Monthly Archives: March 2013

The New Feudalism?

Wired’s Bruce Shchneier recently posted this interesting article ‘When it comes to security, we’re back to feudalism.’ It makes some interesting points, but I think it misses the overall trend. Society, the Internet and Internet Security aren’t moving back to feudalism, we’re moving forward to something more distributed.

Historical feudalism is highly hierarchal. You have the monarch, nobles and knights on top, and the merchants, farmers and peasants on the bottom of the pyramid. I see the future of security as more of an extremely networked and distributed form of organization, like a mesh network. Each of the nodes on the network would be a zone of governance, so to speak. Moving from node to node, you step into different zones with differing rules and structures, many of which overlap. So you might live in a gated community with a private security force, yet it’s still subject to state and local laws. You’d drive on a private highway to your corporate campus, which might have its own security and electric system, but it still draws water from the municipal wells. You use Google for its great web services, but you prefer Apple for its hardware design, closed ecosystem and security. 

For me, the mesh network is a better analogy because all of these pieces tie together and frequently overlap.  So its not the position of each relative to each other that matters. In feudalism, where you are on the pyramid makes all the difference. It’s better being the lowliest knight than the highest serf. Knights have much better security protections, and can provide better security to their lord than a peasant can. With zones of governance, or distributed governance, the position of each relative to each other doesn’t matter. What is important is the strength and nature of the connections between them.

So your gated community can have its own security, but it’s still subject to the authority of the State. A strong connection. The local mall may be owned by a Chinese conglomerate, but they can’t suppress free speech on the property: strong connection to US law; weak connection to Chinese law. You might be 100% android and have a strong connection to Google, or you own an iPhone and use Google maps and Gmail, so you have moderate connections to both. These fall under US law, so there is a strong connection there.

But perhaps you download a Chinese chat app which just happens to be monitored by the PLA. So unknowingly you might have a strong (and negative) Chinese security connection you don’t know about. You may have connections to things you aren’t aware of and probably don’t want to be connected to. Surfacing these hidden connections will probably be critical in the future.

And more important than how strong your security connection is to any one node, is how the overlapping webs of security work together, and how resilient your overall system is to failure. So if access to your Gmail would allow a hacker access to all your other accounts in your personal network, then you do indeed have an artificial hierarchy due to the single point of failure. (Kill the noble and the kingdom falls.) We have to acknowledge that we can’t protect everything, so we have to build our security in such a fashion that if a catastrophic failure occurs, the system has enough redundancy and firewalls that the disaster would be contained (more like the lines of succession in case of the President’s death.)

So I think the mesh network/ distributed governance / zones of governance analogy will be a better method for describing the future of human security and society than medieval feudalism, which was strictly hierarchal. And redundancy is key. In the security environment, this means a much more distributed, networked model. So if gated community security fails, you can still call 911, and if your mobile OS allows in malware, your hardware device has protocols to limit the damage.

Mexican Eco-Terrorists Declare War on Civilization

In Manifesto, Mexican Eco-Terrorists Declare War on Nanotechnology | Danger Room |

Unfortunately the future is only going to have more and more of these violent non-state actors. Al Qaeda isn’t the only game in town, and unlike AQ, anti-civilization groups target all of humanity.

We’re all part of the Universe

I’ve always been fascinated by the Buddhist concept of connectedness. Supposedly (since I haven’t got there yet,) enlightenment comes from the insight and true understanding that we are all connected, and all one. I’ve always understood this in a rational sense – that underneath we are all just energy in different configurations, and that there is no thing in reality called the ego or self – but in practice it’s difficult to always feel and live that connectedness.

In a seminar last week, a participant mentioned that we are all part of the Universe. This simple statement has some serious ontological undertones. Any outside observer looking at the Universe would see you and I as parts of it, but our experience is that we’re separate and distinct elements in it.

Everything in the Universe is in fact part of us. We’re just different manifestations of the same underlying energy.

This quote by Shams Tabrizi says it all

“The universe is a complete unique entity. Everything and everyone is bound together with some invisible strings. Do not break anyone’s heart; do not look down on weaker than you. One’s sorrow at the other side of the world can make the entire world suffer; one’s happiness can make the entire world smile.”

So today, go out in the world and relate to everything and everyone as a part of you. When you see a stranger on the street or greet a friend, relate to them as if they were a part of you, looking from a different perspective.

Our energy origins, the power inside and a fanciful creation story

I was reading this silly article on the physics of the Hulk’s jump, when I came across this interesting passage:

“While I am talking about mass, there is something that always bothered me. Bruce Banner is a pretty normal-looking human, right? But then he turns into The Hulk (I guess The is his first name since it is always capitalized). So, if he goes from 70 kilograms as a human to almost 300 kg as The Hulk, where does the extra mass come from? What if this is conversion of energy to mass from Einstein’s E = mc2? This would take 2.7 x 1019 Joules of energy. Where does that come from? The total power output from the Sun is about 4 x 1026 Watts. However, only about 1.7 x 1017 Watts hits the Earth. If The Hulk used ALL of this solar energy, it would take over two and a half minutes in order to capture enough energy to “transform.” I guess this could be the “getting angry time.””

That really struck me. In order to create 230kg of mass from pure energy, you would need all of the sun’s energy hitting the Earth for two and a half minutes.

This is a huge amount of energy! As beings of matter, we really don’t think about how much energy is tied up in our teeny little bodies.

We would need 40 seconds of all the sun’s energy hitting the Earth to create the matter in your average 160lb human.

Conversely, our bodies hold unbelievable amounts of energy. If you liberated the energy in every atom from just one gram of your body, you’d release about 15 kilotons of explosive force. That’s the yield of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

If you converted all the mass in that average human into energy, the explosive force would be over 1 million kilotons, or over 1000 megatons.

The largest nuclear device ever detonated was the 57 megaton Tsar Bomba device exploded by the USSR in 1961. It created a fireball eight miles wide.

We carry around a tremendous amount of energy in our bodies. And this got me thinking…

Imagine a being made of energy, existing somewhere in a cold, low energy part of the universe. To these beings, we are fearsome machines. Huge, dense with energy, powerful…analogous to the Saturn V rockets which took man to the moon. We have a great advantage over the energy beings – we can exist and survive in areas of the universe that are grimy with all sorts of high energy.

If these beings wanted to explore warmer, more energetic areas of the universe, what better vessel than a capsule made of matter? A machine might work best, but how would an energy being construct a machine? This would require the manipulation of huge, dangerous energies and the exploration of technologies which might be beyond their abilities.

But they could manipulate matter at the molecular level. This involves relatively less energy and complexity. They could create forms of self-replicating matter infused with a code that demands replication and mutation. Over the millennia, these new forms of matter, life, evolve. Eventually these lifeforms develop the necessary complexity and intelligence to craft complex machines for the beings to inhabit.

Because they are made of energy and not subject to the mortalities of life, they can patiently wait for the lifeforms to build machines for them.

But perhaps mechanical vessels are not their end goal. Philosophers have speculated that we are spirits residing in material bodies. Could it be that the objective of the beings has already been met, and they reside in us, their material vessels? Like spacecraft, they pilot us around, utilizing us on their explorations.

This could explain the fundamental struggle of the human condition, the tension between our reptilian and primate instincts forged through thousands of generations of evolution, and the more noble spiritual aspirations of our creator(s)?

Looks to me like the spiritual beings are winning, but the reptilian and primate instincts are putting up one hell of a fight along the way. Progress, but slow progress.

Just a fanciful alternate creation story to lighten your day and get you thinking…

Apple doldrums…why?

I think what has people spooked is that Apple is no longer the coolest game in town. Tastes change. I and others have heard anecdotes about how high school kids who are the trend-setters don’t want iPhones because everyone, especially their parents, have them.

I really believe much of the AAPL doldrums are caused by memories of RIM, PALM, etc who dominated their markets for a time, but then were disrupted by others which destroyed their businesses. Samsung/android is doing this now.

Apple needs new products to re-set these expectations. The long rumored Apple TV isn’t going to cut it. They need a product.

The iPhone needs to innovate more in features and less in design. Fingerprint authentication, mobile payments, NFC, etc are critical to re-disrupt the market.

A friend told me he lost his iPhone on the ski slopes and someone found it 18 months later, plugged it in and it worked. I’ve seen an iPhone immersed in water, and it still worked while under water. That is amazing, but also speaks to overengineering. There is a balance between investing in quality product design and investing in the software on the product, especially when most people don’t keep their phones for more than a couple of years.

I also believe that long-term, android dominance is going to fracture. Windows is going to gain market share at its expense and Samsung is going to introduce a competitive OS. When android fractures, Apple’s ecosystem will prove dominant.

Making Peace With Rockets

Re-post from Baghdad during Charge of the Knights, when the Green Zone was shelled ~8-10 times a day for six weeks…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

When the alarms go off, you throw yourself on the floor of your hooch, squirm into your body armor and helmet and under your bed, and there are moments, true life-changing moments, where you are forced to confront your fear. Your mortality and the absolute randomness that decides whether you end or continue is brought into striking focus, and you realize how truly out of control we are. Life or death no longer depends on your volition, but on the aim of some person miles away, the manufacture of a weapon from another country, the local barometric pressure, political maneuvering, gusts of wind. And so it always has been, and so it always will be.

The fear you have to confront, for if you hide from it, the fear finds you in your dreams. If you try to reason around it, fear runs your neuroses. Or worst of all, you try to think you can control it through superstitional wearing of lucky socks or amulets. Or by plugging your ears or not holding your breath so as to save your lungs from blast damage. Then you begin to lose touch with the reality, which is, there is no control. All that was and all that ever will be is, ultimately, mostly out of your hands. Control is an illusion, and all we have, all the world has, are a series of choices that combine to lead us here, or there. Your choices are few among trillions.

And so, lying facedown on the floor, panting in the dust from the adrenalin coursing through your system and the 30 pound of armor plate on your back, explosions in the distance like a pack of giants throwing stones, you confront your fear…and find peace on the other side. Peace is acceptance of the fact that one day you are going to die, and they will throw dirt on your face and you will be no more. Peace is acceptance that, if this is the will of the universe, then that is the only way it could ever be. In that peace is acceptance of risk, of life, of rockets and of death, and a dismissal of worry which is, ultimately, probably the most dangerous enemy we face in the international zone.

You find peace in the fear. You accept it, and you move on. The all clear sounds, you rise and remove your body armor, propping it up for the next time you hit the deck. You go in the other room, brush your teeth and go to bed. And you sleep, soundly and deeply, until the next alarm challenges you with fear anew.

This might sound shocking, but in fact, this is everyday life, brought into laserlike focus. We’re just so often ignorant of risk…we learn to dismiss it, accept it or worry it.  In our safe little existences we don’t have the imminent risk of violent death, or at least we think we don’t, so we learn to worry about other things… are there toxins in my water bottle that are going to kill me in 40 years? Am I getting too little iron? Maybe too much? Do I have too little hair on my head? Too much on my back? Am I a boring conversationalist? Am I too old? Is my butt too big? Are my breasts too small? Am I eating too many eggs? Or maybe too few?

These are the things we think about because basic survival is no longer an issue. So we replace it with other, seemingly life or death choices. Fear is everywhere, and it finds us one way or another. You can’t control that. The only thing you can do is choose how to deal with it…face it, or hide. Accept it, or deny the reality that all life is risk, and ultimately, death.

So eat those eggs, but exercise and accept they may still clog your heart. Enjoy your food. Let your kid play barefoot in the grass, even though they might get toxoplasmosis and lose a foot. Play is good for you and sometimes you get hurt. And when you hear the CRAM, hit the deck and squirm into your armor, just know that if it’s your time, it’s your time, and if it’s not, it’s not. Nothing more. And sleep…

A-salam alekum

Peace = سلم

Artificial Wombs Could Outlaw Abortion

Re-post of an old paper from 10 years ago…

In February of 2002, scientists at Cornell University’s Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility claimed their first successes in artificial womb research. This technology has been hailed as a breakthrough that could greatly empower childless individuals and couples, allowing them to bear children without the assistance of a surrogate mother. Unwittingly, it could also spell doom for abortion rights in the United States.
Dr. Hung-Ching Liu and her team were able to create the artificial womb by cultivating endometrial cells on an artificial biodegradable scaffolding. Spurred to multiply with heavy doses of growth hormones and estrogen, the cells took the shape of the scaffolding, modeling themselves into an artificial uterus.
Liu then implanted embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization programs. The embryos attached themselves to the walls of the engineered tissue and began to settle in normally. Although the experiments were halted after six days, Liu hopes to replicate the tests for fourteen days, long enough for the embryos to put down roots and veins, and possibly develop a primitive placenta.
Although Liu’s human experiments are limited to two weeks by IVF legislation, she plans to develop this technology using mice and dogs embryos. If successful, she plans to ask permission to extend her human experiments beyond the fourteen day limit.
Liu is not alone in her quest. While she seeks to grow a baby from scratch, Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara at Juntendo University in Tokyo wants to assist women who miscarry or have very premature births. His team was successful in removing goat fetuses from the womb and keeping them alive and growing in a tank of amniotic fluid, using artificial umbilical cords to deliver nutrients and deliver waste.
Both scientists are confident that technologies capable of bringing a baby to term outside of the mother will be a reality in a matter of years. In an unforeseen twist, these seemingly empowering technologies will, under current Constitutional law, provide States almost unfettered authority to ban abortion throughout pregnancy.
Prior to Roe v. Wade, there was no recognized Constitutional right to an abortion. In 1973, the Roe court recognized that the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment to the Constitution gave women certain privacy rights with regard to abortions. As delineated in Roe and affirmed in the 1992 Casey decision, prior to fetal viability, a woman has a right to obtain an abortion without undue interference from the state. After viability, the State’s interest in the life of the unborn child permits restrictions or prohibitions on abortion so long as the law contains an ‘escape clause’ where the life or health of the mother is in jeopardy. Currently 40 states restrict or prohibit post-viability abortions.
The Roe Court further defined legal viability as the time where the fetus is “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Therein lies the looming conflict. Thanks to rapid advances in the survivability of preemies, viability has crept from 28 weeks at the time of the Roe decision to approximately 20 weeks today. Artificial womb technology, if successful, will catapult viability all the way back to the date of conception and will allow states to restrict or prohibit abortions throughout pregnancy.
There are two possible scenarios for the technology. The first, called the extraction scenario, is the most damaging to a woman’s right to an abortion. In this situation, researchers perfect methods to successfully extract a fetus from the mother, implant it in an artificial womb and raise it to term. Under this scenario, the date of viability outside the womb would be the date of conception. Following a strict reading of Roe, States would gain an unfettered ability to restrict or prohibit abortion from the moment of the first cell division.
More ambiguous is the implantation scenario. Here, physicians are not able to extract a fetus from the womb and transplant it, but are able to successfully grow an embryo into a baby when it is initially implanted in an artificial womb. Thus, the date of viability for an implanted fetus is conception, but the date of viability for a conventional child is still limited by medical science’s ability to care for a premature birth.
How the Supreme Court would decide on the implantation scenario is totally unpredictable and could depend on the political leanings of the Court at the time a decision is handed down. Some scholars argue that the Court would split abortion law into two categories, one for implanted fetuses, which would be protected completely, and one for normal pregnancies, which would be subject to unchanged Roe style pre- and post-viability determinations.
Others believe that the Court, especially a conservatively minded one, would interpret successful implantation as evidence that viability exists at conception. In such a situation, traditional mothers would have no right to an abortion, even though their fetus could not be transplanted to an artificial womb.
Still another more radical view envisions the Supreme Court developing an entirely new treatment for abortion law not predicated on Roe v. Wade. An activist court might follow the suggestion of the plurality in Casey and determine that the right to an abortion is so fundamental to economic and social developments that it must be preserved. But this would require a remarkable deviation from the Constitutional framework of viability that the Court has already committed itself to.
One can only marvel at the ironies that would reveal themselves if (when!) artificial womb technologies become reality. Anti-abortion conservatives, long vilifying Roe and pressing for its abandonment, would suddenly find merit in its viability framework, as it would give states almost unfettered ability to restrict or prohibit abortion. Pro-choice liberals, long claiming abortion rights victory based on the Roe decisions, would find the structure of their very savior encasing them in a constitutional cage of their own making.
The ironies extend beyond constitutional arenas and into social and political spheres. Abortion foes who have fought embryonic research as murder are faced with the prospect that the scientific research they oppose could be their savior. The embryos sacrificed today to perfect this technology may in fact save many times their number later on as artificial wombs enable states to prohibit abortions. And feminists, who might see artificial wombs as a boon to women too busy with their careers to worry about nine months of inconvenient pregnancy, may find that the same liberating technology results in a significant curtailment of their Constitutional right to abortion.
Unintended consequences are the inevitable children of all technological advances. As science delivers this precocious technology to term, the Supreme Court, and the country at large, may find itself wishing it had never met the screaming brat known as the artificial womb.