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February 20, 2014

David Brin

The Future, Sousveillance, Privacy and the Transparent Society

PART 1  |  PART 2 >>


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S y n o p s i s

David Brin discussed how 2014 might be the real start of the 21st Century and how the planet may be on the cusp of a brighter future. He noted that, in the last 60 years, violence has "plummeted every decade," despite how it is portrayed in the media. In fact, he argued that the relentless depiction of violence, as well as poverty, has fueled the public to "feel bad" about these issues and take steps to improve them. He also credited the sacrifices of the "Greatest Generation" for helping to create the wealth which allowed subsequent generations to be able to focus on solving social issues. Reflecting on the journey of the human race over the last sixty years, Brin marveled that, despite humanity's foibles, "we are capable of beginning to get things right."

That said, he warned that "self-righteous indignation" has become an addiction that is gripping America and is worse that "heroin, cocaine, and alcohol combined." Brin explained that the thrill derived from being sanctimonious was beneficial in previous years when warfare was more commonplace, but has become crippling to the psyche of the modern population and has given rise to an "outrage industry" which fuels political polarization. "If you're constantly returning to the sense of pleasure that you get from being so right," he cautioned, "there is a real chance that you're a junkie." He blamed this paradigm for causing the death of negotiation and the inability to spawn conversations about problems which "could easily be solved if we just talked to each other."

One positive aspect of this institutionalized self-righteousness, he said, is that "you create an atmosphere of suspicion of authority" which can lead to whistleblowers speaking out against what they see as unjust actions by the government. Regarding recent whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, Brin observed that most of their revelations were of actions that were actually not illegal, but spawned discussion over "whether or not these things should be legal." Ultimately, he pointed to such conversations, aimed at finding a middle ground, as the key to overcoming the obstacles which still challenge the country. Brin suggested that listening and acknowledging the opposite viewpoints of our political adversaries could lead to a society where people realize that "it's a complicated world and we're going to have to guard each other's backs."

We discussed the concept of surveillance (looking down from the top) and sousveillance (looking up from the bottom) so that citizens can watch the watchers.

B i o

David Brin is a scientist, inventor, and New York Times bestselling author. With books translated into 25 languages, he has won multiple Hugo, Nebula, and other awards. A film directed by Kevin Costner was based on David`s novel The Postman. Other works have been optioned by Paramount and Warner Bros. David`s science-fictional Uplift Saga explores genetic engineering of higher animals, like dolphins, to speak. His new novel from Tor Books is Existence.

As a scientist/futurist, David is seen frequently on television shows such as The ArchiTechs, Universe, and Life After People (most popular show ever on the History Channel) ?" with many appearances on PBS, BBC and NPR. An inventor with many patents, he is in-demand to speak about future trends, keynoting for IBM, Google, Procter & Gamble, SAP, Microsoft, Qualcomm, the Mauldin Group, and Casey Research, all the way to think tanks, Homeland Security, and the CIA.

With degrees from Caltech and the University of California-San Diego, Dr. Brin serves serves on advisory panels ranging from astronomy, NASA innovative concepts, nanotech, and SETI to national defense and technological ethics. His nonfiction book The Transparent Society explores the dangers of secrecy and loss of privacy in our modern world. It garnered the prestigious Freedom of Speech Prize from the American Library Association.

More extensive background writeups can be found at the biography page.

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