Top-Down Geekonomics, Bottom-Up Democracy

The mainstream press can marginalize Ron Paul all it wants, but that there Texas maverick Libertarian is virtually the best presidential candidate online, especially of the Republicans.

No matter what happens to Paul's candidacy — and it's scary to see how many otherwise progressive kids are supporting his partially wack ideas — Paul has set the standard among the current candidates for Web savvy and pointed the way for the even more intense use of the Web for future races. Check out the figures at techpresident.com.

What's more of a sure sign of our flawed democracy: the anachronistic 18th century Electoral College or the 21st century Facebook/My Space "friends" personality contest?

Both are absurd, but they're not as scary as the dreams of Bill Gates. If Ron Paul is the bottom-up small-D democratic standard bearer of technology, Gates continues to be the top-down daddy of totalitarian IT.

As Computerworld's Elizabeth Montalbano wrote yesterday of Gates's Sunday night star turn at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas:

The Microsoft Corp. chairman fictionally portrayed his last day of full-time work in a video at CES that had everyone from presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to The Daily Show host Jon Stewart turning him down for a job, and music mogul Jay-Z and film actor Matthew McConaughey patiently enduring his painful attempts at new extracurricular activities — rapping and hitting the gym.

Even less funny — in fact, downright scary — was what happened later in Gates's shtick:

Toward the end of Gates's keynote, he and Microsoft President Robbie Bach demonstrated a prototype device from Microsoft Research that seemed to represent the culmination of the company's connected-device strategy. The device used visual recognition to identify people and places in its line of "sight," and remind a user of events related to them. For example, when Gates aimed the device at Bach, the device identified him and reminded Gates that Bach owed him US$20. However, information neither Gates nor Bach could provide was how long it would take for such a device to be fully developed and released.

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Yeah, we can't wait for Microsoft to develop this. That's all we need: a tool that the government and corporations and cops and marketers can use to track us in line of sight and peddle shit about us and to us.

Gates is obsessed with this top-down approach to the future. Creepshow stuff, and no doubt the code will be kept proprietary instead of open source, so the general public of geeks will have a tougher time combatting such intrusions on our privacy.

Let's see: In future presidential campaigns, the candidates' staffs will aim their devices at us to see who we support or what we've read lately. And such a device would really come in handy for cops to use during protests.

If we're lucky, though, this new tool will also come with the usual Microsoft Blue Screen of Death.

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