Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Agency Balancing Act Part 2

Today Thursday 10th of October in a Times Leader column, David Arronovitch's spoke of an agency problem that may yet impact us all. he questioned whether the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and his Brasilian boyfriend were indeed the best people to make decisions about who should be knowing what of the Edward Snowden leaked material. This after the Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger had stated publically that there are some things that should, in the publics interest, not be known.

What rules should have been in place?  Who should have control?

I spent most of my life hearing about Double Agents and Triple Agents, so I recognize that developing rules that would manage this agency problem will be very difficult, if not intractable; for it is the ultimate agency problem "Right minded to whom?"

The obvious rule, to me, is that no single human agent ever needs the simultaneous right to transfer thousands or millions of files outside the control of a trust ecosystem.

Finally, I suspect that the most important rules of all are the transparency and oversight rules. In the past we have relied on journalists to instantiate these unwritten rules, and be our guardians, current discussions about newspaper oversight have shown the difficulty of appointing guardians.

After all, this is not a new problem...

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will watch the watchers?)

With due deference to Plato it seems to me that we have allowed our political and educational systems to degenerate and we are creating more politicians and guardians of brass and iron, than of silver or gold. I reminded being taken to room in the centre of our government in which there sat a throne, the Queens robing room.  Merlin, the Earl of Errol pointed up towards the ceiling at a series of different frescoes that reminded him of his role in Parliament. According to the Houses of Parliament website the:
"... paintings by William Dyce in the room depict the chivalric virtues of hospitality, generosity, mercy, religion and courtesy, as represented through scenes from the legend of King Arthur and his court. Two other frescoes, illustrating fidelity and courage were originally intended but were never carried out."
We sorely need those other two uncompleted frescoes of Fidelity and Courage! Having politicians with the courage to be faithfull to the chivalric virtues of the frescoes would be of great benefit to our society. Many of our governments recent decisions seem devoid of any of them!

This at a time when our control over our lives can so readily and invisibly be taken from our grasp.

I think that we have first to recognize and name the problem of societal imbalance exacerbated by the internet, I call it the "Cyber Agency Problem"  Worse there are too many mechanisms for invisibly losing control to innumerate. (I am not worried, as much, about mechanisms that create loss of control which is immediately evident.)

At this time in our history, perhaps more than ever, we truly need our Politicians and Guardians to be fashioned from Gold. We need them to be right minded, in order to protect those amongst us who are right minded, from those driven purely by greed and self interest.

Perhaps for those who have read the short story "Farewell to the Guardian"( , there maybe a different element to better fashion guardians from....

This evening I am on a panel at the Science Museum exploring this very issue...

Agency a definition:

Given Agency is defined by sociologists as the 
"capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices."

Our innate desire for human agency is the driving force that differentiates us from animals, the desire to be in control of the facts, to be in control of our environments, to be in control of technology, to be in control of our lives and loves.

Cyber Agency is thus the capacity to be in control of our cyber or Internet selves.

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