Mulling: Doctorow’s Wars, Estrada’s Organisms

I’ve started to clean and update my “cowpaths” page of reasonable-sounding connections/themes for 2014 so far. The reflection probably could’ve been saved for my March meta-post, but I had a little time. My current constellations of posts are: Ecological Thinking, Stories and Decision Making, Modern/Centralized Systems, and Games/Game Studies. I have half a mind to try to compact these ideas until I can talk about them much more succinctly. I found myself rambling like a madman trying to explain myself in person just last week.

Below, some more related material from others, in list form.

I. Doctorow’s Wars on General Purpose Computing

(When you own something, should you have to ask it for permission?)

Every time he makes this argument, he crafts it together even more tightly. Summarizing it briefly here because I was thinking about it during my Against Smart Cities reading.

  1. Everything is becoming a computer (or at least computer-mediated)
  2. Computers, by their nature, can run any functional program. There are no “Runs-everything-but-this” computers.
  3. There is a want to disallow computers from running certain programs eg. harmful/illicit/competitor’s stuff, but (2)
  4. The only way to disallow a computer from doing something, effectively, is to install spyware on the computer to regulate what can and cannot run on it. “In other words, DRM: Digital Rights Management.”
  5. In order to be secure, DRM must be hidden from the user, and difficult to override.
  6. This is a heavy-handed approach, and also an ineffective one- smart bad guys will find them and manipulate them.
  7. Further, the possibility of hidden programs inherently weakens the security of the computer- any malware that can manipulate DRM can mask itself. Because of DRMs, there is already a class of hidden files in the computer, without the user’s knowledge or permission.
  8. Also, if DRM is accepted by governments, there is a perverse incentive to protect DRM by legally silencing knowledge of DRM. This is politically dangerous.
  9. We should be concerned about “Human Rights” implications of future technologies, computers in and around people.
  10. We should be more stringent about the “Property Rights” angle- if you own a product, why can’t you do what you want with it?
    That’s not all.
  11. Let’s assume a clean (and, frankly, improbable) victory in the “War on General Purpose Computing”. The next step is a “Civil War”, between Owners and Users. Many people use computers they don’t own. Many more situations like these will develop in the future. There will be hairy situations with implants, self-driving cars, etc that involve questions of liability, security, freedom, etc: “This isn’t a problem I know how to solve. Unlike the War on General Purpose Computers, the Civil War over them presents a series of conundra without (to me) any obvious solutions. These problems are a way off, and they only arise if we win the war over general purpose computing first. But come victory day, when we start planning the constitutional congress for a world where regulating computers is acknowledged as the wrong way to solve problems, let’s not paper over the division between property rights and human rights. This is the sort of division that, while it festers, puts the most vulnerable people in our society in harm’s way. Agreeing to disagree on this one isn’t good enough. We need to start thinking now about the principles we’ll apply when the day comes. If we don’t start now, it’ll be too late.”

 

 II. Daniel Estrada’s “Field Guide from the Present on Organisms of the Future”

It’s difficult not to just “excerpt” the entire post. I will just paste the first part of three and leave it to the reader to investigate the rest of the article.

1. On Organisms

a. Organisms are persistent complex systems with functionally differentiated components engaged in a cooperative, dynamic pattern of activity.

b. Organisms typically[1] play a role as components of other organisms. Similarly, the components of organisms are typically themselves organisms. Organisms may have components at many different scales relative to other organisms.

c. The components of organisms can be widely distributed in space and time. Each component will typically play multiple, cascading roles for many different organisms at many different scales.

d. There are no general rules for identifying the components of an organism. It may be easier to identify the persistent organism itself than to identify its components or the roles they play.

e. The persistence of an organism consists in the persistent cooperation of its components. The organism just is this pattern of cooperation among components. This pattern may be observed without full knowledge of its components or the particular role they play. This resolves the apparent paradoxes in 1d.

f. Organisms develop over time, which is to say that the components of an organism may change radically in number and role over its lifetime. This development is sensitive to initial conditions and is subject to a potentially large number of constraints. Among these constraints are the frictions introduced by the cooperative activity itself.

g. The cooperation of the components of an organism is also constrained by components that are common to many of the organism’s other components. It is against the background of these common components that cooperation takes place. Common components typically constrain the cooperation of the components of many other organisms, and provide anchors for identifying the cooperative relationships among organisms as a community. For this reason, common components may be thought of as the environment in which a community of organisms develop[2]. A component is more central in a community as more organisms within the community have that component as a common constraint on cooperation.

h. Space and time are central components that constrain the development of all organisms.

i. The lifetime of all organisms is finite, but may be irregular or even discontinuous in both space and time.

I like the format but it seems to take a lot of preemptive thought to get a satisfyingly dense post this way. I am more prone to idling on an idea for barely long enough to capture it (I abuse words like “sketching” or “mulling” to describe my pathological lack of focus). This is something that a blog has really helped me with.