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Phil's Rambling Rants
October 25th, 2006
09:37 am


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Science Fiction question
That is, a question that science fiction should be examining, not a question about science fiction.

From the beginning of human civilization, we've had various sorts of rules, many of which were stupid. The primary defense mechanism against stupid rules was to simply ignore them; we could know they wouldn't be enforced, usually because no one would know we'd violated them.

Today, we're developing technology that creates, for the first time in history, the possibility of truly enforcing rules that many people think are overly intrusive, ethically wrong, or just plain crazy. Will that technology bring about the most oppressive society humanity has seen yet, or will it finally cause people to stop allowing rules they don't support to exist (because they can no longer say "it's not really a problem; I can ignore that rule like everyone else does")?


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(5 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:October 25th, 2006 04:47 pm (UTC)
Haven't things like 1984 and Minority Report (and others that i can't think of right now, although for some reason Gattaca sort of comes to mind, in terms of the "you're not part of society if you don't fit these specs and we can and will check regularly and often) dealt with that sort of thing?

Maybe i'm misunderstanding what you're saying but it seems that dictatorial-intrusive-omnipresent-omniscient law has been the subject of sci-fi. (Okay, maybe 1984 isn't sci-fi.)

Although in all cases it seems that the solution was to overthrow the government, kill those in power, take off and nuke it from space.

Did i completely misunderstand what you're getting at? I feel like i must have.
[User Picture]
Date:October 25th, 2006 06:18 pm (UTC)
Science fiction has discussed some of these issues, but I'm really wondering if people have anything to say about where they see society going. My post was inspired by discussion on the GT list about how broadband providers have ridiculously restrictive rules about what you're allowed to do with your connection that people routinely ignore, and the increasing tendency to click through software licenses without actually reading them or caring what they say. If the companies involved develop the technology to actually enforce their licenses, will people just stop doing anything but what the company thinks they should be doing, or will there be universal enough outrage to put in laws that make licenses say "we took your money but you can't actually use the product" null and void? (I discount the possibility that market forces will bring companies that provide the services people really want. That only happens when there's real competition, which we don't see in the software or broadband markets.)
[User Picture]
Date:October 25th, 2006 04:59 pm (UTC)

Will that technology bring about the most oppressive society humanity has seen yet, or will it finally cause people to stop allowing rules they don't support to exist (because they can no longer say "it's not really a problem; I can ignore that rule like everyone else does")?

I guess my Law Enforcent brain took over here and interpreted this to
"Will we try to do away with these laws once we've realized that they are
silly and possibly will get people in trouble that we do not believe should be".

No one has taken the time to re-examine a lot of the laws that are on the books that probably shoudl be taken off. I think they should, but I doubt they will until cases come up that make them do so.
[User Picture]
Date:October 25th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)
It's not just laws on the books (though there certainly are plenty of real passed-by-the-legislature-and-signed-by-the-executive laws that are complete travesties of American ideals and/or good sense). There are far more regulations, policies, precedents, and company rules that are either stupid in concept or just miserably written. For all that people like to talk about the rule of law (especially when some particular thing they don't like is against the letter of the law, or someone they want to make look bad has violated the letter of the law), we only actually get by day to day by using a common sense understanding of what's really OK. With automated systems monitoring activity, do people obey the stupid, or does the stupid get changed?

Speed limits are a good example. They're stupidly low, but nobody worries about it very much because everybody just drives at a closer to reasonable speed. But in a few years, there will be technology in place that can track every car well enough that anyone who goes 56 in a 55 for 10 seconds can get an automated speeding ticket. Governments would love it for the money. People will hate it, but will they be mad enough to actually get it to change, or will they just accept their commutes being longer, their highways being more congested, and their vacations truncated?
[User Picture]
Date:October 25th, 2006 07:02 pm (UTC)
Automated ticketing systems have already proven to be problematic in a number of jurisdictions. I went looking for evidence of something that I'd been told but failed to find it but did find some interesting information (Here: http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersections/rlc_guide/rlc_bib.htm#Toc93387608) that reminded me that there will continue to be those who throw themselves (willingly or accidentally) into the line of fire through civil disobedience and these cases do sometimes make it to the right court systems to be allowed to be judged in the light.

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