Panoptics and Optics

The October issue of IEEE Spectrum contains two lightweight pieces that dance around heavyweight concepts. So, read them and be unsatisfied. First, G. Pascal Zachary writes Rules for the Digital Panopticon about the coming Surveillance Society concept. Zachary acknowledges the privacy problems of massive infrastructure-enabled surveillance, but then goes in very odd directions to assuage us of the certain future we walk towards: “Imagine someone like George Zimmerman..equipped not with a gun but with a digital surveillance net.” This is exactly my fear! Of course, Zachary intends surveillance to seem less, well, irreversible than death by bullet, and so the alternative is clearly better. But of course the very problem is that there are questionable people with questionable motives, and the digital data we are imagining gives them new ways to harm the rest of us. It certainly doesn’t take away their guns; it simply gives them new forms of ammunition.


Article number two is a quick story of using Google Glass, by Rod Furlan: This Wearable Computer Augments the Self, Not Reality [no IEEE link available right now, sorry]. The article describes how, over a couple of weeks, Furlan felt that his brain had fully incorporated Glass: “Now, I often find myself tilting my head to activate Glass even when I’m not wearing it” and “ feels more like having a computer inside my head or having artificial senses spliced into my existing ones.” But the real fun of my Trainspotting and Mediocracy chapters show up with lines like this: “..once we deal with the (admittedly nontrivial) privacy constraints around continuously recording video with Glass, …[it] could record everything you see and hear and upload it to the cloud, where the data would be sifted, salient features extracted, and transcripts generated, thus making your audiovisual memory searchable.” Funny, I thought my memory was searchable! I know, I know, he doesn’t mean organically. But the CEO of Me, inc. story is told right here: “Ultimately…those digital memory constructs will evolve into what can be loosely described as external brains in the cloud…that knows enough about you to act on your behalf in a limited fashion.” And so we begin living our lives through…AI on our behalf. Welcome to Me, Inc.


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