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Re: Your fans in Russia talk about you...
- To: <acad!crunch>, <acad!xanadu!us>
- Subject: Re: Your fans in Russia talk about you...
- From: Marc Stiegler <acad!xanadu!marcs>
- Date: Thu, 29 Dec 88 11:58:33 PST
Yesterday I drafted an email message about Xanadu and the Soviet
Union. I was creating it in response to the general euphoria
about Russian hypertext, with no specific incident or situation
I now find that at about the same time that I was creating this
general commentary, John Draper was writing up his latest communique
with the "good guys" in the Soviet Union, which I have just read.
I would desperately like to support Valerie and the rest of the
good people of the Soviet Union. But we must not forget that
the Soviet Union is still mostly an inverted organization, where
the people who do not believe in freedom call the final shots.
We must be very careful that we DO NOT give Valerie a form of
support that he could regret a couple of years from now, if the
pendulum swings and the tide of reform recedes--for once a Xanadu
hypertext system is installed, it is very very difficult to remove.
In consideration of the sobering consequences of hasty action,
the message I was preparing yesterday is even more relevant than
I my darkest fears were at the time:
In the US military, one among the many common problems is
the problem of technomania blindness: someone comes up with a
great new innovation, magnificently clever, stupendously costly,
completely destroying the enemy's ability to fight. The innovation
promises either total destruction of the enemy, making them as
helpless as babies, or it promises total invulnerability for
our friends, guaranteeing the survival of our troops despite
any enemy threat.
People who promise and/or believe these things are not,
of course, in a life-and-death struggle to DISPROVE the promise--only
the the engineers and soldiers who work for the opposition have
the life-and-death inspiration to scrutinize and refute the promise.
My favorite recent unclassified example is the Stealth Bomber:
the Stealth has a useful service life of at most 10 years, because
the countermeasure is obvious: use cheap, extra-powerful radar
transmitters with multiple, passive, decoupled receivers to detect
it. It will cost a lot less to clear the skies of Stealth than
it cost to put them up there.
For similar reasons, I have for several years wanted to
offer a 1-billion-dollar, tax-free prize to the first American
Admiral who described in the open press a reliable tactic for
sinking aircraft carriers--it would be a cheap price to pay for
the service of canceling all those aircraft carrier construction
I have almost never encountered a pure technological solution
to a problem where there were powerful, smart human beings who
had vested interests in countering the solution. People who believe
in such technological solutions generally have an interest in
believing their own claims. I'm not talking here about a financial
interest, like the profits you could make building the new swing-wing
vertical-takeoff Stealth transport with Chobham armor; I'm talking
here about the simple psychological benefits of believing that
you are working on the ANSWER.
We of Xanadu believe that Open Hypertext is the ANSWER.
In many ways, it REALLY IS the ANSWER. But we must be very careful
not to make the mistakes the military makes.
My particular concern today, after one too many conversations
about the miracle of Gorbachev, is the wide-eyed glow of joy
I see among people who speak of putting Xanadu in the Soviet
Union. The belief seems to be that open hypertext, being open,
is impervious to abuse; it can only act as a force of good, and
freedom for mankind.
Folks, 'taint so.
Even the very first release of Xanadu will contain privacy-protection
tools. There are lots of reasons why privacy-protection is necessary.
A simple one is allowing corporations to keep salary and other
employee compensation information private. Even if a company
were willing to make such info available to all, both my own
experiences and the hints of tales told by Autodesk founders
at the last Xanadu Board Of Directors meeting suggest that public
debate about employee compensation produce only strife.
So we have to have privacy-protection.
Now, let us look at the way the Soviet Union government
treats information. The Powers That Be realize fully how important
information is. They have evolved, over the course of many administrations,
tremendously extensive systems to control the flow of information.
For example, if you walk into a library and ask for a copy of
the New York Times, you get a different version of the paper
depending on your class status--a lower class person gets a
copy with larger parts of the newspaper physically cut out (and
of course, a normal peon doesn't get any version of the paper
at all--he gets a write-up in a little book for assessment by
the Police of the Powers That Be).
Though I wish Gorbachev all the luck in the world reducing
the servitude of the peoples of the Soviet Union, we should not
count on him to disassemble control-of-information as part of
his power base any time soon--such control is far more fundamental
to the survival of the Soviet regime than tanks and fighters,
and Gorbachev is not yet even a Republican, much less a person
who believes in freedom of choice. Even the British government
keeps the lid on the media. And even if Gorbachev were to forget
how fundamental information control is, the other Powers who
haunt the land would remember.
If I were a Power That Be, I would be drooling at the opportunity
to set up open hypertext with privacy and versioning. For the
totalitarian dictator, Xanadu represents the most powerful tool
yet conceived for fine-tuning information access and control.
Open hypertext is a positive force for freedom only to the
extent that the operators of the hypermedia servers are moral,
only to the extent that those operators are believers in freedom.
A Xanadu server set up in Switzerland, with encrypted links to
satellites that talk to low-power directional antennas in Leningrad,
would be a force of good with little danger of abuse. But hypermedia
servers controlled by dictators will serve as tools of dictatorship.
Xanadu can be used to increase the power of tyranny. And
we might as well face it now: Xanadu WILL be used to increase
the power of tyranny, somewhere, sometime, somehow. To whatever
extent we accept credit for the freedom Xanadu creates, we must
also accept the blame for the oppression it will enable. Worldwide,
over the course of generations, I think the tradeoff is dramatically
in favor of freedom--but it IS a tradeoff.
What should we do? Obviously, eventually the Powers will
figure out how to use Xanadu, because we will promote all Xanadu's
capabilities and articulate them with brilliance in our campaign
to make Xanadu a de facto standard. Obviously, if someone wants
to pay hard cash for Xanadu we should sell it to them, since
it would be so easy for them to steal it anyway once we put it
But let us not rush to make Xanadu a de facto standard in
the oppressed, fear-filled places of the world before it becomes
a standard here at home.The best we can do is to not rush the
day when opponents of freedom figure out how good hypertext is.
The best we can do is to avoid going out of our way to demonstrate
to Powers That Be, or to those who report to such Powers, how
good hypertext is.
Remember: when we tell members of authoritarian regimes
how much better Xanadu will make their lives, we are telling
the truth. Be wary, and speak softly.