Economics Ethics Law Science

Breath, Murder, Edison, Island, Forecasting

‘The intimate relation made the students very concerned about the wellbeing of their patients,’ Kirk wrote. First-year medical students usually encountered patients only through textbooks and lectures. Now, they had their first human patients – and each student, alone, kept their patient alive. ‘They were exhilarated at every positive sign but were also very sad when things went downhill.’

Many of the medical students burned out and quit. ‘At worst,’ Kirk writes, ‘the patients died during the night.’ In the dark, a student couldn’t tell that their patient had died: as Vesalius had shown, a corpse’s lungs still fill and empty. The student sat beside the patient all night, compelling their inhales, breathing air mixed with their exhales – sharing air, life, in such proximity – yet the patient could slip, unseen, into death. The sun rose, light spilled into the quiet hospital room, and the student saw that they had spent unknowable time ventilating a body. The student didn’t have time to mourn the strange loss. There were always more patients who needed air.

In 176 BC a strange but revealing murder case came before the Roman praetor, M. Popillius Laenas. A woman, unnamed in the sources, was brought before the court on the charge of murdering her mother by bludgeoning her with a club. The woman happily confessed to the monstrous act of matricide. Her fate, then, seemed sealed when she entered Laenas’ court; but she introduced a defence that was as irrefutable as the wickedness of the killing of a parent. She claimed that the deed had been a crime of grief-fuelled vengeance resulting from the deaths of her own children. They, she said, had been deliberately poisoned by her mother simply to spite her and her own actions were therefore justified.

Edison patented his innovations, and went on tour making sure to align his name with the invention of the lightbulb as much as possible. Swan and Edison eventually sued each other for patent infringement – and Swan won. So legally, one might argue that Swan invented the commercial lightbulb. Edison’s solution was to partner with Swan, forming a joint company, and then totally buying out Swan several years later. So Edison acquired the patents for the lightbulb from others as much as he earned them himself.

Edison does get credit for popularizing the electric lightbulb, and for connecting this to public electricity generation and distribution. Once he had all the patents, his company continued to iterate and improve the technology. This is also where Biden’s “black man” comes in. He was referring to Lewis Howard Latimer. Latimer received a patent in 1882 for a process for improved production of carbon filaments for lightbulbs. Latimer then went to work for the Edison Electric Light Company. Latimer made a significant contribution to the manufacture of lightbulbs, but he didn’t “invent” the lightbulb by any stretch, and is at best a footnote on this interesting history.

Blowing up my island. You’re a hard-ass. I only get .501 coconuts for 1 banana. I’ve tried walking away, but we both know you will out-wait me. I’ve tried fakings skills, but you won’t bite. Because we are non-violent, I can’t coerce you. But there’s nothing wrong with hurting myself, is there? I build a machine that monitors inter-island commerce. If there is ever a trade that is not 1 coconut for 1 banana, the machine activates a bomb, my island sinks into the ocean forever, and I die. If I try to disable the machine, the bomb activates. When we next meet I say “OK. I can’t out bad-ass you. However, because of this machine, it will forever be against my interests to agree to a non-even trade. There’s no point in you waiting. Even if I did agree to an uneven trade, I’d sink into the ocean, and you’d have to gather your own coconuts!”

Blowing up your island if I threaten to blow up my island. You are smart. You are also a hard-ass. As soon as the bridge appears, you know you can out-wait me to get a good rate. You immediately realize that my only option is to build the island destroying machine described above. Before we meet, you construct a machine that monitors my island for the presence of machines. Your machine is connected to a bomb on your island. If at any point, a bomb-activating machine is constructed on my island, your bomb activates, your island sinks into the ocean, and you die. When we meet, you explain that you’re a hard-ass, and that no island-destroying machines can help me. My best bet is to accept terms that barely improve my situation at all. You win.

 The Economist’s “The World in 2020”, published in late 2019, brings together experts from business, politics and science to fill 150 pages with projections for the year ahead.

Editor Daniel Franklin summarised the issue’s predictions on 2020’s economic outlook: 

“Banks, especially in Europe, will battle with negative interest rates. America will flirt with recession—but don’t be surprised if disaster fails to strike, and markets revive.”

 Just over two months later COVID-19 struck, the world went into lockdown and we fell into one of the largest recessions on record.

 Perhaps this critique is unfair. The Economist wasn’t to know that we were on the precipice of a pandemic. So let’s review our success rate during more stable times.

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Hamming codes – a way to overcome errors in CDs

A beautiful video on the growth of 4 different types of molds.

Some of the best, most beautiful, video microscopy in the world.

Using artificial intelligence, someone can make an algorithm that sounds just like you. And then they can say… whatever they want you to say.

To what extend we don’t know overfishing.

Economics Ethics Fintech Science Technology

Gold, Viruses, Tuna, Bitcoin, Law, Go

The unique thing about gold is that it doesn’t get used up. The main way we consume the yellow metal is by storing it, say in vaults or by wearing it as jewellery. Compared to how we use an industrial metal like copper, this sort of usage is very safe. Copper parts in machinery, for instance, are dissipated by abrasion and wear. But gold just sits there, untouched.

Nor does gold depreciate. Unlike most materials, it is almost indestructible. Copper corrodes, steel rusts, wood rots, and concrete crumbles. But a gold coin from 200BC is still perfectly lustrous.

Nor does the yellow metal suffer from technological obsolescence. Gold keeps doing the same thing it has done for thousands of years.

And obviously we don’t eat the stuff.

The fact that viruses have only a tenuous claim to being alive, though, hardly reduces their impact on things which are indubitably so. No other biological entities are as ubiquitous, and few as consequential. The number of copies of their genes to be found on Earth is beyond astronomical. There are hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy and a couple of trillion galaxies in the observable universe. The virions in the surface waters of any smallish sea handily outnumber all the stars in all the skies that science could ever speak of.

Back on Earth, viruses kill more living things than any other type of predator. They shape the balance of species in ecosystems ranging from those of the open ocean to that of the human bowel. They spur evolution, driving natural selection and allowing the swapping of genes.

And for what purpose? Bluefin is neither a staple nor a necessity. It’s a luxury. The person who dines on North Lake’s bluefin may want to connect to the people who caught it and the ocean it came from, but they are also buying a trophy, just as surely as Captain Jack did when he shelled out $3,000 for his charter experience. The word trophy comes from the Greek tropaion, a “monument of an enemy’s defeat.” It is, by definition, a spoil of war. North Lake’s relationship to bluefin tuna has always been adversarial. Fishermen are said to “fight” the fish, and they are celebrated as heroes when they win this unequal battle, armed with technologies that make the finding and killing ever more efficient, despite diminishing financial returns and the dwindling size of the catch. Commercial cod and lobster fishermen have also long seen themselves in competition with bluefin—hungry giants that feed on the same fish they needed to fatten up their catches.

This vision of wild creatures as targets of conquest or competition to be eliminated may have made some sense when human beings felt their everyday lives to be at the mercy of the natural world. But in the Anthropocene, the environment is often at our mercy, even when the ways we alter it ultimately harm our own species. Not only do humans en masse have the means and numbers to fish out entire species, we also have the power to change migration patterns by destroying habitat and warming ocean waters.

Bitcoin has already made significant ground on gold — going from whitepaper to over $200 billion in market capitalization in under a decade. Today, the market capitalization of above ground gold is conservatively $9 trillion. If we are right about using a gold framework to value bitcoin, and bitcoin continues on this path, then the bull case scenario for bitcoin is that it is undervalued by a multiple of 45. Said differently, the price of bitcoin could appreciate 45x from where it is today, which means we could see a price of $500,000 U.S. dollars per bitcoin.

All of this does not factor in the possibility of bitcoin displacing some portion of the $11.7 trillion dollars of fiat foreign exchange reserves held by governments. Foreshadowing this, at least one publicly-traded U.S. corporation has begun holding bitcoin as a treasury reserve asset. If central banks start to diversify their foreign fiat holdings even partially into bitcoin, say 10%, then 45x gets revised upward towards 55x or $600,000 USD per bitcoin, and so forth.

About the only existing law governing space is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. But the treaty focuses almost entirely on what nation-states can and cannot do (e.g., deploy nuclear bombs, seize celestial bodies). It’s virtually silent on what private companies or individuals can do—which suddenly seems like a glaring loophole given the rise of private space companies like SpaceX, which recently transported its first astronauts to the International Space Station. These private vessels are far murkier in a legal sense.

To be sure, a clause in the Outer Space Treaty does require nations to monitor their own citizens in space, which works fine when astronauts are few. But when hundreds or thousands of people reach orbit, that will become increasingly untenable. And so far, most crimes in remote places like T-3 have involved the citizens of one country alone (e.g., one Russian attacking another).

In the case of Korea, there are about 380 professional players certified by the Korean Baduk Association, and about 50 top players can be considered tournament players. Last year, the top player in Korea earned about $1 million US dollars from tournaments alone, while the 10th player earned about $120,000 US dollars.

The development of superhuman Go AI has impacted the professional Go world in many different ways. Here, I want to highlight three areas, one that affects both types of players, one area for tournament players, and one for teaching players.

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Video on takeoff and flight sequences of insects spanning 8 different taxonomic orders captured at 3,200 fps! – usually ignored when we see in nature.

Sand art in a different dimension

Interesting conversation by Steven Levitt and Steven Pinker on language, cognition and various topics of interests.

Michael Sandel on why meritocracy sounds like a good idea in principle, but not a good idea to practice? – Need to practice the dignity of work.

Economics Ethics Politics Science

Future, Pyramids, World-scrapping, NOlympics, Cooperation, Salmon

Since our current technologies advance exponentially on a timescale of several years, our future habitat on Earth will look entirely different a million years from now. What does a mature technological civilization look like after such a long time? Can it survive the destructive forces that its technologies unleash? One way to find out is to search for technosignatures of alien civilizations, dead or alive. Inevitably, all forms of life eventually disappear. The universe cools as it expands, and all stars will die 10 trillion years from now. In the distant future, everything will freeze; there will be no energy left to support life.

Perhaps, instead, captured CO2 could be injected into porous rock, such as subsurface basalt, similar to a technique pioneered by Carbfix in Iceland. Over a process of several years, carbon dioxide would solidify into calcite crystals and this bedrock could be quarried for use as a building material. As in ancient Egypt, monolithic slabs of stone could form pyramids, either built in situ to help bolster tourism in Iceland, the African Rift Valley, and other areas rich in malfic rock; or conveyed over unfathomably long distances for reasons that might seem obscure to future generations. Such structures would be durable and their construction would likely employ large masses of people, but the process would be extremely energy-intensive. Moreover, the majority of these pyramids’ volume would be taken up by the host rock, not sequestered carbon, meaning that we would need to construct far more than our original 138,462 pyramids.

Worldscraping has incredible potential. We’ll be able to extract our own data without needing Amazon or Google’s permission. We can make a better food database, a better catalogue of plants and wildlife, a better map of the world, anything you can imagine that requires information about the real world, all with far less work and in far less time.

The big losers from worldscraping will be incumbent companies and tech giants. They’ll want to keep worldscraping for themselves, and they’ll say it’s because only they can be trusted to use it.

But they aren’t the only ones who can keep us safe. There are ways to secure computing devices without unaccountable gatekeepers or expert users. Contrary to what Apple would have you believe, we all use software every day that’s as safe as anything inside their walled garden, if not safer. We need to support and learn from those third-party companies and open source communities as we head into the next generation of computing devices.

Should the Olympics cease to exist? It’s a question I never thought I’d ask. I did gymnastics when I was younger and have been thoroughly obsessed with the sport ever since. I even built my writing career around gymnastics, so the Olympics — where the sport is a perennial favorite — factor heavily into my work (and my income).

“I had an emotional attachment to the Olympics growing up as an athlete,” Itani said. “It’s such a well-produced media spectacle. It’s amazing to see these athletes, the quality of the camera, the angles, the stories of the athletes in the Olympics that are covered by the media.”

I experienced the same emotional attachment that Itani described — and still do. I was aware of all of the harm that the Olympics brought to communities but I took a reformist approach: we could preserve the good and eliminate the bad through smart policies and transparency. But reform hasn’t worked. In 2014, the IOC introduced Agenda 2020 to make reforms to the bidding process and curb the excesses of hosting the Games. Yet the tab for Tokyo 2020 is more than triple what was originally projected.

Game theory shows us that, regardless of what an individual believes, it is in their own self-interest to wear a mask.

While the conflict surrounding wearing masks will persist, these insights shed light on a new perspective on the benefits of wearing masks during this time, even outside the realm of public health and science. Next time you encounter a family member, friend, co-worker, or even a stranger who is against wearing masks, consider explaining that their decision, although self-interested in the short-run, only hurts them in the long run.

Just like in the prisoner’s dilemma, cooperation results in the most efficient outcome. If we cooperate and wear masks, the pandemic will be better mitigated and we may finally find true freedom again.

Salmon are at home in color. Whipping her tail, a female salmon spends two days making a depression in the riverbed called a redd—the word probably comes from the Early Scots ridden, meaning “to clear”—into which she deposits her roe. Fertilized, these red spheres of nutrients encase young salmon, who eat their way out, taking the color inside. Once the eggs are depleted, salmon swim to the ocean in search of food. There, they feed on red-pink crustaceans, mostly shrimp and krill, as well as small fish with even smaller crustaceans in their digestive systems. From these, they absorb yellow-red orange fat-soluble pigments, called carotenoids, that tint salmon salmon.

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Listen to Your Key: Towards Acoustics-based Physical Key Inference

Monstrosity of group theory

An interesting video on asteroid mining that could be the future of resource extraction and the possibility of endless technology.

How did they do it? The Antwerp diamond heist, dubbed the “heist of the century” – a depiction by a Belgium detective.

Sound recordist visits some of London’s historic palaces and captures what he hears there.

Ethics Technology

Artificial Intelligence and human sentience

It was a fine morning for the Sunday mass. I was quite moved with a very simple story that my parish priest shared during the mass. Once a guru was meditating on the shore of Ganges. It was clean air and pristine water around. Feeling the morning chill, he opened his eyes and was struck at the sight of a scorpion that was entangled in the roots of a large tree. It was trying very hard to get rid of the roots and it could not. Seeing its ill fate, the guru decided to help it — take the creature from the entanglement. When the guru approached the scorpion, it lashed its tail that had the venomous stinger. The guru was quite quick in response and escaped the sting. Despite the ill behaviour of the scorpion, the guru still tried to help the scorpion. The effort of the guru was noticed by a person who happened to pass by. He asked guru why he was trying to rescue the scorpion, despite he was so sure to get stung. The Guru answered, the scorpion is behaving as per its nature and I am behaving as per my nature.

On the way back from the church, I was thinking about the book of Nick Bostrom that I read – The Superintelligence in the context of the thought of guru. When there is a struggle between the conscience and the intelligence, there is a still a huge gap to be built in. Even though human has built artificial intelligence, we are not even close to understanding the existence of conscience.  If we are able to connect the machine learning powered Peta and Exa bytes of data that is being generated from the countless data sources, we may have a new species in making. Intelligence with the concept of self-replication could make the new species invincible. The self-replicating machines are nothing new for the field of technology. It was Rene Descartes who coined this term and presented to the queen of Sweden, Christina. According to him, the human body was simply a machine that has symbiotic existential relationships with similar internal and external machinery. The concept has been advanced and examined majorly by John von Neumann and these replicating systems received the name — von Neumann machines. He just worked on the concept note and later, mathematician Edward F. Moore proposed the first known suggestion for a practical real-world self-replicating machine through the artificial living plants that could use air, water and soil as sources of raw materials and draw its energy from sunlight via a solar battery or a steam engine. The idea received a huge interest from the space exploration agency NASA with the work of physicist Freeman Dyson, who proposed the idea of self-rectifying spaceships. With the emergence of rapid prototyping, that triggered the evolutionary robotics, the artificial replicating von Neumann machines are now considered to be a form of artificial life.

However, we can consider the evolution of such machines is two different ways. One can be much of a macro concept which applies to the space exploration where these machines would be evolving and adjusting themselves for externalities.  These mega machines would identify, resolve and implement the rectification procedure in case they encounter any problems. Such machines have a huge potential commercial space travel. Such installations can be incorporated in orbital solar arrays, interstellar environmental cleanup and terraforming (transforming a planet to resemble the earth) planets. On a micro level, this concept can be applied to a nanorobot, designed to perform a specific task or tasks repeatedly and with precision at nanoscale dimensions. They have applications in assembly and maintenance of sophisticated systems including the human body. Since they work on a molecular level, they can produce copies of themselves to replace worn-out units. Such a property of an organism with intelligence and without sentience may be belligerent. That could even be an existential threat considering scenarios such as the growth of robot populations at speeds that exceed bacteria –  the Grey goo – hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology. Such self-replicating robots could just consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves. If a single bacteria can become 2 million in 7 hours, then the projected growth rate on nanorobots could lead to 4 trillion robots in 14 hours.

Even though Grey goo is a construct of low-probability, high-impact outcomes from emerging technologies, there could be turn around on such an outlook. To give a perspective, we as humans are not so concerned about killing an ant, but in case we see a colony of ants that has a slight inclination to share our occupancy of space, we perfectly know what should be done to the colony. It is a perfect annihilation! If the machine intelligence as a species see the human civilisation a threat for their existence, who knows they might decide to do? The feeling –  the conscience – the sentience that we may find hard to understand and replicate through our brains may become one day the key to the existence of human race. Will we still allow the scorpion to lash its stinging blow on to us?

Economics Ethics Technology

Economics of bodybuilding – the new bot

The best story that I had heard for the week was that of an “aspirational” techno geek of Hong Kong who made a Scarlett Johansson (ScarJo bot) clone. I mean a robotic clone. Though this bot can be the future of objectifying women, I would be happy if I were greeted by one of them when I step into a hotel (which I cannot say in front of my wife, though). But what have we achieved so far from the bionic technology? According to the creator of the ScarJo bot, it took eighteen months and just over $50000 to complete this amazing project in his patio with a 3-D printer and the self-learned software. Moreover, our Siri is a woman and our Cortana is also a woman! On a lighter note, if a bot would exist to perform labour or any personal assistance, I bet it would be a woman and I felt it is so obvious with our physiological and evolutionary requirements.

But what is bionics? It is defined as anatomical structures or physiological processes that are replaced or enhanced by electronic or mechanical components, which would assist in acquiring extraordinary powers or capabilities of being superhuman. Bridging the gap between man and machine, once a science fantasy is now a global industry.

In the age when Europe is lacking people to work in their fabulous factories and China thrashing up its one-child policy considering the exploding old age population, do we need to think an alternate through the bionic humans powered by artificial intelligence? Tomorrow I might have a bionic human in the family – a  cybernetic organism (a cyborg) that knows more about me than I know about myself. These organisms would be a complex hybrid system (may be living or non-living, I am not sure how we will draw the line between living and non-living) combining biological and engineering parts. With the current technology that could control the limbs with the thoughts alone, just as the way in which our limb performs, the extended application of such a technology is limitless. As I had always dreamt during my examinations about getting the access to my classroom notes just through a pen drive plugged into the brain, I believe this possibility is not as far as we think. In future, except the logical decisions that we could take considering the information available, the rest of the data can be loaded and unloaded to the brain as we need.

From the time when amputated humans were assisted with the twigs from the tree to the intelligent eyes that helped the blind to understand the colours of the world, we have made an immense progress in bionics technology. In the new era of the machines when humans are required to satisfy the social and physiological needs of humans, we could see a transformed era of bionics which can reduce the impact of ageing and make the older more mobile. Will this increase the retirement age? Need to wait and see.

As the elderly population grows so is the global bionic industry. Extending the life of ageing limbs and the functioning of the damaged ones, in the next 5 years, this industry is expected to grow over 20 Bn., unless there is a disruptive breakthrough. If such a breakthrough happens it will be much bigger. By 2050, it is expected that the elderly population of the world would be around 16% (around 1.5 Bn.). In developing countries such as  China, the older population (those over age 65) is likely to swell from 110 million today to 330 million by 2050 and that of India from 60 million to 227 million. The key problems for the elderly include the lack of mobility and the companionship. If the new bionics age is able to address these growing needs of the population, it would be the next game-changing field for the years to come.

The bionics will also level the playing field between the physically challenged people and the common human. More than 1 billion people have some form of disability. This corresponds to about 15% of the world’s population. The key disabilities for them are related to the vision and the mobility that are being addressed as we speak. If such new technologies become scalable and mass production of these inventions are achieved, they would turn out to be a boon for the amputated and disabled.

Another possibility is to look at the need for a mechanised organ that could be developed through the technology. The current transplantation covers only 10% of global need. Either the world has to move to an organised organ market to kerb the black market of the organ smugglers or it should find a biological or mechanical source through technology to build a stockpile of bionic organs that would address the growing global organ demand.

So we should be ready to accept a new family member, who could help us in our old age and possibly a limb or an organ that would be a machine to be part of our aura. The blend of man and machine of the future would be a necessary transition for the generations to come and thus see ourselves as civilised and rational cyborgs.

Ethics Technology

Are we getting to the final frontier of science?

After the defeat of Lee Sedol by the AlphaGo, I have started losing sleep on the thoughts of the evolution of machine intelligence. I don’t think anybody should, but let us see whether the news is worth pondering.

The game Go is from China. It is a simple game with black and white stones on the board in which the players try to capture the opponent’s stones or surround empty space to make points of territory. Though the rules are simple, it is jaw-droppingly complex. As per the mathematicians, there are more positions in Go that there are atoms in the universe. Did you get the number? If not it is googol times complex than chess. Still, you did not get it, it is defined as 1 followed by 100 zeroes.

This game has been considered the most challenging classical games for artificial intelligence owing to the enormous space and difficulty of deriving the positions and the moves. This was an epic game in which a computer program defeated a professional human player, which was previously considered at least a decade away.

I think with the advent of this victory we are concurring to the dangers that Nick Bostrom the global authority on superintelligence, had his concerns on. According to him the development of superintelligence may pose an existential risk to humanity over the coming century. We would not be a match for the evolving machines. The cognitive performance of these machines would considerably exceed the capacity of all the mankind put together. Is there a way out from this catastrophe?

The superintelligence is a baby that is being conceived by the defeat of Lee Sedol, but it should not be the defeat of the humanity. As the guardians of the concept, the thought leaders has the moral responsibility to ensure an ethical application of science. I believe we as a mankind should drive science to reduce the existential risk of humanity and use the superintelligence to protect the humanity from the existential risks posed by nature or any other similar technologies.

A baby is never born criminal, it is the environment and the people who mould it are responsible for the behaviour. Will our generations venerate us for developing the ethical sense on machines or would they curse us for making a Frankenstein’s monster?

Ethics Technology

The emergence of a trusted Leviathan

Leviathan is a term coined for the sea monster in the Tanakh or the Old Testament. It is a word that is used contextually for the sea monster. You may be thinking what it has to do in an era of the technologies that emerge even before the predecessor makes its presence. Though the term was coined out by the seafarers, the term came to my attention after reading the book written by Thomas Hobbs. His argument for the necessity of absolute sovereignty emerged in the politically unstable years after the Civil Wars of England, which underlined the existence of unseen Leviathan for a stable society to prevail and equal justice for the equal imposition of taxes.

Yesterday morning I was surprised to see a buzz on my phone. I thought I had kept a reminder and just tried to switch it off. It didn’t go off.  I was surprised to understand that it was an alert regarding my upcoming flight that had been preponed by 45 minutes. I was little curious. I checked my mail box and I had accidentally deleted the mail that had come from the booking agency. I called up the agency to confirm and it was confirmed. Wow ! I appreciated the effort Google has done for me. I felt happy and relieved.

On the flight, I started to think about the technology that we are depending on. The phone has been so intelligent to know exactly what we do and where we are and more than that why we are where we are? Isn’t that intrusion of personal life knowingly or unknowingly or can I term it as an information slavery?

The decline of mobile hardware as we had seen with Motorola and Nokia and the emergence of data and IoT(Internet of Things) giants such as Google and Apple IOS, may transform the political landscape too. The news of Apple steam rolling FBI to protect the data privacy laws is still a controversial topic to discuss. But I believe that we have come to an era in which the private enterprises could stand against even the Uncle Sam. But are we acknowledging that there is no data privacy for us when we indiscriminately use our Facebook and Whatsapp?

I look forward to an era in which the borders may vanish and world political powers will be dislodged with the emergence of super data powers. The unequal taxation and the borders will go off-limits and the world would shift to a data constitution, and indirectly a data citizenship. You never know it may be soon that you enlist with super data powers and pay tax so that your civic and social rights are guaranteed!

Am I getting to the society of Hobbesian philosophical system which had its origins in the fear? Hope not.