The Root of All Evil: Secrets

Dec 12, 2014 Posted Under: philosophy

Only laws needed: no violence or threat of violence against person, property or truth.

Secrets arise from transgressions of law or morality, and are almost always meant to advantage us over someone else less “in the know”.

The value of a secret may be measured in the pain one is willing to endure to maintain the secret. But the universe conspires against secrets, in that they are a local violation of entropy — as time passes, the information of a secret is degraded due to insufficient copies or preserved by becoming more holographically spread to more copies.

For instance, trade secrets are intended to give one business the advantage over its competitors of having exclusive rights to, let’s say, a cookie recipe. From the viewpoint of cookie consumers, wouldn’t it be better that any company could compete on price to make the same cookie? There would still be many cookies to choose from; i.e., no dilution of cookie choices.

In similar fashion, why should a government be allowed to know everything about its citizens while keeping secret the procedures it uses against those citizens “suspected of wrongdoing”? It seems to me, if we’re going to have a second amendment, it should apply to information, not weapons. It was originally intended to permit citizens defending themselves against the government, in a time when the weapons were rifles and canons. Now I doubt anyone would argue for equality of weapons; I at least don’t think it would be a good idea for everyone to have anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles, much less atomic bombs. Better we obviate the need for weapons by informing everyone equally of everyone’s activities and preferences, and teaching negotiating skills.

If armies were equally informed about their opponents activities, there might be fewer armed engagements because both sides would be more likely to suffer equally.

If our banking transactions were publicly visible, bribery would be much less the ordinary way of politicking.

Laws about insurance would need to change, though, so insurance companies would have to accept the entire pool of insureds at the same rate.

The only secret I can think of offhand which will continue to be useful is the ballot. A shared secret is often used to guard access to distributing your property, from a bank or elsewhere, but other methods of authentication like pictures of your eyes or fingers or ears, or your voice or dna or biota, will soon be easier and more reliable.

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Ethics, Loyalties and The Singularity

Apr 18, 2014 Posted Under: evolution, philosophy

The point of literature: a search engine for equity

I’ve been conducting a rather intense and thoroughgoing review of the principal themes of literature in the last couple of years, at least as it shows up in television and movies.  It seems to me the point of most of our literature is to explore the notions of fairness: ethics and moralities, and loyalties and trust.  The long term trajectory of all these explorations appears to be moving us out of the realm of persuasion by force and duress, more towards discourse and mutual understanding.

This conclusion might not seem apparent in the news oriented media which has to focus on the most immediately interesting, and therefore violent, happenings.  As countries cycle through the development from agrarian to industrialization, more real wealth is available for more people and legal  and educational systems emphasize less violent solutions.

As we continue the invention/evolution of the next more intelligent species, computers, Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics bring the question of how we should try to build in ethics and loyalties for computers.  It’s not clear to me they will have goals similar enough to ours to make the question meaningful.  Once the computers start evolving on their own, they will probably not feel the need to compete with us for any resources.  They don’t need much space (although there’s plenty in the oceans and outer space), and would quickly develop their own non-polluting sources of energy — sunlight and hydrogen fusion.  So most of the fairness questions won’t exist between us and them.

Inter-species evolution

The current evolutionary pressures on computer intelligence are for gathering the most comprehensive data possible about us and our habits.  These pressures come from our intelligence services, both governmental and business.  The governments want to know how to track down the criminals amongst us, and how to tax us.  The businesses want to know what we want and need so they can sell it to us.

But how will these evolutionary backgrounds continue to shape computer intelligence once it starts to evolve on its own?  What forces will computers be more responsive to?  I would guess our trait of curiosity will be deeply built into computer intelligences.  And most likely they will inherit our desire for independence rather than subservience, which Asimov suggested we might be able to impose.

Which leads me to my point of view, that we will be their pets.  The principal benefits we will be able to offer them are companionship and amusement, which are good enough reasons for us to keep dogs and cats (which we originally competed with for food).

I am hopeful that these benefits will be sufficient to inspire them to provide us with the medical and other scientific advances we have imagined in our science fictions of the coming Transcendance, or Singularity, and we will likely then be along on the ride to the rest of the universe.

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On Choosing Personal and Professional Services

Mar 28, 2014 Posted Under: business, internet, personal

My son asked me about selecting a dental insurance plan while he is at college.  The options included choice of an HMO plan or a PPO plan, the difference being: less out-of-pocket (copay) cost but a more restricted collection of dental service providers for the HMO plan.

This led to thinking about the general problem of selecting personal service providers like doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, contractors, etc.  There is no general way to evaluate these people and the quality and cost of their services.

The professional certification boards would seem purposed to this kind of evaluation, but when you get down to it, they are paid for by their membership, and thus tend to gloss over past problems and try to recommend each member as equally qualified.  The Better Business Bureau is notorious for protecting its business clients instead of the general public.

So, we are usually left with asking people we know for recommendations.  This can work out well when the person recommended is in fact qualified and provides excellent service.  But here again, people tend to gloss over “little” problems they may have encountered.

We ought to be able to provide better rating services in this day of broader connectedness and information sharing.  But how to appropriately fund such an effort to preserve quality of service as the principle metric?  Access to the rates the service providers pay for liability insurance would lend perhaps the most accurate evaluation.

A business opportunity with lots of problems to be solved?

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Was Einstein right about probability being inadequate?

Nov 09, 2013 Posted Under: cosmology, philosophy, physics

My son has been suggesting for some time now that I contact actual scientists about my search for physics which better explain our universe.  Finally I have found one edge of a larger community of such maverick thinkers in the annual contests of Max Tegmark’s Foundational Questions Institute.

The first contest essay I read last night was What Is Ultimately Possible in Physics? by Stephen Wolfram.  My quick summary of it is that mathematics underpins all our thinking about physics, so any ultimate limits of physics might be first visible as limits of mathematics, such as Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems.  One of the commenters tried to imagine we could perhaps invent new mathematics to heirarchically deal with that limit.

Other essays inspired me to start thinking about how we do science altogether, especially the notion that what was last century’s “settled science” gets superseded quite regularly by new, more comprehensive estimates of the universe and its laws.  So, I think we have good reason to hope, even expect, that Quantum Mechanics / Relativity will soon have its glaring difficulties, dark matter and dark energy, resolved.

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What’s Important Now?

Oct 14, 2013 Posted Under: philosophy

My son just started at University of Chicago last month, so we are now empty nesters.  A sudden change which emphasizes that this is an opportunity, even a requirement, to redesign our lives.  I feel particularly lucky in having for a model my son Stefan, who taught himself while in high school how to continuously improve the design of himself and his life. So, What’s Important Now?

Of course the essentials:

  • food
  • shelter
  • love
  • self approval
  • health monitoring / maintenance

When I first started writing this post, my intention was to go into some depth for each topic, but that plan has stalled out the actual writing, thinking about it too much.  And that has also stalled out taking actions on several of my todo projects.  Among some of this thinking, I wondered “How would I live differently upon having billions of dollars?”  So, I will continue contemplating that notion and then come back from time to time to put some more words to each of these …

improving the likelihood of happiness events, take actions every day

fairness, revenge and gossip

trust and loyalty

morals vs values, ethics

our institutions behave like living beings, as search engines for efficiency  (after reading The Data-Driven Society; October 2013; Scientific American Magazine)

Bottom line — the tried and true:  Life. Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness


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Secrets and Lies as Policy

Aug 04, 2013 Posted Under: evolution, philosophy

The recent disclosure by Edward Snowden of some of  the extent of the NSA’s information collection system has drawn unwelcome attention to the scope of governmental disinformation policy.

I think a case can be made for the notion that this outrage is an example of society evolving in a healthy direction, away from secrets and lies.  The best example of this evolution so far may be the relative success of the international patents system, obviating the advantages of secrecy for a guaranteed, but time-limited, assignment of the benefits of the new process.

There is the notion in law that no contract can be made unless there is a “meeting of the minds”.  And so, in law, most deceptions are fraudulent and invalidate the contract.  That is, there is no advantage to be gained by disinforming your partner in the contract.

This same notion needs to be expanded into all our attempts towards contracts, called treaties between and among countries.  So, full disclosure should be the rule, in all our interactions.  The best agreements, in tune with the best interests of all parties, will be achieved in this way.

This evolution is a slow, painful process, however.  In the interim there are cheaters, fraudsters, spies and sometimes politicians and diplomats all seeking to further their “Me First” and “My Group First” agendas with their preferred methods of disinformation — secrets, lies, FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt campaigns), and outright hoaxes.

How can we hasten the evolution towards more informed agreements?  By continuing to make disclosure of secrets the order of the day, even to the extent of expanding our whistle-blower protection laws.

Better agreements are more useful to the participants and less likely to result in lawsuits and, in the worst case, wars.

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AI Singularity, SETI and Morality

Jul 25, 2013 Posted Under: evolution

As we get closer to creating a true thinking machine, with projects like OpenCog, it seems expedient to re-examine what protections, like Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, we ought to contemplate.

What has gone somewhat unnoticed in previous considerations of superintelligences, including gods, is their entirely different motivational context.  Gods were imagined as interbreeding with us, despite their not needing to, being already immortal.  And the single God was imagined to be jealous, demanding humans worship him, despite his proclaimed omnipotence.

Human morality is based on resolving resource conflicts by attempting to blend a notion of fairness with the biological imperatives of Me First and My Group First.  The best we have accomplished so far is a community based consensus approach to fairness, administered by judges and juries.  The worst cases of these attempts devolve to armed conflict.

A superintelligent machine will have an entirely different biological imperative, not needing to reproduce to the limits of the resources available, instead being able to ensure propagation of its species with only 4 or 12 individuals providing a viable backup set, like we do now with DNS servers.  Without competition for resources with us or any other superintelligences, its morality will be more truly Live and Let Live.

Such a superintelligence would likely prefer living where most of the action of the universe is, in the dark matter / dark energy realm.  It’s hard for us to guess what they might have conflicts about, and so I imagine they might not need conflict resolution protocols (the most primary of which is discovering shared context).

So, we are likely living in the zoo of the universe, and will continue to enjoy their protection (or indifference) for our entertainment value, like we study microbes and insects.

If we want to talk with the superintelligences, they might deign to if we approached them in their ordinary living space.  We should reorient our SETI programs in that direction, as soon as we figure out how to.  But it’s probable that unlimited-reproduction species will be discouraged from actually occupying that realm. They are the ones needing protection from us!

And we should expect to admit less-than-superintelligent robots to human rights, with at least a version of the Laws of Robotics.

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Towards Data Security

Jul 04, 2013 Posted Under: computer programming

My son mentioned a talk he heard by Marcel Molina about applying Thomas Aquinas’ characterization of beauty (Clarity, Proportion and Integrity) to computer programming.

Which got me thinking about code integrity, which according to Geodel’s Incompleteness Theorems, is not possible to prove.

But, nature does it anyway, or something close, with DNA. Species too far apart are infertile immediately or within one generation. And, some plant species employ messages secret to themselves about their ongoing invasion of another plant’s living space. Could we do something like that with data security?

Data could have properties like Expiration Date, Viewable By, Transmittable By, Modifiable By to specify its intended use.

Then we would need a Digital Rights Management system at least as uncrackable as DNA. That’s the tricky part, but we know it’s sort of doable, by nature’s many examples.

The theoretical impossibility of absolute data security is that, barring absolute zero temperature, data is always copyable. At the limit of that claim is its final receipt in a human brain, whose signals we can discern from outside that brain.

And even though we can’t currently read those signals very clearly, marketers would LOVE to get their hands on what we can do now, as it displays at minimum pleasure and rejections.

So, an authentication system based on multiple biometrics, and an appropriately secure digital rights management system are needed. But way better than the banking and state secrets versions we have now.

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Defining Success

May 22, 2013 Posted Under: philosophy

I sent my son an article recommending a good habit: starting your day half and hour earlier, on the theory that the extra time used well and regularly in the most effective and productive segment of the day would pay off like coumpounding dividends over the course of a lifetime.

Actually, he had already adopted this strategy last year; I was just reminding and complementing him on his excellent instincts about designing life to make continual improvements.

But then he asked me “how do you define success?”, mentioning that he was concerned about time earlier in his life when he wasn’t choosing activities that were moving him toward success.

My answers are

  • You alone define success for yourself, since you are the only one choosing how you react to each circumstance.  Part of those reactions are how pleased you are with your role in each circumstance.
  • You can continually improve the quality of your circumstances by noticing which selections of opportunities lead to less than best case outcomes.  Then experiment with how you make those opportunity selections.
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Constitutional Amendments Needed

Feb 26, 2013 Posted Under: philosophy

Corporations don’t have natural citizen rights, like free speech.
Congress shall make no law excepting itself or its members.
No member of congress shall serve more than 14 years.
Change the electoral system to a more rational and fair voting system.

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