I’ve been busy with a few national interviews. One of them, on the NSA, transparency and aggressively looking back, has already appeared on the David Seaman Hour. Other topics ranged from SETI to SciFi. See also my interview on NPR News: The Man Who Predicted Google Glass Forecasts The Near Future: If wearable technology will allow for some segment of society, say, government, to “spy,” then all of us should want and have the same technology available.
“How do you see research and innovation making a difference for a better future?” The European Union asked questions like this of about a hundred “sages” in preparation for the Horizon 2020: Digital Agenda for Europe conference that I will help keynote in Vilnius, Lithuania, in November. You can view my 90 second answer… and the other participants’ answers… or learn more about the conference.
== Transparency News ==
The most important civil rights matter of all – a citizen’s right to record his or her interactions with police and authorities in public places – took several major positive turns last year, with both the courts and the Obama Administration firmly declaring it to be “established” that we have that right. Alas, it will be hard to implement day-to-day.
At the recent Future in Review (FiRe) conference, Google visionary Vint Cerf said: “Anonymity or pseudonymity is a very important part of democratic society. On the other hand, I don’t think that people should be free to cause harm.” His solution: an Internet “fire department” that analyzes and compares the IP addresses one’s computer is communicating with to ID known botnets or malware IPs. This is not my preferred approach, which is to create commercial pseudonymity services that are strongly encrypted and reputation linked… and to encourage all responsible sites worldwide to snub non-reputationed sources. But Vint is very smart and I’ll always try a Cerf idea on for size.
== Get used to it ==
Massive tracking of license plates — via cameras mounted on patrol cars, bridges or stoplights. They snap photos of every passing car, recording their plate numbers, times, and locations. Data are stored for months or years in police databases. And you expected… what?
Predictive policing. It’s happening. Give us the same tools. Reciprocal accountability to look back at the watchers.
Data privacy researchers have been able to identify the names of hundreds of participants in the Personal Genome Project (PGP) using demographic data from their profiles. And you expected… what?
Oh but we’ll do it to ourselves! Motorola researchers now propose a “vitamin authentication” pill — a small tablet that contains an electronic chip. After someone swallows the pill, the stomach acts as an electrolyte in the chip’s battery and powers it. The chip has a switch that turns on and off, generating an 18-bit signal like an electrocardiogram. One’s entire body would be the authentication token, just like the fobs that many office workers carry to get on corporate networks. The implications… the implications… my head hurts just tracking some of them….
Privacy: Does Face Recognition cross the line? Bah. We’ll only be safe when all of us can access multiple different and redundant and overlapping and independent face-recog systems, all the time. And when those systems report to us whenever anyone is glancing at our face… exactly what happens in “real” life.
Oh, and blogmunity member Jonathan S offers this: “One of the prizes offered last week on The Price is Right was an iPad with a paired remote-control, camera-equipped electric helicopter. Total cost, including the iPad: about $850 US. Yes, that’s right, for about the price of a middling computer, you too can have the surveillance capability many people in the US want to deny their police forces because it’s “too intrusive”. Go to the park, with fully-charged tablet and ‘copter; sit on a nice bench somewhere, and watch everything going on in the park.”
Yep. And we are at the fork in the road. Ban these things – they will shrink, the mighty will get them anyway, and we won’t. Or else embrace them, and you will be able to access a million eyes, and catch those who are staring at you. Choose.
== Micro-Payments to the rescue? Saving Journalism too! ==
Jaron Lanier opines that the internet should be changed to incentivize a myriad micro, nano or pico transactions between sovereign users and dispersed content creators (like you and me) so that we benefit from others’ use of our own information — a new utopian notion to replace one that he helped to coin, but that hew now rejects, that “information wants to be free.” Alas, Jaron is rather vague about how such a new system would work and – more important – what powerful interests in society might be marshaled behind helping to make it come true. (read more in his book, Who Owns the Future.)
In fact, I agree with his goal, which would empower dispersed citizens of a vast, middle class commonwealth. But I’ll settle (for now) for two important things:
(1) a much more transparent world in which our present institutions of democracy, science, justice and markets work more effectively and
(2) a system of micropayments that would save the profession of journalism from possible extinction.
As it turns out, I’ve long explored parameters of the former… and I am pretty sure I know how to do the latter. Indeed, #2 is do-able in a surprisingly efficient, simple and probably-effective way that will – almost overnight – persuade millions to pay a nickel per article to, say, the New York Times and thus save that journal and hundreds of others. Think that’s impossible? That folks are too addicted to the free?
I’ll bet you a nickel.
== And Transparency Miscellany! ==
The Seattle Police Department became the latest department to equip its officers with wearable cameras. You saw it in The Transparent Society – back in 1997 and in Earth (1989).
In The Verge appears a fascinating report about the company behind the non-lethal stun guns that have become commonplace around the world, Taser International, which has set out to transform policing once again – this time, with Axon Flex, a head-mounted camera with a twelve-hour battery life that officers can use to record interactions. The device is constantly on, but it only captures video of the thirty seconds before its wearer begins using it, and then both video and audio while police are speaking to a citizen. Footage is then uploaded to a cloud-based service where it can be accessed by the police department. It includes an audit trail to reveal who has accessed the information and when. (from Watching the Police: Will Two-way Surveillance reduce Crime and Increase Accountability?)
In a major victory for the community radio movement after a 15-year campaign, the Federal Communications Commission has announced it will soon begin accepting applications for hundreds of new low-power FM radio stations.
I’d be interested in folks’ opinion of The Private Eye, a graphic/comic series that posits a future when all internet secrets got spilled in a single day… and an over-reacting society clamped down to make “privacy” a fiercely enforced right. (A sham of course, hence the tale.) Explore and report back here!
== Eyes and ears in conflict ==
Ever experience cognitive dissonance between your ears and eyes? This YouTubed remix of a speech by John F Kennedy is overwhelmingly worth a visit, to hear one of the finest odes to an open and transparent society ever delivered by any politician… at least since Pericles. Alas, or else hilariously, the visual part is one long screech of paranoiac conspiracy theories, re-contexting JFK words into attacks upon everything from Freemasons to mainstream media.
Especially amusing: while Kennedy is describing the skulking methods of the Soviet Empire, the youtubers show image after image of US government agencies. Pithy! Gotta hand it to em! Mind you, I do believe there are conspiracies! The ongoing effort to retake social rule by secretive owner-oligarchy manifests in many undeniable ways, such as the list of top owners of Fox. (Or the less numerous but equally nutty leftist “truthers” out there.) But these fellows do us no service by plunging down kookooland.
Listen to JFK’s words, though. Please do. While chuckling and shaking your head over the use of dishonest imagrey to repurpose them.