A Practical Basis for Determining Technological Value
Or, Introducing Two Iron Laws Relating Technological Controllability and Technological Power to Technological Value
Or, Why Your Cell Phone might be as Dangerous as a Wild Bear
6-2019, 20 minute read.
The modern cell, or ‘smart’ phone, is an extremely deceptive piece of technology. It appears harmless, just a shiny black rectangle with rounded corners and a soft plastic outer coating. The screen appears to give you complete control over input and output. It is a full featured multi-media recording station. With the right numerical codes, you can contact nearly anyone on the planet or orbit. Your words, location and various data are encoded into waves and bits bounce into space and back. Your device silently talks with satellites and knows its latitude and longitude at all times. You have access to every map with your own location on it. You can install tools, games, sensors and all manner of applications to interface with other devices, cars, drones, guns, and even drone cars with guns.
In your hand, given to you for perhaps half the cost of production or maybe even free with the right contract, is one of the most powerful and complex devices ever even imagined by humans. A processor, transmitter, receiver, camera, microphone, tracker, data storage, motion sensor and touchscreen input device, all of which exceed even the wildest dreams of inventors 20 years prior. The number of humans capable of understanding the device in its entirety, from camera lenses to microprocessor architecture to RF transmission might be zero, but it is at least so close to zero that it is statistically irrelevant to most humans beings.
For all practical intents and purposes, these are ‘black box’ devices. Essentially magic.
What if I made a comparable device, as a thought experiment, that was actually magic. Through arcane pagan incantations to nebulous astral entities, I manage to turn a small block of wood into a device that could provide a range of wildly ambitious features like intergalactic communication, talking with the deceased and mind reading, for starters. Maybe it could teleport you someplace if you held it right and pronounced the ancient words of command exactly.
Let’s say you read the flyer, come to my store, The Enchanted Block, and I actually demonstrate to you the power of this device and show you how to use it. Your great grandfather actually appears before you alongside an extraterrestrial being with seven arms and a kind face who reveals to you the secret of the beginning of the universe in short order. I’ll sell you the device for 100 bucks.
What could go wrong?
In both cases, the ‘smart phone’ and the ‘enchanted block’, you are offererd an extreme amplification of your individual power. The reach of your voice is amplified by a factor of nearly infity, from essentially as far as you can be heard yelling, to planetary and intergalactic, even interdimensional scales. Add to this the powers of ordering anything from a catalog or teleportation or simply very effective universal mapping, and it becomes very difficult to even compare you as an individual now to the individual you were before. A person with one of these devices and a person without one have vastly different capabilities.
My question is this: In the case of the Enchanted Intergalactic Mega-Block, whether to buy and use, or not, what are your priorities?
My question to you is, what do you want to ask me about the inner workings and side-effects and worst case scenarios? Has anyone ever had an intergalactic teleportation accident? Does anyone else in the universe get to know what I use it for or listen in on my conversations with the dead and various other exotic beings?
What questions you ask will say a lot about your personal philosophy and priorities. I could understand the humanity of someone just wanting to speak with their deceased spouse so much that they are overwhelmed by emotion and throw all caution out the window. There are bad decisions that are easy to understand and difficult to understand, and this is an easy one. As a society however, millions of people throwing caution and reason out the window has over the course of human history resulted in essentially every single problem, atrocity or disaster humanity has ever had.
The things we want, survival, liberty, food, are not brought to us out of fanciful desires, we attain them through things that are somewhat more difficult in comparison to emotional manias, no matter how satisfying.
Work, thought, contemplation, more work, learning, more contemplation, dialogue, cooperation, sacrifice.
Analysis. Skepticism. Intelligence.
With the Enchanted Intergalactic Megablock, what might be a worthwhile caution prior to using it?
Who invented it? Who manufactures it? How does it work? Who are these gods to whom the required incantation must be made? Who can eavesdrop on me? Who could eavesdrop on me? How would they do it? What effect would it have?
Can anyone else take control of the device and, say, teleport me somewhere I don’t want to go?
What if the answer was yes? What if there was some ‘authority’ somewhere who knew the inner workings so well that they could somehow interfere with their operation?
Maybe you ask a few questions about how and why and who these people, beings, really are, who have this Power over users of this EIMB(tm) and you get some responses, or no response. Either way, you and only you must decide if you are satisfied that there is no Danger. That this isn’t a trick of some sort, that everything here is on the up and up.
I assert that for a device of this power, that can teleport you and put you in contact with all sorts of beings who may or may not be friendly, the standards you set to convince yourself should be very high.
Freedom is not free. Is it smart to get in the car with strangers? The price you pay for not being kidnapped is thought, contemplation and skepticism. Someone coming from a world where no one has ever heard of kidnapping would look at you as you decline a free ride a rando like you are some sort of paranoid loon. We consider, on earth, this level of skepticism and paranoia totally reasonable, a priori, self-evident, goes without saying.
There may be, and probably are, planets where even shaking someone’s hand is out of the question as friendly tactics there are so often used to set people up for surprise karate attacks.
They would visit our planet and think that we are just weak, so easy to catch with the oldest surprise karate attacks in their books.
I suspect at this point people reading this can smell what I am cooking so well, and have seen my argument barrelling down the hill for so long, that even I wonder why I have to write this. Why this must be explained. Why I feel like the paranoid skeptical one all of a sudden.
For instance, in every other instance of cameras in the history of planet earth, lens covers have been important. Scratching the camera lense is the worst thing you can do. Cameras come with lense covers or automatically cover their lenses with some fancy mechanics.
But with ‘smart’ phones, I walk down the street and dozens of people walk past me talking on their phones and clicking around on them, and uncovered camera lenses, ostensibly not in use at all, are pointing at me. It would be trivial to put a slide or cover on the camera, but none of them have a cover built in. It once used to be very rude to point cameras at strangers, now it is the cost of doing business, if ‘doing business’ means playing video games and having extended conversations with distant people while riding the bus. The design of these phones makes it nearly impossible to be polite, they have forced a complete societal change in regards to being in front of cameras. And talking on the phone on the bus, which I find borish, inconsiderate and an affront to all parties involved.
I get no choice in the matter, because ‘the internet’ or something, my desires to minimize cameras being pointed at me and not have to overhear someone else’s rambling while on public transportation. My skepticism is paranoia. There is a broadly experienced emotion emanating from many people that goes roughly, ‘C’mon, who cares? It’s just a smart phone, everybody’s doing it. Who do you think you are to dare criticize how I want to use my devices or to think you have some higher standard of polite custom than me?’ and so on.
These phrases, ‘c’mon’, ‘who cares’, ‘it’s just a thing’, ‘everybody thinks’, ‘how dare you’, and my personal favorite, ‘who do you think you are?’ are classic human methods to shut down thought and exert peer pressure, enforce uncontemplated custom, and reject inquiry. Or maybe trick you.
Essentially the greatest hits of anti-intellectualism.
And anti-intellectualism crossed with technology is bald-faced madness.
No species who crosses these two things for long is bound for long term survival in this universe.
In my intergalactic block of wood thought experiment, I have explored the concepts of Technology, Power, Control and Danger in some ways that I admit are pretty obvious.
I assert however that without the key concept of Trust, Technology, Power, and Control are just outright Danger.
I believe and would like to assert that there are hard and fast Universal Laws which relate these concepts, and ignoring or refusing to Think about these conceptual interworkings is both anti-intellectual and therefore dangerous.
Therefore, I would like to define these laws, attempt to prove them, and submit this work for review as my attempt to help by saying something intelligent about the problem.
Technology + Power + Control = Danger
T + P + C = D
I think this is improved by:
T + P – C = D
because it is the lack of control that makes technology dangerous, like a car whose breaklines have been cut. Powerful technology under our absolute control is what we want.
Powerful technology out of control is dangerous,
First Iron Law of Technology
T(P – C) = D
Not all technology is created equally powerful and controllable.
Technological power and controllability can be quantified, if loosely and approximatedly, on a finite scale or range.
Let’s choose round numbers and make our range from 0 to 100.
Let’s choose a series of objects and lifeforms used by humans as tools to quantifiably analyze in this framework, representing a wide range of power and controllability.
Technology itself can’t be quanitifed, it is more of an adjective to the Power and Controllability, we are concerned with Technological Power and Technological Controllability and the relation between them. Having 0 or 100 Technology is essentially meaningless. Having Technological Power of 0 or 100 is however quite meaningful. Having Technological Controllability of 0 or 100 is also meaningful.
(This is just a sketch, all numbers here are approximate and we can argue about exact values later over stiff drinks.)
Technological Power of 0 is what a naked quadrapolegic human has access to. Technological Power of 1 might be a human with a fully functioning body. 100 is a doomsday device that could destroy the entire universe.
Consider a highly advanced spaceship with a TP of 90 and TC of 100. The spaceship can travel between galaxies, fire impressive lasers, deflect missiles with shields, and is a comfortable ride on the inside. It can be controlled to absolute precision, so it has the maximimum imagineable value for controllability.
-10 indicates a very low level of danger, this would probably make a good tool. But we already knew that, everybody wants a spaceship.
There are of course other factors that make things dangerous in interstellar travel, but we are discussing the dangers specific to the technological object itself.
The same analysis can be applied to every object or thing humans have ever used as tools. Animals have a long history of being used as technological objects, their TP and TC can also be quantified.
Consider a horse. A horse has TP of 30 and controllability of 90.
30 – 90 = -60
-60 is even safer than the spaceship, and a horse is in fact somewhat safer than a spaceship. The controllability is 90 because there is always some chance will do something out of your control, run off, or get spooked, which something perfectly controllable will never do.
Consider a circus bear, with TP of 40 and controllability of 60.
40 – 60 = -20
Even a trained bear is significantly less controllable than a horse, but somewhat more powerful. Untrained bears have TP of 40 and TC of 2, because they can at least be easily lured with bait. Few animals are completely uncontrollable.
40 – 2 = 38
You might sit in the front row at a circus with something that has -20 danger, but not 38.
This is the Raw Danger Value, or RDV.
D = RDV
Everything a being in the universe will ever use as a tool, from a chimpanzee picking up a stick to dig for ants, to a Cadillac, has these two factors of amplifying power and ease of use, and a difference, an RDV.
RDV be difficult to determine when the TP and TC cannot easily be determined by the User of the technological objects themselves, either due to lack of understanding of the details of their operation or intentional obfuscation of the true functionality of devices for the purpose of their creator or purveyors gain.
Both are often the case.
Comparing RDV is useful but comparing the intrinsic essence of the devices themselves would also be useful. Knowing a spaceship is more dangerous than a bear is useful, but which is more valuable on a pound per pound basis, if instead of weighing the bear and the spaceship we were interested in knowing if it was worth the technological effort.
This ‘is this technology worthwhile’, is a sought after metric.
It is the Actual Value of the technology.
TC/(1/TP) = Usefulness
Perfectly Controllable Intergalactic Spaceship 100/(1/90) = 10000
Horse 90/(1/30) = 2700
Trained Bear 40/(1/60) = 2500
Untrained Bear 2/(1/40) = 80
Even an untrained bear can be useful sometimes, as can any powerful thing that can be directed in even the most minimal way.
Let’s examine some other things that may or may not bed useful.
Ant TC = 1, TP = 1, 1/(1/1) = 1
Computer Keyboard TC = 100, TP = 10, 100/(1/10) = 1000
Fan TC = 100, TP = 5, 100/(1/5) = 500
My guitar, oven, towel, refrigerator, flashlight, houseshoes and other such objects in my house would have values in this range. High controllability, non-zero greater-than-one power, high usefullness.
That’s why I have them. But I would really, of course, like to have something, anything, with a value in the 10,000 range, like a perfectly controllable spaceship.
The PCS is an ideal fantasy construct, absolutely awesome, purely imaginary and therefore free from the realities of reality.
Who built this ship? What were their intentions? How trustworthy are they? How trustworthy were they at the time? Has anyone independent checked over this ship for bugs, tracking devices, remote backdoors, that would transmit all of the ship’s inhabitant’s conversations and activities to some remote recording station? Could some or a number of party’s take control of the ship if they ever had reason to? Am I absolutely certain that there does not exist on this ship somewhere a bomb that would simply explode if someone else had the whim to press a button?
If someone just gave you this ship and you didn’t have a doctorate in physics and computer engineering both, and probably other disciplines as well, how would you ever know, for certain, that this ship wasn’t just a prison or time bomb, or both?
The actual truth is, you couldn’t.
The actual truth is, you could not control this spaceship because you don’t understand it. Sure, you could turn the steering wheel and press the button that ignites the warp engine, fire the gun turrets. This would appear to be control, for a given time.
Appearances can be decieving.
The truth is, for you, a non-educated spaceship engineer, and you are probably not a trained spaceship pilot either, the PCS is not controllable, hardly at all. In your hands, actually, it is a liability to everyone within thousands of lightyears, a true intergalactic catastrophe waiting to happen.
The real controllability(TC) of this device is, for you, more like 5.
That makes the RDV = 99-5 = 94. A high RDV indeed.
Then Usefulness(U) = 5/(1/99) = 500. This is still pretty useful, like a fan or a towel. Except with that screaming RDV.
Our perfectly controllable spaceship, which to untrained us is hardly controllable, is like having a towel that is as dangerous as a giant bomb, that could explode if you used it wrong.
Would you use a towel if it could explode? Probably not. This is the same reason they don’t let just anyone pilot the space shuttle, or even jet fighters for that matter. Or even F1’s or Bulldozers or, well, the list of useful things you can’t just get your hands on, is long.
The ration of Danger to Usefulness or U/RDV is therefore a key, critical, analysis of a device or thing. This might pertain also to knowledge itself. It might pertain to the human species or individual humans.
(I prefer not to think of humans or beings as mere ‘useful devices’ but I strongly suspect there are others would not mind this one bit.)
Therefore, I propose:
Second Iron Law of Technology
The ratio of Usefullness(U) to Danger(D) of any technological object is a significant descriptor of value and should therefore be as high as possible.
TC/(1/TP) = U
TP-TC = D
U/D = TC/(1/TP)/(TP-TC) = TC/(1-TP/TC) = V
At this point to be fair I only started on this train of thought in order to demonstrate to people that ‘smart’ phones are dangerous, so let’s see how well I did.
A smart phone is extremely powerful. It can communicate with space, record audio and video, calculate as well as any supercomputer could in 1995, fingerprint the motion of your body as unique from anyone else, track you down to within a ten square meter box of space, and provides a conduit directly to you and to all of your conversations for anyone with the technological capacity to do so.
A smart phone has a Technological Power(TP) of 70.
Someone who understands nothing of transmitters, microprocessors, or programming effectively has roughly 5% control over what their smart phone can actually do. It can do many things without informing, it can be recording without any outward display it is doing so, a single misclick could install malicious programs that can totally nullify all intended security features, vast megalithic governments have routine access and this will be accidentally shared with consultancies and their drinking buddies. There is a vast record of ‘smart’ phones being used to comprimise their users.
A smart phone has a Technological Controllability of 30, but everyone can determine this for themselves. If you believe you can control 100 percent of the activity of your phone, put it at 100. I do not believe Apple or Google or any phone service or western government offer this functionality.
I think 30 is a fair middle ground controllability of a smart phone but this is a natural point for contention, which I invite.
Let’s calculate, approximately, U, D and V, for a smart phone with TP of 70 and TC of 30.
TC/(1/TP) = U = 30/(1/70) = 2140
D = TP – TC = 70 – 30 = 40
U / D = V = 2140/40 = 53
Let’s compare this to our untrained bear from above, TC = 2, TP = 40.
U = 2/(1/40) = 80 (significantly less useful than a smart phone at 700, which tracks with expectation)
D = 40 – 2 = 38 (Phone and bears can both track you leading to potentially dangerous unexpected consequences)
V = 80/38 = 2
Even on a bad bear day, a cell phone has more value than a wild bear, and by roughly 25 times, I think most people would agree.
But what if a new update is pushed out and more people you don’t know are given somehow more control over your phone, and its new powers, such that the TP goes to 80 and the TC drops to 10, making it a much more dangerous phone.
U = 20/(1/90) = 1800 (a big drop in usefulness)
D = 90-10 = 80 (a big increase in danger)
V = U/D = 22.5
This phone went from being 25 times to 10 times as dangerous as a wild bear overnight, without the owner noticing or being informed in any way. Achieving wild bear levels of danger in the next iteration of the experiment, the next ‘Generation’ of black box features.
There is a therefore a set of values in a very possible context outside of the users’ knowledge and control, at which your cell phone empirically becomes equivalent in usefulness and safety to a wild bear.
This is unfortunately an issue endemic to the type of networking known as ‘cloud’ computing which blurs the lines between personal and networked devices. Networked devices can simply change their attributes at any time without warning or notification, and thereby can drastically alter the terms of the user license agreement or implicit contract between buyer and seller, between user and developer, between corporation and individual, between government and individual.
This makes any calculation, even estimation, of Userfulness, Danger, Controllability, Power and Value.
There are indeed many cases where smart phones, and other technologies, especially involving computing technology, have been much more powerful and much less controllable than expected, much to the detriment of their owners.
Further study in the controllability equation is warranted.
Trust has to be part of this equation, which is unfortunately one of the most difficult things to quantify that there even is.
I will address this in future articles.
J. Michael Hudson
TLDR; I am seeking an empirical method to demonstrate to people(who don’t do math, so yeah, this may not be a sound plan…), that their cell phones and their belief that ‘they have nothing to hide’ or ‘are not interesting to anybody’, are poorly thought out approaches to a very double-edged and deceptive form of technology.
I will be continually adding to this page with an analysis of every technolological object I can think of and graphing them out so we can compare and discuss the controllability, power, danger, usefulness and value of the entire world of human technology.