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Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]
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Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

Let’s begin here:

**

There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts

    **

    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?

    Thoughts on CNAS “Preparing for War in the Robotic Age”

    Friday, January 24th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    My reading at CNAS, which had once been frequent, declined with the waning of the Abu Muqawama blog. While formerly I usually scanned through CNAS reports on a regular basis after reading what Exum and his commenters had to say, toward the end I only visited when Adam and Dan had new posts up.

    At the gentle nudging of Frank Hoffman, I decided to read the latest CNAS product;  I’m pleased to say with the release of ” 20YY:Preparing for War in the Robotic Age by Robert Work ( CNAS CEO and former Undersecretary of the Navy) and Shawn Brimley (CNAS Executive V.P. and former NSC Strategic Planning Director) CNAS has rolled out an intellectually provocative analysis on an important emerging aspect of modern warfare.

    Work and Brimley have done a number of things well and did them concisely (only 36 pages) in “20YY”:

    • A readable summary of the technological evolution of modern warfare in the past half century while distinguishing between military revolutions,  military-technical revolution and the the 80’s-90’s  American “revolution in military affairs“.
    • .
    • A more specific drill-down on the history of guided munitions and their game-changing importance on the relationship between offense and defense that flourished after the Gulf War. 
    • .
    • An argument that the proliferation of technology and information power into the hands unfriendly states and non-state actors is altering the strategic environment for the United States, writing:
    • .
    • “Meanwhile in the 13 years since the last 20XX game, foreign nation-state C41, surveillance and reconaissance systems, and guided munitions-battle network capabilities have become increasingly capable.  Indeed, these systems now form the very robust and advanced “anti-access and area denial”  (A2/AD) capabilities envisioned in the 20XX game series. The effect has been that the dominance enjoyed by the United States in the late 1990’s/2000’s in the area of high end sensors, guided weaponry, space and cyberspace systems and stealth technology has started to erode. Moreover the erosion is now occurring at an accelerated rate.”
    • .
    • Positing the near-future global proliferation of unmanned, autonomous, networked and swarmed robotic systems replacing( and leveraged by diminishing numbers of) expensive manpower and piloted platforms on the battlefield and altering the age-old relationship between a nation’s population base and the traditional calculation of its potential military power.
    • .
    • An argument that “warfare in the robotic age” will mean substantial to fundamental shifts in strategic calculation of deterrence, coercion, the use of force, operational doctrines and the evolution of military technology and that the United States must prepare for this eventuality.

    This report is well worth reading.  In my view there are some areas that require further exploration and debate than can be found in “20YY”. For example:

    • While the power of economics as a driver of unmanned, autonomous weapons is present, the implications are vastly understated. Every nation will face strategic investment choices between opting for simple and cheaper robotic platforms in mass and “pricing out” potential rivals by opting for “class” – fewer but more powerful, sophisticated and versatile robotic systems.
    • .
    • The scale of robot swarms are limited primarily by computing power and cost of manufactureand could be composed of robots from the size of a fly to that of a zeppelin. As John Robb has noted, this could mean billions of drones.
    • .
    • The US defense acquisition system and the armed services are ill-suited for fast and inexpensive introduction of robotic warfare technology – particularly if they threaten to displace profitable legacy platforms – as was demonstrated by the CIA rather than the USAF taking the lead on building a drone fleet.  Once foreign states reach parity, they may soon exceed us technologically in this area. A future presidential candidate may someday warn of  a growing ” robot gap” with China.
    • .
    • Reliance on robotic systems as the center of gravity of your military power carries a terrific risk if effective countermeasures suddenly render them useless at the worst possible time (“Our…our drone swarm….they’ve turned around…they are attacking our own troops….Aaaaahhhh!”)
    • .
    • The use of robotic systems to indiscriminately and autonomously kill is virtually inevitable much like terrorism is inevitable. As with WMD, the weaker the enemy, the less moral scruple they are likely to have in employing lethal robotic technology.
    • .
    • For that matter, the use of robotic systems by an authoritarian state against its own citizens to suppress insurgency, peaceful protest or engage in genocide against minority groups is also highly probable. Is there much doubt how the Kim Family regime in north Korea or Assad in Syria would make use of an army of “killer robots” if they feel their hold on power was threatened?
    • .
    • International Law is not currently configured for genuinely autonomous weapons with Ai operating systems. Most of the theorists and certainly the activists on the subject of  “killer robots” are more interested in waging lawfare exclusively against American possession and use of such weapons than in stopping their proliferation to authoritarian regimes or contracting realistic covenants as to their use.

    All in all “20YY:Preparing for War in the Robotic Age provides much food for thought.

    For the Fourth of July: The Once and Future Republic?

    Thursday, July 4th, 2013

    Ahem….”I told you so“.

    “Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”

                                                                 – Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin)
                                                                     A primary author of The Patriot Act 

    “We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. Gen. Alexander’s testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program helped thwart ‘dozens’ of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods. The public deserves a clear explanation”

                                                                     – Senators Ron Wyden (D- Oregon) and Mark Udall (D- Colorado)

    “What I learned from our journalists should alarm everyone in this room and should alarm everyone in this country….The actions of the DoJ against AP are already having an impact beyond the specifics of this particular case. Some of our longtime trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us, even on stories that aren’t about national security. And in some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone, and some are reluctant to meet in person. This chilling effect is not just at AP, it’s happening at other news organizations as well”

                                                                   – Gary Pruitt, President of the Associated Press 

    “The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry….But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

                                                                  – Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City 

    “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.”

                                                                    -Thomas Friedman, NYT Columnist 

    “Toll records, phone records like this, that don’t include any content, are not covered by the fourth amendment because people don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in who they called and when they called, that’s something you show to the phone company. That’s something you show to many, many people within the phone company on a regular basis.”

                                                                     – James Cole, Deputy Attorney-General 

    “In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

                                                                     -Barack Obama, President of the United States 

    While we need intelligence services, including the formidable collection capacity of the NSA, we don’t need a mammoth repository of information being continually compiled on every American, held in perpetuity by the US government.

    First, the mere existence of so massive a database on the data of all Americans is itself a critical strategic vulnerability and a potential risk to the national security of the United States because it centralizes for any would be spy or hacker not just anything, but virtually *everything* they would want to know about *everyone*. The greatest testament against the strategic wisdom of this scheme from a counterintelligence perspective is the erstwhile Mr. Edward Snowden – breach just one security regime and you walk away with the whole store or as much of the store as you have time and brains to snatch.

    How many Snowdens have we *not* heard about because they were quietly fired by a contractor? How many other Snowdens working for foreign intelligence services eluded government detection and got away with who knows what?  Or are still doing it now?

    Not exactly a resilient system from a cybersecurity perspective, is it?

    What the USG has done here is not dumb. It is fucking dumb with a capital F. Sometimes we get so caught up from a technical viewpoint in what we might be able to do that no one stops and seriously considers if we should do it. From such unasked questions come the unwanted second and third order effects we live to rue.

    Unless, of course,  building a draconian comprehensive digital dragnet for a  “leaky system” is what was desired in the first place. If so, bravo gentlemen.

    Which brings us to the second point: the surveillance state as currently configured in law with the legal equivalent of string and chewing gum is inimical to the long term survival of the United States as a constitutional Republic. This is not an attack on any particular person or politician or three letter agency. It’s a hard world filled with extremely bad men who would do us lasting harm, so we need our spooks, but the spooks need proper constitutional boundaries set by our elected representatives in which to operate and somewhere in the past decade we have crossed that Rubicon.

    The United States of America has had a historically remarkable run of 237 years of good government and in all that time the system failed us only once. That one time cost the lives of approximately 630,000 Americans.

    On a level of moral and political legitimacy, we have created a bureaucratic-technological machine, a sleepless cyber  J. Edgar Hoover on steroids that contradicts our deeply held political values that define what America is and aspires to be. There is no way to reconcile cradle-to-grave digital dossiers on the 24/7 life of every American with the provisions of the US. Constitution. Really, an ever-watching state was not in the cards at our Constitutional Convention, even with the delegates like Alexander Hamilton who privately thought George Washington might make a fine King.

    On a more pragmatic level, in creating the SIGINT-cyber surveillance state we have made not an idiot-proof system, but an idiot-enabling one that represents an enormous potential reserve of power that will be an unbearable temptation for misuse and abuse. The long, bloody and sordid record of human nature indicates that someone, eventually, will not be able to resist that temptation but will be smart enough to get away with it. If we are greatly fortunate, it will be a lazy person of limited vision looking merely to enrich themselves and their friends. Or a malevolent minor bureaucrat like Lois Lerner looking to punish “the little people” who raised her ire.  If we are unlucky, it will be a gifted figure of ill intent and outsized ambitions, an American Caesar.

    Or an American Stalin.

    In the long term, our Democracy will not be healthy when the government – that is, the Executive – monitors everyone and stores everything  we do forever. While most of us are not that interesting, reporters, public figures, newspaper publishers, members of Congress, aspiring politicians, their campaign donors,  judges, dissenters, writers and so on are very interesting to people in power. The Congress, for example, cannot do it’s job properly when it’s cloakroom is bugged and their email is read anymore than can the editorial office of the Associated Press. What we have built, if it existed in a foreign country, would be frankly described as a “Deep State.  Nations with deep states are not pleasant places to live and they usually do not work well. At best, they look like Russia and Turkey, at worst they look like Pakistan and Iran.

    Rolling the surveillance state back to targeting foreign enemies, it’s proper and constitutional role, instead of every American citizen – yes, we are all, every man, woman and child of every race, creed, color and political persuasion being treated as potential enemies by the Federal government – is up to us and only us.  Tell your Congressman, your Senator and the President what you think in a respectful and thoughtful way – and then make this an issue that decides your vote.

    If we do nothing, we have no one to blame but ourselves for what comes next. We can at least console ourselves with pride in the fact that the US had a good go at making freedom work unequaled in world history, but that democracy may had had it’s time.  Others in the distant future, may profit from our example the way we learned from Athens, Rome and Britain. Or we can leave while the door still remains open.

    Enjoy your Fourth.

                                                    “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

                                                                          – Mrs. Powell

                                                 ” A Republic, if you can keep it”

                                                                          – Benjamin Franklin
                                                                             Signer of the Declaration of Independence
                                                                             Delegate, Constitutional Convention

    On Time and timeframes

    Monday, July 1st, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — 48 hours, Egyptian time, can mean many things, also DoD foresight, next 48 hrs ]
    .

    We seem to have at least four “times” here, ranking from 12 to 72 hours — or zero to 72 if you take the Army’s announcement itself as a sort of starting pistol — and they’re operating, obviously enough, under different frames. The army likes nicely rounded numbers like “48 hrs”, PERT chart thinking gives you the least time available in which to take the first step towards a desired aim, here “12 hours” — and “24 hours” is the latest target time for serious, visible progress to avert “worst case” response preparations. Or something along those lines.

    And “72 hours”? That may be Egyptian elastic time, and thus roughly comparable to Lakota time

    The Lakota view of time was simple. “Time was never a specific minute, but rather spaces of time,like early morning, just afternoon or just before midnight. The real meaning of time could be summed up by the phrase “nake nula waunyelo” loosely translated it means:

    “I am ready for whatever, any place, any time, always prepared”.

    When work needed to be done, people were prepared to work late inthe fields or stay up until 3 am to finish goods to be sold at market.When no work needed to be done, they didn’t work.

    The irony is in the next comment:

    Policy makers saw an opportunity to improve things by installing awestern time ethic and a respect for the clock.

    I don’t know Egypt — but I have spent time “on Lakota time” and don’t wear a watch or carry a phone these days… The piece I drew those quotes from, Lessons from the Lakota: Time lessons for today’s managers, may or may not be useful advice for managers, but its overview-with-graphic of different time systems is worth a quick look. Anthropologists would be able to tell you more about individual cultures, but my point is that differing timeframes are among the major features of different worldviews, and we need to have a decent sense of them when we interface with them.

    So “72 hours” may be an instance of relaxed but purposive time, okay? Which wouldn’t necessarily fit well with starched and pressed military time.

    **

    And here’s the blockbuster:

    According to the Congressional Budget Office’s Analysis of DoD’s Future Years Defense Program from 2013, military foresight time runs five years ahead, while USG foresight time runs to 2030 at least:

    In most years, the Department of Defense (DoD) provides a five-year plan, called the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP), associated with the budget that it submits to the Congress. Because decisions made in the near term can have consequences for the defense budget well beyond that period, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) regularly examines DoD’s FYDP and projects its budgetary impact over several decades. For this analysis, CBO used the FYDP provided to the Congress in March 2012, which covers fiscal years 2013 to 2017; CBO’s projections span the years 2013 to 2030.

    That’s confidence of a kind… but consider this:

    I know, I know — whatever happens in Egypt “momentarily” may turn out to be no more than an eddy briefly interrupting a larger time-flow in the “mid-term” — a phenomenon I’d like to map nicely with some river graphics one of these days.

    **

    But time? What was it St Augustine said of it?

    What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know.

    Night vision, x-rays – what do we have for the fog of war?

    Monday, June 17th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — it occurred to me to ask ]
    .

    I have a question for the assembled horde — but first, the shoes:


    Getting your feet x-rayed and fitted for a new pair of shoes, ca. 1950

    **

    You know the way they say (Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, eg, with no implied claim of veracity here, just interest) that you go through various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance?

    Suppose there are stages of response to terror that governments, agencies, leaders, pundits, analysts & journos tend to go though. Suppose at the start they lean to the vengeful and are therefore prone to see things in black and white, no nuance, confrontational, response intense & military rather than diplomatic — and in later stages get calmer, begin to see motives less single-strandedly, catch details previously missed, suggest responses that are more measured, more proportional, etc.

    If we got really clear on how this tends to work, could we begin to have an understanding of the ratio between “heat of the moment” and “after the fog of war clears” thinking, which in turn could allow us to discount initial reactions, look for “next stage” signals in the cognitive periphery, and get a more accurate read through the fog from the start?

    We know now, eg, that the first reaction at OKC was to expect Muslim blame, but it become clear that McVeigh did it — and first expectations were dashed. With WMD in Iraq the clearing of the fog took longer, but it still happened.

    I’m suggesting that people who have just been affronted or attacked will understand better, later, and that for more appropriate response, some time lag may be required. But does the lag time have formal features, styles of assumption that gradually give way identifiably and reliably to more nuance and accuracy as certain formal issues are addressed — so there could be a checklist, and a kind of 2 week, two month, two year, two decade look ahead / lookback methodology devised, charted, and implemented, eg as a part of scenario planning and / or red teaming?

    Is some of this implicit in the second O in the OODA loop? Can we take it usefully further?

    **

    Yes, when I was a boy, you stepped up to the x-ray machine in the shoe store, pushed your feet in and peered into the viewer at the top of the machine to see how well your new shoes fit your ghost-of-a-skeleton feet.

    Later on, this was viewed as an unhealthy way to judge the fit of a shoe, and life and choice in shoe stores became more complicated.


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