The Shape of CFPs to Come
Here are the "slides" for my talk at CFP06, 5May2006.
At the moment, they can be found at:
What is the ultimate impact of computers on freedom?
- Up to the year 1984, the vision of George Orwell's novel 1984
was probably dominant.
- From the year 1984 until near the end of of the century, the other extreme
grew in popularity (eg, Tim May's "Crypto Anarchist Manifesto")
- Since the late 1990s, there are those who see "How big brother and
big media can put the Internet genie back in the bottle"
(John Walker, "The Digital Imprimatur").
No one knows the future, so scenarios are much preferred to predictions.
(And for some of the broadest issues, scenarios are more useful than elaborate
- Science fiction uses scenarios as the setting for drama.
- Others (eg, GBN) use scenarios as a basis for planning:
- Build those wild-eyed scenarios, each at the extreme of plausibility
but in a different direction.
- For each scenario, build a list of symptoms and anti-symptoms
- Taken together, list responses common to different scenarios,
with a major goal of maintaining flexibility.
- Track relevant events as time passes
- Update existing scenarios accordingly
- Create new scenarios accordingly
The scenario I have in mind today assumes
- No grand physical disasters. (Note that this excludes many
plausible outcomes -- see Martin Rees's Our Final Hour.)
- Computing and communication performance trends sustained
over the coming twenty years.
The secret behind the Great Conspiracy against human freedom
- Well, it's not really secret, though it may not be recognized for
what it is.
- It proceeds emergently, so little or no global organization is needed.
- Modern economics and technology empower it.
- Almost every constituency is a supporter of some aspect of it.
- So who are the participants?
- Certainly the usual suspects:
- National defense
- Homeland security
- Financial crimes enforcement
- Police, regulators, and tax collectors at all levels and in all
jurisdictions. But besides the classical bureaucratic and power
imperatives behind these players, much of their behavior is driven
by popular demand. And there other participants:
- Most everyone owning intellectual property.
- Everyone who sees that the world would be a better place if only
people couldn't do bad things.
- Every geek who sees the power of oncoming technology and thinks
"That would be so cool!" (The story of the geek and the
guillotine comes to mind here.)
Pogo captured the driving wisdom: "We have met
the enemy, and he is us."
And now, the wildest control-freak dreams of each of these groups can
Implementing the Great Conspiracy
Some relevant hardware trends:
- Embedded systems
- Networked embedded systems
- Fine-grained distribution
- Smart Dust.
Warneke, Last, and Pister, IEEE Computer,
January 2001, p44-51: "We will program the walls and
the furniture, and some day even the insects and the
These technologies and the economic advantage they confer appear
to head us inexorably toward a future where physical objects know
what they are, where they are, and how to communicated with their
nearby neighbors -- and thus, in principle -- with anywhere. In
this situation, physical reality becomes its own database and
cyberspace leaks out into the real world.
- Software is all. If a desired product can't be done with software on
top of the uniform (network/localizer/sensor/effector) substrate, then
there is something wrong with the product concept.
- In the 20th century, people often used real world metaphors in
their programming. Now turn that around: Almost every aspect of
computer science should have a concrete analog in the
network/localizer/sensor/effector real world -- and where this
doesn't appear to be true, that's evidence of unexploited opportunity!
On the dark side, there are dramatic new meanings for things like:
- Denial of Service Attacks
- % kill -9 -u user
A world such as this cries out for a new kind of public safety,
the perfect storm of confluent interests. Clipper meets the V-chip
meets DRM and TIA:
The Secure Hardware Environment (SHE)
The "virtues" of SHE
- Incremental deployment is feasible (no flag day necessary)
- True ubiquity not needed to begin with
- Deployment as the "progressive implementation of standards"
- Deployment enforced through obsolescence
- Much less visible security in our everyday lives
- Gone, the waiting at checkpoints!
- Gone, the cameras visible everywhere!
- Less crime of all sorts, and far fewer false convictions
- Intellectual property seamlessly protected and ubiquitously profitable.
- Less paperwork and less visible bureaucracy!
- Transparent taxation: Income Tax and VAT largely replaced by BiT.
- Real-time downloadability of new regulatory regimes!
- Individually customized regulatory regimes.
- Legislative reality becomes external, physical reality!
(Thus, SHE is the ultimate policy response of those disastisfied by
the unruliness of the natural world.)
SHE fits the trajectory that economics and technical progress are
following. The infrastructure for such control will probably arrive in any
Arguments against the plausibility of SHE
- SHE would be evaded, subverted, corrupted, and exploited in a million
- Imagine the Drug Wars, only much more "interesting".
- Moonshine fabs?
- The golden age of trapdoors: "Who owns the trapdoors, owns the world."
- Planners (say, CFPs now and in the future) will prevent SHE or mitigate
its worst effects.
- Problem for such planners: What to do when a natural right is no longer
inherent in nature? (Example: privacy; example radical response:
symmetric non-privacy à la David Brin's The Transparent Society.)
- Problem for such planners: How to cope with exponentially growing
- Problem for such planners: How to cope with the shortsighted
self-interests of the myriad players, each more powerful at
their focus than any non-profit organization.
- Fortunately, these difficult problems are followed closely on
by powerful solutions (next slide). In fact, Pogo's
pessimistic wisdom is a very twentieth century thing.
The coming, ubiquitous CFP
- The Internet is changing what makes the economic power of a nation.
- Economic power lies in the combination of:
- Large populations of educated, creative, enthusiastic people, pursuing
their myriad independent goals, but planning and coordinating with one
- Computer networks and shared data services.
The leaders of the most powerful countries are coming to realize this, and
to realize that at least the illusion of freedom is necessary to maintain
this creativity machine.
What leaders may not realize is that the creativity machine includes millions
of people who are as bright and knowledgeable as anyone who has ever captained
a great nation. For such an ensemble, the "illusion of freedom" needs be more
like real freedom than has ever existed in human history.
Meantime, Moore's Law marches on
- New forms of coordination, affiliance. A new populism powered
by deep knowledge, self-interest so broad as to be mistaken for
tolerance, and an automatic, preternatural vigilence. See:
- And then there's the Technological Singularity
- Alas, imagining a post-Singularity CFP is a little like a frog
imagining a conference on wetlands management. The topic is of
interest, but beyond our mental horizon.