Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Resistance is meaninglessness

The most useful things I know of are all actually just tokens for metaphysical entities. Like words, formulas, money, contracts, and yeah, I suppose, even people. And although every bit of their utility never leaves the metaphysical realm, they don't become very usable until they have a functioning physical form.

A meme isn't even knowable by it's holder until we have a word or phrase that can adequately contain it. A fact about the structure of our world isn't all that much more tangible even after we've outfitted it with a perfectly tailored formula. It can take a great deal of training just to see a blurred image of it. And cash seems more real to us that the real things we trade it for that seem mostly fake! This should amaze us.

Contracts can actually be too real. And people aren't just real, their physical manifestation can even be nice, naughty, or if you're really lucky, both. My only point in all of this is to illustrate what wonderful things can happen when something metaphysical somehow gets inside a body that suits it. Because I think that trick might just lead us to a great deal more than cheaper health care.

So I've long wondered what metaphysical concept, property, or idea could be embodied into a tangible entity whose presence in our environment would just naturally lead to our becoming deeply enfranchised. (Whenever I ask my wife something like this she looks at me or responds like I've been caught preparing to torture her. It's not easy to discuss this stuff.)

I stumbled onto what I think might be a solution when I was looking at what a mess my room had become and wishing I had a copy of me to do all the things I didn't feel like doing but knew I should do. I know I could tell the clone what it ought to be doing and that it would agree because it could see I had much more important things to do. But by that point I didn't want my clone to do any work because I wanted his complete attention while I explained what seemed like a clever way to solve the problem I mentioned above. Besides, if my room wasn't such a mess I wouldn't have stumbled in the first place.

Competing with your virtual clone

I realized that if we are all better at telling ourselves what to do than we are at doing it ourselves, then maybe, if we could make a virtual copy of ourselves more tangible, we could use it to improve ourselves. It could be a very natural, private, and compelling process--if the only way to endow my avatar with a property was to achieve it in real life then I might be onto something. And I started to look for ways that might work.

Then I noticed that my soul is already in cyberspace (well, bits of it), why not just make it official as a tangible presence for ourselves by pulling those bits together? We can do that to some extent already at sites like facebook and youtube, but I'm picturing a node, or URI, that's connected in various ways to a great deal more. The safest node in cyberspace is the one that represents us in the universal health care transactor I described earlier.

You can't secure liberties without robustly engineering them into the fabric of society. You already have lots of nodes that represent you in cyberspace. I'm not too happy about that. In fact, you might say I'm sort of ticked off that our government is so careless about defending our privacy and the integrity of our identity. Just because it's more intangible than I am doesn't mean it's not rather important to me. And just because the bits of your soul are presently scattered about cyberspace doesn't mean that a clever piece of software can't box them together faster than you can say 'unholy packet.'

Giving our souls an address in cyberspace is the best way to ensure our government puts protecting them above even us. We just have to ensure that if they fail there is no longer a way for them to collect our taxes. It's the ultimate identity protector because it need never share anything the identifier doesn't have a need to know. If the software running the database is open source, and can be proven by anyone to be correct, and the mechanisms is uses to protect us from even the most sophisticated attempts of our own government to get at it are verifiably robust, I believe we will be a lot better off than if we leave things to our leadership to work out. This is a technology that needs to emerge from academia fully tested and ready for governments to deploy or be left out of a new economic reality.

I guess I never got to what I promised in the prior post--a mechanism whereby we encourage ourselves to make wiser health care choices. Whoops. Maybe I'll make it there with the next one. Right now I'd like to bite something resembling food.

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