When I first learned of Transhumanism, I agreed with it almost reflexively. To me it seemed obvious that “we” needed to build a future in which the humanity could overcome its natural enemies: disease, poverty, and political corruption/mismanagement. I say we even though I meant the select few who actually had the power, or intelligence, to do so. I was more fascinated by the idea of a utopian future than I was about the execution. As I have grown over the years, I’ve come to actions in the present more than the dreams of the future.

I was discouraged by the lack of progress we often see in the political arena; real, necessary, drastic changes often take years, with human suffering being the byproduct of the process. It took years for marriage to become truly egalitarian, even though it was obvious to anybody who didn’t have a religious or political investment in seeing it otherwise. We need healthcare reform, the right to repair, affordable drugs, and various forms of autonomy (from digital to reproductive): I shudder to think how long these things will take.

Last year, I researched the encryption war of the 90’s and how PGP originally started. You see, the creator of PGP, Phil Zimmerman, took a huge risk by initially releasing the PGP program and source code onto the web. He potentially faced very serious criminal charges because at the time, Encryption was still considered the domain of the military. The US didn’t want anyone outside (or for that matter inside) their borders to have access to the technology. Once it was released though, there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. Encryption was here to stay[1].

We no longer need to wait for the technology to create a better society. The PGP was an example of technologically enabled liberty. Congress doesn’t have the power to defy the laws of physics. And because encryption is no longer the domain of the military, we now can do our taxes over the internet: we can also sing like a canary about our employer’s corruption without fear of reprisal (kudos to whoever released the panama papers) but let’s just focus on the taxes for now.

Do you want transparency in healthcare cost? Build a bot to aggregate every public document related to the cost associated with health care, hospital funding, and payroll information. You would be surprised what you can find with a little Open source intelligence. Or build a platform where people can share their expenses related to various treatments (and various hospitals). While the data will not be as complete as if you actually had the cooperation of the hospitals in question (which you should), you will effectively force the issue into public awareness. The same thing can be done, and has been done[2], for political corruption.

This isn’t limited to just software either. Disease and poverty, can be tackled with open source data science. You may not be able to eradicate either of these banes by data alone, but you force policy makers to make informed decisions, because with each new data set you progressively remove their ability to claim ignorance[3]. In the case of disease, you also my unveil correlations leading to a new understanding of the disease or the factors contributing to its growth.

Thing is you don’t have to even work in the field of software engineering, or data science. You don’t have to be rich. The nature of software means you can run most of these things on a 7 year old laptop (though it may take much longer than otherwise); you don’t even have to be particularly good at it. You just need a target, lots of studying, and time. That’s how change happens, not by expecting others to do the right thing, but by leaving them with no other choice.

Disclaimer: I think that involvement in the political process in invaluable and necessary. What I’m advocating here isn’t apathy, or anarchism. I’m advocating for strategically weakening the oppositions ability to resist.

 

[1] The encryption war was more than just phil Zimmerman and pgp. It involved a whole slew of encryption technologies (such as the failed clipper chip and Diffie-Helman key exchange algorithm), I recommend researching it.

[2] https://blog.scrapinghub.com/2016/03/09/how-web-scraping-is-revealing-lobbying-and-corruption-in-peru/

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/opinion/sunday/what-data-can-do-to-fight-poverty.html?_r=0

* hero image used from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/23/will-you-be-murdered-by-a-robot.html