Tuesday, March 22, 2005

One word answer to All the World's Problems - "Internet"

Hi folks!

I often find myself wandering into this topic deep into discussions about major global issues. It seems to me that if we can avoid fatal global catastrophies for just a bit longer the Internet itself will be the vehicle for solving the root causes. The reason the Internet solves all the world's problems lies in the answer to this question:

"What happens when every living human has access to all information and is free to decide what to do with it?"

The Case of the Syrian Shopkeeper

Bill McGee and I have been discussing this trend and comparing notes and examples of progress we find laying about for more than ten years. One such shared tidbit about two years ago comes to mind frequently in this context. I was reading a newpaper in Amsterdam and came across a short article about Internet access creating pressure for change in Syria. A 24-year-old Syrian shopkeeper was quoted as saying, "They can't hide anything from us anymore. The world is one big ball. We want the same things everyone else does."

I immediately called up Bill and rehashed the implications of 24-year-old Syrian shopkeepers being *capable* of making such statements. These are the kinds of things I watch for and had expected to see all along, but like so many other examples I've seen this brief quote struck me to the core. Here was an individual who only a few dozen months earlier would never have had the ability to acquire information through anything other than the few controlled media within his physical reach.

Tianammen Square

In 1990 I got in a heated debate with someone in Usenet political newsgroups (well, actually that happened quite a lot, but this pertains to one specific instnace), and we took our argument off the main list and emailed back and forth. We digressed to topics we agreed on - specifically the impact of the Internet on geopolitics - and he told me this story.

His son was a 22-year-old Canadian exchange student in China in 1989. He happened to be in Beijing when the uprising broke out. Since he had been travelling in places where phone connections could be as simple as a set of wires he had a modem in his laptop with alligator clips. He found himself in a room facing Tianammen Square and a pair of live telephone wires. He dialed his laptop into the university in Hong Kong and from there sent his father detailed descriptions of what was going on as the tanks rolled. Today with digitial cameras he would be sending pictures and video as well.

Just how *does* a dictatorial government maintain the control of information that creates their power base, once the Internet exists?

The Phillipino Cabbie

I arrived in Toronto once last year and had to take an airport limo for an hour long ride. Being in a boisterous mood, I immediately engaged in a conversation with the driver and threw down my most contenscious gauntlet - "freedom of information and ubiquitous access (specifically, the Internet) solves all the world's problems". Much to my surprise he agreed emphatically. This is the story he told me.

In ~1970 he had been living in Manila under the Marcos regime. I put him around fifty now, so at that time he would have been in his mid twenties, full of fire and daring. So much so, that he and five friends said some things publically against the corruption and injustice of the Marcos gang. Two nights later while the six of them were together in the evening some gentlemen in dark clothing stopped by to hold all his friends down and blow their brains out while he watched. They then put him in a basement cell for five months, and then brought him out into a field at night and made this offer:

"You can go free, everything's cool, we would just ask that you make a big point out of telling everyone how much you realy *love* Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, their assorted thugs, cronies and murderous freaks." If that was a problem for him, his hosts would be happy to shoot him right then and there. Well, his answer wasn't appropriate so they shot him and left him for dead.

[Normally this isn't screwed up - I mean, if you are going to do something as serious as actually killing someone at your feet you think you'd pay attention and finish the job - but I suppose when you do anything over and over again you will botch the task sooner or later. Anyway, other than a scar in his chest he's none the worse for wear now.]

For all of the Real Life Action/Adventure that led up to this man landing on an airplane in Toronto, it is an experience on the airplane that caused the most emotion in his account. He said that there was a Saturday Toronto Star on the plane (the Very Thick edition), and when he looked up from reading it the plane was empty. He hadn't noticed the plane land, or anyone else get off --- because he had never seen anything resembling the truth in print in his life.

"The only truth in the newspapers under Marcos were the weather and the sports scores.", he said.

Ivory Coast, Africa

There is a village on the coast in The Ivory Coast that has been a subsistence fishing village. The loss of children to malnutrition was high, as was the loss of husbands and fathers to storms at sea.

Some group (not sure who, this was from a CNN Talkback Live episode, circa 2000, with John Morgridge) for their own reaons chose to put two cheap computers and a modem in the one-room schoolhouse in the village, to assist with education.

No one knew that the men in the community would discover that they could study ocean currents and satellite weather maps to fish more efficiently and more safely. Every day before dawn the fishermen gather in the schoolhouse and check data. Orphanhood is down and children do not die of starvation.

In Afghanistan at this moment there is a small child who will change the world for the better, as long as the information is there for that child to use. I, for one, intend to do what I can to make sure that the access is there when that child wants to use it.



Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Evolution of Medical Technology

Hi folks!

One of the things that I have enjoyed the most in my life to date has been having the opportunity to talk with a very large number of very diverse people. If I am not sleeping, reading or working on an airplane, for example, and you would like to pursue one of these three activities but have had the misfortune to be seated next to me, it's best just to surrender early. Of all the topics I have surveyed people on, the future of medical technology produces the most consistently hostile reaction.

It seems to me that the desire for a long and happy life that each of us carries plays a key role in making us deny the obvious result of the direction that we are heading with our understanding of human biology. Most people I have discussed this topic with - notably including those working as researchers in the medical field - fail to see the (imho rapidly approaching) culmination of the science - physical immortality.

OK, have your reaction, get it out of your system, and allow yourself to treat the topic objectively.

o The human organism is a system of finite complexity.

- In other words, the physical structure that makes up me - or you - is less complex than the entire universe, less complex than this entire planet, less complex than the structure of the building I am in and its contents (at the moment including four of us human objects). It is bounded by physical, quantitative and quantifiable limits, and it is comprehensible.

o The total cumulative understanding that humans currently posses of the human organism is greater than it was yesterday. Tomorrow our understanding will grow by a greater amount than it did today.

- It is possible to know everything about the game of Euchre. It is possible to know everything about a supercomputer. All that is required is that the volume of data that defines a set of knowledge is acquired one piece at a time until it is complete. The same is true of the workings of the human organism, and we add to the set that we have acquired every day, each day faster than the day before.

Q. How do you eat a whale?

A. One bite at a time.

Here are my predictions:

Q. Will the complete set of data defining the human organism be in the possession of mankind in 1,000 years?

A. Yes.

Q. 500 years?

A. Yes.

Q. 250 years?

A. 90% likely.

Q. 125 years?

A. 50% likely.

Q. 75 years?

A. No. However, in 75 years the human organism may be well know enough to extend the lifespans of some individuals currently alive, to the point that their physical aging is outpaced by medical advances. Immortals are among us today, even if it is only one child.

If I am correct, then there are a large number of issues which appear intractable that need to be addressed within the foreseeable future. To keep this from being a novel, major issues that come to mind are itemized below. I may expand on these in further articles.

o Population.

- and, no, emmigration into space does not help global population control. It's simple math - even if at some point in the future 100,000 people emmigrated from off the planet *every single day*, that would be 36.5 Million per year. 36.5M/year would have no useful impact on population on the ground, particularly since by such a time it can be reasonably expected that mortality will be much lower and lifespans much longer.

- parenthood/siblinghood. The social changes brought about by population control impact whether people become parents and what their experience as parents is like. Also changed is the pattern of siblinghood, resulting in individuals having fewer siblings as well as the changes in developmental experiences that growing up with fewer (or no) siblings bring. As fewer people become parents, and as more people grow up as only children, the dynamics of how we relate to each other are affected. Do our cultures move towards greater valuing of children, more cognizant and responsible parenting? Do our cultures instead move towards more individual isolationism? Do we get better or worse at understanding truisms like "you are your brother's keeper"?

o Crime and criminals.

- as long as old crooks die off, failing to rehabilitate them is a problem that resolves itself as they die. What happens when we can expect the criminal to be with us indefinitely? Since our system for dealing with criminals has a near 0% success rate of converting them into non-criminals (and in parallel possesses the ability to create criminals with great success), what do we do to fix the problem?

o Sick Memes.

- ideologies which circle around destructive and self-supporting memes can erode over generations, as long as preceding generations of unreformables die off. What happens when that erosion ceases?

Of course there are positive ramifications. In my opinion history will show that this transition truly defines "Childhood's End" for us as a species, and the incredible potential and accomplishments we find embodied in humanity will blossom beyond even my most aggressive forecasts.

o Individual human potential.

- humans achieve astounding results with the time we have in our lives. What happens when an individual can continue to pursue their goals over long periods of time?

While we remain lost in the granular nature of the topic - considering how it affects us, or focusing on our specific area of interest or expertise - the cumulative volume of data grows without pause. This is a topic that I look forward to revisiting decade to decade - I expect to see a shift in the popular view during the years I have left to observe.

While I do not expect to be one of those to make the long haul, I expect my grandchildren - and perhaps even children - have every chance of reading these words aloud at the turn of the next millennium.



Monday, March 07, 2005

Welcome to Blask Works!

Hi folks!

This blog is a forum to exercise my thoughts on topics including: Information Security, politics, philosophy, ethics, physics, sociology, biomechanics, genetics, memetics, market analytics and anything else that strikes my fancy.

It is a basis of my beliefs that the understanding of a topic is best aided by a lively discourse wherein positions can be built, defended, dismantled and reconstructed by the participants. When such discourse is conducted with participants who fervently defend positions by enunciating points of debate, the mechanics of the topic lay themselves bare and Solutions (yes, I said it) are made obvious.

Please feel free to contribute your thoughts - the march of Memetic Evolution may well amplify the motion of your fingers on a keyboard to change the structure of the world.