Michael Burnam-Fink's Reviews > Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive

Liars and Outliers by Bruce Schneier
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Feb 19, 2012

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bookshelves: 2012
Read in February, 2012

When I heard that the author of the absolutely brilliant Secrets and Lies was turning his slantwise gaze from computer networks to society as a whole, I was excited. These days, security is a big business, and problems of insecurity bedevil the future. Schneier lays out his framework for how trust is required modern society function, and how the liars and outliers of the title abuse trust for their own advantage.

It is not that this is a bad book, but it is very general. Yes, we use morality, reputation, institutional pressures, and security technology to enforce trust. Yes, multinational corporations are hard to regulate, and accelerating technological change introduces new risks. I get it, but what can we do about security today? How can complex systems be made secure? What is the responsibility of the State in providing security, as opposed to its other duties? Schneier seems to suggest that we devolve power to lower levels, where morality carries more weight (most people are generally nice to people they see every day), but this idea is difficult to combine with the global scale of modern problems.

Along with all the theory, I would have preferred some concrete case studies of security failures, say a clear example of corporate corruption in action, or why the War on Terror is a failure in every way. And for a book which relies so heavily on the Prisoner's Dilemma as a conceptual tool, not mentioning Axelrod's Evolution of Cooperation and the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma is an odd choice.
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