Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Technology Books Media Book Reviews

Review:The Sun, The Genome and The Internet 116

Posted by JonKatz
from the changin'-the-world dept.
In his radical new book "The Sun, The Genome, and the Internet" Princeton's Freeman Dyson proposes that rapidly advancing new technologies -- solar energy, genetic engineering and most of all, the Internet -- are not just means of having fun or making money. They are powerful tools for social change, ones that could create a more equal distribution of the world's wealth. Your thoughts about whether his vision is technologically possible are very welcome.

Freeman Dyson is one of the great, much-honored scholars of modern science and technology. Although he admits in his new book, "The Sun, The Genome and The Internet," (Oxford University Press, $US 22) that he didn't foresee the growth of the Internet (then again, neither did Bill Gates), he hasn't been slow to grasp its implications for the world.

Teaching and studying at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (where Einstein was), Dyson has written a book that advocates using the tools of scientific revolution - especially the Internet -- to create a better world, and a more equitable distribution of the world's wealth.

Dyson's central premise is this: solar energy, advances in genetic engineering and the worldwide communications potential of the Net can have enormous social consequences, if they are seen as tools for social change, and not just for recreation and profit.

The Net and the Web draws all sorts of different people who use it for all sorts of reasons. Some collect music, others program, millions stay in touch with their kids or grandchildren, many make money or look for sex, many are looking for community. A growing number of people coming online, especially younger ones, are almost continuously rooting around ways to put the Net into some positive political or social context. Dyson has a movement for them. A good name for it would be Ethical Technology.

Solar power, he argues, could bring electricity to even the poorest and most remote communities in the world, ending the cultural isolation of the most impoverished countries. Breakthroughs in synthetic and genetic engineering could give humans healthier lives.

"?during the last fourteen years," writes Dyson, "the Internet and World Wide Web have exploded. They have become the dominating technology in modern life."

The new century, he argues, is as good as time as any, to make ethical technology a political movement. "Technology guided by ethics has the power to help the billions of poor people all over the earth. Too much of technology today is making toys for the rich. Ethics can push technology in a new direction, away from toys for the rich and towards necessities for the poor. The time is ripe for this to happen. The sun, the genome (the genetic material of an organism), and the internet are three revolutionary forces arriving with the new century. These forces are strong enough to reduce some of the worst evils in our time."

Dyson advances a radical, new and very powerful notion of the Net as a political force. It is, he argues, essential to enable business and farms in remote places to function as part of the modern global economy. It could permit people in distant places to make business deals, to buy and sell, to keep in touch with their friends, to continue their education, to follow their hobbies, with knowledge of what's happening in the rest of the world.

Dyson's vision of the Internet would be truly global and universal. It would use a network of satellites in space for communication with places that fiber optics can't reach, and would connect to local networks in even the smallest villages. The new Internet, he argues, could end the cultural isolation of poor countries and poor people.

For this to happen, writes Dyson, two technical problems would have to be solved, that of large-scale Net architecture and what he calls "the last mile." Large-scale architecture means choosing the most efficient combination of land-lines and satellite links to cover every inch of the planet. The problem of the "last mile," connecting individual homes and families, wherever they happen to be, is much more difficult, says Dyson. It would have to be solved piecemeal.

Dyson is no fuzzy-head Utopian. He doesn't claim that any of his technological advances would create a perfect or problem free world.

Still, the ideas outlined in "The Sun, The Genome and The Internet" are logical and convincing. And they are very big ideas in a tiny book just over a hundred pages.

The Internet continues to terrify much of the rest of civilization. The handful of perverts, pornographers and virus-makers who dwell online continue to generate almost insanely disproportionate attention and concern.

This distortion - with sex, hackers, crackers, cyber-vandals, online militias -- overwhelms the social and political possibilities of the vast and diverse new world taking shape here, hardly any of which are discussed in the journalistic or political culture outside of the Net. For that matter, they aren't discussed all that much online.

For many, the biggest question about the Net (increasingly being equated by scholars as the equivalent of the discovery of fire, language or the printing press), for those online or off, is whether or not this revolutionary and transformative new technology can have sweeping social or political implications beyond the machinery itself.

Dyson says yes. His credentials are astounding.

To purchase this book, head over to Amazon and help Slashdot out.

(Question: I'd be curious to know from those of you more techno-savvy than me whether the universal, global Net that Dyson proposes - the architecture and delivery, especially -- is really possible, or if's a pipe dream?) jonkatz@slashdot.org">

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Review:The Sun, The Genome and The Internet

Comments Filter:
  • by Skyshadow (508) on Monday April 12, 1999 @08:35AM (#1939199) Homepage
    Alright Katz! You've hit on one of my favorite folks.

    Freeman Dyson is like a lot of futurists in that most of his ideas are never gonna happen. Still, they're awful fun to think about and open up new doors for the rest of us; allow us to go in direction that we'd never consider otherwise.

    The last thing I saw from him was an article called " Warm-Blooded Fish and Freeze-Dried Fish [theatlantic.com]", where he talks about using custom-built plants to facilitate human exploration of the Universe.

    I think the best thing about him, though, is that he looks far enough ahead that he's escaping talking about the impact of e-commerce or harping on the internet (unlike Ester Dyson, whose book felt like serious review).

    ----

  • Posted by The Mongolian Barbecue:

    Let's see, what are Dyson's major points?

    1) There are new technologies out there that can change the world.

    2) The internet has exploded and is Big(tm).

    3) Most technology is used only for the rich and the rest of the world never sees it. (Or, in a slight variation, the rest of the world sees it for a brief instant before it is poisoned/exploded/mutated by it- my addition)

    And this from someone working at the insitute for "advanced study"?

    Hmm. The ideas in this book, at first glance anyway, are about as novel and engrossing as Y2k COBOL compliancy checking.
  • Posted by Hungry Joe:

    It occurs to me as I read this that something essential is taken for granted here, an that is whether or not foreign cultures want what we want, or necessarily feel that they are in want of modern technology and society. We seem to believe that other cultures are backward and underdeveloped if they do not embrace modern western ideals and thoughts.

    Throughout recent history, western nations, mainly Europeans, have dominated global politics, and forced their version of society upon everyone else, even if it takes military force to do so. In the process many enlightened, flourishing cultures have been destroyed, and at periods were made into mass markets for European mass production. India for example, at the point when Ghandi came onto the scene, couldn't even make a safety pin, nor were they allowed to produce their own salt.

    Now we come to the present, and everywhere today you hear about the new "Global Village" and how it is going to make life great and the world better, but not many people ever ask why. Globalization will probably have the same effect on the world as the industrial revolution, and that is causing widespread poverty, enriching the rich, and pillaging the poor. Sure in the end it will all even out, but in the meantime you find yourself competing for your manufacturing job with a starving Somali who is willing to work for a bowl of rice instead of your salary of $15 an hour. And how long will it take to even out any ways?

    Basically it comes down to this. For our capitalist, mass production society to work, we need new markets, and this is why you see Clinton pushing for fast track legislation to open up foreign markets, like China, who receives favored nation status despite it's dubious position on basic human rights. The only way for our technocrat society to continue is to sell our products to other nations, our technology and industrialization, the whole taco. And as a result we end up destroying cultures and civilizations that have lasted thousands of years, and who are we to say that ours is any better. The west points to Greece and Rome as the founding nations of our ideals, government, ingenuity and know how. However, neither of these civilizations are around any more, they have long since collapsed, whereas India as a civilization preceded them, and outlasts them to this day, so you tell me, who's doing it right?

  • Why is it the position of these "visionaries" that other cultures around the world want technology in the same way our's does?

    Why don't we let "other cultures" decide for themselves and not assume that they're the same as us or not the same as us? You're being a "visionary" too. "Other cultures" are not inscrutable aliens from the planet Zong -- they're people in the same way that you and I are people, and probably have similar attitudes about technology that any cross-section of people in this culture would. The only real differences involve exposure to technology -- not opinions about it. Modern-day Luddites are not exclusive to any region of the world; modern-day Negropontes are just as likely to be in Ouagadougou as in Cambridge, given an equal amount of exposure to technology. This is not about "saving" anybody.

    --

  • A free-market economy is a result of freedom, not the cause of it.

    It's the result of political decisions. If freedom is an issue, then it's because it has been insisted upon by whomever is in charge of that political sphere. Free-market economies abound, often without much freedom attached to it.

    And freedom only comes through centuries of negotiation between peasants and elites.

    Have we finished negotiating with King George III yet? I'm eager to begin doing that freedom thing.

    If the elites don't feel like they have to talk to the peasants, then the country has no hope of escaping the mire of poverty, Internet or no.

    In a global economy, there's not just one's own country's elites to deal with. An aggrieved Filipino or Indonesian factory worker has to deal with: uncaring local managers, uncaring regional owners, uncaring state and federal governments, uncaring Western execs (e.g. Phil Knight or Michael Eisner) who are themselves buffered by layers of underlings and plausible deniability, uncaring Western politicians who care only about Kapital Über Alles, and caring, ineffectual entities, of which the largest is the United Nations.

    You need to get out more. Quit this Open Source® nonsense now! :) But you're very right in saying that technology is no match for the entrenched heinousness of good old-fashioned human greed and powerlust. But we shouldn't make excuses for that greed and powerlust, whether it comes from Redmond, Wall Street, or Jakarta. It doesn't take centuries to fix what's broken, and if we don't even make an effort, we shouldn't be surprised if the pent-up dysfunction results in riots, coups, and economic collapses from time to time.

    --

  • I look at the monies spent on welfare, and I see people on welfare who could be working but are not. Why?

    It might be because they can't afford to pay for child care, or it might simply be because the price isn't right. Everyone has their price, you know. I don't see why some people aren't allowed to live that truth/truism, while we often insist on it applying to ourselves. I also don't see why people on welfare are stereotyped worse than [fill in the blank with your own favorite stereotype -- suits for instance, or PHBs, or politicians, or "Winblows lusers"]. It would be really cool if they could peruse /. and speak for themselves rather than have idiots trash them all the time. I'd love to see those kind of flamewars, it would be a change from the somewhat predictable ones we've had of late.

    If you give some people the means to live off the work of others, they will. You deserve what you work for.

    Did you pay for the sun? Did you pay for the oxygen in the air? Did you work for it? Shouldn't we deny you access to these things? Do you live off the work of those who wrote Linux and GNU and GTK and Qt? Does Bill Gates deserve his money if it can be proven that he cheated by his business and accounting practices?

    I get really, really tired of the selective morality of Americans, people who think it's really great to invade small defenseless countries or live off the labor of slaves, foreign and domestic. Americans are a bunch of greedy, selfish, whining, hypocritical, stupid bastards.

    (Matt 7:3-5)

    --

  • I don't think so. There are many countries that have some elements of free markets, but a real free market requires minimal taxation and regulation. This does not exist anywhere today.

    Mexico? Indonesia? The Dominican Republic? How minimal does it have to be before it counts? Western corps flock to these places because of minimal payrolls, minimal payroll taxes, lower corporate taxes (I presume), minimal environmental regulation, minimal safety regulation, and minimal labor laws. Now they have, in many cases, minimal or lower tariffs -- or even none at all. If this isn't minimal enough, then what is? What the fsck do you want? What the fsck do you want? You're either trolling or completely ignorant. Please forgive me for going ballistic, but the farther we stray from core geek topix, the more smug stupidity I seem to see here. Governments have been quite happy to sacrifice the freedom of its citizens in order to accomodate the demands of corporations. I'm not just speaking of far-away Third World governments.

    --

  • I realize that many ./ians are all for government contributions to OSS, but I highly doubt we're in favor of an Internet bringing about social destratification (socialism, for those at home) -- whether that's monetary equality or intellectual equality.

    It's simplistic to reduce "socialism" to "social destratification". The United States, from, say, 1935 to 1980, experienced a lot of social destratification: it meant that people had things like indoor plumbing and telephones for the first time, and hourly-wage workers could buy houses and cars and "keep up with the Joneses" when previously this would have been less likely. There are many reasons why this happened, including "socialist" policies begun (or inspired) by FDR, as well as advances in technology. Nowadays, we tend to ignore the great untapped market that's right under our noses -- "restratified" Americans in the lower half of the economic totem pole. We ignore them at our peril.

    --

  • Mexico, as I understand it, is practically socialist. They may not have environmental or labor laws, but they have an enourmous wellfare state, and a corrupt one-party-rule government.

    Indonesia is run by a corrupt dictatorship, has an extremely unstable currency, and also has an extensive welfare state.

    Both governments are much larger and more intrusive than ours.

    I know less about the Dominican Republic, but I suspect it is the same.

    If people are working for 20-60/hr, what does that tell you about the size and scope of their "welfare state"?

    I write this from the US. Where are you? What is this place whose government is dwarfed by the "large" and "intrusive" governments of Mexico and Indonesia? This year's US defense budget is bigger than Indonesia's total (defense and non-defense) budgets for the last five years combined. Indonesia is a nation of about 220 million people, not some tiny, sparsely populated island. For transnational corporations, it (along with Mexico and the Dominican) is free market heaven.

    If you're waiting for everyone to be free in order to pronounce something "free market", don't bother; your great-grandchildren will rot in the grave before that happens. The free market is as here as it's going to be, and it takes the unfreedom of millions to make it work. Or so our politicians seem to think.

    --

  • Indonesia's budget is 4.5% of GDP, which is a wet dream to Americans like you. So I guess this would not be "Big Government". Why isn't Indonesia thriving then? And who caused the rampant poverty, since we can't blame Big Government? Could it be because government and corporations conspire to piss on Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

    --

  • Why hydrogen? Fuel cells that work with more conventional fuels are just about as clean, highly efficient, and don't have the handling problem of hydrogen. A gasoline-powered fuel cell would more than double the average car's miles per gallon.

    Another tech that could significantly reduce fuel bills and is here today is geothermal heat pumps. Drill a few 50 foot deep trenches and bury a loop of pipe in them. Then route the ends of the pipe to a heat pump. Since the earth temperature is fairly constant, the pump has to work a lot less hard than one that works with air. You'll get a 30-50% reduction in energy bills for something like $2000 extra in up-front costs. Take out a loan for it and the energy savings should more than pay for the loan payments.

    My personal favorite for power generation, not looking at cost per kilowatt for the moment, is wind power on pillars planted offshore. The pillars will serve as an artificial reef for fishes so the ecological effect is actually positive. And of course it's clean. The only negative is the probable difficulty of maintenance.
  • >Explain to us how hydrogen [...] is simply a storage medium?

    How do we produce hydrogen? Generally by breaking the bonds in water molecules, I believe. To do so requires energy in, at least as much as you'll get out when you combine it with oxygen to create energy and water. So for that process you're simply using hydrogen to store the energy you used to break it apart in the first place. It may be abundant, but uncombined hydrogen is not in the right place -- and would be rather dangerous if it was.
  • I'm sorry that you have such a weak grasp of economics, but participation of multi-nationals in poorer economies it *the* primary engine of growth in those economies. Without fail, it is the unstable political and social circumstances in some poor countries, which frightens off multi-nationals, which reinforces their poverty. The post which you responding to was *absolutely* on the mark. And your criticisms are way off base.

    *All* of the dynamo economies in developing countries were primed by very heavy investment from the developed world, often through multi-nationals.
  • I'm certainly tempted to read it, but I'll probably wait for the paperback!

    Definately worth reading if you like internet politics-type stuff is his daughters (Esther Dyson) book, Release 2.1. More near-term future than 'The Sun, Genome and Internet,' but interesting.
  • Hydrogen fuel cells are nice, and I'd like to see the technology gain acceptance (I have friends who work at Ballard power sysetms). However, in the short term I think there are better places to focus your R&D attention (especially since hydrogen is just a storage medium, not an energy source). One simple step is the hybrid fuel/electric car, which operates an internal combustion engine at a low-power, high-efficiency operating point and uses stored electrical energy for high-power operations like accelerating or going up hills. The pollution from IC engines can be reduced significantly by simple tricks like pre-heating the catalytic converter before starting the engine, or re-circulating the exhaust gasses until the converter warms up. Alcohol or methane-based fuels can burn cleaner, and can also be produced from agricultural waste, etc.

    An even better step would be to reduce the amount of driving required. This is where communications media like the Internet can make a real difference, by enabling more people to work at home (or live at work, and interact with your family over the net...).

    Uranium fission is dirty, but I wouldn't say it should be banned. Uranium is naturally radioactive and comes from holes in the ground, so putting the fission products back into a hole in the ground really isn't making things much worse. As long as the operators of fission plants are required to maintain their equipment and dispose of their waste safely, I say let them keep doing it until other technologies become more affordable and put fission plants out of business.

    Solar power is good, but the surface of the earth is a rather poor place to collect it. Yet another reason we need a couple of moon bases and space stations.





  • His book "Critical Path" and "GRUNCH of Giants" are a good starting point for any discussion of the success of our species here on "Spaceship Earth." Cheers, GBS
  • Why is it the position of these "visionaries" that other cultures around the world want technology in the same way our's does? I agree, food for the starving, but internet for all? There is no one true way.
  • Yes, quite a bit so. People weren't butchering each other to uphold US policies, for starts.

    Yeah, they were butchering each other over centuries-old tribal/caste/religious/racial battles...
  • All* of the dynamo economies in developing countries were primed by very heavy investment from the developed world, often through multi-nationals.

    And don't forget about what happens when those investors get skittish, though in many cases those Asian tigers deserved precisely what they got (for having despotism, opaque trading, ego-stroking useless public projects, nepotism, corruption, etc)..
  • This is something technologists don't think about as much as they should, although by ad large I agree with this fellow. We live in a painful age because technology is creating as many problems as it is solving. Yes, I can email people in siberia a the flick of a button. However, my life is also extremely complicated. Life is much more complicatd than it was just 15 years ago, let alone 50 years ago. I don't mean my job, I mean just living. Taking care of day to day business.

    What about medicine? A shining example of technology introducing and creating problems ... mdeicine has, for example, greatly increased the lifespan of those who can afford treatment, but it hasn't addressed the quality of that life. So we have seniors living in nursing homes and people stuck on machines for years, living pathetic meaninless existences.

  • If you really want to change people's lives, you'll have to approach them through their religion. On /., the line between technology and religion may be blurred (if it exists at all ;), but in many, many areas of the world people take their cues from the (insert place of worship here). Sure, new technologies CAN help, but unless you can help the priesthood that these new technologies won't upset the balance of power (i.e., won't get people thinking for themselves), you're going to have a long uphill road to acceptance.

  • The issue is precisely what you use your resources (both mental and physical) for. Do you try to build a better CD player ? or a clockwork radio ? Do you try to find an expensive cure for AIDS ? or a cheap one for malaria ? Whether you like it or not, these are ethical choices which face all of us. You can evade it using variants of the same 'its all their own fault' argument that the rich have used for years, but it does not make the choice any less real. The fact remains that the vast majority of poor people have no choice, and you and I do. What are you going to do about it ?

    The exact causes of poverty, both of states and or individuals, are an unknown. You are probably right that a lack of what might be called 'civil society' or the 'rule of law' has a lot to do with it, but the risks of nationalisation and war are exaggerated in places, and much less prevalent in others. Colonial history (of which the US is certainly much less blameless than you probably think), excessive lending, and ignorant attempts by the west to reform the poor countries all also play their part.

    If you want to get an idea of how ignorant most of the West's dealings with africa really are try Graham Hancock's "Lords of Poverty". He raises a number of good points - although some of what he says should be treated with suspicion.
  • I agree about the correlation, but that does not demonstrate a causal relation, or give a recipe for changing the situation. Where do you get new technology from ? How do you lower the birth rate ?

    I also agree about give aways - giving away things that were not yours in the first place helps even less. I doubt that was what the book's author was suggesting.
  • Religion is going to go the way of the dodo.
    Linux is proof that eventually the public do listen to the smart people.
    "The only good thing to come from religion is the music." --George Carlin
    Although I think s/music/art on that is more accurate.
    --
  • by Cassius (9481) on Monday April 12, 1999 @08:58AM (#1939223)
    Dyson advances a radical, new and very powerful notion of the Net as a political force

    Huh? This idea isn't new at all.

    While this book sounds amusing, it doesn't appear that Dyson is revelaing much. We all understand the power of the Internet - most users here probably understand it much better than Dyson. As for genetics, I also see this as relatively old news. We've known for at least a decade that genetics will lead us into new and dangerous territory.

    Save yourself the $15. You can download real hard data about genetics for free. As for learning about the web, I would think that it is a moot point for most readers here.
  • by Cassius (9481) on Monday April 12, 1999 @09:28AM (#1939224)
    The subject line may be harsh, but is basically spot on. We could feed everyone on the planet right now, easily. The fact that we don't, and that we in North America waste so much food, must tell us something.

    We give resources to those who will pay for them. Its as simple as that. New technologies will only result in more options for those who can pay.
  • by Cassius (9481) on Monday April 12, 1999 @09:36AM (#1939225)
    While ecological conditions have continuously plagued African regions, it should be mentioned that much of the poverty in Central America and Africa itself is due to good old fashioned American meddling.

    Haiti has been manipualted, invaded, and controlled by the United States for nearly a century.

    Several Central American "client states" are now violent rural cesspools thanks to American meddling during the cold war.

    I'm not talking about nasty leaflets or McDonald's, but direct, violent involvement in vote tampering, fruad, assassination, etc.

    I think if most Americans knew what they were responsible for in places like Nicaragua and Chile, it would make them sick.

    All of the plaititudes the US government applies to its foreign policies are designed simply to pacify and molify the unwashed masses who pay the bills for all this hypocrisy.
  • by Cassius (9481) on Monday April 12, 1999 @10:26AM (#1939226)
    It was different before we came along?

    Yes, quite a bit so. People weren't butchering each other to uphold US policies, for starts.
  • In a world such as ours, it is not ethics or compassion that improve the lifes of the billions. It is profit.

    Like it or not, every other scientific advance to date has begun it is life as a toy for the economic and scientific elite (this division is somewhat didatic, as usually the economic and the scientific elite are the same people), evolving then to very expensive corporate tools and finnaly reaching the mass market.

    The above steps work also as a evolutuonary pyramid. Some technologies never go anywhere beyond being expensive toys. Some never become viable for mass market.

    When a technology or a technique reach the point where mass distribution/application become viable, it is usually due to to cost reduction via mass production. This is also the point where it becomes possible to defend the dissemination of this technology on ethical/moral/human rights grounds.

    Internet, genetic technologies and alternative sources of energy are all working their way from the second step to the third.

    The Internet is posed to become the most important communication channel in the world. Connectivity will probably be force-feed on poorer countries(and probably to their own losing, for the money could well be expended somewhere else). In twenty or so years, lacking Internet access will be like having no TV and phone today.

    Genetics will probably take a little longer to become as widespread as, say, penicilyn today. But, as every important medical advance, it will eventually reach every country (with the help of multilateral humanitarian organisations).

    As for alternative sources of energy, I dare to think that those are more likely to flourish first in some of the more advanced "developing" nations than in the richer ones. Those nations are more affected by oil prices and nuclear energy prices.
  • Not much.

    The internet isn't going to solve the worlds problems any more than the invention of the telephone.

    Every time a new technology becomes widely available it is siezed by different members of society and turned to their own purposes.

    Video recorders were grabbed as perfect distribution channels for Pornographers, for Educationalists for people wanting to send video diaries back to friends & family.

    The same happened with the telephone years before that - phone sex for pornographers, remote learning for educationalists, people calling home.

    Inevitably a groups of utopians latch onto any new technology and present it as the means to a new fairer society.

    Technologies change, people don't. If you want to use knowledge of the human genome to advance human society, use it to engineer a better class of humans and eradicate us "unreconstructed" folks (don't expect me to help).



  • Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world precisely because US companies are invested there.

    So if the US companies pulled out, the bananas would suddenly turn into factories and internet connections? Haitian farmers sell their bananas to us because our evil multinational corporations pay the best prices. What is wrong with that?

    As for "violence and bloodshed," you may very well be right, but if so the government should be prosecuting those corporations. Violence and bloodshed are not a part of a free market--rather it is an indication that the government is not doing its job.

    As for our government knocking over the governments of other countries, you may be quite right about that. I am not too thrilled about our foriegn policy. But if this is the case, the fact remains that the problem with third world countries is the screwups of governments (theirs or ours) not a lack of access to technology or the exploitation of evil corporations. Sending them internet connections is not going to solve anything.
  • As you say, the West has had a strong influence on the third world, much of it negative. My goal in my original post, however, was not to assign blame but to point out the source of the poverty problem in many cases. Third World countries in general have unstable, socialistic, dictatorial governments. This may be partially the fault of the West. However, the cure to this problem is not simply for us to subsidize them. This will only prolong their lousy social structures and make them more dependent on the West. The solution is for them to develop more productive economies, and this requires a free market, stable government, and stable currency.

    I am not saying this is easy, or that there is nothing the West can do to help. What I am saying is that for them to become prosperous and independent, they do have to "get their acts together." And until they do, giving them internet connections, solar energy, or other aid is only a band-aid solution, which will do little more than allow the corrupt regimes in place to maintain their grip on power.
  • You can evade it using variants of the same 'its all their own fault' argument that the rich have used for years, but it does not make the choice any less real.

    Let me clarify. Nowhere in my post did I blame the poor for their poverty. I blamed their governments, and the lack of a free economy. The poor in third world countries are definitely victims.

    What are you going to do about it ?

    I am going to push to institute free markets in those countries, so that those poor peopla have the opportunity to earn a decent living and so that their children and grandchildren will enjoy a higher standard of living. I am going to oppose the intrusions of our government into other countries that does more harm than good, and I am going to oppose bandaid measures that do little more than prop up whoever is in power, without any real benefit to the poor in other nations.

    Colonial history (of which the US is certainly much less blameless than you probably think), excessive lending, and ignorant attempts by the west to reform the poor countries all also play their part.

    Absolutely. I should have been more clear about this. I abhor many of the things the US government has done. But this does not mean that it is our responsibility to fix those things. These countries must fundamentally reform their social systems, and I don't think there is all that much we can do from outside to accomplish this.
  • And it's their fault that their economic and social systems are the way they are?

    I don't know and I don't think it realloy matters. Whoever's fault it is, it needs to be fixed.

    Define "a modern free-market economy". Singapore? Malaysia? ROC?

    The US and Hong Kong are the closest things to it today, although neither is really a free market. Turn-of the century US or Britain are better examples.

    A country's economic and social systems aren't determined primarily by their government. The smaller the country, the more it has to bend to the pressure of neighbors, religion and large corporate interests.

    Would you care to explain why a nation "has to" bend? Certainly operating a third world country is not easy, but I don't see why it is impossible. And the social system is by definition determined by the government, whether they "bend" or not.

    Uh-huh. "Low taxes, secure private property and a stable currency". How do we get that without raising our standards of living first?

    Simple. You cut taxes, you implement and enforce laws against theft, and see to it that the government respects the rights of its citizens, and you implement a gold standard or something equivalent to make it impossible for politicians to screw around with the money supply. Standard of living had nothing to do with it. The US 150 years ago had an equivalent SOL, and they did all three.

    Private property is not secure when rich corporations can move in and grab aboriginal lands by force.

    Perhaps you were not reading... I said secure private property. That means that NO ONE, including "rich corporations" can take your property. Why is that hard to understand?

    Currency will not stabilize when your economic base is weak enough for a few foreign currency investors to knock it over with a few bank withdrawals.

    Not if it is backed by something of value. The reason fiat money is so unstable is that it is backed by nothing. Private investors are simply exposing that inherent instability.

    I would like you to explain something, because it makes no sense to me and I hear it a lot: how is it possible for corporations to do all the terrible things you claim they do without government help? and if so, why is this the fault of the corporation and not the government?
  • I agree. I should have been more clear about this. The US government has done a great deal of damage in many countries. We should pull our troops, our economic aid, and our restrictive loans out of those countries immediately, and stop propping up petty dictators.
  • The IMF is based on it, and has already force-fed it down the throat of all the developing countries that happened to be within the sphere of influence of the west block.

    I abhor the IMF, and this is one of the reasons I oppose efforts to "help" third world nations. The IMF did *not* create free markets in the affected countries. They ram policies like raising taxes to balance the budget that actually harms the involved countries, and they saddle those countries with enourmous debt while propping up corrupt regimes. The IMF claimed to be in favor of free markets, but in fact they implemented the least free aspects of the US economy and so worsened conditions.

    In reality, the problems that faces these states are very complex, involving great debts,

    Caused in large parts by corrupt governments and/or failed social welfare programs.

    deficient infrastructures,

    Due largely to incessant civil wars and the inability to attract capital thanks to property-hostile laws.

    widespread corruptions,

    Cause in part by US efforts to prop up anybody who posed as "anti-communist."

    the "chicken or egg problem" that widespread poverty makes it difficult to bootstrap wealth-production,

    Funny, those nations that are currently wealthy had just this "chicken and egg" problem 150 years ago, and they seem to be doing quite nicely.

    a strong dependece on the ritch countries remaining from colonial times.

    Which is the result of Western goverments.

    See a pattern here? All of these problems are caused by governments, either theirs or ours. Subsidies will only compound the problems.

    The problem is that they do not have free market economies. Free markets is what allowed the US and Western Europe to accumulate capital in the last century. Third world nations can do the same thing today much faster with help from the private sector in the west, but only if they have an infrastructure that allows it.
  • There have been countries which have been following the US model for a free market , and you don't see any success stories out there.

    The only nation I can think of that has anywhere near as free an economy as the US is Hong Kong, and they are much wealthier than their neighbors. Name me one country that has:

    -Low taxes
    -Secure property rights
    -Stable currencies
    -Political stability

    and is still in poverty
  • There are a lot of places where collectivism (what you brand "socialistic") is the cultural norm and has been for centuries.

    Actually, this is true in every part of the world if you go back a few centuries: In Europe, Fuedalism was collectivist.In the Americas, the American Indian societies were collectivist. So were most Asian, African, and Aboriginal societies. So what? I see no moral or economic relevance in the "cultural norm" of a given society. What matters is what is right, and what benefits the wellbeing of individuals. Capitalism has done this, in every culture that has tried it.

    Seems some in the US need to realise collective society and free enterprise are not mutually exclusive (Sweden, Norway, Canada to name a few close examples).

    They are not exactly free markets, as they have ridiculous tax and regulation burdens, but they still have a core of free-market principles: property rights and the rule of law. And they would be doing a lot better economically in a real free market.

    Farmers Co-ops and Credit Unions make a lot of money in these countries and they are NOT owned by the government but by the members.

    So you are sating that a group of people voluntarily formed a co-op and are making money without government help? I see nothing socialistic about that. As long as no one was forced to join, or to pay for it through taxes, that is prefectly compatible with a free market. The problem comes when the government forces people into collective arrangements.

    Unfortunately this doesn't match the property ideas of the US and is therfore COMMUNISM!!!

    I don't know what you are talking about, but as long as the property of the members was contributed voluntarily, then it "matches the property ideas of the US" just fine.

    The American way is the right way for the US and most "Western" countries...that doesn't mean it's the right economic way for ALL countries.

    Does this apply to personal freedoms as well? Is free speech the right way for the US and most "Western" countries but not for ALL countries? If political torture in China is the "clutural norm" does that make it ok?

    Capitalism will allow ANY nation to grow wealthy faster than any other social system. I don't see why the people of other countries should sacrifice their interests because the "cultural norms" of their ancestors dictate that they should remain poor.
  • Free-market economies abound, often without much freedom attached to it.

    I don't think so. There are many countries that have some elements of free markets, but a real free market requires minimal taxation and regulation. This does not exist anywhere today.

  • Mexico? Indonesia? The Dominican Republic?

    Mexico, as I understand it, is practically socialist. They may not have environmental or labor laws, but they have an enourmous wellfare state, and a corrupt one-party-rule government.

    Indonesia is run by a corrupt dictatorship, has an extremely unstable currency, and also has an extensive welfare state.

    Both governments are much larger and more intrusive than ours.

    I know less about the Dominican Republic, but I suspect it is the same.

    Governments have been quite happy to sacrifice the freedom of its citizens in order to accomodate the demands of corporations. I'm not just speaking of far-away Third World governments.

    This is evidence to me that these governments are not free market. A free market requires freedom--both economic and personal. So if governments are willing to sacrifice the freedoms of their citizens, then they are not a free market.
  • You are right. Our government should stop screwing around with other nations' governments. I couldn't agree more. But if this were to occur, this would not instantly solve all their problems. Many would still be run by brutal dictators, and only the people within the countries can ultimately remove those dictators.
  • If people are working for 20-60/hr, what does that tell you about the size and scope of their "welfare state"?

    I would say it is too big, and that it has helped impoverish the nation. Big Government causes poverty. It does not cure it.

    I write this from the US. Where are you? What is this place whose government is dwarfed by the "large" and "intrusive" governments of Mexico and Indonesia? This year's US defense budget is bigger than Indonesia's total (defense and non-defense) budgets for the last five years combined. Indonesia is a nation of about 220 million people, not some tiny, sparsely populated island. For transnational corporations, it (along with Mexico and the Dominican) is free market heaven.

    But what is the percentage of GDP? I suspect it is larger than ours. We have a larger volume of government spending because we have a larger economy. Percentage is a more meaningful figure-- a government that spends 90% of a 1 trillion dollar economy is more socialist than one that spends 50% of an 8 trillion economy. And I would absolutely support cutting our military spending.
  • I think this presents a false choice between using technology for "profit and recreation" or for helping poor people. The history of technology tends to show that the two go hand in hand: what often stimulates new inventions is precisely the desire of the rich for new toys. They pay a high premius for having something new, and then as the technology is refined, the benefits are spread to everyone.

    This "ethical technology" thing is a crock. The problem with third world countries is not that the big bad United States won't share their technology, it is that third world countries have economic and social systems that make a modern free-market economy unworkable. It is hard for businessmen to build factories or office buildings or internet connections when it is about to get nationalised by the government or destroyed in the next Civil War.

    If a third-world country chose to implement an actual free-market economy, with low taxes, secure private property, and a stable currency, they would experience a great deal of economic growth. US investors could invest there without fear of the government taking their investment or making it worthless by devaluing the currency. Such a country could in 50 years be as rich as any nation is today.

    I am all for helping the poor, but I think we should keep things in perspective. It is not the fault of the West that the third-world poor are poor. And simply building them internet connection, while a noble goal, is not going to solve the problem.
  • These countries must fundamentally reform their social systems, and I don't think there is all that much we can do from outside to accomplish this.

    On the contrary. "You" (the collective US public) can tell "your" government to STOP doing the things you abhor (it hasn't stopped by magic!) and "your" multinationals (many of them, not all) to cease the business practices which keep governments corrupt, people impoverished, and freedom a joke.

    I find it laughable that you say the majority of third world countries' governments are "socialistic and dictatorial". The US -- government and (some) business, that is -- has actively supported the overthrow of popular nationalist government (usually misinterpreted by Western analysts as "communist", whether or not they have a socialist element) by US-friendly dictators time and time again. And the US people, on the whole, stand back and cheer. There are dissident voices but there are none so deaf as those who will not listen.

    What kind of a reaction will I get if I mention Noam Chomsky?

    Jonathan

    PS Australia isn't much better. Money talks, everywhere.
  • I would like you to explain something, because it makes no sense to me and I hear it a lot: how is it possible for corporations to do all the terrible things you claim they do without government help? and if so, why is this the fault of the corporation and not the government?

    It is accomplished *with* government help. Which is *bought*. Carrot-and-stick economics, bribery, drug and arms deals, pressure from neighbouring and Western governments who answer to the same masters.

    Money talks.

    Jonathan
  • Funny, those nations that are currently wealthy had just this "chicken and egg" problem 150 years ago, and they seem to be doing quite nicely.

    Before and during "industrial capitalism" in the West there was, and is, something called "mercantile capitalism". This is where people become enormously rich by moving things around.

    It was found out pretty early on that a shortage of something in one place and a glut of it in another helped them make money -- and creating shortages (by, say, smashing looms in India and banning the manufacture of salt there) is a fantastic way of speeding up the process.

    These policies were initially practiced at home and abroad, but simple patriotism, strong wealthy governments in the West, and the simple fact that not all rich people like to live in cesspits of their own devising, meant that such obvious economic benefits of capitalism as brewing and distilling half the grain in England (because alcohol has a better profit margin than bread) were ended by those rotten, socialist British politicians.

    Capitalism has been impoverishing a "third" world for as long as it has been enriching a "first" one; it has always been an international phenomenon. Much of the wealth of Western nations is thanks to strong, interventionist governments who have curbed the local excesses of capitalism while supporting the foreign ones.
  • Yes the Internet can enable farms and businesses in remore places to function as part of a global economy.

    However it also makes it less likely that these businesses will remain in the hands of the 'poor'. Technology makes it easier and easier for global companies to conduct business in 'remote places'.

    Instead of creating a more eqitable distribution of wealth, the sun (electricity) the genome (genetic plastacine) and the Internet, are going to be used to build an even bigger customer base and create millions, no, BILLION of new consumers.

    As far as 'ending cultural isolation' goes. Read 'limiting cultural diversity'.

    The Internet is not going to spread the wealth, it is going to expand the customer base, create more consumer societies and to an ever decreasing degree push the Anglosaxist/western culture into everyone elses picture.
  • So is the vision possible? Of course. It's being demonstrated that it is possible everyday. We've read on /. about the use of Linux as a low-cost OS in older machines using sat-links or cell-phone connections to put a remote village on the net, albeit not cost-effectively due to the battery constraints. A simple photovoltaic array could solve that, and most places could use wind- or water-power to solve that.

    Is it probable that this vision will be realized? Well, let's refine the question a wee bit. Is it probable that there will be an Internet link to the remote homes and villages of the world? Yes, I think so. Why? Profit, of course. The drive of the entities that could afford the expense of setting up such a system (read that: corporations) is predicated entirely on profit. If we put keyboards into the hands of more people, then we have a larger potential market. That's always a good thing to entities whose sole reason for existing is to provide profit to their stockholders. So yes, I think that such a linked system will occur.

    Now the question becomes: Is it desirable? Maybe. Let's flip the question from hand to hand, like the hot potato it is.

    Yes it's desirable. After all, many of the world's poor are kept that way because they lack education and access to the information and networking ability currently enjoyed by the affluent societies. Place the 'Net in their hands, and give them just the education necessary to be able to use a browser and presto! Instant netizens.

    Yeah, right. Of course, since English has become the lingua franca of the Internet, those people will have to have more than just a little training to be able to effectively use the browser. On top of that, it takes more than a little education to teach someone to think in wider terms than that of their own clan or village.

    But you see, that's what the Net's about. It provides a conduit through which people can begin to mentally encompass the global scale of what society is becoming. With the Net-connected global citizenry, the ability of economic-, military-, and social-oppression to completely crush a people becomes diminished. If the people were able to communicate with others, across the wire, they'd be able to ask for help directly of the people most likely (and able) to give it. The fact that they can't immediately use the resources of the Net (Library of Congress, the Louvre, and other sites), doesn't justify not giving them access.

    True, but what will happen to them as a people, once they get a glimpse of the brave new world? We're talking about societies that have evolved over centuries and millenia, with their own customs and taboos. And some of them have more common sense than we do: many of them would scoff at the idea of utilizing a technology without thoroughly examining what its costs and effects would be. Not like us, where the reason, "Because we can!" has justified the acceptance of many damaging technologies, and the failure to forsee the environmental costs of certain technologies have landed us in deep trouble. Do we really want to see the entire diversity of the planet's people consumed by Melrose Place?

    Yuck. But the reverse can happen, too. The technological societies can be enriched by the diversity brought to us by currently unconnected cultures. Their wisdom can greatly enhance our own.

    Gee, doesn't that sound like, "Your biological and technological diversity will be assimilated into our own"? And we have plenty of evidence of what that approach usually means. Just ask an Aztec, or any Indian, in fact.

    Possible, yes. Probable, yes. Desirable? Perhaps. There are many good reasons to extend the Net to the remote corners of our world. But there are many reasons not to, as well. It behooves us to question what we'll gain, what we'll lose.

  • neither under state socialism.... Because there always will be the mass of poor people, there always will be exploitation, there always will be control under capitalism -- under this system, the technology is a WEAPON, it creates unemployement, it creates dependency, it creates dessocialization, and it creates _power_ to who owns the tech. Only in a society without hierarchic power and without money technology can do good.
    FAQ [geocities.com]
    --
  • I agree. We (Brazil) "sell" our orange juice to you and you sell us 3x expensive shitty coca-cola.
    Globalization = Imperialism.
    A FAQ [geocities.com]










    --
  • >The exact causes of poverty, both of states and or individuals, are an unknown

    they are? There is a close connection between:

    1. technology
    2. birth-rate
    3. wealth

    so, increase technology and decrease birth-rate
    if you want to increase wealth - all other things
    like war, disease, and natural disasters being equal.

    I believe everybody should have something to eat,
    a roof over ones head, and a lack of turmoil (wars, etc.) but this is a hope and a belief. it
    has to be created and renewed by consious directed
    action, give aways do not help, unless they are tools to help people achieve these things for themselves, on thier own terms, not defined as
    'good' or 'proper' by some power. the most potent tool of all is education.
  • It is simply false that there are no solar energy projects in the third world. The third world is the single largest potential market for solar products. I suggest picking up any issue of Home Power magazine, several times a year that magazine carries articles about solar power in developing countries, from bringing refrigeration to remote hospitals in Africa to the admittedly not really third world project of a solar powered desalinization plant in the middle-east. Solar power is barely economical in the US and Europe because we have a massive (government funded) grid infrastructure that makes it cheap to hook up to the grid. In thrid world countries where there is no infrastructure, solar power can bring electricity to communities at a fraction of the cost of building a national grid.

    There is no one "miracle technology" that will save the world. I don't think that is what Dyson is arguing (I've got to wait for his book to arrive). I can't think of his name, but there is an economist who keeps winning a running bet with Paul Erlich ("The Population Bomb," leading popularizer of environmental science and perennial doomsayer) about how much food and wealth the world can produce despite the fact that Erlich is basically "right." Why? Incremental improvements in technology and efficiency keep producing more food per acre, more productivity per hour worked, per unit fuel, etc.

    Whether or not "Erlichs" or "Economists" win, the one certainty is that no economy can remain predicated on waste, whether that be energy, raw materials, or human capital.
  • "Evil flourishes when good men (sic) do nothing...."
    I suppose if you had your way, the ovens would still burn in Germany, since "saving" people from evil rulers is obviously none of your business.

    Maybe if the Americans had their present attitude in 1938-39, "Schindler's List" would never have been made.

    Besides, offering technology to help a culture that WANTS it and the war in Kosovo are two completely unrelated things. I don't remember reading in the article where the Marines would go in and help the Army Corps of Engineers wire up villages.

    I've never been a big fan of American foriegn policy in the past, but apart from humanitarian aims, I don't see what else can be gained from the conflict in the Balkans right now...unless there's an oil field under Pristina I don't know about. It's about time they did the right thing instead of standing aside with their "not our problem" attitude (as they did in Bosnia and Rawanda).

    Sounds to me that your upset about the "american" part of this. I wonder how upset you'd be if Steven Hawking or some Finnish engineer came up with the idea...


  • Didn't the Sandinistas win 2 elections which were deemed free and fair by the UN and the Organization of American States? That didn't seem to stop Ronny Reagan fighting a war against them with former secret police thugs. He did to Nicaragua what he eventually did to the USSR...bleed their economies dry with military spending. No, it's not the fault of the West their economies are in shabbles...

    Despots had their power because they were backed by the US/Chiquita Banana. Whenever a third world country tried to make things right they were brutally repressed and their democratically elected leaders murdered by the CIA (Salvadore Allende).
    Guess what? There are a lot of places where collectivism (what you brand "socialistic") is the cultural norm and has been for centuries. Seems some in the US need to realise collective society and free enterprise are not mutually exclusive (Sweden, Norway, Canada to name a few close examples)....Farmers Co-ops and Credit Unions make a lot of money in these countries and they are NOT owned by the government but by the members. Unfortunately this doesn't match the property ideas of the US and is therfore COMMUNISM!!! (which it isn't). And the US can do ANYTHING to fight communism!
    The American way is the right way for the US and most "Western" countries...that doesn't mean it's the right economic way for ALL countries. Unfortuantely, when dealing with superpowers, there hasn't been much choice.

  • Expalain to us how hydrogen, the most abundant element in the known universe, which is highly reactive with oxygen to produce combustion power and water vapor as the "exhaust", is simply a storage medium? You ought to talk to your friend at Ballard a little more...

  • Someone help me out...I beleive I read (here on /.? maybe?) that Honda will be introducing a production Hydrogen Fuel cell car in the 2002-2004 range.

    Maybe I'm wrong?

  • My point is that your idea of capitalism is premised on the idea that individuals can own property privately. Many countries and cultures do not beleive this, yet still beleive in trade and commerce (as the Native Americans did, thank you). But, as was the case in Nicaragua, when people voluntarily created coops, even communes, that directly competed with the single, absolute owner of a piece of land idea of private property, the then US government labelled them as "Communist". I agree that in this situation it was simply a new, collective form of free market, voluntarily entered into by people (remember those 2 elections).But it wasn't EXACTLY like the economic model of the US. Therefore it was Communist and therfore evil. None was even given a chance to succeed or fail on their own merits. Hardly a chance to freely choose your economic system is it?

    BTW capitalism is an economic system, not a social system. A capatalist, free market economy can probably coexist nicely with a collective social framework. Unfortunately, the Ronald Reagans of the world didn't thinks so so we've never had a chance to see it.

    "Does this apply to personal freedoms as well? Is free speech the right way for the US and most "Western" countries but not for ALL countries? If political torture in China is the "clutural norm" does that make it ok? "

    We're talking about economic models, not rights. Like it or not, they are separate. Look at the Universal Decalration of Human Right. It does a great job of keeping the two separate. I can still have freedom of speech in country or culture with collective property (land) ownership. Capitalism does not ensure human rights - see the current situation in South Korea, the Marcos regime in the Philipines or the old South Africa (even China at the moment is very unfree socially with a burgeoning capitaist market). All of these places had a great deal of capitalism and no human rights.
    The concerns I raised were that the definition of capitalism being the exact same as the system in the US, and not taking into account the history, experience, culture and desire of any other country. As history has shown, if its not the same as the States, its wrong and needs to be wiped out (labelling it communist is a good way to do it). I think that approach is wrong...

    Don't you?

  • All very well having space-based systems that collect solar power, but I believe we still have the problem of actually getting the energy where we need it most - i.e. back here on earth.

    I think we could use hydrogen - use the energy collected to break up water molecules (from a captured asteroid) and ship the produced hydrogen back to earth to be used in fuel cells. All very fine and well, but with all that effort I wonder whether it's still economical...

    Other possibility: microwave transmission? Dunno just how feasible this is, but maybe it could work. I'd just hate to fly through THAT beam! ;]

    Ultimately until we have a good way of getting the produced energy back to earth, I don't think that's a really good solution.


    Herbert von Kammerstein

  • I know right now DaimlerChrysler already has a working concept car running on fuel cells. They have some hybrid concepts, too. Check out http://www.mercedes-benz .com/e/innovation/fmobil/necar.htm [mercedes-benz.com] for further infos.


    Herbert von Kammerstein

  • I am totally convinced that hydrogen fuel cell automobiles are urgently needed to go into mass production. Governments should sponsor R & D to get it more affordable more quickly.

    While we are at it, ban uranium (which is radioactive for 80000 years - who pays the cost) and invest in wind and solar.

  • It is not the fault of the West that the third-world poor are poor.

    Maybe 'fault' is too strong a word, but it would be unfair to ignore the impact of the West on the third world. Much of africa and asia were made into colonies by Western nations within the last few centuries. Typically this involved the total destruction of whatever ruling force had existed. Then, when the Western countries pulled out, a vacuum was left in the former colonies' power structure, leaving the way open for civil warfare. Sure, it would be great if nations currently mired in anarchy and lawlessness could somehow get their acts together, but it's not always that easy.
  • Exactly... it's the typical hero mentality of americans, as if bombing other countries to "save" them from evil rulers was not enough, now they want to stick wires where they're not wanted.
  • I'm a little disappointed. Based on the book title, I figured I'd get to hear about some nifty thinking about the coming bio revolution.

    *BUZT* Thanks for playing.

    Look people, genome sequences aren't the answer. Yes, they're necessary; yes, they're useful. However, they no more give you the answers to Life, the Universe and Everything than having a kernel binary gives you the power of a working Linux distro, with all the GNU utilities.

    We've still got a long way to go towards figuring out how all that genome information works together to make a critter.

    Yes, there have been some applications as far as stiching new genes into existing (usually crop) organisms. However, we haven't yet seen a killer app for biotech. What's it going to be? If I knew, would I be posting to /.?

    john.,
    sorry that he couldn't get this up sooner
    knowing that few will read it now...

  • Absolutely - and the crippling level of debt which many developing countries are labouring under doesn't help either.

    This is obviously a complicated issue (which I don't claim to understand in any depth) but the West must carry a burden of responsibility for supplying large loans to countries in the 70s and 80s which cannot now be serviced by those countries - when a majority of a nation's GDP is committed to pay interest on a huge loan taken out twenty years ago by a corrupt government, the best will in the world won't stretch to relief of poverty.

    So, is that the West's fault?

    I don't know - but I do know that in the area of personal finance banks are apportioned some blame for irresponsible lending to (possibly naive) individuals. Also, those who were in charge of the client countries at the time these large loans were sought weren't necessarily thinking about the long term viability of borrowing the money. Embezzlement doesn't just happen in the West, after all.
  • Being a libertarian, I often face problems with explaining the importance of private-ownership in the opensource world. Yet, it is at its foundation becuase if someone did not control the distributions and create official releases that are possible copyrighted, the software might as well be public domain. Opensource is about making my own stuff better for everyone by letting you help me out. In exchange you get a better product, but I still had to put all the revisions together into a distribution. In a similar thread, this guy is going off on the same end. Despite the Internet's government background, it today is flurishing because of commercialization. If you will recall, before the early 90s, the Internet was the domain of only a few geeks with computers that were held together only by others who were willing to donate their time. Today there are a wide variety of services avaliable thanks to businessmen. In short, the idea is the old blurried eyed vision of Utopia obtained through material commfort. It doesn't happen (plenty of real-world examples, and ever read Orwell's 1984) and never will. I know that I am attacking his personal beliefs, but it exactly those beliefs that have slowed the Internet and other technologies in the past. I can't remember where, but Self-gov.org [self-gov.org] has some stuff on it about what I am talking about. If someone finds the full location, please post it and let me know.
  • America has created a successful formula for suppressing revolt; no revolutionary changes will pop out of the heads of Princeton University professors. They can sit on the sidelines of revolution and guess at how the poor will innovate using the technology of the moment, but just as quickly will come the technological authoritarian suppressant that will keep them servile and miserable in abject poverty.

    The past 1000 years has culminated in an ascendant power structure that has no bounds, no controls, no limits to the accrual of wealth and influence. To think they will be put down by third-world Internet surfers is nonsensical.

    We aren't out of the bloodletting phase yet.
  • Where have the "serfs" and "peasants" gone? They're still here, toiling in textile factories, slaughterhouses, desperately scraping by in Appalachia, on Indian reservations, on migrant farms in California, in the inner cities. They're not called "serfs" or "peasants" anymore, but those terms could apply with little or no modification.

    Sure, there's a middle class. but despite it the wealth is becoming more and more concentrated in 1% of the population The average gap between CEO wage and worker wage is at a high of 365%. Do you *really* think the middle class has ahold of the reigns of power?


    >If power has been growing for 1000 years, what
    >happened to the serfs? What happened to peasants
    >in America? How has the middle class arisen? Your
    >premise is countered by the facts.
  • OUCH.

    PLEASE FORGIVE THE CAPS. TYPING ON A TERMINAL.

    GOOD THOUGHT, WRONG APPROACH. JUST BECAUSE A CULTURE IS STABLE, IT IS NOT NECESSARILY PREFERABLE. TAKE FOR INSTANCE INDIA, THEY DO HAVE A GOOD AND STABLE SYSTEM. ONE THAT KEPT THE CASTES NICE AND SEPARATE AND PREVENTED ANYONE FROM MAKING SOMETHING DIFFERENT OF THEIR LIFE. IT VERY EFFECTIVELY FROZE THEM IN A EARLY FEUDAL STATE UP THROUGH THE BRITISH EMPIRE.

    I WOULD SUGGEST THAT A STABLE CULTURE IS NOT ALWAYS A PREFERABLE ONE. FOR THE "SHORT" LIFESPAN OF ROME, IT PRODUCED A GREAT DEAL OF INTERESTING INNOVATIONS. THE FUTURE MAY SEE THE END OF OUR SOCIETY, AND ITS EVOLUTION INTO SOMETHING BETTER OR WORSE, OR JUST DIFFERENT, BUT IT IS DOUBTFUL THAT THEY WILL JUDGE US TO BE BAD SHEERLY BECAUSE WE WERE NOT STABLE. STABILITY IS NOT ALWAYS A SIGN OF SUPERIORITY. CULTURE IS DIFFERENT THAN CODE FOR A COMPUTER SYSTEM.

    K
  • Yes, I cannot believe it!

    This is the SINGLE MOST level headed, un-emotional, un-biased, LOGICAL response I have seen to this whole article, and in fact this may be one of the most logical responses I've seen to a "controversial" article on slashdot.

    I think its sad to see that it is still at Score: 1 because Mr. Moderator(s) probably don't agree with him. That is NOT how it is supposed to work, but unfortunately that is how it does :(

    James
  • It's all well and fine to equalize educational resources for everyone. Everyone ought to have access to quality education. Please note that I'm not talking about Harvard here, but your standard college-level education. Access to the Internet is part of that I think.
    However, anytime you start talking about "redistribution of wealth," this starts sounding like someone making 35K a year jealous of those who make 250k. I don't make 250k, I wish I did, but taking money out of the hands of people who rightfully earned it and just giving it to people who did not is wrong. Where do you draw the line as to "enough money?" Sure, Bill Gates doesn't need 50 billion or whatever it is now, but who are you or anyone else to say that you DESERVE his money? I look at the amount of taxes taken out of my paycheck every payday, I look at the monies spent on welfare, and I see people on welfare who could be working but are not. Why? If you give some people the means to live off the work of others, they will. You deserve what you work for. You do not deserve money because you exist. Face it, the world is not fair and never will be. It's good to keep the powerful mindful of those below them, but all this talk of taking from the successful and giving to the not-so-successful sounds like sour grapes and robbery to me.
  • We could feed everyone on the planet right now, easily. The fact that we don't, and that we in North America waste so much food, must tell us something

    But we can't feed everyone in the world on an average western diet.

    It's recently been estimated that each person in Sydney requires 4.5 hectares of productive land. If all the world's people were to live as people in Sydney do, we would need three times all the productive land on the planet

    This is mainly due to the enormous amount of land needed to grain to feed to cattle for beef. Genetic engineering might help here, but perhaps more importantly, we need some social engineering to reduce the high meat diet of most of the western world. (That said, I'm not a vegetarian myself...).

    Of course efficient communication is an vital tool for education, which might be able to encourage this sort of social change. So Freeman Dyson might have a point here regarding the internet.

    Having mentioned Internet and Genome, I suppose I should comment on the Sun too :) One of the major problems with western culture is it's phenomenal energy consumption. I don't think relying on solar power (or fusion) is neccesarily the answer. We need to reduce energy consumption. Don't panic. I'm not suggesting we turn off all our computers to save energy. In fact, computers and the internet could (and should) actually reduce the energy consumption of our society.

    A large percentage of western energy consumption is spent on transport (heating and cooling are also big factors - use proper insulation!). But of course we can now cut at least our own transport cost to almost zero: Telecommute to work!

    The cost of transporting food is a pretty amazing. Did you know that the for each litre of milk consumed in the US, half a litre of diesel is used to get it there?

    Ted Trainer provides fairly radical suggestion for reducing both the amount of land we use, and our energy consumption. Live Simply ... so that others can simply live [tpgi.com.au]. It involves changing what we define and expect of our standard of living, and restructuring our cities with things such as more local food production (permaculture, urban market gardens), and decentralised business/industrial districts.

  • Certainly ideal advances in technology could bring about a "more equal distribution" of the world's wealth, and that doesnt just include monetary wealth. Whether it be solar panels, the Internet, hydrogen-fueled cars, whatever.

    But I wonder what Slashdottians really think of the idea of the distribution of wealth. Considering many of the professionals (and especially executives -- dont forget them) in the tech industry are in the field for the above-average financial return, how does this "community" really feel about Dyson's vision?

    I realize that many ./ians are all for government contributions to OSS, but I highly doubt we're in favor of an Internet bringing about social destratification (socialism, for those at home) -- whether that's monetary equality or intellectual equality.

    Ping? Anyone?

    Regards,

  • Dyson has written a book that advocates using the tools of scientific revolution - especially the Internet -- to create a better world, and a more equitable distribution of the world's wealth.
    It is all too easy to think of ourselves as doing a great favor to the third world by giving them internet access. Consider the other "gifts" the West has offered other cultures over the course of history: Christianity, industrialization, Baywatch.

    Today anthropologists have moved in like cultural coroners, attempting to record the last vestiges of native languages no longer spoken, once rich cultural traditions reduced to settlements of welfare recipients struggling with rampant alcoholism and broken families.

    Third world nations have a sad history of accepting western technology only to experience environmental degradation, loss of native culture, language, tradition, and empowerment of a repressive political elite in bed with western economic & military interests. Even western nations such as France are grappling with the problem of English language hegemony on the net marginalizing their own language.

    Consider the real costs of an internet accessible by any human being. Millions of tons of PCs, photovoltaic cells, and network infrastructure manufactured, mountains of toxic waste generated and energy consumed, increasing political and economic power of the multinational backbone providers, billions of hours spent online instead of face-to-face human contact like dancing or playing with the kids or talking with the neighbors, kids educated on the net instead of by human teachers in their communities, unskilled people commodified into a vast tribe of indentured data-entry temps, police web-cams at every corner.

    The key issue is that the net must be delivered to people as a means of empowerment, not assimilation. That means having the ability to create and post content, having a license to question the political and economic status quo, exercising the right of being subversive or revolutionary. Not being delivered a brain dead surf box with a carefully chosen list of approved sites, and blocks on serving HTTP or other content.

    Much of this boils down to education. Will kids be educated in an atmosphere that encourages freedom of speech and expression? Will they learn how to code HTML and be given open posting rights to servers, or better yet learn how to set up and maintain their own servers? Will they learn the open standards and open source culture of the net and how to contribute to it? Will they learn how to use the net to leverage their cultural uniqueness and individuality rather than let the net colonize themselves into the greater cyberspace hegemony (one example of this would be to teach kids and give them the tools to post HTML in their own language)?

    If the answer to many of these questions is no, then the net isn't going to be much more than old media masquerading as new. A non-free net is just another vector for the neuro-linguistic virii of the day. What have we learned since boatloads of missionaries from the West arrived on every shore a few centuries ago, like chain emails bearing a macro-laden attachment called Christianity?
  • it's a moot point.

    Imagine a world where machines exist that could transport masses of food to all extremes of the world within 48 hours.

    Imagine a world where two people can commmunicate with each other irrespective of their geographical location. Different cultures could interact, share their cultural resources and begin to bridge the gap between their technological competences, hence increasing everyone's standard of living.

    Imagine a world where technology was so advanced that we could understand how plants grow! then we could recreate ideal conditions and cultivate food anywhere in the world.

    Imagine a world where all countries could trade ....
    bla bla bla ....

    wank wank wank.

    there is a line of thought which says that to solve a problem, all you got to do is understand the problem (99.99999%), then you go about solving it (0.000001%)

    so what's the problem? ... it aint technology, we have long had all the technology necessary to solve the world's problems.

    its human nature.

    Anything which attempts to solve a problem without understanding it is then UTOPIC. It is hence based on "hope" which is an irrational act of thought in that it seeks satisfaction in the present about the "thought" of something in the future. this book must be that.

    i firmly believe that a "capitalist society" can as easily exist in a "gift society" (/. etc. etc.) as in a monetary society. All you have to do is go about performing an act which has as its goal to achieve the currency of that society. If the currency of a society is "respect", then all you have to do is perform an act to try and gain that "respect" and you are reproducing the same thing but in a different context. Has anyone posted to slashdot just to try and see how high a score their comment would achieve?

    human nature. This is the problem. I hereby officially declare that I am not so sure that it is or is not a solvable problem.
  • Of course it doesn't help that the US is always interfering with the government of these nations. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world precisely because US companies are invested there. Chiquita has used violence and bloodshed to keep the people from unionizing or even starting there own cooperatives. The choices are not even one thousandth as simple as you think my friend, The US has been using third world countries (especially Latin America) as our source of cheap materials for over a century now.

    Where do you think the term "Banana Republic" comes from. It comes from our using these countries to grow the products we want (banana's and other produce) and knocking over there government whenever they tried to take the kind of self-determination your espousing.

    I agree with you that there is a large amount of trickle down effect with technology, however I think it will make a big difference to all of us if we can get everyone connected and not just the global middle class.
  • I'd even say that religion has _already_ gone the way of the dodo. Humans need spirituality, not religion.

    Since, religion is what (IMHO) CAUSED much of the inequity in the world as it has been for the last couple thousand years. I mean think about it, would people go try and conquer their neighbors if they weren't worked up into a fervor by some religious zealot?

    Anyway, the internet isn't going to solve the worlds problems, but anything that helps to spread the truth, and not superstition and propaganda will certianly help! Which the internet is (arguably) doing.
  • I agree with you on your point that we need more gubment sponsored R&D for all energy research!

    But "ban uranium"?? You must mean ban fission -- Uranium is already relatively abundant in the earth (we don't make it). Also --
    Uranium in itself is not that much of a danger (yes, it has a long half-life, but it emits mainly wimpy alpha radiation - the biggest danger is in its toxicity as a heavy metal) -- fission products are the problem. I STILL think, however, that fission energy should be used in the near term as a non-polluting alternative to fossils. At least until other possibilities are available (fusion, renewables). The waste problem would be a lot easier to deal with if we didn't have to
    worry about proliferation...
  • Inventions and developments with the potential to improve society
    are almost always accompanied by those who will espouse them as
    being The Solution for difficult and as of yet unsolved social
    problems. Those who do this generally make some poor
    assumptions. They see the problems as being static rather than
    dynamic. They attempt to deal with the symptoms of this problem
    in its current form, rather than with the underlying causes.
    When this happens the problem is not solved but only mutates into
    another form. Incorrectly attributing a small number of
    component causes to a complex and wide ranging problem is exactly
    what it sounds like the author is doing. Solar power is
    primarily useful as a supplement to existing fuel sources. I
    have not read the book, but the description of it leads me to
    believe that he advocates solar power on the small scale such as
    each house running off its own solar cells. You cannot collect
    more energy from a solar cell than what the sun is hitting it
    with. Solar power can be used to generate enough electricity to
    power houses, but it requires a power station where the sun s
    rays are focused using mirrors onto a tank of water. The water
    boils and the steam is used to rotate a turbine. This requires
    the same nonexistent infrastructure that other forms of
    electrical also power need. Create the infrastructure, then talk
    about how you re going to make use of it. Then comes the
    question of who is going to pay for it to be created. During the
    great depression, FDR created the Tennessee Valley Authority to
    bring electrical power to that region of the country and thereby
    stimulate the economy. The united states had enough resources to
    make this happen and more importantly we had a stable government
    with a leader who was working to make things better. The
    countries that are most in need of this new infrastructure rarely
    have one of these, let alone all three. It is the chaos in these
    regions more than the poverty which creates the most problems
    though. The author talks about spreading the wealth more
    equitably, which may be nothing but Marxist nonsense but I m
    going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Wealth is the domain
    of those who produce it. Adequate opportunity to create wealth
    could be called a fundamental right. Those who take advantage of
    the opportunity will have wealth. Those who don t will not. The
    end result of this is far more equitable than arbitrarily
    dividing the wealth among all regardless of whether they
    contributed to its creation. What developing nations need is the
    opportunity create wealth. This is the problem the author is
    most likely trying to address. This problem is real but
    solutions such as these which cannot be implemented are not
    solutions at all. Instead they are problems of nearly the same
    magnitude. The problems developing nations face are complex and
    dynamic. New technologies are just as likely to exacerbate these
    problems as they are to solve them. Technology raises the
    standard of living for the societies which possess it which
    effectively lowers the standard for societies which do not.
    Genetic engineering has more potential for this than either
    internet access or abundant electrical power. Genetic
    engineering may allow us to improve the very individuals from
    which our society is formed. Imagine if the average IQ in the
    industrialized world were to climb 40 or more points. That s
    almost the same as the rest of the world slipping 40 points.
    Something similar to this is already happening right now, its
    known as brain drain. It s the tendency for the best and
    brightest from poorer countries to emigrate to other places where
    they can have better lives. We get them and places like India
    lose them. The internet is similar to electrical power, it
    requires an infrastructure to deliver it which limits its
    penetration into poorer countries. Here in the united states
    this infrastructure exists and is constantly being improved.
    Other countries aren t so lucky. Satellite based internet access
    is in the works but the connection equipment is so expensive it
    doesn t offer a solution for poorer countries either. Ultimately
    the book sounds like the work of a left wing idealist who does
    not understand that there is no motivation on the part of the
    haves to do anything about the plight of the have nots. Its not
    that we are cold hearted and would not want to help. Our problem
    stems from the psychological need to have a problem to solve. If
    we don t have anything to handle or a problem to solve, we will
    create one. But we don t deal with the harshness of life on a
    daily basis. I m tired, need sleep....
  • Dyson's potential prophecy, based on what Katz writes, is not new nor should it be seen as revolutionary. When radio was mainstreamed, the then-hegemons thought that the far reaches of the earth would no longer that far away. Smaller, less-developed countries were thought to at last have a chance at becoming a player on the world's stage with the advent of "free" energy like wind power and with the original development of solar cells. This has yet to be realized.

    While being at IAS is a great resume item, not everything that comes from there is god-like. I submit Einstein's attempt at an Unified Field Theory as evidence
  • To the contrary: Einstein himself finished his career at the IAS admitting his failure in finding, and incorrectly searching for, a UFT. Perhaps the best things to come out of his work were non-plausible paths to avoid. The current ideas of a UFT are far removed from Einstein's work. [Ref: Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein by A. Pais]
  • The reason it's not done that way here in America is because it's not cost-effective ...

    The reason it's not done here in America is that breeder reactors have been mis-characterized as Tools of Satan (rather than being, as you point out, a real solution to the nuclear waste problem). It is not merely un-economical for private companies to build breeders; it's illegal.


    Kevin Shaum
    Ban dihydrogen monoxide!

  • have you read "R. Buckminster Fuller on Education" ISBN 0-87023-276-2 ?

    it's a bunch of his essays and talks. in it he talks about two-way tv ...ie the internet. its a good read.
    IMHO i would start with "Spaceship Earth" as an intro to Fullerain thought.


    nmarshall
    #include STD_DISCLAMER.H
    R.U. SIRIUS: THE ONLY POSSIBLE RESPONSE
  • It is not the fault of the West that the third-world poor are poor. And simply building them internet connection, while a noble goal, is not going to solve the problem.

    Here [dmoz.org] is some info on US "helping" of the third-world...

    more [disinfo.com] info, or is that disinfo... :)

    still think that the US has nothing to do with the poor being poor?



    nmarshall
    #include STD_DISCLAMER.H
    R.U. SIRIUS: THE ONLY POSSIBLE RESPONSE
  • by Pelerin (33247)
    I imagine some people were saying the same thing about television a few decades ago. The potential may be there but when you look at non-government-controlled television it's clear that a) most people prefer entertainment over information, and b) providing the same by technological means can be pretty profitable.

    TV must have started with high hopes of educating millions across the globe. Today we have Larry King, hour-long infomercials, soap operas, Jerry Springer and all kinds of other crap.

    It's not yet clear whether companies and advertisers can reliably make the same kinds of money from the internet as they currently can from TV. But if this turns out to be the case, Dyson can forget about his dream; entertainment will win.
  • > I submit Einstein's attempt at an Unified Field
    > Theory as evidence

    Not a very good example. Just because Einstein could not produce a workable UFT during his lifetime does not mean it was in any way a failure. Einstein was a pioneer in UFTs... his work pointed the direction for the next generation of theorists. His inability to produce a correct UFT has more to do with the idea being to far ahead of its time. The mathematical tools required were not mature enough at the time of his attempt.
  • I've been saying about the same thing
    since I met with the computer world
    at the Berkeley Homebrew Computer Club in 1981.

    But from my point of view,
    the last mile is not the main problem.

    1. The data architecture for managing the whole thing is not quite there yet
    (some harmonization and normalization is still needed);

    2. The software is not quite up to the task yet
    (the OpenSource believers who give their code
    for the benefit of mankind have yet to meet with
    the volunteers in the non-profit organizations
    who also give their time for the benefit of said mankind);

    3. The political will is nowhere to be seen
    (I have not yet heard of one politician
    who has dared imagine that computers could be used to do more than simply balance debits and credits or accumulate data on individual citizens).

    The fight around MP3 and the discussions about the fact that FREE software is more a question of freedom than price, are bringing us closer to home. But we still have a long way to go.

    For many years, we have heard the slogan: "Power to the people".

    Well, power is not given, it is taken.

    So the next move for democracy is for the citizens to make.

    Now that the open source programmers have created the basic tools to make the computers work, they have to turn their attention to what is needed to help local communities use the new information technologies to regain control of what is going on on their territories.

    And they have to do it for a price that will make it affordable to even the small communities of developping countries.

    Also, people have to realize that using proprietary or open source software, is as much a political as a technical decision.

    What's important with the Internet
    is not what we can find there now,
    but what we will use it for from now on!


  • However, anytime you start talking about "redistribution of wealth," this starts sounding like someone making 35K a year jealous of those who make 250k.

    Being jealous is one thing, saying that everyone who gets 250k a year get 7 times more work done every day than people who earn only 35k a year is something else.

    I'm 47 years old now, and though I have tried very hard, I have yet to find the relationship between the revenue of a person and his or her contribution to society.

    Some of the people who depend on welfare for their survival are more useful to society than a few of the millionaires who have never done anything useful in their whole life.

  • Trivia: Esther Dyson is Freeman Dyson's daughter.
  • It was different before we came along?
    -russ
  • A free-market economy is a result of freedom, not the cause of it. And freedom only comes through centuries of negotiation between peasants and elites. If the elites don't feel like they have to talk to the peasants, then the country has no hope of escaping the mire of poverty, Internet or no.
    -russ
  • If power has been growing for 1000 years, what happened to the serfs? What happened to peasants in America? How has the middle class arisen? Your premise is countered by the facts.
    -russ

  • There's not a single workable Solar energy product to be found in 3rd world countries, except for a few parabolic mirrors used as a solar stove.

    All these new technologies aren't worth anything if they're not shared with the worlds that need them instead of being patentised and available to only those that can afford the license.

    Every now and then a report appears claiming that new technology X will solve things like famine in Africa. But as long as violence an civilian wars are considered normal.. and fed by constant streams of western weapons.. they're of no use at all.
  • ". The problem with third world countries is not that the big bad United States won't share their technology, it is that third world countries have economic and social systems that make a modern free-market economy unworkable. It is hard for businessmen to build factories or office buildings or internet connections when it is about to get nationalised by the government or destroyed in the next Civil War. "

    at the risk of going WAY off here, one of the main reasons these countries have unworkable economies and social systems is the proliferation of multi-national companies (uh oh buzzword : ) incorporated within the US, that have plants and factories in these countries. These companies pay workers $10 / month, charge $9/month for room and board, send the finished products (at a final cost of $95/item) to the good ol US _without_ import tax, and sell the product here for $120 per item.

    its hard to build businesses and offices and provide internet service while the people that liove there are a bit to concerned with eating to be concerned with chat rooms
  • whhops that. "a final cost of $_.95_ "
    sorry : )
  • Thats a highly simplistic viewpoint . There have been countries which have been following the US model for a free market , and you don't see any success stories out there. And it would be wrong to think that the third world countries are poor for failing to follow the US lead .

    As a means of basic communication , information exchange & applications , the internet would be the easiest way for the third world communities to improve their lot .

Their idea of an offer you can't refuse is an offer... and you'd better not refuse.

Working...