Avoid Brazil (The Movie)

Another half formed post, but if I wait until everything is perfect I will never blog.

If we talk a lot, you probably know that the dystopia I fear the most is Brazil. (The movie, I mean.)

1984: we kinda figured out how not to have that one for the most part. (granted, parts of it keep showing up, Snowdenleaks and all, but the whole vision is unlikely.) (we can debate this I suppose but the point is

Brave New World: again, we got parts of it, but I feel like we’re getting better at non-eugenics, and nobody I know makes me think we’re likely to drug ourselves into unthinking oblivion. (If you think we’re doing that: name *a person* who you think is doing that. people like to say we’re doing this in a society-as-a-whole level, but when you try to find it in individuals, it’s difficult. I am optimistic about individuals.)

Terrorists Win: again, unlikely. (even though the danger from terrorists is not the suicide bombers who kill 3 people a week, or the 9/11ers who kill 3000 people once a decade, it’s the terrorists who steal a nuke and kill 3 million people once a century. is this a more hedged view than I’ve had before, which was essentially “do not worry about terrorism At All”? yes. have you figured out how to change my mind on anything at all? yep: get Scott Alexander to blog about it. but I digress.)

The Matrix or Skynet or Paperclip Maximizers: now, this one is more likely than any of the above! But I’m not very good at figuring out small probabilities over large time frames, and multiplying by the harm caused by each of them. So I will simply say that this maybe should get bumped up my queue, but in the meantime I figure it’s still not as likely as…

Brazil, though: the bureaucracy dystopia. The system that Squashes You. (maybe because of a typo on some form somewhere.) Here’s an example, an account of a harrowing Heathrow deportation experience. (tl;dr: someone was going to give a perfectly legit talk at a perfectly legit conference, and said so at immigration, but for whatever reason, UK officials turned her away. This is not just an annoyance, it is a really distressing 48-hour-or-so experience.)

Likelihood of Brazil: AFAICT, 100%. I mean, this future is already here. (It’s just unevenly distributed.) The richer (and whiter and maler) you are, the more you can opt out of some of the Systems, but still, every so often, one will squash you.
Likelihood of Brazil getting worse: 98%? I mean, we keep doing more Machine Learning to categorize everyone every day. More, more complicated systems, which each have a 2% false positive rate, but 2% of Everyone is a huge number of people getting hosed by each one. (and it’s a non-independent 2%.)
Problems of Brazil: are obvious I think - esp if you’re a Muslim flying on a plane or a black person stopped by police or whatever. TODO: more detail here.
Problems of Brazil even if you’re a richwhiteman: it just narrows your universe. I mean, Ahmed Mohamed, the kid who made a clock - you can’t even make a clock and bring it to school anymore. You can’t wear funny clothes and fly on a plane. You can’t take risks with your money, start a business or something, if you want to buy a house someday.

What can we do about it? I don’t really know. Like, some of the work going on with making your algorithms not profile people is a nice start, but there will always be false positives. Make sure your System has a solid (quick, easy) appeal process?

What exactly do I mean by Brazil? TODO: more detail here too. Roughly: complicated systems with false positives?

And this is even leaving out the stuff that’s not really one system squashing you, but a bunch of systems letting you fall through the cracks. Rents rising, can’t make ends meet, etc. (Pittsburgh! Not SF. Kinda just wanted to highlight another great article from my friend Margaret.)

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