Note: 12/12/2015 This blog was written shortly before the San Bernardino terror.
Dylan Watkins, the founder (?), ramrod of OCVR kept telling me over the past year that my ideas were SOOOO close to this other writer that I HAD to check his book, Daemon. Finally I remembered to Google and the first thing that shows up is "Daemon and Freedomᵀᴹ comprise a two-part novel by the author Daniel Suarez about a distributed, persistent computer application, known as The Daemon, that begins to change the real world after the original programmer's death..." So, quick check of the stacks...
SCORE! Can't wait. No doubt one of the ideas that I was bouncing off Dylan was about an Avatar that is left behind after the creators untimely demise. I've had that idea since the '60's, I think - just never followed through and wrote the damned thing. And Daemon is hardly the first sf novel based on that theme. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexis_A._Gilliland
12/01/2015 And, so far, so good. The first few chapters have been a great read. What an amazing mind Suarez has!
12/26/2015 - finished Daemon last night. It was great up until the last quarter, which was clearly written as a cliffhanger for the sequel "Freedom." I was also disappointed in the number of times that major concepts or technology were brought on stage, briefly discussed and then dropped with no further mention - probably to be explicated in the sequel... owell... The good stuff made up for the lapses, and I'm about to check out "Freedom" from the library. More later.
12/27/2015 In "Freedom," the plot thickens. Now there is a serious set of ethical problems posed to the reader. People are choosing sides more or less based on an almost Marxian set of premises. And now we have the kind of augmented reality that Vinge introduced in "Rainbows End," but grittier. More like the feel of Brin's "Existence."
And there is some apparently prophetic foreshadowing of ISIS ("Freedom" was published in 2009!). Why is Suarez even visible? Is he real? Or maybe a construct of NSA? Or maybe working for NSA? If I were NSA, I would hire anyone who can get so much stuff right and peer so deeply into motivations on the world stage. I should contact my own NSA connection. It's a bit of a stretch, but Suarez is starting to remind me of Rand. I love fiction that really does its job - as Rand put it, ~"capturing the metaphysical essences, reducing the abstract to concrete."
Some things puzzle me, like how come I had not been alerted to this author's work years ago? Is there now a split in sf fandom between the cyberpunks and everyone else? Techno thriller vs. sf? What I would like to see is a new genre of hard sf coming right out of the www.kurzweilai.net science and tech abstracts, but portrayed - as Vinge, Brin and now Suarez demonstrate - as intersecting equations.
You know - like Ist year algebra, where you learned that if you have n independent variables, then you need n independent equations to solve for a unique solution. Visualize it as dimensional constraints, with fuzzy, probabilistic, depictions of the semi-independent perspectives, defining - or not! - a solution space. So, your equations correspond to viewpoints in politics, economics, ethics, psychology, etc., all refined to refer to a potential solution space for some project - such as an orbital tower or space elevator... You keep adjusting the paramenters - what you're willing to cost-out or lose - until you have a set of solutions. Then you redo until you have a consistent answer...
OK, I finished "FreedomTM" somewhat disappointed. (01/10/2106) The action was non-stop great! However, what promised to be a real philosophical tour-de-force never really materialized. I was hoping for something like Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" (usually classified as great literature, but also an early technothriller in its own right) wherein it is common and quite believable given the type of protagonists to have them go on for pages of intense argument for philosophical positions. There is real poetry in Saurez's handling of action, but the super/sub texts of the sort the made "Atlas.." a one-of-a-kind are just not there, despite much hinting.
However, in "FreedomTM," Suarez also makes the best, most fleshed out articulation of the elements of mind control that I have ever seen, much better than my efforts (below). And all of it is within the scope of the cutting edge research already published in recent times. The essential element in both Suarez and my own work is that one can really tell - via EKG or the equivalent - whether the subject is really changing. And that is the essential element in a world which gives the asymmetric edge to the sociopath or terrorist. They absolutely depend upon remaining indistinguishable from the crowd. The tech that Suarez and I have been exploring has the implied effect that one CAN detect really evil people and demand that they change for real...
But that's just an appetizer. The main course is on the way. Keep scrolling...
There's another book about to be made into a major film, it appears, and I DID come up with the plot for this one and gave it to the author, James Halperin, in considerable detail over dinner, sometime during the early '80's. It's titled "The Truth Machine," (TTM) and it explains how we're going to defeat ISIS.
The concept is very simple. Suppose for a minute before you trollishly jump in with the first criticism that pops into your mind... Just suppose that we had a lie detector that actually worked, close enough to 100% to make it practical for assessing what a person's REAL character consisted of.
Because, you see, that capacity to pretend, to live a lie, is what is making the asymmetric warfare work for IS. We simply cannot tell, most of the time, whether someone is calmly planning revenge against France or the U.S. So, we take our best shot, based on no-doubt very clever search and connect algorithms, and we succeed some of the time against a small number of concentrated targets, while the vast majority quietly waits for the next opportunity, and we create some more enemies for IS ranks in the process, because the innocent civilians are just not distinguishable.
So, in the novel that I laid out for Halperin so long ago, it is postulated that a genius inventor comes up with a device that can tell whether you are telling the truth as you understand it. Because of the exponentially growing threat to humanity from Weapons of Mass Destruction, a law is passed that essentially requires that everyone pass the truth test. Those who are planning acts of destruction or other aggressive, or dishonest behavior - or would do so if given a clear shot (as with all sociopaths) - cannot lie any more and they can go to prison or change their minds for real and pass the test.
Now, the fact is that we have a lot of the basic pieces of the Truth Machine. We can tell with fair certainly whether someone has personally seen a particular type of bomb - or a gas weapon - or whatever, using a brain scanner... The day will come, hopefully soon, when we will be able to reliably ID IS.
OK. Now it's time for all the civil libertarians - and the sociopaths who stand to lose bigtime in a Truth Machine universe - to jump up in outrage over that MOST BASIC FREEDOM and BLAST ME! Er, the basic freedom to successfully LIE about being a criminal? Now, I could play Devil's advocate so easily here, as an anarcho-commonist and libertarian going back to the mid-'60's, but I'll hold off to hear what the real Devils have to say.
Who guards the guards? Even if the system works as postulated, it will surely be gamed. But of course, you would do daily testing if necessary of the people running the tests. (This aspect is all covered in TTM.) And you would have competing teams who would be rewarded for breaking the system - like hackers hired by companies to game their security before the bad guys figure out the holes. And - in MY anarchist version at least - you could always refuse the test completely - and pay a premium every time you tried to get a job or get on a plane or drive a car ... you get the idea.
WE guard the guards. We take the test - whose results in detail are totally private except where they involve ongoing crimes - all so that we qualify for the "A" list. The people who won't take the test are, by default, in a class together with those - hardened criminals and sociopaths - who could never pass it to begin with and will not get into the mall without a huge personal insurance premium and constant surveillance.
So, there goes theft, rape, many or most assaults, white collar crime, political shenanigans, and on and on, - including blowing people away at rock concerts - because the people who would have been the perps had to absolutely change their own minds for real in order to pass the test. "Yes, I'm planning on molesting that sweet ten-year-old downstairs, after I get her on drugs?" Sorry (actually glad), but you are going to change your mind or you can forget your upstairs apartment, your job, etc.!
And there are non-destructive sociopaths among us, people who would feel little if any remorse over killing any of us, but who are simply not interested in violence or destruction. Typically, such people have found some obsession - the composer Richard Wagner is frequently cited as an example of a likely sociopath - that takes up all their attention. To such a person, other people are means to ends, but merit little regard otherwise. Such people are detectable as such and should probably wear a digital tag so that no one will make the mistake of falling for their manipulations, but are unlikely to become terrorists unless it fits their other interests.
Similarly, there are people who have evil inclinations, but are aware of their evil and resist succumbing to it. Some decades ago there was a sensation about a self-identified pedophile who stated that he had sexual desires and fantasies about children, but had made a conscious decision never to act on those feelings. In fact, his "coming out" was a deliberate attempt to encourage other closet pedophiles to out themselves, so as to prevent actual harm to children. Not surprisingly, he got all kinds of threats and little sympathy.
However, and you probably heard about it here first because I came up with it, the flip side is that you can use TTT as a coercive mind-control technique to turn someone into a criminal, or a priest, or both. Just feed them some hypnotic drugs - scopolamine apparently has worked for this purpose for many centuries in S. America - and then ask them some questions...
"You never saw us here, right?" "He's lying." SSSHHHHOOOOOKKK "You hate IS, right" 'yes' "But you're going to have a change of heart tonight, and tomorrow you'll be one of us, forever. And, we'll randomly show up in your bedroom another night and things will go very bad for you and your family until you're truly with us again." "ARE YOU ISIS?" SSSHHHHOOOOOKKK
Note that the shock is not the key, nor the hypnotic drug. Rather it's the use of some instrumentalities that amount to a super lie-detector. The IS or NSA or whomever has this technology can tell when you've given up, and turn virtually anyone into a Jihadist.
So, maybe we need to have the more benign version of the Truth Machine first, yes? The Truth Pass. A biometric device that securely IDs you as you, and a test that can be demanded by whoever at any time - and you are reimbursed when they get it wrong - that reliably indicates that you're not a conscious threat.
Note that most people, however, can be assumed to be in a state of partial hypnosis, simply to free themselves of the panic and cognitive dissonance that naturally accompanies direct awareness of how much of our lives is out of control. We postulate agreement with group norms, religious or secular, because then we can get the vital feedback from others that smooth over the terrifying realities. Then the enemy becomes he who exposes the lies that are the price of that comfort zone.
And as I covered in some depth in my blog "On Morals," morality has as a major underpinning the need to maintain transparency (closely related to "honor") in order to experience perceptual reaffirmation of the contents of our "souls." We humans - about a billion of us currently - have proven that it is possible to live on less than one dollar per day, although at a high cost in terms of creature comforts or medical conditions. On average, 2 ~ 5 dollars per day will buy the basics and relieve most of the misery. So what is the rest about? Our billionaires, generally some of the smartest of us, are giving their wealth away. What do they know?
The reality is that the really important stuff is not about making money. It's about meaning and inner truth. Most of what we do is in fact motivated by the feedback loop from thought to creative effort to perception of success, and major technologies such as love and art are dedicated to enhancing the purity and strength of that feedback. We cherish our fellow humans (and pets) for their ability to become mirrors of aspects of our consciousness and we love good art because it isolates and objectifies the essentials of a concept. But, sad to say, our basic survival needs are mortgaged against what would really make us happy.
All too often, artificial barriers to recognizing our fellow humans as brothers become leverage points in sociopathic games. To a sociopath, real feedback is no better than a convenient lie. In fact, a lie is usually preferable for the sociopath's purposes, as the truth provides little support for sociopathic games. Largely because of the prevalence of sociopaths in positions of power, culture acts in large part and to varying degrees as a kind of gang, in which ones initiation is a crime of exclusion and mental blindness. Go along, agree, don't rock the boat or stand up in protest for our chosen scapegoats - and we'll take care of you, or at least pretend to. Truth? The truth of your crimes against your own spirit would destroy you and leave you bereft and friendless. Is that what you want?
So, how challenging will a real Truth Test be for someone who normally maintains high level assumptions of faith - or lives a bundle of socially accepted lies?
But, what delights are possible in a culture with the truth leveraged via new forms of association based on trust and the love that is natural to those of us with functioning empathy? "Imagine there's no country." Imagine a nation of soul, a celebration of life cast a the major thread of common awareness, rather than being a rare treat, terrifying in what it says about us and of how much we have given up in the name of security. A real Truth Machine could possibly be the lever we need to break free of a tribalism that turns every capacity and new shiny technology into a weapon of the war of all against all.
(Note: After I began thinking about a Truth Machine and my own vision of a "Society of Truth," I suddenly realized that we already have a form of it in Scientology. I knew several people who had been heavily involved in Scientology and then dropped out or were kicked out, and they had at various points mentioned aspects that are usually regarded as common knowledge, such as the use of the "E-Meter" by an "auditor" to find internal conflicts and force a commitment to change. My and their impression was that a lot of people benefited from auditing for up to around a year, perhaps two, but that the problem was that the mind is tricky.
You can and probably will learn to fool the Meter, because it forms a biofeedback loop, in which your physiological responses - skin resistance in particular - are taken to correspond to mental events. I.e., you learn without consciously trying to generate the skin resistance that is rewarded and not generate that which provides a negative response from the auditor. Allegedly, CIA field operatives are specifically trained via such learning loops to lie with impunity regardless of the battery of physiologic testing.)
So, a real TM will likely look at the mental events themselves or at least at a level of correspondence that cannot be trivially spoofed. When we can reliably know that someone has seen a picture of a classified piece of ordinance before, based on testable and accurate brain functions - which we can do right now - then we cannot escape the implications that further advances will be more conclusive and less spoofable. Attempts to lie also leave traces that are testable.
(Obviously there is plenty of room for abuse of any such system, so the analysis that would precede it would have to satisfy at least three major criteria: Minimization of harm, maximization of valid returns, cost effectiveness - a weighted measure of real threats discovered per dollar. Using TTT as harassment, for example, for whatever reason, would result in a cost for the abuser if TTT came back negative and the initiator could not provide a reasonable man justification, in which case the perp would likely find himself taking TTT and compensating his victim.)
Note that this will not work with crimes of passion, unless it is the person's conscious belief system that makes them vulnerable to unstoppable urges, in which case some kind of therapy may be indicated, as the risk may be caused by psychological factors. Or PTSD, for example - which is simply not open to conscious control. Yes, there will be special cases to deal with in a reasonable, compassionate manner, but simply asking "Would you be thinking about killing your cheating spouse..." would prevent a lot of potential violence.