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  • Facebook just announced sweeping changes to fix significant problems  with its  newsfeed , the main conduit for news and information for over 2 billion people.  However, the problems with Facebook's newsfeed won't be fixed with these tweaks.  In fact, they are likely to get much worse as Facebook attempts to fix them.  

    To understand why, let's jet back to 2001, years before Facebook and Twitter. 



    In 2001, the little software company I was at launched the first social networking product.  The central feature of that product was the first  newsfeed -- a presentation of the stream of updates you get from the people you are friends with and the pages you follow that you could interact with.

    The reason I'm mentioning this is that one of the central discussions we had at the time was over how to organize the newsfeed.  As we sorted through the options for organizing it, it was apparent even at that early stage that anything but the most basic sorting mechanism (simple reverse chronological order - newest at top) would eventually turn the newsfeed into a chaotic and unpredictable soup.  

    Keep this in mind as we flash forward to 2018. 

    In 2018, over 4 billion people are now using social networking, and the newsfeed is now the main conduit for news and information for over half the planet.  However, these users aren't using the simple reverse chronological newsfeed we had in the first social networking product. 

    At Facebook, in particular, the newsfeed is actively managed and sorted -- by algorithms and increasingly, AIs -- to maximize the time people spend on the network and the revenue generated by their interactions.  That effort is why the Facebook newsfeed has become a chaotic soup yielding unpredictable outcomes.

    To see why failure was (and will continue to be) inevitable, let me recast the situation:  

    • Facebook is actively micromanaging the information flow and social interactions of over 2 billion people, and insanely complex and highly uncertain task. 



    • Facebook is making the sweeping decisions on how to micromanage the newsfeed centrally (with a small team of young executives empowered to relentless tweak the system by the dictatorial fiat of the company's CEO).



    • Facebook's goals are a selfish  (in its version utopia, the world revolves around Facebook).

    See the inevitable problem now?

    This is similar in so many ways to the source of the failure we saw with 20th Century Communism.  They believed it was possible to centrally manage the economic interactions of millions centrally based on an utopian vision. 

    Needless to say, those plans didn't work out well.  These won't either.

    Sincerely,

    John Robb

    (written on clear and cold winter day)

    PS:  This is just the start.  Already, are overwhelming political systems, transforming warfare/ , and supercharging transnational criminal enterprise -- far more so than any of the threats that well funded military #cyberwarfare and civilian #cybersecurity protect against.  Worse, as if that isn't enough, the ongoing path of development in social networking is taking us towards forms of societal repression that would make George Orwell blush (that's the subject of January's  ).    

    PPS:  In a twist, one of the factors that is likely to drive FB towards increasingly heavy handed AI driven censorship will be the nonlinear behavior of the network caused by its constant micromanagement of the newsfeed.

  • The Russians have been using drone swarms against the Ukrainians to good effect (blowing up ammo dumps).  Here's one being used against a Russian base on the coast of Syria. 

    Recount as reported by the Russian MoD reported it this morning:

    Ten assault drones were approaching the Khmeimim air base, and another three -- the CSS point in Tartus. Six small-size air targets were intercepted and taken under control by the Russian EW units . Three of them were landed on the controlled area outside the base, and another three UAVs exploded as they touched the ground.

    Seven UAVs were eliminated by the Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missile complexes operated by the Russian air defence units on 24-hours alert. The Russian bases did not suffer any casualties or damages.

    Having decoded the data recorded on the UAVs, the specialists found out the launch site .

    It was the first time when terrorists applied a massed drone aircraft attack launched at a range of more than 50 km using modern GPS guidance system . Technical examination of the drones showed that such attacks could have been made by terrorists at a distance of about 100 kilometers.

    Engineering decisions applied by terrorists while attacks on the Russian objects in Syria could be received from one of countries with high-technological capabilities of satellite navigation and remote dropping control of professionally assembled improvised explosive devices in assigned coordinates. All drones of terrorists are fitted with pressure transducers and altitude control servo-actuators .  Terrorists' aircraft-type drones carried explosive devices with foreign detonating fuses.

    Some NOTES:  The swarm used what appears to be off the shelf tech.  It was a small swarm (only 13), and it was divided (two targets), which made it impossible overwhelm defenses.  It didn't fly low enough to avoid detection by anti-air.  The swarm also appears to be remotely controlled, likely as a means to provide target acquisition and terminal guidance. This allowed defense units to hack them.  

  • China's social credit score in action (it's how ).

    Essentially, this is a score that follows you for life. It's public and accessible.

    It goes down: If you break any rules, say bad things online, pay a creditor late, or any of a rapidly expanding list of immoral things...

    A negative score impacts your ability to access government services. The companies you can buy products from (they don't want to sell to people with low scores). Your friends and the people you can marry (they get a lower score if you have a low score).

    China's dictatorship needed a way to control an advanced, socially networked society. 

    This is it. 

  • The December Global Guerrillas Report :   Weaponized Social Networks  is now available. 

    It takes a hard look at the politicized social networks that overran the US political system last year and what that could mean down the road. 

    It was hard to write given the newness of the topic, but I think it paid off nicely.  It should provide you with a solid framework for making sense of the political chaos that looms in the years ahead

    Here is a snippet:



    Also, I just posted the 

    In it, I talk with David Patrikarakos about his new book " War in 140 Characters " and about how social networking is becoming decisive in the wars of the 21st Century (much more so than cyberwarfare).

    Hope you enjoy the report and the podcast.  

    John Robb

     

  • China and the US are moving quickly towards a networked dystopia.  I'm calling it the "long night" akin in ominousness to the dystopia Hayek saw ahead in his  .

    The long night is an all encompassing  online orthodoxy .  A sameness of thought and approach enforced by hundreds of millions of socially internetworked adherents.  A globe spanning orthodoxy that ruthless narrows public thought down to a single, barren, ideological framework.  A ruling network that prevents dissent and locks us into stagnation and inevitable failure as it runs afoul of reality and human nature.  

    China's path to the long night is through a universal "social credit score" -- a public online rating like seller ratings on eBay or product ratings on Amazon, but for people.  A system that will be fully operational by 2020.  However, unlike eBay/Amazon ratings or FICO's credit score, this rating won't be limited to rating a person's economic transactions.  It will be a rating based on everything a person does.  Worse, bad rating will negatively impact every aspect of your life.  For :

    • "The State Council has signaled that under the national social credit system people will be penalized for the crime of spreading online rumors, among other offenses, and that those deemed "seriously untrustworthy" can expect to receive substandard services.



    • "They will check what kind of friends you have.  If your friends are all high-score people, it's good for you. If you have some bad-credit people as friends, it's not nice."



    • This score "will ensure that the bad people in society don't have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction." 

    Unsurprisingly, a social scoring system is already being used as a tool of authoritarian oppression in China.  A recent shows how similar ratings are being used by the Chinese government to repress the Uighurs in Western China:

    However, low scores in this system don't just degrade your access to services.  People who score low are arrested and sent to ethnic reeducation camps so they can learn how to become real Chinese citizens.

     

    Sincerely,

    John Robb

    PS:  will be out this week for patrons.   It will cover the three ways the US, like China, will end up in a Long Night.  I'm also trying out my first podcast this month.  I've edited an interview with David Patrikarakos, the author of  as well as some audio analysis of recent systems disruption in the US.

  • Social networking radically increases the...

    • pace (in aggregate, it radically lowers the latency of communication)
    • bandwidth (the amount of information conveyed per minute), and
    • scale (number of simultaneous conversations + one to many broadcasting)

    of communication beyond all historical measurements.  Simply, this change is rewiring us .  Not only that, with Facebook already at over 2 billion daily users, it is rewiring us all at once

    This isn't a voluntary change.  It doesn't matter if you aren't connected when nearly everyone else is.  Moreover, we can already see the results of this new wiring.  The most obvious is the constant drumbeat of political chaos all around us.  Social networking is is shattering the fictive kinship (our center of gravity) that allows us to operate as a cohesive country. 

    Not only that, it has created the opportunity for new forms of authoritarianism to emerge online.  An authoritarianism that threatens to usher in  of repression and darkness.  So far, I've identified three authoritarian movements (significant departures from the forms we've seen in the past), each dangerous in their own way:

    • An open source insurgency,
    • a socially networked orthodoxy, and
    • an algorithmic lockdown.  

    The best way to understand these movements is to dive into how they wage war and exercise power.   

    Sincerely,

    John Robb

    PS:  This is the topic of  .   Hope you'll join me.   BTW:  November's GG Report on is out.  It demonstrates how primed the US is for authoritarianism.  It surprised me when I wrote it (always a good sign of a great report).

    PPS:  I'm going to publish a podcast or two for patrons in December.  Should be fun.

     

  • I've decided to (a PDF and/or podcast interview) via Patreon.  This report will allow me to dive a good bit deeper into a dangerous topic than would be possible with a post alone.  It will also provide a way to get some discussion going again (not possible in an open forum).

    I'll send the first report out in a few days.  It will be entitled: 

    Russian Interference, Reflexive Control, and Nonlinearity   ( beyond the ads, trolls, and fake news ).  

    Hope you join me.  Should be fun.

    John Robb



    Bonus :  To kick off my first report I'll include a PDF outline of my "27 Rules for Global Guerrillas."  It will include rules for open source insurgency and systems disruption, written in a sparse Roger's Rangers style.  With each new report, I'll throw in an expanded rule (rule + examples + expansion) or additional rules as we find them.

     

     

  • The 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is over.  It was a seminal event.  It...

    • ...firmly consolidated political power in the hands of a single man, Xi (no successor was named).
    • ...clearly informed the world that China was now a global superpower (and the US was its only rival).
    • ...would promote a world based on 'capitalism with Chinese characteristics' (a capitalism in a Leninist cage) in opposition to Western Democracy.

    In short, China publicly announced that it is now in a 'cold economic war' with the US for the future of the world.  In fact, China was so confident of its eventual victory, it clearly articulated the centerpiece of their effort to accomplish it:   one belt one road     

    • It's an investment of $8 trillion (to start!) to build a global road, rail and maritime system that connects Asia, Africa, and South America (60 countries in total) to China.  
    • Transportation is a natural monopoly.  Xi is trying to build a transportation and logistics monopoly on a global scale.  It is an undertaking that isn't only backed by Xi personally, it is now enshrined in the Communist party constitution (!).  In other words, it's going to be built.  
    • By the time the first round of investment is completed, a majority of the global economy will be connected via a Chinese owned, built and/or financed logistical system.  As the buildout continued, the US would quickly find itself disconnected from the rest of the world and on its way to becoming a second tier economy. 

    Unfortunately, due to a self-inflicted wound (Trump is merely a symptom), the US couldn't be in a worse position to counter this effort.  Decades of blind adherence to economic and social neoliberalism has shattered US cohesion along all three vectors: moral, mental, and physical.   The result has been intractable economic stagnation, social turmoil, and political chaos.  Even worse is on the horizon: the US is careening towards identity authoritarianism.  In time, the US may be able to regain stability.  However, it's unlikely the US will find a way through its internal crisis fast enough to mount a successful conventional counter to China's grand ambition.  So what can be done, given the assumption the US will eventually recover, but not soon enough for conventional efforts?





    Delaying China

    One solution is to mount a rearguard action -- a method of delaying an advancing enemy when your forces are in retreat.  An action that buys time for the US to regroup and regain cohesion.  The US faced a similar situation re; the Soviet Union in '79 after the invasion of Afghanistan.  In that case, support for Afghan insurgents kept the Soviets occupied while the US recovered (Carter, inflation, Iran, etc.).  In this case, the rearguard action would be the disruption of China's plans for one belt one road.   This could be done inexpensively and with very little manpower or visibility.  How? 

    • Create groups that operate like global guerrillas.  Small groups that operate independently w/o oversight.  More letters of marque than special operations.    
    • In the short term, disrupt the Chinese construction effort.  Double and treble construction costs by delaying timeliness and forcing increased security efforts.   Drive up the costs of financing.  Drive away subcontractors.  
    • Next, force the Chinese to physically and logically protect the entire system, from roads to ports to trains, from disruption.   As my analysis of Lawrence of Arabia shows, than to completely break it.  Keep up the pressure -- with , this is sustainable.  

    Sincerely,

    John Robb

    Writing on a crisp fall day in New England

    PS:  Doesn't the US risk more from disruption than China?  No. The US doesn't have a choice.  If it doesn't act while this logistical monopoly is being built (when it is the most vulnerable to disruption), the US will cede global dominance to China so completely and the consequences to the US will be so negative, it may require a war to reverse.

    PPS:  It also may be useful to see this as a measured response to China's relentless attacks on mainland US computer systems over the last decade.  

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This aggression will not stand.