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« About Manufacturing | Main | Technology for Security »

May 04, 2005


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Brian Wang

I think Mutually Assured Destruction of nation-states can be maintained for quite a while after nanotechnology is developed. In that I believe that resources and capabilities could be deployed that could maintain the ability of different groups to destroy all other groups. This capability involves the weaponization of space.

A problem is that as the number of groups with this capability (or nearly this capability) increases and as the size of the groups diminishes then MAD may not be sufficiently assured and a small group may not be deterred by assured destruction. As the groups gets smaller populations, the statistical effect of MAD could decrease mathematically.

ie. MAD may assure the death of 99% of 1,000,000 but only 90% of 100,000 or none of 10,000.

They may believe that their preservation is less important than the destruction of others (like current terrorists).

The effectiveness of MAD would have to be upgraded for the assured part of MAD. 100% effective. Then the issue of deterring or stopping groups that don't care about Assured Destruction.

I think solutions involve:
1. New social contracts which would have to be updated as technology changes. Probably everyone has to relinquish privacy. Everyone can know anything about anyone in realtime.
2. Trying to organize society into a more survivable structure.

Are there information interdependentcies ?

What are the new things that are scarce and what are the important things to protect. What must purposefully be left vulnerable and what can and should be protected.

In computers and business, there are the ideas of data, software and hardware backups and system availability. There are multiple goals. There is maintaining the uptime of software services (try to prevent any loss or interruption) and there is re-establishing if things go bad.

1. Civilization as whole needs to be made more survivable and rebootable.
2. Prevention of genocides
3. Deterring killing
4. Creating societies that are more inherently safe
5. Keeping everyone engaged in society and civil. Making better cultures.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Brian, some very interesting thoughts there.

On rebootability, nanofactories make great rebooting tools. It's not an exaggeration to say that one pound of nano-stuff could probably rebuild a nation-scale infrastructure in less than a year.

You mentioned several social changes. Complete lack of privacy. Engaging everyone in society. (Society, singular? How much room for diverse societies will there be?) Creating societies that are inherently safe, with new social contracts that change with changing technology (i.e. rapidly).

People do seem to change pretty rapidly sometimes, but slowly other times. And I'm not sure how much of that change is merely cyclical. For example, we credit the looser morals of the 70's to better birth control, but what about the 20's?

I'd expect a big problem with adjusting to lack of privacy. Several big problems, in fact. For example, if all houses are effectively transparent, who will be responsible for keeping underage but curious children from seeing things that they shouldn't? Will the police be allowed to do "virtual searches" using readily available but illegally gathered information? Will it be especially illegal to spy on governments? On companies? Should it be?

Can we have more details on "more inherently safe" societies?


Brian Wang


A clarification of my analysis :

1. there are degrees of MAD. Our current effectiveness of MAD is that we can destroy all countries. But it is not assured that every person would die. That has good enough for the deterrence we needed for USA, USSR/Russia, China, UK, France etc... Will this hold up now with N Korea, Iran etc... How much can we beef up the assured part and the destruction part ? Does that help ?

2. there would be levels and layers to security
Saving human race, civilization, societies, each

3. Then I mixed in some approaches to thinking about the problem and directions for mitigations and partial solutions.

I was not suggesting complete solutions but adding analysis and concepts.

On expanding upon your questions:
Complete lack of privacy. I am aware that there are downsides to such a policy and maybe there could be some modifications to how it is implemented to mitigate some of the effects while maintaining security.
ie. Modest child proof locks. Another approach is that we all get over things like exposed nudity.

The general concept is that if society has transparency as the expectation and the policy then the level of necessary verifications for pre-emption of attempts at mass destruction could be possible. This is also just the beginning of rethinking what rights we might have to give up to provide a sustainable level of safety. We also need to think about what rights or partial rights we can keep.

In my idea of complete lack of privacy, individuals should also be able to spy/view every aspect of government and police. Everyone watches everyone.

Harmony of societies. So that goes into the idea of the larger framework of society rights. We re-analyze individual rights and obligations in light of sustainable safety. And we re-analyze society rights and obligations.

Also, this analysis will have to be done in light of the facts on the ground. In that there is currently the USA as dominant world power. The USA has a degree of ability to go to another country like say Libya and say give up you nuclear program. Be good and you get trade and other stuff. Be bad and tomorrow you can say hello to the airforce, carrier group 4/5 and then third army.

What is a realistic approach to change ?
What changes are really possible ?
What changes seem difficult/impossible but will be necessary for sustainable security ?

I think we will still be able to tolerate different societies and cultures. But how much sovereignty will those societies and cultures have.

We are already seeing the shift now. No narco-states should be tolerated. No states in chaos that cannot provide their own security and control and prevent themselves being used as a base for terrorism.

So states/societies have an obligation to prevent themselves from becoming a place where things get out of control and where bad things/developments spill out of them. Those obligations will increase. Within those limitations there will be plenty of rights and differences that can be tolerated and encouraged.

Inherently safe societies are ones that abide by a list (as yet to be determined) of rules and pass various tests of control.

The Sarbanes Oxley laws are the beginning of a new compliance regime on corporations. They are a response to enron and worldcom and tyco etc... In their current form, they only make it so that the CEO and CFO cannot say, "I did not know". Now the company must sign off on the quality of financial controls down several levels in the company. The company must document, test/verify and determine and publicize material weakness in their controls.

Something like this could be done for societies/ nation states. Initially a voluntary review of controls or the strong impose it on the weak. ie. President and ministers/ governors -- what is your national security compliance.

The analysis/testing and reporting is only the beginning. Because that does not address willful deception and conspiracy.

In the past, we could allow nations like those in Africa and the middle east to be screwed up. We are already transition into a world where we cannot allow this kind of neglect.

If the effect to be avoided is world destruction, and the cure is some loss of nation state and individual rights, then we need to look closely at changing a lot of things we like. Of course, where things can be somewhat preserved we should preserve them. We should also use every tool, process and technological solution to make things as free as possible while not sacrificing necessary safety.

The other aspect is complete safety is not possible. So we have to have backup plans and structures.

Brian Wang

The other nation state models of limited sovereignty that we have already have had are inter-war Iraq. Where Iraq was under an inspection regime. It now appears that system was partially effective.

As invasive and disruptive as that process was ... it still did not prevent war. It appears that WMDs were not made, but that is not known conclusively.

So what would be possible and may be necessary as we move to a nanoworld ?

A technologically enabled police state/world level of monitoring and intervention, but with as liberated a process as possible for the administration of controls.

ie. For an analogy, suppose a collision of cars represents destroying the world through technology. Various individual or national rights are collectively represented as the right to drive.

1. Banning driving makes almost everyone unhappy and is difficult to enforce
2. We let people or nations drive but monitor every car.
3. We create rules where spacing of vehicles is mandated at 100 meters. We create other rules that make safe driving mandatory. We try to develop bumper cars that can safely collide.
4. We build in technology in cars to detect proximity to collisions and trigger auto-pilot override to re-establish separation.
5. We try to make it more convenient and comfortable for people to have bicycles or have some form of mass transit.
6. People and nations who are just poor drivers or have a tendency to want to participate in a demolition derby get banned from driving. Cars get retinal and biometric scans to enforce the ban. Those who try to circumvent that ban get imprisoned.

Brian Wang

Some other trial balloon ideas.

Research into psychological testing. Can this be a tool to help pre-emptively identify dangerous people.

Allow law enforcement to selectively use entrapment as a preventive measure. Only allowed to entrap for the actions that would lead to the things that we want to super avoid.

Janessa Ravenwood

Brian: they can have my privacy (in my own home, at any rate) when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers. And I *know* I'm not alone on that. David Brin dreaming aside, this isn't something that's going to come about in the real world. If surveillance ever got anywhere *near* that pervasive I'd be looking into the best counter-surveillance technology available. And again, I wouldn't be only one doing so.

Brian Wang

Hi Janessa

I think almost all people are currently completely vulnerable to current surveillance. If the government or anyone else could be bothered to they can tap any or even every building that they want. Video cameras and other imaging surveillance can be placed in high volume at low cost. There are the public webcams, for viewing traffic. If a group with say one billion dollars to dedicate to this could with economies of scale place cameras in millions and perhaps tens of millions of places. The feeds could be fed into image processing. Combine that with satellite and air surveillance.

Combine that with Echelon (look it up in wikipedia) communication scanning and financial records.

A few thousand dollars worth of spy gear would let any person who wanted to have gear to spy on their neighbors.

I think Joe and Jane Citizen is vulnerable and probably being spied on to a great extent. I say that we admit that is the case and go with the flow. Use the capabilities and the better ones coming out of the labs to enhance our security. Also, since we are probably being spied on anyway make it legal for everyone to keep tabs on our leaders and enemies. I think our denial only lets those with power or those who are nefarious to play on a lopsided palying field. Our saying stop only stops ourselves and not the government and not our enemies.

There will be billions of camera phones and video phones. Even with this and the other mentioned mundane technology how much privacy do you think that we have and how much do you think you can stop it.

If some of our homes are private... it is only because no one cares.

Mike Treder, CRN

Per this discussion -- Jamais Cascio of WorldChanging recently published a very good essay on the topic of surveillance/sousveillance.



Institutionalizing spy-capabilities assumes the laws in even our most advanced societies are completely just. They're not; they disproportionally target poor and uneducated members. Laws exist to serve people, not the other way around. If a person were held retroactively responsible for every jaywalking or speeding incident they have participated in, said person would have no liquid assets. There are several effective anti-surveillence counter-measures. Without free will, and the inherent freedoms needed to exercise it, we are all nothing but animals. The incorrect solution, when faced with a problem such as the erosion of personal privacy, is to give up and give in. Even with MNT, it is still possible to maintain personal freedoms. Power is corrupting. What politician would you trust with complete info of: your financial assets, the details of your social network, your sex life, your education and employment history, your health records and DNA/biometrics database, your 24hr location... Such a population would easily be enslaved. How does giving everyone the capacity to enslave everyone solve the big-brother/peeping-tom problem?


The privacy issue is, well very important and disruptive in general conversation as we for the most part approve of privacy for the individual. Perhaps the words privacy and freedom are different words. Perhaps one can have freedom but not privacy. Surveillance is upon us whether we like it or not but the surveillance we are speaking of in the future with MNT to me is considerably different then a stoplight camera taking a picture of my car as I run a red light. In the future you're not going to need to go into town to go to work to be worried about going fast because I am late for work. There are a great many laws today governing a great many things but in the future as we eliminate the need for little things like work, marriage, contracts, and being late. We see where privacy and freedom will represent different things.

One thing I have been considering as of late if we follow through with a timeline when discussing MNT. If we go post MM plus 15 years I would envision a situation where 90% plus of individuals live away from the cities and the great population centers. Governments and militaries are a shadow of there previous forms. The vast majority of the human race lives in comfort and without need for anything. The idea of crime and punishment has faded away in the history books. A day comes perhaps noted where indeed a single moment has passed not a single man killed another. Not a child goes without food, medicine, or a roof over his head. The word poverty is stricken from all languages.

Now in this world there is still an argument to watch over the activities of individuals. There are a great many other evils men do that are not described above. I will not list them here as I'm sure everyone reading these knows these things that should be watched for in the world and help should be provided to the innocent and helpless. But if we all sit back in our new world and did not pay attention to what is happening around us we are merely condoning the evil that men do.


Tom Craver

Brin's transparent society will never come about, simply because those in power will not allow those without power to spy on them, and those without power will never violently revolt to force those in power to submit to equal surveillance.

We are far more likely to get a "one-way-mirror" society, where government can easily authorize itself to spy on us, while maintaining secrets "for the security of the state". In fact, we're pretty much there now - most of us just aren't interesting enough to bother with.

Tom Craver

We might get an "on the record" society - where everyone records everything they perceive (or that happens around their property). Obviously we're getting closer to that, with videos from police cars, stores, cellphone cameras - we've already seen some of the impact.

With gigabytes getting cheaper and bandwidth wider and cameras tinier, we're not far from 'flogging' (life logging) - i.e. recording almost continuously and making the whole video accessible on the internet, with links to interesting bits. (That wouldn't mean you could legally film in a theatre or peek in someone else's window.)

So what happens when someone objects to being recorded by a flogger, doing something in public that makes them look foolish or gross? I suspect we're on the verge of hitting court cases, and I also suspect that a judge might require the image or video be taken off the net (too late, of course) - but probably wouldn't award damages if the flog was recorded in a public place. Which would mean everyone would feel free to post anything recorded in public.


Is it really necessary to sacrifice privacy for MNT? Can't "safe zones" be implemented where a city or rural area has its exit/entry points monitored. It would only be scanned for MNT as often as is absolutely necessary (ie. the minimum MNT potential build time from scratch). Apart from these regularly scheduled MNT tools scans, life could go on, pretty much as normal. Its not the aestheticly obtrusive nature of various big-brother security solutions which I'm rebelling against. Its the fact that "hyper homeland-security" agendas make it more likely security and personal safety will be compromized as all the prerequisite personal details of a population's life, will be on record for anyone with access to take advantage of. If you want to keep your society safe from threats from without and within, becoming such a threat yourself is no to accomplish this, wastes valuable resources, and is bad for morale.

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