Schneier on the "World Sized Web"

I’m sure this is familiar territory for a lot of Happy Mutants™. Schneier’s perspective on “what the hell are we building anyway?”


I’ll read this soon! Schneier is a smart dude!


I always find Schneier is saying the same thing over and over again, and I completely agree with it: As a civilization, we need to plan things out before we set up a potentially harmful new status quo. It’s about being proactive instead of reactive and prevails on democratic notions of participatory governance. I hereby dub this view, Scheierism.

Also, if I ever get to shake hands with Sanders at some kind of event, and I get the chance to throw him a word or two, it will be, “Bruce Schneier, Department of Homeland Security, please think about it.”


As a civilization, we need to plan things out before we set up a potentially harmful new status quo

One problem is, we didn’t set up the legal system that way. The fact that the law is slow to react is a benefit as we try to muddle through things, but a liability when technology outpaces it by decades.


The average person isn’t a technologist, and cannot conceive of the problems before they arise. That makes it hard to push anything proactive through the lawmaking process. I’ve sort of been leaning in favor of the idea of quiet technocracy because of this. We already have one, sort of. Things like the CDC, the HHS, and the DOE are all technocratic branches of executive government in the US. No one, except the specialists, really knows or even cares about the very literal laws made by these bodies, which are empowered to create administrative law. I tend to think it might not be such a bad idea to extend this principle somewhat.

It’s really messy. I don’t want to make a statement about what or who the “average” person is. I’m also wondering when we get the first of the “singularity” folks in this conversation. I’ll mull your comments over though. (I had about 10 responses, but I think it would be more respectful of me to ponder them for at least a day.)

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The way things are shaping up SKYNET is more likely to end up serving us Starbucks Frappaccinos at vending machines than initiating wholesale nuclear destruction.


I think that’s a concise summation of what I’ve read from him… I have to say that what I’ve read about the evolution of capitalism over the past few hundred years has led me to believe that it’s been precisely this problem of moving ahead before thinking through possible consequences that has been at the heart of the problems we’ve seen over the past 500 years. No one planned or really thought about anything, really, other than short term gain.


Oh, you’re one those “test-first” developer assholes?

(Actually, so am I)


Well, sure, but how can you hope to plan for complex systems chock-full of emergent properties? It’s hard to imagine anything but a ‘suck it and see’ approach working.

Of course, we don’t even do that, really… It’s mostly just a case of ‘suck it’.

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Except that you can game-out a lot of stumbling blocks ahead of time, as Schneier has demonstrated time and time again by being right in advance with alarming frequency. A city-wide surveillance network linked to a single hub and tracked in real time is necessarily complex, but a lot of the potential problems are easy enough to imagine from the simple description in this sentence. It’s not because of the technology’s emergent properties, but because human beings being human often dictates the prevailing use-case. We’re not asking anyone to expect the Spanish Inquisition, just when the pie will be ready.


I think the concept that a city wide network is comparable to where we’re at with the web is not the best comparison. Of course you can isolate issues that would happen with a city wide surveillance network. That’s a pretty specific purpose. The Internet has had to adapt to all the interests of multiple competing groups, and it all is piled upon technologies that were meant for a very specific use case. (BGP was pretty awesome in a research network.)

It’s not pie vs nuclear war. That actually seems like a bit of a hyperbolic way of speaking about the issue.

Schneier’s way smarter than I. But one part of the article seemed a bit off. I don’t think it’s so much an organism as an ecosystem enabling algorithms to directly physically interact with is and each other in meatspace. We’ve already been doing this for a while now, basing our own actions on information and decisions gathered and made by algorithms. This kind of seems to me like another step in the automation of previously human labor; it’s just that this time that labor, doing the bidding of algorithms, is itself a fairly recent sort of human occupation.

On the other hand, I may be splitting semantic hairs here. I just think any regulation of the Internet of Things is probably more of an ecosystem management problem dealing with a whole new class of life-form than one dealing with a single organism or robot.

On the gripping hand, it could be a limitation to the metaphors since this ecosystem will be one where the nervous systems are networked together, yet can still function independently of each other and be reprogrammed, or reprogram themselves, without necessarily disrupting the entire ecosystem…

The most interesting part of the article, IMHO, is where he discusses a phase change in the WSW. Computers and robotics were supposed to make life easier and give us more leisure time, but if anything they’ve done the opposite; though they’ve empowered us in many new ways, I doubt many people would say they’ve reduced our workload. Perhaps the WSW will finally be able to fulfill the promise of computers as work-saving devices.

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Wait, BGP? I like mine better.

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I like the ecosystem model. Organism vs ecosystem is just a matter of scale. I’ve been using the ecosystem model a lot when talking to people about the shortcomings of homogeneity in network design. Yes it makes your patch cycles simpler, but it also can lead to large areas of a network being prone to the same vulnerabilities / failures. (Think of the great potato famine, in a network sense.)

I’m not sure why Schneier chose to use the robot model.

I agree on the phase change, and that was the main thing that struck me as well.

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Let me know before you deploy BFG as a protocol on the web. I’ve got systems to harden.


I don’t know what it would do, but I really want to design a protocol or api reference named MOAB.


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