News — At The Edge — 9/7

New technologies and views of reality and political systems — encryption, drones, brain surgery, hallucinations, cynicism — are all moving civilization toward a new, strange and unfamiliar world.


“Department of Justice wants access to encrypted consumer devices but promises not to infiltrate business products or affect critical infrastructure…[which is] not possible, because there is no longer any difference between those categories of devices…[and] would be foolish to weaken them, even at the request of law enforcement….

[All] ‘consumer products’…are used by government officials [globally]…police at all levels…[and] CEOs and human rights activists…[for] national security as well as personal security….

Before the Internet…[military] electronics were different from consumer-grade…[but now] everything that doesn’t have to be hardened for battle is…the exact same product purchased by consumers…[because] commercial applications…closely mirrored the needs of the military.

Today, the predominant encryption algorithm for commercial applications — Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) — is approved by the National Security Agency (NSA) to secure information up to the level of Top Secret. The Department of Defense’s classified analogs of the Internet­ — Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) and probably others whose names aren’t yet public — use the same Internet protocols, software, and hardware that the rest of the world does, albeit with additional physical controls….NSA routinely assists in securing business and consumer systems….

[Yes] some military applications…are different…[ex.] US nuclear system…[using] ancient computers and 8-inch floppy drives….

Corporations rarely use customized encryption…[since it’s] both more expensive because it is unique, and less secure because it’s nonstandard and untested….

[Governments] can’t weaken consumer systems without also weakening commercial, government, and military systems….If security is deliberately weakened or strengthened…[it affects] everybody…[thus] these systems are too critical to society to weaken.

Everyone will be more secure with stronger encryption, even if it means the bad guys get to use that encryption as well.

“Building exteriors tend to get gross…windows get filmy…[and] mold and mildew can start to make…walls look like a science experiment…[needing] a bucket truck, scaffolding, or suspension gear and having a crew hang from the side of the building….

[New] drone ‘soft washes’ the building…and works on surfaces like brick and limestone…[with] hose tether from the tank to the drone…feeding the low-pressure sprayer… via remote control….

[It’s] currently designed/tested to clean buildings up to 120 feet tall…[yet] fits within the FAA’s small unmanned aircraft guidelines.

“[They’re] encouraging federal safety regulators to swiftly…update laws to better accommodate the testing and approval of fully autonomous vehicles on U.S. public roadways…[with] 90 organizations and individuals…[submitting] comments on a proposed regulation on changing rules….

Regulators are considering allowing vehicles without…steering wheels and pedals to operate on U.S. roadways…[with] a ‘separate vehicle classification’ for autonomous vehicles with their own regulations.”

“MIT researchers combine robotics with current endovascular (i.e. within blood vessel) surgery techniques, reducing the risks…[by] guiding incredibly thin wires through complicated brain blood vessel pathways….

These ‘robot-threads’…[use] a material called ‘nitinol’…[that] has a natural tendency to spring back to its original shape when bent…[and] coated in an ink-like substance, which is then bonded with a hydrogel, thus regulating it in a magnetically manipulable material….

[Also] by replacing the nitinol at its center with a fiber-optic filament…could be used to transmit laser light to blast away a blockage in a brain blood vessel.”

“Internet increasingly mediates essential functions in societies…[and] become profoundly political…[with] many interests (e.g., privacy, security, flexibility, reachability) that are sometimes in tension….

[If] concerned with…[an] Internet to promote the social good…advancing the measurable success of the Internet (e.g., deployment size, bandwidth, latency, number of users) is NOT adequate…[because] ignores how technology is often used…to assert power over users, rather than empower them….

[Since] one of the primary mechanisms of the Internet is the ‘network effect’…trust is crucial to maintain; the Internet itself depends upon it….[So] when we’ve identified a conflict between the interests of end users and another stakeholder, we should err on the side of finding a solution that avoids harmful consequences to end users…[and] it’s not permissible to avoid identifying harms, nor is it acceptable to ignore them when brought….

Also, inappropriate concentration of power on the Internet has become a concerning phenomenon — one that protocol design might have some influence upon….

[Must] effectively design the Internet for the [pessimist’s] environment; if a user can be harmed, they probably will be…[so] avoid when there are alternate means of achieving the desired goals.”

“Reality is constructed by the brain, and… is not a direct reflection of the external objective world…[thus] product of the brain’s predictions about the causes of incoming sensory signals…[for] radically different inner universes….

[We] know that our perceptual systems are…never a direct window onto an objective reality…[but] active constructions, brain-based best guesses at the nature of a world that is forever obscured behind a sensory veil…[e.g.,] colors do not exist out there in the world…[but] cooked up by the brain from mixtures of different wavelengths of colorless electromagnetic radiation…[and] a clever trick that evolution has hit on to help the brain keep track of surfaces under changing lighting conditions…[with] only a tiny slice of the full electromagnetic spectrum….

[Since] my brain is different from your brain, my reality may be different from yours….

[T]he brain is a kind of prediction machine and that perception of the world — and…self within it — is a process of brain-based prediction about the causes of sensory signals…[whereby] brain is attempting to figure out what is out there in the world (or…in the body) by continually making and updating best guesses about the causes of its sensory inputs…[and] combining prior expectations or ‘beliefs’ about the world, together with incoming sensory data, in a way that takes into account how reliable the sensory signals are….

[A] form of Bayesian inference, a framework that specifies how to update beliefs or best guesses with new data when both are laden with uncertainty… by continually generating predictions about sensory signals and comparing these predictions with the sensory signals that arrive at the eyes and the ears [and other senses]….

The differences between predicted and actual sensory signals give rise to so-called prediction errors, which are used by the brain to update its predictions…for the next round of sensory inputs…[and] resulting Bayesian best guess is what we perceive.

[It’s] natural to think that the content of perception is carried by bottom-up signals — those that flow from the sensory surfaces inward. Top-down signals might contextualize or finesse what is perceived…. Call this the ‘how things seem’ view….

The prediction machine scenario is very different…[with] perception performed by the top-down signals that convey perceptual predictions, with the bottom-up sensory flow serving only to calibrate these predictions, keeping them yoked, in some…way, to their causes in the world. In this view, our perceptions come from the inside out…as much as, if not more than, from the outside in.

Rather than being a passive registration of an external objective reality, perception emerges as a process of active construction — a controlled hallucination….

The prediction machine view suggests instead a continuity between hallucination and normal perception…[with] interaction between top-down, brain-based predictions and bottom-up sensory data, but during hallucinations, sensory signals no longer keep these top-down predictions…tied to their causes in the world.

What we call hallucination, then, is just a form of uncontrolled perception, just as normal perception is a controlled form of hallucination….

[A] bus has…solidity and space occupancy that exist independently of our perceptual machinery and that can do us injury…[and] the way in which the bus appears to us that is a controlled hallucination, not the bus itself….

[So] predictive perception is at the root of all our perceptual experience…[yet] is a process of active interpretation geared toward adaptive interaction with the world through the body rather than a recreation of the world within the mind.

The contents of our perceptual worlds are controlled hallucinations, brain-based best guesses about the ultimately unknowable causes of sensory signals…[and] most of the time, these controlled hallucinations are experienced as real….

Some varieties of hallucination…[e.g.,] psychedelic hallucinations…combine a sense of unreality with perceptual vividness, as does lucid dreaming. People with synesthesia…have additional sensory experiences, such as perceiving colors when viewing black letters

[So] the property of realness that attends most of our perceptions…[is] the way our brain settles on its…best guesses about its sensory causes….

But there is a trade-off…[because] we are less able to appreciate that our perceptual worlds may differ from those of others…[and] can become entrenched and reinforced as we…[harvest] sensory data that are best aligned with our individual emerging models of the world, and then updating our perceptual models based on these biased data…[e.g.,] echo chambers of social media and the newspapers we choose to read….[So] the same principles apply…[to] our sociopolitical beliefs…perceptual realities…[and] perception of being a self….

[If] we can better appreciate the diversity of experienced realities…among the billions of perceiving brains…[we’ll] find new platforms on which to build a shared understanding and a better future.”

“[Democracies] thought to die at the barrel of a gun…[are] more likely to be strangled slowly in the name of the people…to capture regulators, dominate business, control the courts, buy the media and manipulate the rules for elections…or the taxman….

Britain and [U.S]…are already showing signs of decay…[as] financial crisis persuaded voters…they were governed by aloof, incompetent, self-serving elites…bailed out while ordinary people lost their jobs [houses]…their sons and daughters on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan…[and] lobbying that funnels corporate cash into politics….

70% of Americans and French people say that their politicians are corrupt.

Populists have tapped into this pool of resentment…even if they themselves are rich and powerful; they thrive on, and nurture, anger and division…[and] alleged corruption as part of an establishment conspiracy against [them]….[They] treat opponents as fools or, if they dare stand on honor or principle, as lying hypocrites…driving politics to the extremes because compromising with the enemy is treachery…encourages them to express their anger by non-democratic means….

Cynical politicians denigrate institutions, then vandalize them.

In America the…minority of voters hold power…[in] Senate [while]…[House] routine gerrymandering and voter-suppression…[and] more politicized the courts become, the more the appointment of judges is contested… doing the constitution permanent damage….

Politics used to behave like a pendulum…[now] more like a helter-skelter….Parties fracture and head for the extremes. Populists…undermine it further. Bad turns to worse….

The bravery of…[people] protesting on the streets of Hong Kong and Moscow is a powerful demonstration of what many in the West [forgot]….Democracy is precious, and those…lucky enough to have inherited one must strive to protect it.

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May you live long and prosper!
Doc Huston

Consultant & Speaker on future nexus of technology-economics-politics, PhD Nested System Evolution, MA Alternative Futures, Patent Holder —