Random Numbers

The power of utter randomness. Given time, any and all processes and information can be duplicated exactly. However, the larger and more precise the process, the less probably the duplication will be. However, what if you consider a sequence where it isn’t random? What if you consider a sequence designed to efficiently produce a specific sequence in random fashion? Does this have broader implications for encryption, compression, or encoding? Does this mean that intellectual property is contradictory and unethical? Do random numbers have some critical functional significance for human intelligence, or the workings of the universe?

Randomness is perfect noise; chaos. Infinite randomness therefore includes all possible strings of information. All possible strings of information therefore includes all specific strings of information- movies, books, classified documents, you know whatever. As the categorical example goes: pi is normal. Therefore, everyone who converts pi to decimal or binary form has just infringed on every copyright that exists, has existed, and ever will exist simultaneously. You just pirated every state secret, every bit of juicy, dripping tabloid scum, and every grand work of art that will ever exist. True, we don’t know pi is normal but if the logic holds then any noise-generating algorithm will work just as well. Any process that is normal, or generates perfect noise, or can in any other fashion be used to reproduce copyrighted works, must be banned.

Of course this is bullshit. If you banned the creation of random numbers… I don’t even want to think about it. “Seven.”

“Why did you say seven?”

“I don’t know”

“Alright sonny, you’re coming with us. We’re going downtown.”

Theoretically, the more unlikely someone else is to duplicate a specific string of information then the more right the “creator” has to it. It’s extremely unlikely that a noise algorithm will reproduce, let’s say the movie I Am Legend, in a *timely* manner. However, a noise algorithm would reasonably quickly produce the ASCII code for the word “orange” or perhaps a short sentence. So you can’t copyright the word “orange” or the number 7, but you can copyright I Am Legend. Theoretically.

However, this model is fraught with issues. Firstly, does that mean that I have more right to my 1000-page book than I do to my 100-page book? A random number generator is exponentially less likely to produce a longer or more information-dense work. Does this mean that any work less than X bits in size is open source, but greater than X is closed-source?

Next let’s try the argument from economics. There exists a commodity that can be reproduced for no charge. What is the cost of this commodity? That’s a good question, yes indeed. If you’re the one selling it, obviously you’re looking for a reason to charge for it. Much of the time, even the most basic commodities have costs associated with them: the sale of water involves a physical commodity that had to either be pumped to your house, or bottled in a plant. A piece of paper had to be created from lumber, etc. etc. However, information can be duplicated for absolutely no charge. We’ve been doing this since the dawn of civilization. How do you teach a baby a language? You can hire a tutor, but then you’re not paying for the information, you’re paying for the tutor’s time. Now this is where things seem to get a little grey; what happens if you buy a book. You’re buying a bunch of paper with a cover, and some ink in interesting shapes on the pages. The book cost money to produce, undoubtedly. Here’s the crunch: some books, let’s say book A and book B are of equivalent page length, equivalent cost of physical production, and have the same quantity of information. This is not to say they have the same content; only that if you converted them into binary they could each be represented by the same amount of data. But somehow, one book sells better than the other. The people selling the book will clearly say, “look, look, everyone wants book A because the information in it is more valuable!” And then because book A sells more, the vendors will charge more for it; supply and demand. Seems logical, right?

The fact that A sells better than B does not indicate that information contained within A is intrinsically more valuable than B’s. It does not logically follow that information has fiscal value in consumer terms. What if B is written by a genius philosopher who will remain undiscovered until three hundred years after his death, and his book will be widely hailed as one of the greatest works of all time for enlightening humanity. As a case, that situation in no way conflicts with A selling better than B. As a matter of fact, I’d say the true geniuses are the ones so far ahead of their time that nobody in their time will buy their stuff. Works of quality are generally superseded by what is “popular”- this is an obvious, and also common sentiment.

The fact of the matter is that there is quite a lot less money to be made selling things like books and movies than the industry has been predicated upon. Another fact of the matter is that virtually all of that little money to be made, in a naturalistic system, would end up in the hands of the creator(s). Such industries are disgustingly contorted and inflated to maximize revenue. They have no qualms about hyping, sensationalizing, and swamping anything that they need to to maximize income.

For books, all the publisher is providing is the paper and printing services- but somehow they make all the money. The Book Industry Study Group says the book industry encompassed a net revenue of $34.59 billion in 2005, and will reach $40.4 billion by 2010. Para Publishing disagrees, saying the industry’s net revenue is $34.63 billion, and goes on to claim 2.3 billion books are sold each year. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but 2.3 billion books goes into $34.5 billion 15 times, so the average book cost $15. The printing cost for said book, shall we say, is not $15. It is, unsurprisingly, remarkably difficult to find good data on the cost of physically printing a commercially distributed book. But culling from a dozen independent print companies’ websites I’ve concluded it probably costs about $4 to $5 to print a $15 book. Printed in bulk, the price per unit must drop, hence the profitability of being a publisher. But the insane 3x to 4x price increase is justified only by conceptual wrangling.

For movies, the discrepancy is even worse. A modern movie is a multimillion dollar undertaking, funded by an elite core of wealthy, professional publishers. It just doesn’t cost that much to make a movie. What happened? The nature of a movie is that once created, it becomes profitable for each theater seat sold afterward, and for each disc sale. A theater seat is a fairly simple commercial exchange: you are paying for the use of the screen, and your seat. They can charge based on the number of people interested, at a slight but steady profit. Because of the nature of theater sales, a movie that goes box-office is going to get millions of viewers, and there are huge revenues to be made. This caused moviemakers to anticipate, enabling them to increase the cost of their movies thinking to make them better and win a bigger slice of that enormous theater-seat pie. Advertising is devastatingly effective at promoting movies in such an environment, and huge advertising budgets are a no-brainer. Pretty soon you see bad movies wasting millions, and people watching them anyway because they’re so heavily advertised and there are few truly great movies created anymore. A disc, too, is fairly simple. They made something that you want to own. However, in both cases “the movie” is adding some imaginary value. A DVD costs only cents to make, plus a few more cents of some disc burner’s activity. That’s all you’re paying for. Plus the box, the package, and the profit of the seller. However the enormous cost of producing the movie left a huge burden on the producer, on anyone the producer sells the rights to, and ultimately that price falls on the consumer. In order to justify their overcharging- which they can no longer stop by their own volition- they start pushing legislation around. At the end of the day, they’re selling you information. Information which they have to protect as an industry through legislative artifice to maintain their profit margins.

I could go on about the music industry, but that horse is dead. The RIAA was purporting an unstable market model from the beginning, and it was only a matter of time before someone figured that out and cut them out of the picture. Change is painful, both to individuals and to industries. Uncertainty clouds our judgment more than it should. With the advent of TiVo, companies started with that knee-jerk response of “how can we protect our ads?” before realizing that, you know, the old ad model was just dead. New systems with new possibilities opened up. Viral advertising over the internet, for example. Making ads entertaining to watch, so that consumers would actively seek them out. With the music industry, they just need to figure out that music costs nothing to distribute. In Rainbows demonstrated the new model, and that’s just how it’s got to be. In the music industry’s case, we’re proposing to the T-Rex that they should just lay down and die because the new, superior species is here, so of course they’re not going to. They’re going to fight to the last breath to keep that money rolling. But they’ll lose eventually. Whoever’s running the US government needs to figure that out and hasten their demise instead of making it a protracted and difficult death. I can conceive of few legislative insanities quite as insidious as using American taxpayers to burden American consumers. The problem with government is that impossible, insane things can be decreed, and cause countless cascading fantastic effects. Take a lesson from Mao Zedong and don’t decree that “steel production shall be tripled in five years”- it’ll be done in the technical sense, but every conceivable aspect of every facet of every nook and cranny of your country’s people, economy, and society will be destroyed to meet an imaginary technicality. Millions starved, technology was shot, and all the money evaporated.

Government can easily, in a breath, do that. It is critically important that we avoid that type of policy, and follow a rational, sensible, and flexible mode of thinking, particularly about such matters of import. We need to be a force for change, pressuring companies to continue to work for us, to press them to change with the times. It’s a war; they want to take advantage of us, and we want to take advantage of them. If all goes well, we’ll be evenly matched and meet in the middle, each getting a fair deal.

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4 Responses to “Random Numbers”

  1. TV Movies Soaps » Random Numbers Says:

    […] Evan Jensen added an interesting post today on Random NumbersHere’s a small readingThe fact of the matter is that there is quite a lot less money to be made selling things like books and movies than the industry has been predicated upon. Another fact of the matter is that virtually all of that little money to be made, … […]

  2. Random numbers - Random Numbers Says:

    […] less likely to produce a longer or more information-dense work. Does this mean that any work … Read more… | Suggest Tags: Random We sell USB2.0 flash drive sd card MP3 MP4 card reader Look for :  […]

  3. Money shot » Random Numbers Says:

    […] post by The Zen Stoic and software by Elliott Back This entry is filed under Money shot. You can follow any responses […]

  4. Dan Poynter Says:

    Scholarly observations. Thank you.

    See http://BookStatistics.com
    and note that the numbers referenced cite their sources.
    In other words, the numbers are not ours; we are just reporting on them.


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