Surveillance Kills Freedom By Killing Experimentation, by Bruce Schneier

Source: Surveillance Kills Freedom By Killing Experimentation | WIRED, by Bruce Schneier

Excerpted from The End of Trust(McSweeney’s issue 54)

When we’re being watched, we conform. We don’t speak freely or try new things. But social progress happens in the gap between what’s legal and what’s moral.

It’s easy to imagine the more conservative among us getting enough power to make illegal what they would otherwise be forced to witness.

For social norms to change, people need to deviate from these inherited norms. People need the space to try alternate ways of living without risking arrest or social ostracization. People need to be able to read critiques of those norms without anyone’s knowledge, discuss them without their opinions being recorded, and write about their experiences without their names attached to their words. People need to be able to do things that others find distasteful, or even immoral. The minority needs protection from the tyranny of the majority.

Privacy makes all of this possible. Privacy encourages social progress by giving the few room to experiment free from the watchful eye of the many.

The idea of ‘intellectual property’ is nonsensical and pernicious | Aeon

Source: The idea of ‘intellectual property’ is nonsensical and pernicious | Aeon Samir Chopra

‘Intellectual property’ is a culturally damaging and easily weaponised notion. Its use should be resisted.

The grand term ‘intellectual property’ covers a lot of ground: the software that runs our lives, the movies we watch, the songs we listen to. But also the credit-scoring algorithms that determine the contours of our futures, the chemical structure and manufacturing processes for life-saving pharmaceutical drugs, even the golden arches of McDonald’s and terms such as ‘Google’. All are supposedly ‘intellectual property’. … But what kind of property is this? And why do we refer to such a menagerie with one inclusive term?

There are four areas of US federal law linked under the rubric of ‘intellectual property’ that we ought to keep separate in our minds. … copyright, patent, trademark and trade secret law were motivated by widely differing considerations. Their intended purposes, the objects covered and the permissible constraints all vary.

A general term is useful only if it subsumes related concepts in such a way that semantic value is added. If our comprehension is not increased by our chosen generalised term, then we shouldn’t use it. A common claim such as ‘they stole my intellectual property’ is singularly uninformative, since the general term ‘intellectual property’ obscures more than it illuminates. If copyright infringement is alleged, we try to identify the copyrightable concrete expression, the nature of the infringement and so on. If patent infringement is alleged, we check another set of conditions (does the ‘new’ invention replicate the design of the older one?), and so on for trademarks (does the offending symbol substantially and misleadingly resemble the protected trademark?) and trade secrets (did the enterprise attempt to keep supposedly protected information secret?). The use of the general term ‘intellectual property’ tells us precisely nothing. Furthermore, the extreme generality encouraged by ‘intellectual property’ obscures the specific areas of contention created by the varying legal regimes.

Why then does ‘intellectual property’ remain in use? Because it has polemical and rhetorical value. Its deployment, especially by a putative owner, is a powerful inducement to change one’s position in a policy argument. It is one thing to accuse someone of copyright infringement, and another to accuse of them of the theft of property. The former sounds like a legally resolvable technicality; the latter sounds like an unambiguously sinful act.

Property is a legally constructed, historically contingent, social fact. It is founded on economic and social imperatives to distribute and manage material resources – and, thus, wealth and power. … Law makes property part of our socially constructed reality, reconfigurable if social needs change.

Legal systems of property are pragmatic and outcome-oriented. They bring about desired social ends through a historically contingent, evolving blend of rights and duties for owners. There is no ‘natural’ or ‘objective’ basis for property; we deem something property because better social outcomes are realised by doing so.

legal protections offered to intellectual property assets are utilitarian grants – they are neither perpetual nor exclusive. (Tangible property is said to be perpetual because it is yours till you dispose of it.) Their terms are limited and amenable to nonexclusive use. Patent law offers exceptions for experimental use, and prior-use rights for business methods; copyright law for fair use; trademark law for nominative use; trade secrets for reverse engineering and independent discovery.

Intellectual property rights are granted reluctantly: here is your limited property right with exceptions for nonexclusiveness, so that your knowledge can flow back into the public domain, there to be built upon by others.

The resulting legal and economic landscape finds power concentrated in corporations with indefinitely extensible copyright terms, gigantic patent portfolios and politically influential trade secrets – each of which can trigger an endless series of litigious disputes in courts, and induce a chilling effect in the work of artists and innovators, and in the daily affairs of citizens.

This public domain is ours to draw upon for future use. The granting of temporary leases to various landlords to extract monopoly rent should be recognised for what it is: a limited privilege for our benefit. The use of ‘intellectual property’ is a rhetorical move by one partner in this conversation, the one owning the supposed ‘property right’. There is no need for us to play along, to confuse one kind of property with another or, for that matter, to even consider the latter kind of object any kind of property at all. Doing so will not dismantle the elaborate structures of rules we have built in order to incentivise artistic and scientific work. Rather, it will make it possible for that work to continue.

Science Is Getting Less Bang for Its Buck | The Atlantic

Source: Science Is Getting Less Bang for Its Buck | The Atlantic, by Patrick Collison and Michael Nielsen

[Scientific progress is] requiring larger teams, far more extensive scientific training, and the overall economic impact is getting smaller.

in the early days of the Nobel Prize, future Nobel scientists were 37 years old, on average, when they made their prizewinning discovery. But in recent times that has risen to an average of 47 years, an increase of about a quarter of a scientist’s working career.

When Ernest Rutherford discovered the nucleus of the atom in 1911, he published it in a paper with just a single author: himself. By contrast, the two 2012 papers announcing the discovery of the Higgs particle had roughly a thousand authors each. On average, research teams nearly quadrupled in size over the 20th century, and that increase continues today. For many research questions, it requires far more skills, expensive equipment, and a large team to make progress today.

U.S. productivity growth is way down. It’s been dropping since the 1950s, when it was roughly 6 times higher than today. That means we see about as much change over a decade today as we saw in 18 months in the 1950s.

Believing without evidence is always morally wrong | Aeon

Source: Believing without evidence is always morally wrong | Aeon, by Francisco Mejia Uribe

[William Kingdon Clifford’s] once seemingly exaggerated claim that ‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’ is no longer hyperbole but a technical reality.

In ‘The Ethics of Belief’ (1877), Clifford gives three arguments as to why we have a moral obligation to believe responsibly, that is, to believe only what we have sufficient evidence for, and what we have diligently investigated. His first argument starts with the simple observation that our beliefs influence our actions. … The most natural objection to this first argument is that while it might be true that some of our beliefs do lead to actions that can be devastating for others, in reality most of what we believe is probably inconsequential for our fellow humans. … I think critics had a point – had – but that is no longer so. In a world in which just about everyone’s beliefs are instantly shareable, at minimal cost, to a global audience, every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential in the way Clifford imagined.

The second argument Clifford provides to back his claim that it is always wrong to believe on insufficient evidence is that poor practices of belief-formation turn us into careless, credulous believers. Clifford puts it nicely: ‘No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may someday explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character.’

Clifford’s third and final argument as to why believing without evidence is morally wrong is that, in our capacity as communicators of belief, we have the moral responsibility not to pollute the well of collective knowledge. … While Clifford’s final argument rings true, it again seems exaggerated to claim that every little false belief we harbour is a moral affront to common knowledge. Yet reality, once more, is aligning with Clifford, and his words seem prophetic. Today, we truly have a global reservoir of belief into which all of our commitments are being painstakingly added: it’s called Big Data. You don’t even need to be an active netizen posting on Twitter or ranting on Facebook: more and more of what we do in the real world is being recorded and digitised, and from there algorithms can easily infer what we believe before we even express a view. In turn, this enormous pool of stored belief is used by algorithms to make decisions for and about us. And it’s the same reservoir that search engines tap into when we seek answers to our questions and acquire new beliefs. Add the wrong ingredients into the Big Data recipe, and what you’ll get is a potentially toxic output. If there was ever a time when critical thinking was a moral imperative, and credulity a calamitous sin, it is now.