Here’s a story about the future

- Technology is increasingly empowering the individual.
- 30 or so years out, some Columbine Killers wannabes will be able to use a virus or dirty bomb.
- The only real solution is the surveillance state.
- There won’t be good individual counter-measures: trying to block surveillance will only make you stand out.
- One path to that solution is panic and partial collapse of our democratic standards similar to the dynamic of post-9/11 legislation.
- It would be nice to do better than that.


…30–50 years out any system of individual privacy hammered out in the interim will be hit with at least one major stress test…some actual or threatened 9/11 — amped up a few orders of magnitude.

(Btw, the podcast TWIG is a great resource to keep tabs on the ongoing evolution of the technical, legal, and social sides of the issue(s). A great example of productive discussion along these lines is the conversation between Mike Elgan and Jeff Jarvis in Episode 493. Occasionally, otoh, TWIG seems stuck in a rut. My secret hope for this article is to contribute to moving the discussion forward.)

Stress Testing the System — Privacy’s Inevitable Collapse


Here’s a 2019 Ted talk by Rob Reid on the risks with ‘synthetic biology’. It’s got 1.5 million views and counting . (You can find a bit more depth in the Q&A here on the Kevin Rose Show Podcast, Episode 34 — Rob Reid — the dark side of gene editing and synthetic biology.)

  • 13:22 — Disturbing change: uranium enrichment 50 years out will need low power and a pipe to sea water so accessible to small actors
  • 15:21 — The solution: a global technological immune system

If the combination of a high power attack and a surveillance state response is highly probable, then much of the current privacy discussion is froth… a turbulence before we go over the falls.

The Likely Result

If any of these or other similar points of risk come close to be actualized, it is likely that some time during the next 30 year any system of individual privacy we hammer out will be hit with at least one major stress test…some actual or threatened 9/11 amped up a few orders of magnitude in impact by technological advances…and that will be counter-able only by the type of surveillance society also made possible by recent technological advances.

The question is not will privacy go away, but how.

Back to Mr West

Let’s return to John West’s proposed solution: a “global technological immune system.” I’m going to abbreviate his presentation, but it’s well worth jumping in at 15:20 to hear his full discussion. To quote:

  • 16:50 — “The way democratic societies accept transparency is that they need 95% of the cameras being in their hands.”
  • 17:00 — If you resisted watching the video so far, let me invite you to watch the single scariest 30 seconds.

In short, what the fuck would souvelliance society look like? The answer is left as an exercise for us all.

Postscript 1 — Moral Panic

What’s the connection? If you don’t listen to TWIG, it might not be obvious. It’s part of the dialog on any topic of tech’s potential negative impact, described in greater detail below.

Moral Panic!!!

Moral Panic: the concept is from sociologist Stanley Cohen. It was based on observing the public (over)reaction to the “Mods” vs “Rockers” rivalry in Britain in the 60s and ’70s. Similar to teenagers in the US, teenagers in the UK were considered dangerous. (Of course, judged by their impact on mainstream culture summed through the mid-50s to the mid-70s, they were.)

All significant culture transformation with a big upside has had a corresponding dark shadow.

As noted above, there’s a current freak-out on ‘big tech’ with a variety of proposed solutions. Some are well considered; some are knee jerk; few systematically analyze the possible unintended consequences of the proposed solution. Often they look like a land grab: the Internet is itself generally considered a vehicle of sedition from the viewpoint of those that seek control.

Or what?

Still, I’m not sure moral panic is a useful concept here.

We now have a millennia long, studiable history of the type of changes that delivered mixed social consequences both glorious and dire. Can we use that to get smarter?

A few additional points

The information tech situation doesn’t parallel Mods vs Rockers. It’s bigger…somewhere between the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of the automobile.

Last, here’s an algorithm in action: a recommendation for yours truly based on my youTube search for the Drive By Truckers’ song Gravity’s Gone.

Guess we’re all only 3 degrees of separation from Climate Denial. Could automated surveillance go sideways? Nah.


I’ve decided if I was going to write I might as well seek readers. I’m replacing my old system (spam everyone I know) with a mailing list. You can sign up for that below. I’ll let you know when I publish something.

Berkeley Backpacking Biz Lifer, System Builder, Coder, Community Organizer, Music and Evolutionary Biology Geek. Sign up and my projects at

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