I've looked at life from both sides now From up and down, and still somehow It's life's illusions I recall I really don't know life at all -- Joni Mitchell
Welcome to 1984. Russia has been bot-playing both sides of the NFL controversy. The implications are enormous. By creating and exacerbating wedge social issues that Russian social media agents exploit, Trump has been colluding with Putin. And Trump probably doesn't even know it. But giving aid and comfort to the enemy is treason, according to Article 3. Are ignorance and incompetence a defense for a treason charge? Trump should cease and desist, or else resign and resume tweeting as a private person.
China was slow to catch up, but now is leading the way to a fully controlled society, wherein everything you do or say is recorded and used to compute your "social credit" GoodThink/BadThink score, and then the data is sold. Paul Ohm calls this a Database of Ruin.
And although the Chinese government does not conduct referenda, it would not surprise me if a majority of Chinese citizens support the Great Firewall: too much social dissension and unrest is bad for business and weakens China against foreign powers. The Firewall has been enhanced by prohibiting VPN in China.
Although polarization in American politics did not begin with social media nor with Russia - the explosion of narrowcast cable television channels unshackled from the Fairness Doctrine came earlier, along with rising income inequality. What's new is foreign actors stirring both sides of controversial issues.
It doesn't matter what the issue is, if it is or can be made into a wedge, Russian agents can fan the flames from both sides. Thanks Putin! Thanks Facebook! Thanks Twitter! Neither ignorance nor incompetence is an adequate defense for allowing the weaponization of social media. Although most of us only came to understand the depth of the problem in the last year, there were some who saw it coming in 2012.
Originally I thought Putin's goal was just revenge against Clinton for promoting democracy in Russia. Now I see that Putin's goal is much grander - a plot against democratic government anywhere in the world.
In the 1930's, left and right had to go to much trouble to create fake news to batter each other and more to the point, destroy the center that stood in their way. Now there's no more need to fake news to create wedges when the President and a lot of the political leadership create on demand, or even without demand, all the wedges anybody could want. That will test the foresight of our founding fathers.
The larger issue is: if anybody online might be a Russian bot, then anybody offline might be one too, consciously or unconsciously. Remembering the Calexit guy's own exit to Russia and the Russian Texas Secession Facebook page that fooled hundreds of thousands of people... How do I know that you're not on Putin's payroll? How do you know that I'm not? What if Putin is funding the Nazis AND the antifas? Reds under every bed was never this bad. Most people don't know what to believe, and so distrust everything. Soon it will be believed that controversy of any kind just stirs up trouble.
Fortunately we have models of solutions in North Korea and China: there will be just one Ministry of one Truth and you can have a little internet (Korea) or a lot (China) as long as you don't stray. Is this the final solution where Bannon's National Socialist Workers Party will finally arrive?
"The street finds its own uses for things" - William Gibson. When it comes to inventing the future, that future has not been fully invented until criminals, terrorists, spies, and police states have figured out how to exploit it.
"The pioneers of Silicon Valley were inherent optimists who simply believed in connecting the world. But it is precisely such integration that provides our authoritarian enemies with access into our own democratic systems." -- Robert Kaplan
Although telephone scams already existed in 1888, the internet was required to unlock the full potential of robocall scams.
Cheap plentiful ground, sea, and air drones will certainly level the playing field between terrorists and governments: Islamic State forces are already using commodity air drones in the defense of Mosul. So France is training eagles to attack drones. Commodity encrypted communication allows Islamic State to strike with remote human drones too. Likewise cheap drone murder machines may be nearer than you think.
Even conventional cars collect a lot of data for the manufacturer, which is an asset that might be sold. Driverless cars are next.
Internet dependence is a mixed blessing and curse. Cybercriminals have already shorted a target company's stock and then hacked its production systems to make the stock drop. Drones can enable breaking out of real jails. It's possible to tell which printer you use. Franklin Foer argues that concentration of internet power will inevitably lead to enforced conformity. Tim Wu points out the insidious tyranny of convenience undermining individuality.
Ever wonder how the tiny Mongol nation briefly ruled a vast stretch of Asia and Europe, and then suddenly lost power? Technology was one enabler - Genghis Khan practised inclusion and encouraged innovation and free trade. One innovation was the world's fastest post office system - a forerunner of the Pony Express - that enabled relatively rapid command and control across a vast region. Unfortunately it turned out to be an even greater disabler - when the Black Death originated in China, it quickly spread everywhere that the Mongols controlled. The communication lines themselves died, and the survivors in the far-flung empire were on their own in separate fiefdoms. The Mongols soon forgot what Genghis had taught them and went back to killing each other.
In my middle school days, the joke was "Jack Kennedy was elected in 1960, and it will be Bobby in 1968, and the Teddy in 1976, and then it will be 1984..." The novel 1984 was based on a structure of two-way television surveillance that wasn't ready in the actual year 1984, but the enabling technology was underway... the internet protocol was defined in 1974 and the web in 1989. Originally conceived as a method of communicating data between large computers, the internet is on track to become the social control mechanism that was missing in 1984. That's what the Internet of Things is going to be all about. Devices like Amazon Echo are always listening, always reporting what they hear back to the cloud. But the story about Echo calling 911 is questionable.
And even if the real thing were OK, the low-cost imported clone might not be. Law enforcement is already interested in Echo and in utility metering. Burger King has tried to talk to Amazon Home. The CIA is already exploiting phones, televisions, and computers. Even smartphone accelerometers! Even vibrators! And your face is already in a lot of government databases. Nobody asked for permission, so none was given. Congress is giving permission now, with little apparent understanding of the consequences, except to major campaign donors. Now privacy is a luxury for the wealthy and powerful only. Strava proved just how much we sign away by using a social-media app. Maybe it's time to rejuvenate the Technocracy movement.
One wonders if an evolutionary process will weed out technology users who are too trustful to survive. One thinks of Native Americans who were so adversely affected by exposure to Europeans' alcohol, lacking the Europeans' thousands of years of evolutionary adaptation to it. Like other addictive drugs, technology will take generations for humans to arrive at a sane collective understanding of moderate use, and even then there will be addiction-prone individuals whose only sane response is abstinence.
But such data won't be used for any unintended use - we have the assurances of numerous Marketing Vice Presidents that the data will only be used for the purposes for which it was gathered, and the purposes for which it can be subpoenad, and the purposes for which it can be sold. Of course, every publicly-traded corporation is for sale to the highest bidder every business day, so a new Marketing Vice President with a new agenda and a new firmware download could show up unannounced at any time. Vizio has already been fined for spying. Facebook data is already used by the government to identify potential terrorists. Your car can tell a lot about you.
Julian Assange has led the way in showing how data can be used against big targets; but even little targets might worry about how much personal data is available free.
One reason not to conduct referenda, especially over the internet, is that you might be conducting referenda among bots. One can also use human hordes to smother unfavorable press.
On the Russian front:
To those ends, one can easily imagine that the governments of China, Russia, and India have incentive to develop their own PC and smartphone CPU's and Amazon Echo's, in order to be sure that the only backdoors are the ones they put in themselves.
Trump thinks he's safe from hacking because he doesn't use computers. Evidently "how smart phones work" can be added to the list of things he doesn't know about, along with "how modern cars work" and "how modern aircraft fly..." (or "Smoot-Hawley"). The Secret Service already took away his smartphone and gave him a new one that they hope is secure and with a really unlisted number.
And just imagine what would have happened if his smart teleprompter were hacked to break down in the middle of his inauguration speech and he had to adlib about how he really felt? The teleprompter didn't break on his inauguration day but it must have been broken the day after when he spoke at the CIA.
And even if none of the evils mentioned above come to pass - it might not matter if the social disruption caused by automation and artifical intelligence becomes serious enough.
A subtle and therefore more pernicious form of thought control abetted by modern technology is the tyrany of the urgent: the urgent and unimportant continually driving the unurgent and important from individual and collective consciousness. Read all about it in Samuel Covey's books. We all need a Shultz Hour.
In the book 1984, the ministries of propaganda and war were called the ministries of truth and peace. In like manner, Trump's notion of draining the swamp has been revealed to actually mean filling the swamp deeper and calling it dry land. Thus there is no longer any difference between the regulated and the regulators; the EPA, FCC, Energy Department, Education Department are not explicitly abolished, but reversed into protectors instead of regulators.
Electronics manufacturers are getting into the game of thought control too - by prohibiting you from repairing products you buy. Of course, the real prize for manufacturers is to prohibit purchase entirely and make all transactions leases. The guaranteed monthly lease income supports higher stock prices, which is why practically every business is eager to sign you up to make regular monthly payments that they hope you will forget about. Likewise customer loyalty rewards programs aim to reward the business rather than the consumer, by accumulating consumer behavior that the business can use directly or sell.
Our hope and despair is that no matter who's running the government and no matter what they do, the economy will wax, peak, wane, bottom, and repeat. Whoever is in charge will take the credit or get the blame for whatever was bound to happen sooner or later anyway. Government action or inaction can affect the timing and severity to only a limited extent.
The current economic recovery is about 8 years old and will expire sometime in the next 8 years, no matter who is in the White House; the longest postwar recovery was 10 years. The current recovery has an expiration date on or before June, 2019. As always, the party in power will be blamed, even though nobody has been able to figure out how to defeat the business cycle. I think that's because it's ultimately a phenomenon of mass psychology rather than economics.
The next two years might seem to coast along well enough economically. There's some truth in the old joke that economists have successfully predicted nine of the last five recessions. But
So another recession is coming, more likely sooner than later. The Republicans are doing their best to make it the worst. Samuelson thinks the Democrats are no better. But an examination of the actual data over the last 40 years suggests that the Democrats have become the party of fiscal responsibility!
On 25 January 2017, the DJIA, S&P, and NASDAQ all set new records, and they're still doing it a year later. That's not good news for Mr. Trump at the beginning of his term - it would have been a lot more helpful to him in 2020. Nobody rings a bell at the top, or the bottom - some minor news blip, much like numerous inconsequential minor news blips in the weeks and months before, will seem to trigger a stock market crash. But the news blip is innocent - a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time - because the cause of the crash is that the market has temporarily run out of buyers at a time when somebody needs to sell for his own specific reasons. Which blip - nobody can say in advance. What is certain is that the following problem is what is called overconstrained and infeasible in my line of work:
And this infeasibility will dawn on a critical mass of institutional investors on some random blipful day and they will start to take their profits, and highly leveraged investors will start to cover their positions, and the daily trading limit crash barrier will be hit before most individual investors even know something's up. Too bad for them. Trump will blame it on a media conspiracy. To the extent the Trump Organization is still invested in real estate rather than brand licensing, he might not even be a billionaire any more. Big investors will move from stocks to bonds, and that part will moderate the rise in interest rates.
People over-exposed to stocks too close to retirement will blame it on Trump, as will younger people who haven't learned yet that even though stocks, especially in technology, go up slowly and down quickly, common stock funds are still the best individual investment for the long term.