When I wrote Kill Process, I had no idea how it would be received. It was a departure from my existing series and my focus on AI. Would existing fans enjoy the new work, or be disappointed that I had changed subject matter? Would my focus on issues such as domestic violence and corporate ownership of data make for an interesting story, or detract from people’s interest? Just how much technology could I put in a book, anyway? Is JSON and XML a step too far?

I’m happy to be able to say that people seem to be enjoying it very much. A numerical rating can never completely represent the complexity of a book, but Kill Process is averaging 4.8 stars across 98 reviews on Amazon, a big leap up compared to my earlier books.

I’m also delighted that a lot of the reviews specifically call out that Kill Process is an improvement over my previous writing. As much as I enjoyed the stories in Avogadro Corp and AI Apocalypse, I readily admit the writing is not as good as I wanted it to be. I’m glad the hard work makes a difference people can see. Here are a few quotes from Amazon reviews that made me smile:

  • “I think this is some of his best writing, with good character development, great plot line with twists and turns and an excellent weaving in of technology. Hertling clearly knows his stuff when it comes to the tech, but it doesn’t overwhelm the plot line.” — Greg-C
  • “This was an outstanding read. I thought I was going to get a quick high tech thriller. What I got was an education in state of the art along with some great thinking about technology, a business startup book, and a cool story to boot. I came away really impressed. William Hertling is a thoughtful writer and clearly researches the heck out of his books. While reading three of the supposedly scifi future aspects of the book showed up as stories in the NY Times. He couldn’t be more topical. This was a real pleasure.” — Stu the Honest Review Guy
  • “A modern day Neuromancer about cutting edge technological manipulation, privacy, and our dependence on it.” — AltaEgoNerd
  • “Every William Hertling book is excellent–mind-blowing and -building, about coding, hacking, AI and how humans create, interact and are inevitably changed by software. They are science fiction insofar as not every hack has been fully executed…yet. His latest, Kill Process, is a spread-spectrum of hacking, psychology and the start-up of a desperately needed, world-changing technology created by a young team of coders gathered together by a broken but brilliant leader, Angie, whose secrets and exploits will dominate your attention until the final period.” — John Kirk

You get the idea. I’m glad that accurate, tech-heavy science fiction has an audience. As long as people keep enjoying it, I’ll keep writing it.

Anonymous emblemWith each book I write, I usually create an accompanying blog post about the technology in the story: what’s real, what’s on the horizon, and what’s totally made up.

My previous Singularity series extrapolated out from current day technology by ten year intervals, which turned the books into a series of predictions about the future. Kill Process is different because it’s a current day novel. A few of the ideas are a handful of years out, but not by much.

Haven’t read Kill Process yet? Then stop here, go buy the book, and come back after you’ve read it. 🙂

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

The technology of Kill Process can be divided into three categories:

  1. General hacking: profiling people, getting into computers and online accounts, and accessing data feeds, such as video cameras.
  2. Remotely controlling hardware to kill people.
  3. The distributed social network Tapestry.

General Hacking and Profiling

JENOPTIK DIGITAL CAMERA

The inside of an Apple IIe. To host a Diversi-Dial, one would install a modem in every slot. Because one slot was needed to connect the disk drives, it was necessary to load the software from a *cassette tape* to support 7 phone lines simultaneously!

In the mid-1980s, Angie is running a multiline dial-up chat system called a Diversi-Dial (real). An enemy hacker shuts off her phone service. Angie calls the phone company on an internal number, and talks to an employee, and tricks them into reconnecting her phone service in such a way that she doesn’t get billed for it. All aspects of this are real, including the chat system and the disconnect/reconnect.

As an older teenager, Angie wins a Corvette ZR1 by rerouting phone calls into a radio station. Real. This is the exact hack that Kevin Poulsen used to win a Porsche.

In the current day, Angie regularly determines where people are. They’re running a smartphone application (Tomo) that regularly checks in with Tomo servers to see if there are any new notifications. Each time they check in, their smartphone determines their current geolocation, and uploads their coordinates. Angie gets access to this information not through hacking, but by exploiting her employee access at Tomo. All of this is completely feasible, and it’s how virtually all social media applications work. The granularity of geocoordinates can vary, depending on whether the GPS is currently turned on, but even without GPS, the location can be determined via cell phone tower triangulation to within a few thousand feet. If you want to mask your location from social media apps, you can use the two smartphone approach: One smartphone has no identifying applications or accounts on it, and is used to act as a wireless hotspot. A second smartphone has no SIM card and/or is placed in airplane mode so that it has no cellular connection, and GPS functionality is turned off. It connects to the Internet via the wireless hotspot functionality of the first phone. This doesn’t hide you completely (because the IP address of the first phone can be tracked), but it will mask your location from typical social media applications. While Angie can see everyone, because of her employee access, even regular folks can stalk their “friends”: stalking people via Facebook location data.

Angie determines if people are happy, depressed, or isolated based on patterns of social media usage as well as the specific words they use. Feasible. Studies have been done using sentiment analysis to determine depression.

Computer hackers and lock picking. One handed lock picking (video). Teflon-coated lock picks to avoid evidenceReal.

Angie profiles domestic abusers through their social media activity. Quasi-feasible. Most abusers seek to isolate their victims, and that will include keeping their victims off social media. That would make it hard for Angie to profile them, because it’s difficult to profile what’s not there. On the other hand, many abusers stalk their victims through their smartphones, which actually opens up more opportunities to detect when such abuse happens.

Angie builds a private onion routing network using solar-powered Raspberry Pi computers. This is very feasible, and multiple crowd sourced projects for onion routers have launched.

Angie seamlessly navigates between user’s payment data (the Tomo app handles NFC payments), social media profiles, search data, and web history. This is real. Data from multiple sources is routinely combined, even across accounts that you think are not connected, because you used different email addresses to sign up. There are many ways information can leak to connect accounts: a website has both email addresses, a friend has both email addresses listed under one contact, attempting to log in under one email address and then logging under a different across. But the most common is web browser cookies from advertisers that tracking you across multiple websites and multiple experiences. They know all of your browser activity is “you”. Even if you never sign up for Facebook or other social media accounts, they are aggregating information about who you are, who your connections are. Future Crimes by Marc Goodman has one of the best descriptions of this. But I’ll warn you that this book is so terrifying that I had to consume it in small bits, because I couldn’t stomach reading it all at once.

Compromising a computer via a USB drive. Real.

Angie hacks a database that she can’t access by provisioning an extra database server into a cluster, making modifications to that server (which she has compromised), and waiting for the changes to synchronize. Likely feasible, but I don’t have a ton of experience here. The implication is that she has access to change the configuration of the cluster, even though she doesn’t have access to modify the database. This is plausible. An IT organization could give an ops engineers rights to do things related to provisioning without giving them access to change the data itself.

Angie did a stint in Ops to give herself backdoors into the provisioning layer. Feasible. It’s implausible that Angie could do everything she does by herself unless I gave her some advantages, simply because it’s too time consuming to do everything via brute force attacks. By giving Angie employee access, and letting her install backdoors into the software, it makes her much more powerful, and enables her to do things that might otherwise take a large group of hackers much longer periods of time to achieve.

Angie manipulates the bitcoin market by forcing Tomo to buy exponentially larger and larger amounts of bitcoin. This is somewhat feasible, although bitcoin probably has too much money invested in it now to be manipulated by one company’s purchases. Such manipulation would be more plausible with one of the smaller, less popular alternative currencies, but I was afraid that general readers wouldn’t be familiar with the other currencies. The way she does this is somewhat clever, I think. Rather than change the source code, which would get the closest level of inspection, she does it by changing the behavior of the database so that it returns different data than expected: in one case returning the reverse of a number, and in another case, returning a list of accounts from which to draw funds. Since access to application code and application servers is often managed separately from access to database servers, attacking the database server fits with Angie’s skills and previous role as database architect.

Angie is in her office when Igloo detects ultrasonic sounds. Ultrasonic communication between a computer and smartphone to get around airgaps is real. Basics of ultrasonic communication. Malware using ultrasonic to get around air gaps of up to 60 feet.

Remotely Controlling Hardware

In the recent past, most devices with embedded electronics ran custom firmware that implemented a very limited set of functionality: exactly what was needed for the function of the device, no more and no less. It ran on very limited hardware, with just exactly the functionality that was needed.

But the trend of decreasing electronics cost, increasing functionality, and connectivity has driven many devices towards using general-purpose operating systems running on general purpose computers. By doing so, they get benefits such as a complete network stack for doing TCP/IP communication, APIs for commodity storage devices, and libraries that implement higher levels functions. Unfortunately, all of this standard software may have bugs in it. If your furnace moves to a Raspberry Pi controller, for example, you now have a furnace vulnerable to any bug or security exploit in any aspect of the Linux variant that’s running, as well as any bugs or exploits in the application written by the furnace manufacturer.

Angie has a car execute a pre-determined set of maneuvers based on an incoming signal. Feasible in the near future. This particular scenario hasn’t happened, but hackers are making many inroads: Hackers remote take control of a Jeep. Remotely disable brakes. Unlock VW cars.

Killing someone via their pacemaker. Feasible: Hackers Kill a Mannequin.

Controlling an elevator. Not feasible yet, but will be feasible in the future when building elevators implement general internet or wireless connectivity for diagnostics and/or elevator coordination.

Software defined radios can communicate at a wide range of frequencies and be programmed to use any wireless protocol. Real.

handgun-drone

Yes, that is a handgun mounted on a quadcopter.

Angie hacks smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to disable the alarm prior to killing someone. Unfortunately, hacking smoke alarms is real, as is hacking connected appliances. Appliances typically have very weak security. It’s feasible in the near future that Angie could adjust combustion settings and reroute airflow for a home furnace. Setting a house on fire is very possible.

There’s a scene involving a robot and a gun. I won’t say much more about the scene, but people have put guns on drones. Real.

Tapestry / Distributed Social Networks

Angie defined a function to predict the adoption of a social network. This was my own creation, modeled on the Drake Equation. It received some input from others, and while I’m not aware of anyone using it, it probably can be used as a thought exercise for evaluating social network ideas.

IndieWeb is completely real and totally awesome. If you’re a programmer, get involved.

The protocols for how Tapestry works are all feasible. I architected everything that was in the book to make sure it could be done, to the point of creating interaction diagrams and figuring out message payloads. Some of this stuff I kept, but most was just a series of whiteboard drawings.

Igloo designs chatbots to alleviate social isolation. Plausible. This is an active area of development: With Bots Like These, Who Needs Friends? Is there an app for loneliness?

Conclusion

I haven’t exhaustively covered everything in the book, but what I have listed should help demonstrate that essentially all the technology in Kill Process is known to be real, or is plausible today, or will be feasible within the next few years.

For more reading, I recommend:

 

My editor is working on Kill Process right now. I’ll receive the marked up manuscript next week and will process all the changes and comments before turning it over to my proofreader. They’ll work on it for about a week, then return it to me, and I’ll process all those corrections. Then the book goes out for formatting to two different people: one for ebook and one for print. When they’re done, everything gets proofed one last time, and if it all looks good, I’ll fulfill Patreon awards to backers.

After that, I’ll upload files to the various vendors, and a week or so after that, the books are live and available for sale. While all that’s happening, there will also be final tweaks to the covers, coordination with the audiobook narrators, and more.

Even as close to the end as this, it’s still hard to predict whenever Kill Process will be available. Do I get a file back right at the start of a long weekend when I can be completely focused on it? Or do I receive it as I’m entering a long stretch with my kids and my day job? It’s hard to say.

If things go well and there are no major issues, I hope to fulfill Patreon rewards by late May, and have the book for sale by mid-June. I’d like the audiobook to be available by July. If I can get anything out earlier, I will.

Here’s a look at the covers for Kill Process. The black and red cover will be the regular edition, available for sale through all the usual outlets. The hooded-hacker cover will be a signed, limited edition available to Patreon backers.

KillProcessSaleCover

Trade paperback and ebook cover

KillProcessLimitedEditionCover

Signed, limited-edition cover

 

Here’s the working description for Kill Process:

By day, Angie, a twenty-year veteran of the tech industry, is a data analyst at Tomo, the world’s largest social networking company; by night, she exploits her database access to profile domestic abusers and kill the worst of them. She can’t change her own traumatic past, but she can save other women.

But when Tomo introduces a deceptive new product that preys on users’ fears to drive up its own revenue, Angie sees Tomo for what it really is–another evil abuser. Using her coding and hacking expertise, she decides to destroy Tomo by building a new social network that is completely distributed, compartmentalized, and unstoppable. If she succeeds, it will be the end of all centralized power in the Internet.

But how can an anti-social, one-armed programmer with too many dark secrets succeed when the world’s largest tech company is out to crush her and a no-name government black ops agency sets a psychopath to look into her growing digital footprint?

Mark Zuckerberg wrote about how he plans to personally work on artificial intelligence in the next year. It’s a nice article that lays out the landscape of AI developments. But he ends with a statement that misrepresents the relevance of Moore’s Law to future AI development. He wrote (with my added bold for emphasis):

Since no one understands how general unsupervised learning actually works, we’re quite a ways off from building the general AIs you see in movies. Some people claim this is just a matter of getting more computing power — and that as Moore’s law continues and computing becomes cheaper we’ll naturally have AIs that surpass human intelligence. This is incorrect. We fundamentally do not understand how general learning works. This is an unsolved problem — maybe the most important problem of this century or even millennium. Until we solve this problem, throwing all the machine power in the world at it cannot create an AI that can do everything a person can.

I don’t believe anyone knowledge about AI argues that Moore’s Law is going to spontaneously create AI. I’ll give Mark the benefit of the doubt, and assume he was trying to be succinct. But it’s important to understand exactly why Moore’s Law is important to AI.

We don’t understand how general unsupervised learning works, nor do we understand how much of human intelligence works. But we do have working examples in the form of human brains. We do not today have the computer parts necessary to simulate a human brain. The best brain simulations by the largest supercomputing clusters have been able to approximate 1% of the brain at 1/10,000th of the normal cognitive speeds. In other words, current computer processors are 1,000,000 times too slow to simulate a human brain.

The Wright Brothers succeeded in making the first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air human flight not because of some massive breakthrough in the principles of aerodynamics (which were well understood at the time), but because engines were growing more powerful, and powered flight was feasible for the first time around the point at which they were working. They made some breakthroughs in aircraft controls, but even if the Wright Brothers had never flown, someone else would have within a period of a few years. It was breakthroughs in engine technology, specifically, the power-to-weight ratio, that enabled powered flight around the turn of the century.

AI proponents who talk about Moore’s Law are not saying AI will spontaneously erupt from nowhere, but that increasing computing processing power will make AI possible, in the same way that more powerful engines made flight possible.

Those same AI proponents who believe in the significance of Moore’s Law can be subdivided into two categories. One group argues we’ll never understand intelligence fully. Our best hope of creating it is with a brute force biological simulation. In other words, recreate the human brain structure, and tweak it to make it better or faster. The second group argues we may invent our own techniques for implementing intelligence (just as we implemented our own approach to flight that differs from birds), but the underlying computational needs will be roughly equal: certainly, we won’t be able to do it when we’re a million times deficient in processing power.

Moore’s Law gives us an important cadence to the progress in AI development. When naysayers argue AI can’t be created, they’re looking at historical progress in AI, which is a bit like looking at powered flight prior to 1850: pretty laughable. The rate of AI progress will increase as computer processing speeds approach that of the human brain. When other groups argue we should already have AI, they’re being hopelessly optimistic about our ability to recreate intelligence a million times more efficiently than nature was able to evolve.

The increasing speed of computer processors as predicted by Moore’s Law, and the crossover point where processing power aligns with the complexity of the human brain tells us a great deal about the timing of when we’ll see advanced AI on par with human intelligence.

In my day job as a software developer, we’ve recently resurrected a two year old project and started using it again. I’m fairly proud of the application because when we developed it, we really took the time to do everything right. The REST interfaces are logical and consistent, there is good object oriented design, great test coverage, a full set of integration tests that can also perform load testing, and it’s scalable and fault tolerant.

When we first built it, we had only a small team of developers, but we also ensured that we automated everything, tested everything, and kept everything DRY and efficient, so that even though the team was small, we were able to accomplish a lot.

When we resurrected the project, we weren’t sure how many people would be working on it or for how long. In our rush to demo something to management, we abandoned our principles of “do it right” and settled for “get something done fast”. But a few weeks later, we were mired in a morass, unable to reliably get a dev stack working, or get two new components reliably integrated, or even to have repeatable results of any kind. Pressure was mounting as we were overdue to demo to management.

Finally I came into work this past Tuesday (with the big demo scheduled for the next day). I’d completely had it with the ongoing game of whack-a-mole that we were playing with new bugs cropping up. I decided that I wouldn’t try to fix any bugs at all. Instead, I would spend the day DRYing up our error handling code so that all errors were captured and logged in a consistent way. I didn’t even care about whether we made the demo or not, I was just so sick of how we were working.

A couple of hours later, the error handling code was vastly improved with just a little work, and suddenly all of the errors we were facing were abundantly obvious and easy to trace back to their origin within a few minutes. I was able to fix those errors before we left for the day, and we were back on track to deliver our demo to management on Wednesday.

It was a great reminder that even when you think you’ve just got a couple of short term deliverables, maybe with pressure to get them done fast, that it’s almost always faster to do it the right way than to take shortcuts.

It turns out that Abraham Lincoln didn’t utter the famous quote about spending four of six hours sharpening an ax. That turns out to be from an anonymous woodsman, and the unit of measurement is minutes, not hours. But the general concept goes back about 150 years.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”

 

Google announced a new analytical AI that analyzes emails to determine their content, then proposes a list of short likely replies for the user to pick from. It’s not exactly ELOPe, but definitely getting closer all the time.

smartreply2

 

Trends in Hardware, Software & Wetware
Daniel Dern – Moderator
Greg Bear
Ramez Naam
Allen Baum
Mark Van Name
  • How small can hardware become?
    • RN: The limits of physics are extremely distant: many orders of magnitude improvement left. But we don’t have any idea of how to get down to the level of quarks and stuff like that. Every decade we get a 100x improvement in cost, 100x reduction in energy. If it continues, we will one day have supercomputing grains of sand.
    • AB: One of the limits is batteries. Do you want to carry the equivalent of a nuclear power plant in your pocket?
    • DD: One of the constraints is heat dissipation, brownian motion (randomness interfering with the work you want to get done).
    • RN: Smallest computer someone brought me was smaller than the stem of a wineglass. What was the limiting factor to reduction in size was the USB port.
  • How about jacking into our brain?
    • RN: There’s lots of science going on now, starting with implants for disabled people.
    • GB: Voice recognition is becoming far more effective…80 to 90% of the time you can ask a question and get a useful answer. That’s better than most human communication. Computers don’t have real needs. What if computers become socially aware, and know what your needs and it’s needs are? All of a sudden, the interface to it is much better/easier.
    • GB: Proteins are small computers. Wetware does astonishing stuff. Lots of analogies to human interactions. A protein is more complex than even a giant Boeing factory full of workers.
  • Small things only need to do small tasks. Small, purpose built devices: your toe keeps you balanced, let you know if it gets hurt. Doesn’t do cognitive tasks.
    • GB: cells have their own lives. They don’t know they are part of a bigger organism.
  • GB: Quantum computing has the potential to blow all of these assumptions out of the water.
  • MVN: Even microphones can only get so small before the sound waves don’t fit.
  • RN: I write scifi about people having telepathic abilities via technology. But the thing that excites me the most is the democratization of technology through cell phones: the first phones cost $4,000 and were limited to the rich. Now the average cell phone is owned by someone in India, and it’s providing access to information, it prevents abuse of power through the camera, etc.
  • AB: I hope there are lots of people here supporting EFF. There are democracies, but then there are non-democracies who use these same technologies to control people. The internet of control. It’s governments and corporations. This worries me a lot.
  • RN: When we put a brain implant in someone, there’s two different adaptions that must happen: configuration of software (“when I pulse this neuron where does your vision light up?”) as well as the time for the brain to adapt to the signals: several weeks during which it doesn’t function at all.
    • Current state of implants is that they degrade over time. electrodes erode, break. High voltages cause neurons to retreat. Bleeding in the brain. Today requires very invasive surgery.
    • But advances too: neural mesh implanted in mice was rolled up into a tiny tube, injected with syringe, and then unroll inside brain.
  • Best brain interfaces today are ~256 electrodes. And we have a billion neurons. DARPA program is asking people to tackle 1 million electrodes, and some scientists think that can be done in 5-10 years.

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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shockwave_Rider
  • 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.

The Future of Government

future-of-government

Karl Schroeder (Moderator)
Charles Stross
Joe Haldeman
Bradford Lyau
Ada Palmer
  • Joe:
    • sort of wish-washy person, go along with whatever seems to work, as long as people don’t screw up.
    • extremely suspicious about easy solutions and sympathetic to leaders
  • Bradford:
    • studied in school, political consultant, and have done several startups
  • Ada Palmer
    • Upcoming novel dealing with future politics comes out in May.
    • Teaches history at University of Chicago.
    • Do a lot of research into weird, semi-forgotten modes of government.
  • Charlie Stross
    • “occasionally” touched on politics in writing.
    • new trilogy coming out next year: starts with dark state, comparing political systems in different timelines where history has diverged.
  • Karl: Two topics for Today.
    • We’re still coasting on government technologies developed in the late 1700s: voting, representative government. And yet, we’re rapidly outpacing it.
    • What is the future of legitimacy and authority of government?
  • Are we running on totally outdated systems? Will they last for all time?
    • Joe: There are two groups of people push/pull tension: the governors and the governed.
    • Charlie: I have sympathy for Joe’s point of view, but it’s totally wrong. It’s the POV of someone from the US, the dominant global power of the day. But let us look at Greece… a greek state in crisis. externally imposed austerity, that are very cruel. people dying of agony in hospitals because the hospitals can’t afford medicines. They’re forced into this essentially by the German banks and ultimately the German government. The German government has to come up with a rhetoric to support austerity when it is in fact due to internal politics of the German government, because they can’t afford to have people defect to the democratic socialist party. Which is tied into the corporate influence on the government.
    • Bradford: the genius of the american constitution didn’t want to answer any questions, they just wanted to create the form of the argument that could be used to answer questions later. the movement today about what the original intent of the founder was…it doesn’t make sense, but they didn’t intend anything, other than to give a framework for conversation, not to dictate the answers.
    • Ada: Lots of examples of government structures remaining the same but changing purpose: the Roman Senate first governs a city, then a state, then an empire, then functioning as an appendage of the emperor. and when the empire falls, Rome still has a senate for another 500 years. The Roman Senate function keeps changing, but the same structure is repurposed for the needs of each new geopolitical entity. Rather than having a revolution that replaces existing structures, we may have non-revolutions that change the purpose without changing the structure at all.
  • Are new mechanisms for governing going to evolve?
    • Ada: A new interesting one is the European Union that was originally proposed (not the one we got). The original proposal was a dynamic, self-destroying, self-replacing system that would evolve as the decades passed, and as new member countries joined. It was one of the first government systems intended from the start to be temporary and self-replacing.
    • Charlie: We’re mostly talking about the post-enlightenment governments so far. What about the dark enlightenment? It’s what happens when libertarians discover monarchism. We may be going through a constrained period of rapid development, a curve leveling off. Like what has happened with airlines: no new innovations since 1970.
      • proponents of dark enlightenment think we’re going to go backwards to a monarchy. our 300 year history of democratic experiment is really brief in our total history.
    • Karl: The system we’re under, started by the greeks, is that you can fight and win, but you can’t win for all time. What we’re starting to see if the erosion of those principles: groups that do want to win for all time.
  • Q: Governments are just about economic systems or political systems. They do a lot of stuff, boring, but essential stuff. Can you comment on how the role of government is changing?

I gave a talk in the Netherlands last week about the future of technology. I’m gathering together a few resources here for attendees. Even if you didn’t attend, you may still find these interesting, although some of the context will be lost.

Previous Articles

I’ve written a handful of articles on these topics in the past. Below are three that I think are relevant:

Next Ten Years

Ten to Thirty Years