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From Glass-shattering Asteroids to Transparency…
David Brin   Feb 17, 2013   Ethical Technology  

Yesterday morning I was diverted to serve a stint as astronomy pundit - on BBC - regarding or planet's double encounter with asteroids.  Wow.  As one asteroid about 50 meters across zipped by earth, closer even than our communication satellites, another (probably just ten meters in size) gave up more energy than an atomic bomb … gradually, thank heavens, but right over a city in the Russian Urals… briefly outshining the sun and shattering hundreds of windows.  My job on-air was to reassure that there would be no dangerous radiation… that in fact, bolides like this one seem to strike our planet once or twice a decade or so, but always till now over open ocean or deserts or countryside. (In the 1970s one such event, off Japan, almost triggered a rise in DEFCON alert level at the US NORAD!)

LATE UPDATE: It appears to have been a swarm, as much smaller fireball-entries were reported near San Francisco and Cuba
I mentioned that asteroids appear less fearsome than they were twenty years ago. Since then, we've catalogued all of those near the size of the one that finished off the dinosaurs, at least those that might ever pass near us.  (Including one listed as 5748 davidbrin.) But down at the 50 meter (Meteor Crater) or 5-meter (atomic bomb) range?  Well, that's for another generation of NASA spacecraft to find for us.
Anyway, we still aren't "safe."  Comets (my area of scientific expertise) could swoop down from almost any direction, almost any time.  So let's become more capable of living and working out there!  Our proper path is vigorously forward.
I also mentioned Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, companies looking into ways to harvest vast wealth from asteroids.  Of course that quest is described both in my new novel Existence and in detail in Heart of the Comet.
All told, an exciting day… though I feel for the folks in Chelyabinsk.  Most of the 1000 injuries happened because people rushed to windows to gawk at the spectacle... then a shock wave hit, shattering the windows.  Folks are probably very cold in Chelyabinsk tonight.  Hey, it's winter in Russia.
We should send a cargo plane of plywood and another of window glass.  In exchange for some chunks. Lovely scientific chunks.
How does this relate to transparency? Beyond the window glass metaphor? Interestingly, the large number of videos that captured this rare cosmic event came about due to "an epidemic of road mayhem" across Russia. Automobile video dashcams are commonplace in Russia -- used to document the all-too-frequent driving accidents and incidents of road rage ...or to record inept (or corrupt) police officers.  Of course, this is precisely from one section of The Transparent Society and from Earth.
== More from the Transparency Front ==
Face recognition systems have been long-expected... and are now arriving in droves. Authorities will soon be able to pick  almost any person out of a transient crowd... as I have depicted in novels going back to EARTH (1989).  This article is a good review of the technology companies in this field and where they stand... but the sub-surface preachy tone is unhelpful, because it implies there is a scintilla of possibility that anything can prevent society's elites from using these techniques.  Or that we should even complain.  There is one option, one way to prevent this from turning into Big Brother and it is not to panic or try futilely to "ban" it. The only thing that can work is to grab it for everybody. Get used to being gods who can see and recognize anybody... and use it to force accountability upon the mighty.
mecam_01MeCam may soon be on the market for $49: a tiny helicopter-camera follows you around and streams video to your phone. Aya-tollyah so.
Japanese activists have invented a pair of high-tech glasses that emit a near infrared light to block face recognition cameras. It was their goal to counter what they call the “invasion of privacy caused by photographs taken in secret. Uh huh.  That's gonna work for about a year.
A few months ago, the startup tech firm Silent Circle (Global Encrypted Communications Service) introduced  a “surveillance-proof” smartphone app to allow people to make secure phone calls and send texts easily. Now, Silent Circle has come out with a groundbreaking encrypted data transfer app that will enable people to send files securely from a smartphone or tablet at the touch of a button. Now... I am all in favor of empowerment of the lowly individual!  Anyone who reads The Transparent Society knows that. Still, for twenty years I have pointed out the foolishness of over-reliance on encryption.  The mighty have methods going back 4000 years. And it is simple to bribe or blackmail or coerce  or steal back door keys.  This endeavor might be one of the few that the NSA does not "own."  In that case, huzzah.  Just don't stake your life on it.
In China, Beware a camera may be watching you. NPR reports: "In recent years, the government of the world's biggest country has installed more than 20 million cameras across a country where a decade ago there weren't many."  Actually, that number surprises me by seeming on the low side. An interesting article showing how difficult it is to maintain high ideals, when tempted by modern tools.
DARPA workers want tomorrow’s military hardware to literally cease to exist at a predetermined point... to self destruct. "Welcome to the age of suicidal sensors.... Sometimes the hardware will be pre-programmed to self-destruct. Other times a human should be able to step in and signal to the device that the cold grasp of oblivion beckons."  In fact, this has been a priority topic for many years.  Why do you think airliners haven't been tumbling from the sky, shot down by shoulder-mounted missiles from back when the US supported radical guerillas fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.  Can anyone doubt that, when their ire turned westward, militants found that the electronics failed to work anymore?  It is so nice to know some one was competent out there.  Thanks, whoever you were.
FarelySpidersOr take the Unattended Ground Sensor, a monitoring device designed to look like a rock and recharge with a solar battery, to collect and transmit data on a warzone for decades after most U.S. troops there have packed up and gone home. From descriptions, this item seems a lot like devices I portray in Existence and that Patrick Farley showed a decade ago, in his epochal web comic "Spiders."
Stop and Frisk Watch” is a free smart phone ap that empowers New Yorkers to monitor police activity and -- according to the NYCLU "hold the NYPD accountable for unlawful stop-and-frisk encounters and other police misconduct." Now mind you, I am an extreme radical against any moves by the police to arrest or restrict citizens' rights to record encounters with authority. Recent court cases have upheld our right to defend ourselves against abuse of authority with the only recourse we can ever count on -- The Truth.
Having said that, let me add that nothing is gained by using this right in an aggressive, in-yer-face style and attitude.  90% of cops are decent, hardworking and unbelievably brave folks who are trying hard to help transition a job that used to be officially sanctioned thuggery into a supremely skilled, accountable and reliable profession. They are doing this while saddled with human hormonal systems more appropriate to caveman days, while wiping spittle off their faces from crazed idiots they must deal with daily.  Come on, guys.  Record it... but with courtesy. It's what you want from them.
== Other Notes ==
In 2012 I attended (remotely) the Humanity+ conference near San Francisco and gave a talk that is now posted online: "The Rise of Science Renunciation." The sound is tinny, but the ideas flow rich and fast. How do we talk our fellow citizens against supporting the rise of a new Dark Age?  How do we get them not to burn us at the stake?  Practical advice for those pushing the Rapid Agenda.
DC Comics Under Fire for Hiring Anti-Gay Author Orson Scott Card to Write Superman. In a somewhat openly partial article in WIRED, Graeme McMillan joins a chorus of protest over my colleague's ever-increasingly strident declamations against the LGBT community. Last summer, I had a brief tiff with Scott Card at the San Diego Comicon where OSC went on and on about the hopelessness of human civilization and our inevitable imminent demise, till I finally (and publicly, though politely) had enough.  Seriously, this tempts me to  finally post the rebuttal-essay I once wrote (then put away) after reading Scott's stunning denunciation of democracy and civilization in his afterword to EMPIRE.
At another level though, let me say I am not surprised or particularly upset about Orson Scot Card writing a Superman series.  Putting aside the LGBT thing for now, this gig is an absolute natural fit for him! Almost all of Card's fiction deals with demigods of one sort or another.  Protagonists who are vastly better, stronger, wiser than benighted, foolish humanity... and especially the author's fellow citizens. This makes for a lusciously attractive wish fantasy that seduces pre-pubescent and adolescent males of all ages. ("Someday I'll get my Powers and then you'll see, all of you!") It is classic romanticism, going back to Achilles on the plains of Illium, and I have seen it done with more outrageous vileness by others, such as Frank Miller.
Mind you, my views about this colleague are mixed, and while I think Scott has gone around a right-wing bend, I utterly despise the horrifically simplistic hatchetings that he's received from rage junkies like this one, an insipidly unprofessional backstabbing that only elicited sympathy for Card. Indeed, in Scott's defense - (and keeping things literary) - let me say that Card's arrogant demigod characters are more interesting that most Nietzschean ubermensch "heroes."  While fiercely clamping down and taking control, they also exhibit angst, regret, and bemoan the insipid shallowness of the sheeplike masses they must protect.  In fact, they spend so much time and energy moaning, while over-ruling democracy and imposing their will "for your own good" that at least we get one satisfaction. They aren't enjoying it.  I look forward to seeing how Scott conveys this angst-ridden ferocity with the greatest demigod of them all.
Speaking of which... Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120 million to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change.  Yawn.  It is openly admitted on the right that the anti-science campaign is financed by Big Coal and Big (foreign) Oil.  The real difficulty arises when our neighbors and crazy uncles respond that the "other side is worse!" Proclaiming that liberals are similarly polemical and illogical and oligarchy-driven. Alas, they are never specific. Um, how about some details? We all know how the Koch brothers and desert sheiks benefit by delaying solutions to climate change.  But who, exactly, is pushing the "global warming myth"?
Big… er, um… Big Efficiency?  I'd love to see how that is spelled-out.
WealthNationsThe mythology is insidious.  Especially to a guy like me, who does not consider himself to be a leftist or democrat or even a classic liberal... but rather a style of competitive libertarian.  What am I then to make of Rand Paul's reply to SOTU (President Obama's State of the Union Address)? Alas, Paul - a the latest darling of the Tea Party - is part of the new tradition of fabulating history with a concoction of true statements. For example:  "What America needs is not Robin Hood but Adam Smith. In the year we won our independence, Adam Smith described what creates the Wealth of Nations."
Hm, well, it happens that I agree with that sentence!  But Sen. Paul goes on to promote the fabulous notion that the American Revolution and Adam Smith both saw "government bureaucrats" as the chief problem stifling freedom and enterprise, and that is pure malarkey.  Sighing, let me once again ask you to name - across 6000 years - the eras of bright promise that were spoilt by meddlesome civil servants.  There were some!  And I favor smaller government when possible.  But pick dates and locations at random, and 99% of the time freedom and markets were ruined by conniving inherited oligarchy.  Like King George and his lords.  The ones Smith despised as the enemies of capitalist competition and the foes the American rebelled against. Inheritance aristocracy is THE great enemy of capitalism and always has been.  And any "libertarian" who ignores that blatant historical fact is no true libertarian.  He is a shill for the enemy.
Phew... and settling down a bit...  Here's a cool example of re-apportionment.  How the 50 US states would look if the states were all redrawn to contain equal populations, Even the names are cool & fun.
Science Fiction author Hayden Trenholm is raising money for Strange Bedfellows: a science fiction  anthology all about politics.
Want an unusual gift: put your favorite images or  loved ones on decorative wood. Have a look at Jason Land's Wood Craft Kickstarter to print high quality photographs on wood.
Terrafinity site has produced a range of ideas on their Towards 9 Billion blog exploring humanity, ecology and ideas for a sustainable future.
...and that's plenty for now....
Thrive on.  And keep an eye on each other and the mighty.  And keep watching the skies!  (But stay away from glass.)
David Brin Ph.D. is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. David's newest novel - Existence - is now available, published by Tor Books."


You strongly suggest the Stinger missile was intentionally designed to obsolesce for reasons of security. Do you have a source for this? My understanding was that the Stinger, as a portable weapon, uses a battery which eventually runs down and its almost impossible to replace due to the proprietary/secret nature of US military weapon design. Fortuitous, but not intentional. It was probably not imagined during its design that Stingers would ever be in enemy hands, and even if it was it would not have impacted the technical development i.e no one made a decision to reduce the battery life (it would seem to me).

Nice article though. I strongly agree that surveillance tech needs to be open source for an open society.

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