David Brin's best-selling novels include The Postman (filmed in 1997) plus explorations of our near-future in Earth and Existence. His award-winning novels and short stories explore vividly speculative ideas through a hard-science lens. His 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.
Brin has been writing about these issues for several years before and after the publication of The Transparent Society. Here are a few venues where he continues the discussion.
See these pages of David Brin's articles and interviews on science, technology, inventions & discoveries, and how we're designing our future.
David Brin isn't the only person thinking about transparency and writing about The Transparent Society.
The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? was published in May 1998 by Perseus Press (formerly Addison Wesley). This large nonfiction work concerns threats to privacy and openness in the information age. It won the Obeler Freedom of Speech Award from the American Library Association and was a finalist for the McGannon Public Policy Prize, and is still in print.
Our society has one great knack above all others — one that no other ever managed — that of holding the mighty accountable. Although elites of all kinds still have many advantages over commonfolk, never before have citizens been so empowered. And history shows that this didn't happen by blinding the mighty — a futile endeavor that has never worked. It happened by insisting that everybody get to see. By citizens demanding the power to know.
Chasing Shadows is a science fiction and tech-vision anthology about the coming age of transparency.
Light appears to be pouring across the planet. Young people log their lives with hourly True Confessions. Cops wear lapel-cams and spy agencies peer at us — but suffer defections and whistle blowers. Bank records leak and "uncrackable" firewalls topple. As we debate internet privacy, revenge porn, the NSA and Edward Snowden, cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, better and more numerous — faster than Moore's Law.
Is it the dawn of Big Brother? Or a billion judgmental "little brothers"? The authors contributing stories and essays to Chasing Shadows will explore their own visions of what might propel — or obstruct — a world civilization awash in light.
This is the page where — in a creepy "Twilight zone" moment — The Transparent Society seemed to predict the events of 9/11 and the details of the Patriot Act:
"As a mental experiment, let's go along with FBI director Freehand try to envisage what might have happened if those bombers had actually succeeded in toppling both towers of New York's World Trade Center, killing tens of thousands. Or imagine that nuclear or bio-plague terrorists someday devastate a city. Now picture the public reaction if the FBI ever managed to show real (or exaggerated) evidence that they were impeded in preventing the disaster by an inability to tap coded transmissions sent by the conspirators. They would follow this proof with a petition for new powers, to prevent the same thing from happening again."
Thanks to the great science fiction author, George Orwell, we share a compelling metaphor — Big Brother — propelling our fears about a future that may be dominated by tyrants. Finding ways to escape that fate — and instead preserve this narrow, fragile renaissance of freedom — is the common goal of activists across the spectrum.
Facial Recognition has arrived... Smile! The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working on the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS), allowing authorities to identify individuals by their faces — from images collected by street cams, driver’s license photos, mug shots or other sources. Oversight and sousveillance are absolutely essential lest this lead to Big Brother.
You may have heard that a consortium of journalists, working on a cache of 2.5 million recently spilled files, has cracked open the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and mega-rich the world over. If preliminary reports prove to be true, it could portend the start of a worldwide radical movement for transparency that I forecast (including — for dramatic effect — a world war on Switzerland) in my 1989 novel Earth.
Sousveillance isn't just a response to surveillance, it is the wellspring of freedom. We should ask which is more important: what government knows about us, or what it might do to us? Actions can be observed and transgressors held accountable by a brash citizenry monitoring from below — when the goal to preserve both freedom and safety.
The Transparent Society describes exactly this kind of tension, between citizens armed with new tools of vision and accountability, and tens of thousands of police who see themselves as doing a harsh, difficult and under-appreciated job. Cameras will get smaller, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile every year. So figures of authority might as well get used to it now.
In the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about the U.S. Intelligence Community — and the subsequent storm of protest — President Obama appointed a blue ribbon commission to survey the situation and report back with recommendations. The contents of their report — now made public — were certain to raise controversy. Which fixes would you want?
Perhaps the best cursory look at the unusual argument made in The Transparent Society can be found in "Akademos: A Parable about Openness." An extended excerpt — plus some summarized points — is available for reading on this website.
In this essay, published on Contrary Brin, David notes: Cameras are getting smaller, faster, better, cheaper and more mobile at a rate far faster than Moore's Law. And yet, nearly every discussion of surveillance assumes that they will remain great big, visible boxes on lamp posts. They won’t. They will shrink and move and zoom and become smaller and more numerous than mosquitos. Calls to banish them fail to answer — How?
Watch this speech delivered at Bard College's Hannah Arendt Center, where Brin notes that wanting to preserve privacy is only the beginning. How do we preserve it, when we look for Big Brother in government and universities and corporations and fail to see the ones living next door?
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 300 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 appraised as "#1 influencer" in Onalytica's Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands & publications. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Learn More
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