Genre and the Global Police State
Karl Schroeder
Charles Stross
Annalee Flower Horne
Jim Wright
William Frank (moderator)
  • What are the works dealing with global police state?
    • CS: the snowden leaks broke around 2014. it takes a long time to get a novel out: a year to write, a year for production. Not surprised we’re not seeing much, because of the long lead time. Novels are a terrible vehicle for up to the minute updates.
    • KS: the global police state is so 20th century, and we’ve moved onto new horrors. but if we’re going to write again now about it, we have to write about it in a 21st century update.
    • CS: your credit rating is essential and it goes down if it is queried too often. what happens when I say something online, and someone gets pissed at me and does a massive denial of service attack on my credit rating by querying it hundreds or thousands of times.
    • AFH: my threat model is not the NSA, it’s other actors: mobs taking action because of something I said online. mass surveillance of other people is its own police state.
    • JM: the NSA doesn’t have to drop microphones and cameras in here, you the audience brought it in.
    • CS: Facebook has ghost accounts for people who don’t want to be on Facebook. And they tag you with a given location and time when your friend checks into a restaurant and names you. And with Facebook photo analysis, they can associate a ghost account with a person in a given place and time, which means they can also recognize you, even if you’ve never been on Facebook.
    • AFH: If you’re worried about the NSA, you should be more worried about your local police department, who, when they have a photo of an unknown person, bring it to Facebook and ask them to do image analysis.
    • JW: there is vastly more information than anyone can actually process. the government can’t do mass surveillance in practice because they don’t have the ability to analyze it. the real danger now is that the data isn’t secure, and it’s stored all over the place, and built by the lowest bidders. Somebody can destroy your entire life. It’s not the police state, it’s the mob state.
    • KS: False positives are a huge problem. If you’re scanning a million photographs a day, and have a false error rate of 1 in 10,000…that’s a 100 photos a day. Each one results in some followup action. And those actions all cost money. So the police state is also costing us tons.
  • JW: With Folded Hands, one of the first stories that talks about police state. Nobody is allowed to do anything that might raise a bruise.
  • CS: Ken MacLeod novel, The Execution Channel, about finding influential political bloggers and killing them.
  • JW: One key difference is that information weapons are inherently scalable: you can attack one person, or one aspect of a person’s life, or  the whole population.
  • Book recommendation about surveillance being treated in a positive way: The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner
  • Q: Recommendations for genre books
    • KB Spangler books: A Girl and her Fed / Digital Divide
    • Clark’s World: translating works from Chinese authors, who know quite a lot about surveillance.
    • Three Body Problem, Ken Liu
  • Closing thoughts
    • JW: The pervasive police state is inevitable. It’s driven by the government, and by corporations, but also by our own voluntary actions (grocery store cards, FitBits, and phones)
    • AFH: A FitBit was recently used as evidence against a victim in rape case to prove she was lying. This isn’t just dystopic fiction, this is happening in the real world. St. Louis is burning right now, and those people are dealing with this. I’m a woman on the internet, and I’m dealing right now with someone trying to threaten my job because of something I said online.
    •  KS: Groups arguing that you should have real ownership of your data. When Facebook wants to use your data, they should have to pay a fee. When that happens, the amount of analysis will go way down.
    • CS: From a few hundred years in the future, and trying to characterize concerns of a given century: In the 20th century the big historical issue was the changing status of women. In the 21st century, the big historical issue was dealing with too much information.