WHO GETS TO KEEP SECRETS? Hillis's Question: An EdgeSpecial Event!


The question of secrecy in the information age is clearly a deep social (and mathematical) problem, and well worth paying attention to.

When does my right to privacy trump your need for security? Should a democratic government be allowed to practice secret diplomacy? Would we rather live in a world with guaranteed privacy or a world in which there are no secrets? If the answer is somewhere in between, how do we draw the line?

I am interested in hearing what the Edge community has to say in this regard that's new and original, and goes beyond the political. Here's my question:




I hope to hear from you.

— Danny Hillis

W. DANIEL (Danny) HILLIS is an inventor, scientist, engineer, author, and visionary. Hillis pioneered the concept of parallel computers that is now the basis for most supercomputers, as well as the RAID disk array technology used to store large databases. He holds over 150 U.S. patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices. He is also the designer of a 10,000-year mechanical clock.

Presently, he is Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Applied Minds, Inc., a research and development company in Los Angeles, creating a range of new products and services in software, entertainment, electronics, biotechnology security, and mechanical design. The company also provides advanced technology, creative design, and security and cryptography consulting services to a variety of clients.

W. Daniel Hillis's Edge Bio Page



An Idea Whose Time Has Come

In retrospect the key idea in the "Aristotle" essay was this: if humans could contribute their knowledge to a database that could be read by computers, then the computers could present that knowledge to humans in the time, place and format that would be most useful to them. The missing link to make the idea work was a universal database containing all human knowledge, represented in a form that could be accessed, filtered and interpreted by computers.

One might reasonably ask: Why isn't that database the Wikipedia or even the World Wide Web? The answer is that these depositories of knowledge are designed to be read directly by humans, not interpreted by computers. They confound the presentation of information with the information itself. The crucial difference of the knowledge web is that the information is represented in the database, while the presentation is generated dynamically. Like Neal Stephenson's storybook, the information is filtered, selected and presented according to the specific needs of the viewer.



Will computers be able to think again? And what Sigmund Freud would have to do with cyberspace? Internet pioneer David Gelernter predicts the next stage of development of artificial intelligence.


By John Brockman

[This is the second in a series of essays commissioned by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The German translation was published on June 22nd. ("Ein Geist aus Software").

David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale and chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies (New Haven). His research centers on information management, parallel programming, and artificial intelligence. The "tuple spaces" introduced in Nicholas Carriero and Gelernter's Linda system (1983) are the basis of many computer communication systems worldwide. He is the author of Mirror Worlds, and Drawing a Life: Surviving the Unabomber.

David Gelernter's Edge Bio Page




An afterword blurs a book in time. My final draft of April 2009 is here made unfinal. And what you have here is only a sample of the time smear I'm attempting with the online version of the book at, where the text (much of it) dwells in a living thicket of its origins and implications. Instead of static footnotes there are live links to my sources, including some better ones that turned up after the writing. You should be able to follow my quotes upstream to the articles and Google Books pages they come from. There you can conduct your own version of my research and perhaps draw different conclusions. I continue to add updates in the margins of the text, along with pages of photographs, diagrams, and videos, plus the kind of additions that usually go in an appendix. I'll try to maintain the service as long as it has traffic. Maybe all nonfiction books will soon offer such online immersive versions of their material.

Foreword to Afterword 
by Kevin Kelly

Information wants to be free, but it doesn't want to be final. The merry superconductivity of a bit of information means that updates, corrections, additions, deletions, re-interpretations, misinterpretations, anti-information, and denials of that same bit quickly follow.

The blessings, and curse, of a printed paper book are that its words, once stamped in ink, are fixed. But the rest of our fast-forward lives, and the slippery digital universe we swim in, tear at that fixity and demand that books keep improving, just like our iPhones do. Can books be upgraded?

Many readers of Stewart Brand's recent book, Whole Earth Discipline, praise it for its heretical synthesis of "edgy" ideas on a wide range of frontiers. And that it is. But I found Brand's book far more interesting as case study on how one can use information to adopt a permanent, mindful stance of flexibility. On every vector within his book Brand traced how his thinking was changed by a steady stream of informational evidence. Sometimes he altered his position more than once. The thrill of the book was watching how a top-notch thinker kept upgrading his views.

Whole Earth Discipline was published in the autumn of 2009. Nine months later whole worlds of science have lurched forward, digital news accelerated, and "what we know" is now different. If information wants to change, shouldn't an author have different ideas from the now frozen book he previously wrote?

Someday keeping a text constantly fresh will become both routinely possible and a chore for all of us. While a few authors/publishers have created successfully eternal ebooks, Brand has written a marvelous Afterwood to his book which does several things. First, in great detail it updates the news he first reported. This update is so well written that it can be appreciated even if you have not read the original book. But more importantly, and most remarkably, Brand courageously indicates how this news has changed his mind since he wrote the book.

When the liquid containers of electronic texts demand that we revise them yet again, I hope we can use Stewart Brand's "Afterword" as an inspiration to not only upgrade our facts, but also upgrade our made-up minds.

— Kevin Kelly

STEWART BRAND is cofounder and co-chairman of The Long Now Foundation. He is the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, cofounder of The Well, and cofounder of Global Business Network.

He is the original editor of The Whole Earth Catalog, (Winner of the National Book Award). The Afterword is written for the paperback edition of latest book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, which will be published in September.

Stewart Brand's Edge Bio Page
Kevin Kelly's Edge Bio Page

A Big Question


[EDITOR'S NOTE: Last month I received an email from Melissa Ludtke, editor of Nieman Reports:

Writing to you as the editor of Nieman Reports,, certainly not the most trendy Web site you've ever seen, but we hope one offering something of value, primarily I suspect for journalists, though a few others venture our way, too.

Heading toward our Summer 2010 issue — in the planning stage now, and so I'd welcome the chance to talk with you. Topic: your 2010 "big question" -- many of the answers to which I've read on your Web site — which draws a direct line to the core of what we are going to be exploring —-through the voices and experiences of journalists and others — in the Summer 2010 issue of our magazine, to be published in June.

The edition has been published, and my essay on the Edge Question, along with pieces by Nicholas Carr, Douglas Rushkoff, Sherry Turkle, and Esther Wojcicki, are available at the link below in the Summer 2010 issue of Nieman Reports, a lively, timely, and interesting publication. — JB]



[Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its latest issue, and its focus is the new digital landscape of journalism. There are lots of interesting articles, and we'll be highlighting a few here over the next few days. Here, John Brockman writes about how he came to ask a passel of intellectual luminaries how the Internet is changing how they think. —Josh]

[Keep reading at Nieman Reports »]



The dreams of network utopians vs. the realists. Is the Internet is a medium of emancipation and of revolution — or a tool of control and repression? Did Twitter and Facebook have stoke the flames of rebellion in Iran, or did they help theauthorities unmask the rebels? — Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Evgeny Morozov                                                                    Clay Shirky  

There is certainly a lot of excitement within governments — both democratic and authoritarian ones — about using the Internet to advance their political agendas, both at home and abroad. The kind of assumptions that politicians need in order to decide their policies all have to come from somewhere. And much of what has been said about the Internet in the past seems intellectually invalid today.
Evgeny Morozov

The Burmese example of communications use during their political struggle, followed by panicked shutdown, or the Ukrainian example from the Orange Revolution, or the successful Moldovan protests of last year, suggest to me that conditions under which a public that can self-identify and self-synchronize, even among a relatively small elite, is in fact a threat to the state. ... This is one of the things I want to understand about your videos, because while you and I are not polar opposites, we obviously have very different points of view about this. Do you believe that the synchronizing effect among a politically engaged public is (a) possible, and, (b) political, and if it is, what should the U.S. reaction to that be?
Clay Shirky

By John Brockman:

Recently, I invited Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky, both frequent Edge contributors, to sit down for a debate on the subjects of dictators, democracy, Twitter revolutionaries, and the role of the Internet and social software in political lives of people living under authoritarian regimes.

The profound dislocations and disruptions wrought by the Internet are subjects that invite serious thinking. "You very quickly get this kind of vertigo", says Shirky, "where you think you're asking a question about Twitter, and suddenly you realize you're asking a question about, say, Hayek."

What we are exploring here is a very recent phenomena. We have to start somewhere. As Wallace Stevens wrote in his poem "Life on a Battleship:"

We approach a society
Without a society.

The questions being asked in this conversation are for the most part coming from thinkers who are not situated in traditional academic disciplines and whose authority is not derived from institutional affiliations. This is a crowd of maverick intellectuals. In addition to Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky, participants in the ongoing Edge discussion include David Gelernter, George Dyson, Nicholas Carr,Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, Yochai Benkler, Douglas Rushkoff, and Charles Leadbeater. Only Gelernter (Yale), Benkler (Harvard), Shirky (NYU), hold academic positions.

Perhaps one reason there are so few thinkers from the psychology, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy departments of our major universities contributing to this conversation is that communications theory has long been deemed to be a low-prestige discipline among academics. The best people are likely to be found outside academia.

I am glad Morozov and Shirky are on the case. This is important. I challenge others to get involved.

As the contributor of a number of original pieces, Shirky is well known to readers of Edge and needs no introduction. This debate was my first opportunity to meet Morozov, whose writing, in just the past few weeks, has been featured in newspapers around the world, Prospect, to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, to  The Wall Street Journal.

Morozov's readers may be surprised to find out that this powerful new voice grew up in a small salt-mining town in Belarus founded by the Soviets to exploit the rich potassium deposits for export markets. Having won a national scholarship from George Soros's Open Society Institute, Morozov left Belarus for Bulgaria, where he completed a degree at the American University of Bulgaria. After a brief sojourn in Berlin and a few years working for a Prague-based tech non-profit, he is now a fellow at Georgetown and a contributing editor at Foreign Policy Magazine.

Versions of this piece are being published by Edge, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and La Stampa.More foreign language editions to come.


EVGENY MOROZOV, a commentator on the political implications of the Internet, is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy and runs the magazine's influential and widely-quoted "Net Effect" blog about the Internet's impact on global politics. He is currently a Yahoo! fellow at Georgetown University's E.A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Evgeny Morozov's Edge Bio Page

CLAY SHIRKY, who coined the phrase "social software" in 2002, divides his time between consulting, teaching, and writing on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. He is an adjunct professor in NYU's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), where he teaches courses on the interrelated effects of social and technological network topology — how our networks shape culture and vice-versa. He is the author of Here Comes Everybody. Clay Shirky's Edge Bio Page

Reality Club: Jaron Lanier, Douglas Rushkoff, George Dyson, Nicholas Carr, Rebecca Mackinnon




In short: it's time to think about the Internet instead of just letting it happen.

By John Brockman

Edge was in Munich in January for DLD 2010 and an Edge/DLD event entitled "Informavore" —  a discussion featuring Frank Schirrmacher, Editor of the Feuilleton and Co-Publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Andrian Kreye, Feuilleton Editor of Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich; and Yale computer science visionary David Gelernter, who, in his 1991 book Mirror Worlds presented what's now called "cloud computing."

The intent of the panel was to discuss — for the benefit of a German audience — the import of the recent Frank Schirrmacher interview on Edge entitled "The Age of the Informavore." David Gelernter, who predicted the Web, and who first presented the idea of "the cloud", was the scientist on the panel along with Schirrmacher and Kreye, Feuilleton editors of the two leading German national newspapers, both distinguished intellectuals.

As a result of the panel, Schirrmacher has commissioned Gelernter to write a regular column for FAZ, which was inaugurated with this essay, published by FAZ in a German translation on March 1st ("Der Mann, der das 'World Wide Web' erst möglich gemacht hat.")

Those of us involved in communicating ideas need to re-think the Internet. Here at Edge, we are not immune to such considerations. We have to ask if we're kidding ourselves by publishing 10,000+ word pieces to be read by people who are limiting themselves to 3" ideas, i.e. the width of the screen of their iPhones and Blackberries.

Many of the people that desperately need to know, don't even know that they don't know. Book publishers, confronted by the innovation of technology companies, are in a state of panic. Instead of embracing the new digital reading devices as an exciting opportunity, the default response is to disadvantage authors. Television and cable networks are dumbfounded by the move of younger people to watch TV on their computers or cell-phones. Newspapers and magazine publishers continue to see their advertising model crumble and have no response other than buyouts.

Take a look at the photos from the recent Edge annual dinner and you will find the people who are re-writing global culture, and also changing your business, and, your head. What do Evan Williams (Twitter)Larry Page (Google)Tim Berners-Lee (World Wide Web Consortium), Sergey Brin (Google), Bill Joy (Sun)Salar Kamangar (Google), Keith Coleman (Google Gmail)Marissa Mayer (Google), Lori Park (Google),W. Daniel Hillis (Applied Minds)Nathan Myhrvold (Intellectual Ventures)Dave Morin (formerly Facebook), Michael Tchao (Apple iPad), Tony Fadell (Apple/iPod)Jeff Skoll (formerly eBay), Chad Hurley (YouTube)Bill Gates (Microsoft)Jeff Bezos (Amazon) have in common? All are software engineers or scientists.

So what's the point? It's a culture. Call it the algorithmic culture. To get it, you need to be part of it, you need to come out of it. Otherwise, you spend the rest of your life dancing to the tune of other people's code. Just look at Europe where the idea of competition in the Internet space appears to focus on litigation, legislation, regulation, and criminalization.

Gelernter writes:

The Internet is no topic like cellphones or videogame platforms or artificial intelligence; it's a topic like education. It's that big. Therefore beware: to become a teacher, master some topic you can teach; don't go to Education School and master nothing. To work on the Internet, master some part of the Internet: engineering, software, computer science, communication theory; economics or business; literature or design. Don't go to Internet School and master nothing. There are brilliant, admirable people at Internet institutes. But if these institutes have the same effect on the Internet that education schools have had on education, they will be a disaster.

It is just about 10 years since Edge and FAZ co-published Gelernter's June, 2000 manifesto, "A Second Coming", which was widely read and debated. I expect nothing less for this powerful and provocative piece by one of the leading visionaries of the cybersphere. I welcome comments and look forward to a rich Reality Club discussion.




...A third threat comes from the new media moguls, the cloud capitalists: Facebook, Apple, Google, Salesforce, Twitter, who will seek to make money by creating and managing clouds for us.

These cloud capitalists are the new powers behind global cultural relations. Their rise has sparked an increasingly vicious civil war with the media old guard led by Rupert Murdoch. This battle between old and new media powers however has distracted attention from the question of how these companies will organise cloud culture on our behalf. Elements of their business models resemble traditional public services: Google's work with a consortium of libraries around the world to digitise books that are out of copyright; ITunes U provides thousands of models of course material for free. However these companies are also businesses: they will want to organise the cloud to make money. By the end of the decade Google will have unprecedented control over literary culture, past, present and future. Leave aside issues of trust, privacy and security, commercial providers of cloud services will have strong incentives to manage their users to maximise revenues and so to discourage them from roaming from one service to another. ...


By John Brockman

In 1991, David Gelernter, in his book Mirror Worlds, forecast the Web and laid the groundworlk for what is now becomeing known as Cloud Computing. Ten years ago Edge published David Gelernter's now-famous "The Second Coming: A Manifesto", and followed up in 2009 with "Lord of the Cloud: John Markoff and Clay Shirky talk to David Gelernter'". The Cloud is now front and center in public consciousness. A recent trip to Europe for a related EDGE-DLD event featuring Gelernter and the Feuilleton editors of Germany's two leading national newspapers, showed that the European views on the subject are in many ways quite different than those in the news, the blogs, and twttersphere in the US.

Innovation consultant Charles Leadbeater represents the European view. He was commissioned by Counterpoint, the think tank of the British Council to write a position paper entitled "Cloud Culture: the future of global cultural relations" (publication by the British Council on February 8th). The following Edge essay is adapted from that document.




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