Comment rescued from original article deletion, about Google’s version of patent hoarding

Hmm, seems the progress.org article to which I referred here has been deleted. To add to the misery this happened before the Wayback Machine got ahold of it. As luck would have it, Disqus retained my comment. Perhaps Disqus isn’t as horrible as I thought. Certainly my opinion of them went up 10 points today. Here is my comment, without the commented-upon item for context, but at least available for your possible enjoyment:

This sounds like a case of “Google exceptionalism.” Power corrupts, but Google follows a rule that says “don’t be evil.”

“Inventors often need investors.” And so the argument goes that a more profitable and expensive patent results in favorable terms to the inventor. My argument is that if terms favorable to the inventor were somehow to emerge, it would be because investors need inventors. By need, I mean need, not want, or benefit from. Profit motive is motive, but need is mandate. So excuse me if I don’t believe profit is likely to cancel out need when it comes to terms of a deal. Investors, (almost) by definition, are people with economic surplus. Sure there are pathways that lead from there to need. In theory. You know, if it weren’t for the “glass floor.”

Perhaps Google will not in fact troll the patent portfolio that apparently it is aggressively accumulating. Perhaps they will mine it instead. They already own machine readability of the entirety of human writings.

A patent is a disclosure. The social bargain (in theory) is that the entity awarded a patent gets a no-trespassing sign, and the public gets a technology that they don’t get to participate in actively (unless that’s OK with the patent holder) but at least they get to understand what it is and what is its theory of operation. Patents were invented (according to things I’ve been told) as a less antisocial alternative to trade secrets. If how technologies work is a secret then most of us may as well be cargo cultists. So, patents, like court records, land titles, the academic literature and many other things are part of the public record. Now it has emerged that machine readability and searchability (“datafication” as the “Big Data” types buzz) confers decisive advantages when it comes to leveraging data. So it is we have all seen ads from Intelius-like companies hawking peeks at “the public record” for $35 a pop or whatever it is. And other companies offering a one-day pass on a pdf file.

A non-trivial part of applying for a patent is the “patent search,” or the due diligence necessary to confirm that your “invention” passes the patent office’s “novelty” requirement. I would suggest that datafication of existing patents might have more to do with future patents than with existing patents. Perhaps Google wants to be the worlds patent attorney, as well as the world’s librarian.

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Are you nescient?

Nescient, in case you didn’t know, is the opposite of “omniscient.”

While I hate the whole “thought leader” fad, I’m finding that my favorite ally among public intellectuals is Frank Pasquale, someone who seems to actually “get it” when it comes to what issues I think are actually important concerning the big data fad, and informational issues in general. This article nails it in so many ways, but I draw your attention to this:

Wired’s flagship article on the IoT asks, “Have you ever lost an object in your house and dreamed that you could just type a search for it, as you would for a wayward document on your hard drive?”

This perfectly illustrates my love/hate attitude toward Wired. They have (in terms of my own warped worldview) an uncanny sense of what questions need to be asked, but somehow always manage to find a framing for each issue that finds enterprise-in-the-abstract essentially blameless. In this case, I wish to call them out on “bad metaphor.” My complaint isn’t with a tagged tangible object as a metaphor for a searchable informational object. That I think is a valid metaphor and in fact describes a technology which I desire. No, my gripe is with a hard drive as a metaphor for an internet. If I’m looking for a file on my hard drive my options are very direct. Since I’m a Linux user, if I remember all or part of the filename, locate gives me almost instantaneous results. If I remember a few words or numbers, some pipelined combination of find and grep almost always does the trick. There are even tools that can help with accidental deletions. Searching for “lost documents” on the Internet is a whole nother ball game, and this is NOT primarily because the Internet is a bigger informational space than my hard drive. Clearly it’s because the search tools available to me on the Internet are vastly inferior, and are inferior by design. Unless I’m really missing something, building the underlying database of a modern search engine (by “crawling”) consumes much more of every kind of resource than developing or operating tools for searching it at any level of detail one might wish. This is especially true when the even the public domain contains performant big data tools such as as Hadoop. But that’s the whole catch, it seems. I don’t have anywhere near the resources to index the web, therefore I’ll never have enough access to existing indexes of it to have the opportunity to search it intelligently. There’s no technological reason my search engine query can’t be an SQL query against all indexed pages, just like there’s no technological reason my supermarket receipt can’t be a machine-readable document containing everything from the ingredients lists on the packages in my cart to the gross weight of each item (already tabulated as evidenced by the way self-checkout operates). It’s two thousand fucking fifteen and to journal groceries and cleaning supplies in separate expense accounts in my personal accounting software I have to do data entry, like I did for temp agency wages back in the 1980s! There’s no technological reason there can’t be a USB port on my car dashboard that turns my car (or at least its onboard computers) into basically a flash drive, containing a filesystem full of everything from GPS logs to oxygen sensor logs to accelerometer logs. If there is an accelerometer log it’s for Aunt Flo’s use over at Progressive, to see if I’m braking too hard to be eligible for affordable insurance. Beyond filesystems there could be smarter interfaces to the data such as an SQL engine or a (local) webserver. The reasons are rooted in the laws of economics. I’m not a paying customer, therefore I’m the product. And the car manufacturers are very hard at work trying to create legal precedents for my non-ownership of my car. Where’s GWB’s “ownership society” when you need it?

There’s wisdom as well as irony in the fact that the I in IQ stands for the same word as the I in CIA. As market-based allocation of resources tends toward the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, likewise in a data landscape in which monetization is a prerequisite for organized activity, the smart get smarter and the ignorant get ignoranter. Advanced big data techniques in service to accumulation of information asymmetry and the accompanying arbitrage opportunities results in what I call TAIWAN. Nothing to do with the country by that name or its admirable citizens; it’s just an acronym:

Total
Asymmetric
Information
Warfare
Against
Nescients

Whenever there’s a discussion of poverty or inequality in the “money” sense, you can make a drinking game of counting the seconds before one of the participants invokes the “absolute poverty argument.” It could be as sophisticated as someone pointing out that a poor person today is better nourished or has better life expectancy than some medieval monarch (or has technologies “beyond the dreams” of the latter), or as crude as some passing remark about “welfare people” who have iPhones. This of course can be elided into the idea that the welfare recipient with an iPhone has more powerful informational resources at their disposal than the director of MI5 circa 1950, or even NASA circa 1969. Don’t believe the hype. Some things really are zero sum games, and some goods are indeed positional goods. Exclusive access to any resource, including information, is on the short list of goods that can be described as positional. Being in the 0th percentile means being shat upon by roughly 100% of the parties you may have to transact with in the daily grind of securing employment, housing, transportation, credit (to cover house/car emergencies). All the good stuff at the base of the hierarchy-of-needs pyramid. This is as true of being 0th percentile in the information=power game as it is in the wealth=power game.

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Google, the patent non-troll

Scott Santens, a.k.a. 2noame, of UBI (unconditional basic income) movement fame, has clued me in on a website called progress.org. Their agenda seems to be a synthesis of Georgism and Aust(e)rianism, and their recruiting strategy seems to be baiting progressives with a domain name like “progress.org” and switching them with the “it’s really corporatism you’re against” admonishment that progressives have already heard a million times from the tea party types, the left-styled libertarians, the other anarcho-capitalists, etc.

The link posted by Scott is to this piece on whether money for nothing will spoil you. Intra-site clickbait drew me to this piece on Google’s recent publicity stunt involving Google somehow wanting to be a patent hoarder without being yet another patent troll. I left a comment there, in case anyone is interested.

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Confession

I sincerely hope the 21st century turns out to be as humiliating for supporters of free (and “freed”) market ideology as the 20th was for supporters of egalitarianism.

If this makes me a bad person, oh well.

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Thesis

Thesis: There are abuses of humans that arise from economic phenomena, that do not have their root in the political process.

Identifiable groups that are attacking that thesis: Conservatives, neoliberals, classical liberals, laissez-faire capitalists, anarcho-capitalists and “left” libertarians.

Questions: Any questions?

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Microcredentials in the Angel Economy

Microcredentials are a hot new topic in the roiling debate between those who want to make credentials more meritocratic and those who want to make them less relevant. I haven’t taken sides in that debate, but I want microcredentialism to be more than a passing fad. I want to see microcredentials produce results that impact the real world, as I think it’s a Capital idea.

Basically microcredentials, like credentials in general, are supposed to serve as proof of attainment of skills by individuals. Microcredentials aim to document single, specific skills, rather than bundles of skills that are taken to comprise all the skill requirements of an occupation, which is the typical intent of occupational credentials such as journeyperson cards, occupational licenses and professional degrees. A microcredential, on the other hand, might certify someone for one specific task, and that one task might be a tiny fraction of their overall job description.

Of particular interest to me is the question of how microcredentialing might fit into a strategy for implementing an anagora, or non-market non-state economy. So far, I have proposed two schemes for implementing an anagora. I call these Angel Economics and VACIMET. Angel Economics is an idea some anonymous other came up with that I decided to expand on and adapt to the anagorist cause. VACIMET is something I made up in jest as a satire of Jeff Graubart’s Capital idea called AFFEERCE. Both Angel Economics (AE) and VACIMET are strategies to create a third way which is neither a market nor a command economy; a planned economy which is not centrally planned. VACIMET is basically AE presented in a style that imitates that which Graubart uses to present AFFEERCE, so they’re basically the same thing. AE/VACIMET makes some use of credentialism as it classifies the performers of tasks in economic production in a three-level hierarchy (in the bootmaker sense) as apprentices, journeycritters or masters. Apprenticeship in AE/VACIMET differs markedly from apprenticeship in the actually-existing economy in that AE/VACIMET apprenticeship does not seek to create artificial scarcity, and does not seek to be a guardian of trade secrets. Exclusion from economic production, even via “natural” market competition, is anathema to anagorism. So is institutional secrecy, as one of the principles on which anagorism rests is thick individualism, or an unconditional privileging of the agendas of individuals over those of institutions. Apprenticeship in AE/VACIMET is similar to apprenticeship as we know it in that there is a desire for on-the-job training, because we want a real-world focus, and because the inventor of anagorism (yours truly) has a burning desire to make the school-to-work transition less intimidating, and believes the existing protocols for that are so (if you’ll pardon my French) fucked that an overhaul of society itself is needed, including a brand new economic system.

Here are the blog posts so far about Angel Economics and VACIMET, of which I wrote all but the first:

My approach to workforce training and development in the Angel Economy is as follows:

One way to start this project would be to spread the word about your idea of angel economics. Attract as many people (or angels) as you can. The first thing to ask of your participants can be to use matrices and graph nodes to model their own jobs. Hopefully their jobs aren’t so monotonous that the whole workday isn’t built around a single process operation. In any case any person’s current actual job in meatspace should be able to be modeled by listing materials used in each on-the-job activity, as well as internal and external ‘customers’ dealt with, etc. Additional information to obtain from each participant would include jobs or trades they would be interested in learning, as well as any for which they are expert enough to teach. This lends itself to creating a many-to-many relation mapping participants with occupations, in which each instance of person-in-an-occupation can be preliminarily tagged as ‘apprentice,’, ‘journeycritter,’ or ‘master.’ Sure this brings rank, and potentially rankism, into the equation. Consider it the kind of ‘authority’ that implies expertise and nothing else. In the angelic social structure we are modeling of course, apprenticeship is more purely for the purpose of instruction, and undertaken without the usual emphasis on bondage, servitude, entry barriers and trade secrets. On-the-job training, of course can be seen as another process to be modeled.

In incorporating microcredentials into Angel Economics, I think the operative words above might be “instance of person-in-an-occupation.” Replace “occupation” with (narrowly-defined) “skill” and retain the apprentice-journeycritter-master ranking, and we have a system that, if nothing else, is combinatorially interesting. As the job-modeling process is described in my first Angel Economics proposal (emphasis added):

The first thing to ask of your participants can be to use matrices and graph nodes to model their own jobs. Hopefully their jobs aren’t so monotonous that the whole workday isn’t built around a single process operation. In any case any person’s current actual job in meatspace should be able to be modeled by listing materials used in each on-the-job activity, as well as internal and external ‘customers’ dealt with, etc.

In a microcredentialed AE/VACIMET, single processes would be sought out; not avoided. If the process at a particular workstation involves some constellation of micro-skills, it could conceivably be staffed by a group of one or more people who have the full micro-skill-set between them. Note that AE or VACIMET, by definition, involve no proprietary information technology and no proprietary data. Without this precondition, breaking work down into microtasks and microskills can only produce nightmarishly dystopian outcomes. Consider the proprietary platform called WorkFusion (h/t Manna subreddit on Reddit):

WorkFusion lets users standardize knowledge processes into online workflows comprised of microtasks, the simplest unit of work. WorkFusion provides an extensive library of both machine tools and human worker instruction templates which users can drag-and-drop into workflows using a graphical design tool. WorkFusion comes equipped with pre-built knowledge process workflows, which users can customize.

This is actually pretty much how I would describe the combination of AE/VACIMET with microcredentialing. The key difference is that in AE/VACIMET, the “users” are not a separate entity from the “human workers.” To get an idea of just how diabolical WorkFusion is, consider the following (from the same page):

WorkFusion is integrated with the leading online talent marketplaces, including Amazon Mechanical Turk, Craigslist, Elance, oDesk, and uSamp. WorkFusion sources and qualifies workers from this combined market by posting microtask job listings onto these marketplaces simultaneously, selecting the best applicants across all markets based on a user’s demographic and qualification requirements and on the results of qualification tasks administered by WorkFusion. WorkFusion then databases each worker, creating a vetted, on-demand, dedicated workforce for the enterprise.

This is the current trend in work under capitalism, and is the sort of dystopian nightmare our descendants can look forward to if we don’t effect a major overhaul of economic allocation and coordination.

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The catch-22 of frugality

Frugality can be a matter of necessity or choice. Also, it can mean frugal use of money, but also of other resources such as land, energy, time, etc.

It would seem that high-density housing makes relatively efficient use of land and energy. It would also seem that it costs more than low-density housing. A frugal person (especially one who is frugal out of necessity) would prefer small living quarters over large living quarters because less land, in theory, costs less money, and less square footage costs less money to heat. Less house or apartment should also be less expensive when it comes to maintenance. So why can’t we have what, by the yardstick of frugality, would be the best of both worlds; a small house on cheap land? Perhaps part of the reason is because many people, especially successful people, have finally figured out that high density living is more desirable than low-density living, and so America may well at some point join most of the world in having suburban ghettos instead of urban ghettos. A more insidious reason might be a built-in property of the market mechanism itself:

conserve what’s most expensive

Market actors have the strongest incentive to conserve those resources that are most expensive, so developers will make more effort to use every square foot effectively in places where land values are high. This also affects the ideological tug-of-war between advocates of sustainability and advocates of growth (i.e., affluenza). The fossil fuel apologists and other right wingers love to gloat that “the greens love high fuel bills.” I suppose we love high energy costs to the extent that we believe that high energy prices are the most effective incentive for energy efficiency and energy conservation. Being an anagorist (market abolitionist) I’m not sure I buy that theory about how “incentives work.” At any rate, high-density development in a cheap neighborhood seems to be too much to ask of the market. Is there some Iron Law of Economics to the effect that a walkable neighborhood in the U.S.A. has to be either a college town or a ridiculously gentrified east or west coast city?

the (first) customer is always right(est)

The frugal consumer will generally buy used, not new. Same for those who try to practice “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The designer of a product such as a house or car is thinking primarily about the first buyer. Someone who is in a position to be in the market for a new car is someone who is basically established—has steady-eddie income and established credit. This goes at least double for someone in the market for new-construction housing. These consumers are in most cases upper middle class and up. To the extent that these manufacturers and developers are thinking about the second hand buyer, they’re thinking in terms of maximizing resale value. While this means meeting the needs of at least a portion of the people who aren’t looking at new, it probably means the more affluent portion of that population, more than the less affluent. And of course the second-hand customer is “righter” than the third-hand customer, whose wants and needs are at most an afterthought.

is there a sweet spot?

Is it possible to build small-square-footage housing on cheap land? Is it possible for an affordable (that is, cheap) neighborhood to have high population density? Perhaps that’s how it was in the “pre-war” era, except that back then the market’s verdict was that high population density had negative utility. Is it possible to design an automobile in a way that prioritizes fuel economy and durability with high priority and purchase cost with medium to high priority, while de-prioritizing “performance,” “luxury,” etc.? It certainly seems to me that the constraints standing in the way of such a set of design priorities come from economics, and not science or engineering.

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