Sunday, March 15, 2009

Liberties in Cyber Space

Cyber space teems with tumultuous arguments on liberties. "Declaration of Independence of Cyber Space" by John Perry Barlow at
points to the futility of governing cyber space, not to speak of governing from it. He thunders, "You have no sovereignty where we gather." Marvin Minsky has the simplest argument against the libertarians: "Societies need rules that make no sense for individuals. For example, it makes no difference whether a single car drives on the left or on the right. But it makes all the difference when there are many cars!"

The compromise is that any society needs to settle down a few working rules. It is very interesting to use machines to help us in executing those rules. They raise many issues. An old note of mine, to provoke thought:

e-governance and e-transparency solutions are most welcome. But then,
the solution itself should also be free, open and transparent. ...
Law itself is public, free and open in nature. Our Supreme Court had the
occasion in Naresh v. State of Maharashtra [AIR 1967 SC 1] to consider
the merits of open and public trials for "healthy objective and fair
administration of justice," and quoted Bentham with approval as follows:

"In the darkness of secrecy, sinister interest, and evil in every
shape, have full swing. ... Publicity is the very soul of justice.
It is the keenest spur to exertion, and the surest of all guards
against improbity. It keeps the Judge himself while trying under
trial in the sense that the security of securities is publicity."

The principles laid are equally true for governance. Without free
software, it is hard to even imagine a e-governance software.

But, I am personally wary of using the expression "e-governance software".

The law is the common background for all human activity. Besides
governance, law operates upon a large area. Governance is specially
grouped under the heading Constitutional Law and Administrative Law. We
have Law of Contracts, Torts, Law of Property, Family Law, Labour Law
etc. wherein "governance" is minimal or even totally absent. If an
application can handle Constitutional Law and Administrative Law, then
there are no reasons why it should not handle the Law of Contracts or
the other laws. We have people designing "banking software", "insurance
software", "billing software", as though the law has these water tight
compartments. We have ERP, CRM, B2B, B2C, G2G, G2B, etc. etc, with
others promising to integrate ERP with CRM, CRM with the rest in all
possible permutations and combinations. It makes business sense but no
legal sense.

Can any e-governance software check constitutionality of code? If they
can't, then they better not call themselves by such a name.

Besides, consider the following:

Suppose an e-governance application wants to assist litigants in filing
plaints. While automating preparation of plaints, some issues arise.
If more than one plaintiff sues, the script should use "plaintiffs"
otherwise, "plaintiff". In appeals, for the same reason it chooses
between "appellants" and "appellant". Soon, a function that would give
the plural for singular nouns like applicant, petitioner, claimant,
defendant, and respondent becomes necessary. This exercise soon takes
one to examining the rules of English grammar. If an application can
handle legal rules well, then it might handle rules of English grammar
as well. But the most singular difficulty would be in listing the rules
of English grammar. Tamil has Agathiam (the primary grammar text, but
no longer in vogue) > Tholkappiam (Secondary text, based on Agathiam),
and > finally the recent Nanool, where everything from how letters are
formed, classified, pronounced, to usage, root words, verbs,
concatanation, and every thing necessary to use the language are dealt
with thoroughly. Assuming that after consensus, acceptable rules of
English grammar for the present are available, we could write functions
such as:

function get_plural($singlular){
// returns plural for a given singular

To write a perfect get_plural function, we need to know if the word
passed to the function is a noun or not. Now, we have to write

function is_noun($word){
// returns if word is a noun

As you see, one thing leads to another, and soon we will have a large
library of functions that deal with many aspects of English grammar.
Then our scripts will write well, and may be read well too.

Once we write such a library, there is no reason why this should be
confined to just an "e-governance" application. We could use it even
better in the field of education or wherever English is used.

Consider another scenario.

Recently, an ONGC helicopter crashed into the sea near Mumbai, and an
Enquiry has been ordered into it. The survivor & eye witnesses reported
that the helicopter went into a spin before crashing into the sea. It
is well known that the tail propellor prevents a helicopter from
spinning. Did the tail propellor fail? We see that the enquiry soon
has to deal with the basic workings of an helicopter to arrive at the
truth for the cause of the accident. Though at the top level, things
look like "e-governance", as we go deep, we find ourselves into the
thick of rules of English grammar, the laws of aerodynamics, history, or
other fields of human knowledge.

Ancient sages dealt exhaustively on grammar, philosophy, ethics,
medicine, law, science and literature single handedly. Agathiar wrote
Agathiam creating a script for Tamil, codifing the rules of grammar, and
then dealt with medicine [Paripooranam 400], and initiated Girivalam, as
the simplest form of yoga, that could be practiced by one and all.
Agathiar is believed to have brought his first love, River Cauvery, to
Tamil Nadu. Well, then he might have organised the flow of the River
with the aid of the local kings. Patanjali wrote upon Sanskrit Grammar,
Ayurveda and Yoga, and though the works stand distinctively, a common
thread unites them. A unity at some point is required for scientific
progress and human prosperity.

Free software offers all the tools we can ask for. The next big step
would be when human knowlege is ported across so that software
applications abound with life, intelligence and wisdom.