Authors at Google: David Brin

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 01.04.2012

>> male presenter: I would like to introduce David Brin, who is, despite that trip, still
alive. David Brin has been a science fiction author for a very long time. As a result of
having a fair amount of insight, over the years written books like, "Earth" and has
ended up working as a scientist with groups like NASA and JPL, over the years doing very
ordinary kind of scientific work as well as doing the kind of science fiction work that
people like me appreciate. He's recently been working on a book called, "Existence, " which
seems to bare some resemblance to other books he has written, but, that books not out yet.
It will be coming out in June. So, probably you're looking forward to it as much as I
am. He sent us an excerpt for us to read, which I have the suspicion a fair amount of
people have looked at. And thank you very much for coming.
>> David Brin: Sure thing.
>> David Brin: What Alex doesn't mention is that we've known each other a long time. Back
when I lived in England. Back in the mid-1980s, I lived in London for a couple of years. Very
interesting times. The Thatcher years.
And later on when I finished "Earth," my then fiancé got her doctorate at Cal Tech. We
packed up our belongings and we had to be at her post doc in Paris in six weeks. So,
we took the long way around the world. If you ever go to India, don't get a round trip
without first looking into an around the world pass. I don't know if they're still done the
same, but you can take an entire year to finish it, zigzagging around the world. And we arrived
back in L.A. a year to the day after we left in order to get married. She still says, "You
never gave me a honeymoon."
Well, because most of the trips after that were with kids. I said, "I took you to Easter
Island. I took you to Australia. I took you around the world." And she says, "That was
before we were married."
The day after we were married, we went on a plane to the number one honeymoon spot in
the world. And she said, "That was going home to our apartment in Paris."
A hard woman, but worth it. OK. So, I'm going to do just a lot of song and dance just about
ideas because here I feel very much at home. I feel very much at home at Google. And besides,
which I was born about 20 miles from here. So, went to L.A. High. Same high school as
Ray Bradbury. As a matter of fact, the one time my kids gave me unalloyed respect for
a two-hour stretch, all three of them at the same time, was when I took them to meet Ray
at his house. He got up from his walker, "David." "That was Ray." Two hours, solid respect,
OK. So, in any event, a hometown crowd. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to leap
and hope and jump around. So, what I'm best known for is the science fiction novels. "Postman"
was Kevin Costner-ized. Don't ask me about that.
"Earth " is credited with having web pages two years before the web was invented. Big
deal. For a lot of us it seemed obvious where the world was going. "Transparent Society
" is one of the only public policy books from the 20th Century that's still in print and
still selling more every year, partly because of some very, very creepy prescient predictions
that came true. Partly because it's one of the only places that is standing up for "sousveillance"
as a solution to our modern information problems. Rather than trying to use, as the Europeans
want, use law to protect people's privacy. As a short-term solution, I don't object to
such things. Over the long term, it's not going to work. The most recent book, which
is coming out with the cover on the left, in the States, and in the really creepy ominous
cover on the right. It's going to be in 3D, by the way. They're going to use new experimental
process in Britain for the cover of "Existence "there. And both of them will have this. I'm
going to tell you guys for the first time. I just found out about it. Big, nice, glowing
cover blurb from, Temple Grandin. How about that? Have you ever heard of her?
>> male #1: [inaudible]
>> David Brin: Most, well, the--. Yeah. The Clair Danes movie. Yeah. Most famous autistic
person in the world. OK. But I'm going to get to talking about something entirely different.
And now for something completely different. I'm gonna talk about the big picture. Now,
here's a big picture asp. One, just one of many. And that is the fact that for the last
500 years, western civilization has been having breakthrough after breakthrough having to
do with three things. And that is our ability to see, our ability to know, and our ability
to allocate our attention. And the first of these crises was precipitated by lenses, which
empowered the ability to see. The printing press, which expanded the public's access
to knowledge and perspective. This is a little more complicated than this, because about
the same time the discovery of the Americas and the vastness of the world also have major
effects upon people. Now each time, I'm gonna race through this, each time what happened
was, you had augmentations of memory, vision, and attention. And one might also argue reach.
Because your ability to do physical things expanded as well. But these are the three
I'm paying attention to. And the result was not always an expansion of people's wonderfulness,
kindness, or even empathy. Empathy did come from eventually, from augmentations of memory,
vision, and attention. But not at first. At first, these things were used for polemic.
And the printed books that were produced after Gutenberg's era for 150 years, tended to exacerbate
social problems. To exacerbate hatreds. And each time a quandary was developed, the Renaissance
versus rage of doctrine, and new concepts spread. The notion of progress. The notion
of the value of an individual. Now I'm not going into these in detail, but down here
at the bottom, the knowledge mesh is expanding our ability to have access to memory in profound
ways. It's almost as if you remember that. This or that or the other. Omniveillance,
television was one of the major-- radio and then television; these were major forces that
drove our ability to empathize with people far away. Radio, the broadcasts of Edward
R. Murrow from the London Blitz helped to convince Americans to get involved in World
War II. Coverage from Vietnam helped to convince Americans that this was not an undertaking
that seemed very worthwhile. Visualization, simulation and gaining, these are all areas
in which we are running into the crisis that Linda Stones talks about when she speaks of
continuously divided attention. And as a parent of a kid in high school, who wants to do his
homework while Facebook is up and while listening to music on the headphones, I have to explain,
"No, this may not be the best approach." And yet his generation insists that it is. The-.
But you see my attitude is always the attitude of the grouchy earlier generation. And that
is that the people are not going to be able to adapt. With each new tech wave, godlike
expansions of vision, knowledge, attention and reach led to fear of hubris. Trying to
take on God's power, or self-destruction. Future shock. I think your neighbor Alvin
Toffler here in town deserves to be considered one of the great visionaries of the 20th Century.
Because it's very clear that for the first decade of the 21st Century, America has been
in horrible shape. State of future shock. At least a third of our citizens don't want
to have anything to do with the new era and the new century. Which leads to cause for
renunciation and control by a trusted elite. This is something I go into in "Existence."
And yet despite painful adjustment we never refuse these new prosthetics. Always these
godlike powers become the new norm. Now who would have imagined that we would be able
to with this ape-like, or Garden of Eden like, this ape-like organ in here to be able to
adapt to these floods of information, vision, attention. Well, part of the answer is that
as Carl Sagan pointed out, we share the medulla and the cerebellum with fish. The mammalian
cortex is laid upon it. The primate cortex is laid upon that. The portions that we share
with apes are layed upon that. But then you go farther and what you get is something that
is just above the eyes. Little nubs above the eyes. Who can name them? The prefrontal
lobes. The prefrontal lobes are the organs that we now know are the organs of the future.
They are the seat of what Einstein called the Gedanken experiment, or thought experiment.
Relativity was 50 percent him imagining riding a streetcar at the speed of light leaving
the burning clock tower. And figuring out where all the rays would go and where they
would arrive. Only the-- only 50 percent of it was math. And he left half of that to his
wife. The point is that the Gedanken experiment is what you do when you think with these prefrontal
lobes. What would happen if I raised this at the meeting today? What would happen if
I wear this? What would happen if I tried to run this yellow light? And as you guys,
you males know, we have to make those decisions about these Gedanken experiments all the time.
We're constantly saying, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Now we know about this because pre-frontal
lobotomies, they are snipped and people lose the interest in doing these thought experiments
about what they're going to do. They remain intelligent people. But that's why I would
much rather have a free bottle in front of me, than a pre-frontal lobotomy. All right.
All right. I saw the head shakes starting there.
The point is that this layering effect is arguably, what we are doing with these prosthetics.
We're simply adding external layering's onto this layered set of cortexes that has already
been taking place. And that is one theory to explain why we have so gracefully adapted
to orders of magnitude. Increases in our ability to know, remember, to see, and pay attention.
I'm going to veer aside a little bit and get even more general here. Most human civilizations
were shaped like this. A few lords at the top lording it over vast numbers of peasants
below. And what was in the interest of those rulers? These were the allocators. And it
made some sense for a while, because we had very little surplus, frequent starvation.
If you're going to have any kid live his whole life without ever having an episode in which
his brain was starving, it might as well be the kids of the priests and the lords. You
had to have somebody. And so feudalism made some sense. And Locke's social contracts was,
just rule us well or we have the right to cut off your head and replace you with somebody
else. It seems likely to rule us well. That's the implicit social contract of Locke. Now
we are supposedly moving toward what Heinlein prescribed as the explicit social contract.
Where every 19 year old will negotiate with the state and sign a contract. And if not
interested in living by this contract, go someplace else and sign a looser contract.
Heinlein laid that out and it's a very interesting potential end point for this process from
the implicit to the explicit social contract. And we're not going to go there at all today.
The point is that this was all an attractor state propelled by Darwin and human nature.
Once you're allured up there, it is in your own Darwinian self-interest to persuade hundreds
and thousands of virile young males to go off and fight and die to protect your seraglio
for you. And the awesome thing is we're all descended from guys who pulled that shit off.
They actually succeeded at that. We're descended from the harems of guys like that. Wow. So
this is a major, major attractor state. And I defy you to take Dungeons and Dragons dice,
go home, roll up random decades across the last 6000 years, and random locations. Any
place that had metallurgy and agriculture, big males teamed up, picked up metal instruments
and took other men's women and wheat. Find for me the exceptions. Even the Soviet Union
was run by nomenklatura that acted exactly like the czarist ruling class. The alternative
is called the Western Enlightenment. And it is very, very different in a number of ways.
Including its shape. The first human civilization in which the well off outnumber the poor.
And therefore, the poor is a small enough portion of the population that we feel guilty
about it. That we feel something can be done. Instead of a bitter sea that could never be
drained, it's a bitter lake. And therefore somebody's fault. In every way, it's different.
The Churn effect. The notion that no one should inherit automatically the status of their
parents. And the fact that we believe in the positive sum game that the rising tide will
lift all boats. Now, one can argue that we are in a position right now that our parents
faced and their parents faced and their parents faced. Because this is inherently unstable.
If it's an attractive state-- attractor state, it is a meta- stable attractor state. And
every single generation, some of those who got rich by these methods, do their best to
try to make it into a pyramid. Because it's in our genes. I don't think the Koch brothers
are inherently evil for obeying what their genes tell them to do. We just have to stop
Our parents did. Their parents did. The Enlightenment is over 200 years old I'll have you know.
Do you know what the first acts, political acts, done by our founding fathers as soon
as the Treaty of Ghent was signed and the United States was officially independent?
Two things. A seizure and distribution of over one third of the land in the colonies.
And an utter ban of prima geniture. You could not for 100 years leave all of your belongings
to a single child. It was fiercely- it's not fiercely enforced today, but it was fiercely
enforced then. Because they had, the large families divide it up equally. Your oligarchy
problem goes away. Most people don't realize how radical our founders were about this notion.
Now, here's another big concept for you. You have hierarchical institutions. We've had
them since Sumeria. Since the pharaohs. And, these are inherently pyramidal. You have commander
in chief. You have pyramidal structures that are supposed to do various things, enhancing
their communications. Among these various portions of our government is something I've
been consulted on, and you guys are engaged in that as well. Here you have a different
type of institution. Here you have the four accountability arenas. Accountability arenas
are the driving engine behind the enlightenment. They harness creative competition, the greatest
force for creativity in the history of- in nature. We are all result of creative competition.
Darwinism made us and creative competition isn't necessarily sweet. It isn't necessarily
fair. Usually in the last 6000 years when it took place in marketplace, we wound up
with lords who then tried to cheat to prevent further competition from happening. But instead
to have their own kids, own other people's kids. The brilliance of democracy, markets,
science, and law courts is that they are designed to harness competitiveness through ritualized
combat. In each case, there is highly ritualized regulated form of combat that minimizes the
blood and waste on the floor. But maximizes rewards to those who actually deliver a better
product and service. Now, in some cases like markets, it's inefficient and not always accurate.
But we can afford that in order to have it be more freewheeling. But supposedly, you
aren't supposed to be able to wind up at the end of a round of competition with a monopoly
that would then stop all further competition. Instead, once you've created the new product
of service it's supposed to engender more. And if this is not what's happening then something
is wrong with the regulations of the system. Same is true with democracy. Democracy can
be filthy. You can get wrong results. Boy, can you. But the point is, that supposedly
you wind up-. Look, 2012 is the year that Robert Heinlein forecast in his "Future History"
back in the 60s and 50s that America would be taken over by a fellow named, Nehemiah
Scudder. Ever heard of him? Oh, you really need to know more sci-fi. Nehemiah Scudder
does not even win a plurality. But a Supreme Court decision gets him the Presidency anyway.
I think we're mixing this with a different year. And then he clamps down, shuts down
the constitution, declares himself Prophet of The Lord. And there is a 70 year theocracy
in America. Very, very chilling. The point is that each of these has its own rituals
and that's why we usually don't think of them in parallel, but their similarities outweigh
their differences. There's always a centrifugal phase in which through safety you can prepare
your product. Your company, your political party, attorney client privilege, or your
laboratory and your tenure in science but then there is ritualized call to battle. The
scientific conference, the publication, the marketplace, the court trial and the degree
of ritualization is determined by the need, or not need, for explicit accuracy. In courts,
everything is extremely meticulous because you can't afford a more than one percent error
rate but it keeps things slow. All right. Didn't need to get going on that. What I really
care about is this one. You can see that these are entirely different processes. This is
the old pyramidal structure of decision making, hierarchical decision making. We have needs
for it, but it should devolve to here wherever possible. Here you have structured competition.
Here you have the people. And this is where web is starting to make a difference in the
ability of people to converse and their ability to get involved in the problem solving process
and perhaps lead to an age of amateurs. Now we spoke of the lamps on the brow, if you're
ever in Rome be sure to visit the greatest piece of sculpture ever carved. Michelangelo's
sculpture of Moses. It's a few- it's about ten blocks away from the Vatican in a little
side church. It's amazing. You swear he's about to stand up. And he's formidable. He
makes you look like a little guy. OK. So the main reason why I show this slide is, I do
a lot of consulting for the Defense Department, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, CIA. After
this trip, I go off to the Air Force. And I talk about the Professional Protector Caste.
The Professional Protector Caste has had its budget increased tremendously since 9/11.
And yet here's the interesting thing, on 9/11 they failed completely at what they aimed
to do. And that's use these prefrontal lobes. To try to anticipate using data collection,
total information awareness. You've heard about the new two billion dollar facility
NSA is building in Utah. To hear everything and then analyze it and then proactively act
on dangers. Fine. God bless them. As long as they are subject to scrutiny and sousveillance.
That's s-o-u-s- veillance. That means looking from below. Surveillance means looking from
above. Incredibly important term. I helped Steve Mann coin it some years ago. Very important
term. If we have sousveillance and supervision on these professional protectors, then we
will have a choke chain to remind it- the watchdog-it's a dog and not a wolf. I need
to be less chaotic here and spontaneous because these things get recorded.
It's just- Ahh.
But the other thing is to remember, is that anticipation wasn't even involved on 9/11.
Every single act performed by our professional protector cast on that day failed. There was
not a single success by any level of professional protectors that day. Including the brave heroes
in the New York Fire Department. Remind me to get a link so you can see my abortive TV
show that I was supposedly going to be one of the stars of, called "Architecs", without
a T. In which we slept in New York's fire stations and interviewed the surviving heroes
of Rescue 1. And their comrades went charging into those buildings. Very brave. Didn't work.
What worked? I'll tell you what worked. Soon as I can get it. This worked. Average citizens
out in the street saying, "I know the 911 operators are telling you to stay by your
desk and help is on the way. Get out!" 30,000 lives saved by that. It was New Yorkers who
fought the fires when the professionals died. And it was people armed with this stuff that
rebelled, who rebelled on Flight UA 93. Ending the war that day because the war was a test
of our manhood. It is- it was essentially. Every decade Americans are challenged by opponents
who believe in the zero sum game. The fundamental ethos of the West and of the Western Enlightenment
is the positive sum game. If you must read any book during the next year read Robert
Wright's "NONZERO." That explains the distinction between these two things. In a zero sum game,
if I win a point, you've lost a point. The positive sum game, I'm going to get rich making
Google and all my employees are going to get rich just a little less than me. And all the
people out there are gonna have plenty of opportunity to get richer because we set everything
up. We all benefit from the positive sum game. Well, the point is there are many cultures
in which people are not raised assuming positive sum games. So, they look at America and they
say, "You guys are rich, you're happy, sexy. You must have traded something for it. "Hitler
said so. The south said so. The Soviets said so. So on, and so on. Every generation makes
this calculation and says, "Americans, they have all this stuff but they're decadent.
They have no manhood. They have no courage. They have no guts." And the heroes on Flight
UA 93 disproved it that afternoon. They won the war. Through the other thing, you have
anticipation and then you have resilience. So this is Steve Mann. This is the goggles
arrangement he had in 1980. And it got smaller, smaller, smaller. And now of course, you guys
are doing it. And this is a character from my new novel where she has these little cyber
activated doogies that come up and look around in all directions out of her hair. You can
barely make out the stuff going on, on the inside. And at lunch we were talking about
how the tooth clickers and the sub vocal checkers, and all that sort of thing. And the main thing
is, that-. Oh, have you heard about the latest DARPA Challenge? These annual things, a couple
of years ago it was to find the red balloons. And the-. Last year it was to remake shredded
documents. This year's it's the challenge, and there's a team in San Diego you could
join if you want to, is to track five teams of fake jewel thieves all across America and
Europe and to catch images of them. So the notion is you get smart mobs. And if you had
read that scene, those scenes that Alex told you about. Some scenes from "Earth", and some
scenes from my new novel, you'd see this in action. But this is from Patrick Farley's
wonderful web comic called "Spiders". Where basically this little girl in America is the
one who finds Osama. This was pre Osama dying. Back when I was at Cal Tech as an undergraduate,
we were worried about something called the overspecialization problem. It seems logical.
It seemed to be completely where things were going. And that is the notion that the-. Every
year we know more, and more, and more. Right? Chemical abstracts used to be all on paper.
And when the chemical abstracts would come out every year, would be bigger, and bigger,
and bigger. And these are just abstracts of chemical papers. What does this mean? It means
that every year in order to be a specialist about something, good enough to get a PhD,
you have to know more and more about less, and less. It seemed an unstoppable trend.
And with the vocabulary getting narrower and narrower, you would not know if someone in
the next building over there using a somewhat different vocabulary was studying the same
thing you were. So you get duplication of effort. You get slowing down of accomplishment.
You're 60 years old before you know enough to get your PhD. It seems terrifying. Likely,
it seemed unstoppable. There seemed to be no way out. And now it seems that no one ever
mentions this anymore. It seems a bizarre, quaint thing to ponder. Now the way I just
described to you, it sounds logical. And we may hit that wall again. Why didn't we? Well
obviously, I was there at the beginnings of computer literature searches and I could see.
I could get links to things that were obscure in various directions. And the trick was,
I had to do the Google tricks myself and come up with different vocabulary twists that would
sometimes bring in things from other departments. But the other thing is that people got smarter.
Down at UCSD, we just won the right to establish the Arthur C. Clark Center for Human Imagination.
It's gonna be wonderful. All the deans in all the departments, art sciences. They've
all signed on. Cognitive Science and Neuroscience is gonna study the process of imagination.
While getting involved the artists and the authors. And then determining new ways of
using computers to enhance the imaginative process in kids. It's going to be very exciting
and please keep track of it. OK? We'll have an announcement by the summer. But, the point
is, that is reflective of cross discipline. Of breaking down of guild boundaries. And
the fact that, you guys there's a word that starts with G. It's become a verb and a noun.
The point is that, that is the principle way in which people have been able to get past
the problem of narrow-minded overspecialization. And now Nicholas Carr and the cyber grouches
are talking instead about a problem of broadminded, scatterbrained, shallow mindedness. And that's
the doom and gloom scenario people are talking about. I'm sure you've all seen this cover
of "Atlantic." The notion that this is not necessarily making us smarter; It's making
us more aware. But they aren't necessarily the same things. Wish I had time to go into
that in more detail. Now we won't go into huge detail about the big picture issue. But
another important book from the last few years, get you nice and depressed about how likely
it is that we're going to have a collapse of human civilization. The opposite extreme,
the singularitarians, as a contrarian who loves to be in the presence of people he can
say, "yes" back to you know, libertarians who I can sound like a liberal. Liberals I
can tell about Adam Smith. This is the golden age for me. I was garroted and burned at the
stake in all of my other lives. I get to live to be in my 60s and see my kids. And get paid
for this because--yeah, but. Yes, but. The people who think we are all gonna be gods
in 25 years, remind me of Porgy and Bess, " It ain't necessarily so." OK. The one big
perspective thing that pins it all is the Fermi paradox. And that is the question of
why we see no signs of anybody out there. The great big constructs that our descendants
may build, the visitations. The earth was prime real-estate for two billion years with
a no oxygen atmosphere. And nobody above the level of slime molds to defend it. Why in
all these movies do they show up now? [laughter]
The Drake Equation of course, in one of my papers. I've been engaged in this for 35 years.
And in one of my papers, which is the only major review paper about the field, I expand
the Drake Equation because it doesn't predict anything in that sense. But the whole notion-.
You're all familiar with the Drake Equation right? The notion of the fraction of planets
that are out there. The number of planets. That's one part of the Drake equation that
has been expanded just in the last ten years. It's amazing times to live in. And we'll live
to see whether or not there's oxygen and methane on some of these atmospheres and all that.
But whether or not this pale blue dot, by the way I consider this picture of the earthrise
from the Apollo 8, from that horrible year, 1968. It's like Pandora's Box got open. All
the evils leapt out and there was this little gleam of hope at the bottom of the box. The
Christmas message from the moon showing a little oasis in space. One of the two most
important works of art in the history of humanity and it was done by scientists. The other one
was too. Who can name it? It changed us forever. Changed our attitudes towards war. The image
of the Atom Bomb. Both of them. Because visual art is changing human hearts and minds without
verbal persuasion. And the two most powerful symbols that changed human hearts were the
image of the Earth and the Atom Bomb. So, the question is, will there be life? Will
there be the development of intelligence? Technological intelligence that survives a
series of traps. A series of crises that might leave us like Mars. In fact, there's evidence
that this is our second planet. We originally came from Mars. Because, don't you want an
extra hour every day? Because wouldn't you be happier with half the gravity?
Huh? Huh? We miss our homeland. Let's just hope we don't do to this planet what we did
to that one. The point is, I forget why I put that guy there.
The point is, is there a great filter? Why are the numbers small in the cosmos?
>> male #2: [inaudible]
>> David Brin: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That's the honey pot. The honey pot
is one of the more popular notions of, what keeps the-- It empty. And that is, we all,
all the races go down into cyberspace. And I don't believe it because if even one race
has a bunch of grouches who like to ride motorcycles and are techies, then they'll become Hell's
Angels and they'll be the ones who have the kids and go off into space. Everybody will
be descended from them. While their distant cousins are back home, ooooo, living forever
in the web. This whole question of whether the great filter lies behind us. And it may
very well be that we are very rare in our technological intelligence. Or, it may be,
catch me some other time, and I believe there's a good chance of this, that 99 percent of
life worlds are water worlds. And that ours, with a lot of continental land area, the ability
to make hands and fire species may be relatively rare. You have the guys who think it's coming
right away. Good old Ray, he's very optimistic because he's one of the oldest of the singularitarians.
So he thinks it's gonna come in time for him. And his younger colleagues are going "Oh Ray
sorry." It's harder than you think. Yeah. It's going to be at least another 20 years
after that. But in time for me.
So anyway, this gives you the whole range of some of the possibilities. He's a character
in my new novel.
I couldn't resist. I couldn't resist. Everything that you see to this slide show is all in
the new novel. I want to get into some practical stuff that is standing in our way of being
resilient civilization that practices the age of amateurs, not in order to get rid of
the professional protectors. But in order to augment them. Because we are going to need
healthy institutions. We are going to need healthy accountability arenas. Those arenas,
the markets, and courts, and science, and democracy. And we're going to need to have
the enhanced resiliency that comes from a fully empowered populous. In this argument
that you saw. In that Google is making us stupid thing. You have the cyber grouches
like Nicholas Carr saying that. It's not helping. Clay Shirky and the cyber optimists are all
saying, "Look how many people are expressing themselves. All connected and expressing themselves."
And the average length of self-expression goes smaller, and smaller, and smaller and
then had the major lobotomy down to 140 characters. Another major lobotomy when Facebook made
the return an automatic post.
I could out do Facebook. Just, just, 20 million dollars. The point is, he's- they're both
right. Do you remember how I mentioned this pattern in the accountability arenas that
have developed over the last 300 years? A pattern of centrifugal gathering in safety.
Creating product, but then a ritualized call to combat that could not be refused and would
result in maximizing the test of products, while minimizing the cost that use to accrue
to that, to competition. Death, blood on the floor, monopolization. That pattern exists
well in those old systems. It's always under threat. Several of them are under profound
threat right now in the west. But, we'll deal with it. We're no less people than our ancestors.
The point is that the internet is missing half of it. Think about it. It's got this.
You've got people able to separate out into little Nuremburg rallies. They can argue.
They can stew. They can perfect their product. But war is the ritualized combat that makes
bad stuff go away. I'm not talking about creating an elite that says, "That's a bad idea, no
one will discuss it anymore." I'm talking about a kind of ritualized combat that made
the Edsel go away. Most of you don't get that. So, what? What's something more recent? That
>> male#3: Horror movies. Myspace.
>> David Brin: All right, MySpace. That makes inferior stuff go away. How many of you have
been on a blog in a comment section? And you wrote something that absolutely devastated
an untrue statement. And a dozen other people said, "Right. Yes. Dead." And the next day
you see it again somewhere else. Nothing dies. And death is how creative competition works.
All right. Let's just go through a few of these. Your phone. This phone was the hero
on 9/11. On Katrina, and again at Fukushima. You had hundreds of thousands of people with
these in their pockets, fully charged, unable to do squat. Fukushima they found several
people had made text messages and all of that they were clutching their cell phones under
rubble. They'd had time-hours-nobody came. The cell towers were down. I go at this again,
and again, and again in- at these defense meetings. It's insane. All it would take is
a simple law demanding that Verizon and the others include a simple crude baron packet
switching, text passing, tier-to-tier system in the cell phones. You could even have it,
so that if you don't have a cell, it doesn't turn on unless-. If you are detecting a nearby
cell tower. I think that's chicken shit. I mean if you could not come up with a system
that would tattle tale along the way from cell phone to cell phone and tell who passed
it on until it reached a cell tower, give them a penny each and charge an extra nickel
to the person who sent it. Then you don't deserve to be an engineer at these companies.
You should be able to make money doing that.
But there's no excuse not to have it. Think about it. You're buried under a building,
you can send a text and then put it down go to sleep and at some point when someone's
passing by it takes the text away. With a few dozen repeaters across the Great Plains
and the Rockies, we could have a crude telegraph system across the entire country if all the
cell towers were down. But this should give the cell phone manufacturers a way to go into
that dark mile. You can say in most places, you will be able- even in the dark mile, you'd
still be able to send texts. Especially if people are encouraged to leave their phones
at the edge. Hooked and logged in, "Oh, I earned a buck last night passing on"… Why?
I talked to a vice president of Verizon; all he could give me was just hate filled glares.
I couldn't even get why. Other examples abysmal self-organizing software on the internet.
No emergency modes of access. There are people working on that. There's all sorts of examples
on the web where you can see where there are people who are working on possible Wi-Fi based
systems. Blue tooth based systems. There are lots of other examples. I'm putting solar
on my roof right now. I've been asking about this. Do you know we have billions of people
in America with rooftop solar? You know what happens in a power blackout. It shuts off.
You cannot draw power from your own solar roof in a power blackout. There are some clues.
There are some rotten work-arounds that cost thousands and thousands of dollars. What would
it take to come up with a box that people could add to their solar system that would
power one plug inside their house? With all sorts of warning labels on it. You know, flashing
lights and all of that. Just for their fridge and their rechargers. Why are we still vulnerable
to EMP? We've known about it for 40 years. It would surprise you now, but say Newt Gingrich
was right about that. Actually, he's the only one of the bunch who would invite me to the
White House.
Because he's a sci-fi fan. He's a sci-fi author. I mentioned the other sci-fi fan, Temple Grandin.
Dull, dull, dull cell phone designs! Awwwww! Horrible! Stupid. Oh, now I'm gonna take em-.
No. Now I'm gonna show you what a cell phone design. Show you this. I'll talk meanwhile.
My son came up with this. I was part of a workshop in which we talked about snap-on
phones. In which you snap-on peripherals that could do sensing. That could do detecting.
That could put the laser display or the laser-projected keyboard. All these things that you aren't
normally using. Interface. Web interface. You can see that-. Let me tell you something,
I am old. Back in 1973, I sat at a teletype--there was not a single computer monitor on the planet--
I sat at a teletype at Cal Tech and there was one of the first networks in the world.
A computer. A couple of other computers on campus. And I typed away at the teletype and
in black ink, D-B, colon, and part of what I said. Interrupted, C-K, colon, in red. What
someone else was saying. Then, R-L, colon, and what someone else was saying. And, D-B,
finishing what I had typed. Now, here's the weird part. All of you know exactly what I
am talking about. It wasn't at all surprising. You understood exactly what I am saying. Why?
Because sometime in the last few months you did exactly that. Why did you whippersnappers
have a clue what I was talking about? Alternating, interrupting, scrolling chat. I'm sorry the
example here is Myspace, but it's the same damn thing. Lobotomization, lobotomization,
lobotomization. Have you ever been to Second Life? I've had some of the most populated
events ever there. I'm sitting on stage, interviewing away. Wonderful buxom bods out there. And
the actual exchange of informational content is down here in the low half alternating,
interrupting scrolling chat. Now in fact, conversation goes back to the Neolithic. I
think our ancestors had cocktail parties. Seriously. I mean, you knew where you usually
had a successful hunt. You would send boys up ahead to gather firewood, and to crush
berries into gourds, and hang them way up high in the trees. You had this year's successful
hunt, you drag the carcass over, you'd start the firewood, and you invite the Ugrug tribe
over, pulled down the gourds and chat. We're good at it. And you know how in a conversation
you adjust who you're talking to by proximity, by angle of orientation, by your estimation
of their reputation.
>>male#4: [laughter]
>> David Brin: By the public estimation of their reputation. By how interesting what
they have to say is. Whether its topic related. But you've been in a restaurant and you've
seen when somebody mentions your name two and three conversations away. What happens?
It pops out of the buzz. And you know, here's the scary part. A sentence or two before your
name came up. Several words of lead in. What does that mean? It means your brain is providing
services to you. Constantly sifting and controlling what enters into your conscious awareness.
Now, all of these things that I've just described to you-. Ha Ha, this is very funny. When are
you going to stop wasting your time with that science fiction nonsense and start dealing
with reality? This being horse and cart. Very funny. We give high priority when we are able
to allocate our attention. We adjust attention by, criteria, topic, time, reputation, etcetera,
etcetera. The point is that everything I just described to you is not existent in interaction
on the web. Even though it's proved important and useful in allocating what do we see, what
we know and how we pay attention in real life. These are real life phenomena that have not
made it onto the web and I can prove that to you. If you look at the old Google Tech
Talk, I'm sorry I had a lot more caffeine that day.
And that's taking breaks with my co-deliverer, Sheldon Brown. He's going to be head of the
Arthur C. Clark Center For Human Imagination. Well, what I did during that talk is I looked
at my watch and said, "I know because I was just granted a patent." It happened to be
on the day that my patent came through. Every one of those things I own. Now, does that surprise you? Does that
make you skeptical? Well, it should. I don't expect any of those things. Any of those claims
to survive heavy-duty attacks. Undoubtedly, there is some graduate student somewhere who
adjusted screen allocation values by reputation. Another who did it by angle of orientation.
We even found a couple at IBM that we had to modify the patents. What the patent means
is that nobody is currently making a billion dollars off of us, those things. Nobody at
all. Let me see if I can remember where this goes. How's this work? Oh yeah, that's right.
That's right. That goes there. That goes there. It's been a little while since I've done this.
It's gonna look a little awkward. Now, you're all used to answering the phone like this
and emanating into the world. How about, there's your watch. This watch is on your watchband.
Ring ring, ring ring. Ah shoot. Hello? Microphone is here. This happens to bring your phone
right up next to your ear. Well, yeah, it did. OK, hello? Now you're covering your voice.
You're covering your mouth. It will at least sell in Japan.
Now, hey take a look at this. Oh wow, man that's incredible. Hey.
It's just an example of where you gotta think, people say outside the box. You gotta think
outside the playground. Because group-think is everywhere. Now, if you like, this is the
Exorarium, I'd love to set this up. It is a both computer game and museum place where
you would go from creation station to creation station. And, you first choose your star,
then your solar system. And then your planet and then your ecosystem. And at the end of
it you get your own alien. And we were invited up to talk to Will Ryman about his thing,
"Spore." Because he was way behind. He was a couple years behind on "Spore" and he was
scared of us. And so, we laughed and we said," if we had four orders of magnitude and better
funding, you should be scared of us.
And so, he described to us "Spore" where you buy attributes for your race. And we said,
"Oh, I see. You do creative design. We do evolution." [laughs] Now I thought he'd laugh,
but Sheldon said, "No, no, no. He was angry." But, then you take your alien race down to
the extraterrestrial terrarium and you have encounter scenarios. You can do this online
of course as a computer game too. You know, I would complain about the fraction of my
ideas that ever see real life. Except for the fact that I have a fair number of them
that see real life. And so, nobody's going to listen to me or give me hearts and flowers.
It's frustrating. I don't even get any pity. So, my objective was to not be your typical
talk. To not have a particular focus but to dance around and poke at ideas. That perhaps
some of them you hadn't thought of before. Big perspective. Are us. Anybody?
>>male#5: Ok. In that case, if you knew about Street View, MySpace, and Facebook and other
modern sharing stuff that we've got now. At the time, you had written "Transparent Society",
you'd had many of the ideas back then but things have turned out a little bit different
in various ways. How would you have written the book differently?
>> David Brin: It's all going inconsistently, pretty much consistent. I would have more
examples. The fact of the matter is that we are seeing a drift towards hierarchical institutions
having more and more power to see. The defenders of liberty are rightfully concerned about
that because the image that we have of Big Brother with the telescreen, is pyramidal.
And the main thing about the telescreen is not the existence of the telescreen in 1984,
it is the fact that it is one way. Thereby enforcing power in a pyramidal structure.
If the telescreen operated two ways, and the people, even the Proles, were able to listen
in on every secret party meeting. It would not matter that the party has absolute power
of physical control. Nevertheless, within a generation everything would change. It is
not the equivalence of power that matters. It is some degree of equivalence of knowledge.
There are all sorts of potential equalizers. For instance, you as an individual can join
non-government organizations. ACLU, electronic free- Electronic Frontier Foundation, and
all of these things. By pooling together proxy power, you are enabling them to hire professionals
who are in range of the professionals run by the Koch brothers. These techniques exist.
These equalization techniques exist. And we see this sort of thing happening all the time.
And, a recent example was WikiLeaks. I know the digital, top digital guy of Hillary Clinton
in the State Department. And he said, he confirmed to me, that "If she could give a secret medal
without risking anybody knowing about it, she would give a medal and a great big wet
kiss on the mouth to Julian Assange." Because, he created what democracy and transparency
is supposed to create for our public leaders. And that's inconvenience. He was highly irksome.
But that was it. There were a couple dozen embarrassing cables that he released. And
the storm over those went away. Meanwhile, there were thousands of cables released that
showed our diplomats hating Hosni Mubarak. Hating the dictators that they had to work
with. And totally within the cables being consistent with our public statements. The
result was when the Arab spring burst, and Assange says it was all because of him, when
the Arab spring burst there was not one American flag burned. There was not one hint of anti-Americanism
in the Arab spring. In a large degree that is credited to the fact that this asshole
went ahead and leaked a quarter of a million cables. And the only loser out of this were
our enemies and that idiot who's going to go to prison for the rest of his life. Because
he thought he was being an internet hero. And all he was blowing the whistle on was
people doing their jobs. So, should we hurry through questions? And those of you interested
we could show you that. But, thank you very much. You've been a lovely audience and go