SCIOPS 01.07: Fully Automated

Happy May Day, everyone! ​You may notice a change in the return address of SCIOPS this week. I was having trouble with spam filters, so I’m experimenting a bit. Let me know if this email reaches you differently than the last six.

fully automated renewable luxury communism

May 1st is International Workers’ Day , a celebration of the proletariat worldwide. Oh, except in the United States, where it is federally recognized as Law Day , a “ special day of celebration… for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.Thanks, Ike!

In recognition of both of these esteemed holidays, let’s look at the future of automation and government, brought to you by the suddenly civic-minded Vulture Capitalists of Silicon Valley.

Brought to my attention this week: the CICADA project . This software would provide the exact kind of direct democracy I envisioned in SCIOPS 01.05 , a decentralized platform for governmental and economic decision-making. Their slogan is “Replace Your Leaders with Code” – a great way to celebrate Law Day, right?

Before we go further down this particular rabbit hole, I want to point out that CICADA is not a real program. It’s imaginary, a piece of design fiction or vaporware. It has no institutional backing. The website offers no information about the “exclusive team behind Cicada” and the whitepaper has very little in the way of technical proposals. The whole thing may be a viral marketing campaign for the self-published novels it’s supposedly “inspired” by. Then again, the novels may be a marketing campaign for the technology, a way of spreading the ideals of CICADA to guide the technical development.

The underlying technology, the blockchain, is a real thing – in fact, it’s likely to be the infrastructure of the internet within a few years. Most of the features of CICADA are being developed individually by different parts of the tech sector. That’s why this design fiction is so useful: it ties together a bunch of disparate technologies into a coherent vision. It’s one possible endgame for the internet revolution. We could actually build this world – but do we want to?

The whitepaper is fifty pages long and discursive. I read it so you don’t have to. Reactions follow.

The Good:

  • UBI
    CICADA would run on the smartphones of all the users, not on a centralized server-farm of a megacorp. Everyone is a client and a server at the same time. This leads to their implementation of the Universal Basic Income: whenever your phone is operating as infrastructure, you’re getting paid for that.
  • Anonymous Voting : Instantaneous voting from your device means a proper direct democracy. This solves the pony-express problem of our legacy democracy. In the whitepaper, they describe “circles” of people that are not mutually exclusive – so you can be a member of (and vote within) your nation, your company, your school district and your book club, all accessible through the decentralized network.
  • Meshnet : Way down at the bottom of their list of goals, but possibly the most crucial. A meshnet is a peer-to-peer network. It doesn’t use cell towers, commsats or wifi routers, just the computers and phones of people nearby. The current use-case for these is military: almost all field operations use mesh networks, because for some reason you can’t count on comms infrastructure in hostile territory. If CICADA can fallback to a meshnet when the internet goes down, it could be used in protest or civil war situations. Exactly the moment when you might want to “replace your leaders with code”…

The Bad:

  • Gamified Voting : Super creepy. This unravels all the good woven by the decentralized voting process. “ The system rewards participation in the system by gameifying voting. It creates leaderboards, awards prizes and pays out cryptocoins for ongoing participation in the network… We incentivize what we want and de-incentivize what we don’t. “  The idea of “incentivizing participation” is one of the main threats to cognitive security. Make no mistake: when tech-bros “gamify” some activity, that means they’re hacking your dopamine system to respond in a certain way.
  • AI Voting : Even worse, the whitepaper talks of creating AI assistants that will study how you vote, then automatically vote for you. ” A deep neural net can be trained over time on how you vote, learn your predilections, and predict your votes. This would allow you to set up an auto-voting system for yourself that maintains engagement with the system without manually having to vote on everything that happens in the network, which can lead to voter fatigue. “ Down that road lies the Basilisk .
  • Human Unique Identifier
    this is the basis of their whole system. Not qute as bad as sounds, but still sketchy. The HUID operates on biocryptics: instead of a simple biometric, like your fingerprint or iris scan, it uses an encrypted version of that same data. This does away with some of the obvious problems of tagging your identity to your physical features, but it’s not foolproof. The risk involved with attaching all your identification to your eyeball is considerable. After all, there’s one age-old method of hacking that no one has fully defeated…

"drug him and hit him with this $5 wrench until he tells us the password."


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Thanks for reading.

– Max