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Re: Your fans in Russia talk about you...

Yesterday I drafted an email message about Xanadu and the Soviet 
Union. I was creating it in response to the general euphoria 
about Russian hypertext, with no specific incident or situation 
in mind.

I now find that at about the same time that I was creating this 
general commentary,  John Draper was writing up his latest communique 
with the "good guys" in the Soviet Union, which I have just read.

I would desperately like to support Valerie and the rest of the 
good people of the Soviet Union. But we must not forget that 
the Soviet Union is still mostly an inverted organization, where 
the people who do not believe in freedom call the final shots. 
We must be very careful that we DO NOT give Valerie a form of 
support that he could regret a couple of years from now, if the 
pendulum swings and the tide of reform recedes--for once a Xanadu 
hypertext system is installed, it is very very difficult to remove.

In consideration of the sobering consequences of hasty action, 
the message I was preparing yesterday is even more relevant than 
I my darkest fears were at the time:

     In the US military, one among the many common problems is 
the problem of technomania blindness: someone comes up with a 
great new innovation, magnificently clever, stupendously costly, 
completely destroying the enemy's  ability to fight. The innovation 
promises either total destruction of the enemy, making them as 
helpless as babies, or it promises total invulnerability for 
our friends, guaranteeing the survival of our troops despite 
any enemy threat.
     People who promise and/or believe these things are not, 
of course, in a life-and-death struggle to DISPROVE the promise--only 
the the engineers and soldiers who work for the opposition have 
the life-and-death inspiration to scrutinize and refute the promise.
     My favorite recent unclassified example is the Stealth Bomber: 
the Stealth has a  useful service life of at most 10 years, because 
the countermeasure is obvious: use cheap, extra-powerful radar 
transmitters with multiple, passive, decoupled receivers to detect 
it. It will cost a lot less to clear the skies of Stealth than 
it cost to put them up there.
     For similar reasons, I have for several years wanted to 
offer a 1-billion-dollar, tax-free prize to the first American 
Admiral who described in the open press a reliable tactic for 
sinking aircraft carriers--it would be a cheap price to pay for 
the service of canceling all those aircraft carrier construction 
     I have almost never encountered a pure technological solution 
to a problem where there were powerful, smart human beings who 
had vested interests in countering the solution. People who believe 
in such technological solutions generally have an interest in 
believing their own claims. I'm not talking here about a financial 
interest, like the profits you could make building the new swing-wing 
vertical-takeoff Stealth transport with Chobham armor; I'm talking 
here about the simple psychological benefits of believing that 
you are working on the ANSWER.
     We of Xanadu believe that Open Hypertext is the ANSWER. 
In many ways, it REALLY IS the ANSWER. But we must be very careful 
not to make the mistakes the military makes. 
     My particular concern today, after one too many conversations 
about the miracle of Gorbachev, is the wide-eyed glow of joy 
I see among people who speak of putting Xanadu in the Soviet 
Union. The belief seems to be that open hypertext, being open, 
is impervious to abuse; it can only act as a force of good, and 
freedom for mankind.
     Folks, 'taint so.
     Even the very first release of Xanadu will contain privacy-protection 
tools. There are lots of reasons why privacy-protection is necessary. 
A simple one is allowing corporations to keep salary and other 
employee compensation information private. Even if a company 
were willing to make such info available to all, both my own 
experiences and the hints of tales told by Autodesk founders 
at the last Xanadu Board Of Directors meeting suggest that public 
debate about employee compensation produce only strife.
     So we have to have privacy-protection.
     Now, let us look at the way the Soviet Union government 
treats information. The Powers That Be realize fully how important 
information is. They have evolved, over the course of many administrations, 
tremendously extensive systems to control the flow of information. 
For example, if you walk into a library and ask for a copy of 
the New York Times, you get a different version of the paper 
depending on  your class status--a lower class person gets a 
copy with larger parts of the newspaper physically cut out (and 
of course, a normal peon doesn't get any version of the paper 
at all--he gets a write-up in a little book for assessment by 
the Police of the Powers That Be). 
     Though I wish Gorbachev all the luck in the world reducing 
the servitude of the peoples of the Soviet Union, we should not 
count on him to disassemble control-of-information as part of 
his power base any time soon--such control is far more fundamental 
to the survival of the Soviet regime than tanks and fighters, 
and Gorbachev is not yet even a Republican, much less a person 
who believes in freedom of choice. Even the British government 
keeps the lid on the media. And even if Gorbachev were to forget 
how fundamental information control is, the other Powers who 
haunt the land would remember.
     If I were a Power That Be, I would be drooling at the opportunity 
to set up open hypertext with privacy and versioning. For the 
totalitarian dictator, Xanadu  represents the most powerful tool 
yet conceived for fine-tuning information access and control.
     Open hypertext is a positive force for freedom only to the 
extent that the operators of the hypermedia servers are moral, 
only to the extent that those operators are believers in  freedom. 
A Xanadu server set up in Switzerland, with encrypted links to 
satellites that talk to low-power directional antennas in Leningrad, 
would be a force of good with little danger of abuse. But hypermedia 
servers controlled by dictators will serve as tools of dictatorship.
     Xanadu can be used to increase the power of tyranny. And 
we might as well face it now: Xanadu WILL be used to increase 
the power of tyranny, somewhere, sometime, somehow. To whatever 
extent we accept credit for the freedom Xanadu creates, we must 
also accept the blame for the oppression it will enable. Worldwide, 
over the course of generations, I think the tradeoff is dramatically 
in favor of freedom--but it IS a tradeoff.
     What should we do? Obviously, eventually the Powers will 
figure out how to use Xanadu, because we will promote all Xanadu's 
capabilities and articulate them with brilliance in our campaign 
to make Xanadu a de facto standard. Obviously, if someone wants 
to pay hard cash for Xanadu we should sell it to them, since 
it would be so easy for them to steal it anyway once we put it 
in shrink-wrap. 
     But let us not rush to make Xanadu a de facto standard in 
the oppressed, fear-filled places of the world before it becomes 
a standard here at home.The best we can do is to not rush the 
day when opponents of freedom figure out how good hypertext is. 
The best we can do is to avoid going out of our way to demonstrate 
to Powers That Be, or to those who report to such Powers, how 
good hypertext is.
     Remember: when we tell members of authoritarian regimes 
how much better Xanadu will make their lives, we are telling 
the truth. Be wary, and speak softly.