Friday, 28 February 2014

Have-Nots vs. Would-Earns

As John Robb notes, a key issue in Ukraine and elsewhere (including Venezuela, Thailand, and perhaps Turkey again) is the easy which an open source insurgency may be started and continued. If the 20th century and earlier history had the classic dichotomy of haves vs. have-nots, than perhaps the 21st might be the haves vs. the would-earns.

In this case, the underclass is comprised of people simply yearning for an honest day's work, a chance to perform a trade or profession without much interference from the power elites. However, many of the "power elites" are individually not that powerful themselves. The system/organization that employs them restricts their ability to use their individual judgment in certain situations, perhaps compounded by group-think and institutional bias. For example, a corrupt cop shaking down bribes may be given a blind eye (if not encouraged for a cut) by his cash-strapped superiors. However, an individual still effectively set an example that sparked a series of revolts. A fruit vendor burning himself in protest started the Arab Spring.

Even with tools like sock puppet accounts, online censorship/manipulation (even if subtle rather than overt), and plain spinning are deployed (and I believe they were in many such cases), there comes a point where a situation can no longer be contained. In the developed countries, there is less desperation (for now), allowing much of the systems to continue to function. In more desperate circumstances, even a humble fruit salesman or bulldozer operator can help topple a regime. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Swiss Army Asset

A theory that's gained traction in recent decades is that of the diversified holding of assets. In a purely financial sense, even a balanced portfolio (perhaps including a variety of stocks and bonds) becomes more of a liability. As such, any would be investors or clients may start holding non-conventional assets, such as precious metals and even crypto-currencies. While crypto-currencies may be volatile and metal prices rigged, there is more than simply the financial gain in some cases.

In an unstable economy, the assets which sell are those that can be used to cut costs and allow people to become further self sufficient, or at least find alternative economies. It also brings to mind Gibson's concept that "The street finds its own uses for things." While the price of an individual Bitcoin can vary, the greatest asset for it may in fact be as a transfer system as opposed to a new currency.

Despite a few valiant attempts, the political machinery has largely become an incoherent mess. Can it be repaired, will something better arise, will it fail horribly, or perhaps all three? These answers are sure to be interesting as the robots advance. Perhaps the greatest asset in an unstable economy is a machine that allows one to produce almost all of what they'd need or want at once, including another such machine.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Supervillain Style

Sometimes, supervillains need more style than just financial lawsuits. In the meantime, new materials open possibilities for everything from machinery to buildings to clothes to medicine. Perhaps more importantly, they can be 3D printed.

Otherwise, there's tricks more like cartoon and comic book villains. We're also seeing the beginning of automating security. I wonder what happens when police and soldiers who once enforced the law find themselves employed?