Republicans and Democrats: Too big to succeed

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

The US political system is like daisyworld.

Flower Power Natural World

Daisyworld is a simplified model of the Gaia (Earth as organism) Hypothesis. A planet is populated by black daisies which absorb more solar radiation and white daisies which reflect it. Over time the temperature of the planet is regulated because the white daisies thrive when it’s warm. If it’s too hot the white population booms, increases the albedo of the planet and cools it down again. The black population then surges as the planet cools down and causes lower albedo and thus another round of warming.

This isn’t (directly) a post about global warming or race.

Replace the daisies with Democrats and Republicans. When Democrats are in power Republican voters are driven to the polls and vice versa. Homeostasis is guaranteed. Like daisyworld or the two-body problem it’s a toy system. It’s just never going to produce interesting results.

I think it’s time to break up the big parties (like the big parties should have broken up the big banks). Each party that achieves more than 20% of the popular vote is forced to split into two smaller parties. We have more than daisies. We have the three-body problem.

In addition to introducing some much needed chaos this could also turn the national political climate from us-vs-them to something more nuanced. Yes, there would still be left leaning and right leaning parties but they’d be forced to differentiate themselves through more than name calling and head stomping. We might have a political marketplace of ideas rather than affiliations.

Anything would be better than daisies.

(All Politics Posts)

Reviews and links for October 2010

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

5/5

Stonking. It tells the tale of a Dutch clerk (de Zoet) at a trading post with the xenophobic Japan of 1799. It has the swashbuckling panache and anal research of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle with just a dash of 'Big Trouble in Little China'. I hoped it was going to end with a 'to be continued...' but alas, Mitchell managed to wrap it up. Loved it.

 

Links

- Everest climbers get 3G network from BBC News - Home (Coming soon: escalators).

- Dream recording device 'is possible' from BBC News - Home (Life channels 'Until the End of the World').

- Pope urges migrants to integrate from BBC News - Home (How about getting priests to respect the laws of host countries and then start worrying about immigrants.).

- How Google understands language like a 10-year-old from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Statistical analysis is Searle's Chineese Room, not AI.).

- Malcolm Gladwell is wrong about the revolution from All Salon (He's completely right. I joined a group to help the monks in Burma and they're still totally screwed.).

- Man used hosepipe to punish son from BBC News - Home (That's not what I was expecting the hosepipe to be used for. I think the son got off lightly and the father is lucky not to be facing a hosepipe ban related death sentence.).

(All Politics Posts)

How to fix software patents

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

In 1790 Thomas Jefferson became the first patent examiner and issued a grand total of three patents. 220 years later the US Patent Office has a backlog of over 1.2 million applications. Internet and software industries are created and destroyed in the time it takes the average patent to issue.

Here's how a startup can easily turn to the dark side:

  1. Investors pressure a startup to file patents in an attempt to make the business defensible.
  2. Tens of thousands of dollars of billable hours result in ‘System and method for displaying a text based colloquial greeting to the populace of a planetary body’.
  3. Startup fails but notices that other companies have implemented their ‘Hello, World’ IP and a patent troll is born.

Software patents are especially frustrating as it's the idea — usually the easiest part of the business — that gets patented. Because patent law doesn't require actual implementation, let alone success, it's as if you could patent “cancer drug” and then sue pharmaceutical companies each time a new treatment rolled out.

It's tempting to call for an outright ban on software patents, as Vivek Wadhwa did recently. This doesn't work because so much technology is software based and because somewhere in that 1.2 million backlog there probably are a few genuinely novel ideas. 

The first part of the fix is to stop examining the patents at all.

This may sound crazy, but think about copyright. You don't need to pay a bunch of lawyers to represent you before the copyright office and prove that this really is the first time a particular novel has been written, or that you were in fact holding the camera when you snapped that photo. Copyright is automatic.

A patentable invention isn't a specific work of art and so some registration system is required. My suggestion is that you upload a PDF and pay a registration fee of around $1,000. It's small enough not to discourage startups and large enough to prevent abuse. USPTO would timestamp the PDF, store it for eighteen months and then publish it.

The obvious flaw would seem to be opening the floodgates to even more patent trolls. That's where the second part of the fix comes in — shift the burden of proof of validity to the company that owns the patent. You can still sue, but the first step is a rigorous and expensive exam process. 

This system makes it easy to obtain a patent but changes the nature of the patent to an insurance policy in case your idea really is as clever as you think it is. It also makes it much harder to use a patent offensively. Resources are more efficiently used to evaluate the novelty of a patent when it is enforced, rather than to do the impossible task of evaluating millions of ideas that never will be.

Full disclosure: I'm co-inventor of several software patents that I hope will never be used against you. I also recently lost a product (Cucku Backup) as a result of settling a patent infringement lawsuit and I hope that never happens to you either!

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