The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by John Robb. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim Rutt: Howdy, this is Jim Rutt, and this is The Jim Rutt Show.
Jim Rutt: This is The Jim Rutt Show, and I’m your host, Jim Rutt. Today’s guest is John Robb, thinker and writer about global level systems and conflict. His main platform is Global Gorillas. You can Google it.
John Robb: Hi Jim. Thanks for having me on.
Jim Rutt: John has a most interesting background. He was a graduate of the U.S. Air Force academy. He then served something like seven years in the Air Force before resigning to return to the private sector. After getting a master’s from Yale, he went to work for Forester Research back in the ’90s. It was the leading big picture and strategic technology research house. In fact, I knew George Colony there reasonably well. Very interesting guy. In fact, at Forester, John’s the guy who initiated a dedicated service for some new fangled thing called the Internet, and I guess that kind of worked out huh?
John Robb: Yeah. It did. Yeah, George Colony was the editor on my first report.
Jim Rutt: Very interesting guy. In fact, when I was at Thompson, we thought about buying our way into that industry. Buying Forester and then another smaller one, and I met with George, chatted with him about it. It was clear he was not interested in selling, but him and I hit it off so well, we basically stayed for quite a while, correspondence and friends, and sent each other books and what have you. Really enjoyed him. He was a good guy.
Jim Rutt: After being at Forester, he decided, “Hey, I can do this shit. These other clowns are starting companies.” He went out and became a tech entrepreneur. He cofounded a company called Gomez, a performance measurement company, which was acquired in 2009 by Compuware. He was also president of User Land, a company that’s not that well remember today, but was extraordinarily influential in its day. It’s fair to say that no company was more influential in developing what came to be known as blogging. They didn’t quite invent it. They were, as far as I recall, the first real popularizer of the RSS format for distributing and aggregating blogs. Was that right John?
John Robb: Yeah. Dave Weiner actually was a co-author of it. We did RSS and then we combined it with blogging and the output became a network blogging system, which is exactly what you see with Facebook and Twitter and the like.
Jim Rutt: Or medium. It’s a classic network blogging system. In 2004, John started his blog, Global Guerillas where he posted a long series of deep and thoughtful analysis of current events, the world situation, tactics and strategy and perspectives about the future. We’ll work our way up to deep things, but let’s start with your take on the recent attack on the Saudi Arabian fuel processing center. What do we know? What’s going on?
John Robb: We were completely surprised across the board. We didn’t have any human or second indication that the attack was coming. It was a failure of intelligence and then there was a failure of battlefield intelligence, battle field awareness. We were unable to detect the attack until it was actually commencing in process. It went by the edges, destroyers in the Gulf, weather air defense systems, state of the art, on a pancake flat terrain, which is the perfect way in a perfect environment to detect missiles and drones. Then all the Patriot missile batteries, Saudis had 88. This attack blew right past them too.
Jim Rutt: They didn’t detect it at all, essentially?
John Robb: Nope. The only thing that actually triggered was the guns attached to the point defense system set up at the processing facility. Essentially what we had is a completely surprising attack on probably the most well defended, most important oil or energy hub in the world. For decades, everyone has been speculating how this facility would be attacked. Abqaiq is attached to Goa and Goa is the massive oil field that’s produced… succeeded 70% of all of Saudi Arabia’s oil, proudces 5 million barrels a day, little over and it’s been doing that 40, 50 years. Abqaiq processes that. It takes out the sulfur. It’s a monstrous facility. It has very expensive equipment. It’s obviously very vulnerable to this new type of attack, drones, flanks relatively slowly coming from directions today that aren’t anticipated, flying very low, using relatively inexpensive equipment to do it. You can do it with GPS, you can do it with staggering the launch. The drones came in every minute or simultaneously from different directions. That’s what we know.
Jim Rutt: It was a classic asymmetric warfare. As I understood it, these drones were maybe $10,000 or $20,000 each, something like that. I don’t know whether they should bring in 28 of them, something like that. You’re talking less than a million dollars and if they had followed it up with a couple of more, they could have completely disrupted the oil economy. Right?
John Robb: Oh yeah, exactly. The oil market obviously is a very inelastic market. Market inelasticity means that once you get into a little bit of shortage, the prices can go way up because people continue to buy. They don’t have the ability to either switch it out. We’ve been in a surplus for quite a while and to have this taken off five and a half million barrels a day of production taken off the table, instantaneously put us right into that edge of shortage condition. Any more loss would’ve shot the price up well over a hundred bucks. The last time that happened, we had global recession that doffed the financial collapse.
Jim Rutt: Yeah. If you remember the other thing about the commodities explosion in 2007, it led to revolutions all across the Middle East. Right? Oh yeah. Got all kinds of second order effects. What was the failure mode? Not only were there U.S. assets in the area, but the Saudis spend vastly more than let’s say the Iranians do on defense. How could this happen?
John Robb: They don’t have any drone defense, but it’s the asymmetry. You can have drones coming in from Iraq and from Yemen and from opponents that you don’t anticipate having to fight or at least at that distance. We had some warning. The Yemenis had attacked other facilities. They attacked the East West pipeline just a couple months prior, a pumping facility successfully using drones. There was a warning that this would occur. This is classic system’s disruption. It’s hitting critical nodes in these big networks that we depend on and causing all sorts of cascades of failure. There’s really not a easy way to fix that. In fact, I don’t think there’s a good way to fix it at all. You just have to reduce your dependency on those networks.
Jim Rutt: The other thing is of course, a truism in military history is, armies, militaries tend to fight gallant wars. Right? They have the edges, ships out there in the Gulf looking to shoot down F-14s or something, but instead come tiny little drones flying low and slow, oops. Billion dollar edges ships can’t even deal with those. Right? On the other hand, if someone had actually been forwardly thinking and said, “Well, wait a minute, lets War-game this out.” Asymmetric drone warfare is going to be an obvious thing. We could have spent vastly smaller sums and built counter drone systems and a more point defense because fortunately, drones are slow, and they’re not stealthy, at least the ones that were used here. You rang the facility with point defense weapons with high granular radar. Probably they would’ve shot them all down for not a whole lot of money.
John Robb: It actually may end up being more expensive to do that, all the point defense effort because you have to defend a lot of different points and you can’t get the economies of scale you get on these systems with hundreds of miles of range.
Jim Rutt: Yeah. That’s truth to that. On the other hand, for a small number of very vulnerable and ultra high value one’s like the oil facility. It makes a lot of sense. Probably that could defend every government office building. Where do you think the attack came from? Did it come from Yemen? Did it come from Iran? Or, do we know yet?
John Robb: Combination of an attack from Yemen and from Iraq. Iran had staged an attack from Iraq. Yeah. There wasn’t any real easy way to detect it unless you were looking in those directions and they should have been, but they weren’t.
Jim Rutt: Pearl Harbor all over again. Right? Should have, but they didn’t.
John Robb: For the Saudis, it definitely was Pearl Harbor. The big impact on them is that it really screwed with their IPO. They’re taking Aramco public. Potential $2 trillion offering and this easily slammed half a trillion off of that or more because now the system is actually shown to be vulnerable and that they’re incapable of defending it.
Jim Rutt: From a bigger perspective, it ought to substantially undercut the whole position of the Saudi regime, the world’s last absolute monarchy, right? Beautiful and feudal empire, right? Get rid of them sons of bitches, right? This shows the world that they can be taken down easily. Right? Probably the Iranians and other folks have said, “All right, when the day comes and we decide we really want to the Saudis out, we’ll just knock all their oil out, leave it out for a year or two.” Just constant rain of these damn things. Right? There’s nothing they can do about it. As you say, it’s going to very much reduce the interest of other people in investing large sums of money into that area. At least as long as the Saudi regime remains in power.
John Robb: It also kind of exposed that the fact that the U.S. really isn’t as interested in the Middle East as it used to be because we produce so much oil. It has changed our perspective. We made these run-strategic era of focusing on the Middle East as a primary hot spot, as something that we should and needed to actively engage with at the end of the cold war. Largely based on projections that we weren’t going to be able to produce oil and that the oil market would continue to contract due to Chinese demand ramping up and that U.S. production was over. That was completely reversed about halfway through the Iraq war, proven to be false. That initial strategic decision has been yielding nothing but damage to the U.S. since then.
Jim Rutt: Yeah. The forever Wars, right?
John Robb: Correct.
Jim Rutt: Bunch of stupid ideas. One question about that. Why has there been no response to the Iranian attack? Trump was all huffing and puffing and he didn’t do anything.
John Robb: Trump is very big on rhetoric, particularly when it comes to international engagements, but he’s very negative on getting engaged in a foreign conflict. He shies away from it. I also think that the Saudis didn’t want to increase the tensions. They didn’t want to engage in a full scale war with Iran while fighting in Yemen, while trying to re-finance basic kingdom by going into the public markets. They would have totally tanked that for as long as we could project. Now the Saudi is saying no, and then Trump’s natural inclination, he’s placed trade strategy ahead of national security strategy. Trade used to be slave to the national security. Whatever was passed in terms of security of the global system, we let the trade strategy accommodate that and he’s reversed that relationship. National security is now in enthrall to the trade strategy, whatever improves our trade status.
Jim Rutt: Current example. If it’s true, I think it probably is, is that Trump gave assurances to the Chinese that we would not meddle in Hong Kong. If, they would provide some concessions on trade.
John Robb: Correct. That was all leaked. All that recent China stuff was all leaked from China to the U.S. papers. They basically did exactly the same thing that Russia has been doing, interfered in our national politics but no one really paid attention to that because it’s anti-trust.
Jim Rutt: This thing is a little bit disingenuous about this Russia stuff. Every country has been messing in every other country’s elections, right? People forget Obama meddled in both the Brexit vote and the previous Israeli elections, right? He came out and said who he wanted. That’s definitely meddling. People don’t mention that as if the U.S. hasn’t meddled in elections all over the world, all the time. I am a little surprised by the disingenuousness of the focus on all these bad Russians. Yes, that we should be making sure we harden ourselves against those things, but to think that they’re the first people to ever do this is very silly. Let’s change directions here a little bit, move up the stack in terms of conceptual stuff. You’ve popularized the terms, the resistance and the insurgency, often compare and contrast the two interacting systems. Could you briefly describe them and tell us how those movements are impacting our political situation today?
John Robb: The concept is that the American political scene is now the battleground between two weaponized social networks that have taken over the political process. It started with the insurgency, which is the rejection of the establishment that voted and put Trump into office. The insurgency is a maneuver base. It disrupts systems, causes chaos and because of that chaos, it disrupts the decision making process of the opposition, the established opposition as well as any network opposition. It’s been fairly effective. It put Trump in office. It’s maintaining his popularity. Trump is a natural in terms of that maneuver based disruptive strategies. He has lots of what’s called a fast transiency. Moves from one topic to the next, one disruption to the next. There’s never really any time for the opposition to build a momentum in terms of opposition on any specific point.
John Robb: The resistance is the network that’s been most effective at combating the insurgency. It found its purchase in the identity side, very values focused. Its pure tunicle. In many respects doesn’t put up with violations of values. It’s in the process of taking over the democratic party and we’re seeing the compromise mainstream candidates being thrown to the side like Biden and anyone who’s tried to straddle the middle ground. AOC for instance, is the perfect example of the resistance participant. Both of these networks are open source. Meaning there’s not anyone specific person that’s leader. Those people that you see at the front tend to be more like a weaponized version of the network. There’s lots of conflicting ideas within these open source networks but there’re all agreed on a single animating purpose. That’s just the, the core of the idea.
Jim Rutt: Let’s talk a little bit about these networks. Right? On Facebook, we have a group called Rally Point Alpha. I think you’re a member of that, aren’t you John?
John Robb: I’m a manager of it, I guess.
Jim Rutt: That’s the group based on an essay by Jordan Hall. We’ve gotten together and talked about how collective intelligence networks, decentralized networks. They’re in the process of changing the… could you talk a little bit about the nature of these networks?
John Robb: I started looking at networks as a new organizational framework after the Iraq Invasion. I was seeing results coming from that engagement that weren’t fitting the media narratives or the analytical narratives coming out of the establishment. What I saw was something similar to what I was seeing on the internet. It was an open source framework where lots of disparate groups come together to operate as a single unit, but they’re only tied together through what’s called the Plausible promise or the idea of what one single simple goal that everyone can agree on.
John Robb: Often it’s no more corruption or remove this specific leader. In Iraq there were 70 different groups and lots of very, very small groups, lots of different flavors Jihadi, lots of different types of nationalists and Bethus with or without Sadam and criminal groups. These groups all seem to be able to work together effectively by focusing on ejecting the United States as the single goal that United them. If left alone in the room, they would kill each other immediately, but they were able to put that to the side. One thing we saw with open source networks like this is that they’re extremely innovative. At least in the Iraq war they did more in six months the Irish Republican army did in 20 years in terms of innovation. It was very, very quick.
John Robb: We had a $3 billion program for counter AIUDs. Whenever we put out counter, they countered our counter within two weeks and our release schedule was every three months to six months. They were beating us very quickly and they shared those innovations. There wasn’t really any lockdown. I’m going to keep this for my own group. They shared it freely among each other. Each group was able to copy what the other group did and apply very, very quickly.
John Robb: There was also a sharing through the media, what I called Stigmergy. It’s this idea that it comes from insects. When an ant finds a little food, but they do is they leave a chemical trail as they carry the food back. That chemical trail acts as a signal for other ants to follow and find the food and each ant that does that adds more chemicals to that trail until the food is exhausted.
John Robb: In the case of an open source insurgency, every group that made a successful attack either by innovating on the target selection or innovating on the method of attack, had it covered in the press and had it covered through online coverage, self posting. Often they through their own videos and that served as a chemical trail that this target was now available for attack. This method works and then everyone else poppy it and they copied it until it didn’t work and they moved on to the next innovation. Those are some of the attributes of open source groups and how they innovate and how they organized. It’s if you can get your head around that core structure, it makes it understanding what the resistance in the present day insurgency looks like and how they operate.
Jim Rutt: How did it… couldn’t take that model and that now remap it to say the emergence of the insurgency in the U.S. in 2016?
John Robb: We saw in the Trump insurgency was at the… Trump was put forward as a weapon and he was really good at disrupting things. There were hundreds of different subgroups supporting that campaign and were constantly innovating. You had even that Reddit group that pro Trump Reddit group they had 300,000 members. I was interviewed on that just a weekend. Trump was just interesting. All of these groups were all coming up with different types of memes, different types of angles of attack on different aspects of the democratic strategy. Constantly coming up with ways of countering what was going on at the democratic side.
John Robb: The Democrats were the classic bureaucracy. They were spending gobs of money on media and in a Professional Help People Consultants said new elections better than anyone else. They had big ground game, lots of people on the ground. They had huge databases but they were all tightly bound up and centrally controlled and even with all the media on their side and supporting their messaging, the insurgency was still able to route around it. That’s why it’s the reason why that the Russian effort as ham-handed as it was and diffuse as it was able to slot right in. It was just one member out of the hundreds that were participating insurgency.
John Robb: If something was successful as something had some legs in terms of a new idea, a new angle of attack, a new disruption. Trump was really good at it, taking it out and then elevating it and using it in his tweet stream.
Jim Rutt: The group you’re talking about on red, it’s called the Donald I believe.
John Robb: Right. Yeah. The Donald.
Jim Rutt: I built a system couple of years back that pass the Donald in real time and ran it through a bunch of analytical software and sorted memes and showed trend lines and all that. Because, I had determined that the Donald was the convergence point for the what you would call the Insurgency Network. Relatively few memes were actually invented on the Donald, but it’s where they were propagated and where they got validity. Things would be cooked up in 4Chan or 8Chan or wackier places than that. People would post them to the Donald and if they got up voted there, then they might get picked up by InfoWars or a Breitbart or even then from there they go to Fox news, then Trump picks him up and then he broadcasts them and an upright regulates that whole message. Then there’s themes and variations on every new invention. It’s very much an evolutionary fast tracking system as you were describing.
John Robb: Exactly. You throw it against the wall and see what sticks.
Jim Rutt: There is a network structure. It’s not just completely chaotic, there are convergence zones, there are amplifiers, there’s the maximum amplifier, which was a Trump’s tweet stream and it somehow came together and worked good enough. Is the insurgency still existing? Is it still improving or is it, kind of, done its thing in Senile state these days?
John Robb: A disruptive insurgency typically has to have an animated focus on. What we saw in recent in regular warfare. We also saw it in the big open source protests that swept the Islamic world. We saw just recently with… in Puerto Rico and other open source protests that was successful. Is that it has to have an opposition, a single point of position not to focus all their efforts on. It’s been largely dormant since the election and will start ramping up again when the election starts. Regardless it’s still been successful enough to allow Trump to still have a 44% pro-rating now.
Jim Rutt: The resistance.
John Robb: Yeah, the resistance is different. It fights in the moral roam, whereas the maneuver is all about disrupting your ability to think rationally and cogently. The moral roam is about attacking your cohesion. The resistance was formed largely online just to fight the unstoppable Trump insurgency, where the traditional Democratic Party has been largely ineffective, where all the established players have been ineffective. The media has been extraordinarily ineffective at stopping Trump.
John Robb: Here comes to resistance and the resistance is now feeding moral arguments and trying to shape the media, shape the Democratic Party, shape all of the institutions, even corporate space and try to force it into a mode that will allow it to confront Trump. Think of all the more arguments being put on the big tech companies to start to censor Trump, to center the insurgency, to knock media player, media personalities off of YouTube, to delete Trump’s Twitter account, to put in place automated versions of censorship that would allow this to never occur again. This moral warfare is very similar to what we’re also seeing in China and his social credit system. It’s war on anyone who says anything negative about China. More warfare is a very effective, but it has the potential of becoming very puritanical and very restrictive and very in cost stagnation because, it doesn’t allow any deviance.
Jim Rutt: I will get to China later. I’ve got a couple of detailed questions about China, but back to the resistance, the structure of the resistance because, it isn’t at least directly coupled with mainstream media, there has to be some human energy that keeps it going. The Donald had 600,000 people or whatever it is. Where are the bodies? Is there any convergence zones in the resistance where ideas come together and get up-regulated, et cetera. The network topology, what’s it look like?
John Robb: Twitter is the focal point for the resistance and it’s millions of people. That Twitter conversation is constantly when they find at the personal level, when they find violations of what they consider in their value system, their moral code they’ll point that out and it goes onto Twitter first. Everyone responds to that, expresses their outrage, and that’s where they reach in also to different organizations. If they find a bureaucrat that’s not doing, following what they consider the correct behavior. They’ll reach in and touch that person directly, call them out.
Jim Rutt: That seems to make sense. Be interesting to see how these networks more offers as we go into 2020 in the stakes move up, right? We’ll the insurgency invade Twitter. The funny of insurgency people are on Twitter. I see both sides all the time on Twitter.
John Robb: It doesn’t work as well. Yeah, the insurgency doesn’t work as well on Twitter as the resistance. It’s more of a broadcast medium. They’re moving. What they do is through their conversation as they move towards a consensus on a specific topic or specific value. When they reach that consensus, they enforce it. It’s consensus seeking, which is different from the insurgency. I just was in the process of writing one of the reports I’m writing this month is, it’s this new political spectrum is that you have.
John Robb: On the one side, this consensus seeking consensus driven value system which is the resistance and then on the other side you have this disruptive ability and there’re in pension. Network that’s driving this new value system has the ability to reach into all the old bureaucracies and down to the individual level and set them in a very specific direction and the disruptive capability comes in. If that value system is too restrictive or pointing in the wrong direction, the insurgency would disrupt it and cause it to reset itself or go back to an earlier stage. You follow me on that?
Jim Rutt: Absolutely. In fact that’s a perfect transition to my next point. You’ve written quite a bit about Coherence, right? Especially, about the ever-growing De-coherence in the West. Frankly, I’m coming more and more to believe that an unconscious libido for social coherence is the invisible force field that’s driving a lot of our social turmoil. What you just said resonates with that a lot, right?
John Robb: Yeah.
Jim Rutt: The resistance is people who unconsciously are starved for coherence. The market has replaced the community, the government has replaced the family. We live in flatland where no one really needs to have any adherence to anything and to live in modern democratic liberalism. Groups like the resistance offer a coherence, right? It’s a new brand of coherence and it strikes me… coherence is very powerful.
Jim Rutt: If we look at the work from people like Peter Turchin who has studied, The Rise and Fall of Empires. The emergence of small borderlands groups that bring down empires, et cetera. He always points that what he uses as a B. I’m very similar to coherence that would seem to indicate that in a fight, resistance might have an advantage over insurgency if resistance is based on coherence and insurgency isn’t.
John Robb: Unless you a have coherence around the wrong idea, or you value stability over everything else. If you had the draw that political spectrum at a global scale, you’d have China on one side in Russia on the other. China’s obviously more successful, but it’s just started to lock down process. If they achieve total coherence and totally enforced by their social credit system and the like you can see the stagnation threat there. Had no new ideas are allowed because, they’d been violate or disrupted the status. On the other hand, do you know too much disruption, you end up corrupt like Russia. [crosstalk 00:28:37]
John Robb: Yeah, you see exactly the same battle here in the U.S. you have these Chinese value lockdown on the one side and then you see this corrupt disruption on the other side. That’s actually a benefit. I think that’s actually the best place to be. Is that, that edge that dynamic edge between the two and that will allow us to maintain the maximum creativity without falling completely apart going forward. Whereas other sides are they’re going to… they’re screwed.
Jim Rutt: Yeah.The Russians have lost all our innovative capacity through pure corruption right. There’s no way for anyone to create anything without having it stolen, essentially. As you point out, we’ll go onto the Chinese here neck. The Chinese face the potential risk of becoming stultifying coherent right? In fact, I have a term I like to use maybe this is similar to your edge between the two. I call it a Coherent Pluralism that we look at… there seems to be my mind two error points. One is too much coherence. Think of the middle ages, right? Or fascism or Marxist Leninism, and then the other extreme is no coherence, essentially chaotic, space Somalia at in its worst days etcetera. Trump seems to be a pretty, incoherent character in his own right. Maybe the right place is to right size the coherent Colonel. Then make it a clear part of our call the Jeffersonian Madisonian operating system as they did with religion, that we have pluralism outside the core.
Jim Rutt: Yet that seems to be something that humans have a hard time doing, and they want to totalize one way or the other. They want either be radical libertarians or high end the utopians trying to find that balance of the right amount of coherence to make a society feel good for both. I would argue our current Western society as too little coherence. We don’t have enough duty to our society. There is no real sense of belonging to a society. It’s all transactional and commercial. On the other hand, a stultifying Chinese Neo Fascism isn’t the answer either. Maybe something in between is a way to think about it.
John Robb: The grand historical narrative behind this, at least from my perspective, is that the internet is the equivalent of the printing press in terms of its effect on society. I look at it through the kind of McLuhan, Marshall McLuhan lens that this technology is rewiring us. It’s changing the way we think at a very root level, and that change is going to change the way we organize our society. With the printing press, you saw the emergence of bureaucracies as a replacement to the feudal noble system. You saw, the shattering of the universal church, which has been an, kind of, a downward slope. Religion has been in a downward slope since then. In terms of its influence you saw the rise of democracy, Elisa Institutionalized Democracy, and you saw the rise of science made possible by printing press.
John Robb: These bureaucracies have changed everything, and they wouldn’t have been possible without that kind of technological change. We have the internet hitting us, and social networking really has been the big mover within that. You’re wired the old bureaucratic system is becoming less effective. The old kind of Tribal element, nationalism, has become less effective, in terms of keeping us connected. There’s three different decision making systems that we’ve, kind of, cobbled together to produce the system we live in. Now, as I got this David Roosevelt’s, Tim and framework that’s tribes, institutions, markets and networks, and institutions being the bureaucracies, and the bureaucratic organizational cockroach that transformed us from the ancient world into the modern world.
John Robb: Tribes, which provided us a connection allowed us to trust each other enough that we can make decisions as a group. If you’re a part of the same tribe, you ascribe to the same narrative tribal narrative, why you are special and why you should remain together. You can trust the information that comes from with that person. When you shatter a tribe, like we’re seeing now, can’t trust the information that’s provided by the people who aren’t in your tribe. You fundamentally distrust it. When people look at what’s coming out of the media or out of anyone on Trump side, it’s fundamentally distrusted regardless of whether it’s correct or not. Those in a tribal system, and the bureaucracy is fading the institutional part is fading.
John Robb: Markets are being relatively easy to corrupt. They become over concentrated and replicated many of the bad features of central planning. Here comes networking and this kind of, broad this new kind of a decision making system, and how does that work? We’re just finding out that it has two functions. It can be a disruptive function, throw things into chaos, and that it can also come to a consensus on values, on new sets of values, values at work, and that they can reach down into organizations, into bureaucracies. The big battle being in the future, there’ll be able to reach down into a corporate land and forced corporate compliance, these value systems.
Jim Rutt: Presumably there’ll be competing ones and maybe, we have now the resistance is taken that form but it would seem natural that there will have to be other side to that. There’ll be at least two, and probably more than that, a competing, coherent, quasi tribal, systems.
John Robb: So far they only looks like they’re going to be two. China, and the rest of the world.
Jim Rutt: A lot of the thinking even within our society, right?
John Robb: Oh no. I think, I don’t think they can last. These networks tend to expand and crush any opposition within their space. I don’t see it. I think the overall direction, and this is like another McLuhan thing is that we’re headed towards this grand consolidation at a global network level, and that all of this fighting that we’re going through, and this struggle that we’re seeing over the next couple of decades will be about which system ends up becoming the dominant one.
Jim Rutt: I wonder if that’s really true. If we look at recent history, and we look at the nation States they had been breaking down into smaller and smaller units, right?
John Robb: Because the bureaucracy is less effective in a complex environment.
Jim Rutt: Yep. Also other people are looking for coherence also be, this is my other argument. Why do the Scots want to get away from the U K, why is the Catalonians so insistent on breaking away from the Spanish, which they’d been married to for 500 years?
John Robb: That’s doable because there’s now a network component that can allow them to interact. There’s the EU granted as a intermediary step there being part of the same network allows you to fragment at the bureaucracy level, at the nation state level.
Jim Rutt: It don’t have to be as big.
John Robb: Yeah. And still be coherent. Still be able to talk to each other as friends, as part of the same unit. You have to have a minimum standards of interconnect. Think of it as the internet is like these minimum standards that allowed the whole network to assemble. You have to have the same value system as a minimum standard in order to, to work together and you can fragment that the, nation States down to nothing done does micro levels. If you have that same value set, it allows that to happen coherently.
Jim Rutt: Actually maybe even economically, efficiently. Because the networks can replace many of the things the nation state was doing economically. Not everything but, many of the things a nation state of 5 million people is now quite feasible, right?
John Robb: Also the network, allows those small States to avoid becoming, prey to large Multinational Corporations too. These networks have the ability to change the policy or change the alignment of large multinationals. If you were running the extinction rebellion, you wouldn’t be protesting government. You’d be picking out a company as a victim, and forcing them into alignment and one month after a month, again and again and again until you have sufficient number of companies aligned with you.
Jim Rutt: There is another good example of an emergent coherent group from, the nets is the extinction rebellion. I’ve been saying for some time that one could go a long, long, long way. That could be the unexpected invention of Christianity equivalent, right? That the 12 random dudes in Galilee changed the world. In this case it could be, whoever started the extinction rebellion could end up changing the world.
John Robb: They’ll probably end up folding into the larger, resistance network, whatever that you can call it, whatever at that point. Because it’s not really resistance so much as it is a, kind of, a value consensus. The other thing that everyone’s battling over is this idea of being able to set the conditions of the, AIs is a social AIs that are being developed and the winner sets those conditions. I know what I mean by that is that what we’re finding with AI, at least from my perspective is that it really isn’t really great at producing a human equivalent intelligence. We don’t even properly utilize the 7 billion, but we have right now with the human level intelligence, creating more of that is just kind of a useless activity where it really seems to be shining and, based on, the amount of data that’s available. The data is highly correlated with the quality of the AI is, more is better.
John Robb: Is it in this social space? Its great at managing. It learns a lot about managing the connection between us and what we know in complexity and complex systems. The connections matter more than the individual units. Managing that connection space is what AI is really going to shine at doing. We have the potential then to create AIs that are technological artifacts, social systems that are technological artifacts and that will have a one from China and will have from the rest of the world. The goals that this AI is going to try to accomplish or try to instantiate in this society, is going to be the biggest fight ever. Who’s going to actually control it? It’s an incredible power, and if you get it wrong, you whether as society destroy whatever you built.
Jim Rutt: Of course quite a growing, suspicion from both team red end team blue about the unprecedented power that Google and Facebook in particular have to manipulate the lens with which we see the world. It’s a very interesting, difficult problem, and frankly, they may be good guys, but I’m a Madisonian. I don’t trust any single source of power. If I were to suggest the road forward to make sure that we don’t end up with a corrupt set of lenses from the Googles and the Face books.
Jim Rutt: We need competitors. Fortunately, there are people working on competitors’ overcoming the network effects of Google and Facebook is not easy, they won’t be general solutions initially. They may be a network for, the 100,000 people who are most, see most clearly, lets shall we say, or the million people most interested in the extinction rebellion who will set up a powerful, and coherent social network, which will then aggregate people over time is probably the safest way to hedge the bet from, the Face books and Googles, implementing, a set of filters and AIs, that implement their vision of the good and the true.
John Robb: Oh yeah. There’s the bottom-up, top-down, conflict. The insurgency tends to focus on trying to prevent these systems from having any influence. They don’t want any controls. They don’t want any influence, undue influence coming from the big social AIs. Those are the biggest size where you interact with by a long shot. Two and a half billion people on Facebook interact with know social AI right now.
John Robb: There’s all this pressure right now obviously from the resistance to kind of come up with a consensus values that are written into this AI. There’s lots of conflict points. The only thing that would be tough for a bottoms up version of this is the data. The way these systems learn is that they require tons of data. They don’t work off of, the kind of first principles that, we’ve derived over time, through science. If you can’t get that data, you can’t get good. Whoever, comes up with something new has to find a way to get more data.
Jim Rutt: Well, at least they have to have enough data. The question is what is sufficient for the task? I’ll throw out a hypothesis, maybe an intense coherence is enough to get a founder community that’s big enough, which might be a 100,000 to a million that the network can start to tune itself from. You use coherence to jumpstart and build an environment that’s perceived to be of higher quality than the kind of flat land of Facebook. Then once you have a critical mass built on coherence then you have the numbers to start to use the technology.
Jim Rutt: If your ideas are good enough, and your coherence is pleasing enough to people you will find… you will get the factors. I think you’ve followed this discussion called game and game B if you followed that discussion from time to time?
John Robb: Yep.
Jim Rutt: That essentially, that’s the argument from the game beers that you don’t need 300 million people in the United States to be game B on day one. You need some critical mass, much, much, much smaller, and you make it highly coherent and highly pleasing to be part of and have good tools. Gradually you get the factors from game A and game B gets stronger and stronger and it’s less dependent on the quality of the AIs in the short term because it has something else, coherence and a plan and good quality of life. I think there are… you don’t have to attack strength to strength as we know, an asymmetric warfare. You don’t attack strength, strength you attack somewhere else, game B, will attack through, coherence and quality of existence rather than by brute numbers and kind of brute force AI. At least that’s the game be hypothesis.
John Robb: In terms of evaluating those alternative because I would focus on the quality of the interactions. If that game B system is providing higher quality interactions than the alternative. More so than the end states for the individual participants. Did you ever read Maneki Neko from Bruce Sterling?
Jim Rutt: No.
John Robb: Great, short science and fiction story versus probably one of the best science fiction writers I’ve ever come across. Skills matrix is amazing and Maneki Neko is great. It’s online, you could probably find it for free. It has a system that is a gifting system that kind of takes off in this direction, comes out of nowhere. Early tribal systems were always gifting and that barter was only where you cleared the transaction at the end of the engagement was only done between enemies, right? We scaled the enemy component all the way up to a global system because we couldn’t maintain the trust necessary on the travel side and find a way to scale it.
John Robb: In the Maneki Neko universe, they had a system that kept track of basically your karma and kept track of the immediate needs and wants as well as the long term needs and wants of the individuals that are part of the network. They were constantly gifting, connecting people and saying, “If you gift this to this person right now, you will gain access to more gifts in the future and your prioritization will go up.” So, if somebody just lost a job, or had a bad day and the system knew that they loved coffee, and they’re sitting on a park bench thinking, “Oh my God, that world is terrible,” they would interact with somebody in the network and say, “Bring this person, this is the type of coffee that they like.” And you do it and they go, “Wow, that’s awesome.”
John Robb: Or if they needed a job of a specific type, or an engagement, or a specific item that’s preventing them from doing, achieving some goal that the system will then interconnect and allow that interconnection to accelerate their path forward. Eventually if this system gets good enough, least in the short story that it would replace the standard economic engagement. Because you got everything you really truly needed through the gifting process.
Jim Rutt: That’s not far from the thinking of people like Daniel Makan Burger from the game B spade, right? Who was looking for alternative non rivalrous form of organization for the means of life that aren’t all brutal market driven. I don’t think we yet know what that looks like but those are the kinds of places that people are probing on. When they come, they’ll come from nowhere. They’ll come from a small group of people who’ve cooked up a new social operating system that actually out competes the existing one in terms of qualitative experience. Because you’re absolutely right. It’s like the hippies, right? It was fun to be a hippie.
Jim Rutt: It’s much more fun to be a hippie than a straight in 1967, right? I was junior high school kid, so, I didn’t get to play that game. You saw it, right? So, if game B or some other new startup social operating system has a better form of existence for people, it could… In same way Christianity did. I mean, it was not as brutal and harsh as Roman life was, right? There was much more coherence and take care of each other. It could gain momentum and go all the way and it would seem that at this moment, our systems are old and tired and fragile. The life that they’re providing for people, well, materially better than it’s ever been by a whole lot from the perspective of meeting our real human needs, I would say not so good, right? Look at the rates of deaths of despair amongst middle aged working people. Our system is not working for most people and there’s room for an upstart to come and take it over.
John Robb: Right. When the printing press said, we weren’t quite sure what would come out of that in terms of you know new organizational types, new decision making systems. I mean, who could have envisioned the rise of bureaucracy, the modern form of bureaucracy with all the bells and whistles that we see with individuals who are civil servants, who have a certain ethical code, or their content to do their job without immediate recompense. That whole… all of that would have come out of that technological change and how it would transform governance and transform our lives. So, we’re at this same place with networks. How does that going to be used to transform our life? Right now we’re seeing it on the open source side, we see two functions but there are plenty more out there, we just have to discover them.
Jim Rutt: We can rethink our democracy for instance. Ideas like liquid democracy really could not be done until you had computer network and that may be a better way to govern ourselves. Not sure. Some interesting aspects of it but it hasn’t been tried at scales. But if it turns out to be better, societies that adopt it will out compete those that don’t.
John Robb: The way the networks are operating right now, they’ve taken over the political spectrum. The new left is not going to follow the pattern of the old left where it’s looking at raising taxes or raising money. That path is blocked to trying to raise money from globalized wealth is very, very tough. The regulation is tough too because the companies and the wealthy would skip away. The kind of Warren approach becomes difficult to implement, because there’s so many workarounds in so many ways to be what she’s proposing. The thing that’s tough to propose or tough to beat, and I think it possible for the traditional corporate bureaucracy and organizations to be is a left that uses the kind of the presidency and its position in congress, has kind of a bully pulpit or two.
John Robb: Also, as a cohesive system to force corporations and government bureaucracies into alignment. Force a very specific consensus value system into place, and forcing companies to provide service and move in a certain direction. If you price your pharmacological goods too high, you get crushed and if you try to take advantage of a certain market opportunity at the expense of Americans or… then you get crushed, or you get… and it’s not just at the top level. At the corporate level this network can actually reach deep inside the company and go after individuals.
Jim Rutt: Maybe the redress we’ve been looking for, right? Problems since the ‘70s has been increasing returns to scale. Network businesses have allowed businesses to get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, they’ve corrupted the political process and there was no constraint on them, right? Perhaps this form of political organizing is the redress that that kind of predatory behavior is calling for.
John Robb: All of our focus right now is on the Trump disorder and associated with the both scenario and all those others. But, the real danger of the system is too much coherence. It’s too easy to achieve maximum coherence. You have to have a little bit of disorder and disruption in order to make sure that it doesn’t up too heavily in that direction. So, you get status and you get repression, you get oppression, it’s just built into the system and it can’t get rid of it.
John Robb: And your economy suffers and everything suffers as a result. So, in granted, you don’t want too much disruption. You end up this kind of hyper corruption like you have in Russia where Putin is like the wealthiest guy in the world with… I’ve seen estimates of $200 billion, so, it makes him twice as wealthy as Bezos. Because, he’s allowed, he uses them network to disrupt opponents and keep the political process fluid and allows him to do basically anything he wants at the corruption level consolidate power and Trump would love that.
Jim Rutt: He would love to be able to do that if he could get away with it, right?
John Robb: Yeah, if he could, but I mean, the thing is, I think the tendency here that the system that’s dominant, if there was… It’s towards a hyper coherent system and I don’t think we want to go that direction completely. We want to keep it fluid enough that we can change it and modify it as it moves forward or else we’re in for a world apart.
Jim Rutt: I’d say that you draw this picture of a lap, coherence doing its thing, if we learn anything from our constitutional history, it’s always an arms race, there will be equivalent on the right very quickly, right? So, there’ll be multiple moralities that are attempting to subdue corporate America and the bureaucracy. Hopefully it’ll be more than two. We’re locked into two in our political process by a design flaw in our institutions, which is the first past the post election method.
Jim Rutt: Our influences networks, and let’s say moral networks are not necessarily going to be constrained by that. So, instead of two, we might have 10 of groups that are attempting to shame corporations and bureaucracies from doing bad things. Those 10 groups won’t agree on what’s the good thing and what’s the bad thing, so that it will have a pluralistic way to work that out. I don’t see the walk left winning. Those people are they just pissed off way too many people. If they ever go too far, they’re going to be in for a big fucking awakening, right?
John Robb: Well, the right ends up becoming pretty much just pure disruption. Whatever moral arguments they have, I don’t see them competing. I mean, I see this natural tension between this consensus values versus that scalable internationally. And this disruptive capability, which is basically saying, “We want many different viewpoints and we want different moralities to exist, different value systems to exist, just leave us alone.”
Jim Rutt: That may well be the ethos, right? At the very simplistic way, that’s been the difference between the left and the right in politics since the founding. They’ll leave us alone faction and we know better than you let us fix it faction, right?
John Robb: That’s the Tom Wolfe quote remember it goes, “America has always had major of fascism but Europe always becomes fascist is that it?” The American right is always been kind of a leave me alone version and that the European because of their kind of cultural coherence that they have, tends to choose fascism as a right wing solution. It’s not possible here anyway.
Jim Rutt: It’s difficult at least.The right in for instance, might well and as a starting to do fight against the social platforms, trying to enforce some political orthodoxy on discourse. Now would be a moral argument, right? That the same way we always wanted independent newspapers, we want Independent Censorship free from content bias, right? Maybe you have censorship based on behavior. For instance, thou shalt not threaten violence against identifiable people, thou shalt not docs, etc. But apply those uniformly across the political spectrum, not just to one side or the other as it seems to be the tendency these days.
John Robb: Well, that’s the job of the insurgency, right? Is to honor those as it evolves, as it matures is done are those moral arguments that are antithetical to the consensus values that are being put forward and then using those to disrupt those that consolidation process. That’s a more beneficial way of looking at it. That if those Mark arguments are valid, and then they’re going to be effective in terms of disrupting that consolidation. It’s an interesting political time. I think we’re in exactly the right place. Russia and China are doomed. And then Europe, with the way they disconnected themselves from this and trying to hide and bubble themselves up, they are totally screwed.
John Robb: As far as I’m concerned, they’re basically saying, “We don’t want industrialization, the beginning of the Industrial Age, de-industrialized, they’re not getting the… they’re becoming fragile, they’re in self imposed fragility. They’re not building the muscle tissue necessary to operate at this edge. That intellectual muscle, or social muscle tissue, they’re too worried about the downside effects. On top of that, they’re not contributing the data that is going to go into development of all the guys that build the products that will be incorporated services or into the products that they were going to be buying in 20 years. I don’t know how that’s going to affect their economy, but it can’t be good.
Jim Rutt: It’s amazing how little they’ve accomplished in the world in the last 20 or 30 years.[crosstalk 00:56:44] I read an article I think in the economist recently said that, “30 years ago, 25% of the 40 largest corporations on earth were European. Now its 2% and they’re in positions 36 and 38.” What new thing have they created? I can’t think of any. What new has come out of Europe that had any lasting, staying power over the last 25 or 30 years? Nothing, right?
John Robb: They have culture that they sell. I mean, basically, they’re a tourist location.
Jim Rutt: Yep. In fact, a science fiction writer, I forget which one, he had a near future and essentially he described Europe as the society that was going to become the Museum of Western civilization and that was all could happen.
John Robb: I think it was Bruce Sterling actually. I think I heard that but anyway.
Jim Rutt: Let’s switch the topic. We’ve hit on two or three times tangentially, I really like you to dig it out. I know you’ve thought about this a lot. This is one… right now I think we have a certain amount of alignment and that you’ve called out the Chinese model as what it really is, which is Neo fascism, right? It’s no form of leftism. It’s got every aspect of Neo fascism. I’ve done the same in a paper I wrote called “In search of the fifth attractor.” It’s available on medium where I described the Neo fascist models exemplar as China. Data driven, technologically enabled social credit, facial recognition and more. Tell us about what you think the Chinese are trying to do and to what degree do you think it’ll work?
John Robb: I went back to try to get to first principles. What are the… what is the fascist model at a organizational level? How does it really work? And, I went back to the 20th century and I looked at the three different models that emerged out of there, the Communist model, the Fascist model, and that Democratic Capitalism. And, I really had to do with how the bureaucracies were organized. And, in communism obviously, there was one bureaucracy. It ran everything, the economy, society, etcetera. And, that in democratic capitalism there was a truncated or constrained government bureaucracy.
John Robb: Then, there was lots of corporate bureaucracies that were given free reign within a large playing field. They stayed relatively loyal because of the dynamics of the way that the world worked, cold war time and distance constraints. And then, you had fascism which we’ve pretty much forgotten. We’ve kind of just looked at Jack boots and uniforms as a side to fascism. But organizational, the economic organizational model is pretty interesting. If you really dig into it, you go, “Okay. They had a government bureaucracy and lots of big corporate bureaucracies that joined with it as a cohesive whole.” The government provided a national goal, which aligned all those big bureaucracies to… We focus on the similar goal and they focused less on competition and more in negotiation.
John Robb: Even if you looked at the unions that they consolidated all the unions into one big union and that union had incredible pay for all the members and industrial workers even had three cruise ships that they gave out for free to all the members. It wasn’t just like exploitive. If you want all these benefits, you have to negotiate with the big companies and align on the same goals. Now, in order to get that alignment at least at that time, the focus was on crew tribalisms, and tribal appeals to identity all the worst kind of stuff. Hyper militarism, hyper nationalism as a means of setting those goals for all the corporate participants. And, when that was… system was crushed, we pretty much forgot about it.
John Robb: Now we have a new system, democratic capitalism one beat the communist system in the cold war. We thought it was going to go everywhere, but what we ended up doing is globalizing and we allowed the internet to connect up with everyone. The system became complex and divergent and the effectiveness of the government bureaucracy in democratic capitalism became less. It became less and less effective, less able to raise money, less be able to control its borders, less able to influence policy over the long… implement policy and find it goes wrong within months. And because of the system is moving too quickly.
John Robb: The corporate participants broke out of their box and they were able to go international and they’re starting to think international and they think, “Oh, we’re not really loyal to the U.S anymore. We’re loyal to global audience and we have different ideals and different ways of looking at the world.” In response to this chaos, what we’re seeing is the development of workarounds, and then China was looking at transforming their system. They were still relatively totalitarian, and they opted for system that looks very organized in almost exactly the same way as the fascist model.
John Robb: You can see it… I work now in the conflict with Hong Kong is that they were looking for corporations to sign on in compliance with enforcing their stance against the protesters. So, if they have a protesters working for them and they recognize that person as such, they’re supposed to fire them and turn off support for people who support the protest, etcetera. They’re aligning their companies to focus on creating a social credit network that works in kind of a Confucian model that is very patriotic, that doesn’t allow anyone to discuss specific topics or criticize the government. So, their system is this new type of fascism. You could actually see the battle going working on the street level.
John Robb: The battle over Rome in a corporate alignment in Hong Kong is that the government has companies that they’ve forced into alignment. You kind of using the fascist system and the protesters as an open source network are trying to punish those companies. So, they’ll selectively deface buildings or the storefronts of companies that have opted to support China. So, you’ll see it just dot, dot, dot down the street as the protest moves forward with the companies that are fighting them being punished for that activity.
John Robb: So, it’s pretty interesting to see the emergence of fascism, you can see the battle in the States in some ways very similar to that. Who gets to control the companies? All right. Can you force them into alignment to reduce the instability caused by globalization, etcetera? See that in Russia, Russia they’ve already done it through cross holdings in mafia style tactics. Anyway, fascism is back. It’s probably the true winner of the big conflict between the three different systems, but it’s different and it’s not… it doesn’t look and feel exactly like the previous version of it, but the underlying model is right.
Jim Rutt: History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes, right?
John Robb: Correct.
Jim Rutt: Again, the driver is the libido for coherence. The resistance is a trying to produce some coherence at the intersection of humanity and corporate America. Again, with the danger of overshooting and becomes stifling and just full of wrong ideas and their particular case, there’s some good ideas, some bad ideas. The Chinese are also probably at least partially operating in good faith trying to produce a better society by making sure their corporations don’t go hyper capitalist like the West did. So again, they’re attempting to create more coherence.
Jim Rutt: I’m starting to see this as the seer stone. If you start thinking about in terms of greater versus lesser coherence, I think you’re starting… you start to see what the drivers of all these various systems are, including the Chinese. At least until it enters the corrupt phase, which of course it always has been more corrupt than the U.S, though not as corrupt as China. It could either go to develop good institutions to administer sort of a positive fascism or probably more likely, it’ll be captured and become hyper corrupt like Russia. It just become an extraction mechanism for those who have the levers of power.
John Robb: Right. Yep. And in coherence… in a foundational state you need in order to make decisions, effective decisions. So, without it, nothing is possible.
Jim Rutt: What do you think about the chance of the Chinese model spreading elsewhere? To the degree the Chinese want to do their thing in China, I don’t really give a shit, to tell you the truth. To the degree they want to put their network model out into the world and compete the way the Marxism-Leninism did, then that’s a completely different kettle of fish.
John Robb: Conceptually it works. You get the social credit system that works. You get their re-education system, they’re putting their WiGuards through. Potentially it would work as wiping out Islam as a religion, and replacing it with Chinese culture. But the problem is, it’s too tied to the culture. I don’t know how exportable that is, granted there are countries that will embrace it. It could have Singapore embrace it, for instance. Extension, kind of culture as a service, stability or coherence as a service, re-education camps as a service. I will take care of your recalcitrant minorities, and realign them, and then we’ll provide a system for the backing up your citizens. But see, the thing is, I think it’s too tied to the Confucian system that you got to get it yet, and that Chinese culture in general.
Jim Rutt: Yeah, I agree with you. That’s why I’m less concerned about it perhaps than some except the Chinese want to build their country that way. Let them have at it, right?
John Robb: Right.
Jim Rutt: It does not seem likely to be the kind of thing that would spread. Though as you do… as you point out though the technology, the underlying technology is likely to spread. Every semi dictator want to be dictator is going to want to have get their hands on some of that technology, the facial recognition scanning systems, the social credit systems perhaps. So, that may not work in many cultures. I don’t think that would work in the United States, at least not currently. It may work in… or certainly wouldn’t work in a place like India where there’s such a vast amount of incoherence. But, some of those technologies, a re-education camps might be one that’s exportable. It’s a technologies that are likely to be exportable rather than the system itself.
John Robb: Yeah. Point technologies, that’s going to be tougher. They won’t be able to create in a box solution for this. It’s just not going to be possible. And, it also the fact that they’re so inward looking, and all the data they’re gathering is from a single region. All the products are going to produce for global audiences are everything that’s going to be infused with AIs based on built on data that’s been captured, will seem kind of clunky.
John Robb: It’s built and optimized for a Chinese audience, highly optimized. If you don’t have the… If you’re gathering data from all over the world, like Facebook is right now, the two and a half billion people. Any product that’s developed out of that is likely going to be superior in meeting the needs of those constituent populations. They’re contributing a little bits of data that that’s being incorporated into development of that system. Little nuances, little things that make it better, make it more effective. China is not getting it, China doesn’t have it.
Jim Rutt: Yeah, I think you’re right. Yeah, man. So, I think probably both of us are less concerned about China maybe than some people are. China may do its thing and it may be weird and we may not like it, but as long as it’s not spreading around the world, why should we care?
John Robb: Yeah, correct. They are spreading to a certain extent. They’re exerting influence. You saw that, the South park thing and you saw the NBA folding like a deck of cards. That kind of influenced spread is not something we should put up with.
Jim Rutt: Yeah. That’s an economic and that’s again we’re our goddamn corporations worship the old mighty dollar over any higher values. Right?
John Robb: Well, they’re forcing them into alignment, it’s the fascist model. The resistance network, if it was able to actually set the value system for those corporations, they would be potentially resistant to that and the companies would says, “MTKI”
Jim Rutt: Exactly. That’s the alternative. They do have examples. We give them credit. But Google and Face book have not been willing to play the game with the Chinese at least so far. Clearly Google would kind of like to figure out how to do it, but they haven’t. The real offender to my mind is Cisco, people don’t realize this, but Cisco is the ones that help the Chinese design their great firewall. They have essentially were the enabling catalyst for all China has done in terms of managing their information flow.
Jim Rutt: So, they’ve been a very bad citizen. And, I would like to see something like the resistance put a thumb on corporations and say, “You really shouldn’t be empowering totalitarian dictators.” These NBA examples are fine examples. Unfortunately, hyper capitalism, the NBA sees China as our next big market and so they don’t give two shits about Chinese culture coherence, but they just see the possibility of losing out to a large dollar denominated market. So, our weakness, hyper capitalism gets exploited by the more coherent system over in China. If we had a more coherent system, our companies would be less manipulatable.
John Robb: Correct. And they would be more downsides to actually folding like that.
Jim Rutt: Yeah, exactly.
John Robb: And so, you would actually lose more by trying to focus on a new market that may or may not pan out.
Jim Rutt: All right. I’ve got a couple of little small things here before we sign off. You written recently about how are very much bulked up counter terrorism efforts are now being turned on domestic right wing groups. What’s happening? What are the implications?
John Robb: Well, there’s been a kind of a drum beat in the background whenever there’s a been an attack by white nationalist to start the turn and create the legal structures necessary to have counter-terrorism focus inward. And, my background is counter terrorism. I did five years into tier one backups unit and one of the few people were in those units back then. And, it’s a pretty terrifying instrument. We put incredible amounts of money into it. So, far it’s been focused almost exclusively externally. The stuff that we do domestically is little bit hyped up law enforcement.
John Robb: The stuff we do externally is as aggressive as all get out. The idea that there’s a white nationalist threat internally that requires turning the counter terrorist system on domestic targets with its powers of mass surveillance, and enemies’ lists and stripping national identity and extradition and all sorts of stuff along that line is pretty scary and I don’t want to see it. It’s the kind of thing that would run out of control. So, if you first have it focus on these guys who aren’t really affiliated with any specific group, it would bleed into going after the Antifa, going after environmentalists. There’s an unlimited number of targets that can start to focus on very aggressively. On a level of aggression that we haven’t seen here in the States.
Jim Rutt: There’s always been a low level of that with respect to the radical environmentalists. There’s always been a working group in the FBI working on ELF and some of the other radical environmentalist groups. But again, it’s been on the small. So, I think what I’m hearing you say is, if you were to bring any measurable fraction of the $80 billion a year we spend on counter terrorism internationally, it could be extraordinarily ugly in the United States.
John Robb: Yeah, and the people and the tactics and the legal structures that would allow them to operate at the level that they’re in operating internationally. If you know about the way they surveil outside the U.S. versus inside, there’s lots and lots of restrictions, so many restrictions on what they can do inside. But if those, like I say, anti-Trump wave comes through, and there’s a couple of attacks and there’s a consensus in the U.S. government to pass this legislation to kind of rooted out.
John Robb: You could see things that we do internationally with as a matter of course, being done internally. Use of drones, use of renditions, use of excessive force and excessive monitoring, if you say okay, estimates are 10% of the U.S. population has some level of tacit support for white nationalism, through their actions, through their words and through their deeds and track-able online. Should you monitor them all? Like you would a fundamentalist faction inside a target country. Should you watch all their communications and tag them and anything suspicious, you scoop them up. Just do the same with the antifa and you can do the same with environmentalist, depends on who’s in power. So, you give power to a president.
Jim Rutt: Yeah, that’s the thing that both sides always fuck and forget. They invent these new hardball technique and they forget that they’re not going to be in power all the time. Right?
John Robb: Exactly.
Jim Rutt: There will always be eight years or 12 years or four years, the other side is going then now have all these nice tools for repression that you’ve left.
John Robb: Well, they convinced themselves that they’re access is on their side, are not really access is that they’re fine, they’re acceptable and that there’s no way the opposition will ever emerge again if we’re tough enough on him or we give enough powers to our leader in order to eradicate them but it never works out. At least democracy tide shifts, opposition is in power and you’re under the gun.
Jim Rutt: Yep. I hope our country isn’t stupid enough to make that mistake going down that road and I read that paper years ago Jesus Christ. Let’s hope we’re smart enough not to at least do that.
John Robb: I hope so.
Jim Rutt: I hope so. Good you do good work trying to bring these ideas out. Last item before we go is, on one of your websites, you said you’d… I’m not sure when the timing on this was, you spent the last years working for the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff on his vision for how AGI and robotics would transform how the joint force fights in 2035. What did you learn from that exercise that you can talk to us about?
John Robb: Well, it was kind of strange for the chairman of joint chiefs, they do something called Concepts. Usually, they’re on pretty mundane topics, how the joint force would fight today if called upon to do so. This was unusual and that they were looking 20 years out on autonomous robotics. How that would transform the Joint force for the chairman to kind of push this forward. They didn’t have stuff on hand that was really good at this kind of advanced, autonomous weapon, future warfare kind of thinking, out of the box kind of stuff. So I got brought in on that. It’s a funny process, going through the process of creating kind of these concepts and creating new ideas and in the government, it’s just most of the ideas, you have to go through so many hands and so many sign offs that everything gets watered down. But some cool stuff came out of at it, at least in terms of where it has to go in order to be effective.
John Robb: Things like moving from… if you have an autonomous weapon, how do you verify that is effective? Well, autonomous weapon typically in the past where you look at the error rates generated by the component parts in the system as a whole and you can measure that and determine whether or not it would work. With an autonomous weapon system, the range of behaviors is much greater and is a black box. If It incorporates deep learning, you really don’t know, you can’t do the reverse engineering you can’t do that kind of pure into the system determine whether or not it’s making decisions in the way that you would deem effective or not or safe or not. What all you can do is to move towards a certification process like you would with a human being, whereas if you have a human and you train up to do a certain task, the only way you can actually determine whether or not they’re effective at that task is to put them into that task and judge their behavior, certify their behavior and do it again and again and again and again until you’re satisfied that they’ll do it effectively.
John Robb: There’s always a chance that they’ll do it wrong but you have to go with that certification. The same thing is true with an autonomous system, you can run through simulations and scale that up substantially. You can also do that in the real world, that’s how you determine whether or not it works. So little things like that structure, the potential here also is and this is kind of interesting, is that if you learn something new, new tactic, new capability, new procedure, new maneuver, that you can then capture that in its totality with nuances.
John Robb: Think of it in terms of teaching a deep learning robot how to slice a flying apple with a Samurai sword. We saw that online and saw that Samurai instructor changing the angle of the blade and getting it perfect. So every time they toss the apple forward that the blade cut it perfectly. Well, think of that in the context of autonomous weapons, you have come up with this one new technique, and then you could take that technique and then share it throughout the Joint Force. How would the process of for that work is that you would take it, test it, run it through thousands of simulations, millions of simulation, billions of simulations. And, kind of a simulations command that would then verify it, and certify it and then roll it out as a capability that can be employed in all these different systems that are compatible. That has potentially… completely change everything.
Jim Rutt: Yeah, the rate of change would go so fast. Today, it seems like military doctrines operated a generational time frame. Half a generation at best 10 years, as you point out, the beauty of AI is once one of them knows it they can all know it in five minutes, right?
John Robb: Yep. And that the whole weapon system approach where you’re focused on the hardware and prevent it takes 20 years, 30 years to roll out a new weapon system. Becomes less important than the intelligence of that system and the intelligence of that system can improve very quickly over time, why you’re using it and that changes the kind of perspective on this if the system is dumb and it can’t get better through experience, then… just a hunk of metal that takes too long to change. Systems that learn and get better from that interaction, that’s the system kind system you’re shooting for. Then a difference in tactics and strategies in autonomous weapon, opens up are truly autonomous weapon is… right now we can fire away weapon and cruise missile in six hours later it ends up on target or drone.
John Robb: It navigates the targeting maybe makes some corrections based on the opposition it interacts with. But hits a target and we’re pretty comfortable with that. They’re pretty destabilizing granted, but we’re comfortable with how that works. What about a system, autonomous system that you let go and two years later, it launches attack? It’s something that actually drifts very slowly across the Pacific, finds a Chinese harbor, digs itself into the muck of the Chinese harbor, and just waits until… and gathers information passively. Figures out the best targets to hit at any given moment, and then looks for a signal that either should attack or the conditions change such that it’s ready to it. Then you could start to preposition these things.
John Robb: Then you could talk about truly destabilizing something that can really, really change the way world works, is that you can roll these things out and they can slowly preposition in a myriad of locations around and that, potential future enemy, like dig themselves in to landscape and just wait. Then when the conflict hits, that’s a true zero day, right? Zero day conflict that just… they pop up, wars over. They break all the networks, they destroy all the enemy capabilities, they take it out, keep it down, you just walk in.
Jim Rutt: Also think of a ramp up possibility with humans. I don’t know what it costs the army to train up a soldier these days, but certainly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, I would imagine and it we know, it takes a year or two before a soldier is very effective. A robotic soldier might get the price at $10,000 or $25,000. And, you could build them as fast as you could build factories. So the thing we could go be back to the era, world war two mass warfare with very few humans involved, but literally millions of robots fighting each other.
John Robb: It also makes possible in a war between nuclear powers where wasn’t possible before. So, for instance, say we have a conflict with China over the Spratly islands. So, instead of sending in troops that are… or sending in aircraft carriers so they will become big fat targets and if they do get destroyed 5000 people die or 10,000 people die. Which then is a pretext for nuclear war, too destabilizing, too dangerous is that we stumble into a pattern where we demarcate an area like 100 miles around the Spratly, all those coral reefs and everything else. It becomes a war between robotic system where there’s no human life is lost. But, it’s really a kind of a plant flag thing, it’s a cylinder around that area, and that all of the capabilities that you could throw into that space, determine the Victor, determine the one that can actually… it is superpower conflict but again restrained.
Jim Rutt: Same thing, it’s like World War Two, it eventually became an industrial outcome. Yeah that’s interesting, think about this as a game right you define this hundred mile diameter cylinder, maybe bigger than that and both sides agree quote and quote that we can have at it with non weapons of mass destruction robots only Let’s see who wins. Like I can go on for a long time, both sides crank it up more and more and more and more robots and drones and bottom crawling ocean vehicles that will pop up on unexpectedly at various places. It’d be pretty nuts, would waste a huge amount of resources of humanity. Then of course, the question is, does it really be not escalate? The Chinese find themselves losing, are they tempted to escalate the nuclear weapons, say to use EMP forces just to wipe out all the robots. Don’t know.
John Robb: Many of EMP resistance, cool stuff.
Jim Rutt: It’s good stuff. Was there a published report that people could get their hands on?
John Robb: No, I don’t think so. Most of the stuff ended up just being caught in drafts, never saw the light of day other than the senior management that ran through it. This stuff always resurface. I mean, the good ideas like this never really die, they just kind of get shuttled around and there’s champions that kind of stumble into it. If you really have a good idea about warfare or anything actually, I wrote my first… when I was at Forrester, I wrote my first social networking report. So I called it “The Personal Broadcast Networks.” It was popular, but people go, “How do you build this thing?” we can use a little bit of this and from the Netscape browser and stuff like that, but, people kept on working on the idea and it took me to 2001 to find a company actually realizing it with the kind of networked approach of use Lance access blogging system. So, ideas can tend to come up, tend to surface if they’re in the right… If they have the kind of right system dynamics pushing them forward.
Jim Rutt: Indeed, Well, John, this has been absolutely fascinating. We’ve covered a tremendous amount of ground as I expected we would. I think our listeners here will have learned a whole lot. So, I want to thank you for coming on.
John Robb: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks, Jim.
Jim Rutt: Production Services and audio editing by Jared Janes, music by firstname.lastname@example.org