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From Holmes’ Law to Ohm’s Law
Jim Chen
University of Minnesota Law School
Law in the Age of Networks:
Implications of Network Science for Legal Analysis
University of Illinois Center for Advanced Study
March 10, 2006
Privacy and Communication as
Reciprocal Images
• Privacy law protects the ability to keep
information secret
• Free speech jurisprudence generally
favors broad dissemination of information
• Sometimes law punishes all forms of
communication. E.g., Hoffa v. United
States, 385 U.S. 293 (1966)
• By contrast, we privilege communications
between spouses, attorneys & clients, etc.
Law as the Conscious Structuring
of Information Transfer (Vel Non)
• Constitutional and common law doctrines involving
privacy have a dynamic impact on interpersonal relations
– Talking with coconspirators leads to criminal liability and loss of
4th amendment protection
– Talking with your spouse, physician, attorney, or cleric is favored
• Dinner table conversation is the essence of being human
• Cf. Federalist No. 10: The oxygen that feeds fire also
sustains respiration and life
– Don’t asphyxiate yourself in an effort to avoid getting burned
– Madison knew chemistry had progressed beyond phlogiston!
Strahilevitz on Privacy as a Product
of Social Networks
• Lior Jacob Strahilevitz, A Social Networks
Theory of Privacy, 72 U. Chi. L. Rev. 919
• Network structure is crucial to
understanding the dynamics of privacy
(and derivatively of communication)
• Nodes, strong versus weak links,
interaction between structure and culture
Key Variables Affecting Social
• Salience of information
– Scandalous or valuable versus boring
• Connectedness of nodes
– Some are “supernodes”; others are recluses
• Conductivity of nodes
– What is the probability that a node will communicate new
– Some social links are strong; others are weak
• Complexity of information
– Weak links transmit, except as to complex information
• Durability of information
• Veracity versus mendacity
– Cf. signal versus noise
Ohm’s Law as a Static
Representation of Holmes’s Law
• To the extent that the “marketplace of
ideas” operates within social networks, we
can describe the transmission,
suppression, and retention of information
in terms used to describe electricity
• This is a purely static model, with no
power to describe, let alone predict, the
evolution of these social networks
Ohm’s Law and Its Corollaries
V  I Z
Z  R X
X  XL  XC
 2fL
V = voltage (v)
I = current (a)
Z = impedance (Ω)
R = resistance
X = reactance
C = capacitance (f)
L = inductance (h)
f = frequency (Hz)
– f of DC = 0 Hz
– AC has positive f
Electricity as an Analogy for
Information Within Social Networks
• Current or amperage (I) represents the salience of
• Impedance (Z), especially pure resistance (R),
expresses the lack of conductivity between certain nodes
• Analogizing complexity to frequency (f) allows us to use
concepts of capacitive and inductive reactance (XC and
XL) in analyzing information transmission
– Simple information (like DC) is blocked by capacitors
– Complex information (like AC) is blocked by inductors in
proportion to its frequency
• Durable information can be stored, as electrical energy
can be stored within a capacitor
• Further work? Ways of quantifying information-bearing
signals versus noise shed light on truth v. falsehood
Thank You
[email protected]