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SOPA, Security, and the Singularity

Last month, Charles Krauthammer revived the specter of the Drake Equation and the Fermi Paradox. Life is rare; intelligent life, infinitely rarer.  The silence of the universe conveys “the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves… intelligence may be the most cursed faculty in the entire universe — an endowment not just ultimately fatal but, on the scale of cosmic time, nearly instantly so.”

There seems to be a sense amongst humanity that something big is right around the corner, something unequivocal. Collectively, we’ve taken to apocalyptic and supernatural assumptions. Nearly half of Americans think the Rapture will happen by mid-century.  Hollywood, ironically, has stoked along these ideas. It won’t be found in the Mayan Calendar, but rather in Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar. It won’t be coming out of the clouds, but rather into our brains. This is it. This is where we are and this is where we’re going.

Information is power. It is, as Ramez Naam says, an infinite resource on a finite planet.  As free people, we should encourage the dissemination of information technologies under one condition: our security and liberty are not endangered. In the future, the government may assume undue authority and force information companies into subservience for authoritarian reasons, or these companies, in trying to avoid total subservience, and in trying to destroy their competition without competing, may preemptively give the government what it wants. This is not free-market capitalism, nor is it humanism. This is a form of fascism.

Last year, Twitter helped overthrow several Arab autocracies.  Then Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bought a $300 million stake in the company, and now Twitter’s set to appease these nervous dictators with new censorship policies abroad.  Also last year, without much media coverage, our own federal government claimed the right to read our e-mails without a warrant.  Yahoo and Google, to their credit, defeated the Department of Justice in court.  But… Big Brother’s trying.  SOPA and PIPA were just two more examples of this troubling trend.

This will be the most consequential century in the history of life on Earth. Technology is man’s greatest invention. It is a fine servant, but a most dangerous master. We should neither concede its control to a central authority nor prove to become dependent on it, for we will have sullied both human integrity and individual liberty.  The next president, to his surprise, will likely have to address the potentialities of transhumanism, both good and bad, and so he will not have time for the little things our cheap culture will seek to put him through.

“We have Makers and Breakers in the world,” Vernor Vinge once said. “The Makers have created so many wonderful things, and it’s easy for the Breakers to use them.  The Breakers have all sorts of motives, including just the motive of breaking it — because it’s so beautiful and people are so happy with it.”

It might not seem like it today, but I think we may look back at SOPA and PIPA as the Maker’s first big stand.