Tag Archives: transparency

Will transparency make us boring?

surveillance warning signI’ve long been a cheerleader for the sort of informational transparency that our increasingly wired world seems to encourage, if not make inevitable. After all, surely a world where it’s harder for those in power or authority to lie to us behind our backs is an improvement on the status quo, right?

I still hold that view, but Russell Davies has a column at Wired UK where he suggests that an unwanted outcome of that transparency might be to erode the sorts of brash personality that create change and new ideas:

I realised the other day that this is what’s happened to me. Everything I produce, however private or NDA’d, is filtered through the voice in my head, whispering, “how would I feel if this got online?” Because a slip of the email or a misplaced YouSendIt and it could easily happen. And, mostly, that’s good; it keeps the bullshit to minimum-required levels. It’s a reality we’re all going to have to get used to. It’s sensible to assume that everything you think is private might one day be read.

And this won’t just be by accident – this will be about policy. Openness is next to godliness. Sunshine is regularly touted as the best disinfectant. It’s just that disinfectant kills good bugs as well as bad ones, and there are some healthy things that need to breed in the dark. Good, positive, non-evil ideas sometimes need to be whispered in private before they’re shouted in public. Pretentiousness is occasionally necessary among friends. And if we’re afraid to be slightly different people in private, we’ll end up with a world of well-trained Michael Owens; sincere, good-looking people with no dark side, no sins, no doubts. Media training has driven the personality out of sport – I wonder if constant, enforced openness will drive it out of everything else?

Call me cynical, but I’m not sure sport ever really had that much personality, beyond the more ornery characters having freer license to be unpleasant in public… but leaving that aside, I still suspect Davies is overstating the problem, here. Yes, sure, there are some situations where ideas have to be brewed up out of sight of the public eye for them to gel properly, and a certain level of confidentiality in personal friendships is necessary. But speaking from my own personal experience, being continually mindful of transparency has made me more considerate of the feelings of others – not to the point of changing my opinions or ideas outright, but certainly making me consider their wider ramifications and think harder about how I express them. [image by jm3]

What do you think – will ubiquitous transparency make us a species of dullards, as Davies suggests? And if it does, is that a reasonable sacrifice to make for a kinder world?

David Brin guestblogging at Sentient Developments this week

David BrinThis week, transhumanist blogger George Dvorsky’s site Sentient Developments plays host to no less a science fiction luminary than David Brin as guest blogger. Says Dvorsky:

David will be writing about biological uplift, the Singularity, Active SETI (messages to extraterrestrial intelligences), and how a transparent society might work to help us mitigate catastrophic risks.

Topics that should be of some interest to Futurismic regulars, then; I file David Brin among the group of authors and thinkers with whom I don’t always agree, but who never fail to challenge my thinking.

Dvorsky has taken the time to provide a reading list around Brin’s first topic, namely biological uplift, and that first post is ready to read as I type. Here’s a snippet:

1. Can we replicate – in other creatures or in AI – the stunning way that Homo sapiens outstripped the needs of mere hunter-gathering, to reach levels of mentation that can take us to other planets and invent symphonies and possibly destroy the world? That was one hell of a leap! In Earth I speculated about half a dozen quirky things that might explain that vast overshoot in ability. In my next novel Existence I speculate on a dozen more.

In truth, we just don’t know. I frankly think it may be harder than it looks.

Go read. [Brin portrait from Wikimedia Commons]

Wired’s manifesto for radical financial transparency

stock value reportsIf there’s one thing every politician seems able to agree on at the moment, it’s that we need to overhaul the way the financial sector works so as to (hopefully) avoid another catastrophic screw-up like the one we’re currently mired in. Part of the problem was caused by regulatory bodies being simply unable to keep up with the huge amount of publicly filed data  from financial businesses, and by some of that data being… massaged, shall we say. [image by pfala]

The obvious answer is “more regulation” (though we might want to throw in brainscans for CEOs while we’re at it), but that’s just going to build another baroque architecture on top of the one we already have… and baroque architecture has plenty of hiding places for gargoyles, if I might overextend my analogy.

Daniel Roth at Wired has a different idea, and it’s one that resonates with the way the web works. He calls it radical transparency: a way to sum it up in a nutshell might be to say that instead of worrying about who should watch the watchers, why don’t we make sure everyone – and anyone – can get at all the data in standardized formats?

The whole article is well worth a read, but here’s Roth’s three-point manifesto:

Set the data free

Today, public companies and financial institutions disclose their activities in endless documents stuffed with figures and stats. Instead, they should be forced to file using universal tags that make the data easy to explore.

Empower all investors

Once every company’s data carries identical tags, anyone can manipulate the numbers to compare performance. And they can see details of every financial instrument—not just balance sheets and income statements.

Create an army of citizen-regulators

By giving everyone access to every piece of data—and making it easy to crunch—we can crowdsource regulation, creating a self-correcting financial system and unlocking new ways of measuring the market’s health.

Those of you with no trust in free markets probably find this even less appealing than the current system, but it makes a certain amount of sense to me. As Roth points out, the web has enabled a similar sea-change in journalism, and as a result changes are afoot in governmental and corporate practice around the world, because it has become easier for whistleblowers and contrary voices to have their say.

TechDirt‘s Mike Masnick came up with a similar idea late last year; as he points out, it’s unlikely to gain much support right away because it takes the power away from the financiers, and they’re unlikely to be particularly keen on that arrangement. But that’s all the more reason to discuss the notion now, while trust is at an all-time low; after all, as Masnick says:

We’re not going to fix a broken Wall Street by throwing extra money at the problem, but we might be able to fix it by opening up, adopting radical transparency, and then letting the market more accurately value things based on real data.

Amen to that.

Editorial: in the interests of transparency

Running Futurismic is a big responsibility – not because anyone makes it that way for me, but because I chose to take it on and make it the kind of science fiction site I wish there were more of. This applies very much to content, but extends to certain ethical considerations as well.

I’m a great believer in transparency as a guiding principle; I’m not obliged to explain myself or my editorial policies, but there are times I feel it’s the right thing to do – and recent events on better-known sites have demonstrated that it’s best to be upfront about anything that might be considered controversial by our readers.

Futurismic‘s Fiction sidebar entries are there to show support for other web publishers, large and small. In the absence of a huge (or even small) pot of money to donate to them, I support them by linking to them – it’s the baksheesh of the internet.

I don’t judge the sites on the quality of their fiction or their presentation; that’s a choice for you the reader to make for yourself. That they’re down here in the trenches putting blood, sweat, free time and eyestrain into publishing writers and giving readers fresh sf content is enough for me. That fits with my ethics for people who deserve what little support I can provide.

But I won’t support a site whose guiding ethics and attitudes I find myself repulsed by. Hence I’ve removed a certain site from the sidebar, and will be expunging all other links to it from Futurismic‘s content. If you want to know why, this will explain it.

Schneier shreds the Transparent Society

CCTV-warning-sign Regular readers will know I’m fond of citing David Brin’s Transparent Society concept as a potential solution to the escalating level of surveillance in our cultures. [image by takomabibelot]

However, it looks like I may have to reconsider the idea in light of an essay from security maven Bruce Schneier. The problem is that mutual disclosure doesn’t take into account the amount of power you have before a transaction begins:

“An example will make this clearer. You’re stopped by a police officer, who demands to see identification. Divulging your identity will give the officer enormous power over you: He or she can search police databases using the information on your ID; he or she can create a police record attached to your name; he or she can put you on this or that secret terrorist watch list. Asking to see the officer’s ID in return gives you no comparable power over him or her. The power imbalance is too great, and mutual disclosure does not make it OK.

You can think of your existing power as the exponent in an equation that determines the value, to you, of more information. The more power you have, the more additional power you derive from the new data.”

That said, Schneier is still definitely on-side with an increase in “watching of the watchers” – our ability to keep tabs on those who keep tabs on us is the difference between control and liberty. I just hope that, in light of the UK police’s increasingly Orwellian PR efforts, we haven’t already gone too far in trading freedom for supposed security.