This was a very interesting piece in the National Interest, although they got it wrong about any real "anger" from Google over the NSA. (They're probably mainly angry that the NSA got hacked in the first place, really, and brought all this on them.)
But are Schmidt and his customers really surprised that the NSA looked for such a hole in Google's infrastructure and asked its foreign allies to exploit it? While Schmidt and many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs likely share the civil liberties concerns of many of their fellow citizens, the last several months of Snowden disclosures may be more troubling to leading internet firms for another less obvious reason: what they say about the role of technology on the world stage.
It's a tale that Schmidt and his coauthor Jared Cohen—a former advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and now head of Google's internal think tank—retell at length in the book they released earlier this year, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. Schmidt and Cohen are careful, as they gaze into their crystal ball, not to see a utopia. New technology, they acknowledge, can be used by authoritarians and terrorists just as easily as democrats and human-rights campaigners. Still, they are clear that the arrival of the internet age signals no less than a new epoch of history—in which a virtual world must simultaneously exist as a new testament alongside the old one. As they write, their vision is "a tale of two civilizations: One is physical and has developed over thousands of years, and the other is virtual and is still very much in formation."
I've been reading The New Digital Age by Schmidt and Cohen very fitfully -- I hate it, and periodically have to throw it across the room, which makes it hard to find then the next time I tackle it.
But speaking of virtual worlds, one of the appalling things about their ideology is the ardent belief that a mammoth virtual world -- the Internetization of things and everything -- is being built on top of this one, that we will all "have" to live in. And that real life will be "mapped" to this monstrous entity that will of course be run by coders (and PS not the NSA) and that such mapping/integration will make things "better" instead of being a God Awful Mess.
I begin to see why Schmidt is so fascinated with shall we say "distressed" states like North Korea or Somalia or Iraq. It's like the way doctors used to learn about the brain if there was, say, a train conductor who lost part of his brain and then lived in the eternal present.
By studying these dislocated war-torn or authoritarian societies that aren't the norm, he gets a better idea of how to destroy real countries and then put them back together on the Internet.
Hence, his discussion about post-war Iraq:
A parallel authority was set up to resolve disputes. These were important steps in the reconstruction of Iraq, serving as a moderating factor to the exploitation of post-conflict intsability and instances of claiming property by force. But despite their good intentions (more than 160,000 claims were received by 2011), these commissions were hampered by certain bureaucratic restrictions that trapped many claims in complicated litigation. In the future, states will learn from this Iraqi model that a more transparent and secure form of prtoection for property rights can forestall such hassles in the event of conflict. By creating online cadastral systems (i.e., online records systems of land values and boundaries) with mobile-enabled mapping software, governments will make it possible for citizens to visualize all public and private land and even submit minor disputes, likea fence boundary, to a sanctioned online arbiter.
I feel like Schmidt should have spent even a week in Second Life, let alone Iraq, or some place like Belarus, to get the sheer folly of all this.
For one, I think he has no idea that when all land is virtualized, and all value starts to shift to its virtualization, it will start to lose value. There will be the Anshe Chung problem as the wealthy can just open up Google maps and bid on any parcel on the map all over the world that is shown in yellow "for sale" as on the map of Second Life. There will be the flipping problem. The abandoning problem. The griefing problem. The 16 m ad lot problem. The Impeach Bush sign problem. Ok, I'm going to run screaming from the room soon at this thought... I think probably only about two readers will understand what I'm talking about.
For two, I think Schmidt knows perfectly well that the Internetization of Everything will erode national boundaries and put him and his company in charge -- but he pretends that's not so.
BTW, Google had a short-lived virtual world experiment called Lively which died.
Schmidt never mentions that or Second Life or any existing experience of virtuality on line, but in a way, his entire book is about how the Internet will penetrate and virtualize everything.
Schmidt loves the idea of exile communities -- the Tibetans -- rebuilding virtual countries online that are poised to come back some day. Except they don't. The Chinese move in Han settlers, wipe out monasteries, control education, jail monks and nuns and dissenters, force more refugees, and Tibet as an actuality grows more dim. He doesn't put that bit in.
In Belaus, Lukashenka just turns off the electricity. No electricity, no computers. Or turns off the cell towers. No mobile phone, no demonstrations organized. You could have exquisite exile governments -- and they have them -- but then they founder on the rocks of the reality of dictatorships that Schmidt seems to leave beyond the frame of his thinking. He just barrels ahead planning how all these good exiles (secessionist SiliconValley, anyone?) will build wonderful virtual governments online and impose them on reality -- uh, easily. No one will object, surely.
Well, and then there's the virtualization of everything, really.
I really must try to write my book about how Second Life predicts the awfulness of the Internet of Things, including your home and even your government.
Try to think of your home as a server in Second Life, and all the delights that will come with it:
o bans and ejects
o group membership -- open and closed groups
o stripping of IP addresses to out alts
o griefing with particles
o mapping and stalking.
And that's just the beginning. Wait until they take away the vote completely!
Land records were among the first things the Lindens jettisoned when they moved from making the world the product to, well, just making the product the product, in about 2008-2009 after the big boom in interest and membership.
There used to be records of every land auction (simulator, or server or part of a server), with those who participated, what they bid, and who won. Then this was blacked out -- in fact, when, of all things, they moved to using ebay auction software instead of their own custom solution (Pierre Omidyar was an early investor in SL).
They did this because land began to devalue, the more there was mapping, information, and records of it globally -- and of course, there constant printing of new land.
Then they finally got rid of the auctions pretty much completely -- now only used odd lots on the mainland are auctioned.
I will have to explain all this another day...