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Michael LaTorra
Zen Transhumanist
Zen Transhumanist

Michael's posts

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"Watching the watchers" through maximal bottom-up governmental transparency is the only long-term solution to the surveillance State, according to David Brin, who explained it all in his book "The Transparent Society".
Matt Novik really tears into Edward Snowden, exaggerating unfairly a bit, especially in his rude tone, but raising good points. My own complaint is that while Snowden did a service by forcing us to converse more vigorously about surveillance, he has since contributed very little to solutions. Sure, he’s joined thousands of other paladins-for-freedom by pointing at various Orwellian traces and signs, yelling “Lo! Big Brother looms!” But then, his prescriptions tend to be the same, lame-armwaved appeals for technological miracles and hiding from elites.

Look, I send money to the EFF and ACLU and I love that they are out there, yelling! But it’s also frustrating, because not one of these heroes ever explains how hiding from authorities or elites is even remotely possible, over the long run. There are no examples from the history of our species when the blinding of all elites was accomplished by average people. None.

What Snowden and his fellow paladins offer, when challenged, is vague assurances that encryption will take care of it. Ooh, a magic word! As if each decade’s ciphers aren’t child’s play to the next decade’s crackers. As if supposedly secure systems don’t topple every day. As if the average Joe or Jane can sleep well, knowing for a fact that others don’t know something – an epistemologically crazy and unverifiable notion.

Alas, not one of these brave dreamers has apparently read the history of cat-and-mouse oppression by secret police. There are standard Gestapo tactics, going back to Hammurabi, and only three or four, out of a dozen categories, would be even slightly inconvenienced by crypto stuff.

You know where this is going. There is only one method that will work, that can work. That has worked, and it is not hiding from elites. It is not depending on an epistemologically impossible reassurance that others do not know something. No, it depends on us knowing, maximally, and supervising all elites. Because if we cannot verify what they know, at least we can wacth and know what they do.

Plug: The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

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First step would be a science of consciousness. Second step then is engineering of computer consciousness.
A science of consciousness? Qualia Computing (Andres Gomez Emilsson) reports from Tucson 2016:

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Where the wild things are

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The new creators on Google+ Create.
Introducing Google+ Create

Today we are launching Google+ Create (, a unique program that gives amazing content creators the recognition and audience they deserve.

When we introduced Google+ Collections last May, we were blown away by the amazing things people began sharing, from the beautiful ( to the breathtaking (, from the profound ( to the playful (, from the whimsical ( to the wonderfully eclectic (

And people on Google+ agree. Since launching the redesigned Google+ in November, Collection follows have more than doubled.

But these Collections don’t create themselves. Behind them are fascinating individuals who bring their flair, imagination and craft to engage and inspire others. There are food alchemists like +maria nasir in Lahore, Pakistan, writers and woodturners like +Ellie Kennard and +Steven Kennard in Nova Scotia, and daredevil acrobats like +Randy T on a mountain top near you.

We want to celebrate these inspiring creators and amplify their unique voices. Google+ Create members get a verified profile, early access to new product features, a private channel with the Google+ team, and special opportunities to build their audiences.

Visit to meet some of our members, learn about the benefits, and apply to join if you’re interested. Or just immerse yourself in the diversity of Collections already on Google+ (

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When the replicator's down...
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy having lunch on the set of Star Trek.

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A couple of blockheads

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How bad is the potential threat of massively targered cybercrime for the average person? Probably a lot worse than you think, argues Cory Doctorow.
Cory Doctorow:

In the USA, virtually every merchant I deal with wants to make a copy of my ID. Not one of them has ever been able to show me their data-handling practices. My daughter's martial art studio wanted a copy of my fingerprints to sign her up for after-school classes. Social Security Numbers are used as identifiers and authentication tokens by phone companies and banks, and can be trivially derived from public data sources. The public school system wants to give your home address to private contractors and the US military. You can't open an account with a public utility or a private mailbox without handing over copies of your ID and your home address.

Most services you authenticate to want to use a "security question" for password recovery. These security questions -- date of birth, mother's maiden name, etc -- are matters of public record and things you can't change when they breach.

All of this is retained indefinitely and secured indifferently. What's more, a savvy fraudster can build from one or two pieces of this information into a takeover of some of your accounts. Once they're inside your phone, they can use that to leverage a takeover of something harder, like your utilities. From there, they can get the paper statements used to interact with the government or the banks.

Schools are another locus of this. When I do author visits, the schools routinely require scans of my identification, and never, ever, ever know what their data-handling practice is. I feel like a dick making a big deal out of this, but I do it anyway, because when you do get the school board's CTO on the phone, find out who the supplier is who stores those scans, and discover what their privacy policy and data-handling practices are, the inevitable outcome is, "We store everything forever, and badly. You indemnify us for all losses arising from our negligence. We can sell this data. We can show it to anyone we want to."

Migrants get all of this and more. We have to deal with private government contractors who routinely require us to transmit all this information, along with things like copies of our passports, long-form birth certificates, biometric identifiers, all using low-to-no-security methods, for retention by yet more third parties whose own data-handling practices are no better than anyone else's, which is to say, fucking awful.

Everyone knows that these procedures are terrible, and no one gives a shit. It's above everyone's paygrade. The major risk analysis undertaken by firms isn't "Will we destroy someone's life?" It's "Are we indemnified or insured?" The UK story is telling: a woman rented her income property to a tenant who then listed it for sale with a fat-commission-taking real estate broker called Foxtons, who stand out in a field known for sleaze and misery as particularly terrible. Foxtons let this person sell someone else's house without any checking even though the sale was so dodgy its badness could be seen from orbit.

There is structural, society-level, existential risk in this calculus, and I think it's probably worse than the risks that led up to the 2007 crash. We are approaching an era of automatable, mass-scale attacks of the sort presently used to gain access to things like your online dating profiles or home security cameras, except these ones will piece together multiple forms of compromise and direct them to automated attacks on your whole bank balance, your home, and your retirement funds.

If you're thinking about getting into a life of crime, you should definitely become an identity thief and steal houses. It has never been easier, and it will get easier still, every day, for the foreseeable future.

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Seven-of-Nine has your number.
Hey gang, it’s finally here! My first ever official charity tee. Proceeds from every shirt sold benefit the amazing work of St Jude Children’s Hospital. Available for 2 weeks only and then gone forever! You know you want one ;-) Get yours here:

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