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Building an Opt-In Society 182

Posted by timothy
from the dreams-pipe-dreams-and-escaping-dystopia dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In a talk at Y Combinator's startup school event, Stanford lecturer Balaji Srinivasan explained his vision for governing systems of the future. The idea is to find space to set up a new 'opt-in' society outside existing governments, and design it to take full advantage of technology to keep people in control of their own lives. That means embracing tech that subverts existing industries and rejecting regulation on new ways of doing things. '[N]ew industries are simultaneously disrupting existing ones while also exiting the system entirely, he says. With 3D printing, regulation is being turned into DRM. With quantified self, medicine is going mobile. With Bitcoin, capital control becomes packet filtering. All of these examples, Srinivasan says, are ways in which technology is allowing people to exit current systems like physical product production and distribution; personal health; and finance in favor of spaces of their own creation.' Srinivasan's ideas are a natural extension of a few proposals already in the works — Peter Thiel has been trying to build a small tech incubator city that floats in international waters, outside of government control. Elon Musk wants to have a Mars colony, and Larry Page has wished for a tech-centric Burning man that's free from government regulation. 'The best part is this,' Srinivasan said. 'The people who think this is weird, the people who sneer at the frontier, who hate technology, won't follow you there.'"
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Building an Opt-In Society

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  • by devman (1163205) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @10:34AM (#45180785)
    Power abhors a vacuum. There will always be a government analog (even if it just your local warlord) wherever you go as long as there are other people. This is also the reason why weakening governments simply allows corporate power grabs, I'm sure there are some who'd love to return to the days of the East India Trading Company private armies and all.
    • by 0123456 (636235)

      The good news is that, once we're off this planet, most of those grand old sociopathic power dreams become impossible. There'll never be a Galactic Empire, because you can't boss people around when your orders take thousands of years to reach them. There will probably never even be a Solar Empire, because the odds are high that your 'private army' can't travel at more than 10% of the speed of light, and the Oort Cloud is far enough away for even that to be very hard to control.

      • by fisted (2295862)
        The bad news is, we likely won't even reach those places, due to the vast distance. If we do, we maybe found a way to take 'shortcuts', but then, orders can be sent through those shortcuts, too.
        • by 0123456 (636235)

          The bad news is, we likely won't even reach those places, due to the vast distance. If we do, we maybe found a way to take 'shortcuts', but then, orders can be sent through those shortcuts, too.

          There's no known technical reason why we can't travel at around 10% of the speed of light. At that rate we can expand across the entire galaxy in a million years or so.

      • by NoMaster (142776)

        Ah, colonising space ... the techno-utopianist version of Homer Simpson's "Under The Sea" [youtube.com].

      • by Wycliffe (116160)

        The good news is that, once we're off this planet, most of those grand old sociopathic power dreams become impossible. There'll never be a Galactic Empire, because you can't boss people around when your orders take thousands of years to reach them. There will probably never even be a Solar Empire, because the odds are high that your 'private army' can't travel at more than 10% of the speed of light, and the Oort Cloud is far enough away for even that to be very hard to control.

        There is an inverse to this too though. Once the average person can travel the galaxy with ease there is no way to stop someone from
        capturing and enslaving people on their private ships or planets and doing all sorts of inhumane things. Pirates and mercenaries would
        permanently come back, people could disappear forever, blowing up or even threatening to blow up a planet would become a viable
        option and a host of other very negative things as with access to a single ship you could go your own way and write y

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        Your assumptions that the vacuum of space also includes a vacuum of existing political power and regulation seems rather childish and wishful thinking. Along the lines of the crazy logic, that because 100% of the planets that we have investigate in the surface water zone, the rest of the galaxy is uninhabited. When humanity has investigated say 100 planets in this zone and found them to lack life, get back to me.

        As for intelligent life, as an intelligent species advances so it life span increase, eventua

    • by jythie (914043) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @04:48PM (#45183311)
      Which in a way is the point. These are generally people who feel they deserve more power then they have and it is the government's fault they are not doing better in life, thus if they break away THEY get to run things instead. There is a reason these types of projects tend to attract narcissistic people, it takes a certain amount of self centered confidence to believe that in such a shakeup they will come out on top rather then simply ending up worse then before since some new group of powerful people will simply have even more control over them.
      • Yeah. One wonders what dreams these people have that are being blocked by the government.

        Mr. Musk is doing good work in establishing commercial access to space and giving us a new choice in cars. SpaceX has a $1+Billion ISS supply contract from NASA (Government), and Tesla accepted and paid back a roughly half-billion dollar loan *from the government* that was extremely helpful in establishing the company's manufacturing operations. Seems to me that in Mr. Musk's case, the government has been a facilitator

    • by rasmusbr (2186518)

      Corporations don't really want to be the government analog, corporations just want peace in their primary business areas so that they can do business and make money. If the incumbent government leaves corporations will ally themselves with whoever is ready to fill its place, be it private security companies, or druglords, or motorcycle gangs.

  • no thanks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Sunday October 20, 2013 @10:35AM (#45180789)

    As a resident of a prosperous northern-European country with working infrastructure, a working healthcare system, relatively low poverty and homelessness levels, and generally a decent civil society that we all pay our share towards, I'll take the universal welfare state over some kind of ridiculous experiment in anarcho-capitalism. That's about as likely to work as any other anarchist experiment has worked. I guess America can have fun with it, though.

    • Re:no thanks (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 20, 2013 @10:52AM (#45180897)

      I guess America can have fun with it, though.

      Somalia is having fun with it right now. I don't think this is what even the craziest teabaggers want.
      Fortunately with Obamacare, America is realizing that there needs to be some kind of social security. In the long run, there's no way around it if you want to keep exploiting people and keep them relatively peaceful at the same time.

      • Somalia doesn't have statelessness, it has an overlapping collection of theocracies and despotisms. The main exception is Somaliland in the north, where there's been a functional breakaway republic for years and there's a noteworthy level of prosperity. Somaliland has been completely unable to secure any kind of foreign recognition, largely because if it gets it, it ruins the claim that the vampires at the IMF have to shakedown the Somali people to repay the loans made to the Barre regime. The upside of this lack of recognition, however, is that the Somaliland government hasn't been able to get foreign aid, which, as it turns out, suppresses development rather than fostering it. But condemning foreign aid to governments of low income countries is about the only conclusion one can reasonably draw from the twenty-first century Somali experience, it doesn't speak to the efficacy of statelessness at all (either way).

        • by kermidge (2221646)

          Somaliland the unknown. Thanks for that.

          Thing that's long bothered me, being un-knowledgeable in how this stuff works (IMF, e.g.), is that from source to destination, even if the intent is to help, by the time it gets on the ground, it's twisted - what doesn't get siphoned off into a few bank accounts or turned into off-the-books weaponry. Conundrums that are over my head, mostly.

          I guess it's the old story, money and power look out for themselves, everyone else shifts lower on the teats, until those most

    • ...made into life-governing philosophy.
      Everything new is great and should not be controlled or regulated.

      I.e. Had human society chosen such a way of living 100 or so years ago we'd be having our rejuvenating dose of radium with our cornflakes every morning. [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You're generally shielded from the burden of unskilled migration by your geographical location, shielded from invasion by your southern and eastern neighbors who recently joined NATO, you are far out enough in the periphery of world affairs to not attract the ire of regional powers, but near enough that everyone wants to woo you to their side. You have few people, yet have a claim to large swathes of ocean energy and mineral resources. While you have some exposure to the world and to racial diversity, you s

      • Re:no thanks (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Kjella (173770) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @12:18PM (#45181503) Homepage

        You're generally shielded from the burden of unskilled migration by your geographical location, shielded from invasion by your southern and eastern neighbors who recently joined NATO, you are far out enough in the periphery of world affairs to not attract the ire of regional powers, but near enough that everyone wants to woo you to their side. You have few people, yet have a claim to large swathes of ocean energy and mineral resources. While you have some exposure to the world and to racial diversity, you still remain one of the most ethnically homogeneous regions in the West, sparing you much of the social strife that other countries experience. Plus, most people have forgotten your country's contributions to murder, slavery, rape, and pillage, or they'd rather focus on someone else's. Pretty comfortable place to be. Though, not quite a place from which to judge.

        Quite a lot of fair points there, though I'd disagree on the last one. While the people who lived through WWII is quickly dwindling, we're very aware of our not-so-distant history when most of northern Europe was in flames and we considered ourselves all but ethnically homogeneous with über- and untermenschen. An awfully lot has happened since then though and we've probably done more to mend our wounds in the last 70 years than many other conflicts that have gone on for centuries. But I think I speak for most of Europe when I say we don't want to become a United States of Europe, the English want to be English, the French French, the Germans German and so on. We've found a peaceful way to coexist with "the other side" ceasing to exist and if it sounds a bit like we're saying "we did it, you can do it too" then that's probably true.

        • But I think I speak for most of Europe when I say we don't want to become a United States of Europe

          So then what is the purpose of the EU? And why does it grow more and more powerful and centralized (e.g. the adoption of the euro) as time progresses?

          • Re:no thanks (Score:4, Informative)

            by Kjella (173770) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @03:01PM (#45182581) Homepage

            So then what is the purpose of the EU? And why does it grow more and more powerful and centralized (e.g. the adoption of the euro) as time progresses?

            Mostly equal access to markets, capital, labor and resources. The main reason to start a war (outside racial/religious wars) is because the other side has something you want and can't have. If you can run the same business in the same market under the same rules from Germany as you can from France, what's there to have a war about? While there's quite a few intra-EU foreign workers when you look at it from a grand picture most people want to stay where they are if the job market and wages are decent there. Despite the freedom to travel and take jobs elsewhere most want to stay in their own country.

            When I talked about a US of Europe I thought mainly about culture, language and identity. I'm sure there's differences between California and New York but they're nothing compared to Portugal and Bulgaria. Totally different people but if you want to sell Portuguese goods in Bulgaria or Bulgarian goods in Portugal the same inner market rules apply. As for the euro, the idea was to lower trade barriers because if you live somewhere like in the BeNeLux countries you have like five countries inside an hour's drive. No currency exchange means cross-border trade and shopping is easy as pie. The downside is that it was like having a joint checking account without ever agreeing on the rules for using it.

            Yes, there's a lot of proverbial saber rattling but in the grand scheme of things it's very far from actual saber rattling. Worst case I think the EU will have to shed a few countries down south that have mismanaged their economy too horribly from the euro, but I think the union would stand and they'd return to a position like the UK, Denmark and Sweden which are in the EU and outside the euro. The rest is a lot of scare mongering to make them realize the seriousness of the situation, they both stand to lose on a collapse and as long as they don't play chicken on who takes the bill there will be a solution.

            • by 0123456 (636235)

              No wonder Europe is doomed, if so many there can't even see that the EU is, and always was, intended to create a 'United States Of Europe'.

          • by khallow (566160)
            In another story, someone was yacking about it being a "trade agreement" [slashdot.org]. I didn't buy that then. I think it's an out of control bureaucracy with too much power and the ability to barter to gain more power in trade for positions in the EU government.
      • Have you actually been to northern Europe? Do you know anything about intra-EU migration, especially from places like Poland, Romania or Bulgaria?

    • I agree that this sounds like a ridiculous experiment. Of course, it can work while shielded within another system guaranteeing the security of those within as they ponder their quantified selves and hope the power doesn't go out or the network down, leaving them without a form of payment, data to tell them to eat more or less of a certain food, or a machine to make stuff for them. On a grand scale, however, it sounds like a voluntary prison. I feel the same way about your universal welfare state. For the r
    • by jythie (914043)
      Ah, but you forget, they way these projects are structured they never have to give up all those things since they talk about building right next to well established countries. They do not want to give up all the advantages of a strong government and economy, they just do not want to help pay for it or be constrained by the same rules.
  • by StripedCow (776465) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @10:43AM (#45180841)

    So let's say there are N choices you can "opt-in" for. Does this mean there will be 2^N societies to choose from?

  • With 3D printing, regulation is being turned into DRM. With quantified self, medicine is going mobile. With Bitcoin, capital control becomes packet filtering. All of these examples, Srinivasan says, are ways in which technology is allowing people to exit current systems like physical product production and distribution; personal health; and finance in favor of spaces of their own creation.
    "The best part is this, the people who think this is weird, the people who sneer at the frontier, who hate technology, won't follow you there," he said. "We need to run the experiment, to show what a society run by Silicon Valley looks like without affecting anyone who wants to live under the Paper Belt," he added, using the term "paper belt" to refer to the environments currently governed by pre-existing systems like the US government.

    good luck with those opt-in surgeons.

    just sayin

    • good luck with those opt-in surgeons.

      robotic surgeons could do a better job then any human if they would only let us develop the technology!

      • good luck with those opt-in surgeons.

        robotic surgeons could do a better job then any human if they would only let us develop the technology!

        and what exactly is stopping you?

  • 'The best part is this,' Srinivasan said. 'The people who think this is weird, the people who sneer at the frontier, who hate technology, won't follow you there.'"

    Nope, instead they'll be the ones who build a thick high wall around your new "space" to make sure you stay put and don't infect everything outside of it. Your space will become a prison like Waco, Texas, etc. Eventually they'll decide to reclaim the space you Occupy, and then it's game-over.

    • by geirlk (171706)

      Nope, instead they'll be the ones who build a thick high wall around your new "space" to make sure you stay put and don't infect everything outside of it. Your space will become a prison like Waco, Texas, etc. Eventually they'll decide to reclaim the space you Occupy, and then it's game-over.

      If your society doesn't manage to snuff itself out before that.

    • Why reclaim? This would be the perfect place to send all the antisocial elements.

  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @11:00AM (#45180959)
    I think that when those "existing governments" want to collect taxes on your opt-in society, you'll find out just how easy it is to be "outside existing governments".
  • by raymorris (2726007) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @11:09AM (#45181021)

    He wants to build a society with built-in mechanisms that subvert existing businesses and institutions, while promoting new ones. Okay, that's fine on day one.

    A week later, the "new" institutions are "existing", so those mechanisms subvert them. His plan then, is quite literally to build a society that subverts itself -where anything built is destroyed.

  • build a small tech incubator city that floats in international waters, outside of government control

    Are these people planning to operate outside the law of an existing country? This seems beyond impossible. Not even worth discussing.

    The Mars colony is more interesting for the technology required to to this than the society that might spring up on Mars.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    To dust off an old joke: who cleans the shitters in Galt's Gulch? Who "opts-in" to be a janitor?

    Remember, the toolbags who are coming up with this are the same ones who think BART employees get paid "too much", so don't count on financial incentives to make somebody sign up.

    • by khallow (566160)

      To dust off an old joke: who cleans the shitters in Galt's Gulch? Who "opts-in" to be a janitor?

      No idea since the book didn't say, but I bet it was a profitable business since you had all these rich guys, paying in gold, who probably didn't know and didn't want to know how to clean a toilet.

      I must admit to being puzzled why this is even considered a joke. It's a pretty obvious and very long ago solved problem.

  • The USA has a history of wacky religious/millennial utopian society's none of them lasted more than a few years and some ended really badly and does Mr Srinivasan expect there will be a place for colored people in this brave new world other than as navvies as is currently the practice in the middle east.
    • by khallow (566160)

      and does Mr Srinivasan expect there will be a place for colored people in this brave new world

      Let me guess, you're one of those people who thinks Western civilization disappears when the colored people are left to their own devices?

      • by mjwalshe (1680392)
        Are you really that stupid? The point I was making that a lot of the rich libertarians who want their own state will not have a place for non whites except as servants (Deltas as brave new world has it) - no matter if they all good BJP voting high caste boys and girls.

        Does not president Obamas treatment not clue you in to some of the "issues" the USA still has over race
        • by khallow (566160)

          Does not president Obamas treatment not clue you in to some of the "issues" the USA still has over race

          No, it doesn't because the man was elected and reelected president and the political differences are all over obvious issues not the color of his skin.

          There are racist ideas still around, for example, your assertions that colored people wouldn't be able to cut it in a libertarian society, but they no longer have the impact on US society that they did prior to the 1950s.

          • by mjwalshe (1680392)
            No I was saying that hat the libertarian socialites would be run by and for the WASP's with no place for Sons of Abraham and BME people
  • Deregulation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdZ (755139) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @12:27PM (#45181571)

    'The best part is this,' Srinivasan said. 'The people who think this is weird, the people who sneer at the frontier, who hate technology, won't follow you there.'

    But people who will be quite happy to exploit your deregulated society will be right there with you!

    Complain all you want about 'big banks' unethical behavior (really, keep complaining, write to your local MP/senator/whathaveyou, make sure the issue doesn't get dropped) but government regulation of banking means that if you put your money in a bank, you can be sure (at least up to £85,000 per Bank in the UK) that you will always have access to that money. Without regulation, then you have situations like with Paypal where the holder of you money can just up and decide "Nope, you can't have it anymore. It's ours for at least the next 9 months. Oh, you want an explanation? Too bad!".
    Or how about enforcing standards, like power supply? You want a situation where not only does every device have it's own plug, but your house may not even supply the same voltage or frequency as the neighbourhood a mile away? 'No government at all' works fantastically when all your actors are rational and honest. That is also true to Communism. Finding this mythical group of rational and honest actors (and keeping out even a single bad egg) is the hard part.

    • by Animats (122034)

      But people who will be quite happy to exploit your deregulated society will be right there with you!

      Right. Look at Bitcoin. Most of the standard financial scams have been replicated in the Bitcoin world. Ponzi schemes, fake stocks, fake stock markets, brokers who took the money and ran, crooked escrow services, "online wallet" services that stole customer funds - that's Bitcoin. In the US banking crisis, depositors didn't lose their money. Even Madoff's customers are slowly getting about half their money back, as the liquidator sues everybody who made a big profit.

      Scamming is such a big part of the Bitc

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Scamming is such a big part of the Bitcoin economy because almost nobody is using it for anything legitimate. There's no real advantage for legitimate use over fiat currency at this time, and significant disadvantages. So long as we pay for our groceries in dollars, most people would much rather have dollars than some bits that have no established support.

      • by khallow (566160)
        So what you're saying is that BitCoin might not be the best investment choice for your life savings. Who would have thought that?

        I don't get why people care so much about the illegal activity going on in BitCoin. If you don't like it, then don't get mixed up in it. No one is forcing you to invest in BitCoin Ponzi schemes.
      • Right. Look at Bitcoin. Most of the standard financial scams have been replicated in the Bitcoin world. Ponzi schemes, fake stocks, fake stock markets, brokers who took the money and ran, crooked escrow services, "online wallet" services that stole customer funds - that's Bitcoin.

        Actually, no. That is, as you said, "standard financial scams" which usually rely on convincing people to give up control of their money. The whole point of Bitcoin is you don't have to give your money to random untrustworthy third

    • Not that I'm a fan of anarcho-capitalism (at all), but your points would have fairly ready responses from the crowd that is - obviously, their envisioned utopia doesn't have banks or PayPal equivalents, rather all money is in the form of Bitcoin which cannot be arbitrarily seized like that.

      Also, re: power supplies, it often isn't necessary for governments to impose particular technical standards. For instance the internet has developed all kinds of protocols and standards without any government mandates.

      I t

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @01:27PM (#45181983) Homepage

    Not seeing any concrete plans here. Some of the ideas are silly, such as Blueseed, the scheme to have a ship just outside of US waters full of programmers. That's just a tax shelter. Of course, they want the U.S. Coast Guard to help them if they get in trouble, as their prospectus says. And they want a large ferry dock and a freighter doc in San Mateo County's Pillar Point small-boat harbor. And they want ICE to make that small-boat harbor a US entry point, so people don't have to go up to San Francisco on a boat to visit the US. They also wanted to set up a microwave link at the USAF radar station at Pillar Point. But they don't want to pay for any of this.

    Then there was CITE [cite-city.com], a small city to be built in New Mexico. No people - it was supposed to be just for testing "new technologies". The company behind it [pegasusglo...ldings.com] turns out to be basically one guy without much money and a lot of clip art. Got a lot of press, and even some political support, then the vaporware project went away. The business model made no sense.

    Further back, there was the high-tech Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, which Walt Disney was going to build. Disney World has EPCOT today, but it's a theme park; nobody lives there. Disney did eventually build Celebration, FL, which is a retro-looking subdivision.

    Some very top-down countries have done things like this: Tsukuba Science City, Guangzhou Science City, King Khalid Military City, and Brasilia. Those are all Government projects. The US private sector has a long history of "company towns", most of it not too good.

  • The US western frontier was often sold to the easterners as a place you could go to free yourselves from the stranglehold of modern society and make a clean start.

    Sadly, most of the folks that made the trek were ill prepared for the radical self reliance required of early settlers in that territory. Many simply returned (some died on the way out or back), and a vanishing few found their dream lives. Of course their attempts paved the way for those that followed.

    What made it possible, the lure of course was

  • Didn't we already do this? A new nation that subverts the existing structures, even has a system built-in for making sure we don't have stagnant hierarchical power structures? I believe it was called "the United States of America."

    Don't kid yourself into thinking you're "special" and "not like those guys." Please learn from previous generations and previous attempts. "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it" is not just a clever bon mot to be dismissed.

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