Quotable (#199)

Why did the Industrial Revolution happen in Europe, rather than China? Joel Mokyr thinks fragmentation was the key:

In Europe, no one ever succeeds in unifying it, and you have continuous competition. The French are worried about the English, the English are worried about the Spanish, the Spanish are worried about the Turks. That keeps everybody on their toes, which is something economists immediately recognize as the competitive model. To have progress, you want a system that is competitive, not one that is dominated by a single power. […] I think that is the major difference. It isn’t just that China doesn’t have an Industrial Revolution, it doesn’t have a Galileo or a Newton or a Descartes, people who announced that everything people did before them was wrong. That’s hard to do in any society, but it was easier to do in Europe than China. The reason precisely is because Europe was fragmented, and so when somebody says something very novel and radical, if the government decides they are a heretic and threatens to prosecute them, they pack their suitcase and go across the border.

Unity is a decelerator.

Quotable (#196)

Socially-networked media warfare:

ISIS stumbled upon something new. It became, in the words of Jared Cohen, a former State Department staffer and now the director of Jigsaw (Google’s internal think tank), “the first terrorist group to hold both physical and digital territory.” […] It will not be the last. The fate of the self-declared caliphate, now under the assault of nearly two dozen national militaries, is uncertain. Yet the group has already proved something that should concern any observer of war and peace, law and anarchy. While the Islamic State has shown savvy in its use of social media, it is the technology itself—not any unique genius on the part of the jihadists—that lies at the heart of the group’s disruptive power and outsize success. Other groups will follow. …

Remember what the printing press did? That’s the precedent.

Quotable (#194)

Ben Narasin cites an (unnamed) Chinese Communist Party official on the techno-economic function of science fiction:

For years we’ve been making wonderful things. We make your iPods. We make phones. We make them better than anybody else, but we don’t come up with any of these ideas. So we went on a tour of America talking to people at Microsoft, at Google, at Apple, and we asked them a lot of questions about themselves, just the people working there. And we discovered they all read science fiction … so we think maybe it’s a good thing.

An Extended Kardashev Scale

Understandably, it’s not very detailed. But here we go:

A type 3 civilization is of another order of evolution altogether, probably taking 100,000 years or longer to get there. Kardashev saw it as “a civilization in possession of energy on the scale of its own galaxy”. […] … What’s next after such an advancement? Kardashev didn’t see a need to hypothesize any further civilizations, but prognosticators since then have proposed that a type 4 world would be able to harness the energy of an entire universe, while a type 5 can do the same in a multiverse, drawing power from multiple universes. […] What about type 6? We are talking god stuff here, controlling time and space, creating universes at will. Type 7? We can’t even imagine and understand what that could be like. …

(It’s hard to be confident about why Type 7 needed tacking on.)

Twitter cuts (#127)

Permissionless innovation, like free association, is one of those few compressed political-economic programs that does everything on its own (when fully expanded).

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An Internet Reboot?

Andrea Castillo takes a look at Urbit:

Some developers are seeking to transcend our internet feudalism by minimizing the number of third parties one must patronize to participate in digital society. Open-source operating systems like Linux allow people to take more control over their own computers. Bitcoin substitutes trust in a single payment processor for trust in a cryptographically secure, peer-to-peer network. BitTorrent, similarly, allows individuals to share files using a distributed network that cannot be immediately shut down by targeting any one entity. And several new projects aim to extend this logic to personal computing more generally. There’s OpenBazaar, a distributed marketplace platform that wants to be the “Bitcoin of Amazon” — a censorship-resistant e-commerce protocol that empowers buyers and sellers to transact peacefully without a middleman. There’s the InterPlanetary File System, or IPFS, which would operate as a kind of BitTorrent for the World Wide Web. […] But there is only one project that aims to just start this whole networking thing completely from scratch. It’s an “operating function” called Urbit, and it is by far the most fascinating and bizarre of these attempts to reboot computing. …