Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Blogging on hold

I'm in the midst of trying to organise moving house which is a great time, but leaving me little in the way of spare time for blogging. So for the next couple of weeks things will be a bit quiet around here. Anything I do post will be mentioned in the usual places.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Rethinking the Judiciary

Stephen Fry did a good interview recently in which he took British Judges to task for their ignorance of how Twitter worked, in the context of the case of Paul Chambers. Chambers, for those who arent aware, is likely to go to jail for the following tweet:
Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!
I'm not going to wax lyrical about how dumb it is to think this is a threat. Plenty of other people have done that. It's clearly not serious. Unless he followed it with a tweet that read "Where can I buy a lot of fertilizer?" or something similar, as that might show the vestages of intent. Anyway, Fry did this little piece (which can't be embedded easily because the BBC equally inept at technology), in which he lashed out at judges who simply don't understand, or even seek to understand technology, and yet are allowed to make law on that basis.

As a writer of angry blogs and tweets it worries me that my posts might be taken out of context and I could end up in serious legal difficulties. Its almost enough to make me stop sending anonymous emails to famous people threatening their safety. Almost. But not quite.

ZenPundit has a good post up about drones, one of my favourite topics at the moment. In it he asks:
Do I own any of the airspace above my property? If so, how high up? If not can somebody float camera-laden drones up to first and second story windows without breaking trespassing laws? How about following a person walking on their private property or in public by hovering uncomfortably nearby their personal space? Flying over privacy fences or at an angle to peer over them?
Well I don't know, but I'm getting thicker curtains if I ever find out Mr Safranski is ever in the country.

The issue is that we live in a world of startlingly fast change. Once upon a time a judge could sit in judgement over a society which would look much the same when he took office as when he left it (or died). The meant that the law, conceptually, was 'locked in' to some degree. Obviously new legislation caused change, but most of the time, what you got was what you got. The situation now is a bit different, to quote Dogbert from the Dilbert comic:
Information is gushing toward your brain like a firehose aimed at a teacup
This leads to a problem, because different teacups are not equal. A 50+ year old judge does not, and should not be expected to, have the same understanding of Twitter that I do. No matter what you do, they will not.

And what do judges do when confronted with something they don't understand? Well, it's certainly not recuse themselves from the case. Its a bit more like a peacock. Some judges seem to revel in not knowing what the heck is going on. Here is Judge Davies from Paul Chambers case:
Anyone in this country in the present climate of terrorist threats, especially at airports, could not be unaware of the possible consequences.
And thats the point. Paul Chambers is clearly not a terrorist. And he was clearly unaware of the 'possible consequences'. If he was, he wouldnt have tweeted about it. When I say I'm going to beat the crap out of my friend for cancelling on me at the last minute, he doesnt start taking self defence courses, mostly because he knows I'm joking, rather than contempt for my ability to carry out my threats.

So what's the solution? My suggestion is twofold.

First judges must, by law, be required to refuse to sit in judgement over a case which they are unable to understand. If a judge is found to have done so, that should be grounds for a mistrial and some form of professional disciplinary action. Simple as that. By law I'm not allowed to perform brain surgery, or build rockets, (and I've tried), and so judges should be prevented from deciding a person's future when they are woefully ill equipt to do so. This rule should apply with the same force and consquence of a conflict of interest. Because it is a conflict of interest to have no damn idea what you're talking about when considering someone else's life and future.

I'm not trying to sneer at judges on this, and I don't think it should apply only to issues of technology. If a case on biotech, or medicine, is being tried then the same rules should be applied. If a case comes forward which there is no reasonable expectation that any judge should understand it then there may be a need for an organisation which serves to provide briefings and ancilliary information, possibly panels of judges to balance out the decisions of individual judge whose brain is determined not to wrap around the topic.

Ultimately, judges should, as part of their day to day, be asking "Am I qualified to judge this person".

Secondly we need a team/department/organisation whose job is to look issues which will cause confusion and consternation and try to reach a general legal consensus before they come to trial. Sooner or later someone is going to take photos of a naked celebrity through their window using a microdrone. Fact. That's going to happen. So why not sit down and start to have a think about it now? Figure out if we have relevant laws, and if not, why not? Do we need something new to cover this area?

I see this as being an organisation which is very public facing. Including technologists, futurists, scientists and professors and doctors of various stripes, as well as a range of people from all levels of the legal system. How it would work in reality, I don't know, but in principle issues would be put forward, likely social impacts assessed, and a decision about the legal issues surrounding it made.

It's critical to have these discussions if we're going to have any common sense applied in the courtroom. It would also serve that if an issue comes to court where no common sense has been discussed, it could help judges by being a resource to brief them, and guide their thinking about an issue. It could give them access to experts, who could broaden their understanding of the issues, while remaining impartial about the case.

Because sooner or later, we're all going to threaten to blow up an airport.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

I'm scared of AI, because prions

I'm not a biologist, or a biochemist, but I find prions cool. Here's what they are (according to Wikipedia):
A prion is an infectious agent composed of protein in a misfolded form. This is in contrast to all other known infectious agents (virus/bacteria/fungus/parasite) which must contain nucleic acids (either DNA, RNA, or both). The word prion, coined in 1982 by Stanley B. Prusiner, is a portmanteau derived from the words protein and infection. Prions are responsible for the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in a variety of mammals, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as "mad cow disease") in cattle and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) in humans. All known prion diseases affect the structure of the brain or other neural tissue and all are currently untreatable and universally fatal.

So in essence its a knot of protein that will eat your brain and leave you dead. Also, they don't really fit the definition of something living. Ideal. Particularly when you find out that these vicious brain eating incurable monsters can evolve:
Scientists have shown for the first time that "lifeless" prion proteins, devoid of all genetic material, can evolve just like higher forms of life.

The Scripps Research Institute in the US says the prions can change to suit their environment and go on to develop drug resistance.

So, that might be an issue. Then I read this:
“There’s this whole world below 650 milliseconds. It’s like landing on another planet,” said Neil Johnson, a complex systems specialist at the University of Miami and co-author of the study, released Feb. 7 on arXiv. “It’s an enormous part of the market which is out of human reach. We have a glimpse of the kind of ecology that’s going on down there.”
Neil Johnson is talking about high speed automated trading. Probably the most bizarre part of the financial sector you could possibly imagine. Its an entire world of 'bots' working completely outside human control, operating on a millisecond level to turn less money into more money. They compete of course, and they do so in an environment which is basically not understood.

Until recently, trading was the preserve of humans. Imagine a stock market and you likely envision a loud, crowded trading floor, a scene out of Wall Street. But in 1998, after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission authorized the first electronic exchanges, computer trading programs entered markets as equals to humans.

The programs are designed to trade enormous volumes of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments at superfast speeds, taking advantage of second-to-second fractional price shifts and market trends. It’s now estimated that high-frequency computer trading accounts for 70 percent of all equity trades. While some activity does occur at speeds with which humans can interact, much of it falls beyond the limits of human response time.

(One new computer chip built specifically for high-frequency trading can prepare trades in .000000074 seconds; a proposed $300 million transatlantic cable is being built just to shave 0.006 seconds off transaction times between New York City and London.)

In the early years of computer trading, algorithms were profitable and concerns rare. Designers and investors took their money and didn’t think much about what Johnson and co-authors call “ultrafast machine ecology.” After the 2010 flash crash, however, mainstream economists wondered if high-frequency trading systems might sometimes get weird and unpredictable. A $4.1 billion automated sale was ultimately blamed for triggering that crash, and economists started asking questions about the new, hazy relationships between machines and markets.

“We are certainly witnessing one of the major transitions in the history of financial markets,” said automated trading researcher John Cartlidge of the University of Bristol, who was not involved in new study. “Economic theory has always lagged behind economic reality, but now the speed of technological change is widening that gap at an exponential rate. The scary result of this is that we now live in a world dominated by a global financial market of which we have virtually no sound theoretical understanding.”

If that last sentence doesnt give you pause, go back and look at it again.

So what's the connection between the prions and the AI eating the stock market? Well, both are unliving systems, which shouldn't be able to evolve, but due to a mixture of environment and human intervention are going to. The AI systems will be improved by humans to better compete in their environment, and will behave in increasingly complex ways as their competition is also improved.

I'm not saying that Skynet will be born in the stock market. If we develop human type AI, that'll come from an entirely different field of research. What we might create is wholly autonomous pieces of software whose existence is predicated on activity which may or may not be to human advantage, and which is susceptible to emergent properties.
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems.
Of course you might say "well, these things arent intelligent". Problem is, ants arent intelligent, nor are bees. They're just complicated little knots of organic computer code, designed to co-operate and compete, strapped to a piece of flesh and let loose. These AI's are strapped money and let loose in an environment where their only object is to make their pile of money bigger. That is their survival imperative.

So whats the bottom line? Well, nothing too sinister. We've just created an entirely new ecosystem, with evolving creatures in it, put it in a sealed container we can't easily examine, and then poured a great deal of the world's money into it. How that can go wrong I don't know.

Where does this post industrial world end?

Disclaimer, this is a stream of consciousness piece, not an article per se. If you like that sort of thing, read on.

I don't like a great many big businesses, publishers of all stripes in particular. They exist largely because at a certain point in history it was hard to make lots of copies of things and get people to pay for those things. That's literally all they're for. Once upon a time in order to read my collected thoughts I would have had to have gone and found a publisher, convinced him I wasn't a nut (harder than you might think) and then hope he didn't change too much of what I wanted to say in order to make it consumer friendly.

But, with publishing dying in favour of electronic distribution which connects artist to public directly (Spotify, or the Pirate Bay's new experiment in music promotion), or services which cut down the distribution cost to almost zero (Amazon Kindle), I'm increasingly curious as to what happens next. Now we can get our books, music and film (I say 'can' only because in principle we should be able to, the market is still adjusting to the digital reality, and it may be many years before it fully shifts), so that's the entire creative arts publishing business dead and shuffling along zombie like til it falls.

I had my first serious discussion with my parents about 3D printing the other day. My dad is an engineer and had been to an expo in which someone had printed him a salt shaker in front of him as a piece of merchandise. It was a bit rough and ready, but there's no getting around the fact its a salt shaker. So, 3D printing will cover off all your kids plastic toys (Disney will make a 3D printer one day, as Cory Doctorow predicted), most of your kitchenware, and a lot of other things you use day to day. I think you'll also see the emergence of "finishing kits", so you'll print the parts, and someone will send you some electronics, or specialist bits, which make it all clip together.

Now, there'll still be plenty of manufacture, but are you going to hire lots of people to 'make stuff' when you can just buy sophisticated 3D printers and the technicians to run them? Probably not. So, the manufacturing industry is about to head into a period where it hires far less people, and is increasingly distributed. You'll see the emergence of a 'designer' class of people, who will seem a lot more like artists, creating clever things to be printed, particularly at home. The race will then be one of efficiency, who can make the 3D printed object which does the best job, for the lowest material cost?

But its okay, the service industry is still out there. Unfortunately, that's on the cusp of a big change too. Take the banking industry, lots of potential there, certainly lots of money. But sadly, there's more money in creating clever software that can do what humans do at microsecond speed. Of course, there's a slight risk there of destroying the entire financial system, but thats a problem for 0.06 seconds from now, and humans have already taken a valiant swing at that without AI help. So no big deal.

I keep hearing a word at work, it's "automation". Wouldnt it be great if we could automate this boring task. Hell yes it would, but of course when all the boring tasks are automated, less boring stuff will be automated. It'll happen to the back room staff first, but in time, I'll have to justify why I should get to sit in a heated building when software can do the job that most of my team do.

And its not just true of my industry, its true of pretty much the entire service sector. Why have phone banks if smart software can understand what the user is saying and sort you out that way? Any data processing job can be automated, you just need a software engineer to sort it out for you.

And what does this lead to? Well, the total collapse of some industries (publishing) and many more becoming employee free zones, apart from the few software fixers who roam the building making sure all the machines are doing their jobs, and the minimum possible number of client facing people to actually "talk" to clients, so they can feed back to the software guys to get the outputs they need.

In the end, we end up with a few company owners who make large profits now all those pesky employees are gone. We get hordes of 'artists' of various stripes, all competing for smaller slices of the pie. There'll be some smart artists who create new types of pie, but then the swarm will descend as all those unemployed people seek a bit of the new pie.

Its going to be glorious. Decide for yourselves if I mean that sarcastically or not.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Numbers, and why they matter.

Hat tip to Starbuck_WOI for this

I work in market research, pretty much what I do day to day is find stories in data and try and articulate that to the client. A surprising amount of what I end up saying to the client doesnt involve numbers, although I always have numbers in the back pocket in case they're needed. A mixture of trust in us as consultants and general lack of desire to see lots of numbers mean it's better to avoid too much data on a slide. That means when I read this:
Poll finds broad support for Obama’s counterterrorism policies
I want to know what data is actually saying that, because I'm looking at story, not the reality of the data.

So, are the public agreeing that Obama's counter terrorism policies are "right" or not?

Well, turns out that, from a sample of 1,000 (statistically robust with a margin of error of +/- 3% approx):
  • 42% strongly approve of the decision to keep Guantanmo open
  • 59% strongly approve of the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists
  • 56% strongly approve the draw down of troops in Afghanistan
Now, those numbers are strong, very strong, and here's why I believe thats happening. Its because people think, when the Government says 'suspected terrorists' what they are actually saying is 'they are terrorists, but we can't tell you why, because then we'd have to kill you'. And thats the language continued in 2 out of three of these questions is saying. So people are basically agreeing they're find with killing terrorists and putting them in jail, they're also absolutely A-OK with getting troops out of Afghanistan. Well, that makes more sense to me.

If you re-worded the question to something that reflected reality it might read a bit more like this:
Do you support the use of drones to kill civilians, who may at some point commit acts of violence against American troops or civilians
you might get a different answer. If you asked an emotive question (as the WP has done) it might read like this:
Do you support the use of drones to kill civilians, including first responders and those attending funerals, who may at some point commit acts of violence against American troops or civilians
Then you might be playing a whole different game.

Due to the low base size this statement is factually not correct:
Support for drone strikes against suspected terrorists stays high, dropping only somewhat when respondents are asked specifically about targeting American citizens living overseas, as was the case with Anwar al- Awlaki, the Yemeni American killed in September in a drone strike in northern Yemen.
The variance is 2%, meaning it falls well within the margin of error on the data. Its not totally wrong, its just directional. If you had another month or two's worth of data using the same question, you could assert it was rising or falling if the trend continues.

Interestingly the article cites audiences which I can't see in their sample, for example:
But fully 77 percent of liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones, meaning that Obama is unlikely to suffer any political consequences as a result of his policy in this election year.
So, 77% of liberal Democrats, who likely trust this Government highly, are in favour of killing people the Government has suggested are terrorists. That doesnt surprise me, thats normal.

I've done my share of so called "PR-able" research. It tends to be massaged at the very least. Journalists think in terms of a story, and have the story to some extent lined up, they then want data which demonstrates that story. Its always possible to then find that data, if you're willing to ask the right question. In this case, some very specific questions have been asked, which will elicit a very obvious set of responses, those have then been packaged up and presented as raw fact.

Be afraid of data, it is not your friend, particularly in the hands of a journalist.

Mo Money, no fewer problems

The Daily Telegraph, as with many other papers loves to run pieces like this:
The Coalition Government, indisputably influenced by the Liberal Democrats, is particularly to blame [for a weaker military]. There is a serious possibility that military action by Britain will be required in the near future not only to defend the Falkland Islands from the Argentine threat, but also to contain the situation in Iran.

Surely the time has now come at least to call a halt to any further reduction in expenditure on our Armed Forces.
Notice that last line? If we just spend more, everything will be okay, we'll be able to go everywhere, do anything, kill anyone. Hooray. Go UK, go UK! And so forth.

Lets say we double our military spending up to about 5% of GDP. That'd put us at about £110billion. Hell, thats plenty right? Well, it'd be about a 10th of what the US spend, and, to be fair, they're pretty good at most stuff. Ultimately, the fact that they have to point to a rise in civilian deaths as a signal of impending victory in Afghanistan, might point some slight structural weaknesses, but no biggie:
[General] Scaparrotti, who said he accepted the U.N.’s statistics, pointed out that the vast majority of Afghan civilians — 77 percent — die because of insurgent actions. When Danger Room asked if the increase in total civilian deaths indicated that the insurgents still have a free hand to attack, Scaparrotti replied, “I’d say it’s actually reduced. It’s pushed them into a certain [set of tactics] which isn’t ideal.”

Namely: suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. While Scaparrotti conceded there was a “freedom of action that they have, in some places,” he said the “freedom of action [insurgents] show today is increasingly in IEDs and suicide bombing. They don’t have the capability to take us on directly.”

The U.N. concluded that insurgent bombs are now the “single largest killer of Afghan children, women and men in 2011.” Suicide bombings have “dramatically” increased, and are now killing 80 percent more Afghans than in 2010.

Perhaps the Taliban might not be able to take on U.S. forces directly, but they’ve expanded their ability to plant low-level bombs and launch high-profile suicide attacks. “I don’t know that that’s an increased freedom of action,” Scaparrotti said.
Its a nice idea that money magically makes for a better military, but lets face it, its nonsense. If the largest most mobile, most effective, most powerful military on the planet cannot cope in Afghanistan, then simple spending is not enough.

The problem is, that if you're going to spend money, there's got to be a reason for it. To use an example, I recently spent an ungodly amount on a new computer, my reason? I have a strategy. My strategy is to have a single source device for my entertainment needs while at home. See? An articulated strategy enables me to make a choice about how much to spend. Turns out, its a lot. But thats between me and the bank account I used to have.

My point is that without a clearly defined national strategy, ideally for the all for all foreign relations, but even if it is only for the military, we've got no damn idea what we want to spend. In the last decade we've had two large scale long term engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, we've had a number of short term high intensity deployments, Libya being the most significant, and we face a potential conflict with Argentina in the next year or so, even if it never goes hot.

In order to address these challenges we have to have a real national strategy which is able to articulate and encompass our national intent. We need to decide if copying the American doctrine of 2 "concurrent threats" really helps us, or is realistic. I'd argue that isnt a strategy either, its a desire certainly, but its not articulated in the form of a strategy.

If I was going to take a stab at it I would suggest that our strategy should be something like "Ensure that the United Kingdom and its properties overseas are within the reach of protection at all times, with sufficient reserve to pursue aggressive action where it supports this objective". Thats off the top of my head, and there are already holes I can see in it, but at least now I can start scribbling on the back of a napkin, to see what I need to do that.

I can tell I need a fleet, with Carriers, and aircraft for force projection. I'm going to need some boots on the ground, but I might be able to make some savings there, if I'm not going to be putting those boots overseas very often because I'm confident air power and naval force can provide protection in most cases. Special forces and the marines will probably provide a lot of that, if we're going to use the fleet to provide our core mobility.

We have no strategy. We flail. In the absense of strategy we do what we're told, whether actively because America asks nicely, or reactively, because Argentina is being a d*ck or we just can't stand Gadhaffi any more and see an opportunity to facilitate him being shot while on the run. Either way, we're not our own boss in either of those situations.

But even if we had a strategy, we still shouldnt start spending money. We've got to think about the military which we need to achieve that strategy. What training do they need, what sorts of people need to be in it? But thats a whole other blog post. The point is, we've got no damn idea what we want to achieve and how to do it.

Of course developing a Grand Strategy is fraught with peril, as this sage post on Rethinking Security (and Aaron Ellis) reminds us:
Aaron Ellis, writing about British foreign policy thought, dubs this the “internationalisation of the national interest.” And I can do no better than Patrick Porter’s precision demolition of the British National Security Strategy (NSS) for describing the lethal consequences of grand strategy rooted in a set of dangerous hidden policy assumptions:

“It claims the country’s security depends on a liberal, ‘rules based’ world order that upholds its values. This is a potentially bottomless concept. …It describes a world of interdependence and connectivity. Britain is endangered by globe-girding, chaotic processes such as state failure. Broken countries are incubators of extremism, disease, or crime. … According to the document, Britain’s security is directly linked to the type of regime in other states. It cannot tolerate the illiberal. Therefore, London must scan the far horizons and take a forward-leaning posture, watching, engaging and intervening on the periphery to protect its core.

…It asserts that Africa matters wherever there is extremism or violence, not a very discriminating test; Eastern Europe matters because Britain is engaged there; the Middle East matters because it is central to security and ‘totemic’ to extremists, and Afghanistan-Pakistan for its links to domestic terrorism. Central Asia, Eastern Europe, large chunks of Africa and the Middle East: these four spheres would strain a superpower, let alone Britain. Defined this way, the country’s interests have acquired an open-ended, de-territorialised and unbounded character. If British policymakers and their military advisers believe that the nation’s interests are at stake wherever questions of order, values, stability or wealth are involved, all things are Britain’s concern and virtually everything matters. “

I'm going to leave it there, but if I read another article suggesting that with just a bit more money the military will be fixed I won't be held responsible for the consequences.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

What do young people care about?

Its hard to imagine that there is anyone who hasnt at least heard of SOPA or its twin PIPA. Shockingly bad pieces of legislation in their own right, they sparked a wave of protest across America (online and offline) which eventually led to a humiliating climb down by those who had initially put the bills forward. Here's a little of the background from Gizmodo:
House Judiciary Committee Chair and Texas Republican Lamar Smith, along with 12 co-sponsors, introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act on October 26th of last year. Debate on H.R. 3261, as it's formally known, has consisted of one hearing on November 16th and a "mark-up period" on December 15th, which was designed to make the bill more agreeable to both parties. Its counterpart in the Senate is the Protect IP Act (S. 968). Also known by its cuter-but-still-deadly name: PIPA. There will likely be a vote on PIPA next Wednesday; SOPA discussions had been placed on hold but will resume in February of this year.

The beating heart of SOPA is the ability of intellectual property owners (read: movie studios and record labels) to effectively pull the plug on foreign sites against whom they have a copyright claim. If Warner Bros., for example, says that a site in Italy is torrenting a copy of The Dark Knight, the studio could demand that Google remove that site from its search results, that PayPal no longer accept payments to or from that site, that ad services pull all ads and finances from it, and—most dangerously—that the site's ISP prevent people from even going there.

Perhaps the most galling thing about SOPA in its original construction is that it let IP owners take these actions without a single court appearance or judicial sign-off. All it required was a single letter claiming a "good faith belief" that the target site has infringed on its content. Once Google or PayPal or whoever received the quarantine notice, they would have five days to either abide or to challenge the claim in court. Rights holders still have the power to request that kind of blockade, but in the most recent version of the bill the five day window has softened, and companies now would need the court's permission.
There were other parts to the bill, but thats the core of it, of course the consequences wouldnt have been grave:
"The Act would allow the government to break the Internet addressing system," wrote 108 law professors in a July letter to Congress. "The Internet's Domain Name System ("DNS") is a foundational building block upon which the Internet has been built and on which its continued functioning critically depends. The Act will have potentially catastrophic consequences for the stability and security of the DNS."
Luckily the US has always been opposed to the free internet, its not like the President ever said this in China:
I’m a big supporter of non-censorship,” Obama said. “I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access — is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.”
The result of this rampant hypocracy? Well... pretty much everyone went a bit crazy, because it turns out that more or less everyone sees a threat to the free Internet as a threat to their personal freedoms, whether or not they exploit the Internet for copyright infringing materials or not. Technology companies spent a lot, but the main body of the pressure came from average people who want a free public Internet.

But here's something which I found really fascinating. Considering the blather about the US election you'd think it would probably come in ahead of a piece of internet legislation but here are some statistics from the Pew Research Centre:
Twenty-three percent of young people, ages 18 to 29, followed the SOPA protests. In contrast, 21 percent followed the 2012 elections, and just 10 percent tracked news about our nation’s economy, reports Pew.

Curiosity about SOPA trickled all the way down to the K–12 set. Students showed interest as educators, including librarians, spoke about the blackouts, copyright and piracy, and the bills themselves—the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA)—which have since been pulled by Capitol Hill lawmakers.
As ACTA grows ever closer its important that the success seen in the US over SOPA is replicated, to ensure that yet another disastrous set of policies are allowed to become reality.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Wikistrat and fracking

As the more eagle eyed amongst you might have noticed I have recently joined Wikistrat's community of analysts. Special thanks go to Mark Safranski of ZenPundit fame and Tom Barnett (who likely needs no introduction to regular readers) who were kind enough to raise this on their respective blogs and (amongst others) have made me very welcome within the community.

The emphasis of what I'll be talking about on there will be energy, technology along with Russia and Central Asia, although I'm thoroughly looking forward to getting involved in the broad ranging discussions which take place on the Wikistrat platform. Currently running is a simulation on the future of fracking, with an emphasis of its likely impact on North America. Described thusly by Dr Barnett:
For now, we tee up the first of about a half-dozen major sims that will explore the drivers of a particular future world order that I became intrigued with as a result of last summer's Wikistrat Grand Strategy Competition. To me, how the NorthAm energy boom (question mark suggests nothing in this world is a given) unfolds is one of the major global uncertainties. North America can get it right or wrong on a host of levels, and since we're the inventors of these fracking revolution, the QWERTY effect would be huge, triggering a host of possible future pathways from fabulous to self-desructively nasty in terms of the environment and/or whether or not this great gift becomes an excuse for bad geostrategic choices by the U.S., China, Europe, Brazil, India, Russia - the big six we're focusing on here. You can say, it's a simple projection: it works or it doesn't. But the secondary and tertiary pathways that are revealed in this two stage process (NorthAm leads, others follow or ignore) are varied and immense in their capacity to make global stability better or worse.
Crowd sourcing a discussion around such a complex and difficult set of issues is a thoroughly novel way to do it, with many opportunities to both develop your own thoughts, as well as help others find the strengths and weaknesses in their own work. For those interested in some of the top line findings the Wikistrat Twitter feed is posting at least a couple of thoughts a day.

I look forward to posting more about the community as public pieces of work become avaliable.