A mind is like a parachute
It might save your life,
but you have to know how to use it first.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Edward Snowden, Courageous White Blood Cell or Cancer?

Much more has been learned in the past day or so about where the leaks about the NSA came from.  Edward Snowden, a systems analyst for a private contractor working for the NSA leaked the PRISM information.  The Guardian has posted a fascinating 12 minute interview with him.

Again, as with all of the news around this topic, this is a lot to take in.   There are those who accuse him of wanting to defect to China -- which would make my earlier hypothesis seem fairly sound.  But he himself denies this, saying he picked Hong Kong as a location because it is a "fairly independent westernized government".   His choices may have been limited.  He desires a place that respects free speech (as he claims Hong Kong does) and is willing to exercise some independence from the US -- i.e. not just arrest him and hand him over immediately.

There are some important aspects of what Mr. Snowden has done and of the things he has exposed.  They are even important from the point of view of information theory and personal identity.  There are a number of ways we could approach this topic and still remain well within the bounds of "thinking about thinking".

But I am most interested in looking at his actions as an example of the tiny little "single celled human" and how he behaves in the big beast that is "human society".

As usual I am behind on my concepts, but I touched upon the "hive mind" a few times in earlier posts.  This is an analogy only --  not the literal state of affairs -- that suggests that each human participates in the global thought process a little like the way each neuron may contribute to thinking in the brain.  Well there is another extension of this thinking (which is also simply an analogy and not intended in any literal way) that treats "concepts" as enzymes.  Enzymes promote chemical processes in the body in somewhat the same way that concepts can promote social developments in a community.

Context defines our molds.
Information will bind to our context
only if it has been molded to fit.
We then transform it and pass it along.
This analogy treats humans as little cells running around full of their own enzymes and secretions (thoughts and expressions of those thoughts) in a larger body that translates these chemical reactions into macro-activity.  That is, the same way that a body might digest food or crave alcohol and turn this process into action (whether exercise or going to the store to buy beer), a community uses its collection of individual processes to both enable and motivate it to take action.

The concept of National Security in this model is a powerful enzyme that leverages a bunch of other activity.  Specialized cells give up their entire productive lives to the management of the enzyme called "National Security" -- doing what it takes to make as much of it as possible and even destroy those cells who try to absorb or destroy that enzyme.

Epinephrine!! You guys!  Seriously!
So now take the case of Edward Snowden.  He has sniffed out something he has found to be poisonous.  He has sent out a hormonal signal to the rest of the body.  The body has picked this up and individual cells are deciding how this chemical signal relates to their own enzymes.  Snowden's intention was to alert other cells to danger -- akin to how white blood cells might seek out and destroy a virus.

Meanwhile the cells responsible for production of National Security enzyme have sent out some hormone signatures of their own.  They are intent on treating this rogue cell like it is a mutant cancer cell which needs to be destroyed to protect the health of the body.

Much more on how this analogy fits with our "Information, Context, Action" model later.  But while a perfect example was playing out in international affairs, I wanted to comment on it.

And as far as the particulars of this event -- it will be interesting to see if he does land in China, or even if Xi Jinping allows him to stay or hands him over to the US.  So this is interesting to me on two levels. It is fascinating as an example of how individual cells in the global community can decide on a call to action and how the system responds to rogue signals from misbehaving cells.   But it is also compelling for the real world issues involved -- the balance of security versus the expectation of privacy.

I'll be chiming in about both these angles in the days to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment