RE: Prelude to the Singularity

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From: Jim Whitehead (
Date: Thu Jul 27 2000 - 16:00:52 PDT

So, what is the original content in this piece?

The media like this story due to the conflict between Napster (good guy),
and RIAA (bad guy). Abstracting this to technologists (good guys), and RIAA
(bad guys) isn't a hugely original step.

Furthermore, what proof do you have that "technologists" as a group share
the viewpoints, motives, and actions you ascribe to them? Who are the
technologists anyway? Are they American, white male computer programmers,
age 16-25, or are you desrcibing a broader demographic?

As for the rate of technological change, I'll assert that the rate of change
was very significant from 1850-1900. The effect of the telegraph was far
greater than the effect of the Internet. The effect of the railroad was
pervasive. We are still feeling the effects of industrialization. Every new
technology requires adaptations by institutions, laws, and society, and the
Internet is no different. In fact, the legal accommodations required to
encompass the Internet have so far been relatively minor.

Since software for home use is still mostly distributed on CDs in boxes,
which is more or less the same model used by the recording industry, why is
it that the RIAA is "under attack", but the software industry isn't? If it
were merely a case of fast technological change, the software industry
should have been "under attack" for a long time. Why isn't the publishing
industry also under fire? Is it merely the time cost of "ripping" a book
vs. ripping a CD? Or is there some perception difference in the public's eye
between the music industry, the software industry, and the book publishing

Furthermore, when are we going to get sick of stupid war analogies? In real
wars, people get blown up, shot at, civilians get killed, women are raped,
there are mass migrations of refugees, and in general massive large-scale
disruptions of people, institutions, social structures, governments, etc. I
don't see any of these qualities being exhibited in the institutional
interaction you're describing as a "war".

If you will think about these issues critically, delving beyond the surface
rhetoric that has defined the "Napster vs. RIAA" episode so far, you will
find a much more nuanced, and interesting story.

Or you could just publish this pablum.

- Jim
  -----Original Message-----
  From: Jeff Bone []
  Sent: Thursday, July 27, 2000 2:27 PM
  Subject: Prelude to the Singularity

  (thought I'd give you guys a peek at a short op-ed piece I'm working on,
re the RIAA's actions and the proposed boycotts. :-)

  The Day the Music Died II

  This is a really grim day, all around. Not only have we thrown the baby
out with the bathwater, we've stabbed it a few times on the way out. The
RIAA's legal victory over Napster and the imminent shutdown of the Napster
service are only the opening shots in what will be a bloody and protracted
(if virtual) civil war, complete with its own arms race. Far from
protecting the music industry's broken and antiquated business models and
practices, this will merely ensure that technologists --- in particular,
bright kids and college students with talent, motivation, little money, and
definite anti-establishment biases --- will escalate the battle, creating
ever more secure, untraceable, decentralized tools to accomplish
peer-to-peer filesharing, secure and free communication, anonymous commerce,
and other possibly "illicit" applications. That is, tools that cannot be
shutdown by a court order, and tools that by virtue of their anonymity and
lack of traceability will be impossible to regulate legally short of
draconian law enforcement that steps on everyone's civil liberties.

  Popular folklore has it that the Internet was designed with decentralized
routing protocols in order to withstand a nuclear
  attack. That is, the Internet "senses damage" and "routes around it." It
has been said that, on the 'Net, censorship is perceived as damage and is
subsequently routed around. The RIAA, in a sense, has cast itself in a
censor's role. Consequently, the music industry will be perceived as
damage --- and it will be routed around. There is *no doubt* that this will
happen, and that technology will evolve more quickly than businesses and
social institutions can; there are numerous highly-visible projects already
underway that attempt to create technology that is invulnerable to legal
challenges of various kinds. Julian Morrison, the originator of a project
(called Fling, cf. [1]) to build a fully anonymous / untraceable suite of
network protocols, expresses this particularly eloquently:

    Fling is the weapon of last resort, but it is needed. Since the law is
has become a tool to commit armed crimes against disarmed victims, Fling
will make online communication forever lawless.

  The music industry has opened a pandora's box by refusing to recognize the
need for changes to their business models and practices in the context of
the Web. I fully support a total boycott of RIAA recordings and bands, not
only in August of this year, but perpetually until the music industry
recognizes the need for change and begins to work towards solutions that
truly and fairly balance between their own needs and those of and music

  It's All About Change

  What's really going on here is scary in a very big, very real, very global
way. The basic problem is that the pace of change due to technology has
begun to outstrip society's ability to accommodate change. My great
grandparents spent weeks travelling across the US in a horse-drawn wagon;
my grandparents on both sides of the family grew up in houses without
electricity or indoor plumbing. Until as recently as three generations ago,
change was gradual; you could safely assume that the conditions you grew up
and lived in were approximately the same as the conditions your parents, or
even your grandparents, grew up in. Social institutions, business
practices, and everyday philosophy only had to change gradually, over
generations. Today, not only are the conditions we live in vastly different
from those of previous generations, there are even vast intragenerational
differences in assumptions and conditions. Example: I was talking to a
friend who has two teenage daughters; he told me that they *never* use the
telephone anymore --- instead, they use buddy lists / instant messaging /
chat as their primary and preferred means of communicating with friends.
The preferred method of P2P communications for decades - the telephone - has
been or is in the process of being replaced among teenagers (who are
admittedly more "change-capable" than just about anybody else) by an
innovation that's less than 4 years old!

  This goes beyond questions of fashion, coolness factor, and trend. The
problem is simply that as change happens, the things that worked and were
efficient and useful yesterday are no longer useful and efficient. This
applies to business models, communications mechanisms, almost every aspect
of popular culture, and so on.

  The problem's only going to get worse. Despite the massive change that's
taken place just in my adult lifetime (I'm 32) we're just *barely* into the
"elbow" on the change curve. I've come to believe that Moore's Law, the
lesser-known so-called Poor's Law [2] (density of network addresses, i.e. a
metric for connectivity) and similar things are merely specific instances of
a more general, perhaps physically fundamental law related to increasing
complexity in self-organizing systems. I believe that "technological
society" --- its institutions, its interrelationships, and its
infrastructure --- consititute just such a self-organizing system, and such
systems appear to inevitably grow non-linearly. And therein lies the rub.

  The First Web War

  What we're seeing here, with Napster, is one of the first really serious
instances of conflict between a large, powerful, change-averse collective
organism (the music industry and its supporting memes and systems, i.e.
copyright / IP law and its institutions) and a newer, more "highly-evolved"
meme / organism (i.e., technologically-empowered kids / college students /
fans) that's pushing the change curve. The reaction on the part of the
RIAA - ignore change, ignore demand, refuse to adapt, and then attempt to
use legislation / government / law enforcement as a tool to maintain the
status quo - is probably going to be standard operating procedure in all
such conflicts. And we're going to see more and more of this as
technological change and innovation continue to accelerate. We're
witnessing the opening shots of the First Web War.

  What I worry about is this: is it possible that we human beings are, at
some fundamental level, hardwired to be averse to change? Even bright,
technologically savvy people such as David Coursey seem to see this in black
and white, in purely "traditional" terms. [3] Is it possible that our
psychosocial "elasticity" with respect to change is beginning to be
exceeded? If that's true, what happens as the change delta over unit time
grows bigger and bigger?

  I don't know what's going to happen, but this whole thing stinks.


  PS - I kind of make a hobby out of tracking "meme evolution." Check out
my feed - Seis-meme-meter - on [4]

  [4] http:/|3|65|

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