The Importance of Outliers

Charlotte Hinkle, adjunct CReST Fellow 2013-2014, discusses the value of outliers to our society. 

What would this world be like without outliers who innovate, revolutionize our society, or change the way that business is conducted? Hopefully we will never have to find out. The benefits of outliers to our society are immeasurable; without them we would still be hunter gatherers, if our species had survived. In the dark ages outliers were hunted down and killed or shunned because of their ideas. Who knows how advanced we would be today if those outliers had been embraced. Some outliers will seek to harm us but there will always be those that do. One bad apple should not spoil the whole bunch. We should support outliers and enact policies to help them succeed and give them the resources necessary to help their ideas catch fire. If we do, business, culture, and society will reap the benefits. Outliers have made us into the people that we are today.

Outliers are extremely important to the success of our community, country, and planet. They are the spice of life. Without outliers yes, society might “survive” for a little while but it would not thrive, and in the end it would fail, whether it took 30 or 300 years, because there would be no revolutionary ideas to push us forward. During the dark ages when outliers were routinely persecuted, society fell backwards and knowledge was lost. We cannot afford to let that happen again. Without outliers there would not be any electricity, voting rights, or even our democratic form of government. Outliers keep us safe, fed, and prosperous by dreaming up solutions to the problems of today and tomorrow. They help to protect and secure our future.

Our long time embrace of outliers’ ideas and innovations has been a key factor to our success. Andrew Carnegie, and Bill Gates certainly are not average people, neither were Abraham Lincoln or FDR. Rather, these are people who have the ability to think outside the box, develop ideas, and have the passion and grit necessary to achieve their goals. While outliers have always had to work hard, their accomplishments are celebrated. We remember true outliers be they social revolutionaries, artists, or business tycoons long after their deaths and look for ways to build upon their legacies. We may not always like or agree with what outliers have said or done, but their actions push us forward in immeasurable ways. Societies that do not embrace outliers and the innovations they bring are doomed to fail, just like the kingdoms of the dark ages.

There will always be outliers that seek to harm us, our society, and our way of life but such individuals are few and far between. There will always be people like Hitler and Stalin. From these outliers our society will grow and become stronger by learning what behaviors to watch for and how to prevent future tragedies. Will bad things happen to us in the future? Yes. Will outliers be responsible for some of these events? Yes. However, this does not mean that all should be punished for the actions of a few.

While outliers will always face struggles and must have grit and perseverance, we as a society should help them to succeed. We need policies that will help those with revolutionary ideas in business or other aspects of our society to have access to the resources necessary to bring their ideas to fruition. Whether these resources are monetary or otherwise, support of outliers is crucial to our success. Not all outliers will have ideas that pan out, but if even one in five does, they will move society forward to the benefit of all. Outliers are essential for our future.

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Little Sibling

Little Sibling

By Mark Ridinger

We are all familiar with the idea of Big Brother, famously put forth in Orwell’s 1984. And indeed, with the increasing density of public video cameras, and electronic “eavesdropping”, the government functioning as such a Big Brother is more a concern today than at any time before. But what of the ability for all of us—ordinary citizens—using the new digital mobile technologies from smart phones to smart watches and Google Glass to record what is happening around us with ease? The desire seems to be unquenchable; massive amounts of data are being captured and stored already. Wearable technology in the hands of nearly everyone and used insatiably will create not only a feeling but a reality of being recorded and observed nearly 24/7/365. Add to that the ubiquity of the Cloud, where Big Data goes to reside, and increasingly better analytic software like facial recognition, and what is created is hundreds of millions of intelligent chroniclers of all that is happening, not just in their own lives but yours and mine. In other words, is the real threat (or just as big of one) going to come not from Big Brother, but from “Little Brother”? Or better put so as to not exclude either gender: Little Sibling.

The impact of this on privacy—generically—has been discussed quite a bit, but is there another, less obvious and perhaps more subversive impact? Put technically: do we risk becoming objectified and with it, being shamed. Shame here is used in a very technical sense of the word; not so much in its colloquial use as in the feeling one often has after doing something morally or ethically wrong, for example. The French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre was interested in this concept, and defined shame as what results from being observed by the Other as an Object (“shame of oneself before the Other”). Shame, in this sense, can be a powerful tool, motivator, and manipulator. If we become aware of being continuously monitored by one another, can we be shamed into acting in a way we otherwise wouldn’t? Perhaps those actions could be better at times, but what does it portend to creating behaviors that are not of our own intent, but mass-produced and homogenized? Imagine never ending and seamless dusk-to-dawn politically correct behavior; the PC of the masses.

Or worse. James Madison addressed methods to deal with what he called the problem of the tyranny of the majority in the Federalist Papers number 10. He suggested creating a society that was homogenous in opinions, interests, and thought. Fortunately he deemed that to be impractical, but is it still impractical today? The French political theorist, Tocqueville, a proponent of the then still emerging concept of American democracy, also worried about the tyranny of the majority. The great late historian Jacques Barzun wrote about this idea in his review of Tocqueville, “…and the tyranny was not legal only, but social also—pressure from the neighbors, tacit or expressed.” Therefore, will a technological dystopia emerge that allows powerful entities to set a policy or agenda, and use Little Sibling to enforce it, albeit unwillingly or unknowingly, in some sort of newfound social tyranny? Will the knowledge of being constantly observed and objectified, from and by our peers who then instantly upload their bounty to the social media cloud, create a mindless group think of the masses—of the majority? This would likely be far more potent of a force than being “nudged”, as some behavioral psychologist have advocated. This is not the stuff of conspiracy theory—the ability to use mass propaganda is well known and real.

So who or what would possibly try and use Little Sibling to advance some agenda or policy? Naturally, thoughts of government come to mind, trying to advance a new policy paradigm or win a landslide election. But what if it is coopted by the private sector instead—by the corporations that make and control the technological ‘levers’? In essence what advertising tries to do, but to an entire other level of effectiveness. Or what if Little Sibling was unknowingly recruited by just one, incredible charismatic individual, savvy in the ways of social media and capable of creating a cult of personality? Either way, without a doubt, whoever controls Little Sibling—to the extent that is possible—would have an extraordinarily powerful army at their disposal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presidential Directive Misses Real Threat to Public’s Privacy

Mike Swetnam, CEO of Potomac Institute, comments on the Presidential Directive released yesterday:

I joined the Intelligence Services of this country in December 1972 when I was first “read into” SCI—Special Compartmented Information.  For the past 41 years I have been involved, at one level or another, in intelligence work.  Most of that time the work was related to Signals Intelligence (SIGINT).  In June of 1985, I was assigned to the Intelligence Community Staff (now called the Office of the DNI Staff).  I was the overseer, coordinator, reviewer, and presenter of the Consolidated Cryptologic Program (NSA’s budget) to the US Congress.  Since 1998, I have been a member of the US Senate Special Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Technical Advisory Board (TAG).  In that capacity, I have had the privilege of reviewing the NSA Program and Budget often.  It is therefore accurate to say that I have been and am currently familiar with NSA and the conduct of SIGINT in the US Intelligence Community.  In particular, I have been involved in SIGINT, how it is used and controlled since the controlling document Executive Order 12333 was released by the Reagan administration.

I have reviewed the President’s new directive regarding the collection, analysis, storage, and dissemination of SIGINT, PD-28.[1]

In my opinion, this is a directive that doesn’t “direct”.  It reiterates long-standing processes and procedures for controlling SIGINT.  It redirects department heads and IC agencies to control the info almost exactly as they have for the last 33 years under EO12333.  It directs several reports from the principals of these agencies within the next six months on how well they are doing what they should have been doing anyway.  It’s actually a reminder directive.

The good news is that the directive will not delay or add restrictions to existing IC activities.  The bad news is that tens of thousands of bureaucratic hours will be spent further studying and documenting IC activities.  This is not only a waste of resources but will increase the likelihood of further leaks and disclosure of sources and methods critical to our intelligence success.

The Presidential Directive also does little, if anything, to address the very real and growing threat to the public’s privacy.  The meta-data, and in fact the substantive data, on most Americans is collected and stored in large databases every day – Not by NSA – but by Google, Amazon, Facebook, and dozens of others.  There are few, if any, controls and no oversight of these entities and their use of our information.  What is to stop these companies from using information about me or you to prevent us from supporting a favorite cause or candidate? Nothing.

Every single review by Congress, the justice department, the White House Review Group, and the NSC have all concluded that NSA was not and has not abused its capabilities and has not spied on Americans.  Meanwhile our civil liberties are being grossly and vastly violated by private corporations.  Our government will spend millions, maybe hundreds of millions making sure that NSA doesn’t do anything wrong, even though NSA hasn’t, and will standby while the private sector’s power over your information and your life grows.

This is yet another example of how our government is no longer working.

Voting for the Poor

From our discussion this afternoon, I really think that citizens that don’t participate in society (ie. Pay taxes, have a job, etc) should not be able to vote. Voting should be a privilege, not a right. If you’re not contributing to the society you live in, why should you have an opportunity to change it? Change happens through actions, not by being a bystander. Someone made the comment today about housewives, and I would suggest that if they file joint taxes with their partner, they’re allowed to vote.

We have historically said that people who are qualified can have the privilege of having a say in society. In the past, voting has been a privilege; those that owned land could vote. Why should those people who are a drain on society have a say? What are they providing back that should qualify them to have a sense of what is best for society?

We talked about people that are on welfare and what they do for the economy. The people that make the least tend to spend a higher percentage of their income. The rich spend less percentage directly into the economy. They reinvest or save the money or it stays in the circle of the rich. What is the cutoff that those on welfare are more of a drain on society rather than an active member of the economy? Only those that take advantage of the system are the real drain on society. There should also be a stipulation that those who are motivated to be involved should have the opportunity to do so and those who aren’t motivated are cut off. Pay taxes and then you can decide where the tax money goes.

What about those who are enhanced? What does society owe them? Or potentially more importantly, what do they owe society? We have continued to discuss neuroenhancement and genetic engineering in our sessions. Humans have become the controller of evolution; we are our own god.

Evolution for millennia has been ruthless in terms of who wins and who dies. The less hardy die off, period. The beggars (in Spain and elsewhere) die because they are not the dominate and strong. The strong typically dominate because of advanced technology. Now, the strength could be due to intelligence and processing speed.

Additionally, we now have the technology and wealth to protect the weak that would otherwise die off. We can chose to keep the lower, or less endowed humans safe even though they are not up to the level of the new/modern/enhanced human race.

Or we can chose to let them die off… Which will we chose?

This may be a stretch from voting, but it is comparable. If we don’t let the lowest of us vote, we are considering them not-equal and not worth protection or their survival. Will it hurt the advanced humans if they don’t let the weaker humans vote or participate? Probably. This could potentially be the demise of the human race.

Created Equal?

The concept that all men are created equal suggests that all are due the same rights despite the disparity in their abilities whether natural or learned. Those rights are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And most people would agree that throughout the history of the United States that concept has served us well and is constantly in the back of the lawmakers mind. However, would the concept that all men are created equal continue to serve us well if the disparity in ability of men grew, not a disparity created by economic or educational factors but a disparity created by the very makeup of the human being?

The field of genetic engineering continues to grow and in the future we will develop the ability to manipulate the human genome. With these advancements comes the ability to create a human being that is vastly superior to ourselves. This genetically enhanced human being may be able to understand concepts and execute ideas more quickly and effectively than we could ever imagine. As a result, the unenhanced human being may be faced with a threat of inadequacy. How will these differences in abilities and the ability to succeed impact the way we govern?

The threat of a superior minority will most definitely have the potential to cause civil unrest and perhaps revolution, as we’ve seen time and again in history; a disturbance to the concept that all men are created equal. Lawmakers must recognize the inevitability of genetic enhancement and other disruptive technologies and their impact on our governance. Policies must be implemented that recognize the value of genetic enhancement while supporting the success of the unenhanced.

We recently read the novella, Beggars in Spain, and the story highlights the need for society to support even its lowest members. But how and to what extent? These are the questions that lawmakers will need to consider when the unenhanced become the lowest members of society.