The Toolkit

I started this blog with the intention to document good and useful ideas, ideas that are helpful for thinking about and understanding the current world and for formulating future worlds.  Here is the list of these ideas, with names that will probably get shorter and better as I develop them.  Some short descriptions are also included, to be moved into the main article for each as I start filling them in.  Note that I have tried to document my source(s) for each idea.

More ideas will be added over time.

  1. Countervailing powers (Galbraith)
  2. Maturing High Tech Seeks Low Risk. Oligopoly and limited numbers of market players for high tech, capital intensive firms.  Need for stability outweighs profit maximization.  Competition within oligopoly, need for government regulation to ensure lack of collusion. (Galbraith).  Eventually transition these firms to a fully competitive market, cannot keep them there forever.  Or, at least transition specific activities, as they mature, to a competitive market.  Natural transition as technologies become commodified is to move to more competitive markets to drive down costs, increase abundance via competition.
  3. Patent Straitjackets. Roles of patents in promoting or stifling innovation
  4. Confederacy and De-evolution, or Right Sizing of Authority and Responsibility. Confederacy of nation states around the world rather than a single world government
    1. Sharing of power across scales and regions
  5. Increasing vs. Decreasing Returns. Increasing returns activities vs. decreasing returns (Reinert, others)
  6. Appropriate Trade based on level of development of trading partners (Reinert)
  7. Global Socioecotechnical Carrying Capacity of the Earth as defined by environment and our use of it (population, technology, consumption, specific resources consumed, ability to substitute across resources. Must either create a cyclical use of resources or find a basket of such that can be forever recycled within a closed loop).
  8. Automatically stabilized infrastructure, social support. Stabilizers and self-sustaining design of material system of population support, distribution of purchasing power.
  9. Money as a claim on other people’s time and resources, especially when power gradients exist.
  10. Capital controls, import controls, price controls (Galbraith)
  11. Separation of government and infrastructure systems behavior from the political cycle, but not from political control
  12. Infrastructural Politics (Gupta)
  13. Design to make the state obsolete where possible (Gupta)
  14. Strategic Taboo Breaking. Forbidden weapons and tactics (e.g. nukes) will eventually be used by someone.  System that prevents their use, power players involve all shift eventually (extrapolated from van Creveld).  How to survive use of Armageddon-level weapons.
  15. Cities as Engines of Innovation, Growth. The source of all increasing returns (Jacobs, Reinert)
  16. Relevant Units of Economic Analysis. Nations/states are not the only relevant unit of economic analysis, and economic and social institutions must be designed at different, interlocking levels.  Role of different currencies in providing feedback on economic activities with regions.  Scale currency to region/location (lessons extrapolated from Jacobs)
  17. An inefficient manufacturing sector is better than no manufacturing (Reinert)
  18. Distinction between business and industry (Veblen)
  19. Role of the state in creating new technologies, shouldering initial risks, opening up new markets (Mazzucato)
  20. Asteroid mining for new resources. Industrialize the moon.  O’Neil cylinders for orbital habitats.
  21. The Universal Disassembler. Concept: Be able to throw in any manufactured/waste material and, via chemical and physical processes, separate it into its base elements or at least useful molecules.  Be able to reuse almost everything, with energy as input.  A universal disassembler, the neglected half of a universal assembler.
  22. Smart grid, renewable energy, electrification of society—remove liquid fuels, combustion.
  23. Design nuclear for safety, longevity, recycling of fuels. No profit motive, social production of energy.  Safety over cost.
  24. The need to start small and scale up for most institutions. Learning and growing as key to their success, rather than starting at full scale.  Also, dying or splitting is also necessary at some point.  Lifecycle of institutions.
  25. Irrationality as necessary for survival. Irrational people don’t sell out, rational people do.  New ideology must have people willing to sacrifice for it, willing to forgo bribery, corruption, etc. for a higher cause.  Irrationality can lead actors to do things that are more beneficial than rational actors (Welsh)
  26. Most people see themselves as good, few people see themselves as bad. Most people are pliable and go along with the majority sentiment—they lean toward good but their position is weakly held and subject to strong influence of larger society.  A small portion of the population is always good, a small portion is always bad. (Welsh)
  27. Fallacy of composition/scale. Individual actions make sense, but collectively are harmful.
  28. Value of idle time, of tinkering and questioning without a clear agenda/purpose (Jacobs). Slows resource consumption, also leads to serendipitous outcomes from time to time that cannot be planned.
  29. Anything from W. Brian Arthur on technology?
  30. Recent (1800s onward) reversal of conception of markets and society—previously, society ran the markets. Now, we try to let the markets run society.  Need to go back?  Well, go forward and reintroduce idea of markets as a piece of institutional technology to help society, not as the operating system of society.  (Polanyi)
  31. Basic income supplement in the face of automation, less manual labor for unskilled laborers. Need to modify the underlying culture to accommodate this over time. (extrapolated from Bruenig, introduce criticisms from DamnJehu)
  32. Job guarantee (MMT). But is this means-testing, and will it be subject to the same problems as Speenhamland?  Also, will these just be bullshit jobs (Polanyi for ref).
  33. Bullshit Jobs (Graeber)
  34. The Celebrity Left and Social Hierarchies (Tarzie)
  35. The constraints on various monetary systems and the role of sovereignty. Gold vs. fiat money.  Spending coming before taxes, budget deficits not inherently bad.  (MMT).  Note that MMT relies almost entirely on automatic stabilizing institutions—fails if they don’t work correctly.  (Introduce criticisms from DamnJehu).
  36. Reducing working hours as a strategy to remove most people from capitalist exploitation.  Automates capitalist production, gives people more free time. (DamnJehu)
  37. The Elite Competition Theory of representative governments (Thomas Ferguson, not sure if the theory name is correct). Understand government decisions, actions as motivated by interests of various elite factions.  Democratic legitimacy via voting, legislation is used to push their agendas.  Discourse and options for voters are largely those that the elite factions want.  Note that this is not 100% the case at all times—there are genuine popular revolts, and sometimes “the people” have a leg up on “the powers.”  Often the powers must make at least some concessions to the people in order to prevent outbreak of revolt, too much cynicism, etc.  Re-read parts of Ferguson for more detail to recapture this.
  38. Kill them with kindness (Welsh). Two major trajectories for the future.  Given that potentially destructive chemicals, machines, etc. are present throughout our modern societies, stability of society relies on stopping individuals from using them in destructive ways.  Option 1:  Cram down and oppress, surveil, terrorize.  Option 2:  Make them have no reason to use them, take care of everyone, help everyone find a purpose for their lives.
  39. The separation of elite day to day life from the rest of us. When the gulf grows too large, those who make decisions just don’t care or maybe even can’t conceive of everyday life for the rest. (Welsh)
  40. Obligations to each other vs. rights we are owed (extrapolated from Welsh). Both are necessary, but we’ve largely forgotten the former.
  41. Intersectionality and the oppression olympics, how it plays into the hands of the existing power structure. (Gupta?). Necessary to recognize everyone as having basic human rights, allow them to be who they are, but must avoid constant splintering and arguing over finer and finer divisions of identity.  Allow for multiple identity—we are all citizens with obligations and rights, and yes you may also identify as X, Y, and Z.  But the most important protections and obligations should be awarded at citizen/human level.
    1. Additional: Totalizing Identity Politics (TIP) as an attractor failure mode of Identity Politics, failure of Intersectionality to remedy it. (Jonathan Korman, Gupta)
  42. Import replacement and economic activity chains, as they relate to increasing returns and income growth. (Jacobs, Reinert, Ha Joon Change)
  43. The eventual effect of climate change on resource scarcity, migrations, militarism and wars. Winners and losers of climate change.  There will be winners, but there will be many more losers depending on our collective actions.
  44. The US runs its technological development via the Pentagon. Need to shift away from this, to a new agency that does not focus on military means but still provides work and funding for technology firms.  Very stable funding and work, outside the political cycle but under political control.  Fundamental problem is elite seeing this as (1) gain in profits/affluence but (2) loss of power and control.  Need to make (1) outweigh (2) for them.  The people in general gain from (1) and want less of (2).  Also, new technologies coming online will be devastating to society if weaponized in the traditional manner.  Need to change the flow of funds.  Goes for surveillance, nanotech, biotech, etc.
  45. Greatly curtail the banking and finance sector, it should be about 20% or less of its current size, with greatly reduced profits. Banking and trading should be boring.
  46. The Red Queen’s Race on the oil, dollar exchange (Stirling Newberry). Must be able to explain this to people.  Must understand how the current system works, why it was set up that way, why and how it must change.  How things were setup post-WWII, how they were changed under Carter/Reagan, how Clinton/Gore tried for something different and failed, and how the Reagan elite consensus/system is breaking down.  Need for a new paradigm.  (see comments too)
  47. Price takers vs. price makers. Impacts of change in monetary distribution in the face of entrenched economic/political power.  Just changing flow of income won’t do much if powerful interests are able to hoover it all up again.
  48. High marginal tax rates to ensure that people can’t get wealthy in a couple years (or even a decade) and then just bail themselves out of the system. The rich must be made poor to keep their interests aligned with the masses (Welsh).
  49. Distinction between markets for increasing returns products and decreasing returns (Reinert)
  50. The hidden dimensions of money, like imaginary numbers. Most money is not pocket change to be spent as desired.  Most exists purely as commitments within political/social systems and is vouched for.  It is not movable, it is designed with a political goal in mind (Gupta)
  51. There is no such thing as redistribution, because there is no “natural” distribution of wealth. All distributions are politically determined (Bruenig)
  52. Reconceptualize the role of individuals away from “consumers” with “rights” and toward “citizens” with “obligations.” These obligations are to each other, and the government has an obligation to the people, the people to the government, etc. (partially based on Welsh).  Watch out for danger of an authoritarian government using obligations to the state though—need to develop a mechanism to stop this.
  53. Institutions run on rules. When there is enough turnover over time, the knowledge of why the rules were created in the first place is lost.  The institution risks becoming harmful if the “why” is lost and its mission either creeps or goes on too long, preventing needed reform.  It may also be destroyed prematurely.  How to design around this?
  54. Right at the moment when reform happens, when the pressure and burden is eased off the people, that is when violence and revolution become most likely. The lack of pressure gives people hope, they start to exercise new liberties, and the flood gates open (de Tocqueville by way of Stirling Newberry).  First there is reform, then revolution, then a new order.
  55. Bifurcation theory as a general conceptual tool for understanding change in complex systems. Cycles may exist, but never quite return to the same place.  Secular movement may underlie these cycles, so repeated growth and collapse can result in long term advancement (or at least, movement).
  56. When it comes to production, craft, etc., people are not replaceable cogs. You want long term commitment and deep understanding of a technology or technique.  You want to keep and promote people who understand the core process of an undertaking, even if they may not be best for administrative positions, they should be kept on as senior engineers, advisers, etc.  Training the rookies, providing knowledge and perspective that simply doesn’t exist in textbooks.  Replacing people with robots means that you will no longer be able to improve your process.  Robots don’t learn, people do.  Robots should augment people, make them work better.
  57. The corporation as a dictatorial fiefdom. Do what your boss says, or else you risk being fired.  The opposite of democracy and transparency.  Holdover from feudal era.
  58. Academia as a medieval master/apprentice system with traditionally very little oversight. In-group identification and complicity more important than ethics and fairness.  Slowly being replaced by a neo-feudal structure of tenured senior profs overseeing cheap labor of postdocs and graduate students, all watched over by increasingly corporatized administrative system.
  59. The necessity for concentrations of power, capital, people to getting things done. It seems like most economic development and technological development requires creating gradients of power and protecting them.  Inequality as a necessary evil that must be constantly justified or face destruction.  How to create societal progress (technology, liberty, etc.) without creating permanent, abusive power structures?  Is it even possible?
  60. “It’s not your money” (Welsh, Reinert)
  61. The Tyranny of Structurelessness (Radical Jo)
  62. Morals are how you treat people you know, ethics are how you treat people you don’t know (Stirling Newberry). Ethics must come before morality, or at least significantly overlap for society to work (Welsh)
  63. Easy vs. hard, simple vs. complicated. (Welsh)
  64. Bin laden’s concept: Attack the far enemy in order to free up room for maneuver against the near enemy.  The US supports the regimes that rule the Middle East, and kicking them down just invites a response from the US.  So, knock the US out first.
  65. Jobs for the sake of jobs is nonsense. Some jobs do active harm to society (private health insurance, fossil fuels, much of the financial sector).  Others are just deadweight, though potentially useful at times (military production, most private security).
  66. Choice of criminals. Organized crime that manages its affairs and can be dealt with (follows some rules) vs. chaotic crime (gangs, etc. that follow few rules).  Ideal is to have a society where most crime is not necessary, but if you have to choose, better to deal with the organized kind. (Welsh, Olson)
  67. Catastrophe as moment of opportunity. Rawlsian veil of ignorance, allows for rearranging of social and political relationships (Welsh, Newberry?)
  68. A developed country is one where the rich take public transportation.
  69. Wall Street involvement in real estate, commodities speculation, etc. show that they are running out of ideas, scraping the bottom of the barrel. They will not survive much longer under the current way of doing business without sacrificing the rest of society.  Choice is to either change things, or sink the ship.
  70. Economy as ecosystem. Different roles for economic actors.  State, mature corporations, banking, productive assets, small companies, entrepreneurial startups.  Different markets, etc.
  71. Design life of 1000s of years. What should be designed for this, what should not?
  72. Iron Law of Institutions (Schwarz). Those who run an institution would rather retain control while it disintegrates than give up control and allow necessary reforms for it to survive in some new form.
  73. Effective history, retrodiction and prediction walls. Different walls depending on what you’re looking at.  (Nielsen)
  74. Three primary stages of history: Hunter gatherer nomads, agricultural-ecclesiastical, and industrial-technical (J. N. Nielsen).  I may have the names slightly wrong.
  75. History of industrialization (Polanyi, also need to read Forces of Production). Past occurrence in the West, happening now in China.  Unclear if necessary, but seem common.
  76. Institutional Filters. Self-selection mechanisms of institutions (Chomsky, Schmidt, etc.).  Will not hire, maintain, promote individuals who undermine institutional interests.  Subtle ways in which only people with particular views, etc. make it to positions of power and influence.  Not conspiracy, just confluence of power, design, interests, and human nature.
  77. Conspiracies are real but usually very limited. Not necessary to explain world.  Most conspiracies are just elite class solidarity in action.
  78. The elite is composed of generally smart people with servants who are either useful idiots or who have narrowly circumscribed interests/intelligence. But they are not geniuses.  Elite machinations seem complex and hard to think about because the vast majority of the public is not involved in them, is not aware of the details and calculations made.  Elites simply know their own business and interests and we generally do not.
  79. Start small, then scale up for most new institutions. Do things over time, in stages, not all at once.  Exceptions exist where a solution has been successfully implemented before, in a similar society.
  80. The Vampire’s Castle. Identitarian politics.  No longer try to stop being put in categories by power, now try to get categories recognized by existing power structure. (was this Gupta? something related to him?)
  81. At least three general strategies: Enter into and try to change/use institutions of power, attack institutions directly to take over, or undermine them at the base to knock them down (last one = Gupta).
  82. Class analysis and interest. Don’t forget horizontal divisions of power too—some groups are in the same strata, but have slightly different interests.  Can drive a wedge between them.
  83. Flying geese development process in East Asia (Reinert, Ha Joon Chang)
  84. Human extinction, permanent stagnation, flawed realization, subsequent ruination (J.N. Nielsen,
  85. People need an enemy, preferably not other people (though that has been the historic norm).  They need an outside force to rally against, to unite them.  Possibility of using nature, climate, indifferent universe.  Plenty of data to make the argument, but also risk making people hostile to nature.  Need to walk a fine line–can’t risk outright hostility, need to focus on making it work for us. Risk of bringing out the worst in people.
  86. Those with power seek to maintain power and pursue their interests.  Those with power do not yield unless it is in their interest to do so or unless forced to do so by another source of power.
  87. “Any given species that has evolved on the Earth will have its closest relatives here on Earth. Thus, if we consider humans to be unique and alone on Earth, then humans are a fortiori unique and alone in the Universe. We are more closely related to the life forms with whom we have shared 3.5 billion years of common ancestors than we will be with any alien evolved independently on another planet. Our closest relatives, genetically, physiologically and mentally are here on this Earth. (Lineweaver, Charles)
  88. My own hypothesis: Government boosting aggregate demand through demand side measures (or temporary effects of lower interest rates) largely boosts consumption.  Increased consumption will lead to increased production, more investment in productive capacity.  However, this capacity will mostly be for already existing products, will avoid significant technical innovations, and is best represented by the drains/unproductive wastes from Nielsen’s STEM cycle (  This is good for altering the distribution of mostly existing wealth, provided the financial sector doesn’t have a stranglehold on the monetary flows.  To get more robust increasing returns, government must engage in direct investment toward specific goals and must encourage private sector to invest in these goals as well (i.e. direct fiscal spending, lower interest rates to encourage activities with long term payoffs, etc.).  These are two separate paths toward growth, the first one mostly lifting the economy up to its current potential (with spillover effects leading to some increase in potential), the second focused on expanding that potential.
  89. Multiple, stacked filters to entry. Any given organization/system composed of people will have barriers to entry.  There is a temptation to find a single barrier and proclaim that “this is it” and that removing said barrier will fix things.  However, “barrier” is often the wrong term.  Instead, institutions have stacked filters to entry.  Many of these filters are outside the institution itself.  For example (from Matt Bruenig, here:, poor kids don’t necessarily get media jobs because they can’t afford unpaid internships.  They don’t get these jobs because they also require college degrees, acculturation to particular professional/managerial standards of behavior, often require networking skills, AND tend to rely on unpaid internships.  The unpaid internships are often focused on, but they are really the last filter in a series.
  90. Principle of ludic freedom (Graeber:  The free exercise of an entity’s most complex powers or capacities will, under certain circumstances at least, tend to become an end in itself.  Very heartening in some respects (play, etc.), extremely dangerous in others (I can kill people by pressing a button).  Remember that institutions are entities as well—networked, hierarchical entities made of entities.
  91. Extract something from this:
  92. Random internet comment: Bodybuilding was a freak show competition before it became a mainstream way to market protein powder to kids like Cartman. Small, basic robots were a freak show competition before they started vacuuming and scrubbing people’s floors. Really popular things like competitions and parties can be used as Trojan metaphors in order to change the freakish into the mainstream.
  93. Do not neglect culture. Pop music, etc.  Integrate with “the normalcy field” from #90 above.
  94. Money is a way of allocating poverty. Loosely based on Iain Banks quote.
  95. The city is a battlesuit for surviving the future. (Matt Jones). Need something along these lines…  not quite the right quote.
  96. Encompassing interest as a key way of pinning the interests of elites/rulers to those of the population they rule. Note example of Soviet Union given by Mancur Olson, reason it stopped working over generations.  Interests that started out broad became narrow, spawned conspiracies and fiefdoms, without any larger (e.g. market) mechanism to keep them honest and functional.
  97. Humans are factional. We disagree, we take sides, we splinter and split.  This is also one reason that we tend to think in binary terms—either in the group or outside it.  However, factionalism can be overcome with ideology.  Unification can happen over many generations given either an outside threat or a sufficiently powerful idea that people are willing to follow (irrationally).  There may be a parallel here to the old saying “you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time.”  You can build a powerful ideology that unites all of society for a short time (state communism as practiced in Russia, China), or you can build a powerful ideology that unites some aspects of society for a long time (religion).  Short time = decades to about a century (maybe 3 or 4 generations), while long time = millennia.  Note that everything mutates or changes over the course of centuries, so the original ideology will change as it either decays (short) or is reified (long).
  98. People think in terms of categories with central and non-central members. Re-centering as an argumentative tactic.  “Right now most people’s central examples of religion are probably things like your local neighborhood church. If you’re American, it’s probably a bland Protestant denomination like the Episcopalians or something.  The guy whose central examples of religion are Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama is probably going to have a different perception of religion than the guy whose central examples are Torquemada and Fred Phelps. If you convert someone from the first kind of person to the second kind of person, you’ve gone most of the way to making them an atheist.” (Is this from Slate Star Codex?)
  99. Conceptual superweapons. Complexes of ideas that are focused on a particular group and built out of statements that are individually reasonable and justified but, when assembled together, provide an ultimate weapon to defeat members of the target group.  Reference:
    1. Related: Identity politics and social justice in failure mode are creating a conceptual superweapon to counter white male patriarchy (WMP), but in doing so are replicating many of the traits of WMP weapons. Everyone is armed, no one is safe.  Mutual disarmament is better.
  100. When the strong fight the strong or weak fight the weak, morale is preserved. Fair fight.  When the weak fight the strong, the weak have a morale advantage—David vs. Goliath.  When the strong fight the weak, the strong lose morale even if they win.  Tactic is to make strong opponents expend morale on weak ones (van Creveld.  Look up for further information, context.  May not be remembering correctly).  “If you are strong and fighting the weak, then if you kill your opponent then you are a scoundrel… if you let him kill you, then you are an idiot.”
  101. Building design and workflow for creativity, exercise. Create buildings to force some level of mingling in a central area, especially mingling of people working in very separate areas.  Allow for small shortcuts around the central area, to be taken by those with reason to avoid.  Create workflow that encourages people to get up and move around, even for office work.  Campus-style design, walking between classes.  Walk between workstations?    Combine physical and mental activity, combine indoor and outdoor locations, traditional office w/ trees, grass, etc.  Contrast and movement, punctuated by stillness and introspection, is what drives the mind.  Must have low noise spaces for low-murmur team work, absolute quiet spaces for study, and noisy locations for socialization and meetings.
    1. Be aware of hierarchies designed into a structure. Corner offices go to the higher status, upper floors for management, etc.  These wear at even the most egalitarian workplace.
  102. Hobson’s Choice: A free choice in which only one option is offered.  Take it or leave it.
  103. Countersignaling vertically and horizontally as a means of differentiation. The wealthy/top of a hierarchy (vertical) adopt some fashion or attitude.  It gradually filters into the upper middle class, who also adopt it, then down to the lower middle and eventually working class and poor.  As it moves down the hierarchy, the higher strata are impelled to change so as to avoid being ID’d as members of the newly-adopting lower strata.  There may similarly be reactions that travel in the reverse direction, from bottom to top, in the form of appropriation.
    1. Need to think about it in terms of power hierarchies and generative social sectors. Possible for a low level generative social sector to be co-opted by an upper one—the upper sectors aren’t always generative and will look elsewhere.  Since they are on top, they now make it cool and drive out the original, authentic source.  The cool version from a higher strata may then filter down.
    2. Depending on class structure, can get an interesting alternating color pancake structure, where each layer wants to idolize the higher one(s) and avoid being recognized as the lower one(s). Exceptions arise when the higher ones adopt lower level signals in such a way that they are clearly not going to be mistaken for the lower levels.
    3. Horizontal: Between two groups of roughly equal power.  This is usually referred to as tribalism or nationalism or clique-ism(?).  Group define themselves by their differences in this case, whereas the vertical case is by both differences and similarities.  (May be possible to define by similarities in horizontal case—expand on this later).
  104. Written vs. unwritten rules in running an organization. Styles of leadership—must know the answer before the question is asked (authoritarian, secretive) vs. allowing open questions as to why (egalitarian, transparent).  Taking offense at questions as a protective mechanism for authority.  “You should know why” vs. “let me explain why” as the default mode of operation.
  105. Human augmentation via robots vs. human replacement. In the former, you add to people’s abilities, allowing room for creativity in work to remain.  In the latter, you mostly sterilize improvement, leaving it to roboticists and process engineers.  Too many people are removed from the loop, no longer directly involved in/observing what is being done.
  106. Repurpose the surveillance state for the public good. Focus on disaster relief, climate change, resource depletion, etc.  Is it even possible?
  107. Designed vs. Grown structures.  Things that are designed are arranged together from discrete parts, precisely machined, made for a particular purpose.  Those that are grown start small and become larger while fulfilling multiple purposes over time.  Example:  Solar power array vs. tree.  Example:  Dentures vs. child’s teeth falling out and making way for adult teeth. (?) Are there other types of structures?  Apply to social structures as well. (Look into Rachel Armstrong’s work)
  108. Institutions for catching up (economic development, industrialization) are well known, though little acknowledged in mainstream.  Main obstacle to widespread adoption is political, ideological, possibly resource constraints depending on technological state.  Big question–how do you move forward and continue development?  Old institutions clearly provide capability for dynamism, tech development, etc.  But given their existence and the effects they have had on society, what new institutions are necessary to keep moving forward?  And how are they used in coordination across nations/regions/the world?
  109. Carrington Event mitigation project
  110. Containment and shaping of middle class dissent, through the commoditization of horror and the reconfiguration of handwringing as activism. Related to Celebrity Left entry above, may need to consolidate together.  Heat vampires, etc.
  111. Decisions about how to run a society must always be made somehow. Every economic system is coercive and so the debate is about how best to allocate coercion (MattBruenig).  Financialization and markets have been used a means to distance politicians from accountability.  Well, it’s not our fault, it’s the market:  “The era of financialization was not letting the market decide, it was, as Krippner argues, a specific form of ‘neoliberal statecraft’. It was governing without consent of the governed, by depolitizing decisions to a state-constructed market. And for a time, it did defray the social, fiscal, and legitimacy crises that politicians in the 1960s and 1970s couldn’t solve. But that time, as our episode of bubbles and crashes and frauds suggest, is over. We will have to create an architecture of decision-making once again, to solve the problems earlier politicians wouldn’t and couldn’t. The fight over resources, as Occupy Wall Street reminded us for a time, is perennial.” (  My take:  Everything is political, markets are created and maintained by the state, letting the market “Decide” is tantamount to saying “let the status quo economic arrangement decide.”
  112. Stockholm Syndrome of the Soul, Zombies, adaptation to everyday life. Everything feels normal, everybody else around us is doing the same things, so everything must be ok.  A form of learned helplessness, unthinking accommodation to routine, to group norms. (Gupta?)
  113. People most often reason to support their preferred outcome. Reasoning is most often (not always) performed in order to persuade others to accept something the speaker has already concluded.  Not usually a tool to find the “right” or “best” answer, but to find the right or best argument to support predetermined ideas. (Mercier and Sperber 2011)
  114. The Compensation Principle, see HJ Chang pg 72.
  115. Profit motive as obstacle to social progress in many areas. Markets can work great, but implementing profit motive (markets) in certain places mandates the need to generate profits, which requires certain patterns of behavior that are hostile to privacy, democracy, etc.  Communication systems that rely on the profit motive must advertise, must collect data from users in order to profit.  Used to monitor people, make them behave in ways that are profitable to owners/operators/sponsors of communication system.  Political struggle needed to remove this aspect.  Many things are worth doing that are not profitable.
    1. Profit motive now preventing what it previously enabled, as cost of production, etc. plummets and eliminates profits. Increasing reliance on state power to enforce profits, prop system up (even more than in the past) (DamnJehu).
  116. Sociotechnological entrapment. Hunter gatherer to agriculture to industry.  Once elites have you trapped in a new way of life, don’t have to care as much anymore.  Initial wave of encouragement, spreading the benefits in order to get people to sign on, plus need to be nice as transitions don’t clearly call out winners and losers.  Once the system is built and secured, the elites see that the commoners are trapped and can begin to abuse.  Key to break this cycle, give people the option to get out. (Welsh?)
  117. Three buckets of government spending (Matt Bruenig). Market income, transfer income, public projects.
  118. Local equality/projects. Look to Alperovtiz, as per Bruenig:
  119. The Fallacy of Defense in Depth. When multiple layers of defense are present, single errors can accumulate in each and not be detected by human monitors.  Eventually, errors coincide to cause an accident, and due to the nature of the defenses, the accident has multiple causes which are difficult to untangle.  Especially in an emergency situation.
  120. The man on horseback. New Caesar, comes in and promises to take over and sweep away corruption, run the country better, etc.  Note that even I am somewhat sympathetic to this, but long term risk is huge.  Terrible precedent.
  121. Poverty in developed nations as a transient phenomenon.  People move in and out of poverty throughout lifecycle.  Market income distributions function in a manner where those most in need or most capable get the least compensation.  Young, elderly, disabled all get the least.  Middle aged, healthy, “abled” get the most.  (Bruenig) A classic positive feedback system, where those who are doing well are given more.  Need to counteract this while not hampering those who are doing well.
  122. Need to put dangerous tech/production into space, outside area where it could fall into Earth orbit.  Robust space program necessary not just to avoid asteroid, etc. events, but to stop us from killing ourselves (is this covered in an item above?)
  123. Plateau technologies and societal bifurcation leading to a division into low tech, low energy and high tech, high energy societies, both of which are relatively stable.  Stagnation as primary attractor point for most of human history, possibility of reaching a new attractor/limit cycle via tech progress and energy inputs.
  124. SkyNet isn’t happening, but SpyNet is.
  125. Intelligence without consciousness.
  126. Implications of Immortality.
  127. Infrastructure designed to fail gracefully.  Both social and technical.  Design for failure modes, ability to recover afterwards.  Is recovery simply a recreation of the old system, or an evolution to something new?  How to determine when to do former vs. latter?
  128. Maintaining a positive public image in the era of mass media and social media requires curation and lying.  Famous people are typically engaged in a never-ending process of lying about themselves, of fabrication in order to cover up their flaws because the general public cannot tolerate flaws.  Plus, lots of famous people achieved their status by playing power games and screwing over others.  Destroy your heroes.  (One tricky part of life is that children need role models and “heroes” to emulate, but doing this as an adult is highly destructive.  Many people do not make the transition).
  129. A discussion of Jacques Ellul’s book Propaganda and the role that propaganda plays in modern society.

The SpyNet and the Golden Age of Internet Astronomy


The Terminator movies got it wrong (though T3 was close). In them, SkyNet was a single supercomputer stored in some DoD bunker, built to control a national nuclear arsenal and powered by a nuclear reactor. In reality, SpyNet will be an intelligence agency algorithm built to monitor the entire world, distributed across tiny processors embedded in everything, and powered by whatever local sources are available, including waste heat and the sun.

The Shape of SpyNet

If you want to monitor and control a civilization, computers are good. But they’re not great—they consume a lot power and have trouble with tasks that humans can easily accomplish. Plus, they need humans to run them and check their results. So you invent a better computer that can more easily emulate human cognition and you build an infrastructure of pervasive information that these computers, in conjunction with their more traditional brethren, can sample, process, and control.

Here are the prototypical technologies that will build the SpyNet.

Here is a part of its brain, a neural network running on hardware instead of software emulation:

When hosting a neural network, the chip is remarkably power efficient. And the researchers say their architecture can scale arbitrarily large, raising the prospect of a neural network supercomputer…

They found that TrueNorth [neural net chip] cut energy use by 176,000-fold compared to a traditional processor and by a factor of over 700 compared to [other] specialized hardware designed to host neural networks…

“We have begun building neurosynaptic super-computers,” the authors state, “by tiling multiple TrueNorth chips, creating systems with hundreds of thousands of cores, hundreds of millions of neurons, and hundreds of billions of synapses.”

Here is its memory, with no distinction between volatile/temporary and permanent storage:

“The simplest way to think about it is this—take a DRAM DIMM out, and put a memristor DIMM in,” said Sontag. “You now have another pool of memory that’s denser and nonvolatile. It’s a new class of memory—the consequence for operating systems is that moving stuff around from I/O devices [to and from disk] becomes unnecessary.” …

Memristor memory is “between 64 and 128 times denser than DRAM,” Sontag said, “which makes it even denser than disk drives.” And because of that, memristors are a natural fit for systems-on-a-chip or other embedded storage. “We might just bury that memory within a processor socket and have something that sometimes looks like a memory controller and sometimes does processing,” Sontag said.

Remember, there are SDXC Flash cards out there carrying 256 GB that fit on the tip of your finger. This density will continue to increase in future storage technologies such as the memristors above. The people I know in the data storage industry talk to me about crazy densities and capabilities on the 10 year horizon. Beyond 10 years, we will see the gradual integration of computation with memory—no more separate CPU, RAM, and disk, but you get a “compute block” instead.

Here is its communication device, a high bitrate radio as small as an ant and powered by incoming signals:

The radios are fitted onto tiny silicon chips, and cost only pennies to make thanks to their diminutive size. They are designed to compute, execute, and relay demands, and they are very energy efficient to the point of being self-sufficient. This is due to the fact that they can harvest power from the incoming electromagnetic signal so they do not require batteries, meaning there is no particular lifetime associated with the devices.

Here is a sample of its data harvesting capabilities. In this case, researchers were able to monitor environmental vibrations on a potato chip bag to reconstruct human speech:

But perhaps the biggest surprise came when they showed that they didn’t actually need a specialized, high-speed camera. It turns out that most consumer-grade equipment doesn’t expose its entire sensor at once and instead scans an image across the sensor grid in a line-by-line fashion. Using a consumer video camera, the researchers were able to determine that there’s a 16 microsecond delay between each line, with a five millisecond delay between frames. Using this information, they treated each line as a separate exposure and were able to reproduce sound that way.

Overall, it’s an impressive bit of computer science, but the authors are up-front about its potential use in surveillance. The biggest limitation right now is that the camera has to be quite nearby; the team didn’t test anything beyond four meters. But they also suggest that a powerful zoom lens might allow the system to work at much greater distances.

Everything you ever say will soon be recorded. Windows vibrate, lips can be read, even bags of potato chips vibrate when someone is speaking nearby.

And you can bet that intelligence organizations are salivating over the notion of creating a “sentient enterprise,” something capable of sorting through and monitoring the internet in nearly real time. They predict this to be a possibility by 2025:

The Sentient Enterprise will track and manage thousands of exabytes of data every day… enabling iterative assessments in real time, not days or weeks.

I doubt it will actually be sentient, but it may be intelligent and adaptive enough to perform complex tasks beyond human capabilities. My nightmare is that it may even be like something out of a Peter Watts novel (Blindsight).

Internet Astronomy

For the last few decades, our global computational infrastructure has been like the early universe—undergoing a massive inflationary period where expansion outpaces the speed of light. But the universe eventually slowed to below light speed, allowing both matter and energy to catch up. The Inflationary Internet is ending, and the matter and energy of controlling entities, be they governments or corporations, is catching up to the ragged edge.

Ironically, the slowdown period is due to a coming massive increase in computational performance and energy efficiency. There has historically been a disconnect between processing power and network bandwidth on the one hand, and the total volume of data storage on the other. Storage has always outpaced processing and comms, and pulling together enough processing power to act on petabytes of data has required energy measured in coal plants. This has afforded us anonymity or at least some amount of delay between online actions and exposure. Unless you have been specifically targeted by a government or corporate power, you can generally do what you want on the internet. No one in authority is watching you, and your data trail is simply lost in an expansion that moves faster than the ability to control and monitor.

This will end, this is ending, this has been ending. Soon the frontier of expansion will be fully monitored and policed in real time. Forensic tools will be (are being) developed to observe the Internet Microwave Background and they will dredge up and analyze the entire past history of the internet. There will be tools to focus in on Deep Web Dark Matter, a mass of data not visible on search engines and containing a wealth of information that the Baryonic Internet floats within. The anonymous data trails will become fully legible and parsable by advanced algorithms.

We need to start adapting to this now. We are rapidly approaching a point where everything is recorded and nothing is forgotten, where there is the potential for no anonymity and no privacy in real time.  Where SpyNet sees everything you’re doing, and only laws, ethics, and social norms can protect you from its handlers—or, worst case, from SpyNet itself.

The Surveillance Cloud

This post is inspired by the most recent hacking of celebrity accounts and release of very private photos.

I’ve been trying to think of a good analogy or alternative name for the cloud–calling it “the cloud” completely obfuscates what’s actually going on. Here’s what I came up with:

Imagine it’s the 1970s and Eastman Kodak set up a series of warehouses around the country to store the negatives of any photos people take with their cameras. Once you finish a roll, you package it up and ship it to the nearest warehouse, free of charge. If you needed a copy of a photo, you could request it from the warehouse and one would be sent. Think about it–sending a roll of nude selfies with your name attached to it to the corporate warehouse for safekeeping. And you know that similar warehouses run by other companies have had break-ins and feature lax security. You know that there are people out there dedicated to breaking into these warehouses and stealing personal information.

Put in this context, the scenario is absurd–“here Eastman Kodak, I trust you to store naked pictures of me, keep others from seeing them, and to actually destroy them when I request it.”

We’re all ignorant of what we’re doing. Virtually everything is being recorded, and almost nothing is being deleted. I know people in the data storage industry who tell me that ~90% of all data is written once and then never read again. Anything placed on an internet connected machine is being (or will soon be) hoovered up, and the only reason most of us are ok with this is crowd anonymity. Most of us are unimportant enough that we evade notice. When millions of credit cards are stolen, only a small fraction of them are used before the credit card company invalidates them and issues new cards to the rightful owners. Our bank accounts are secure simply because we are not high profile targets and because there’s just enough of a barrier in place to make it not worthwhile to target us. And even when we are caught in something, it’s usually bad luck and we’re protected by sheer numbers.

The systems for parsing information and acting on it are far behind the amount of data we’re generating. But at some point they might catch up, or get close enough that suddenly there is no crowd anonymity anymore.  This is what I fear the first AIs (or advanced expert systems, or whatever–sentience optional) will be designed for.  At some point in the near future, there will be no privacy.  Everything will be covered in sensors, and everything you do and say will be recorded, forever.  There will be enough information for advanced algorithms to predict the broad outlines of your thoughts and future behaviors.  Think of Minority Report, but with machines instead of telepaths.

The cloud should be renamed something like “Permanent eStorage” (Permstor?) or “Corporate Warehouse”–this last would be something like “I uploaded my nude photos to Apple’s corporate warehouse.”  I’m not good with names…

On the plus side, with this level of data retention your personality might be possible to reconstruct in machine form and some aspect of you could become immortal.  There are also many benefits to having so much information available for running society.  On the minus side, the society you will inhabit is likely to be awful and this information will likely be abused.

I have no solution to this yet.  Clearly some sort of institutional changes and major cultural growth will be necessary to deal with such an apparatus.  I consider it unlikely that we’ll stop its development, and the only scenarios I see where development halts likely involve wars that would topple the existing power structures–and kill billions in the process.  So I believe that adaptation and resistance with the intent to guide the system to a better state are the most productive activities to engage in.