|Some futureology thoughts from a conference
||[Oct. 4th, 2016|05:13 pm]
I just attended a set of presentations by various network industry security experts on the future of networking, security, and network convergency. I.e. how, in the future, to use a specific example by one speaker, how your smartwatch, thermostat, social networking analysis of what your friends are eating, medical records, refrigerator monitor, food shopping habits, bank account contents, and so on will result, once they can all exchange information with some sort of aggregator/AI software such as Watson, means that you will never have to ask the question “what will I have for dinner?” Instead, when you get hone, a bag of groceries will be waiting for you, your refrigerator will have a recipe on it for the menu that has been decided you should eat, and all you have to do is follow the instructions for a meal that is, according to all these inputs, exactly what you want and need.|
While I find that unlikely except for a very few privileged and interested individuals, what I do find likely is that your health insurer will decide all you get to eat today is raw kale and water or it will cancel your policy. That your employer will note that you bought too much alcohol and mandate counseling. That the grocery ordering service, having decided your raise means more of your income should go to its corporate masters, will suddenly include filet mignon and truffles instead of your usual hamburger. But, while creepy and almost certainly aimed at extracting as much money as possible from your account, that doesn’t strike me as the most likely outcome over the long term.
All of this assumes that you have a certain level of affluence — home delivered groceries, smart watches, enough disposable income to have active IOT (Internet Of Things) in your home, and that your maintain a social networking presence. Looking around the conference, the vast majority are male, white, and affluent enough to spend three days at a technology conference — and they mostly seem enthusiastic about such services and new technologies. Of course, you can take steps to minimize your digital fingerprints. But who’s going to bother other than the paranoid and ultra-wealthy who can opt out of such things? Certainly not these technocrats and net-wizards.
During the McCarthy era, they had to rely on people admitting, admittedly under duress, to being a Communist and turning in others to avoid having their lives and livelihoods destroyed. Now, should we end up with similar socio-political witchhunts, instead you will find out that not only do they know you’re a Communist (or atheist, Jewish, Muslim, anarchist, etc) based on emails, chats, messages, and so on, but the government secretly turned on the microphones and cameras on all your networked devices, including said refrigerator and thermostat as well as the expected phone and computers, as well as that of all you contacts and intimates, and people who they correlated your location with so that even if no electronic communication happened, they know who to tar with the same brush. But we know, or at least strongly suspect, that all this is already going on.
When someone does something wrong, but not wrong enough to actually throw them into a prison so they are physically separated from the rest of society, we attach a collar to a leg, so their location can be monitored and alert the enforcers should you stray from the permitted areas. Now with just about everyone carrying at least one cell phone, just about everyone the government has an interest in now has such a tracker.
Who does society currently “hunt?” We’ve seen police target people of color — do you think that these systems in the hands of law enforcement won’t become the new tools of oppression? While not as satisfying as shooting a despised minority or beating them up, finding a legitimate reason to secure a conviction for someone on anything they’ve done that might be illegal simply becomes a matter of data mining, severely limiting their future options in terms of employment, education, and quality of life. We know that the FBI had a mandate to find something, anything on certain people: legitimately for Capone, less so for MLK Jr — now imagine what Hoover’s men could have done today, with the kind of information integration that these leaders say is already going on, secretly and openly? Certainly the Stazi and KGB would have loved this level of surveillance, along with the internal security apparatus of every other fascist/totalitarian government.
And that’s just the current status quo. If we undergo a war, or suffer another major terrorist attack, or for some reason decide some hated class of humanity deserves official scrutiny and control, that’s just about it for that group: no hiding, no escape will suffice to avoid the scarlet letter and officially mandated punishment.
This seems to me to be inevitable. The kind of people who are desirous of this power want the resulting control — the billionaires who fund the companies developing these tools are, if the psychologists and economists are right, terrified that the masses will take their hoarded wealth and remove their privileges. They generally desire wealth for its power, and will use that power to preserve their privilege, even if it means oppressing the other 99.99% of humanity, assisted by the 1% who just think they have wealth and power, and the 30% who are sure that one day they’ll be one of the few people who actually matter to this kind of mindset.
Sadly, I don’t have an answer to how to prevent this grim meathook future of soussurveillance and top-down control. Dr. David Brin’s answer, of “looking back at the watchers,” assumes they’ll allow that, which is contrary to human nature; the other solutions of abandoning technology, or somehow legislating all the bad actors into being nice, strike me as just pollyannaism, unrealistic optimism.
And the worst thing is that all the benefits will be viewed as enough of a carrot to hide the stick, and that we’ll end up in an unrecognized dystopia, impossible to remove because the vast majority of people can’t even see the downside of being watched and controlled all the time. And this vision of the future these professional visionaries and technologists presented received a standing ovation from the engineers and other attendees.