Entries Tagged "Liars and Outliers"

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Liars & Outliers Update

Liars & Outliers has been available for about two months, and is selling well both in hardcover and e-book formats. More importantly, I’m very pleased with the book’s reception. The reviews I’ve gotten have been great, and I read a lot of tweets from people who have enjoyed the book. My goal was to give people new ways to think about trust and society — and by extension security and society — and it looks like I’ve succeeded.

Some samplings:

  • InfoWorld: “The fact that Liars and Outliers prompted me to go back and update my own thinking is truly the measure of Schneier’s latest book.”
  • ComputerWeekly.com: “I used to think that Bruce Schneier was out of touch with industry CISOs, but now I think that they are out of touch with him.”
  • Slashdot: “the reader will find that Schneier is one of the most original thinkers around.”
  • CSO: “If you get a chance to read Schneier’s book (beg, borrow or steal a copy–although I’m not sure what that says about trust if you steal it), you should do so…trust me!”

I’m really proud of the book. I think it’s the best thing I’ve written. If you haven’t read the book yet, please give it a look. It’s the synthesis of a lot of my security thinking to date. I really believe you will enjoy it, and that you’ll think differently after you read it.

So far, though, my readership has mostly been within the security community: people who already know my writing. What I need help with is getting the word out to people outside the circles of computer security or this blog. Anyone who has read the book, I would really appreciate a review somewhere. On your blog if you have one, on Amazon, anywhere. If you know of a venue that reviews, or otherwise discusses books and authors, I would appreciate an introduction.

Thank you.

Posted on April 20, 2012 at 12:48 PMView Comments

Liars and Outliers: The Big Idea

My big idea is a big question. Every cooperative system contains parasites. How do we ensure that society’s parasites don’t destroy society’s systems?

It’s all about trust, really. Not the intimate trust we have in our close friends and relatives, but the more impersonal trust we have in the various people and systems we interact with in society. I trust airline pilots, hotel clerks, ATMs, restaurant kitchens, and the company that built the computer I’m writing this short essay on. I trust that they have acted and will act in the ways I expect them to. This type of trust is more a matter of consistency or predictability than of intimacy.

Of course, all of these systems contain parasites. Most people are naturally trustworthy, but some are not. There are hotel clerks who will steal your credit card information. There are ATMs that have been hacked by criminals. Some restaurant kitchens serve tainted food. There was even an airline pilot who deliberately crashed his Boeing 767 into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999.

My central metaphor is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which nicely exposes the tension between group interest and self-interest. And the dilemma even gives us a terminology to use: cooperators act in the group interest, and defectors act in their own selfish interest, to the detriment of the group. Too many defectors, and everyone suffers — often catastrophically.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is not only useful in describing the problem, but also serves as a way to organize solutions. We humans have developed four basic mechanisms for ways to limit defectors: what I call societal pressure. We use morals, reputation, laws, and security systems. It’s all coercion, really, although we don’t call it that. I’ll spare you the details; it would require a book to explain. And it did.

This book marks another chapter in my career’s endless series of generalizations. From mathematical security — cryptography — to computer and network security; from there to security technology in general; then to the economics of security and the psychology of security; and now to — I suppose — the sociology of security. The more I try to understand how security works, the more of the world I need to encompass within my model.

When I started out writing this book, I thought I’d be talking a lot about the global financial crisis of 2008. It’s an excellent example of group interest vs. self-interest, and how a small minority of parasites almost destroyed the planet’s financial system. I even had a great quote by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, where he admitted a “flaw” in his worldview. The exchange, which took place when he was being questioned by Congressman Henry Waxman at a 2008 Congressional hearing, was once the opening paragraphs of my book. I called the defectors “the dishonest minority,” which was my original title.

That unifying example eventually faded into the background, to be replaced by a lot of separate examples. I talk about overfishing, childhood immunizations, paying taxes, voting, stealing, airplane security, gay marriage, and a whole lot of other things. I dumped the phrase “dishonest minority” entirely, partly because I didn’t need it and partly because a vocal few early readers were reading it not as “the small percentage of us that are dishonest” but as “the minority group that is dishonest” — not at all the meaning I was trying to convey.

I didn’t even realize I was talking about trust until most of the way through. It was a couple of early readers who — coincidentally, on the same day — told me my book wasn’t about security, it was about trust. More specifically, it was about how different societal pressures, security included, induce trust. This interplay between cooperators and defectors, trust and security, compliance and coercion, affects everything having to do with people.

In the book, I wander through a dizzying array of academic disciplines: experimental psychology, evolutionary psychology, sociology, economics, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, game theory, systems dynamics, anthropology, archeology, history, political science, law, philosophy, theology, cognitive science, and computer security. It sometimes felt as if I were blundering through a university, kicking down doors and demanding answers. “You anthropologists: what can you tell me about early human transgressions and punishments?” “Okay neuroscientists, what’s the brain chemistry of cooperation? And you evolutionary psychologists, how can you explain that?” “Hey philosophers, what have you got?” I downloaded thousands — literally — of academic papers. In pre-Internet days I would have had to move into an academic library.

What’s really interesting to me is what this all means for the future. We’ve never been able to eliminate defections. No matter how much societal pressure we bring to bear, we can’t bring the murder rate in society to zero. We’ll never see the end of bad corporate behavior, or embezzlement, or rude people who make cell phone calls in movie theaters. That’s fine, but it starts getting interesting when technology makes each individual defection more dangerous. That is, fisherman will survive even if a few of them defect and overfish — until defectors can deploy driftnets and single-handedly collapse the fishing stock. The occasional terrorist with a machine gun isn’t a problem for society in the overall scheme of things; but a terrorist with a nuclear weapon could be.

Also — and this is the final kicker — not all defectors are bad. If you think about the notions of cooperating and defecting, they’re defined in terms of the societal norm. Cooperators are people who follow the formal or informal rules of society. Defectors are people who, for whatever reason, break the rules. That definition says nothing about the absolute morality of the society or its rules. When society is in the wrong, it’s defectors who are in the vanguard for change. So it was defectors who helped escaped slaves in the antebellum American South. It’s defectors who are agitating to overthrow repressive regimes in the Middle East. And it’s defectors who are fueling the Occupy Wall Street movement. Without defectors, society stagnates.

We simultaneously need more societal pressure to deal with the effects of technology, and less societal pressure to ensure an open, free, and evolving society. This is our big challenge for the coming decade.

This essay originally appeared on John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever.

Posted on March 2, 2012 at 1:21 PMView Comments

Liars and Outliers News

The book is selling well. (Signed copies are still available on the website.) All the online stores have it, and most bookstores as well. It is available in Europe and elsewhere outside the U.S. And for those who wanted a DRM-free electronic copy, it’s available on the OReilly.com bookstore for $11.99.

I have collected four new reviews. And a bunch of reviews on Amazon.

There’s an interview with me about the book on TheBrowser.com.

Gizmodo has published an except from Chapter 17. I (and others) have published Chapter 1. And all the figures, mostly for people reading the ebook.

Posted on February 24, 2012 at 3:18 PMView Comments

Liars and Outliers Update

Liars and Outliers is available. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have been shipping the book since the beginning of the month. Both the Kindle and the Nook versions are available for download. I have received 250 books myself. Everyone who read and commented on a draft will get a copy in the mail. And as of today, I have shipped books to everyone who ordered a signed copy.

I’ve seen five more reviews. And there’s one print and one audio (there’s also a transcript) interview about the book.

A bunch of people on Twitter have announced that they’re enjoying the book. Right now, there are only three reviews on Amazon. Please, leave a review on Amazon. (I’ll write about the problem of fake reviews on these sorts of sites in another post.)

I’m not sure, but I think the Kindle price is going to increase. So if you want the book at the current $10 price, now is the time to buy it.

Posted on February 13, 2012 at 2:53 PMView Comments

Liars and Outliers Update

According to my publisher, the book was printed last week and the warehouse is shipping orders to booksellers today. Amazon is likely to start shipping books on Thursday. (Yes, Amazon’s webpage claims that the book will be published on February 21, 2012, but they’ll ship copies as soon as they get them — this ain’t Harry Potter.) The Kindle edition is already shipping.

Those of you who ordered signed copies from me are likely going to have to wait a couple more weeks. My copies will arrive from the publisher eventually; then I will sign them and ship them on to you.

Reviews are starting to come out. I expect more in the coming month.

At the end of February, I’ll be at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. In addition to my other speaking events, Davi Ottenheimer will interview me about the book at something called The Author’s Studio. I’ll be doing two one-hour book signings at the conference bookstore. And, and this is the best news of all, HP has bought 1,000 copies of the book and will be giving them away at their booth. I’ll be doing a couple of signings there as well.

Posted on January 30, 2012 at 1:59 PMView Comments

Liars and Outliers News

The Liars and Outliers webpage is live. On it you can find links to order both paper and e-book copies from a variety of online retailers, and signed copies directly from me. I’ve also posted the jacket copy, the table of contents, the first chapter, the 15 figures from the book, an image of the full wraparound cover, and all the blurbs for the book.

Last week, I chose 10 winners from the 278 people who entered the drawing for a free galley copy. Those copies have all been mailed, as have copies to potential book reviewers.

Several readers suggested that I auction some copies, and I’m going to do that now. I have two galley copies that I will auction to the two highest bidders. This is a charity auction; the proceeds from one copy will go to EFF and the other to EPIC. Leave bids in the comments below. The auction closes at the end of the day on Wednesday, January 11. (I am deliberately being sloppy about this. I’m happy to let the bidding go if it will raise more money, but eventually I’m going to call things to a close.) So check the comments for the high bidders, and please contribute to these organizations that are doing a lot to keep the Internet — and the whole information age — open and free.

EDITED TO ADD (1/5): There’s only one auction. The top two bidders will in, and the proceeds will be split between EPIC and EFF. There’s no reason to specify an organization in the bidding.

EDITED TO ADD (1/12): The winners are Tom Ehlert and Manasi. Can both of you please contact me.

Posted on January 5, 2012 at 1:39 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.