Sunday, 30 May 2010

Cumulonimbus

The more people communicate, the more objective truth there is in the world. If human society functioned in any other way, we would have perished long ago. Concurrently the rise of social networking is redefining the fabric of society in a way that hasn't occurred since the invention of the telephone.

The majority of us agree that this is a positive dynamic, allowing society to healthily police itself. More conservative and especially criminal, opportunist elements, particularly aspects of the state which have become self perpetuating, fear increased communication will shed light upon the inequalities within society which they have managed to use to their advantage.

In the future are we likely to see social networks prioritize posts in order to silence political activists and future politicians? Will our communication be sabotaged in other ways? We may never again see the likes of the huge social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. The establishment would prefer networks become smaller, more specialized, perhaps focused around social identities such as newspaper brands or location. Or even entirely state controlled.

There is some suggestion that the real justification for the establishment’s fear of social networks is their misconceived potential to bring political revolution. Yet I believe these concerns are entirely unfounded. If we consider society in the decades which lead to the rise of communism in Russia, life for the majority of us was extremely arduous, child labour and poverty were rife, the welfare state was in its infancy, whilst a twelve hour working day was common place. Life expectancy for an average male was just 48 years. The refinement of the manufacturing process from Ford's early assembly lines to today's almost completely automated factories, has brought with it leisure and to some extent luxury in comparison with earlier centuries. Innovations in science and medicine, along with welfare reform have extended average life expectancy to over 70 years for most of us. We now hope with some complacency, the revision of the proverb "Teach a man to surf" will cure all of humanity's ills.

Increased dependency upon cloud hosting to provide social networks brings with it several vulnerabilities. In many ways a comparison may be drawn with a media having only one newspaper or television channel. A primary concern being that it is relatively easy for one of the social network's employees to silence or persecute a member of society, deprioritizing their posts or silencing them completely without the person's awareness, playing down politically contentious issues. Most disturbingly facts may be hidden: the results of opinion polls may not reflect the public's real beliefs. These dangers could also be surreptitiously factored into the design of the system and political bias subsequently bought and sold.

Relying on a single privately owned company to provide such facilities is clearly putting all of our eggs in one basket, a situation which may be compared to everyone on the planet using one telephone company. Whilst many different networks would not provide the same experience of communicating with all of our friends or colleagues en masse, how tall should any one building be?

The cloud has been in the corporate incubator for long enough. A community solution would seem a safer approach. If not one akin to Wikipedia, then perhaps a peer to peer cloud platform, borrowing from distributed computing projects like SETI at Home and Folding, whilst adopting Linus Torvald’s "Git" philosophy, could provide the necessary infrastructure for a community hosted social network.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Emergence


At the start of the 20th century we elected individuals who would address our concerns locally and represent our ideals nationally in parliament. MPs would travel by horse or carriage; and later trains and automobiles to the offices of government. Daily corresponding via post and telephone with members of local government and lobbyists, who occasionally would seek an audience in person.

Today mass electronic communication such as web forums, social networks, e-mail, mailing lists, Twitter, RSS, rolling news and article discussion along with a myriad others are transforming our political dinosaur. As much as many politicians would prefer to deny it, these technologies are forms of political conference and debate, in effect expanding the House of Commons until every office and home in the nation is encompassed.

Consider how the modern office has transformed in the past two decades and how these technologies now affect politics:
  • Ideas are being exchanged and challenged, whilst groups of people are helping to present solutions to issues raised by journalists and MPs. A consequence of this is that it is more difficult to remove the resident political party, since morale is constantly being bolstered by the level of enthusiastic political debate.
  • MPs may instantly call a vote via e-mail across the party, including MPs and local government representatives, obtaining a collective decision within hours or minutes, making it much more difficult to make that stupid mistake that loses public favour.
  • In the past politicians where more isolated and likely to become demoralized, electronic communication creates cohesion and unity of resolution.
  • What previously was a document arriving by post or courier is now a social website, changing from moment to moment as people discuss ideas and resolve solutions.
  • Policy dictated by the few to the majority of the party is now clarified by rapid electronic debate.
  • The acceleration of dialogue and decorum of literary communication between all members or smaller groups of the party creates solidarity, whilst also liberating cabinet ministers from the cult of personality.
Every individual has a voice that may reach every person on the planet if necessary, promoting transparency in politics, law and economics. As a result society is more capable of policing itself: Citizen Kane if not dead, certainly seems to be losing his head.

Fused and yet in constant flux, from opinions evolving within a billion conversations around the world, emerges a new form of political expression, an energy grass roots canvassers could hardly have imagined, a wave from which politicians need only cherry pick solutions and inspiration from the dialogue contained therein.

Government at its best is mundane and honest administration. Telecommunications networks overcome the hurdles that brought celebrity politics, the sooner we move to issue based political campaigning, perhaps by accelerating the electoral process and so fragmenting the existing monolithic political entities, the better for us all.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Why do Empires Fall?


Throughout the animal kingdom, we see the weaker of the group fall prey. Apart from the group we are predatory; a sly fox finds a victim. Evolution is amoral in order to survive in the direst circumstances, from the predator we find that this amoral opportunism manifests itself as criminality in human society.

In the last century alone the lives of more than 50m people have been lost in wars fought over political ideals, territory and resources, events which are all testament to the perilous journey that is the technological ascent of man. Clearly political stability is paramount to our survival here on Earth. Yet we are undermined, in time complicity with criminal opportunism blocks the arteries of egalitarian governance, bringing leaders into disfavour whilst causing migration and ultimately empires to decay and fall.

"Transparency", used to denote openness and accountability, is becoming common parlance in politics. Historically transparency has its roots in Sweden, when in 1766 the Freedom of the Press Act was introduced, granting the public access to government documents, though this brief ray of Scandinavian wisdom wasn't seen again until 1966 when the US introduced the Freedom of Information Act. Since then over 80 countries around the world have introduced similar legislation ensuring government data is available to the public, generally with the stipulation that there is no conflict with defence or foreign policy and the information does not relate to a specific individual. In the US this was further ratified by later amendments, significantly The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments in 1996. The web, parliamentary dialogue feeds and sites such as TheyWorkForYou.com have opened the offices of government further by making this information only a search or click away. In conjunction with the proliferation of televised news media, these changes are bringing us closer to Open Government.

Transparency in finance, where banks such as Triodos allow the public to see all of the loans the bank has granted. Helping to prevent the kind of sub-prime lending which in part led to the banking fiasco of 2009. In time perhaps we could see our entire government or financial institution’s budget published on Google docs spreadsheet, updating as funds allocated in each sector are spent, whilst receipts gather. Transitioning to exclusively electronic currency could bring more economic transparency and an end to the unhealthy secrecy of currency that has been with us since the end of bartering.

Few would disagree that international drug trafficking causes state corruption within those nations farming narcotics, within the police and military forces involved en route and within the destination culture: Clearly marrying these channels to crime is the sheerest folly. Transparency within what is currently known as the black market could legalize all such commodities, whilst introducing new safety clauses funded by the resulting tax revenues. Under such a system cigarettes may have cost £5 each from the outset, a first pint of beer could cost £3 and the fifth £10, whilst most drugs taken for leisure purposes could be placed in the luxury cost band. There are many sensible frameworks for such legalization that avoid the suffering that alcohol and nicotine brought with them. The question is not whether we should legalize drugs, the question is: Can our current political system function without reliance on institutionalized crime?

With regard to the ecology, transparency is encouraging governments to disclose their CO2 emissions. Google provide an excellent web application which allows CO2 per capita over time to be compared between nations.

There are now a variety of web sites providing global map data, many with satellite imagery. Together with experiences like Google Earth, the world is more unified than it ever was. Instead of exchanging postcodes, we mail or tweet GPS coordinates of theatres, restaurants or home addresses, or at the very least a postcode is converted to a GPS coordinate before being dispatched. This in itself brings a form of transparency to society that was previously absent: Nowhere is secluded. Had the web been with us earlier, would it have been possible for Slobodan MiloŇ°evic or Adolf Hitler to avoid being identified and located when GPS enabled mobile phones cameras are carried by almost every citizen? Given the kind of news the web now brings who would deny the request "Where is Slobodan now? Please tweet location and photo. Please re-tweet this."?

Today our civilization spans the globe, what are we to do now that there is nowhere to migrate, when endless flight from tyranny seems the only option?

Friday, 22 January 2010

Self Determination

Where wanders the minds I,
When bigots roam the circus?
What light shines from above,
When the rabbits are in their burrows?
 
Blind in seeking unity,
A devil's shadow play.
A crutch for a nobleman,
A ploy to kick away.
 
Humanity, the jungle, the swamp.
All empires fell,
So where now in endless flight?