Who and What is it safe to Believe?

If we can’t even trust the Peer Review system, who or what can we trust?

A friendly banter between me and one of my Stumbling friends began as an argument about whether or not Vaccines are safe. Public confidence in Vaccination became a (serious) problem with a failure of the peer review process by the Lancet, when, in 1998, they published Andrew Wakefield’s notorious and extraordinary claims about a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Based on case studies of just 12 patients it should never have been accepted by a reputable journal in the first place. It was finally Retracted in 2010. The shit from that ludicrous storm in a teacup is hitting the fans as we speak with the current ongoing panic as a low-level measles epidemic spreads from Swansea.

Our argument was over the validity of vaccinations as a basis of public health. When confronted with the question as to why we should trust the claims, my ultimate fallback was the peer review process. But then I realised that it was almost impossible to defend as it is still one of the “Trust Me” based social infrastructures and too many stories like the Wakefied cockup and the various examples touched on in this “Scientist Magazine” article (first link) were and are surfacing. Personally, I firmly believe that vaccines are reliable, safe and well-tested. But given the abuse of the peer review system which is little short of rampant (see also Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science”) I have no trusted means of validating my belief for the benefit of those who remain sceptical. This is not just sad, it’s dangerous…

Mindlocks on the horizon

Wasn’t expecting this development quite so soon after my mention of mindlocks in the context of Digital Telepathy. But is precisely the sort of thing I was talking about.

I first proposed brain based authentication in an email to Dr Larry Farwell about 10 years ago when I came across an article describing his own work as the discoverer of “Brain Fingerprinting” My specific proposal was based on the conjecture that, for example, my own brain wave reaction to, say, a photograph of my own late Father, would be dramatically and reliably different to anyone else’s reaction to the same photograph and that, if measured, that reaction could be used as a form of biometric identifier for the purposes of authentication.

But actually my main hope for brain based authentication is that it offers the only conceivable solution for the “final” authentication problem; viz the one thing we can’t yet test for – is the individual whose identity we have just verified operating under duress? This is a vital authentication test in certain critical situations. For example, it would very useful to build it into the protocols which control the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles! I’m perfectly sure that existing procedures can reasonable verify the identity of the operators arming the missiles, but can it tell whether the operator is only performing their task because they have a gun pointed at their head? Of course it can’t. But it would be very reassuring to the rest of us if we knew the system COULD make that assessment and block the launch if the operator was found be performing under duress.

But it would also be just as useful, though not quite so dramatic, if we could ALL protect our important actions the same way. If and when I ever have a million quid in the bank, for example, I would quite like to know that I couldn’t transfer the dosh to another person’s bank account without the authentication system verifying that I wasn’t conducting the transfer under duress.

And, of course, in a Trusted Surveillance system, the same tests would trap all sorts of evil, from corrupt border guards to forced sexual consent.

The mindlocks which I casually mentioned in the Digital Telepathy story are based on a related notion, not, this time, of duress but of “intentionality”. The idea being that if – as in the story – we’re all capable of digitally recording everything we’re in range of, then the first level of abuse will be the illicit publication of such recordings without the consent of the other parties present. I propose privacy locks to solve that problem. They involve the recordings being locked with shared keys and a cryptographic protocol to ensure that all parties present have agreed and implemented the locks. But that would also prevent “private” playback within even your own head which is a) too restrictive and b) blocks potentially extremely useful functionality (aides memoire, personal diaries, recording minutes, private pleasure etc).

Mindlocks based on intentionality could solve that problem. They would permit private viewing of the recordings (only within your own head) and instantly lock the recording if they detected any intention on your part to share the recordings without the required consent of the other parties.

This research brings all the above a small step closer.

Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki)

depressing to find that this has just 5 “likes” on Stumbleupon and has only been viewed 80,125 times on youtube despite having been available, free, for over a year. This degree of apathy explains how they continue to get away with it. They are immune because “We The People” are indifferent. Sad, sad, sad…

The History Of Digital Telepathy

I know this won’t be the first time you’ve heard it, but on this day, of all days, we are entitled to remind ourselves, with a certain amount of mutual back slapping, that we are living in the first period in recorded history in which there has been no verifiable armed conflict between nation states anywhere on planet Earth, for more than a decade. In some quarters there are even nervous whispers that it might, at last, be safe to come out from under the bed. John Lennon’s dream may have come true. War – as “diplomacy by other means” – may finally be consigned to human history.

It is easily the most far-reaching and widely accepted benefit of the digital telepathy we now take for granted so perhaps it’s worth briefly reviewing the history of how we got where we are today.

Step 1 – The Smart-Phone
Scholars argue that the demand-driver for DT were the antique smart-phones we see proudly displayed in p-resin as antiques in many modern homes today. They were the first platform which made ubiquitous conversation possible. The ease with which they integrated into the emerging online infrastructure of social networking and video sharing made it trivial, in turn, for the ubiquitous conversation to become the universal conversation, where we could all, for the first time in our history, begin to share in real-time, events happening to ordinary citizens around the world. The appetite for this connectivity had never been anticipated, not even by the world’s most imaginative science fiction writers. Smart-phones and the early web not only generated that appetite but, given the limits of early 21st Century technology, made a pretty good stab at satisfying it. But what those prototypes really did was to illustrate the desire for something much more complete.

Historically we recognise that the transition from a global economy based on profit, to one based on utility was well under way by the early 21st century. As Sarah Klein puts it in her award-winning “From Money to Merit”:

“While we can clearly see that commercial organisations continued to dominate innovation in (capital-intensive) hardware, the clear majority of important innovations in software, even before the inception of the Web, came from the Open Source movement, which made most of their product available at no cost to the consumer. The most important, of course, being the effective cryptography, on which modern society depends” (GooLit, 2053)

Credit must be given, however grudgingly, to the late capitalist compulsion to pursue profits, if necessary even by generating new markets – with their knack for “creating the solution to no known problem”. Selfish though such motivation usually was, there can be no denying the effect it had on technological innovation. Although we now recognise software to be the more important component of our socio-economic infrastructure, that software needed the hardware to run on. Like it or not, the greedy capitalists did far more than socially focussed collectivists to make that happen. Without the combination, however, today’s prosperous, healthy, peaceful and money-free society simply wouldn’t have been possible. So despite their overall brutality, we have a lot to thank the Capitalists for. They got things done. And when their time was over, unlike the Authoritarians who depended on their support, they had the good grace to sink relatively peaceably back into society with no hard feelings between us.

Some argue that the vital step towards DT was the first smart-phone implant (remember the “Mind-Phone”? – you won’t find many of those hanging on living room walls!) and there is no denying that it had enormous consequences. On the road to DT, it was, for a start, the first time you could make contact with someone just by thinking their tag. But it was the effect it had on social control which scores much higher in my analysis.

Step 2 – Citizen Surveillance v Privacy
To begin with, even though it was now simpler than ever to communicate, privately or publicly, with any other similarly connected individual, that first generation of mind-phone users were no more likely to communicate with their fellow early adopters, than they had been as smart-phone users. What had much more dramatic impact was the routine and effortless ability to record, privately and securely, anything and everything they did or witnessed. Being able just to think “store that” rather than dig a phone out of a pocket, unlock it and press a few buttons, made recording so easy that it became the default. Combined with pre-capture and growing memory capacity, it became easier to record virtually every waking moment – and perhaps discard the mundane or unwanted – than try to anticipate what might be worth recording and run the risk of missing it. With trusted time-stamps and hash-indexing against secure auditing databases it became trivial to retrieve forensic quality evidence of any arbitrary event from your own past with verifiable accuracy – provided only that you’d bothered to store it. And it being so effortless, why wouldn’t you?

Initially no one perceived its significance. It merely expanded the opportunities for egocentric adolescents to make fools or heroes of themselves and publicise their antics on the early attempts at digital sharing (remember “Facebook” and “YouTube”? Those were the days!) Scandalous headlines arose fairly quickly, when one or two (thousand) “minders” abused the technology to record and then playback intimate sexual encounters or other sensitive private moments without the informed consent of the other parties. That kind of abuse encouraged the widespread adoption of privacy locks, so that any such recording could only be shared if it was unlocked with keys belonging to all parties present at the original recording. Indeed, until the invention of the mindlock, locked data couldn’t even be replayed internally by the record holder unless the relevant parties pooled their keys.

Then came the question of how to deal with either tragic or sinister situations. Democratic random key distribution and trusted key escrow systems took care of those issues. In the tragic scenario, the individual’s own nominated trusted key holders could recreate the missing keys if death or serious incapacity was medically certified and at least 75% of them agreed that key assembly was necessary and appropriate. In the sinister scenario, like suspected rape or murder, where a suspect perpetrator chose to with-hold their keys and their trusted key-holders also refused to co-operate, the keys were constructed so that any 750, out of a thousand randomly selected citizens could – if persuaded that there was a strong enough case – reassemble the missing keys from their own copies of the distributed key store. Today, of course, we require 900, but, for its day, that degree of democratic control was almost revolutionary.

On its own, though, it was not enough to produce the legal and social revolution which knocked away a major pillar of the Authoritarianism that still ruled humankind in the 3rd decade of this century.

Step 3 – The Legal Victories
The first few successful prosecutions of corrupt or bullying police officers and politicians – made possible by evidence gathered beyond their control and beyond reasonable dispute – didn’t have as much impact as you might have expected. Again, it seemed like only a small step from the same kind of exposures produced by the already widespread digital sharing that had kicked off “citizen journalism” at the tail-end of the previous century. But as the numbers of such incidents began to grow in the typical “successful market” exponential manner, the consciousness began to rise – simultaneously within the citizenry and the authoritarians – that, largely due to the massively improved verifiability of the stored content, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the bullies to hold sway.

What the authorities hadn’t anticipated was that the same cryptographic protections which were essential to protecting individuals from illicit access to their thoughts (which were, of course, accessible by the implants) would prove so valuable in validating any claims made by those individuals in respect of evidence gathered in the routine recording of their daily lives. The crypto protocols didn’t just protect, they forensically validated every transaction and recording that they protected. Their audit trail was bullet proof and beyond reasonable challenge.

By the time some of the more extreme authoritarians woke up to the threat and tried to outlaw the technology in a belated attempt to hold back the tide, it was already becoming almost impossible to detect that an individual even had an implant; particularly after the introduction of the first generation of biological implants genetically configured to operate within the brainstem. And it became increasingly implausible, in the light of all the obvious crime it was detecting – and thus deterring – to argue that citizens shouldn’t avail themselves of this growing benefit. Many authorities pointlessly tried shielding their own contacts with the citizens, which only affected the ability to stream data in real-time – which nobody with their head screwed on ever attempted because it immediately made the implant eminently detectable. It had no impact, however, on our ability to record, with trusted timestamps and hash-chains, at either end of a shielded session, and thus to verify our account of the session, to the rest of the world on demand.

If they knew you had an implant, the more corrupt authorities even tried to use the privacy locks to their own advantage. In the guise of offering the victim their own trusted record, they insisted that all mutual sessions be recorded but privacy locked. If the victim subsequently complained, the authority would routinely try to hide behind its own absolute right to privacy. They would, occasionally, even attempt denial that any contact had taken place. It took them a while to understand that although they do not reveal content, time-stamped and shared privacy locks can easily be used to prove that contact had taken place between the sharers, and the routine authoritarian refusal to unlock audit trails covering disputed events made it increasingly obvious they were lying or abusing their authority. Of course, once the victim was arrested and able to prove the privacy lock times and locations, such authorities then found themselves bound by the rules of disclosure and though they often managed to persuade a judge that executive privilege was justified, they also often failed. And the more often they failed, the more likely it became that some other judge or jury would see through their naive pretences. Eventually it became abnormal for their pleas to succeed.

It was very entertaining to witness the Authoritarians’ own long time mantra coming back to bite them: “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” had been their excuse for the authoritarian surveillance they had increasingly imposed, without consent, on a pliant society. How could they possibly argue against our recording what went on when they dealt with us? And how could they defend not revealing the content of those recordings?

Step 4 – The State Found Guilty of Murder
But what really mobilised the masses was when it became widely understood that citizens with implants could not just win any “your word against mine” argument over trivial disputes with friends, colleagues and family, but could fairly easily prove themselves innocent against even the most the malicious charges of a corrupt authority, however much tax-funded effort they put in to framing their victim.

The infamous case of Wilson v the United States is the pivotal case every student learns about and which exposed the levels of corruption endemic in the so-called Justice system. The police, under the direct instructions of a political aide (Adrian White) to the then Vice President (Joanne Schwarzewild), and with the explicit knowledge of the Attorney General (Carlos Martinez), were shown conclusively to have planted evidence and commissioned witness testimony with the corrupt and direct intent to convict an innocent student – David Wilson – in order to conceal the part played by the FBI in the assassination of the wife (Carole) of a Republican Senator (Alan Liebowitz) who had inconveniently caught said Senator cheating on her in an election year. Unfortunate timing on both sides.

Not only was the student able to prove his own alibi by giving a comprehensive and indisputable record of his movements and location during a critical 14 hour period, but, following his arrest, he endured the routine “legal” blackmail session known as “plea bargaining”. They didn’t know he was implanted and he captured virtual admissions by the police interrogators and prosecutors that he was being set up as a Patsy, that he had “no chance of beating the State machine that you’re up against and your own best interests would be served by admitting guilt even though we all know you didn’t do it”.

The political clincher was the testimony provided by a White House secretary, Marion Downey, present during a conversation in which the Vice President casually made it clear to the Chief of Staff (Sydney Walden) that the suitable target had been found. The VP informed the Chief of Staff that David Wilson regularly earned a bit of extra cash tending the extensive gardens of the Senator’s New England Mansion on Saturday mornings. He could be put in the right place at the right time.

Downey didn’t take much notice at the time because she misunderstood it as a trivial domestic arrangement for the Senator’s gardening requirements. It was only when the Senator’s murdered wife popped up on all the News feeds a couple of weeks later, followed by a startled looking David Wilson being arrested for the murder that she realised she was in possession of incriminating evidence. And for reasons which have been replayed since in a dozen dramatisations of the story, she didn’t much like the VP at the time.

Downey swore testimony and offered to reveal her data to the court but both the Vice President and Chief of Staff pleaded the Fifth and refused to share their privacy-locking keys, citing grounds of “National Security” and “Executive Privilege”; which, for the first time, the entire planet understood to be an inescapable admission of guilt.

The judge (Justice Steven Warren) – clearly part of the conspiracy – tried to rule her testimony invalid and even tried to block the expert testimony of the mathematicians and forensic software consultants who could explain how and why Wilson’s alibi was incontrovertible. Famously the Jury went on strike – together with elements of the local police – who had caught the mood of the masses and refused to make any arrests. The media storm and widespread public protests eventually forced the Government to concede a retrial under the famously incorruptible Justice Mary Elizabeth Sterning.

The technical evidence demonstrated to the court how Wilson’s evidence could not have been spoofed.

The assassin hired by the FBI had killed the Senator’s wife 15 minutes before Wilson was due to report for duty on Saturday morning, expecting him to show up just before the Police snatch squad sent to arrest him with the smoking gun. But he had consumed rather too much alcohol at a Frat party the previous evening and didn’t make it to the Mansion. His ability to prove his movements sunk the prosecution case and under the judge’s direction, the jury gladly, and unanimously, found him not guilty and made their now famous declaration finding “Agents and Agencies of the Government guilty of murder in the first degree, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury to a degree amounting to Treason against the people of the United States”.

As well as the huge and inevitable political storm this provoked, overnight the American “successful prosecution” rate, always considered as infeasibly high, plummeted as it quickly became clear that a significant percentage of prosecutions were without verifiable foundation and resulted from virtual blackmail in the form of the corrupt plea bargaining system. Outside America the corruption of its judicial system was widely recognised, not least as a result of the direct inverse correlation between the wealth of the defendant and their probability of conviction. But getting Americans to see it with their own eyes was absolutely crucial. Once their authoritarian domino began to wobble, all the others realised the peril that was upon them.

Step 5 – Changing the Game and the Players
Once the chances of successful prosecution against provably innocent victims fell to near zero, the entire plea bargaining system crashed and burned. One after another, juries refused to follow the edicts of obviously corrupt judges and made it impossible to convict the innocent. Honest judges, who fortunately still formed a majority within the judicial system, began rejecting Police evidence routinely unless it was digitally recorded, with trusted time-stamps, on a protected audit trail. The crunch came when the still largely Authoritarian Congress tried to pass new laws, dramatically reducing opportunities for – and the powers reserved for – Trial By Jury. Simultaneously, they tried to mandate trust in Police evidence even when not digitally preserved. Nearly one and a quarter million American Citizens surrounded the Capitol and refused to move until the vote was taken. The Sacking of Congress, which followed the infamous vote is, of course, the day we now all celebrate as the birthdate of our real democracy.

In the famous words (*) of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Pilliakov – the only sitting Supreme to try to fight the State’s attempt at resisting the revolution (and one of the first into the Capitol on that famous Tuesday):

“Yes, it is still necessary, in some circumstances, for society to delegate Authority to public employees but on this historical day we have finally come to terms with Lord Acton’s axiom: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” And at last we have found the solution…

From this day forth, the rule of Law shall be modified thus:

Citizen: Innocent until proved Guilty

Authority: Guilty until proved innocent.”

Beyond the criminals in Authority, it became effectively impossible for criminals in the wider world to know – in advance of their attack – whether or not someone was capable of recording their attacks, so once the adoption rate passed the critical mass of about 25%, it rapidly became too dangerous for most attackers to take the risk. Of course, if you actually intended to kill the target, it was still relatively simple to arrange a murder before the victim’s sensors could identify the attacker, for example using a sniper rifle at distance, but almost all other attacks became too costly to the attacker. And once the technology adoption rate achieved the 95% level, the ability to track down attackers purely by a process of elimination became feasible and crime fell to the levels it still sits at today where Murder and Rape are now so rare that each one becomes a sensation for a few weeks after it is uncovered.

Step 6 – Making Public Lies Impossible
The next major enhancement was AAI – Augmented Artificial Intelligence. Some of us are old enough to remember its humble beginnings as a simple audio-visual prompt which would remind users of the name of that acquaintance you’d bumped into in the street. You’d only met them once, and that was a few months back. It was so damn useful to have that name and bio prompt and be able to greet each other, convincingly, like old friends!

But then AAI’s language and context recognition skills began to be turned in another direction. RTFM – Real Time Fact Monitoring – was the killer app that did for Authoritarianism what that prehistoric asteroid collision did for the Dinosaurs. Their use of covert and overt violence to control the population had already been made untenable by the citizen surveillance arraigned against them. Now it became increasingly impossible for them to control any part of the political messaging system unless it genuinely fitted the facts.

At first it was a tool for the satirists. They’d replay a political speech but with the AAI analysis showing up as subtitles. We all smirked as politician after politician was shown to be misinformed, prejudiced, selective, manipulative, superstitious or lying. Bigoted journalists, exaggerating CEOs, Evangelist millionaire ministers and a host of other routine social parasites were all publicly exposed in the same way.

It quickly became obvious that the game was up. No public statement, nor even a private one – if if was based on facts in the public domain – could be made without the increasingly infallible RTFM flagging up all attempts at deceit and manipulation. Dishonest politicians, in particular, found it impossible to continue their centuries old tactics and quickly became unelectable. And although it took a full fifteen more years for the effects of RTFM to sweep the planet, and one or two regimes fought to the literal bitter death, Authoritarianism died, not so peacefully, on January 5 2058, with the public hanging of Iran’s “Guardian Council”.

And as we all know, we’ve seen massive drops in crime against the person, mirrored around the world, and despite the on-going genuine conflicts which continue to exist between citizen and citizen, between State and citizen and between State and State, since that date there hasn’t been a single day of armed conflict between any two or more member States of the United Nations. It seems that once it became impossible to lie to each other about anything which could be instantly fact-checked or, if necessary, remotely or citizen surveilled, wars become essentially impossible to create.

This year, as multiple celebrations are regularly reminding us, is the centenary of the recognised starting point of the digital age – January 1 1970. And today is specifically the 50th anniversary of that first smart-phone implant on April 1 2020 – the birthdate of Digital Telepathy.

I give you “Happy D Day”


*Pilliakov’s speech in Context:

“Yes, it is still necessary, in some circumstances, for society to delegate Authority to public employees but on this historical day we have finally come to terms with Lord Acton’s axiom: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” And at last we have found the solution.

From this day forward, let it be known to anyone aspiring to the exercise of Authority in this land: if ever you are delegated powers to act on our behalf, you shall be assumed fully accountable for every second of your life while you remain in office and, if appropriate, for a number of years before and after you leave office.

What this means in practice is very simple. Should you be accused of any crime or misdemeanour, in contrast to the Citizen, whose innocence will continue to be assumed until a Jury can be persuaded otherwise, the starting point for anyone in Authority is the exact opposite. Your guilt shall be assumed unless a Jury can be persuaded otherwise.

For some years, a growing number of ordinary citizens, now constituting a large majority of the population, have, for a wide variety of their own purposes, voluntarily and routinely captured comprehensive detail about own their lives; so comprehensive, that some innocent citizens have famously defeated the infamous attempts by a corrupt State and corrupt judicial system to continue their embedded practice of widespread judicial blackmail and tens of thousands of false imprisonments.

That same technology shall, in future, be deployed to further protect the Citizen from rogue Authority. Unlike ordinary citizens, for whom the adoption and precise use of such technology will always remain optional, if you are appointed to a position of Authority, it is, hereafter, a condition of your employment in such a post, not only that you be monitored by the technology, but for that monitoring to be provably continuous.

You shall record your every move, your every conversation, your every heartbeat. They shall remain just as private and secure as the data stored voluntarily by private citizens. But unlike the private citizen, about whom there can never be certainty about what data they have captured and chosen to archive, the world will know that you are legally obliged to possess your own digital record of any disputed event.

The world will thus know that, if you are innocent, you will be able prove it, just as thousands of innocent citizens have managed to do themselves, even under direct attack by the Authorities and Rules which were supposed to exist to protect them. Under these circumstances, it is, of course, reasonable, should you be accused of anything untoward, that you are given the opportunity to prove yourself innocent. But should you choose not to present such evidence, even if you claim that the evidence has been destroyed, or that a system failure prevented storage, your guilt shall be formally confirmed.

From this day forth, the rule of Law shall be modified thus:

Citizen: Innocent until proved Guilty

Authority: Guilty until proved innocent.