The Sample Hour – Drew is joined by the very intelligent Darrell Becker. Drew and Darrell discuss the Neal Stephenson Novel the diamond age and Darrell’s essay that was inspired by the book “MAKING GOVERNMENTS OBSOLETE – An Analogy with Examples” (link) Got to Darrell’s page and make a contribution: http://voluntaryvisions.com/ Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheSampleHour
Based on this book:
My speculative Essay:
MAKING GOVERNMENTS OBSOLETE – Analogies and Examples Drawn from an Examination of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Two people in this novel, some time into a foreseeable future, are having a discussion about the contemporary (to them, in their world) properties of data transference. One of the characters, Miranda, wishes to “back-trace” a payer of a specific interactive (noun: “ractive”, verb: “racting”) digital entertainment contracted performance. Unfortunately for Miranda, the system of data transference in this future world is not the same as what is available to most of us reading this essay. The other character, Carl, is attempting to describe the shear improbability of being able to break through the cryptographically-secure connections between the payer and the contracted performer, in either direction, and be able to identify each participant.
“How does media work, then?” [Miranda]
“Look out the window. Not toward the Bund, check out Yan’an Road.” [Carl]
Miranda swiveled her head around to look out the big window, which was partly painted over with colorful Coke ads and descriptions of blue plate specials. Yan’an Road, like all of the major thoroughfares in Shanghai, was filled, from the shop windows on one side to the shop windows on the other, with people on bicycles and powerskates. In many places the traffic was so dense that greater speed could be attained on foot. A few half-lane vehicles sat motionless, polished boulders in a sluggish brown stream.
It was so familiar that Miranda didn’t really see anything. “What am I looking for?”
“Notice how no one’s empty-handed? They’re all carrying something.”
Carl was right. At a minimum, everyone had a small plastic bag with something in it. Many people, such as the bicyclists, carried heavier loads.
“Now just hold that image in your head for a moment, and think about how to set up a global telecommunications network.”
Miranda laughed. “I don’t have any basis for thinking about something like that.”
“Sure you do. Until now, you’ve been thinking in terms of the telephone system in the old passives. In that system, each transaction had two participants, the two people having the conversation. And they were connected by a wire that ran through a central switchboard. So what are the key features of this system?”
“I don’t know, I’m asking you,” said Miranda.
“Number one, only two people, or entities, can interact.
Number two, it uses a dedicated connection that is made and then broken for the purposes of that one conversation. Number three, it is inherently centralized, it can’t work unless there is a central switchboard.”
“Okay, I think I’m following you so far.”
“Our media system today, the one that you and I make our livings from, is a descendant of the phone system only insofar as we use it for essentially the same purposes, plus many, many more. But the key point to remember is that it is totally different from the old phone system. The old phone system, and its technological cousin, the cable TV system, tanked. It crashed and burned decades ago, and we started virtually from scratch.”
“Why? It worked, didn’t it?”
“First of all, we needed to enable interactions between more than one entity. What do I mean by entity? Well, think about the ractives. Think about First Class to Geneva [a specific contracted interactive performance]. You’re on this train, so are a couple of dozen other people. Some of those people are being racted, so in that case the entities happen to be human beings. But others, like the waiters and porters, are just software robots. Furthermore, the train is full of props: jewelry, money, guns, bottles of wine. Each one of those is also a separate piece of software, a separate entity. In the lingo, we call them objects. The train itself is another object, and so is the countryside through which it travels.
“The countryside is a good example. It happens to be a digital map of France. Where did this map come from? Did the makers of First Class to Geneva send out their own team of surveyors to make a new map of France? No, of course they didn’t. They used existing data, a digital map of the world that is available to any maker of ractives who needs it, for a price of course. That digital map is a separate object. It resides in the memory of a computer somewhere. Where exactly? I don’t know. Neither does the ractive itself. It doesn’t matter. The data might be in California, it might be in Paris, it might be down at the corner, or it might be distributed among all of those places and many more. It doesn’t matter. Because our media system no longer works like the old system, dedicated wires passing through a central switchboard. It works like that.” Carl pointed to the traffic on the street again.
“So each person on the street is like an object?”
“Possibly. But a better analogy is that the objects are people like us, sitting in various buildings that front on the street. Suppose that we want to send a message to someone over in Pudong. We write the message down on a piece of paper, and we go to the door and hand it to the first person who goes by and say, ‘Take this to Mr. Gu in Pudong.’ And he skates down the street for a while and runs into someone on a bicycle who looks like he might be headed for Pudong, and says, ‘Take this to Mr. Gu.’ A minute later, that person gets stuck in traffic and hands it off to a pedestrian who can negotiate the snarl a little better, and so on and so on, until eventually it reaches Mr. Gu. When “Mr. Gu wants to respond, he sends us a message in the same way.”
“So there’s no way to trace the path taken by a message.”
“Right. And the real situation is even more complicated. The media net was designed from the ground up to provide privacy and security, so that people could use it to transfer money. That’s one reason the nation-states collapsed, as soon as the media grid was up and running, financial transactions could no longer be monitored by governments, and the tax collection systems got fubared [FUBAR = f***ed up beyond all recognition]. So if the old IRS, for example, wasn’t able to trace these messages, then there’s no way that you’ll be able to track down Princess Nell [a character in this novel whom Miranda was seeking] .
This is a from a different part of the novel, where Carl is pondering the actual necessities for accomplishing the highly improbable task of breaking through such levels of encryption:
“The cryptographic systems that made the media network run securely, and that made it capable of securely transferring money, were based on the use of immense prime numbers as magic keys. The keys could theoretically be broken by throwing enough computing power at the problem. But at any given level of computing power, code-making was always much easier than code-breaking, so as long as the system kept moving to larger and larger prime numbers as computers got faster, the code-makers could stay far ahead of the code-breakers forever.”
Quotes from The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
It is my speculation that the cryptographically-secured systems being innovated today, these peer-to-peer, open source, distributed services, the most notorious being Bitcoin, and the Bitcoin Blockchain, an enourmous and growing ledger of data and transactions. As of this writing there are hundreds of other blockchains of various sizes, subject to a variety of creative attributes, all seeking the same levels of security and efficiency portrayed in the above novel. Security (via being untraceable) and efficiency (via being un-taxable, un-regulatable, and virtually unstoppable, thus economically efficient) are two of the attributes such distributed, decentralized systems such as these various blockchains are something I would speculate are attempts at attaining what is described in The Diamond Age. Some have speculated that the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto (the pseudonym used for the original “White Paper” describing the methodologies used in creating Bitcoin and the Blockchain) happens to be none other than Neal Stephenson.
Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System
Abstract. A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online
payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a
financial institution. Digital signatures provide part of the solution, but the main
benefits are lost if a trusted third party is still required to prevent double-spending.
We propose a solution to the double-spending problem using a peer-to-peer network.
The network timestamps transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of
hash-based proof-of-work, forming a record that cannot be changed without redoing
the proof-of-work. The longest chain not only serves as proof of the sequence of
events witnessed, but proof that it came from the largest pool of CPU power. As
long as a majority of CPU power is controlled by nodes that are not cooperating to
attack the network, they’ll generate the longest chain and outpace attackers. The
network itself requires minimal structure. Messages are broadcast on a best effort
basis, and nodes can leave and rejoin the network at will, accepting the longest
proof-of-work chain as proof of what happened while they were gone.
Excerpt from the above “Dealer’s Choice” article:
“An experiment against the status quo”
“Beyond just providing another outlet for me to pass the time with extremely low-stakes poker, I find Bitcoin interesting for a number of reasons. It’s fascinating to me how such a radical idea – decentralized currency, seemingly lifted straight from the work of science fiction author Neal Stephenson – has taken hold so quickly here in the real world. You can buy gold and silver with Bitcoins; you can buy domains and hosting services with Bitcoin; you can even donate to some political candidates with Bitcoin. There’s no real chance of Bitcoin taking the place of the US dollar anytime soon, but it’s growing as an alternative for some people and that’s exciting as any challenge to the status quo is when the status quo becomes dysfunctional.”
I do not categorically make the claim that “Satoshi Nakamoto” is, indeed, the same person as Neal Stephenson. Neal, if you’re reading this, thank you so much for the amazing books, and I’m sure you’re not Satoshi, though I wouldn’t mind it at all if you were. I only wished to use this specific, entertaining example of ideas and speculations and creative inventions in order to illustrate a decentralized approach to modern problems created by the many centralized, coercive monopolies of regulation and enforcement: states, governments and other incorporated entities, essentially. It seems, from my research, that if you investigate all local and regional governments, you might likely find that they are all “legally filed” as various types of corporations, filing a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) every year. It has also seemed that the barriers to people raising themselves up, joining together, adding value to each other’s lives and enhancing each other’s security, wealth, respect and freedom of choice, it has seemed to me that these barriers seem to be created by monopoly governments and states, and the myriad of agencies and apparatuses used by such powerful regulating, financial and military conglomerates. These are barriers to the entry of many kinds of business (via expensive permits and licenses, preventing apprenticeships and favoring expensive schooling methods focused upon arbitrary metrics of assessment). These are barriers between customers and clients (via taxes, the expense of which must be passed on to clients, thus limiting the quantity of people who have access to quality services and goods). These are also barriers between individuals and themselves (via formative damage, during childhood and “schooling”, to the capacity for critical thinking and the skills of internal and emotional harmony), which thereby leads to damaged individuals who cannot connect and collaborate effectively with their own family, friends, community and colleagues.
This is my personal caution for the reader of this essay: Please pay attention to these signs of the times: decentralized methodologies are here, they will be constantly innovated, and there is the potential for the tyranny of centralized monopolies of all sorts (government, military, corporate, finance, ecclesiastic, medical, etc.) to be supplanted in the same manner being described in Stephenson’s books. I invite you, the reader: Please investigate this subject, please support innovators of such technologies and tools, and be please prepared and ready to come together with likeminded individuals, nearby and distributed across this world, for the purpose of finding substantial answers to these two questions:
“What is the purpose of my interaction (with whoever this is that I’m attempting to collaborate with)?”
“How can we both help to make life more wonderful, for all concerned individuals?”