David Brin is best-known for shining light on technology, society, and countless challenges confronting our rambunctious civilization. His best-selling novels include The Postman (filmed in 1997) plus explorations of our near-future in Earth and Existence. Other novels are translated into 25+ languages. His short stories explore vividly speculative ideas. 

Brin’s nonfiction book The Transparent Society won the American Library Association’s Freedom of Speech Award for exploring 21st Century concerns about security, secrecy, accountability and privacy. 

As a scientist, tech consultant and world-renowned author, he speaks, advises, and writes widely on topics from national defense and homeland security to astronomy and space exploration, SETI and nanotechnology, future/prediction, creativity, and philanthropy.


Presentation: Transparent Society & Sousveillance


Moving to Positive Sum Thinking

Positive Sum Thinking is the idea that underlies the attempts at restructuring the world from a pyramidal society with oligarchs at the top to a diamond shaped society with a robust middle class and merit-based upward mobility.

Each attempt at moving to a Positive Sum dynamic (Periclean Athens, Da Vinci’s Florence, etc) was met with an intense immune response from the oligarchs at the top.

Small Kills All

The Intelligent Voluntary Cooperation group has discussed one of Fermi’s great filters: the idea of “small kills all”, or technology allowing relatively small groups to cause massive damage to society. Brin has spoken of this concept regularly at some of the protector caste agencies (who ask sci-fi authors to scare them, which always works).

Chinese intellectuals say the “small kills all” idea is why the pyramid-shaped society is necessary, to catch and prevent these problems from occurring. The idea is that you need centralized control or you won’t catch the anomalies that kill everyone.

However, if you look across history, while these societies ARE stable and work with human reproductive patterns, they are always “stupid”. China’s is smarter than other pyramidal systems, but still inherently stupid.

Alternatively, the Periclean alternatives are unstable and can topple INTO stupidity. “Stupid” here referring to authoritarian control, human rights violations, lack of privacy and the like.

Reciprocal Accountability

What you have as an alternative to the pyramid model is Reciprocal Accountability, the basic notion that underlies the Enlightenment experiment. 90% of our error detection systems are flat and reciprocal, this is how progress gets made, not by declarations from the top.

We have to open up cooperation, but it’s joined at the hip with competition. We can’t get proper competition without cooperation, and you can’t get cooperation without (bounded) competitive dynamics.

The great benefit of the Enlightenment is not democracy and freedom: those are tools we use to get to the real thing, Reciprocal Accountability.

While we viscerally fear big brother individually, the biggest reason to combat it is that history shows that these systems are stupid. Even Orwell’s Oceania with all the control they had couldn’t govern well!


The key is to replace surveillance with sousveillance: transparency aimed upward at the elites, stripping them naked and enforcing accountability. If we can do that we will be immune to big brother, but we will be at risk of the second tier problem: social self-oppression.

Replacing oligarchy with a 51% majority that openly and honestly votes for suppression of the 49% isn’t an improvement. The answer to this is cultural.


Against Nosiness

If you have a culture that detects everything, but the least liked behavior is nosiness, then those who say “mind your own business” will be empowered, and those who say “you’re not conforming!” are pounced on as bullies. This solves the secondary failure mode.



Seminar summary by James Risberg.