David Brin is best-known for shining light — plausibly and entertainingly — 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-known 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. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four Worlds Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow.
where Brin rants, probes, questions & studies
jettison the orthodoxies & ideologies of prior centuries
Brin predicted it in 2007: Just as Soviet commissars recited egalitarian nostrums while relentlessly quashing freedom in the USSR, many of our new clade of American Commissars mouth "pro-capitalism" lip service while doing everything they can to cheat and foil competitive markets. In "The Relevance of an Old Nemesis — as Even Older Ones Return," he reminds us: We always have to push uphill against a perilous slope of human nature.
Could a single scientific breakthrough help get us past today's rising mass frenzy of self-righteousness that has poisoned politics in the United States and some other countries? Brin has long corresponded with experts, trying to find out. The resulting essay, "Addicted to Self-Righteousness? An Open Letter to Researchers In the Fields of Addiction, Brain Chemistry, and Social Psychology," led to papers in psychiatric journals and a speech at the National Institutes for Drugs and Addiction.
Here's an idea: Why don't all reasonable people break free of the left-right stranglehold imposed on us by less-reputable politicians and form an Alliance for a Modern World? One approach may be to form coalitions that agree to promote — boldly and openly — a dozen consensus agenda items, and refuse to be drawn into other fights. Is it possible to negotiate a list of desiderata that all modernist defenders of the Enlightenment might stand behind?
Fundamental to this calamitous presidency is not just the vulgarity or toddler tantrums, nor his rally-pleasing hatred of fact-professions. It is Donald Trump's essential inability to grasp what the word "negotiation" means, outside of his old worlds: real estate and reality shows.
Every few years a new battle begins in the seemingly-neverending Global Climate Change culture war. Trained as a scientist, and knowing many who research the atmospheres of 8 planets or who propelled spectacular advances in weather forecasting, Brin tends toward listening to expert advice on this one — especially since we're only being asked to do things we should be doing anyway. In 2007 he posted an essay dealing with some logical flaws in the denial-movement, going after those who claim: "I'm not denying science, just asking questions!"
Before the hate-all-government narrative becomes official government policy, we may want to re-learn the lessons of the last 6000 years. During most of that time, independent innovation was actively suppressed by kings and lords and priests, fearing anything (except new armaments) that might upset their hierarchy. Moreover, innovators felt a strong incentive to keep any discoveries secret, lest competitors "steal" their advantage. As a result, many brilliant inventions were lost when the discoverers died — lost for millennia before being rediscovered after much unnecessary pain.
Throughout the 20th Century, the trend in our culture was monotonic, toward ever-increasing reliance on protection and coddling by institutions, formally deliberated procedures and official hired guns — none of which availed us at all on 9/11/2001. Rather, events that day seem to suggest a reversal, toward the older notion of a confident, self-reliant citizenry.
Of course it’s too early to forecast a major counter-trend. But indications are provocative. Rather than diminishing the role of the individual, advances in technology seem to be rapidly empowering average citizens, even as professional cynics forecast freedom’s demise.
Back in 2008 Brin wrote a series of essays proposing quick-fixes for seemingly-intractible problems with the way we conduct our politics. This essay issued alarms about the consequences of our failure to change the anti-democratic Electoral College. As he noted then, "Every four years we hear calls to replace the Electoral College with plurality popular voting (the worst of all possible alternatives). But nothing happens. Nor will it soon, because one party — the Republican — benefits from the status quo." Read his proposal to reform the Electoral College in a way that wouldn't require a Constitutional Amendment.
Who doesn't like the idea of oppositional leaders finding a patch of consensus amid a sea of discord? We cheer when heads of state, overcome differences between nations in order to sign a treaty that finds common ground. Why shouldn't politicians within parties do the same? Wouldn't you like to see the list of issues and policies that candidates from both major parties stipulated, or "agreed that they agree" about a set of issues and policies?
Face it: majority rule is no longer a part of America's politics. The winning Presidential candidate no longer earns 50% of the total vote (and is now beginning to be elected without a plurality win). Today, the House of Representatives is held by the party that received less than 50% of the vote; in 2014, Senate Democrats received 20 million more votes than the GOP and still lost seats. The long-term solution — equitable distribution — is unlikely to be implemented by a minority-ruling party. Back in 2008 Brin proposed honoring the losing majority by requiring the Minority Party meet with — and listen to — a delegation from the opposing party.
Those who feel only contempt for the Neoconservative Revolution are hurting their own cause by not studying how that revolution was achieved. After all, it's not the unctuous ideology or the charm of its snake-oil salesmen that convinces people to elect real-life versions of Frank Underwood or Bob Roberts. The neocons' relentless march from post-Watergate nadir to unprecedented dominion, aided by Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, ought to be studied carefully, especially by those who want to turn America away from amoral ruthlessness. Bottom line: people want promises.
Under conditions that are growing worse daily, millions of Americans who think they have a vote, do not actually have one. Not one that is meaningful, that is. They assume they have voted because they weren't stopped or turned away on election day by one of the more overt voter suppressions tactics, but when it comes to the elections that choose our legislative branches of government, most Americans have been denied any chance to choose their representatives. By quietly and gradually cranking up a process called gerrymandering, members of the Political Caste have managed to effectively deprive us of one of our most basic American birthrights — choosing our representatives.
2006 was the year when the people took a leap of faith and voted closer to their own interests — and action that took experts, pundits, and 'conventional wisdom' by surprise. Knowing that electoral victory is meaningless if it's botched, or implemented without imagination or with a mean-spirited zealotry that plays into the hands of those who want perpetual "culture war," David Brin posted "You Broke It, So You Fix It: A Modest To-Do List for Congress," detailing how Congress could change the nation's way of governance.
Nothing demonstrates the silliness of left-right "culture war" more than the illogical fight over human-caused climate change (HCC). People who take fierce positions over a scientific matter based on their politics should be ashamed of themselves. Originally published in Skeptic Magazine, "Skeptics versus Deniers: Creating a Climate of 'No!'" shows you how to tell a true "skeptic" from an opportunistic "denialist."
Why do so few politicians — especially incumbents — run ON their record? They run FROM it: Every election they vow to tackle problems they were elected 10, 20, even 30 years earlier to fix. What do they do between elections, when they are supposed to be exercising the power they've been given? Are there any statistically measurable accomplishments or proved positive effects? Don't effective leaders normally brag about their past effectiveness? In this article, "The GOP won’t run ON their record — they run FROM it," Brin takes a look at the notably substance-free 2012 campaign rhetoric.
The one trait shared by anti-modernists of both left and right appears to be a disdain for our ability to learn and do bold new things. In reviewing Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, Brin explores how politically-based interpretations explain much of this collapse of confidence. Alas, politics — despite centuries of hard refinement — is still far more ego-driven art than craft.
After every mass murder journalists, shrinks and the public fret over each killer's declared motivation, perhaps hoping that knowing what sparked that particular killing frenzy might prevent the next one. Yet, when we stop and look for common threads, a pattern emerges: these seem to be less about the killers' specific hatreds than a frenzied, bloody tantrum staged by a string of losers with one common goal: immediate, global fame. In "Names of Infamy: Deny Killers the Notoriety they Seek" Brin proposes a solution that spree killers are sure to hate.
What the deep-right calls "culture war," Brin suggests, is actually Phase Three of the American Civil War: "... an educated person knows that Marxists at least have thought a lot more than the rest of us have about this whole 'class' thing that most of us blithely ignored, during the anomalously flat era from 1945 to 2000."
There are still millions of our neighbors who are sincere in seeing themselves as reasonable (if conservative) Americans — who have agreed to look the other way while their beliefs are redefinition into its opposite. From prudence to recklessness, from accountability to secrecy, from fiscal discretion to spendthrift profligacy, from consistency to hypocrisy, from civility to nastiness, from logic to unreason — no cherished principle has been left intact. And still they aert their eyes. In "The Ostrich Papers: How It Will Take ALL Decent Americans To Restore Decency To America" Brin proposes begin a dialogue with the ostriches. Perhaps you might want to start by studying how the GOP so successfully demonized Bill Clinton during his Presidency (the tactics and techniques haven't changed).
American neoconservatism and Islamic fundamentalism would — at first sight — appear to be polar opposites. Indeed, that appearance deliberately cultivated by both groups. After the folly of the Iraq War, Brin wrote a nuanced, abstract dissection, "Neoconservatism, Islam and Ideology: The Real Culture War," describing the weird symbiosis between the various neoconservative movements. Now the façade that the two are ideological opposites has crumbled.
The widely-circulated nostrum called the "Tytler Calumny" is the great example of what has gone wrong with the mental processes of our friends on the right, who used to be represented in sage debate by great minds like Barry Goldwater and Friedrich Hayek and William F. Buckley... but who are now reduced to slinging around aphorisms and fact-free faux-assertions.
We don't yet live in a civilization that rewards openness and forgiveness, Brin reminds us, and in a warning to enthusiastic-yet-incautious neophytes and idealists, he advises a little "protective paranoia." Powerful people will see idealism as a threat to their interests, and some of the more unscrupulous may seek to neutralize that threat using one of the most basic ancient techniques — going back to biblical times — of entrapment and blackmail, which can systematically undermine even the most well-meaning person.
Naturally, we needn't look at this struggle over human hearts and minds as a "war." When Brin called it that in a speech at Brigham Young University in 1989, few had heard about memetics. At the time, we were in the final phase of a Cold War waged mainly through propaganda. So warning about a coming meme war was intentionally a bit provocative. Subsequent events have established "Survival of the Fittest Ideas" as a predictive hit.
None of the observations Brin offers can be made to fit the most pervasive, misleading and mind-numbing political metaphor of all time: the left-right political axis, which trivializes complex issues, masking their inconsistencies and contradictions. Yet, we cling to obsolete oversimplifications because they have proved effective at just one thing: enforcing alliances between people who disagree deeply about everything excepting their hatred for a common enemy. This is how our quadrennial culture war was fought in 2004.
David Brin is devoutly loyal to the Enlightenment and — yes — patriotic toward a version of Pax Americana representing our best and smartest virtues. This passion can be roused by events to express vigorous partisanship toward or against a particular candidate in an election, not because he prefers the simpleminded "left" or "right" solutions that candidate espouses, but because overwhelming evidence leads him to conclude that civilization is in danger from a particular gang of manipulative rascals. He posted this unabashedly political just before the 2004 election. "War in the 21st Century," is specifically about that election, but also about whether "Pax Americana" is a viable concept for the next few decades.
Every election American taxpayers watch, wait, and hope for the candidate who will turn to the camera and say, “Of course the rich pay too little tax!” — and just like that Supply Side economics would end. In "The Fairness Divide: Intervention That Liberals and Conservatives Can Agree On," Brin looks what we could choose to replace it with. Do we prefer interventions that increase opportunity for all, or interventions that aim at fairness in outcomes?
David Brin's blog post on how to improve our current tax system got picked up by both Pop Sci and io9. He expanded on it and turned it into an article here: "The 'No-Losers' Tax Simplification Proposal."
What's a Transaction Fee, why do we need it, and how would it save us from the Terminator? The answers to these questions — and to a number of other economic conundrums — may surprise you!
What makes the Republicans so successful at building unlikely coalitions? How are they able to bring together groups that — on the surface — have nothing to gain in becoming allies? Strictly in terms of practical realpolitik, that accomplishment merits respect and careful study, the kind of respect any foe ought to give, if grudgingly, to opponents who can reinvent themselves, adopt compelling new messages, recognize unlikely opportunities, and seize the slimmest advantages — the kind of respect that precedes an effective effort to fight back.
Most third-party and non-partisan voters know — far better than others — that the hoary old left-right political spectrum is worse than useless. Alas, some of the "better alternatives" only serve to muddy the waters. This speech-transcript to the Libertarian convention offers a few insights into the paradoxical appeal of ideology that could be useful for any truly alternative party.
For the last three decades the American people — when polled in a neutral manner — tend to prefer Democratic positions on policies, like transparency, low-secrecy, accountability, energy research, moderate environmentalism, tolerance of individual eccentricities, and responsible attention to international affairs. BUT the Republican Party has proved incredibly adept at using politically innovative tactics to win despite these policy disadvantages: Democrats won the Presidency in 2008 and again in 2012, but succumbed again in 2016. In 2005 Brin wrote "How Progressives Can Win Back America", which proposed both strategic and concrete plans. Perhaps it's time for a re-read?
To many U.S. voters, one issue towers foremost — the Fiscal Cliff of rising public debt. Frightened by the much-worse debt crises in Greece, Spain etc, Americans fret about floods of red ink that reached more than a trillion dollars a year under George W. Bush, and that have gone down only slightly under Barack Obama. Want to invest some time into understanding the deficit and the debt? Brin lists and appraises the EIGHT major reasons that deficit so quickly grew. We need to understand these 8 factors — how they happened, and how the decisions were made — before we're lulled into another cliff-dive.
Across 4,000 years we’ve seen that whenever a small group of men become powerful enough to control an economy and command-allocate its resources, they will do so according to biased perceptions, in-group delusions and fatally limited knowledge. Whether they do the normal oligarchic thing — cheating for self-interest — or else sincerely try to "allocate for the good of all," they will generally do it badly. Time to stop using Adam Smith and F. A. Hayek to rationalize oligarchy.
In 1999 Time Magazine had crowds throng to its web site eagerly voting for who should be named "Person of the Century." Brin's pick was George Marshall, who — as he explains in "My Candidate for Person of the Century" — gave the world a few decades of respite from the slaughterhouse of ideologues like Hitler and Stalin.
Marshall was also the strategist behind a miraculous event that happened seventy years ago — when liberals and Democrats went through a wrenching, painful self-transformation to preserve that hard-won peace.
Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson interviews Brin and Boise State University professor Justin Vaughn how our cameras-everywhere culture is affecting the candidates, presidential campaigns and us.
In Living Planet Magazine, takes on the role of science fiction in proposing solutions to our environmental challenges.
A panel discussion at Arizona State University on reputation systems, surveillance technologies, and the future of the Internet as a problem-solving tool.
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!). Learn More
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form. Learn More
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore. Learn More
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages. Learn More
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research. Learn More
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy. Learn More
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.Learn More
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Learn More
All the Ways in the World to Reach David Brin
"Even the more advanced and older alien races are not just godlike beings of infinite wisdom, anymore than the Gubru and similar nasties are simply scientific demons. Brin's gift for diversity and for showing paradoxically the human side of alien races is something extremely rare in science fiction authors."
— Fantasy Book Review
"New tech is handing society tough decisions to make anew about old issues of privacy and accountability. In opting for omni-directional openness, David Brin takes an unorthodox position, arguing knowledgeably and with exceptionally balanced perspective."
— Stewart Brand, Director of Global Business Network
"The struggle to save the planet gives Brin the occasion to recap recent global events: a world war fought to wrest all caches of secret information from the grip of an elite few; a series of ecological disasters brought about by environmental abuse; and the effects of a universal interactive data network on beginning to turn the world into a true global village. Fully dimensional and engaging characters with plausible motivations bring drama to these scenarios."
— Publishers Weekly
"This is a fun novel, rich with ideas, that examines on a very human level the ramifications and side effects of our ambitions and the things we take for granted. It's also a hard-boiled murder mystery with levels of physics and metaphysics that work your brain. But for me, as always, it's David Brin's characters that really pull me into the story and keep me up until three in the morning."
— Barnes and Noble Review