The FCC yesterday made a giant decision. They agreed to reclassify broadband under Title II of the Federal Communications Act. In other words, Internet access is now a public utility. This regulation is a huge victory for advocates of net neutrality. I expect a lot of people won’t understand what this means other than the general understanding that another industry has just been put under government regulation. So before everyone reaches for their partisan pistols, let me just explain why it came to this.

The Internet Service Providers (companies that provide us with access to the Internet, such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast) have been developing methods to tier their services where premium services would be available for higher paying customers. Such service would include faster access. So, what’s wrong with that? Well, let me state this a slightly different way. These tiered services were being developed on the basis of slowing down connections for standard customers to make more room for the premium customers on networks that are not otherwise improved.

I don’t have a problem with anyone spending money on ways to improve their Internet connections through their own equipment or even by investing in technical research and development of better compression techniques. But I do have a problem when the money is spent on the privilege to cut in line.

This is what net neutrality means… It’s another example of the push for equality… It’s the demand that Internet Service Providers keep things simple and just focus on providing Internet access to everyone, no special treatment, no judging, no schemes for squeezing money out of people, just simple and honest… Internet access.

It’s too bad it has to take the government to step in and insure things like net neutrality, but so far it appears to be the only way a democracy can extend the will of the people on a market that is tilted to the weight of the wealthy.

Is an enemy still an enemy if you can’t see them? I think most people would balk at the question. Seriously? You think a malicious entity is not an enemy so long as he hides from view? Of course an enemy is still an enemy as long as the enemy remains a threat to our well-being. What if the malicious entity is ab extraterrestrial species? Possible but unlikely? What if the malicious entity is a microscopic virus or bacterium? Highly likely? Already is an enemy? See, I think there is a flaw in the main stream perspective on this. There is the sense, in this nation, that our Constitution makes provisions for our common defense but only in a restricted way that coincides with 18th century tactics. So much has happened since then. We’re on the other end of an entire industrial revolution and age of scientific discovery. One of the things we’ve learned along the way is how to see microscopic enemies. Of course just because the entity is microscopic, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have massive effect.

In the middle ages there wasn’t a war that even came close to the human damage caused by the Black Plague. And today, while we take the fight against Muslim extremists to their own lands it’s the insidious Ebola virus silently catching a ride from Africa to Texas that really freaks people out, probably because we know that we have no real common defense against Ebola.

For every war prior to the 20th century for which statistics have been recorded, more people died from disease than from actual battle.

During the American Civil War 660,000 soldiers died. Two thirds of them from disease, not battle. Meanwhile, what is widely thought to be the largest holocaust in history was decimating the North American Indians, and yet despite the intentional genocidal efforts of the U.S. Army, an estimated 70 to 90 percent of the indigenous population died not from battle but from diseases introduced by the “white man” for which natives had no immunity. Such diseases included small pox, measles, influenza, whooping cough, diphtheria, typhus, bubonic plague, cholera and scarlet fever – all of which were too small to actually see but the effects were massive.

With the 20th century medicine made a huge difference but even then, tiny germs still rivaled the destruction caused by battle. During WW1 a whopping 10 million soldiers died, one third of them from disease not battle. Meanwhile, 7 million people died from the Spanish flu between 1918 and 1919 alone.

During WW2 an estimated 22 million soldiers died while about 55 million civilians died. Of those civilians about 23 million of them died from disease and famine roughly equaling all the military deaths in the largest war in history.

Now, I along with most historians will admit that casualty estimates have always been quite rough, but across the +/- range the pattern that consistently emerges is that disease is a major factor and it should be a major concern and it should certainly be even more a concern now that we are seeing more and more applications of biological weapons. Of course in 1789, when the Constitution was ratified medicine was still for the most part limited to saws, whiskey and leeches. Of course pioneers in optics were already making early models of microscopes, but they weren’t strong enough to identify viruses yet and they existed more as a curiosity than a weapon against disease like it is now. So, it’s no surprise that the microscopic threat wasn’t recognized – at least not as anything that we could actually defend ourselves against.

But as Thomas Jefferson suggested, the Constitution, along with the government that it prescribes, should adapt to the times. I tend to agree that government policy should indeed adapt to the times and not be preserved in a jar of alcohol. This thinking is what most likely led to the “letter vs spirit” debate, where the Federalist Party argued for a looser interpretation of the Constitution in the interest of adaptability while upholding the “spirit” of the law. On the other hand, the Democratic-Republicans argued for a more literal interpretation in the interest of limiting federal power. It may seem ironic at first that Jefferson, who indicated the importance of adaptability was in fact a Democratic-Republican, but then again, he also suggested that each generation have it’s own Constitution. Maybe he was also suggesting that each generation’s constitution be limited to the letter.

Either way… a loose interpretation of the laws or their literal replacement, the point is to adapt to the times and there is no better example than the handling of new tools and weapons such as modern medicine to assist in our common defense against threats the founders didn’t know about.

And yes, medicine *is* a common defense weapon as been proven by efforts in disease control which reached it’s height in the 1950s. In 1962, Sir McFarland Burnett stated, ‘By the end of the Second World War it was possible to say that almost all of the major practical problems of dealing with infectious disease had been solved.’ In the two decades leading up to this statement yellow fever was already under control per an effective vaccine and more recently, small pox, that microscopic agent of mass destruction that decimated the North American Indians, was effectively eradicated… by medicine, not guns or tanks or ballistic missiles, but medicine. It was thought that poliomyelitis (polio) and dracunculiasis were close to eradication too, but then things changed.

As Harrie Van Balen writes in his article, Disease control in primary health care: a historical perspective “in a democratic setting, preventive measures imposed on people without their consent could hardly be maintained.” Indeed, as third world countries developed independent democracies, the ability to control disease by imposing measures on the population diminished. Since then the re-emergence of known disease and the emergence of new diseases have increased.

In 1991, the Institute of Medicine of the National Research Council in the US appointed a 19-member multidisciplinary expert committee to study the emergence of microbial threats to health. They found that six categories of factors could explain the emergence or re-emergence of infectious diseases:

1. Human demographics and behavior
2. Technology and industry
3. Economic development and land use
4. International travel and commerce
5. Microbial adaptation and change
6. Breakdown of public health measures

Of these six factors, the last one is the indication of failure to deal with the other five and this is a really bad time for this to be happening. While economic factors continue to decrease the threat of war between states (to paraphrase George W Bush, “democracies don’t wage war with each other”), problems like climate change along with the other five categories presented by the aforementioned committee are increasing the threat of disease. For instance, some of the most severe pandemics, such as malaria are currently constrained to the tropics and the potential for climate change to that is increasing.

There are many reasons for this break down of public health measures, some of which can be described as politically positional, from self-serving business agendas to an increasing distrust of government, but it seems that when confronting efforts to fix public health, a common rally point for opponents is indeed the letter interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, specifically Article I Section 8, which is headed by this statement.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Manipulative arguments that claim to be literal, actually make the assumption that “Common Defence” means the provision of a military and NOT the provision of health care. As far as I can tell, that is NOT a literal interpretation but a subjective one. The Constitution doesn’t actually define what “Common Defence” OR “Welfare” is – at least not literally. I believe the assumption is most commonly due to the interpreters preconceived idea of what defense is and to the subsequent text that enumerates more specific details of that section, which includes the following keywords… “war”, “army”, “navy”, “naval forces”, “militia”, “forts”, “magazines” and “arsenals”. Clearly, these enumerations are referring to military applications. But, semantics suggest that the very purpose of these enumerations is declared in the introduction which I quoted and it seems reasonable to recognize that they only cover the means to achieving this purpose that they were aware of at the time. The provision for amending the Constitution more or less confirms that the founders were smart enough to recognize this.

Note how these “literal” interpreters dismiss the fact that the Air Force is not actually mentioned in the Constitution and yet they insist it’s an extension of the same purpose which becomes hypocritical the moment they discount health care as a form of defense simply because it’s not literally mentioned.

* http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/death-numbers/
* http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/7302
* http://facts.randomhistory.com/world-war-i-facts.html
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_and_spirit_of_the_law
* http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/32/5/684.full
* http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-3156.2004.01261.x/full#ss2

My last entry was a slam on Wall Street journalist Holman Jenkins for whining about how Airbus gets help from the governments of countries in which Airbus designs, builds and employs. My point was simple, Airbus and the Europeans have a symbiotic relationship that obviously works well for them. It seemed Holman was crying like a baby because he thought Airbus had an unfair advantage over Boeing. But let’s stop crying for a moment and look at what Boeing is doing… it’s not a dismal story. The big news for Boeing is the new 787. This design is breaking all kinds of barriers that leads to the most environmentally safe aircraft ever. The advanced engine design, new composite materials and aerodynamics all come together to provide a 20% increase in fuel efficiency and a projected 10% decrease in operating cost. The aircraft will also be quieter while emissions such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide have decreased significantly. I travel all too often, so what I also consider great news is the effort Boeing is making to provide a better experience for passengers, including bigger windows, better acoustics, wider seats, wider isles, bigger overhead bins… The list goes on. It’s all good. I can’t wait for airlines to start replacing those awful 737’s with these babies.

So forget those stuffy Wall Street belligerents that can’t see past their politics… Who cares if Airbus gets government help? Boeing seems to be doing just fine – in fact that European tax money that flowed through Airbus and into the European sub-contracts for research and development may have turned into a benefit for Boeing anyway. Rolls-Royce in England for example, who makes the engines for the A380 is working with GE to develop the revolutionary engines for the 787 while Dassault in France provides the cutting-edge digital modeling systems for the super-computers that allow Boeing to break so many engineering barriers, even right down to the British pumps and values and French wiring the 787 is truly a global effort. It seems American and European engineers are working hand in hand to build the machines of the 21st century, the whiny bean counters in Wall Street just got to get over their stupid hang-ups.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

 

For years science fiction writers have dreamed up worlds where man becomes subordinate to machine. But while the dramaturgic presentations make box office hits, the understated reality of human subordination continues to draw closer. Indeed it can be argued that we are already subordinate to machines as I will attempt to explain here.


Self-Inflicted

For this to make any sense, we need to dispose of the classic sci-fi notion of machines “wanting” to control man. Machines don’t “want” anything; they lack the natural desires of man, at least hitherto. If the machines of the 20th and early 21st centuries overthrow man, it will be the doing of man himself. So we have to ask ourselves, why would we willingly submit ourselves to our machines?

To further understand this perspective it’s necessary to distinguish a difference between the natural state of man, which motivates us and the technical state of machine which enables us. If we view these states as transient links in an evolutionary chain, we would have to recognize that while natural evolution progresses very slowly in increments of generations, technological evolution progresses very rapidly in leaps and bounds. Between these states is the interaction of natural motive and technical capacity that we often refer to as culture. The entire evolution of our cultures from fire pits and caves to laptops and coffee shops is made possible by the rapid advances in technology while the slower natural state of mankind remains almost constant. The reason for our self-inflicted submission is that while our technology races ahead to enable us to submit ourselves, our unchanging motives to do so are inescapable.

Addiction to Technology

The most obvious signs that this is happening are in systems where money takes motivational priority. From a collective viewpoint, such a priority would be established by our unchanging natural motive to acquire things that we need to secure our lives; today, that means wealth. In the meantime, the accelerating evolution of our technology pushes the dynamics such as the ever increasing difference between the size of production and means of production.

For example, the printing press increased the output of written material while decreasing the required resources such as a team of scribes and a great deal of time. In the last century alone, technology has enabled the mass production of almost everything consumable. Single corporate entities can now create products and services in quantities never before imagined. The economic perspective on this is generally positive, increasing the size of production while down-sizing the means of production widens the profit margin. Wider profit margins can make it easier to pass cost savings down the supply chain probably causing an increased demand. Ever increasing production and ever increasing profit margins. It would seem that everyone wins. But I detect a consequence that seems to go mostly unnoticed. That the ever increasing output has already far exceeded human capacity to process, we are in fact, dependents of our own technology. If all the computers in the banking industry broke, none of the banks could possibly hire enough accountants to process the millions of customer accounts gathered through computer-enabled mass service. Of course the odds of that happening are very slim. Information systems are designed with back-ups and redundancy in mind, in fact individual computers go down all the time without causing network-wide problems so to worry about computer malfunctions interrupting our mass production is like worrying about broken printing presses interrupting the world of publishing. It hasn’t happened since the 15th century, why would it happen now? So from the capital perspective, our reliance, indeed our addiction, to technology seems to pose no threat, only glorious advantages. But once again, it’s a matter of perspective. Like any other addiction, the danger doesn’t come from interruption, it comes from continuation.

Compromises Us

So far I’ve explained that our dependence on machines comes from our own addiction to them and how we arrive at this addition through the bi-directional influence of culture and technology and how the economic “high” makes this addiction appealing to our inescapable nature. Now let’s consider the consequences.

Physically…

In the last 3,000 years of technical evolution we have followed a pattern where a piece of technology extends our capacity to carry out specific tasks, the invention of wheels, levers pulleys, engines and power tools have all extended the physical capacities of our work, but as we rely more on these machines, we rely less on our own muscles and so we are allowed to grow weaker.

Today many of us have to allocate significant time at the gym every day if we want the kind of bodies our ancestors had, but what’s important to realize is that our ancestors had no option, their physique was a by-product of cultural demands and limited technology, they also had shorter lives. Today our technology is more capable but our cultural demands have only changed, they have not diminished. Simply put – you don’t have to be strong to survive in our culture anymore, but you still have to secure your means of survival. This is cultural selection. It’s not uncommon to find business people engaged in the type of competition that taxes their time leaving none or very little for options such as the gym. After all for many of these people a fine body doesn’t pay his bills, an impressive sales pitch, or a better product than the competition does. So it’s not just the technology-enabled “easy life” of sit-down jobs in air-conditioned offices and the abundance of food served to us on plastic trays that has developed a generation of fat weaklings, it’s also the technology-influenced cultural demands. People literally have to fend off their demanding schedules to eat right and to exercise. Again, much of this depends on the difference in cultural priority between capital and social structure, which explains why the capital-centric societies such as the USA have the most stressed out lard-asses in the world.

And Mentally

The invention of language, printing and mathematics has extended our intellectual capacity, enabling us to store massive quantities of knowledge and influence massive quantities of minds. It’s the written language and the printing press that evolved small cults of oral tradition into religions of global scale. In the last 60 years of technical evolution came the computer, which extends this intellectual capacity even more and adds a whole new dimension, no longer is technology limited to static recordings of information but now it can dynamically process information. If we follow the pattern that we have explored so far, this would add our mental capacity to think to the endangered list of human traits.

Can this really happen? Why not? All the requirements are there just like they are for our physical compromise. Businesses can streamline their means of production with computers, using robots and automation to replace workers entirely. Most of the jobs taken over by computers are those that involve simple tasks. The reason for this is that computers are incredibly stupid. Essentially, everything comes down to a one or a zero. What gives computers the edge over humans is speed, with which these machines can achieve the illusion of being smart. On the other hand despite all the fuss over artificial intelligence, these machines lack certain things that the human mind possesses, such as intuition. Although scientists and engineers are working on ways to develop artificial intelligence, there is good reason to believe that machines will never possess such capacity. The so-called artificial intelligence we find on the market today are only the by-products of AI research, but to this day there is no machine that can actually pass the test of intelligence. Roger Penrose, a professor of Mathematics at Oxford, provides an extensive explanation as to why in his book, The Emperor’s New Mind. Still, once again, we don’t have to rely on machines to degrade ourselves, we can do that ourselves just fine. Once again, we can turn to economics to do the job for us. Already we can see how computers and robots are taking over the simple jobs, but what is more alarming than that is the economic pressure to modify the tasks that are too complex for computers into simple operations that computers can handle. Despite the worthy recommendation to customize the computer to fit the business process, companies are realizing the cost advantage of modifying the business process to fit the computers. We can see this at any retail outlet that sells software for handling personal finance. People buy Quicken or Microsoft Money, go home and re-engineer their financial process to fit the templates that come with the software. This is happening on all levels.

For example, about a month ago, my wife and I needed a car towed. When we took the car to the shop, they told us the tow truck caused about $2000 of damage. When we called the insurance company we got an agent that was obviously following the dot-to-dot of a computer program. According to the program, the truck could only have damaged the car if it collided with it. Despite my wife’s detailed description of the event, the agent continued to ask irrelevant questions… “What color was the tow truck?”… Did the tow truck have a car seat in it? We didn’t get the impression that the agent was capable of judgment but I would guess it far more likely that this agent simply wasn’t allowed to think outside the box. The process had to fit the computer’s template, this was probably the most cost effective way to manage the situation. It’s a numbers game, if 90% of the calls can be handled by FAQ’s and simple computer programs then the frustration of the other 10% is sacrificed to lower the cost of operations.

It could be said that one of the greatest assets of the human mind, judgment, is at risk because of the simple fact that it’s too expensive to maintain in a competitive market. The only thing standing in the way of healthcare systems with automated physicians that would amount to nothing more than algorithmic pill dispensers that are willing to trade a 10% or even 25% negligence margin for a wider profit margin is a sense of morals… perhaps the last hold out for the human race.

In the end we can easily see that our struggle to preserve our attributes is not a struggle against machines, although it may look like that on the surface. Indeed, the real struggle is against our own self-inflicted and inescapable slavery to money.

How much information 2003? More specifically.., how much information is created globally in a year?

Print, film, magnetic, and optical storage media produced about 5 exabytes of new information in 2002. Ninety-two percent of the new information was stored on magnetic media, mostly in hard disks.

The United States produces about 40% of the world’s new stored information, including 33% of the world’s new printed information, 30% of the world’s new film titles, 40% of the world’s information stored on optical media, and about 50% of the information stored on magnetic media.

How much new information per person? According to the Population Reference Bureau, the world population is 6.3 billion, thus almost 800 MB of recorded information is produced per person each year. It would take about 30 feet of books to store the equivalent of 800 MB of information on paper.

I think that’s fascinating.