Me at the Berkman Center

Earlier this month I spent a week at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, talking to people about power, security, technology, and threats (details here). As part of that week, I gave a public talk at Harvard. Because my thoughts are so diffuse and disjoint, I didn’t think I could pull it all together into a coherent talk. Instead, I asked Jonathan Zittrain to interview me on stage. He did, and the results are here: both video and transcript.

Be warned, though. You’re getting a bunch of half-formed raw thoughts, contradictions and all. I appreciate comments, criticisms, reading suggestions, and so on.

Posted on April 19, 2013 at 1:40 PM10 Comments


WarriorsShade April 19, 2013 2:40 PM

Bruce,”It is clear to me that we as a society are headed down a dangerous path, and that we need to make some hard choices about what sort of world we want to live in. It’s not clear if we have the social or political will to address those choices, or even have the conversations necessary to make them. But I believe we need to try. ”

The increasingly Machiavellian realization I have come to is that it’s not about whether “we” as in the majority of people and society, have the social or political will to address these choices, and instead about the ability, or lack thereof, to actually affect change even if our will was strong enough.

I’m an Iraq war vet who has spent the majority of my free time since I got out attempting to understand the powerstructure, and I think that hackers always thought we could figure out a way around any restrictions placed on them. The reality is that with the advancement of technology the traditional power elite are very surely cementing their power.

The issue of new regimes of trust is falsely said to be about inter-societal trust, and instead is about the trust the power structure has for it’s given citizenry, and the lengths it’s willing to go to to keep themselves safe from it. Whether the threat is from actual war or from political dissidence, it makes little difference. (and in fact, the main issue I see with ubiquitous surveillance is the chilling effect on free speech it enables).

From a purely analytical point of view, I truly think that it is highly unlikely enough people will come out forcefully enough to prevent totalitarianism in some strange modern proto-global form.

Simon April 19, 2013 6:26 PM

From 57:25 to 57:35 makes the whole thing worth listening to.
Also, Prof Zittrain is very well spoken and pleasant to listen to. Very intelligent others too.
Many of these issues are simply inconsistencies and absurdities, but I don’t know it makes any difference to blow the whistle on this stuff.
The thing I am most interested in is not dumb legislation, it’s the technological advances that set into motion events no one could possibly predict. And there were numerous points in that regard.
And there were several points of discussion I never even thought about. I wish I had time to listen to it all over again.

Jake April 19, 2013 8:23 PM

@Justin: it looks like there is a 1:1 correspondence between tweets and posts on this blog. so, maybe the moderator? or a benign bot authored by a fan?

Rolph Von Doisenberg April 20, 2013 7:17 AM

Bruce, here is a movie about these issues. It’s from the Netherlands but it is subtitled. Too bad we aren’t having these discussions on our 24 hour news cycle. But I thought I’d pass along these concerns raised by the Dutch. In many respects, their attitude is similar to that of Americans. On the other hand, the documentary maker contrasts German concerns over privacy, and their memory of how fasicsm came to be is still fresh enough in their minds to realize how important it is not to let governments and corporations (remember what IG Farben made to further the polcies of the government circa 1933-1956, also that Auschwitz was, among other things, a death labor camp for a defunct German arms maker which had a fuse plant near the camp) gain control of too much private information.

I am afraid that our national security policies and the inability of American government officials to think what their new policies will ultimately lead to are going to end badly. For a good description of how the European governments behaved prior to World War I and WWII, I would recommend “The Death Ship” by B. Traven as a primer on past policies that ultimately resulted in the European calamity and death and destruction of the two major wars in Europe. Traven also wrote “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, a classic that was made into a movie but I found “The Death Ship” to be a more profound telling of a sordid tale.

But this Dutch documentary is quite interesting in discussing issues that are of concern to us all.

Simon April 20, 2013 11:23 AM

@ Rolph Von Doisenberg – I watched the whole video, it is very well made. My theory about why so many protest so little has been that, in America, citizens live with the grand assumption that elected officials and bodies of authority hold their same values. In this video around 40m a chilling alternative is revealed – that people actually enjoy being observed as compliant “see me be a good citizen, look how cooperative I am.”
I’m afraid this may be a horrible parallel to the behavior of sex slaves and explains why they don’t try to escape. It has been studied extensively. I can think of many, many examples in war.

Daniel Stoltzfus April 20, 2013 11:25 AM

One of the head officials said they found the man in the boat with a helicopter. After someone in the crowd apparently refuted him he took it back. I wonder how much other stuff he lied about? They talked about the great job they did. What was so great about searching the houses and not the boat?

Moderator April 20, 2013 5:13 PM

I have no idea who started that Twitter account, and I’m sure Bruce doesn’t either. Anyone can easily hook up an RSS feed to Twitter. There is another Twitter feed that was also started by a fan, but is now official; it’s on the blog sidebar. But it’s just a feed and doesn’t follow anybody.

Figureitout April 21, 2013 11:57 PM

Quote of the talk: “I’m the freak still using Eudora”–B. Schneier

It’s ok, Bruce. Much freakier stuff exists.

Zittrain’s a good moderator, gives polar opposites when he can. His bumper sticker of “Death by terrorist || Death by Police State”, pretty much sums it up. Except terrorists are known (at least the ones that get caught) to be idiots, while a police state is certain death.

Vles April 23, 2013 6:43 AM

“the book is so nice I read it twice after I forgot it the first time.” hahaha

You all certainly had fun. 🙂 Was great to listen to thanks!

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.