496b · 15 May 89
Not to hide behind pre-net inaccessibility, here is the actual college essay alluded to in issue 496. It is totally unretouched, and rather wildly insufferable. It was written for a pass/fail individual study, which I passed. I offer no further defense of it.
This is for every rail that runs across a border. This is for every wire that runs through a wall. This is for every machine that does what it doesn't know can't be. This for every time technology refuses to err. This is for every time that the ones of truth cross zeros in the eyes of liars, nations and laws. This is for the world after enemies.
On and off know no prejudice. All justice aspires to the condition of on and off. But justice forgets. In forgeting to be on and off, what passes for justice will settle for either. And where justices settle grow laws. Laws mark frozen switches, offs that never on. A law is a statement of incapacity.
Laws replace judgement. A law against jaywalking is an expression of lack of faith in the pedestrian's ability to judge when it is safe to cross a street. It may also be a lack of faith in the law enforcers. Is the perfect police one that enforces every law without exception or error? Or is the perfect police one that needs no laws to tell it what action to take? For the former police to be perfect one must assume that the laws are perfectly just. A law, however, by its very nature admits no instances. It is a statement of generality. It can conceive of no interaction between elements within its jurisdiction and elements without. A "perfect enforcer" that allows no tresspass has as its end merely the law. But laws are means. The end is people. It is for people that we strive for justice, or, in the case of jaywalking, for not having people in automobiles hit people not in automobiles. The perfect police, therefore, needs no laws to guide its judgement, for it reckons to means directly from ends. Every law erased is perfection spreading. And in a perfect world, are there perfect police or none?
In King's Free Park, in Larry Niven's story "Cloak of Anarchy", there is a variant of this perfection. The park is patrolled by hovering "copseyes", robots that double as observation cameras for the police and enforcement devices. The park's single law is "no violence", and the copseyes are equiped with stun weapons to keep the law. If anyone tries to hurt anyone else, the copseyes stun them both, and life goes on. Free Parks are near complete anarchy, made possible by unequivocal enforcement of a single law. A million laws barely enforced or one law enforced absolutely produce similar effects. The complete restriction of explicit freedom in this single respect grants the park goers dramatic implicit freedom.
The simplicity of this arrangement, however, is utterly reliant on several factors. One, all visitors to the Free Park are carefully searched and dispossessed of any weapons before they enter. This ensures that the copseyes have a comfortable technological superiority. Their stunners work faster than fists move, and the park goers have no heavier weaponry. Without an edge they cannot be sure of their ability to enforce their law. This is, obviously, an artificially maintained imbalance. Outside of the park violence may find its own speed. Anarchy only behind walls.
Two, the park is a non-threatening environment, both physically and socially. On a crowded city street a man pushing a child out of the way of a falling cement horse's head would look like violence. He and the child would be stunned, and the cement horse's head would probably get them both. In the park what cement horse's heads there are are at ground level where they cannot fall any further. There are no dangers to take into account. Additionally, since the Park is a park, activity within it is assumed to have sociallly non-critical implications. The park goers are there simply to enjoy themselves, so the copseyes do not need to take the specific nature of their individual activities into consideration. In the real world, a surgeon might need to sedate a crash victim, and not stunning the surgeon would be very important, the apparent violence of the action notwithstanding. In the Park, the copseyes do not have to reason from ends. Operating in an environment whose uncomplicated nature requires only a single, set means, they need not even consider any others.
Third, the nature of the Park depends on the copseyes power to enforce their one law. The park goers trust the copseyes to do so without exception, and this trust allows them to even attack the copseyes if they wish, secure in the knowledge that the mass of copseyes, if not each individual, is invincible. The restriction of explicit freedom must be complete, and thus the law's enforcement must be absolutely reliable. What can be built, can be broken, however, and this applies even to copseyes, and thus another flaw is revealed. Trust in the copseyes' power obscures the unwritten covenant of the Park that claims to have no covenants. The copseyes cannot be defeated. They must not be. And when Ronald Cole succeeds in immobilizing all the copseyes at once, the predictably perilous nature of a social system absolutely reliant on enforcement is revealed. "Anarchy isn't stable. It comes apart too easily." Meaningless violence erupts almost instantly. Parks cannot be our ideal. Infinitely better than this levered near-anarchy would be a society free at rest. We must seek a freedom that tends toward itself. We must seek a desirable equilibrium. We must devise a system which needs no laws because there is no incentive to disobey what they would rule. We will not find what we are looking for in King's Free Park.
But there will soon be enough power and speed to hold the world together without laws. We make laws for what we cannot see and cannot tell, but what we cannot see can be shown to us, and what we cannot tell can be determined. Our machines will erase, not enforce. We will build mechanical arms longer than any law.
Jaywalking is the archtypical crime. Its criminality is directly and necessarily linked only to the law against it. Violent crimes like murder are exceptional cases. The law against murder is absolutely linked to the end it protects: human life. Murder and robbery and kidnapping are clear and direct transgressions against the moral code of the "free world" (that is, that all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). Most laws, however, like the one against jaywalking, are not clear moral imperatives. People walking across busy streets is not really the problem. The real problem is the overall handling of the movement of people.
People want to go places, and that isn't a problem in itself, it's just a fact, only we haven't figured out how best to get them there. We have tried giving them each huge metal boxes, and laying strips of asphalt to every door, and painting yellow and white lines around our world, but we've found that people tend to run their boxes into each other, killing hundreds of thousands of people each year, and that they tend fill certain stretches of asphalt with their boxes until everyone has to stop, which doesn't kill as many, but wastes millions of hours of millions of people's lives. Roads and cars, though, are no longer the best we can do, so we must do more. We have the the power to either fix our system or build a new one, so we must do so.
Whether we fix or rebuild, there are two approaches to the problem. The first, a primitive version of which we operate under currently, has control centered locally with each traveller. At the present, that just means that drivers drive their cars. Each driver makes the necessary micro and macro control decisions from the vehicle. Macro decisions, here, are destination and route, and micro decisions are steering and speed. The second approach would be central control, in which decisions, instead of being made by the driver, would be made by a central control center.
Air traffic control, for example, combines both approaches by using a centralized decision source to organize airplanes' macro movements, but letting the pilots determine micro movements. The central control is only virtual, of course, in that the tower cannot actually manipulate an airplane's engines or ailerons. Most subway systems operate similarly, with a central control facility operating signal lights and radios to guide trains, but with the train drivers controlling stopping and starting times and speeds. A few new systems are experimenting with a further removal of local control, letting their computer systems accelerate and decelerate the trains as well. (The last frontier for subway system design is finding a way to detect, remotely, the flow of passengers within terminals, so as to be able to centralize the allocation of trains and the amount of time train doors must remain open.)
Unless the individual vehicle system is to be eliminated entirely, within urban areas at least, a useful variant of these methods must be devised for organizing automobile traffic. Establishing the balance of local and central control is the essential task. If the overall flow of automobile traffic could be centrally monitored, for instance, then routing problems such as traffic jams and even the necessity for one-way streets could be eliminated. Traffic could be routed and rerouted by computer as the traffic's demands changed. After all, many traffic jams occur almost solely because motorists cannot know the amount of traffic on a road until on it themselves. Pure traffic overload is a road capacity problem, still, but most traffic problems are actually communication problems. A central computer system could relatively easily transmit to drivers the load levels on their possible routes, letting them take this factor into consideration. The central system could tie in to a computer on each vehicle itself that would handle micronavigation concerns such as not hitting people or other cars. These two systems would combine to form true autopilot, in which travellers could enter their cars, inform their car's computer of their destination and any route preferences, and then let the system get them there in the most efficient manner.
And if efficiency was not their goal, then the system could tailor their travel to whatever specifications they provided. Rather than decreasing the flexibility of the road system, computer control could increase it. Stop lights, stop signs, one-ways, speed limits, turn lanes, and all other forms of regulation are, being laws, compromises born from powerlessness. A computer system, by keeping track of traffic throughout a city (and beyond), would eliminate such inefficiencies as drivers being forced to stop for red lights at empty intersections, or forced to travel at 20 mph in school zones on school holidays, or forced to travel at 65 mph on straight empty highways in cars that could safely go 140.
And if parking is treated as a traffic phenomenom as well, it could have similar flexibility. Having a car's computer be able to find a parking space for itself would probably be enough to convince anyone of the value of such a system, but even more than simply that, a central control system would allow parking regulations themselves to vary dynamically. On a slow day, one-hour parking spaces might become untimed spaces. On April 15, every space within a block of the post office might become a ten-minute zone. Criteria change, so regulations should change as well.
There are also some less obvious advantages to a system of this sort. For one, the movement of emergency vehicles, where efficiency and speed are critical, could be greatly facilitated. If the central system had the ability to override local controls, cars could be moved out of the way of emergency vehicles automatically. For another, the transition from private ownership of vehicles to a common pool of public vehicles would be much smoother if the means for controlling them were identical than it would be if public cars still had to be driven manually, as drivers would complain about public cars handling unfamiliarly. And since a public pool would vastly decrease the number of cars necessary, which would in turn cut down on the space needed to house them and the materials needed to build them and the person-hours needed to design, construct and service them (and since not working on cars is generally regarded as slightly more pleasant than working on them, at least for most of the people who have to work on them) then if a control system eases this transition, that is another good thing.
(An even less obvious, but potentially even more significant change that a computerized traffic system could enable, would be an elimination of traffic and parking signs. Signs are such an intrinsic feature of cities that it is hard to get them to consciously register, but they are by far the predominate urban visual features, and since they are for the most part unattractive, it seems that cities would be a much better place without them. The lines on the streets, especially, would be pleasant to erase. Yellow and white are not very many people's favorite colors, that we should run them everywhere we go.)
And, what is more important, traffic control is only one example. All bureaucracy turned lame duck the day somebody thought to make something that wasn't math look like math to a computer. Soon the entire world will be electronically connected, and one by one the laws and rules and regulations and permits and licenses will disappear. If you can prove your identity anywhere in the world just by pointing your eye at a retinal scanner, why do you need passports? And if you use a retinal scanner (or, after that, a scanner that reads a print of your brain activity) instead of signing credit slips, in a world in which direct customer-account-to-seller-account fund transfer is a universal payment option, then what can pickpockets and muggers gain? And when every person can wear a videophone on a wrist or finger, with a distress button that sends out your exact location, who will attack you? There are few legal situations in which technology cannot either remove the neccessity for the law or remove the incentive for the crime. And the crimes that remain, the irrational ones that have no incentive, may then receive our undivided attention. (And if technology has the power to fundamentally change society, perhaps even these have solutions, but I'll get to that.)
There is a fear, however, that must be addressed before any large scale, centrally organized system of interaction can be implemented. Any powerful system can become corrupted, and begin to restrict freedom, rather than extend it, as a traffic system would be meant to do. It is impossible to argue this fear away, and in the end the balances must be fully understood, so that each individual can decide whether the system's benefits outweigh its drawbacks. After all, many many systems having potential for oppression have been accepted in the past. The procedure of hospitals keeping and exchanging medical records could easily be seen as a horrendous invasion of privacy, but the fact that it allows an enormous improvement in the quality of personal medical attention has persuaded people to accept it. And if it were possible for each person to wear, or have implanted inside them, a tiny sensor to monitor vital signs, then there is again huge potential for invasions of privacy. If, however, the improvement in health care that accompanied constant monitoring meant twenty-five years added to your lifespan, wouldn't you accept the trade-off?
Likewise, the use of credit cards allows an anonymous company to keep track of each card user's spending patterns, but for the flexibility that credit gives users, they accept the bargain. After all, interaction by its very nature destroys privacy. When people choose to speak they know it means they can be heard. If they do not want to be heard, they will stay silent. If they want to speak but not be identified, they must find a way to speak anonymously, just as if they must make a purchase they do not wish to have traced to them they will do it with cash. In the end, the defense of privacy will come down to the preservation, in all realms of action, of the right to the use of the equivalent of cash. People must be able to act anonymously if they wish, even though it might mean a reduction of their power. (Using cash increases the risk of loss by theft, removes the option of deferring payment, and waives the users' option of having a huge powerful corporation to back them up should problems arise. Also, there are even some transactions, such as buying a handgun (legally) or renting a car that simply cannot be done without identification.)
The preservation of the possibility of anonymity, however, becomes increasingly difficult as more and more transactions move into the electronic virtual world, and new ways will need to be developed of interacting anonymously there. The world may soon see the invention of credit golems, temporary accounts carrying no identification, created with set spending limits, like electronic money orders, allowing electronic transactions to be made without the buyers revealing their full fiscal identities. Electronic society will develop its own conventions as to when identification is necessary and when it is not, just as our physical society has conventions of when names should be given and when they should not. The dynamics that are created will be fascinating to observe, and may help elucidate the physical patterns they will mirror.
In the end though, most people, most of the time, will trade privacy for power. The system will set them free, not lock them up. In a centrally controlled public vehicle traffic system, Local Control Only switches, though absolutely necessary, would probably get little use.
Fear of control systems finds its most paranoid formulation in 1984. In Orwell's world technology has become completely the province of the government, and the people are utterly powerless to fight back. The book is held in incredibly high respect, its bleak view of the future accepted virtually as truth. The real history of the development of high technology, however, suggests only that Orwell's vision of the future is simplistic to and beyond the point of ridiculousness. Like many dystopian futures, his represents an extrapolation of one factor in society without any attention paid to how society would react to change. Self-knowledge is so rarely attributed to a culture. Every invasive, control-oriented technological innovation has been met by a counter technology. Orwell could well have imagined radar-equiped highway police, but he would not have bothered to consider that someone might invent a radar detector.
Technology is a leveller, and it controls by unifying and interrelating, not by imposing. One college hacker with a computer is as powerful as a huge corporation with a computer. Technology is no good for forcing people to do what they do not want to, because they can always fight technology with technology, and the technology to break a system is always cheaper than that needed to run it. Technology gets its power from multiple parts acting as a whole. One huge computer can do a lot of math, but a nation of people with Macs can change everything. Personal computers are technology changing society. The trunk telephone cables mean little; the three phones in every house mean a new world.
A system centrally commanded, not just controlled, will never arise because it is in no one's interest. The government could tap every phone in the country, but if they did they'd have no way of dealing with all the information. The better computer processing gets, the faster they can assimilate data, but every improvement they make to their computer is a quarter of a billion improvements on a quarter of a billion tiny computers, and the increased speed will find itself confronted by a data stream that has increased even more. The I.R.S. doesn't want to keep track of every dollar you have, because it makes their lives miserable. They want you to send them a check, and as little explanation as possible, and it's only because most people comply perfectly that they are able to find time to audit the others. Orwell's Big Brother wouldn't want to watch everybody, and even if they did, the more people they tried to watch, the more people would be doing the watching, and the more people inside the government the more people who have access to power. Hitler didn't destroy German Jewry by sending the SS to every Jew's house in Germany, he did it by inciting the Jews' neighbors to do his work for him. Hitler managed to run a dictatorship because to most of Germany he was not a dictator, he was a leader. You can organize, and you can channel, and you can change virtually anything, but you can't change everything, and you can't command much.
A more thoughtful version of an oppressively central society is the planet Capitol in Orson Scott Card's The Worthing Chronicle. The enforcers of Capitol, "Mother's Little Boys", are an obvious parallel to "Big Brother", but Card does not attempt to hide them in a fog of mysterious omnipotence. They can be evaded because they only have power as long as they are connected to the system. If you can get outside the system, they cannot follow. The system can be evaded within, by hiding in crowds and alleys, in between the system's intersection points, living a cash life, or it can be evaded without, by leaving Capitol entirely. Dictatorships tend to have borders, and escaping them can be difficult, but is usually possible. Ayn Rand's book Anthem sets both of these insights in a more allegorical frame, with the internal evasion taking the form of an abandoned mine, and the external the final escape from the city. George Lucas's film THX 1138 takes the exact same material and sets it in a more technological scenario, but in both cases the important conclusion is that dictatorships yearn for closure, yearn to have an "everything" to say they control, and consequently tend to have a limited, if sometimes large, scope of power. In Card's book this fact allows Jason to get his mother off of Capitol alive, and would have allowed him to leave himself had he chosen to go.
Jason's showdowns with his cousin Radamand and with Abner Doon demonstrate two important principles of the relationship between knowledge and power. Jason and Radamand are both Swipes, possessors of the very rare ability to read others' thoughts. When Jason and Radamand meet in Radamand's office, Radamand resolves immediately to kill Jason, and Jason is perfectly aware of this resolution, as Radamand is aware of Jason's awareness, etc. But surprise is not the only way to win a war. Jason realizes that in the deadly chess game he and Radamand are playig, the only way for him to avoid being checkmated is for him to apply check himself, which he manages to do. What his victory makes explicit is that knowledge alone is not enough to ensure domination. Quite the contrary, knowledge ensures fairness. When both sides know the other, there can be no tricks. Jason is used to an enormous edge. For all the I.R.S.s investigative power and technological augmentation, though, if you have done nothing wrong you will survive an audit. It is a fair fight between Jason and Radamand, and Jason wins.
The circumstances leading to his battle with Abner Doon demonstrate another principle. Abner Doon is not a Swipe, so Jason is not afraid of him. Doon manages, however, to trick Jason into diverting his attention, by teaching him to swim. Jason concentrates on Doon's thoughts on swimming, and so is unable to react fast enough to evade Doon's pet twick (a tiny, lightning fast carnivorous rodent know for its ability to burrow into cows through their stomachs, and then tunnel to the brain from inside the cow). Power can be made not to act. The best security camera system in the world is worthless if the bank manager can be tricked into forgetting to turn it on.
Technology wants to share, a dictatorship can be evaded, a fair fight can be won, and power can be made not to act.
We must make our power into shapes. We must find the lenses to train our power. We must find a way to back away from the problems we are too close to to see, much less solve. We must use our machines to be our lenses and our distances both. We must build another reality to stand on. We must have somewhere to stand while we fix where we are.
This is how the world works. On one end we have people. People think. To have things to think about, they have to get input somehow. Human input is vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. And then, once they've done the thinking about their input, people need some way to get the result out into the world, so for output there is speech and physical movement, and in a larger sense, language of various sorts.
On the other end is machines. Machines process. They need something to process, so they have keys, buttons, sensors, microphones and plugs. And once processing has been done the results have to get out of the machine somehow, so there are motors and gears and printers and monitors and speakers.
In the middle there is reality. There is a thing and then people see it and then they think about it, and then they type something about it on a keyboard, and then a computer takes what they typed and figures out what it should do, and then it does it, and then it lights up and prints something out and then people look at it and the world goes another cycle.
This is the way the world works, yet most of what passes for serious thought ignores it entirely. Literature cares little for machines, and engineering cares little for people. History cares nothing for what will happen tomorrow, and math cares little for what happens today. And so we sail blind into the future.
Well, not entirely blind. There are a handful of progressive disciplines. Linguistics, for example, is trying to match up machine output and human output by figuring out how to break down language into a form that computers could use. Modern analytic philosophy is trying to match human to machine by showing how our thinking is essentially just processing. Modern art is trying to merge worlds by erasing the border between creativity and information. Computer science is trying to do the same thing by teaching machines to do things people usually do. Artificial Intelligence is literally trying to put human into machines, and Biotechnology is trying to do the complement, put machine into humans. The end result of all these efforts is the unification of man and machine, the production of the next stage of human development, the Human Plus (to be followed shortly thereafter by the Human SE and the Human IIcx, no doubt). Eventually, a person and their machine will be effectively one, so that seeing something will be inputing it into the whole person-machine unit, not just into one part of it. By combining human powers of insight with computer powers of information manipulation, this new person-computer will have the power to do qualitatively new kinds of things.
Because, you see, the Human Plus will be able to exist simultaneously on two levels, information from each level informing actions on the other. The Human Plus will walk along real streets, but will at the same time be walking in the database of a map archive, following the paths of the streets now, and fifty years ago, and the trails in the hills a hundred years before that. Two Human Pluses will discuss politics face to face in the physical world, while pulling figures and references from all over the information world, or perhaps the Human Pluses will hold their discussion in the information world, in a simulated room, while in the physical world they are dozing in fishing boats or walking in the rain.
We have already begun to make the transition to this future. I sit in my room surrounded by books and records and stacks of paper and plastic boxes of floppy disks. The phone cord is long enough for the phone to reach my desk. From here I conduct much of my life. Phone talk is the information world. We live in it already. Writing is the information world. Talking is really even the information world. Action is the physical world. Senses are the physical world. The thoughts of all communication fly in the information world.
In the Information Age, information is power. Technology is power because it can process information. Every person empowered is more power to us all. Every power added to our union is more power to us. We are living after reason for enemies. We are living when soon we will be able to build silicon bridges across the gulf between any two people. Between all people.
The world of William Gibson's Neuromancer is our first stop on the way to dual existence. Where so many writers before him saw the humans of the future still typing at computer terminals, Gibson saw that the Macintosh was only the very beginning of the drive towards interactive interfaces. He imagined "cyberspace", a, as he describes it, "consensual hallucination", created by millions of disembodied travellers. He has found a virtual reality, a world with shapes and paths and objects and movement and activity, but a world that is formed not of matter, only of zeros and ones. It is nowhere, but it can be travelled in.
Cyberspace is a perfect example of a centrally organized system that depends utterly on its component parts for its existence. Gibson's emphases are away from the logistics of creating the space, but somewhere there must be either an actual central computer providing the basic framework of the interface, or else every terminal contains a clone of the basic framework program that makes data into cyberspace points. Either way, somewhere between any user and any data is a standardized conversion rationale that makes the data into virtual world objects. Our own computer world has something similar, because there are standard formats for the arrangement of bits within bytes, and there is the ASCII standard for exactly how to encode complex symbols into binary form. The result of this uniformity is that over 99% of all computer users never have to confront binary encoding at all, because all translation to and from it is done by their hardware. Such would be the case with cyberspace as well. It would become incorporated into hardware so that users would work with cyberspace objects, and their hardware would translate their actions into binary, to be translated back into cyberspace by the hardware of the next user to come along. All broadcasting works this way, language itself works this way. This is the way the world works. (Without broadcasters, though, would broadcasting exist? Without speakers, is there language? Does a structure exist when nothing fills or fits it? This is the sort of question that it is to ask whether cyberspace can exist without its users.)
Vernor Vinge's stories "True Names" and "Bookworm, Run!" tackle virtual worlds more developed than Gibson's. "Bookworm, Run!" follows a computer-enhanced laboratory chimp who escapes from his laboratory. Since a chimp's brain deficiencies are, compared with a human, more in the areas of storage and retrieval than in processing, using a computer to take over those functions for the chimp allows his mind to make a quantum leap up in complexity. For a human the transformation would be even more dramatic. Imagine never having to memorize. Imagine having factual knowledge instantly recallable, cross-referenceable, and sortable, all at computer speeds and with a computer's consistency instead of the mind's, yet all this taking place, for all purposes of experience, within your head. Suddenly the entire brain is freed to do what it does best: synthesize and improvise. Technology has levelled the inequality of memory and knowledge.
Knowledge is power, and suddenly power is granted to everyone. Imbalances in the educational system vanish instantly, setting off in turn a hurricane of destruction in the delicate forest of social class. Giving everyone in an information society equal processing power is like suddenly granting every professional football player equal strength. First of all, it makes football non-competitive, but since when is football a value itself? What it does is take an uneven, competitive pool and transform it into a uniformly powerful pool. Football no longer makes sense as an activity. Suddenly, competition is profoundly trivial. Competition is based on inequality. Our whole society is based on inequality. We have been living in an enemy world, but we have outlasted competition, and so we have outlasted enemies. It is time now to cooperate. It is time now to figure out how to live in our new reality.
And in "True Names" Vinge writes what is, so far, the definitive vision of virtual reality. Groups of users create their own virtual worlds, create their own identities within them, and interact with their invented identities, living out role-playing magically made real. Here is where humanity is freed from bodies. This is the logical step in the manipulation of nature. Where our ability to change our physical surroundings ends, why be satisfied? Let people be what they want to be, and let make believe be as real as "real". If violent crime and insanity are products of individuals failing to mesh with society, then what happens when the individual is allowed to create a completely new identity? Can society still have victims? Perhaps, but perhaps not. When people can live their dreams, who will be unhappy?
(The issue of "True Names", actually, is not the virtual reality itself, but rather, with pleasing closure, the nature of anonymous action within it. It depicts a society that never established accepted ways of acting anonymously in the virtual world, making doing so both extremely difficult and extremely subversive. Those few that manage it are perceived as a powerful threat to society, and are pursued ruthlessly. If Vinge is right, and virutal anonymity is to be used for only two purposes, arcane recreation and clandestine destruction, then perhaps he is right in not imagining an accepted role for it in virtual society. I think, however, that it is our job, as we build our virtual reality, to keep him in mind, and try to improve on his imagining with our creation.)
In closing, we must realize that, as noble as our task may be, we will have opponents. There will be people who will say that all our wonderfully rich interaction is worthless if it means that man is to become part machine. To that I can only say that man is part machine already, mired most of life in repetitive drudgery, and that in letting real machines take over the mechanical elements of life, we will free the human part of humanity to be wholly human for the first time. Would you rather be a machine, or use one?
A good virtual world is probably thirty years away at least, anyway, and technology and anonymity are far from the only hurdles. If participation in a virtual world is to be satisfying, a lot of people to whom interaction is changing TV channels are going to have to get some practice with something of more sophistication. The issue of how to prepare people to be able to do something interesting with their new power is much more complicated than the issues of how to give them the power in the first place. And when I figure that out, perhaps I'll finish this book.
Beauty is not in the movement of bodies, but in the thought that moves them. The setting sun is hideous. Value lies in thought and intention. Sentience is the only end. As without it value is not, thus it is itself value. For this there is no grounding; without it there is no ground. And as it is common ground, we will stand on it, and gazing into our machines, deep into our impenetrable-seeming web of device, we will see the greatest beauty.
We will see ourselves.