[LINK] SMH: NBN as Magic Pudding

Roger Clarke Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Fri Feb 25 09:03:13 AEDT 2011

[There's a wonderful, old-fashioned diatribe in the SMH today.  Copy below.

[Boughton misrepresents both Alvin Toffler and Barry Jones, but he 
does extract a few grins along the way.

[Put this one up on the living-room wall:

["Australia will evolve into an earthly paradise of sylvan elves, or 
magic puddings bathed in the dappled sunlight of a Norman Lindsay 
scene, spinning endless value from magical rivers of information 
flowing through bright veins of optical fibre filament".

Broadband network lives in a magic pudding world of glowing optical 
fibre filament
Andrew Boughton - who is a director of the advisory firm capitalC.
SMH Business Section - Comment
February 25, 2011

A blind worship of progress at any cost won't solve our problems, 
writes Andrew Boughton.

To understand Stephen Conroy's passionate diatribe against the 
''political dogma'' he claims underpins the Economist Intelligence 
Unit's attack on the national broadband network, one needs to 
appreciate Conroy's own dogma.

Conroy is a believer in the post-industrial knowledge economy, a 
vaporous analogy with Swiss banking, popularised in the 1970s by 
Alvin Toffler, and vigorously promoted by Conroy's boss in the 1980s, 
science minister Barry Jones.

In a Switzerland of knowledge capital, our assets are not foreign 
cash in our banks but something far better - a handful of magic beans 
called information assets. When thrown about as randomly as possible, 
they take root as a giant beanstalk, a ladder up to clouds of untold 
wealth. Let China live in a world of dark satanic mills; in this 
vision Australia would evolve into an earthly paradise of sylvan 
elves, or magic puddings bathed in the dappled sunlight of a Norman 
Lindsay scene, spinning endless value from magical rivers of 
information flowing through bright veins of optical fibre filament.

The post-industrial knowledge economy was a special place, where work 
was clean and bright, and only people in poor countries would slave 
to build things in dark factories.

Just how the digital citizens of our knowledge economy were to be 
employed was never well defined, because the value of information was 
held to be self-evident and, like education, eternally nourishing. No 
need to define an industry or products - our elven citizens would 
figure that out.

[Wrong.  Yes, Toffler was always breathlessly enthusiastic.  But both 
Toffler and Jones put some flesh on the bones, and Jones in 
particular identified specific industries and roles that he argued 
would grow.]

Perhaps it would be, in a self-referencing way, an IT industry. Or 
who knows? We might become the world's leading producer of patents, 
and patent lawyers to defend them. Let other countries build our 
designs and ship them to us as products, while we grew fat on 
royalties and litigation.

It was a clever plan, requiring no actual planning. Merely an 
infrastructure, the information super highway. Build it and we would 
get there, wherever ''there'' was, somehow.

A good internet is a good thing, but the knowledge economy was a 
vision too far, tailor-made for sociologists in a liberal fascist 
tradition traceable back to H.G. Wells, an academic's nirvana where 
educated types would succeed primitive industrialism with its 
uneducated workers, evolving beyond the crude old Labor left and its 
withering economic base. Sunset heavy industries, sunrise knowledge 

[I do think Boughton's on stronger ground here.  Techno-utopianism 
has been rife in AI, IT generally, bio-everything incl. genetics, and 
green industries.  And it was a (small) part of the corporate 
gambling mania that delivered the GFC.]

So compelling was this view at the time that even in the US, 
conservative members of the intelligence community spying on 
Australian Labor wrote alarming papers holding the New York liberal 
left responsible for the demise of the north-eastern industrial base.

[I think that sentence is just a wee bit dense and could do with some 

Simultaneously, the IT sector seized on it to construct a paradigm 
called knowledge management for corporate clients, essentially a 
pyramid of technocratic information needs, beginning with data, which 
was refined into information, and then somehow, God help us, Wisdom. 
I should know, because I articulated this sort of slightly shameful 
drivel in commercial papers for the industry at the time.

[Data to information is a defineable transform.  Whereas the 
'knowledge' movement has been mostly haystacks of drivel, with 
needles of value deep down in there if you can only separate them 
out.  I did a few po-faced things on this between one and two decades 
back, but I don't think I need to be as apologetic about them as 
Boughton says he feels:
http://www.rogerclarke.com/EC/EcInnInfInd.html ]

The national broadband network can only be understood as a passion 
for economic, cultural and political progress, and as such, worth any 
price. A liberal fascist science and technology vision allied with 
vested interests in the information industry to create a magic 
pudding world, by way of spending a vast chunk of our very real gross 
national product.

Few dispute fibre as a backbone to feed wireless, but the debate 
should be about the mix, the fitness for purpose, the economics, the 
engineering upside in wireless, and not about the maximum speed at 
any cost. As for Labor rolling out an emotive TV campaign with a sick 
child to justify the plan, well, the emperor is stark naked. How many 
emergency medical staff and technologies would be sacrificed to pay 
for the clever IT showcased in that ad?


[For the record, I agree that the magic pudding analogy is relevant; 
*and* I support the NBN initiative.  It's a strategic ( = 
un-cost-justifiable) initiative of such importance that large 
quantities of us taxpayers' money *should* be invested in the 
infrastructure - but this time *not* gifted to a corporation that is 
responsible under law to exploit its monopoly.  Sure, the government 
had to hold off some of the criticism by saying that the mature NBN 
Co would be later sold off.  But we need a special model for managing 
the infrastructure as a basis for busy competition in the higher 

Roger Clarke                                 http://www.rogerclarke.com/
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd      78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
                    Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au                http://www.xamax.com.au/

Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre      Uni of NSW
Visiting Professor in Computer Science    Australian National University

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