to a government archive. Assumedly the only time something in this archive could be used against you would be in a court of law.

            You don't even need to cite the long history of government abuses of power for this one (though that would help). Open information, sunshine laws, freedom of information: usually a good thing; in this case, they allow just anyone to view the data. Which in itself is not so bad, but then people can say "there is data in the archives", and use that claim - without letting others verify it, just banking on public desire for scandal to let the public assume it's actually there - to accuse others of anything. Yes, it falls far short of our (and most legal) standards of proof, but I'm talking about the court of public opinion.

            Sure, it wouldn't prevent someone dressing up like you and doing whatever, but geez, that possibility is out there right now with camcorders... He's just talking about making it widespread.

            Aye, and there's another rub. If video evidence is even more heavily believed and easier to obtain, then the cost/benefit to faking a personal act and filming it shifts in the faker's favor.
    • Re:Lynch mob? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lumpish Scholar ( 17107 ) on Monday December 03, 2001 @07:11PM (#2651232) Homepage Journal
      How does Bruce distinguish this from a lynch mob or posse of surveillance?
      The KKK wore hoods.

      If they wore T-shirts with their driver's license numbers writ large and visible from all angles, they wouldn't have formed lynch mobs.

      Read the text Mr. Sterling wrote between the last two sentences you quoted:

      I'm not suggesting that. I am suggesting secure, accountable devices with digital signatures built in. They're cryptographically time-stamped, their voice signals and photographs are cryptographically overwritten, proving their source. They are tamperproofed, and very sternly verifiable, and usable as proven evidence in courts of law. They're not civilian toys, they are genuine weapons of information warfare, in much the same way that an unarmed Predator surveillance aircraft is a weapon. They are people's media weapons. Their proper use requires some training and discretion; it's like a citizen's audiovisual arrest.
      • A device is ok, if I can make own keypair, have it signed by "authority", and then install it into the device. The device can be transferred.

        I would use no key but one I have created myself with software I trust.

        Our Bruce fails to mention this, I believe. In fact, he proposes builtin keys.

      • Re:Lynch mob? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:19PM (#2651524)
        The KKK wore hoods.

        If they wore T-shirts with their driver's license numbers writ large and visible from all angles, they wouldn't have formed lynch mobs.
        That conveniently ignores the fact that the county sheriff usually knew exactly who the members of the lynch mob were, and his deputies were often part of the mob. So if an imbalance of power exists, having that information would probably only make it worse for those at the wrong end of the see-saw.


        • Re:Lynch mob? (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Caelum ( 2341 )
          That conveniently ignores the fact that the county sheriff usually knew exactly who the members of the lynch mob were, and his deputies were often part of the mob. So if an imbalance of power exists, having that information would probably only make it worse for those at the wrong end of the see-saw.

          Of course the sheriff knew, but his job was not upholding moral righteousness, merely responding to things the community wanted him to respond to or would complain about.

          If KKK members had their driver's license printed on their t-shirts, the sheriff can no longer claim ignorance, and would be forced to follow up reports or be accused of corruption during the next election.
        • Perhaps an imbalance of power like that can exist on a local level. We're talking about surveillance data that whose source is verifiable on a national scale. And if the United States is capable of mob injustice on a national level, these little doohickies aren't going to make things any worse.
        • > "The KKK wore hoods."

          > "If they wore T-shirts with their driver's license numbers writ large and visible from all angles, they wouldn't have formed lynch mobs."

          "That conveniently ignores the fact that the county sheriff usually knew exactly who the members of the lynch mob were"

          There's one thing that you are missing. Even if the sheriff knew who the local KKK members were, with the hoods, the sheriff could either feign total ignorance of the lynchers' identities, or simply say that the hoods kept him from identifying *which* KKK members were doing the lynching.
        • Democracy is founded on the idea that there are more people on the side of 'right' than on the side of injustice.

          In otherwords, the people across the nation would see what the sheriff was doing, and tell him to take a hike. With a mask, nobody knows it's the sheriff, and he can deny any involvement.

          You really can't argue that the minority in charge ever goes against the majority sentiment in favor of the rights of any group. That just hasn't been the case historically.

          Minority groups always recieve their rights only after the majority of the people agree that they should have those rights. The leaders just look at the polls and go along with the people (unless it's one of their financial sponsors being on the wrong side of public opinion).
      • Actually I was thinking more about McCarthyism were political fortunes were made by false accusations.
    • Incidentally, this concept is nothing new. David Brin []'s Earth novel, written more than a decade ago, foresaw a future in which wireless networking was ubiqitous, and civilians routinely archived all of their waking moments with inexpensive video and audio recorders. A natural consequence of this voyeuristic society, as Brin envisioned it, was the virtual elimination of most violent crime.


    • > How does Bruce distinguish this from a lynch mob or posse of surveillance?

      Civilian surveillance is a Good Thing. It keeps the authorities more or less in line.

      Google around for police shooting WTO protersters and more...
  • missing the point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the_rev_matt ( 239420 ) <slashbot.revmatt@com> on Monday December 03, 2001 @07:00PM (#2651166) Homepage
    I found this highly entertaining, but people who do not have a particularly dry sense of humour may not enjoy it. I think he makes some excellent points, especially when addressing some of the things our spy industry does that the mainstream media covers up.
  • by tych0 ( 519146 ) <tych0 AT blazenet DOT net> on Monday December 03, 2001 @07:18PM (#2651261)
    Bruce decided that our government should be the primary distributors of crypto, and that it should arm private citizens with secure transmitting devices. At first, this sounds like a great idea: the masses rise up in defense of their great nation and take the evil barbarians by storm! The intelligence agencies would love it because they would now have information streaming in, and they would not have to go through the trouble of getting a warrant for a wiretap or bugs. However, the problem arises when you consider the government presumably giving the worlds most powerful crypto to Joe and Jane Citizen These are the people who the government would not trust with conventional military hardware, much less something with the capability to destroy people's lives by ultimately providing their closest held secrets to Washington, free of charge. It brings to mind several scenes from Orwell's 1984, where it was the 'private' citizen who turned in his fellows to Big Brother.
    • How are you turning a voluntary information tool into Big Brother? It seems like this is the perfect way to combat terrorism if current events continue to happen within our own borders. I would much rather see the power of surveillence in my own hands than a government agency that has no form of accountability. I think that's what Sterling was trying to point out.
      • So tell me: how will I guarantee that the device (which we've already established is directly imprinted to recognize and confirm to a legal degree who I am, and with trivial GPS probably also where I am) is not on when I don't want it to be on?

        Without that guarantee, it's a tool of big brother, because I can be snooped on whenever the listeners wish. And don't give me some hogwash about taking out the batteries; if it were that easy, someone would take out my batteries before they took me out.

        • There wouldn't have to be a GPS device in the phone. All that Sterling addressed was some form of identification. I'm sure that such devices could be publicly made and privately tested to ensure that no GPS activity is involved. In this sense, yes, it would be a tool of the government.
          • Ok, so it doesn't know where I am, but it can still hear me any time they want to listen. So how is that not "big brother"?
            • If it records and transmits, it must use power. You keep the device, so you are responsible of recharging it. Testing the devices for activity during the time when they should be switched off would be fairly easy - just monitor their power consumption.

              This is just off the top of my head - there are probably more subtle approaches promising more accurate results.


      • Just to set the record straight, I am not concerned about Big Brother getting intelligence; I am concerned that my neighbor who has a grudge against me will film me through my window while I am reading, for instance, the alt.2600 newsgroup and submitting that as evidence of my plans to subvert the government. Government intelligence agencies do have oversight. Private individuals do not have oversight, they are not accountable to anyone. Maybe I am not cool enough to distrust everything about the government, but I fear the tyrrany of the minority more than an inefficient bureaucracy.
    • Don't think of it as a telescreen link to the Thought Police, think of it as 911 on 'roids:
      You're walking home from the train station, when a knife wielding mugger approaches....

      You pull out your cellphone, point it at him and say "smile kid, you're on Cop TV".

    • So, Bruce wants to combine an ID thingy with a videocamera-cell phone? A device that lets you play reporter or cop, and is impossible to spoof? Good luck.

      Actually, this has been going on ever since the LA cops got caught whalin' on some DUI named Rodney King. Most of the news footage from 11.9.01 came from amateurs. And CNN's videophones are starting to catch on, sort of like mobile videoconferencing.

      The pipe dream in all of this is making it equivalent to a form of ID. Do I really want to lug this thing around with me everywhere I go? What if I want to mix and match, a Sony camera and a Nokia phone? And what it I want to use this thing for private entertainment? What do you meain, I can't? Does that mean I need an extra version for private use?

      This shoudn't be in the hands of a regulatory body.Each customer and manufacturer should decide for himself how deep and in which direction they want to go. Sorta like what's happening as we speak--er, write.
  • Bruce advocates that we all have access to completely tamper-proof, handheld digital camera devices and so forth so everyone has an even playing field for the growing info-war that is life today. Sorry to break the news, Bruce, but as idealistic as it sounds, geeks are pretty good at turning out open-source software, but when it comes to hardware, I doubt there's many philanthropists willing to fund the dissemination of little PDA-like crypto-cameras to every yokel on the street. Noble cause and all, but simply impractical.

    Sure, perhaps we would suddenly see thousands more videos a la Rodney King or perhaps even volunteer "Thought Police"-types of citizan groups (there's a Louisville, KY paper called "Snitch") but isn't that reason alone NOT to make such things? Enabling people to securely document unseemly behaviour of authorities would surely prompt many "corporate privacy protection" laws or the outright declaration that video recordings of Federal, State, and Municipal employees are verboten. On the other hand, the goody-two-shoes neighborhood snitch crowd would threaten the private citizen's right to be anonymous.

    But despite these objections, these things are already starting to happen -- the surveilence culture is already well established. Xcam, anyone? Indymedia [] is an example of how cheap video equipment, the internet, and PHP can provide an alternative news service for those who disdain the mainstream sources. The cops routinely videotape everything they do, and sometimes re-edit it later as they see fit [].

    The difference between the current trend of surveillence culture and Sterlings's pleas to geeks are that regular joe can't compete with the likes of CNN in getting those memes out there. Plus States' resources in information management; ie. linking downtown London's streetcorner cameras to Interpol mugshots.

    Imagine a Slashdot style system of posting video clips (except really really user-friendly); user-moderated, with "karma" exploded into multiple ratings axes (rather than being 1-dimensional), decentralized, with multiple points of entry (not just different browsers -- different ways of getting the info).

    The difference between this and TV news is a reported doesn't simply present information -- they interpret and filter it to a large degree. However, how could a news organization ignore a video clip that gets boosted to the top of the pile?

    Brainstorm, rant, reaction....

    • > Sure, perhaps we would suddenly see thousands more videos a la Rodney King

      Yeah, right.

      "Holy shit! Citizen CX29BR7 just saw Homeland Defence Squad HDS4787 gunning down dissident JF78Z4 and reported it as a terrorist act. Homeland Response Squyad HRS5651 has been dispatched to terminate CX29BR7."

  • by chris_mahan ( 256577 ) <> on Monday December 03, 2001 @07:27PM (#2651305) Homepage
    True enterpreneurship is about failing and failing until at last one learns and does it right. Usually, getting the chance to "start all over" involves moving away with the clothes on your back, burnt bridges behind, and lofty ideals ahead. This is what America was founded on, this is why people left their countries (if they were wealthy and successful, they stayed in them european countries). Being able to shed one's identity and become truly anonymous is a requirement. This is why it's so important not to have lifelong tracking devices. They have them in Europe, and dang they were annoying. They served to remind everyone of their lowly position in life, of their expected behavior based on status...
  • When people start saying that the computer industry will be going nowhere for the next few years, it means something totally new and world-altering is about to happen.

    Before the microprocessor, the world was under the impression nothing would change until mainframes got a LOT bigger, made of fewer discrete components. Before handhelds, people thought laptops were going nowhere. Before the Internet people thought BBSes were going nowhere.

    Before Linux started picking up, people thought the only thing that could run on PCs was Windows and DOS. Little did they know! :)

    So, something big is gonna happen in the computer industry soon. Sweet :)
    • Before Linux started picking up, people thought the only thing that could run on PCs was Windows and DOS

      Bollocks. Don't you remember GEM? Ran under DR-DOS (in itself superior to MS-DOS) and if it hadn't been for Apple hobbling Digital Research it would have been a real contender...
  • Interesting! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rdl ( 4744 ) <> on Monday December 03, 2001 @07:31PM (#2651319) Homepage
    I suppose I should be proud to have someone like Bruce Sterling making any kind of comments about me... (I wonder if he'd show up if I invited him to a party?)

    Actually, our quality of life out on Sealand is pretty high. Any geek thing which fits in 5k square feet of dedicated-to-accomodations space, for a fairly small number of people, we have. Gig-e, dvd library, 5 TB of mp3s (and divx), wavelan throughout, on-site anonymizing proxies and mixmaster remailers, a pool of laptops, IEC 320 outlets on the walls, and about 16L of diet coke per person per week. It's really no different from a big house in the middle of nowhere, except in 2 hours I can be in London, or 4 hours in Amsterdam, or 11 hours in San Francisco, LA, etc. Admittedly, I'd far prefer living in one of the 5 interesting cities in the world, but this makes money. And, most of the people living here are security/maintenance, not geeks. The big drawback is our no-drug/no-alcohol policy, and the lack of random unplanned social interaction; friends of mine from SF fly out and visit, but nothing really happens spontaneously or serindipitously. Again, much like living on a farm or something.

    No one really promotes Sealand as a tourist destination or place to live; it's effectively a big colocation facility at present, and likely to remain so indefinitely.

    I *do* agree with his fundamental point there, though -- if I were going to be living in isolation with a small number of people, I don't know if people who are dedicated to bringing down governments and complete individual liberty are the best companions. Although *bland* people are probably the "easiest" to get along with, if I were picking some people to spend long amounts of time with in a remote location, once basic skills were taken care of, people interested in science, art, literature, etc. would be a lot more interesting than "glee club" or debating society or politicians or lawyers or the others Sterling mentions as the most interesting. A lot of the "hacker" conferences attract a good cross-section of people; I think of all the 5000-person subsets of the world, the people at events like HAL, nanotech conferences, Burning Man, etc. would be some of the better ones.

    As for his overall point about the rate of cypherpunk progress; I don't know. A lot of the things we want already exist -- ssh is *widely* deployed (to the point that anyone sending passwords in the clear over the net is a fucking moron, and widely recognized as such); SSL web pages are common; anonymization through mixmaster or proxies is understood and deployed. HavenCo provides a small piece of the puzzle by making it easy to anonymously, reliabily, and security host servers. The only thing we're missing is true blinded ecash, but progress is still being made on that front, and almost-as-good alternatives, like e-gold, paypal, etc., already exist. I'd say we've done a pretty good job on the datahaven front, given that it's been discussed in sci-fi for 20-30 years, and most of the pieces are there now; how long were they discussing space travel, biotech, wide area networks, etc. before they were deployed to a similar degree? The dotcom collapse is certainly a setback for everyone, but the underlying trend of decentralization and individual control which started before the dotcom boom is still going strong.
    • Can I please live there?!?!?! Sounds so like paradise!
    • if I were going to be living in isolation with a small number of people, I don't know if people who are dedicated to bringing down governments and complete individual liberty are the best companions. Although *bland* people are probably the "easiest" to get along with, if I were picking some people to spend long amounts of time with in a remote location, once basic skills were taken care of, people interested in science, art, literature, etc. would be a lot more interesting than "glee club" or debating society or politicians or lawyers or the others Sterling mentions as the most interesting.

      I've got to agree. As someone who spends all day working for politicians (who are usually lawyers), I'd much rather have people who are interested in all sorts of different aspects of life. Politicians and lawyers, debate team captains, all know the rules for formal debates. But quite often they lack the passion and knowledge to really share something significant about a subject.

      It must be interesting to have an opportunity to, in some sense, choose the kind of people who will be around you. The interview process for SeaLand must be an interesting one.

      Completely off topic, but I know your sister Jess really well. We were friends when I was at PSU, and worked together last summer. I still talk to her a few times a month.

  • Mr Sterling's manifesto reads a lot like many other anti-establishment whack-job's ramblings. Just as he starts to make a point, he wanders off into anecdotal bits of dead-spy arcana which somehow is supposed to make you think he must know what he's talking about. Except he forgets to ever really say anything that can be grabbed onto so you can say, yeah! you got a point, (or even, hey, that not right).
    When it comes right down to it, the culprit is the maturation of the tech industry. Its not so fun anymore, all the low hanging fruit has been picked. And the drama about crypto and spy-hackers that gave geeks a sort of mystery and coolness just never amounted to much, and wishing won't make it so.
  • geeks are outlaws.
    spooks want to FIGHT Redmond.
    Republicans are on the side of geeks.
    All geeks want to sell pirated software.

    He must be smoking some real cheap Peruvian marching powder.
  • ...this guy should switch to decaf? Oh, and maybe lay off the hallucinogens just a tad. Not totally, but just a tad, because we all know writers need hallucinogens.
  • Maybe there aren't many interesting things to run on a high-end PC *now*, but there will be.

    I firmly believe that a moment will come when there will be something better to run than a desktop OS. (And for the desktop head over to right away ;)

    Speaking AI? Knowledge based systems, machine learning, planning, language processing, and a whole lot more. There will be stuff that you wouldn't dare write in a novel.

    Speaking network? Where is my distributed OS, will there be one Avalon that I can login to? Who knows... Today we've got lots of cluster stuff, computational network projects and a beowulf at our research lab but tomorrow...

    Speaking privacy? Come and decypher my GnuPG encrypted emails. The better algo's we need, the more they will be made.

    Happy writing,
  • by pyramid termite ( 458232 ) on Monday December 03, 2001 @09:05PM (#2651721)
    There's already too much information, code, hardware, people, you name it to keep track of. Your average feudal lord didn't have to keep track of a gazillion different people doing a gazillion different things. You don't need Sealand or Grenada to make an Island in the Net; all you really need is relative obscurity and the ability to quickly shut it down and set it up somewhere or somehow else. He makes the mistake of regarding anarchists as these in-your-face kind of people who are out on the streets raising hell, when I bet most of them are just quietly going about their business keeping a low profile. He also makes the mistake of regarding the spooks as these omnipotent, omnipresent gods; the events of 9/11 alone disproves that idea. High profile people like Dimitri and that Finnish kid get the heat while shadowy crackers and sharers continue on, barely being noticed by anyone. We've got a brand new spanking Homeland Sercuity department and a Justice Department that's wanting to wiretap and spy all over the country, but neither of them can stop that kid downloading MP3s or knocking off the corner liquor store. Remember the war on drugs? Last time I checked, drugs were winning.

    If one looks at the technology and software that's out there, it can be easy to conclude that there's little real innovation out there. It would seem that we're in a period of small refinements to old hat stuff. But isn't it the social innovation that really makes the internet unique?

    Part of the problem with science fiction writers is they tend to write novels where one person single-handedly saves the world or changes it in opposition to some monolithic oppressive entity. I'm afraid Sterling's fallen prey to that - he's looking at the people who want to be big players and what they're doing, while all the time, the bit actors are stealing the show by sheer force of numbers. Yeah, great, the government's going to have a number on everyone and observe everything they do - but how in the hell are they going to keep track of it all? How many words are created on the internet a day and how many people would you need to keep track of them all? People argue about anomynity all the time, but there's a simple truth - if you are one of millions, you are anomynous unless you do something very obvious to draw attention to yourself or get very unlucky.

    What he's done here is the equivalent of judging the ocean by what he can see looking down on it. He sees the first few surface feet and meanwhile, 99.99% of the water goes uninspected.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What if all of the isps eventually were owned by two or three large companies? These companies in turn have ties to microsoft's network infrastructure and create a terms of service agreement stating all traffic be unencrypted and can only be using the protocols hey specify? Think it couldn't happen? I hear aol is even in australia. its not too hard to block out all the ports and force users to go through proxies either. Your internet could be tied down, torn to shreds, and as useful as television.
  • Geek@Microsoft? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Snafoo ( 38566 )
    Okay, although this has probably been pointed out by someone 'neath the +3 thresh that I browse at, I'd like to ask: What is this with the `geek tribe' inventing microsoft and stagnating tech?

    I've always been under the impression that Microsoft was more a marketing-management invention; Aside from the founder-coders, Microsoft is actually (I've heard) rather rough on its geeks (outsourced labour and permatemps and all that 'Niaomi Klein' jazz. I would be more inclined to think of geeks as the usual Slashdot cast --- interested in technological innovation and (as a distant second) society in general, not so interested in thumbing through wads of cash made by market hammerlock (a lot of us write code for free, for chrissakes.)

    And what is it with Bruce's prediliction for, you know, the second tense colloqualisms? Sorry. IMO speeches shouldn't read like character dialogue.
  • You may find it boring, but here are some of my cyberanarchy papers: []. I put a lot of work into the speaker notes for this presentation.
  • Reading through his speach, I must agree with his most salient point: Over use of copyright, and copyright that never ends, is a real enemy.

    What happens if copyright, just like patent, is returned to its constitutional "limited time"? Say 7 years.

    What were you using, reading, buying in 1994 that the company/writer is still making money off of today? And I mean real money, not penny-ante "residules" for M*A*S*H re-runs.

    I assert that it's *squat*. Except for massive self-serving multinational corps like Disney who thrive on no one ever, EVER using an idea that they bought with out their permission, the actual individuals who do the work and write the stories and invent this wonderful shared culture have already made their money and moved on to new projects in that "limited time" that patent and copyright were designed to protect.

    As if I'm going to use Win3.1 today just because it wouldn't be a crime to copy it? Get real.


    • Interesting point. Bruce is an author, they like IP because they get paid, he seems to find the current way of doing things flawed.

      In Britain, we have our Official Secrets Act, which you usually have to sign before you work for the Government (in almost any capacity). However, the greatest weapon of all is Crown Copyright. All documents produced by the government are subject to copyright. If you give them to a paper, they are not bound by the Official Secrets Act, but to publish is a breach of copyright.

  • Sterling claims this in his article. It would seem to add some extra cache to his Lessig quotes but it doesn't seem to be true, according to Lessig's cv [].

    Perhaps this is what confused Sterling. Lessig was asked by Judge Jackson to submit a brief in the Microsoft case and apparently it was quite influential [].
    • Yea, I don't get what Sterling could mean by this. I've never worked for DOJ. But he is right that I write about how the telecoms, cable, and the music industry are trying to get a "stifling hammerlock on the culture industry." Indeed, on how they already have -- as we pathetically do nothing about it. Great read, though (Sterling's; mine's too depressing).
  • This is a really really neat idea. Might be totally wrongheaded, but it's interesting. The biggest problem that leaps to mind is with the fifth amendment.

    If an accuser comes forward with information implicating an alleged criminal/terrorist/whatever, then the accused party would want every single peice of evidence that even slightly pertains to the crime at his disposal. That might include every peice of video that the accuser produced for months preceding the crime, and all video produced within a mile of the incident.

    I don't know if this would be a legitimate request on the part of the accused, but I have a feeling it might be. Of course it would be impossible to supply, because it would require people to testify against themselves if they were filming something unrelated and incriminating.

    Is there a good way to compare this problem to a present day scenario in evidence rules?
    • I don't know if this would be a legitimate request on the part of the accused, but I have a feeling it might be. Of course it would be impossible to supply, because it would require people to testify against themselves if they were filming something unrelated and incriminating.

      Is there a good way to compare this problem to a present day scenario in evidence rules?

      Sure. This is no different than getting the spoken testimony of those people. First, you gotta find 'em. Then, you gotta either convince them to testify, or get a judge to compel them.

      Then, you can't make 'em testify against their own Fifth Amendment rights. The courts wouldn't have any trouble sorting this one out.

In the future, you're going to get computers as prizes in breakfast cereals. You'll throw them out because your house will be littered with them.