Michael Schwern points out that all good communication requires the right amount of filtering to be effective. Non-technical people filter their output so as not to offend. Geeks filter their input and say anything they feel like. When a geek talks to a nontech, there is no filter and offense is common. When a nontech talks to a geek, there are two filters, and the message sounds uninformative, insincere, or even deceptive.

Censorship is filtering at the mass level, implemented by rules and bureacracy and often backed by punishments. It is justified by the excuse that some people are unable to filter themselves (which is true) and some others are unable to filter what they hear (also true). In America, someone can stand on a soapbox and demand the violent overthrow of the United States, and be dismissed as an annoying but harmless crank. If some listener is stupid enough to engage in revolutionary violence, they are usually caught, tried, and punished. Unless the soapbox crank was directly involved in the violence, they often go free (though they might get pelted with garbage). While punishment of radical speech can happen, it is not the norm as it is in a country where censorship is the law.

Tolerance of extreme viewpoints is a sign that radicals are unlikely to change things. If catastrophic change becomes likely, leaders and legislatures can change the rules quickly. Government censorship measures that government's perceived fragility, not its strength. The best way to relax censorship is to help government leaders feel secure, not goad them into more draconian reaction. In other words, filter threats out of what you say to them. Be someone they want to listen to. Our friends are more likely to follow us towards change, while enemies will do the opposite.

The Outernet group proposes putting hundreds of cubesats in orbit to broadcast internet and bypass censorship. Over time, I hope they learn more about space, technology, history, the International Telecommunications Union, and the psychology that underlies Realpolitik.

If I was Dictator Of The World, I would force everyone to be free, then abolish my office. Sounds silly, right?

The American revolution was unique for its time (and perhaps in history) because the American colonies were the most literate population in the world. The colonies absorbed many of the British empire's rabble rousers and religious zealots, and violated copyright by printing without permission a lot of English literature, and did all this far from the control of crown and parliament. The colonies were hotbeds of radical Protestantism, focused on reading and interpreting scripture, which meant most people owned and could read bibles. I may not think the same way, but I can see how that thinking led to a populace biased towards self-government and concommitant self-control. Yet with all that book learning, Americans were also pirates and drug smugglers and slave traders, aboriginal exterminators, smug scofflaws whose excesses required many small and large wars to tame.

In an age of nuclear and biological weapons and mass propaganda, the world cannot follow America's path to freedom, nor should it emulate the decay of freedom that mass communication oligopolies may be bringing about now. The world is evolving towards peace and freedom and prosperity, but there are no shortcuts - education comes first, and that can take generations. Without education, or with indoctrination pretending to be education, "free" communication can support genocide as easily as it spreads knowledge. The excesses of Nazi Germany, or the Rwandan and Congo genocides, show what unmanaged communication can do.

While there are horrible kleptocratic perversions of the process, the education of China and India are proceeding admirably, and I hope tools like Server Sky can contribute. One does not need to look far back into history, however, to see how both these countries have been repeatedly scarred by bad communication - the Taiping rebellion of 1846 and the partition of India in 1947 were responsible for millions of deaths. The ignorance and intolerance that led to these atrocities is slowly vanishing from both countries, but it is not gone, and the communication channels of both countries are censored partly to prevent future eruptions of violence. Granted, much of the impetus is to protect those in power, but people in power get old and die. Their educated replacements will include the Gorbachevs and Abdullahs and Lees who will use their control to educate their people towards independence.

It would be great if we could just throw a switch and turn everyone in the world into educated and wealthy cosmopolites. I wouldn't mind throwing a switch and turning the video vegetables of the United States into educated cosmopolites (clue: we aren't). But that is not going to happen - sometimes, the Big Guy with the dozen palaces is correct when he tells us to eat our leafy greens and not have promiscuous sex with strangers.

So, while I would love to design server sky to destroy censorship, the death toll from my naive American meddling could result in the death of billions - including my own. So careful thought is required, to design the infrastructure to foster education while discouraging demagoguery, to give dictatorial leaders tools that will help them lead their countries towards peace and plurality, tools that by design are not useful for tyranny. Imposing American exceptionalism on the world is a remarkably ignorant undertaking, but providing the tools to responsibly manage freedom will make freedom safer and more common.

The International Telecommunication Union assigns access to orbits and frequencies, and nations with launch capability ( US, Russia, China, etc) are willing members of this productive consensus organization. China and Russia have some enormous tasks ahead, and while they don't do things "The American Way", their leaders are not by any means the Stalins and Hitlers and Maos who made the mid twentieth century a genocidal horror. Those leaders and their representatives at the ITU can put the kybosh on any space project, except for those launched by powerful military organizations.

Watching the Chinese leadership in particular shows a steady progression towards the diffusion of power, from strongmen to meritocracies. Most Americans remember Mao, but few can name the president of China (2014 answer: Xi Jinping) or his undergraduate degree (Chemical Engineering, Tsinghua University). I may not agree with Chinese Communist doctrine, but the leaders of China are chosen for intelligence and administrative skill, something Americans can only dream about. While the displacement of China's poor for economic projects, and the persecution of the Failun, are disturbing to this American boy, I can see worse in American history, as recently as my parent's times. When China's per capital GDP reaches that of 1940s America, I expect that wealth will be spent on personal freedom and on education. If server sky can bring that economic growth to western China sooner, and build cameraderie between those ethnic minorities and the Han majorities of eastern China, then I don't mind the government tweaking the conversation to maximize progress. An educated China will capture the essence, if not the particulars, of the American revolution.

My job, as a technologist, is to make technological choices that move us toward these desirable goals as quickly and painlessly as possible. If I can make choices that aid education-obsessed bureaucrats at the expense of the power-obsessed kleptocrats, the internal forces contending for mastery inside China will move in the right directions, directions that I as a foreigner cannot make well-informed decisions about.

There are countries most westerners consider overdue for repair, like North Korea. I do not understand the historical forces that make a North Korea come about, even though I've read many books about the country. Until we understand why people would willingly subject themselves to atrocities, our meddling could make the situation worse. Understand the machine and the function it performs, in obsessive detail, before you attempt to improve it. The path to improvement is probably surprising, and not obvious to outsiders like me. Relevant to space sourced communication, North Korea is poverty stricken, and lacks the communication infrastructure we take for granted in the west. There are few receivers on the ground to listen to space-sourced broadcasts. Those possessing clandestine communication tools will be identified and murdered if we send anti-government messages through them. If instead, we censor ourselves, and use those channels to bring wealth and knowledge to the possessors, they will be in a much better position to create peaceful and appropriate changes in North Korea, with the tacit cooperation of the pragmatists among their country's leadership.

I would love to hear from people in China and elsewhere, and learn about the tools they desire for creating a better world. Those seeking violent revolution and the punishment of enemies, or the copying of America elsewhere, should save their breath. I want educated and responsible freedom for individual people, as many as possible as soon as possible, not abstractions like "free countries". Freedom is most easily achieved through migration and communication, rarely though confrontation and subversion. Be a good friend, and if you help your friends enough, and they help more friends, few will wish to remain your enemy.

Server sky will hopefully change the world, radically. Not by smashing governments and leaders, but by fostering connections and abundance that will help every person of good will, outcast leaders (and their successors) included. If Kim Jong-un and his leadership cadre benefit greatly and obviously from server sky, and North Korea's citizens do as well, this outweighs the status quo. Our job as inventors and planners is choosing design options that make such outcomes more likely, not nominate bad guys and attack them in hopes that something better will emerge out of the destruction. Moore's law growth creates abundant new opportunities, and the tools to select the best. We should not waste this abundance creating conflict and losers.

Censorship (last edited 2014-03-01 03:06:14 by KeithLofstrom)