The Technology of Labor in the 21st Century

There are two possible ways the world might look in the distant future, or perhaps even the not-so-distant future.

The first is a world filled with people empowered by technology, as we develop increasingly sophisticated tools to enable people to speak freely, associate freely, control their property and direct their own destinies. The story of this world is of a revolution in technology granting greater power to more people, freeing them from needs both economic and political. A world where every person’s powers of choice and control of their own destiny is protected both by technology and by the universal agreement of all that those rights are worth protecting.

The second is not so rosy. The second version of the future world is filled with people repressed by increasingly sophisticated tools to control them. Pervasive surveillance watches everything that everyone does. Advanced predictive algorithms multiply the effectiveness of mass data collection by making inferences about other aspects of a person’s life. The benefits of technology are consolidated in the hands of a few people who own enough capital to have large interests in major corporations. New technologies developed by these corporations are leveraged to make money.

The problem here is that an endless train of small, separate decisions which in isolation appear reasonable, will nevertheless lead us down the road to world #2.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Morality of Socialism

For some reason in the news recently there has been a great deal of discussion about socialism, most often with respect to the Obama health care plan. Before I start ripping into socialism as an idea, I think it’s important for me to point out that I see virtually nothing in any Obama policy that smacks of socialism.

Socialism as a theoretical framework is quite simple to disprove on moral grounds- by any classical argument in favor of the inalienable right of property. However, the people who advocate for welfare programs tend to disagree on the grounds that property is not an inalienable right. Moreover, they will argue that there are people who need help, who are unable to help themselves, and that the agency to help them may as well be the government. Especially since the government is in the business of taking responsibility for its citizens. So the issue is not as clear-cut as many conservatives will claim it is. In fact, I would say pretty much everything is more complex and nuanced than any conservative in the media has the neurons to understand. On the other hand, conservatives do tend to be conservative because deductions from moral frameworks make sense to them, where a liberal instead prefers arguments from emotion, relativism, and pragmatism in chaos. This is not to say that the political strategies they use reflects these paradigms, in fact it tends to be the opposite, where conservatives use smear campaigns, evocative language, and outright lies, and liberals use deliberate logical arguments from effect, which are principally arguments from pragmatism. It is somewhat sad that nobody seems able to reconcile theory with pragmatism- it’s not terribly difficult as long as the theory is sufficiently complete and the points where it is flexible are known.

Anyway, modern “socialism” is really a question of whether liberal democratic welfare programs are morally justified. The conservatives throw hissy fits and cry socialism, and the liberals claim it will address the issues. The conservatives claim the government is going to increase taxes to finance wasteful programs, the liberals claim big business is screwing everyone over and Big Daddy government must step in to save us.

First of all, I would like to point out that both sides of the argument are intrinsically linked, like two sides of a coin. Capitalism allows for owners and shareholders to profit from their businesses and holdings, which can through some wrangling be framed as waste. Conversely, the government can take some of the money in circulation through commerce and salary in sales and income tax, and that can be framed as a waste. There is a finite amount of money in circulation, and claiming that it is a waste when party :X acquires it is erroneous. My reason for this is that it is the nature of money to be spent. Government taxes, in large part, recirculate back into the economy because the government pays for services, in very large part to parties in their own country. Similarly, big business takes its money and either reinvests into itself, pays off its suppliers, or ends up in its employees and executives’ bank accounts. It could be said that overseas commerce and outsourcing “leaks” money, but that is absurd. In the act of paying for labor, a service or act of production is purchased in return, which presumably is worth more than the cost of the labor or it wouldn’t be worth making. If this product is then sold, a profit is made, and also the worker now has a little cash to spend which will recirculate. This process in economics is called the multiplier effect, where one dollar actually does a great deal more than one dollar’s work in the course of a year because it changes hands many times. So this issue of “it’s a waste if X acquires money” is really a question over who has control of that money. The one who controls that money has just that measure of extra power. So, which entity would you vest that power in? This is the fundamental question of welfare programs.

Now, as much as it pains the anarcho-capitalist in me to say this, you don’t necessarily want a company as they exist today to handle some concerns. Development of civilization proceeds in many dimensions, not just technological. The invention of the check caused a revolution of the “web of trust” between people and financial institutions. Before that network existed, credit as we know it was inconceivable. It was a recipe for being ripped off, and the economy was locked into a coin-or-barter mode, except between friends. In truth, it’s not as clean as the development of a technology, for example laws against usury and distrust of Jews and all this nonsense. Anyway, my point is that social development of society allows things which could not have happened before in a similar way that technological development does, it’s just as absolute as “the invention of the airplane- 1904- now we can fly!” It is my belief that government is one of those features that has been evolved over time, and whose evolution is not yet finished. At some time in the future we will not need it anymore, but given our current level of societal development and technological capability, it is most likely a necessary evil. This is not to say we should not try to develop past it as quickly as possible.

Karl Marx was unquestionably a brilliant man, although his theories are not exactly the font of human social development. Nevertheless I think he may have contributed at least one very important idea to the body of human knowledge. When the power of production drastically outstrips the wants and needs of an entire society, then we will have a utopia, materially at least, where everyone has everything they want. The social side is a separate issue, and is in my opinion infinitely more important to creating the sort of utopia that all theoretical political science is predicated upon producing. Now the question is, what is the best method of reaching a stage when we have that sort of productive power at our fingertips? Is it welfare programs, or by technological innovation? My favorite new and upcoming technology is rapid prototyping- check out RepRap. This one technology has the power to obviate material products at a stroke, by having a ubiquitous machine that can produce nearly anything. More advanced later versions will follow quickly, using that very device, and we may well have a true make-anything-machine very soon after that. Now, Marx believed that this world would be Communist in nature. I would react that communism is essentially capitalism where money is no longer relevant in day-to-day life. The best explanation for this is that goods and services change hands so easily that the monetary system is not worth its upkeep.

Those who argue that there are people who are poor and destitute need to be helped by the government providing welfare programs are reacting instinctively, their conscience is grating against the injustice. To some extent that’s fine, although it gets a little out of hand when you see this righteous indignation that some people are fabulously wealthy while others are poor. In any reasonable world there will be a set of choices which anyone can choose from, some of which will result in poverty. I don’t mean to say that all poverty is controllable- there are many, many unfortunates who had no opportunity to do anything else. The mentally ill, the handicapped, the people saddled with medical bills unexpectedly, there are all kinds of possibilities for being poor beyond all control. One stance is that the problem then becomes to differentiate between the deserving and the undeserving. My issue with this position is that any judgment on who is deserving and who is not is made by an agent who will lack a clear and objective metric. So whoever chooses to help one or more of these people is excluding others for subjective reasons. The only way this could possibly work is if it is entirely acceptable for those subjective reasons to be valid, and subjectivity is not something a government should EVER mix itself up in, because then corruption and misuse of public resources will run rampant. So private organizations should pick up the slack, offering resources where they can or choose to, and if they exclude someone for subjective or arbitrary or even completely bone-deep-corrupt reasons, it’s not morally nice but it is entirely within their purview. The government, on the other hand, by reserving the use of force restricts itself to a much higher moral standard that is virtually impossible to meet for beings with human-level intelligence, much less a conglomerate of them. A corruption of the use of force is a terrible, terrible moral crime, while a refusal to give alms to a beggar, however deserving, is not a big deal. Any policy the government might use to help the poor is subject to a host of issues stemming from this problem. But then, so does everything the government does, so it’s not like this will deter them.

My central point is that pragmatism at the expense of ethics is a bad idea in the long run, no matter how good your intentions. The poor and the underprivileged are much better served by advancing technology and social progress than by any attempt to simply hand them their daily bread. Now, I would be open to an argument that instituting government health care is itself a push towards social progress, but that is a very different type of argument than nearly all arguments being put forth in its defense, which tend to run something along the lines of “evil insurance companies! government good! Simple solution!” With the other side pretty much barking the reverse, and decrying that the solution is just as simple. It is not simple, and I hope to hear some real arguments for a change, instead of catering to the reptilian brain of people too stupid to think their way out of a wet cardboard box.

Intellectual Property’s Conundrum

There has been a great deal of conversation about intellectual property on the internet, with a recent uptick with regard to the IsoHunt incidents and other torrent sites.  In this post I intend to address the root ethical and economic issue imposed by intellectual property in, I hope, an objectve and reasonable perspective.

In order to do so thoroughly, I’m going to start with my own opinion and then the valid arguments of the opposition.  I believe that the modern take on intellectual property is, not to put too fine a point on it, insane.  There are so many gray areas introduced by the current legislation in everything from the right to patent genes that actually exist in people for commercial benefit by those who discovered them, software patent lunacy, etc. etc.  Now, I come pretty close to out and out declaring that intellectual property is foolish because you can’t own information sequences.  But there are certain facts that make this just an unreasonable expectation.

Firstly, there are a large number of very legitimate issues with a truly free information marketplace.  Firstly, there exists information that loses its value if it’s made public.  That said, this doesn’t mean that would-be patent owners should have their rights voided if the patent information is divulged before they apply for a patent.  This represents an impinging of the legal realm onto clear-cut ethics. Also, if we were unable to pay the creators of intellectual property, nobody would do it.  So we would be left without our most important industrial sector- the idea-people.  Artists would have to get “real jobs” instead of being full-time creators, and there would be all these other issues or “brain drain.”  Trade secrets are necessary because they can’t be protected any other way.  If Coca-Cola released their recipe, you could go to the grocery store and pick up enough ingredients to make it yourself.  Without their secret recipe, they have a lot of hardware and workers but nothing to do with them.  Also, copyrights are necessary so the creators are actually the ones who make money off of their inventions.  If anyone at all could steal their knowledge and clone their work, the original creator earns nothing for their efforts.

After all that, I still believe that information should be freer than it is.  There are a lot of people who want to convince you that intellectual property is confusing, has lots of gray areas, and that it’s a difficult problem.  It’s really not, unless you look at it through legal goggles which only let you see the current situation’s madness.  The underlying principles are very simple.  First and foremost, you can’t apply the same conception of physical property to intellectual property as we’ve been trying to do.  It’s trying to creatively fit a square peg into a round hole.  Can’t be done without damaging something, either the peg or the frame.  Just so, you can’t give more rights to the people or to the rights-holders without damaging the other.  At least to me, this indicates that we have erred somewhere, perhaps seriously.  Regarding the above paragraph, all those problems refer to information or processes related to physical products, not information-based products.  Different rules apply.

What can I posibly mean, you say?  Let’s take a look at the preeminent information product: software.  Software is generally treated as though it was a physical product, even to the point that you can go to a store and buy it off the shelf.  This is no longer as true as it once was, but in large part physical media are still the main distribution method.  However, software can be copied without limit.  Anyone can share their software with anyone else, even if you’ve never met or even seen them, using the internet.  So how do software developers react to this dilemma?  They try to lock down their software into a physical form.  They create DRM, use product keys, registration, encrypted channels, etc. etc.

I have a better idea.  How about taking advantage of all the power that this medium has to offer?  Distribute your product at the fastest possible rate you can by giving it away, for free.  Give away your best material, and let everyone who cares pay for the rest.  Software developers have an especially cushy position in this matter, since software requires updates.  Shareware has tried a type of marketing like this using free trials.  But what I’m saying is that the software doesn’t have to be the money-making vector of software developers.  Give away the software, and if enough people start to use it, then you can make money from them in a huge variety of ways.  The easiest way is to simply ask for donations, and this has worked well in the past.  However as a successful large business model, donations limit growth severely.  They also limit the capital available for getting more resources.  As such, donationware works for small businesses, but large companies need a more formal structure.  They could still ask, but maybe they’re too grown-up for that.  OK, how about a subscription model?  If you subscribe to a particular software firm, they give you all their software (which is free anyway), support, updates, additional resources, and even physical products.  This can work, especially for well-established small-medium businesses which have a lineup of software to offer.

All these models share two features.  One, the vendor has to demonstrate value before the customer has to pay for it.  There is absolutely no reason that I would ever pay for a song without having heard it, software without having used it (except on recommendation), and so on.  Movies use previews to give an impression of familiarity and value without actually spoiling the movie.  iTunes shows you a teaser clip of a song to make you feel that you know it enough to buy it.  In this respect, piracy is necessarily a part of information exchange.  In order to sell information, I have to tell you enough to make you willing to pay for it.  Of course, oftentimes that means I’ve told you enough that you don’t even have to pay for it anyway.  This is the conundrum of intellectual property that everyone is trying to wrestle with.  How do you force someone to pay for something they don’t know, or make sure that the vendor gets payment for something they have provided, without infringing on either party.

The bottom line?  You can’t.  It’s a contradiction in terms.  The common approach is to give the information and payment in multiple installments to confirm compliance.  I show you a trailer for free, you pay for it, and I give you the movie/song/game.  In situations like these, the property model is fundamentally broken.  The only reaction is that you can’t “own” it because in order to distribute it, you have to violate your own ownership.  Copyright’s solution is to give people different rights.  This person whom we shall legally deem the Creator, has the rights to duplicate, distribute, and profit from specific works, while the rest of the world doesn’t.  So, we have transformed an information set into a meta-information identity which we attach to its creator and there can be only one of by definition.

The solution is to flatten out the information space.  The information is not an object, and encapsulating it with abstractions and legal jibberjabber won’t change that.  Pirates know it full well.  So the old model of the “product” as the monymaking vector is broken with intellectual property.  So what?  Make the act of producing intellectual property the profit vector.  If you want software from a certain company which needs money to do it, you had damn well better give them the money they say they’ll need from you.  Otherwise, you can’t expect that they’ll produce it.  That’s just hypocritical.  You’re not entitled to the fruit of their labors implicitly.  You can’t expect that they will work for you anyway.  The objective of intellectual property, the intelligence industry, if you will, is to constantly produce new things, not the production of property.  So why not reward that pursuit, instead of treating it as property?  It’s the job of factories to produce stuff, and to the degree they produce stuff, they should be rewarded.  It’s the job of a thinker to think of new, useful things.  To the degree that they think of new, useful things, they should be rewarded.  Not to the degree that the product of their labor is produced.  As a metric of usefulness, that’s just going to need a committee or a court or other legal nonsense to decide if it’s useful, novel, non-obvious, etc. etc.  The ultimate judge of the value of the thinker should be the degree to which people wish them to continue working.  SImple

Net Neutrality

An issue near and dear to my heart, indeed.  It’s a foolhardy name- we need to call it “net freedom” or something.  However, that’s not what this post is about.  I’m going to cover the issue as objectively as possible.

First, the entrenched enemy.  Companies like Comcast, who own the internet’s basic data transmission infrastructure, are completely justified in their claims that they have the right to use their infrastructure however they please.  The people who respond to the net neutrality issue with the knee-jerk “we’ll get the government to make it illegal!” are foolish children having their candy taken from them.  Bringing the government to bear on the management of the internet is an incredibly bad idea, firstly because the internet is international.  However let’s not ignore the fact that the government will mismanage a medium such as the internet, and how centralized control will not be helpful to the internet anyway.  I believe that Comcast is free to do whatever it wants with its own hardware.  The rub comes from how Comcast probably has sufficient power to enforce such controls over other companies, possibly from an agreement.  This breach of market equilibrium means that Comcast has limited rein to just screw us over.  Without that assurance, blatantly screwing your customers is a ticket to bankruptcy.  But if those customers have no choice…  The problem isn’t Comcast’s right to use its infrastructure, it’s Comcast’s power to oligopolize the industry.  Still, there are people who would claim, “alright, then let’s get the government to nail them for anti-trust violations!”  While better than trying to directly control Comcast’s business model, it’s still a bad answer.

To give Comcast et al. a little credit which they seem oblivious to, it may well be that metered internet is the best path for the future.  With our unlimited model, there is no real penalty for colossal data inefficiency.  Sure, the awful file type will take longer to download and eat your hard drive space, and scripts, protocols, or instructions might be horrifyingly inefficient, but there’s no actual fiscal cost.  If the internet were metered, then as a web client you are going to expect a certain degree of respect for your bandwidth.  Websites arrogantly squandering your bandwidth for ads had better have the services to back it up.  Currently we assume that a metered internet will look just like the current internet, just more expensive and charged by the byte.  Not necessarily.  For most users it will probably be cheaper.  And, there may be new systems built in to improve the user experience.  For example, you might have a browser master control panel which gives you control every byte you download, and allows you to easily lock out unwanted sites’ data.  There would be a strong incentive to create double-layer security and user facility protocols, a default deny data acquisition model, streamlined packet handling, and so on.  On a grander scale, older and obsolete file types or programming languages and paradigms will be upgraded and phased out more quickly, giving you more bang for your hardware dollar (and software too).

Much of my audience is probably ready to throw up by now.  Just to make this clear- I DO NOT support Comcast and their cohorts in their efforts to strangle the internet.  However, I disagree with the alarmists who think that a metered internet is a dead internet.  It will be a very different internet, to be sure, but we can be resourceful.  Firstly, who says we have to do business with people who are screwing us?  And if they oligopolize the industry and give us no choice, then we can do it ourselves.  Buy your own fiber optics lines and connect your neighborhood together, then add lines to other places, etc. etc.  Comcast isn’t doing anything that is somehow impossible for your average Joe, although they would like you to think so.  If you, not Comcast, own your line that connects to a hub which can go anywhere, you can choose to use Comcast’s services or you can contact lines that also choose unlimited service, etc.  It might even be totally free.  Why not?  Open source hardware is not that big a leap.  We have options- but if we go and tell Comcast that they don’t actually own their own infrastructure, we’re no better than the people chopping our media with DRM.

Of course it’s more likely to be practical to use wireless connections and navigate by hubs alone rather than having wires running everywhere- and stashing them underground is expensive.  Comcast can offer us fast, high-capacity data services while we get our own free internet in other ways, such as each house running its own wifi.  You get a hub, other people can tap your bandwidth and you can tap theirs.  You can disallow anyone you like, or everyone, wherever or whenever you like.  But then don’t expect them to permit you to use theirs.  A decentralized internet is an ideal perhaps greater than that of an unlimited data model from a vendor like Comcast.  I don’t know what’s going to happen- this is just speculation, although it seems reasonable to me that people want internet, and if they can’t get it for free from companies like Comcast we’ll start seeing inventive solutions to make it happen.  If signals can leapfrog wirelessly from house to house to commercial building to house, then that seems like a good possible solution to me.  Hey, it might even be an improvement for us not to be dependent on data services or wires.  And we may be reaping the data efficiency benefits of limited pipelines between disparate areas.  I doubt wireless technology will get powerful enough to broadcast over, say, the Pacific Ocean in the next couple years.  So fiber optics lines will probably be the best way to get lots of data around the world, fast.  If you don’t need to pay for speed, maybe a circuitous route through many low-signal areas to get to you is good enough.  I am optimistic about the outcome, either way.  If net neutrality fails, so what?  The environment changes, and we bend our intelligences to working out the problems in front of us.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what we want, since what I’ve been talking about are basically after-the-fact tactics we might employ to the same effect: getting what we want.

The Integration of Technology

Technology is a wonderful thing- but it has a serious problem. The only prerequisite to the access of technology’s power is knowledge. Or money with which to pay for the use of others’ knowledge. However in either case you can’t take advantage of knowledge that nobody has (yet) so it reduces to the same case either way. Knowledge is power in the most direct sense, in the same way that a lever is power- force times distance. For thinking, the equation is processing power times time. Knowledge applied over time produces results. While this is evidently true, few people notice it. When you get a job you are being paid to apply knowledge over time in the production of value. If you had less knowledge then you would be paid less because you would be less able to produce value. In the same sense as a lever with less force on the active end will not be able to lift as much mass. Hence the idea of property is inherently a part of being conscious; your thought and your time (freedom to use that time as you wish) belong to you exclusively. If you trade that time and thought, you can expect to receive something of equal value, at the very least, in return. However, it turns out that our minds are not just information floating in the void, and that they come prepackaged with some very sophisticated hardware we call a “body” including an advanced computer called a “brain”. So we can easily say you own your mind, therefore you own your body and therefore you own the products of time and the use of your mind and body.

So we arrive at efficiency. Two essentially identical people are told to move a hundred sacks of grain across the street. You give one a wheelbarrow. Who finishes first? They are identical, save one used a more efficient method to do their work. Technology is the exploitation of natural laws to maximum advantage relative to the human perspective. We need food, so we make agricultural technology to maximize the production of food per land area. If we ate rocks instead, we wouldn’t have agricultural technology. Rather, our mining technology would probably be significantly more advanced due to the agricultural time and thought being redirected into mining advances. Finding the tastiest rocks, if you would. Why I am saying all this? Now, we find my point. We usually consider such tricks as the physics behind a wheelbarrow as part of the natural sciences, but the design of the wheelbarrow itself is an act of engineering. Our bodies are very complex machines, but we consider their maintenance to be “medicine”, not mechanics or engineering. Philosophy is the answering of questions we can’t answer authoritatively, and science is the answering of those we can. Our minds are very powerful computers running a fascinating piece of software called Man V. 1.4 but psychology is distinct from computer science why, exactly? Where’s the boundary? These distinctions are imaginary. There is a small difference which I will get into in a bit, but right now I want to get the point across that the boundaries are like those between nations. Drawn on a map, but not actually there. Why do we split our knowledge into exclusive sections? Because that’s how we teach people, since job specialization is such a fundamental part of our economy and knowledge base. Why do we teach people that way? Because that’s how we define the different fields. “Can you say circular?” “I can say circular. Can you say circular?”… No, seriously, why is this the ideal model?

I did mention that there was a difference. If that corrupted your perception of my point as a whole, shame on you. Though there’s probably nothing you could do about it. Very few people put any serious effort into improving their thinking, despite the fact that they’re using it all the time. They’ll try to learn how to do things but use cobbled-together and terrifically random and useless methods to do so. Imagine that you are faced with a massive library full of great books to read, but you have only a rudimentary knowledge of reading. Which is the better course- to try to grind through them all at 10 words per minute, or first perfect your reading skills and then start reading? Sure it’s a down payment of time and energy, but the result is that from then on you’ll go many times faster. As another important point, it is always critical to include the method with the result because it is logically possible to have any conceivable process and get any result. I’m not saying it will always get a right result since they’ll probably be wrong under all other circumstances. For example, 16 x 4. You swap the 1 and the 6, and then swap the 1 and the 4. You get 64. Yeah? Well, you can’t prove that false without using another example because the conclusion is in fact true 16 x 4 = 64 is a true statement. So we actually just proved that the mind that thinks is inseparable from that which is thought. We are forced to conclude that an awareness of your own process is necessary irrespective of what you actually do with it. Engineer yourself a better mind. I need to do a post on just this topic. Some other time.

New paragraph for the difference. It’s called suspense. Not rambling. Certainly not. Medicine is different from engineering in the same way that constructive engineering is different from retroactive engineering. However since we haven’t been faced with a large need for retroactive engineering, that is not its own discipline. What do I mean by retroactive engineering? If we found a device buried in the earth that performed magical acts like making it rain when you pressed a button, that would be a perfect occasion for retroactive engineering. One field of it might be called “reverse engineering” or the decomposition of a complex machine or system into its functions and parts to figure out how it works. Under the conventional definition of engineering, we start from nothing and build a machine upwards from laws we understand. Reverse engineering is taking a machine we don’t understand and figuring it out.

To broaden this idea to knowledge in general, all fields reduce to one of two stances regarding a single contiguous mass called knowledge, or Truth; constructive or reductive. Natural sciences are reduction on the universe, the world around us. Conversely, if we start building virtual worlds by experimenting with fictitious natural laws, we start on the constructive side. The same principle applies to all knowledge. The intent of knowledge being, as stated above, to improve on our own power to get things done that we want done. As an important note, never is only one stance used. Whenever you construct something you then have to figure out if it works, how well it works, or why it doesn’t work and these are reductive in nature. Conversely, whenever you figure out how something works you have to construct something to prove it. The most common method is to construct an experiment which will produce specific results which can then be analyzed in reduction. Can you say circular?… But that’s the point! Knowledge is a constant circular feedback loop in the same way that consciousness is. Construction and reduction can even be reduced to the simple perspective of action and reaction, respectively. You do something, analyze the results, do something based on the results, etc. etc. And as you advance on the circular loop you are continuously increasing your knowledge, your power, your leverage. So we see the exponential increase of life proceeds clearly and continuously into technology. Where does biology end and technology begin? Biology is the study of already-evolved life and technology could be the creation of life from scratch such as self-replicating, evolving robots. Or genetically modified crops and animals.

The objective of learning should be to learn everything, not only to earn a living. This thought is a necessary corollary of my very Stoic ideal that Truth = virtue, the pair representing the only prerequisite to happiness. Of course, this also turns out to be a very profitable strategy because someone who knows… a LOT… is going to earn a large amount of money. I am not saying that I want to go to law school and medical school and get every degree known to man, though I must say that would be damned cool. No, I expect that in a short while we’ll crack the secret of encoding information in a human brain and be able to convert between our binary computer language and analog neural language. When that happens, omniscience is fair game. Any knowledge that anyone, anywhere, has is up for sale. This removes the time factor from learning and reduces the cost of transmission, shall we say, dramatically? When this happens, then I’ll just buy the knowledge I did not gain through schooling, using my vast fortune I used my limited schooling to obtain. Though that may not even be necessary because such a system would automatically drive the prices to zero. Whenever you sell it, by definition you just increased supply by one and decreased the demand by one. All you have to do is wait- before too long the knowledge will be “worthless” anyway since everyone will have it. As a matter of fact, I would be willing to bet that an engineering career in bringing this situation about would be about as lucrative as they get. “I can offer you immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence (over perfectly realistic virtual worlds anyway) for $100 million.” And the price drops as the rich phase out and the technology gets cheaper. By the very nature of industry, you will be making the most money exactly when you have the most capacity to capitalize on it, sufficiently soon before critical mass when nobody cares about money anymore because anything they want they can just make.

We began with an integrated field of knowledge, we specialized into ever-more-advanced subfields until eventually our technology becomes advanced enough that we can increase our own capacities to understand it. Can you say circular?…

On Language

Language is the greatest example of how we have saddled ourselves with a ridiculous system which no rational entity could possibly concoct. English is by far the worst offender- and the poem The Chaos makes this point very well indeed on the counts of spelling. It’s incredibly irregular in pronunciation: with each letter having many potential ways to pronounce it, some vowels as many as 20. The methods of conjugation are random at best. See, seen, saw, but been, was, were? Go is to went as eat is to ate? Eaten? Eated? Every rule the language has is broken repeatedly. And then the lexical inventory is confusing and abstruse. Why does a ship carry a cargo, but a truck’s load is called a shipment? And even if you can get past all that, the language is often not particularly clear. Though some will say that ambiguity is what enabled Shakespeare to write such masterpieces, that’s a fairly weak reason to saddle everyone with a ridiculous mode of communication. In any case, all its eccentricities make the English language virtually impossible to learn. And once you have, you’re wasting a huge amount of brain hardware that might be better spent actually thinking. All natural languages are like this to some extent, but at least Romance languages have rigorous verb conjugations, and are mostly phonetic.

The solution is to design a better language. And the bar is not high. All that’s necessary is a language that is regular, and clear. An excellent endeavor to this effect is already created, check out Lojban. However, the possibilities for language are limitless. To give an example of the immense possibilities for language, check out Bogomol. But please ignore all the fluffy stuff about alien races. That’s just fiction the author wrote for fun. Unfortunately, creating languages has been associated with a special case of geekbrain syndrome involving orcs, elves, and fantasy worlds. So the practice of improving how we communicate, and even how we think has been ignored. Imagine a language precisely constructed to provide the fastest, most logical and accurate thought process possible. Imagine one that enables the most creative, associative, and innovative thought process at great speed. These would be wonderful tools to be applying all the time. Considering that you think more or less continuously for your entire life, a significant speed improvement (say, fifty times) yields fifty times more thought per person. Imagine the differences in society if 300 million Americans all did that.

On Walking

How we walk is a perfect example of a system that nobody has thought to challenge. Why not? Because that’s how we’ve always done it. QED, the current method is the best possible. I’m going to prove that false, and selectively supply information culled from a third party source linked at the bottom of this post to provide a better method.

The basic problem with the current mode of locomotion is the reliance on the shoe. Though humans evolved to deal with the ground barefoot, it seems an obvious pain-reliever to put some protection underneath the sole. However, the natural human mode of walking is intended to deal with the ground by first “testing” the ground to see if it’s safe to tread there using the front of the foot. With shoes on, however, this test is discarded and we begin to walk with the heel. When you walk barefoot, your walking mode switches hugely. You start to walk with bent knees and relaxed calf and thigh muscles. The arch of the foot is used to effect to lift the back of the foot, and the toes are used to provide forward stability. Moreover, your center of gravity is shifted forwards. This is to greater effect when running, so you are in effect falling forward slightly to propel yourself forward.

Naturally, the foot is an excellent shock absorber when walking with the front of the foot, because the ankle converts the jarring upward shock into rotational force, which the heel and achilles tendon steady. When walking with the heel- Anthropik calls this “cow walking,” which I quite like- this jarring upward force is carried directly up through the heel, ankle, and leg. Apart from long-term health concerns, hip and back pain, and arthritis or osteoporosis of legs or hips, the major problem that this produces is is a greatly reduced ability to walk or run. Each leg has to move farther to place the heel vertically underneath the leg, and then the fact that it is vertical, with knees locked, causes the shock to extend all the way up the leg and to jar your internal organs. This tends to manifest itself as a stitch in the side, when the liver or kidneys are knocked around too much. Also, the natural tendency for right-handed people is to breathe in when the right foot hits the ground. This especially aggravates the shockwaves to the kidney since it faces heightened internal pressure from above as well, resulting in a stitch in the side after you’ve run hardly a mile. Shoeless societies such as the Kalahari Bushmen or Navajo indians appear to be impossibly good runners. Bushmen hunters run for days continuously to catch a gazelle- the creature collapses from exhaustion (four-legged runners may be faster, but when they run they constrict their lungs and can’t breathe as well). And Bushmen do this regularly, unlike marathon runners.

Humans are natural-born runners. We can run for longer than any other creature alive. Ostriches are exclaimed in National Geographic to be able to run at 40 mph for up to five hours. Humans can run at 10 mph for up to three days. Obviously, there is conditioning and fitness required on top of just being human, but those Kalahari Bushmen don’t lift weights or run around a track. They hunt a gazelle every few days just to eat.

More depth on the subject, including physiological deformity as a result of common walking practice, and seemingly extreme physical feats of shoeless runners dismissed as commonplace in shoeless societies such as the Native American Indians, can be found here.