The future comes rushing upon us so quickly, already I worry that the world portrayed in my freshly minted novel will be old hat long before the time it is set, 30 years from now. (Meaning that we need futuristic and open-minded thought experiments now, more than ever.)
Try these items on for size...
With new laser technology, hidden government scanners
will instantly know everything about you from 150 feet (or 50 meters)
away, detecting traces of drugs, explosives, bioweapons or gunpowder on
your clothes or luggage -- even recording your adrenaline levels. The
U.S. Department of Homeland Security will install these scanners (a
million times more sensitive than current systems) at airports and
border crossings across the country -- as early as 2013. The Russians
are developing a comparable system.
if this reduces our exposure to x-rays and allows the TSA to tamp down
the aggravation at airports, you can expect the new systems to have
their upside. On the other hand, this sort of thing could be Big
Brother's most delicious dream. (More on that aspect.)
...then there's this. Cell phone providers received 1.3 million cell phone snooping requests
last year from law enforcement agencies seeking information on
locational data and calling records. There is little oversight over who
can make such requests, or what is done with the information.
The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose between Privacy and Freedom,
I made it clear that we'll not stop any of this with whining, moaning
or by trying to ban these technologies. Our only chance? If government -
and other mighty elites - are absolutely fated to know everything about
us anyway, our sole option is to know everything about them.
This is the important distinction between surveillance and sousveillance -- looking down vs. looking back.
And though I've covered it at-length from many directions, I expect to be doing so repeatedly, for the rest of my life.
it even remotely possible for sousveillance to work? For citizens to
shine enough light upward to remind our civil servants that they are
servants? To keep a choke-chain on our guard dogs, so they never see
themselves as wolves? To remind corporations that they are constructs,
and oligarchs that they are not feudal lords, with droit du seigneur?
As it happens, there are dozens of techniques that might help...
providing we nurture the calm, rational... but militant...
determination to make this practically happen.
Let's start simple. See just one practical approach
that - with a very simple slip of legislation that could be written on
one piece of paper - and maybe cost 20 million dollars - we might
suddenly and smoothly add a layer of safety and accountability to help
let us sleep at night. It's no panacea! But by simply changing how
government inspectors general function, we might follow the sage advice of Sun Yat Sen and stymie the bad in government, while aiding the good.
Let's hope that this election cycle someone actually listens.
And another Transparency related item. This one not only forecast in The Transparent Society but also in EARTH...
tendency of humans to filter out news or opinions or views or even
sensory input that we don't like or agree with. (Yes, one side of the
political "spectrum" is currently doing it to psychotic degrees... but
the other end does it too!) We've been finding out that our brains
naturally pass disagreeable info and opinions and input through emotional centers rather than those devoted to reason. But as predicted, electronic "filters" are making things even worse for some, even while opening up vast universes of wonder and possibilities for others. See "Are we stuck in a filter bubble...hearing only what we want to hear?" Then see how this very issue was dealt with, in Earth (1989).
Indeed. And then comes the new world of "augmented reality."
Patricia F. Anderson wrote: "Graffiti goes virtual with an augmented reality app for your cell phone, called LZRTAG Shades of @DavidBrin1 's early scenes in Existence." Indeed,
the layering of virtual surfaces over our world has already begun.
Still images, animations and video can be tagged to real world surfaces,
so your smartphone can interact with media, billboards, lampposts or
landmarks. Vernor Vinge and I do - however - show where it must eventually lead. That is, where it must lead if we are lucky and do smart things!
To see where it will lead if we drop courage and brains? Try Nineteen Eighty-Four.
=== Fascinating cases of watching the watchers at work ===
I am naive? Teams at Harvard and the University of Hong Kong have been
using new software that allows them to watch the censoring of posts on
Chinese social-media sites more closely than before. Monitoring the Monitors summarizes their report in The Economist:
team found that, overall, 13% of all social media posts in China were
censored. Yet their most surprising result is that posts critical of the
government are not consistently censored. On the other hand, posts
urging people to assemble in protest, are generally removed from the
internet within hours. Harvard professor Gary King writes, “Clearly the
goal is actually to repress people gathering.”
Rebecca MacKinnon, author of Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, comments. “The goal has never been total control. The goal is to keep the Chinese Communist Party in power.”
researchers analyzed the posts that had been censored to determine
exactly what had made them objectionable to the government. What they
found was a constantly changing list of keywords and sensitive topics,
resulting in "a cat-and-mouse contest between people and censors.”
=== Keep the dream alive ===
On the recent American Independence Day... with a marathon of the eponymous film
playing in the background ... I was reminded of the ways that our
revolution has affected the world. Sometimes for ill - though less than
any other great "pax" power across time. And sometimes for profound
good. That may be viewed as biased (though in fact, I am more of a
Californian than a yankee). So I suggest steeping in points of view
that might be considered neutral and yet poetically insightful. Such as
by the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, of how a remote Circassian
mountain tribe once sat at his feet, demanding stories about ... Abraham
Are we made of lesser stuff than our parents, or the
heroes of the first phase of the American Civil War? We are in phase
three now. Wake up and end it. By winning it.
=== Science Miscellany ===
need to discuss what to do about nuclear waste. It never made the
slightest sense for us to abandon the Yucca Mountain site on account of
some supposed small chance that the depository might leak a little in
10,000 years. Say what? So these people are now willing to talk about
sci fi levels of time, when they won’t even discuss a decade from now,
on any other issue? Dig it. In 10,000 years, the stored radionuclides
are far more likely to be more valuable as stored "gold", than they are
to leak into a desert aquifer. Read up.
Dinosaur sex! Scientific! With feathers, yet. And facial expressions.