Category Archives: censorship

Can we get a less abusive society?

When I wrote my recent blog on reducing the problem of rape, part of my research (yes I do sometimes try to learn about something before I blog about it) was looking at the Crime Survey for England and Wales, the CSEW. (As I said, I wasn’t very impressed by it and I couldn’t accept it as a true indicator of crime. A lot of the questions are ambiguous and there are big gaps and strong biases in the coverage. Some areas would therefore be overstated in results while others understated and it lends itself far too well to political lobbies. I said it was about as reasonable an indicator of crime level as a casual chat in a pub.)

The CSEW has a large section asking questions about various forms of abuse within relationships. Not just physical abuse such as rape, but financial, social or emotional abuse too – belittling someone, not letting them see their friends, not allowing them their share of the money. That sort of thing.

Since then, it occurred to me that abuse within relationships is a micro-scale version of what we do all the time socially via politics. If you look at a country as a whole, different groups with very different ideological preferences have to somehow live peacefully side by side in the long term. If you like, it’s a sort of enforced marriage, writ large, or a grand scale civil partnership if you prefer that. 

Taking that analogy, we could adapt some of the questions from the crime survey to see whether things we do regularly to each other in the guise of everyday politics are really a form of abuse. Even within marriages and partnerships, what most of us consider unacceptable behaviour may be accepted or practiced by a quite large proportion of people – according to the figures out this week, 16% of 16-19 year olds think it’s sometimes OK to hit a partner.

If you really don’t like your own country, you could leave, and often some people will tell you to do just that if you don’t like it, but the costs and the aggravation and the ‘why should it be me that has to leave?’ are a big deterrent. So you stay together and suffer the abuse. 

So, let’s take a few of the questions from the CSEW and apply them to the political scale. The questionnaire is here:

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/method-quality/specific/crime-statistics-methodology/2012-13-crime-survey-for-england-and-wales.pdf

Starting with a few questions from the section on domestic violence:

Q1: Has your partner ever prevented you from having your fair share of the household money?

(Yes that question is in the domestic violence section, and I’d certainly answer yes, for pretty much every girlfriend I’ve ever had. That’s why I don’t believe much that comes out of the survey. It’s far too open to interpretation and far too tempting a tool for campaigning. Responses from people who have had serious abuse in this manner would be lost in the noise).

This one has a very obvious political equivalent, and we don’t even need to adapt it. Just about every pressure group would answer yes, and so would everyone who feels they should pay less tax or get more government support or more pay or feels the government spends too much on other people’s interests instead of theirs.

The battle between left and right often comes down to this. The left wants to take and spend more and more, and the right wants to keep their cash and spend it themselves. Each side occasionally gets their way to some degree, but there is no doubt in my mind – it is abusive, no better than a marital fight where the one currently holding the wallet or purse wins, i.e. whoever got most seats this time. We really should find a better way. It is this issue more than any other that made me realise that we ought to implement a dual democracy, (I describe that in my book Total Sustainability) and if we don’t this abuse will eventually lead to the Great Western War which I blogged about a couple of months ago:

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/machiavelli-and-the-coming-great-western-war/

So, question 1, and we can already confirm we are in a highly abusive relationship.

Q2: Has your partner ever stopped you from seeing friends or relatives?

(Can anyone honestly say no to that?)

This one is rather harder to translate. The human rights act is notoriously pretty forceful on this when it comes to criminals, but what does it equate to in civil abuse? Aha! Public demonstrations. Government is intercepting a lot of metadata on who our friends and political friends are, using face recognition at public demonstrations, making them much harder to organise or attend, preventing access to a demonstration and dispersing large groups more. We can all think of groups we find repugnant and may prefer not to exist, but they do exist and share our land whether we like them or not, and they are human, whether we try to portray them as otherwise or not. This sort of abuse blurs into the next form, belittling. Some of us still defend freedom of speech, the right to say what you like without censorship. Others want to clamp down on it, selectively of course; their own right to demonstrate or speak freely must be protected. After the BBC’s Question Time this week, there were numerous people demanding that certain types of people or political parties should be banned from appearing. Such demands happen often. We saw Ed Davey and Prince Charles calling anyone who disagrees with their own views names and should be barred from having any public platform to air their views, the Green Party going still further and calling for people who disagree with them to be sacked and banned from office. So coupling it with belittling, this abuse is becoming the norm in politics and even the Royal Family are guilty of it.

So, more abuse.

Q3: has your partner ever repeatedly belittled you to the extent you felt worthless?

Anyone who ever watches political debate will easily recognise the strong analogies here. These days, in the UK at least, members of all political parties often do their very best to present opposing views as worthless, unacceptable, unfair, odious, backward, prehistoric, uncivilised…. It seems the norm rather than the exception. It isn’t just the parties themselves. Anyone who doesn’t tick all the boxes on the latest political correctness fad is often subjected to abuse by people who share opposing views. Civilised debate on a wide range of sensitive issues is impossible any more.

Definitely very abusive this time.

Q4 has your partner ever frightened you, by threatening to hurt you or someone close to you?

Isn’t that what strikes do? Or riots or even large peaceful public demonstrations? Or media campaigns by pressure groups? People often feel bullied into submission because of the potential consequences they feel if they don’t comply with the demands.

Quite abusive

The rest of the questions are not relevant, being specific to particular weapons. But I think I have made my point. By the criteria we use to judge abuse in our own personal relationships, our society is as guilty as hell. I think it is getting worse year by year. I think we are heading slowly but surely towards a critical point where the fuse finally blows and social breakdown is likely.

I think that in the 21st Century, it is about time we started to work out a more civilised way of living together, sharing the same space with human dignity and mutual respect. Maybe love is a bit much to ask for, but surely we can manage without abusing each other?

Deep surveillance – how much privacy could you lose?

The news that seems to have caught much of the media in shock, that our electronic activities were being monitored, comes as no surprise at all to anyone working in IT for the last decade or two. In fact, I can’t see what’s new. I’ve always assumed since the early 90s that everything I write and do on-line or say or text on a phone or watch on digital TV or do on a game console is recorded forever and checked by computers now or will be checked some time in the future for anything bad. If I don’t want anyone to know I am thinking something, I keep it in my head. Am I paranoid? No. If you think I am, then it’s you who is being naive.

I know that if some technically competent spy with lots of time and resources really wants to monitor everything I do day and night and listen to pretty much everything I say, they could, but I am not important enough, bad enough, threatening enough or even interesting enough, and that conveys far more privacy than any amount of technology barriers ever could. I live in a world of finite but just about acceptable risk of privacy invasion. I’d like more privacy, but it’s too much hassle.

Although government, big business and malicious software might want to record everything I do just in case it might be useful one day, I still assume some privacy, even if it is already technically possible to bypass it. For example, I assume that I can still say what I want in my home without the police turning up even if I am not always politically correct. I am well aware that it is possible to use a function built into the networks called no-ring dial-up to activate the microphone on my phones without me knowing, but I assume nobody bothers. They could, but probably don’t. Same with malware on my mobiles.

I also assume that the police don’t use millimetre wave scanning to video me or my wife through the walls and closed curtains. They could, but probably don’t. And there are plenty of sexier targets to point spycams at so I am probably safe there too.

Probably, nobody bothers to activate the cameras on my iphone or Nexus, but I am still a bit cautious where I point them, just in case. There is simply too much malware out there to ever assume my IT is safe. I do only plug a camera and microphone into my office PC when I need to. I am sure watching me type or read is pretty boring, and few people would do it for long, but I have my office blinds drawn and close the living room curtains in the evening for the same reason – I don’t like being watched.

In a busy tube train, it is often impossible to stop people getting close enough to use an NFC scanner to copy details from my debit card and Barclaycard, but they can be copied at any till or in any restaurant just as easily, so there is a small risk but it is both unavoidable and acceptable. Banks discovered long ago that it costs far more to prevent fraud 100% than it does to just limit it and accept some. I adopt a similar policy.

Enough of today. What of tomorrow? This is a futures blog – usually.

Well, as MM Wave systems develop, they could become much more widespread so burglars and voyeurs might start using them to check if there is anything worth stealing or videoing. Maybe some search company making visual street maps might ‘accidentally’ capture a detailed 3d map of the inside of your house when they come round as well or instead of everything they could access via your wireless LAN. Not deliberately of course, but they can’t check every line of code that some junior might have put in by mistake when they didn’t fully understand the brief.

Some of the next generation games machines will have 3D scanners and HD cameras that can apparently even see blood flow in your skin. If these are hacked or left switched on – and social networking video is one of the applications they are aiming to capture, so they’ll be on often – someone could watch you all evening, capture the most intimate body details, film your facial expressions while you are looking at a known image on a particular part of the screen. Monitoring pupil dilation, smiles, anguished expressions etc could provide a lot of evidence for your emotional state, with a detailed record of what you were watching and doing at exactly that moment, with whom. By monitoring blood flow, pulse and possibly monitoring your skin conductivity via the controller, level of excitement, stress or relaxation can easily be inferred. If given to the authorities, this sort of data might be useful to identify paedophiles or murderers, by seeing which men are excited by seeing kids on TV or those who get pleasure from violent games, so obviously we must allow it, mustn’t we? We know that Microsoft’s OS has had the capability for many years to provide a back door for the authorities. Should we assume that the new Xbox is different?

Monitoring skin conductivity is already routine in IT labs ass an input. Thought recognition is possible too and though primitive today, we will see that spread as the technology progresses. So your thoughts can be monitored too. Thoughts added to emotional reactions and knowledge of circumstances would allow a very detailed picture of someone’s attitudes. By using high speed future computers to data mine zillions of hours of full sensory data input on every one of us gathered via all this routine IT exposure, a future government or big business that is prone to bend the rules could deduce everyone’s attitudes to just about everything – the real truth about our attitudes to every friend and family member or TV celebrity or politician or product, our detailed sexual orientation, any fetishes or perversions, our racial attitudes, political allegiances, attitudes to almost every topic ever aired on TV or everyday conversation, how hard we are working, how much stress we are experiencing, many aspects of our medical state. And they could steal your ideas, if you still have any after putting all your effort into self censorship.

It doesn’t even stop there. If you dare to go outside, innumerable cameras and microphones on phones, visors, and high street surveillance will automatically record all this same stuff for everyone. Thought crimes already exist in many countries including the UK. In depth evidence will become available to back up prosecutions of crimes that today would not even be noticed. Computers that can retrospectively date mine evidence collected over decades and link it all together will be able to identify billions of crimes.

Active skin will one day link your nervous system to your IT, allowing you to record and replay sensations. You will never be able to be sure that you are the only one that can access that data either. I could easily hide algorithms in a chip or program that only I know about, that no amount of testing or inspection could ever reveal. If I can, any decent software engineer can too. That’s the main reason I have never trusted my IT – I am quite nice but I would probably be tempted to put in some secret stuff on any IT I designed. Just because I could and could almost certainly get away with it. If someone was making electronics to link to your nervous system, they’d probably be at least tempted to put a back door in too, or be told to by the authorities.

Cameron utters the old line: “if you are innocent, you have nothing to fear”. Only idiots believe that. Do you know anyone who is innocent? Of everything? Who has never ever done or even thought anything even a little bit wrong? Who has never wanted to do anything nasty to a call centre operator? And that’s before you even start to factor in corruption of the police or mistakes or being framed or dumb juries or secret courts. The real problem here is not what Prism does and what the US authorities are giving to our guys. It is what is being and will be collected and stored, forever, that will be available to all future governments of all persuasions. That’s the problem. They don’t delete it. I’ve said often that our governments are often incompetent but not malicious. Most of our leaders are nice guys, even if some are a little corrupt in some cases. But what if it all goes wrong, and we somehow end up with a deeply divided society and the wrong government or a dictatorship gets in. Which of us can be sure we won’t be up against the wall one day?

We have already lost the battle to defend our privacy. Most of it is long gone, and the only bits left are those where the technology hasn’t caught up yet. In the future, not even the deepest, most hidden parts of your mind will be private. Ever.

We’re all getting nicer are we? Then tell that to those poor zombies in The Typing of the Dead. (Guest post by Chris Moseley)

This is a guest post from Chris Moseley, Owner and Managing Director of Infinite Space PR

There was a time when British bobbies rode bicycles, dressed in full fig policeman’s uniform, complete with Coxcomb helmet and brightly polished buttons on their tunics. This antediluvian fellow – let’s call him PC Pinkleton – would nod to Mrs Peartree, a spinster of this parish out for a walk in her sensible brown brogues, twin set and real pearls, and then wave to the local vicar as he pruned his roses. The worst ‘crime’ that PC Pinkleton might encounter would be a few young lads scrumping for apples in Squire Trelawney’s orchard. A clip around the ear, and a stern lecture on the moral perils of ‘thieving’ and PC Pinkleton’s duty and day were done. Then along came clashes between Mods and Rockers, pitched battles with skinheads, fights with bikers, football hooligans and flying pickets. Throw in a few rioting miners and poll tax protestors and for about a 30 year period life for the English bobby became pretty tough. Just at the point when PC Pinkleton was morphing from Dixon of Dock Green into Robocop, complete with padded riot gear, guns, mace and a US military style helmet, it appears that the uncivil civilian has become tamed.

This is the news, announced this week, that rates of murder and violent crime have fallen more rapidly in the UK in the past decade than many other countries in Western Europe. The UK Peace Index, from the Institute for Economics and Peace, found that UK homicides per 100,000 people had fallen from 1.99 in 2003, to one in 2012. The UK was more peaceful overall, it said, with the reasons for it many and varied. The index found Broadland, Norfolk, to be the most peaceful local council area but Lewisham, London, to be the least. The research by the international non-profit research organisation comes as a separate study by Cardiff University suggests the number of people treated in hospital in England and Wales after violent incidents fell by 14% in 2012. Some 267,291 people required care – 40,706 fewer than in 2011 – according to a sample of 54 hospital units, its report said. BBC home editor Mark Easton called it the “riddle of peacefulness” and said the fall in violence was “perhaps a symptom of a new morality”.

Well, I am just a bit sceptical about all this and more than a little annoyed that the BBC deliberately skirted a really interesting debate and chose instead to pursue an extremely anodyne and rather risible line of discussion. In essence, Mark Easton’s BBC TV and radio pieces concluded with the argument that perhaps as a society we had come to abhor violence. A lovely thought, and while the prospect of peace breaking out all over the place is an attractive one, and I don’t doubt the veracity of the findings of The UK Peace Index, I am more than little dubious about the notion that human nature has altered so markedly in such a short time. Perhaps one of the reasons that the UK in 2013 is more like A Brave New World than the dystopia of A Clockwork Orange is that nearly all of today’s violence is rendered sublimated and vicarious thanks to computer games, combined with the soporific influence of cheap, supermarket-procured booze. Computer games, particularly the violent ones are, after all, a form of Aldous Huxley’s Soma (“All of the benefits of Christianity and alcohol without their defects”), although rather than allowing one to drift into a peaceful state, they act as a cathartic vent. One can enter a virtual world of almost any description, reach for a virtual sword, gun or mace, and proceed to blitz the hell out the “enemy”, which is arguably a form of proxy violence that could instead by directed at one’s boss, a driver in a road rage encounter, the bank manager, even an annoying neighbour. One of the most popular games in the UK today, The Typing of the Dead, confronts the would-be gaming hero with hoards of zombies. Using a keyboard words flash up on the screen which the player needs to type as quickly as possible, thereby killing as many zombies as possible. What a relief to wipe out all those irritating pillocks who inevitably emerge from everyday life without once having to get one’s hands dirty (and what a great lesson in typing too).

Isn’t it possible that we’re just as violent and angry as we used to be? We just express our rage and violence, well, virtually.

http://www.infinitespacepr.com/

The future of tribalism

Introduction

I often cite tribalism as a powerful force in determining how technology plays out. Tribalism conveys obvious evolutionary advantages and has become deeply ingrained in human nature. Even when there weren’t many humans, they used to fight each other for control of resources, and for other kinds of power too. Those that were successful are our ancestors; their genes survived. As individuals in a difficult world, people may not have survived well. In groups they did, and the best groups survived best. It’s very useful to have others who will help protect you and your family’s interests.

Tribalism has a dark side of course. I lived in Belfast throughout ‘the troubles’,  (a mixed-motivation tribal conflict of Irish and catholic v British and protestant, and people not fitting neatly into that often found themselves disliked by both sides. Recently, as immigration has increased, it is sadly evolving into racism.) It is holding Africa back, and the Middle East, and the Far East. In fact, most of the world suffers some significant manifestation of tribal conflict.

Clearly tribal forces can bring potential benefits and potential damage, and they need to be managed, carefully.

If the good side of tribalism is fostered, it brings benefits. In Europe, the EU’s greatest legacy has been its moderation of tribal conflict by harnessing combined efforts to common goals – we all want peace and prosperity. In the USA, this approach has evolved into a strong patriotic feeling that greatly helps maintain the economy, and peace and security. Regional tribalism seems to be useful.

I think though that the right balance is hard to achieve. Too much, wars happen; too little, things fall apart. Misdirected and mismanaged, other problems occur – rioting, abuse, exploitation, a long list.

The redefining of ‘racism’

In a modern world where there is no need to compete for basic existence, we can and should put ethnic tribalism aside – the many different races may look different but are barely distinguishable genetically and modern races are biologically irrelevant. The abuse of people just because they have a different skin colour is wrong, and thankfully is gradually becoming a thing of the past. Most decent people would want to keep it there. Nobody wants to be accused of being a racist, which has become one of the worst insults that can be thrown at someone. I’d think that was a good thing if the meaning of ‘racist’ stayed the same.

However, the meaning of racism has evolved, especially in the last decade, from being just about skin colour, to include any distinction based on skin colour, geography of residence or birth, religion, or even lifestyle choice. That to me is going too far. I certainly want  people to live peacefully side by side as far as possible, but I don’t see that that means all cultures and attitudes have to be considered equal. They aren’t. If for example, a national or religious group mistreats women or children,  I don’t respect that. It is wrong to mistreat women and children. We should be free to say so. Discrimination against wrong ideologies and attitudes is appropriate and is not racist, even if the incidence in a particular race is higher than in another. We must clearly separate race issues from ideological, political and behavioural ones. However, there are frequent attempts to blur them instead with more and more groups trying to wave a race card to get extra political leverage. Sadly, as other things are added under the race banner, its original meaning is diluted, and its value will inevitably fall as a consequence. When everything is classed as racist, nobody will care any more and it will have lost its force.

Racism has also expanded to include geographic region rather than race. People certainly are tribal about where they live, but that doesn’t make them racist. Nationalism and patriotism are not at all the same as racism. It isn’t just the UK as a whole  that is seeing increasing geographic tribal forces and desire to leave the EU. Within the UK, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire, London, and Cornwall have all been looking at the issue of their own separation at some point, recognising their own tribal distinctions. Catalonia too. Geographic tribalism is just one dimension and apart from Rotherham Council and David Cameron, most of us think it is OK. So why are there already problems with making remarks about people who live in different areas, belong to the other tribes? If you want to say Northerners are friendly, I don’t think that is a racist comment, even though it clearly implies that others are less so. But why is it racist to say something about the Scots or Irish or Welsh? Why is it fine to have regional tribes such as the EU, and ones for some sub-areas, but not for others? It makes no sense. None.

The Politically Correct path to 1984 hell

With political correctness, it’s seems as though you get given an even bigger halo if you add even more factors to your list of things you shouldn’t discriminate against. Anti-racism became a general desire for protection of minorities, and has since grown up to become a generic anti-tribalism, and the less tribal you are, the holier. But where does the political correctness road end? It ends only when there is no right or wrong, and you aren’t allowed to say something is right or wrong without being punished. To stop before that is just being arbitrary. Criminals are just another minority, and research is even finding genetic biases for certain criminal behaviours. So if good sense doesn’t reassert itself over political correctness at some point, in the far future, if you want to mug and steal, take drugs, torture your animals to death for dinner, oppress your multiple wives and slaves, and sexually abuse your kids, that would all be fine, since all cultures and creeds must be treated equally. If you disagree, you are just a racist.

To me the biggest problem is the inclusion of religion, making it ‘racist’ and hate crime to criticise other religions. It makes absolutely no sense to me. Religion is about beliefs and people can believe in almost anything. If someone wants to believe something, they should be totally free to do so, and I should be free to say whatever I want about their beliefs. If someone says they genuinely believe 2+2=5, that’s fine with me, but I should be allowed to say they are an idiot and treat them accordingly. I won’t in case it’s a hate crime, but I should be allowed to. If they believe in Dawkins’ Great Spaghetti Monster, or are Jedi, still fine with me, but don’t expect me to support any privileges for them for doing so. Sadly, we’re already half way down that path.

(While we’re on the subject of hate crime, calling someone names just isn’t equivalent to physically assaulting someone or bypassing them for promotion. Growing up in Belfast, I frequently got called every name going with often significant hatred behind it, but I’d been taught the old rhyme about sticks and stones, and the names never did me any harm beyond brief annoyance. Misplaced homophobic abuse I received when I rented a house with some gays just made me laugh – it is hard to take abuse seriously when it comes from such pathetic abusers. Listening to the news the last few months, it seems name calling has become a career-destroying offence, certainly a far worse crime than expenses fraud, deliberate deception, murdering old people or ignoring paedophilia.)

Trying to bury tribalism

PC-devoted liberals in Europe seem to have been trying to bury tribalism completely, to pretend it doesn’t exist, or try to regulate it out of existence as if it is an evil that can be purged. It seems more and more tribal dimensions are to be covered in their extended hate crime category, wrapping it up with race as far as possible. In the UK, this has now reached extremes. The news this week that Rotherham council removed children from their foster parents because they belonged to the UK Independence Party is a good example. They accused the UKIP of racism because they favour focusing efforts on UK interests rather than those outside the UK. So now we have one tribe, Labour, using the power of office, and using innocent children as their weapon of convenience, to force their own tribal views onto members of another tribe, UKIP, with the excuse that that tribe has tribal views.

The real irony of the Rotherham case is that Liberals (and many would include Cameron in that category) are insulting a tribe just because they want to stay a distinct (geographically defined) tribe, i.e. the UK, while simultaneously trying every trick possible to force us all into tribal membership in a European Superstate. So, ‘it is racist if you want to be in your tribe but you must join our tribe and that isn’t racist’.

The lack of proper apologies from those responsible and Cameron saying that he didn’t mean that UKIP are all closet racists, that not all are – it doesn’t look good for the future of freedom of thought, does it?

1984

It is at Rotherham that we really must draw the line. If we don’t reject this style of thinking, if political correctness is to gradually outlaw all of the tribal dimensions, then we may find any political viewpoint except the current state-sanctioned line is labelled as racist. If we’re lucky, we may get an authorised opposition. Then we’ll all be locked in a 1984 hell, treated as cloned slaves belonging to the State.

If that happened, then we’d secretly be conspiring revolution, because people are tribal and most will not behave like that willingly. Then, new technologies will be used that can restrict the ease of conspiring by using more and more surveillance, making it deeper and more personal, eventually thought monitoring and thought control. My evolution chart for the future of humans includes homo zombius around 2075. It is technologically feasible. And socially. And politically.

In the short term, using all too familiar justifications such as crime control, anti-terrorism, and controlling media standards – while extending the rules to social media, government is grabbing more power to control the information we can get hold of, the messages we can spread, and access to technology. Apple recently and unhelpfully patented a system to allow police to turn off smartphones in an area. Government has tried a few times now to introduce screening of every use of communication such as web site access lists, all our messages, all social media and so on. Such measures often get blocked, and then reintroduced, again and again, just like ID cards, or the speed cameras that were meant to be disappearing but are breeding like rabbits. The government says what they want us to hear very loudly, and generally retracts it a week later very quietly. Eventually, the extra surveillance measures will stick. Individually, these can all be explained as sensible approaches to big problems. But they won’t stay in their boxes long. They all give extra power to future authorities, and some of those authorities will have staff like Rotherham social service chiefs.

But tribalism can’t be eliminated

Tribalism is a powerful force in human nature and reasserts itself here and there, from time to time. To deny it or to try to outlaw it is to invite at least as many problems as indulging it. And they will often be harder to deal with than the simple results of tribal conflicts that are usually open to negotiation. There are very many dimensions on which tribal forces can act, thanks to the richness of human culture. Race, gender, age, geography of birth and of residence, political ideology, religious creed, football club support, celebrity following, the list goes on and on. Government can try to block them, but like a river, it can’t stop it, only divert it or dam it for a short time before it spills over.

Football was one of the great diversions of course. Instead of tribes going to war with each other and fields full of corpses, football teams could kick a ball around a while and let of the same tribal pressures. But football is now a major front in the battle against racism, actual skin-colour style racism. I don’t know what that will cause. Will the racism go underground if it doesn’t have an outlet on the terraces, maybe increase BNP support? Who knows? I don’t. Did somehow those involved survive the forces that cured the rest of society of racism, or is it just that too much is being made of the small remnants that survived, perhaps rekindling flames by trying to blow them out? What will be the next phase of it? In Glasgow, the sectarian conflict had an outlet in Rangers v Celtic. Will sectarianism be the next front in the anti-tribalism war? Will that force pressure underground?

Tribal battles are brewing on many other fronts too.

Old people are becoming much more expensive, just as younger people are being fleeced. Those young people will find those older people voting themselves better pensions and health care, which they know won’t be available to those having to pay for them. Intergenerational conflicts are inevitable. The private v public sector battle hasn’t gone away, and will resurface many times over the next decade. The Europhile v Eurosceptic battles are just getting organised. Gay rights issues don’t stop with gay marriage and gender will bring entirely new problems in a decade or two as new genders come on the scene. Body augmentation, mental augmentation and customisation, even artificial intelligence are all fronts for future tribal conflicts.

Even fashion and pop music invoke tribalism. Every school-kid knows the feeling of being verbally or even physically abused because they have a different dress style or make-up style than some other group. Or because they prefer one artist over another. How long before there are demands to label these as hate crimes too? Or is that already history.

Tribalism will never go away. Human culture will continue to evolve, and whole new areas will often be created where tribalism can and will appear. Political correctness can try hard to keep up, but tribalism will outlive it by millennia.

 

Blocking Pirate Bay makes little sense

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/9236667/Pirate-Bay-must-be-blocked-High-Court-tells-ISPs.html Justice Arnold ruled that ISPs must block their customers from accessing Pirate Bay. Regardless of the morality or legality of Pirate Bay, forcing ISPs to block access to it will cause them inconvenience and costs, but won’t fix the core problem of copyright materials being exchanged without permission from the owners.

I have never looked at the Pirate Bay site, but I am aware of what it offers. It doesn’t host material, but allows its users to download from each other. By blocking access to the Bay, the judge blocks another one of billions of ways to exchange data. Many others exist and it is very easy to set up new ones, so trying to deal with them one by one seems rather pointless. Pirate Bay’s users will simply use alternatives. If they were to block all current file sharing sites, others would spring up to replace them, and if need be, with technological variations that set them outside of any new legislation. At best judges could play a poor catch-up game in an eternal war between global creativity and the law. Because that is what this is.

Pirate Bay can only be blocked because it is possible to identify it and put it in court. It is possible to write software that doesn’t need a central site, or indeed any legally identifiable substance. It could for example be open-source software written and maintained by evolving adaptive AI, hidden behind anonymity, distributed algorithms and encryption walls, roaming freely among web servers and PCs, never stopping anywhere. It could be untraceable. It could use combinations of mobile or fixed phone nets, the internet, direct gadget-gadget comms and even use codes on other platforms such as newspapers. Such a system would be dangerous to build from a number of perspectives, but may be forced by actions to close alternatives. If people feel angered by arrogance and greed, they may be pushed down this development road. The only way to fully stop such a system would be to stop communication.

The simple fact is that technology that we depend on for most aspects of our lives also makes it possible to swap files, and to do so secretly as needed. We could switch it off, but our economy and society would collapse. To pretend otherwise is folly. Companies that feel abused should recognise that the world has moved on and they need to adapt their businesses to survive in the world today, not ask everyone to move back to the world of yesterday so that they can cope. Because we can’t and shouldn’t even waste time trying to. My copyright material gets stolen frequently. So what? I just write more. That model works fine for me. It ain’t broke, and trying to fix it without understanding how stuff works won’t protect anyone and will only make it worse for all of us.

Are advertising and Apple expenses we can do without?

If you wage war with someone and he gets a bigger gun, you feel pressured to get one too. It’s the same in the war to take your money. If everyone else spends a fortune on advertising, you are likely to feel forced to do so too. But it costs, heavily, and those costs ultimately have to be recovered in higher prices.

When you click on an ad on a website, an advertising company somewhere typically gets about £0.50. That 50p plus has to be recovered when you buy the product, but many of the clicks are ineffective, and there are other expenses in the whole chain apart from the actual click fee (the seller’s own staff, banking costs, accountancy, management etc). Whether you even notice ads or have ever clicked on one, the money you hand over nevertheless subsidises a great many ads, and the ultimate price you pay is much greater than the price that would be needed without advertising.

Nothing new there, but advertising has become a significant and unavoidable extra cost along with taxes and banking fees (and parking charges if you buy in town). You don’t get a choice whether to pay extra to buy via an advertising route or get it cheaper by somehow buying direct. Add up all the web ads, junk email, text messages, paper junk mail, newspapers and magazines, TV and radio advertising, and the whole advertising mark-up is big.

Advertising doesn’t just increase costs. With the exception of some wonderfully entertaining ads, many involving meerkats, adverts waste our time too. Count up all the hours people waste fast forwarding over the add breaks or even sitting through them, and consider the significant personal stress directly resulting from the irritation they cause, that may have a small but finite impact on health. Add to that the extra demands on landfill from the paper junk mail, plus the wasted time opening and sorting the waste. The negative impact on our lives, the environment, and on  the overall economy is vast. Sure, the ad industry creates jobs, but jobs in advertising don’t generate wealth (though there are obviously cash flows between regions). Like banking and the public sector, advertising is a drain on resources. It syphons money from the productive economy and impoverishes us. 

On the other hand, advertising pays for a great deal of what we use on the web, watch on TV or read in newspapers. Some of that wouldn’t exist if the advertising went away, though some would survive via other business models. We’d still have to pay for the things we want to use somehow, so any notional extra fees and administrative inconvenience can reasonably be offset against advertising’s negative impacts.

But even with that offsetting, we really should challenge the cost:benefit ratio in advertising and see if we can find better ways of letting suppliers make potential customers aware of the merits of what they have on offer.

Advertising is only one strand of marketing of course. Marketers know that people want to learn about their new products when they are potentially interested. Context is key. If I have just eaten, I am not interested in marketing from nearby restaurants. If I haven’t, I might be. Using context makes direct marketing possible, especially knowing the location of the user and their tastes and preferences. I will gladly pull information from companies willing to sell me stuff I am interested in, when I want it. They won’t have to pay anyone. Pull marketing is potentially very low cost to both parties, providing the consumer with the info on suppliers’ offerings so they can make an informed decision on what to buy. If we moved entirely to that sort of model, we could greatly reduce the price of everything we buy while saving time and stress.

It is certainly possible to build such a system and make it work well. The technology exists and we’d all be far better off. The really huge problem is that we have bought into the smartphone model, buying iphones, pads or similar, and were taken in so well by beautiful designs and features that we didn’t look under the covers. What we didn’t consciously buy, but bought nonetheless, were devices that only give us access to things on condition that Apple or another big manufacturer gets a big slice of the price, via a variety of mechanisms. A smartphone is perfectly capable of providing exactly the platform we need to save lots of unnecessary spend, but Apple has used its power to extract its own slice of our spend not just at device purchase but throughout its lifetime. Not only has it not let us avoid the expense of advertising, it has added its own extras on top. It has made the situation even worse. Most other companies also use strategies that are designed to get into the most lucrative position in the value chain, expanding the price increase industry.

As I remember it in the beginning, the web was meant to get rid of intermediaries and save costs, making the economy more efficient. What has happened is that layer upon layer of new intermediaries have become adept at selling us products and purchasing systems that allow them to skim off extra slices of revenue for themselves. Anyone working in IT is very familiar with the many layered system architectures, and each layer is another opportunity for some company to take a slice of the revenue passing through. All add ultimately to the purchase price, and companies like Apple win several times because they control several of the architectural layers that their devices are used in. But we are suckers, and keep buying them. Because the extra costs are cleverly hidden or disguised or renamed, we don’t notice them until it’s too late.

I may sound critical of Apple, but all they are doing is to maximise profits for their shareholders, whilst giving customers products they can’t resist. There is no fault there. The same goes for Google or Facebook or any other intermediary. It is the model that we need to change, not companies, who will always do what they can to make the most money. That’s what companies are for.

I’ve written often about cloud nets and digital jewellery nets and the forces of censorship and surveillance and web-based politics and the consequential likely emergence of sponge networks. Check them out in my recent articles list. Freeing ourselves of parasitic companies and advertising is another potential pressure. It may go two ways. We could simply recreate exactly the same problems all over again, just swapping one set of intermediaries for another. Sadly, that is the most likely outcome. History teaches us best that we don’t often learn from history.

But, and this is a long shot, but one that would really help make the world better, we could make devices that people buy, and are then free. No charges for making apps for them, no push advertising, completely open, highly context aware, and high powered, yet completely free to own and use after purchase. Even the comms could be free. They would be capable of everything that you do now, and more. We could use them to talk direct to suppliers and do business with them without anyone else involved. It is even possible to design a free payments and banking system. We could avoid paying anyone except the device manufacturer, once, and the companies we want to do business with using the devices. And with all the time and money we would all save, none of us would mind paying a fair price for such a device. Many people paid via advertising would have to find alternative support models, but the economy would be better off, the rest of us individually would be better off, and the environment would be better off. It is hard to see a downside.

History tells us we will still pick the other system and pay more for a worse life.

How much choice should you have?

Like most people I can’t get through an hour without using Google. They are taking a lot of flak at the moment over privacy concerns, as are Apple, Facebook and other big IT companies. There are two sides to this though.

On one side, you need to know what is being done and want the option to opt out of personal information sharing, tracing and other big brothery types of things.

On the other, and we keep forgetting this, most people have no idea what they want. Ford noted that if you asked the customer what they wanted, they would say a faster horse. Sony’s Akio Morita observed that there was little point in doing customer surveys because customers have no idea what is possible. He went ahead and made the Walkman, knowing that people would buy it, even though no-one had asked for it. Great visions often live far ahead of customer desires. Sometimes it is best just to do it and then ask.

I think to a large extent, these big IT companies are in that same boat.

If your collective IT knows what you do all day (and by that I mean all your gadgets, and all the apps and web services and cloud stuff you use), and it knows a hell of a lot, then it is possible to make your life a lot easier by providing you with a very talented and benign almost telepathic personal assistant. Pretty much for free, at point of delivery anyway.

If we hold companies back with  too many legal barriers because of quite legitimate privacy concerns, this won’t happen properly. We will get a system with too much internal friction that fails frequently and never quite works.

But can we trust them? Apple, Google and Facebook all have far too much arrogance at the moment, so perhaps they do need to be put in their place. But they aren’t evil dictators. They don’t want to harm us at all, they just want to find new ways to help us because it’s on the back of those services that they can get even richer and more powerful. Is that good or bad?

I deleted and paused my web history on Google and keep my privacy settings tight on everything else. Maybe you do the same. But I actually can’t wait till they develop all the fantastic new services they are working on. As a technology futurologist I have a pretty good idea how it will be, I’ve been lecturing about Google’s new augmented reality headset since 3 years before Google existed. Once everyone else has taken all the risks and it’s all safely up and running, I’ll let them have it all. Trouble is, if we all do that it won’t happen.

Web censorship will force next generation nets

Twitter are the latest in a line of surrenders to authority  in the last few years. The web started off nicely and grew in importance and everyone talked of how governments couldn’t censor it, and it would always bypass them. It was the new land of the free. But underneath, we all knew that wouldn’t last forever and governments would use their real world power to force web companies into submission. Actually, the surrenders seem rather spineless to me, and were unnecessary, but I guess the web has become a standard ordinary everyday business platform and the companies behave just like any other business now. The brave explorers pushing out in pursuit of the frontiers have gone, replaced by MBAs.

Napster was the first biggy, forced to stop music sharing on the free and to become a proper commercial front end for the music industry. Then Google surrendered its ‘Do no evil’ principle to commercialism, first in China, now globally. It has since become a Big Brother in its own right, collecting deep data not only for its own megalomania but also for any government department that can make ‘a valid legal claim’ (extracted from their new rules on privacy). I have no real choice but to carry on using their mail and search, and I still like Google in spite of their abuses - no one’s perfect – though I am extremely wary of using Google+ seriously. I barely access my account, just like Facebook, and for the same reasons. Facebook and Apple also both became Big Brothers, collecting far more date than most people realised, wanting their own high-walled garden dictatorships. They have them now, but I keep my distance and only visit them as much as I need to. After a few years of ongoing high-profile collapses and surrenders of principle, now Twitter has surrendered too. So now the web is under government control, pretty much everywhere, and worse still, with a layer of big corporate control underneath. Companies on the web have to do as they are told, follow the rules. But they also impose their own too. It is the worst nightmare for those of us who used to debate whether big companies or governments would end up controlling us, which would have the power? We ended up with the worst of both worlds.

Many would argue that that is what should be. Why should the web have different rules? All companies should obey the law. I’d agree to a point, but I’d agree a whole lot more if we lived in a world with good leaders of properly democratic governments taking us forwards to a life of freedom and health and prosperity for all. What I see instead is a global flock of very poor leaders, a sad combination of the greedy, the corrupt and the stupid, with increasing oppression, increasing polarisation, grabbing what they can for themselves in a less fair world, and more attempts to control our thoughts.

So I tend to lean towards wanting a new kind of web, one that governments can’t control so easily, where freedom of speech and freedom of thought can be maintained. If a full surveillance world prevents us from speaking, then we need to make another platform on which we can speak freely.

I’ve written a number of times about jewellery nets and sponge nets. These could do the trick. With very short-range communication directly between tiny devices that each of us wears just like jewellery, a sponge network can be built that provides zillions of paths from A to B, hopping from device to device till it gets there.

A sponge net doesn’t need any ISPs. (In fact, I’ve never really understood why the web needs them either, it is perfectly possible to build a web without them). Each device is autonomous. Each shares data with its immediate neighbours, and route dynamically according to a range of algorithms available to them. They can route data from A to B so that every packet goes by a different route of need be. Even without any encryption, only A and B can see the full message. The various databases that the web uses to tell packets where their destination is can be distributed. There is a performance price, but so what? You could even route geographically. Knowing the precise geographic location of your recipient, packets can simply use a map or GPS to get there. I’m not aware of any GPS based nets yet, but you could easily build one. I quite like the idea personally.

Self organisation is an easy way of linking processing and storage and sensory capability into massively capable platforms. This is useful in its own right but also enables better file sharing or free speech with reasonable performance. It would be easy to bypass any monitoring if it is detected. Even if it is only suspected, the massively divergent routing that sponges enable would make monitoring extremely hard to do.

The capability to make these kinds of devices is almost here. Given the world that we live in, governments might try hard to prevent them from existing. But there are so many benign reasons to do so that it might be hard for them to resist the pressure. Almost all of the spirit of the early web was aimed at making the world a better place. Sure a few criminals and terrorists got in on the act, but the balance was for good. We lost it, and are worse off for it. Letting it happen again would be good for everyone. Sponge nets can do that. If some government officials don’t like it, well, so what? Right now, I don’t have a lot of respect for government.