Printed: 2014-12-20

Instititute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies





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Is Technology offering Transparency…or Spying on us?

David Brin


Contrary Brin


http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/04/is-technology-offering-transparencyor.html

April 25, 2012

A look at how technology enables greater transparency…but not always both ways:

Google Goggles… or Project Glass... is finally announced.  See the official preview… and an amusing satire. These futuristic Goggles would project information directly in your field of vision, offering updates on the time, weather, map directions, road closures, upcoming appointments, names of colleagues, buildings, etc. You will be able to leave memos to yourself, send email to friends, read restaurant reviews and take/share photos or video (but can you do all this while walking?). Of course this is just scratching the surface (so to speak).  I portray this technology taken thirty years into the future (including solutions to the “walking problem), so stay tuned in just three months for a glimpse of where it will all lead. in Existence.  Or see it presaged, back in in ‘89, in Earth.

Ah, but is two-way vision always a good thing? At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), Smart unveiled a new Smart TV that demonstrated how the seamless integration of sensors, built-in cameras and microphones enabled “smart” features such as gesture control, voice commands and all kinds of interactive and connectivity.  But this Smart TV can also turn into a spy within your home, reporting without your knowledge.  There is no indication as to whether the camera and audio mics are on. You can point the camera toward the ceiling ... but there is no easy way to physically disconnect the mic to ensure that it is not picking up your voice when you don’t intend it to. Will your Smart TV soon be spying on you? Onward Orwell!

Navizon’s Indoor Triangulation System allows anyone carrying a WiFi-equipped smartphone, iPad or notebook computer to be tracked (inside as well as outdoors) without their knowledge or consent—and with no option to opt out. This Buddy Radar enables locating shoppers in a mall, doctors in a hospital, clients in a convention hall…or lost children in a crowd. If this bothers you—- then disable WiFi on your devices when you’re not using it. Not a convenient solution.

And there’s corporate surveillance: Dunkin Donuts installed an employee monitoring system that monitors  their staff with video cameras and tracks every punch of the cash register. The result: a drop in employee thefts by 13%.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, tells internet users they should demand their personal data from giants such as Facebook and Google:  “One of the issues of social networking silos is that they have the data and I don’t … There are no programs that I can run on my computer which allow me to use all the data in each of the social networking systems that I use plus all the data in my calendar plus in my running map site, plus the data in my little fitness gadget and so on to really provide an excellent support to me.”

I must agree.  The really frustrating thing is not that elites will know about me.  That’s inevitable.  But what is dangerous as hell is their reluctance to let us have full access to our own information… or reciprocal information about them.

Transparency in Science

Scientists are not immune to bias, and they should be transparent about the sources of their funding. The director of the US National Institutes of Health called for a  compulsory online registry of researchers’ interests as a condition of federal funding. “The public may not always understand the intricacies of rigorous science, but most individuals quickly grasp the concept of bias.” Nothing came of this proposal. Each university should have a publicly searchable database of academics’ external sources of money. And that’s fine, so far… but where does this simply become a way to bully scientists, making them look over their shoulders with every step?

If we scientists do have to set this example of transparent accountability, then can we at least have back a little respect?  And start seeing Wall Street follow suit?

Dire news on the medical front

Up to a third of what the U.S. spends on medical care may be wasted, in large part because of over-testing and over treatment.  Now a major panel has cited nine procedures that doctors should resort to far less often.    Fascinating article.

One of the most highly-valued contributors to this blog’s comment community, an emergency room physician, reports,  “We stand on the brink of the post antibiotic era.” One of the worst antibiotic-resistant staph infection strains called cMSRA, which can penetrate even healthy, intact skin, has just learned to defy the last defensive drug that physicians could use without fearing major consequences to children or the allergy-prone.

This is not a good time to back off from science.  In the 1950s, the most popular man in the United States was Jonas Salk.  Today, most Americans have never heard of him, and nut-jobs on both the left and right rail against vaccination and the Medical Establishment.  It seems we get what we deserve.

Science & Tech Potpourri

Experiments are finally moving ahead with HTML Tutorial solar updraft power towers… of a kind that I mentioned long ago in Earth. These systems use a very large surrounding “greenhouse” - many square km of clear plastic or glass - that heats air to flow up a tall chimney while driving generators.  Efficiency is much lower than solar thermal, but start-up simplicity and load balancing are attractive, as is mixed use of the land below the sheeting.

On the Lighter side

Examples of my Uplift meme used in modern humor.

Terry Bisson’s classic, hilarious little story about why we may not have been contacted. “They’re Made of Meat” has been produced for a lovely, ironic radio show.

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team smashed its own world record for largest Rube Goldberg machine with a 300-step behemoth that flawlessly accomplished the simple task of blowing up and popping a balloon.

And finally…  A Sober Thought on Pop Culture

Stooge alert!  (woop, woop, woop!)  Like most American males, and all American kids (something happens to women, I guess) I love the Three Stooges.  I haven’t seen the new movie.  I hope it’s good, though even if it’s great I expect my wife to get her year’s quota of eye-rolling exercise!

Now, let me stand up for this in philosophical terms.  The best of the old scenes weren’t the plain hitting. That was always lame. No, it was those stunning metaphysical contemplations of the inherent, hopeless irony of existence.  In other words… art!  In that art  connects the viewer directly to life’s inherent poignancy without words or persuasion.

Take some of the most perplexingly ironic-tragic stooge situational dilemmas, like the boys using Curly as a battering ram to punch through a brick wall, then trying to pry him back out with a crowbar. Oh, the expressions on his face, as the crowbar hook moved back and forth in front of him, preparing to strike like a cobra… or like implacable fate. He is hypnotized, transfixed, the way all of us have been, at various train-wreck moments of “real” life.

Nothing better distilled for me the inherent unfairness of the universe… or the absolute impossibility of human beings being able to think our way out of this puzzling quandary called the life - the game that you simply cannot win.  And yet the boys never stopped trying. Persevering. Coming up with one “hey, let’s try this!” hopeless gambit after another. And sometimes something brilliantly stupid - or stupidly brilliant - actually worked!  And you came away thinking… maybe I should keep trying, too.

I confess, that philosophical depth may just be rationalizing away what’s really no more than Neanderthal immaturity.  (See the “laughter scene” in the amazing paleolithic film QUEST FOR FIRE.) So? Nevertheless, I made my Tymbrimi and Tytlal characters big stooge fans, and for reasons that they found wholly adequate!

Ever see the Stooge flick in which they made fun of Hitler, a full year before Charlie Chaplin started THE GREAT DICTATOR?  Oh, they had guts too.

Final note.  It is a tragedy that we never had a four stooges film, with brothers Curly Howard and Moe Howard sharing the screen with both Larry Fine and the other brother, Shemp Howard.  I consider Shemp to have been a comic genius of the first order and always enjoy him immensely. I hate the fact that he is excluded from Stooge Festivals on TV. History and fans are unkind to him because we compare him to Curly, who was a force of nature - akin to gravity or electromagnetism.

Oh, never forget that the greatest city in the world—fittingly the home of Wall Street, where stooge-like intelligence and antics are the norm—was pre-named, as if precognitively, for one of Curly’s most perceptive lines. Nyuck Nyuck.

Whether the new film is a fitting tribute or (most likely) a travesty, still carry the deeper lesson with you, every day. Persevere you knuckleheads, numbskulls and dollfaces. A civilization that can produce such art should be able to achieve anything.

Google Goggles… or Project Glass... is finally announced.  See the official preview… and an amusing satire. These futuristic Goggles would project information directly in your field of vision, offering updates on the time, weather, map directions, road closures, upcoming appointments, names of colleagues, buildings, etc. You will be able to leave memos to yourself, send email to friends, read restaurant reviews and take/share photos or video (but can you do all this while walking?). Of course this is just scratching the surface (so to speak).  I portray this technology taken thirty years into the future (including solutions to the “walking problem), so stay tuned in just three months for a glimpse of where it will all lead. in Existence.  Or see it presaged, back in in ‘89, in Earth.

Ah, but is two-way vision always a good thing? At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), Smart unveiled a new Smart TV that demonstrated how the seamless integration of sensors, built-in cameras and microphones enabled “smart” features such as gesture control, voice commands and all kinds of interactive and connectivity.  But this Smart TV can also turn into a spy within your home, reporting without your knowledge.  There is no indication as to whether the camera and audio mics are on. You can point the camera toward the ceiling ... but there is no easy way to physically disconnect the mic to ensure that it is not picking up your voice when you don’t intend it to. Will your Smart TV soon be spying on you? Onward Orwell!

Navizon’s Indoor Triangulation System allows anyone carrying a WiFi-equipped smartphone, iPad or notebook computer to be tracked (inside as well as outdoors) without their knowledge or consent—and with no option to opt out. This Buddy Radar enables locating shoppers in a mall, doctors in a hospital, clients in a convention hall…or lost children in a crowd. If this bothers you—- then disable WiFi on your devices when you’re not using it. Not a convenient solution.

And there’s corporate surveillance: Dunkin Donuts installed an employee monitoring system that monitors  their staff with video cameras and tracks every punch of the cash register. The result: a drop in employee thefts by 13%.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, tells internet users they should demand their personal data from giants such as Facebook and Google:  “One of the issues of social networking silos is that they have the data and I don’t … There are no programs that I can run on my computer which allow me to use all the data in each of the social networking systems that I use plus all the data in my calendar plus in my running map site, plus the data in my little fitness gadget and so on to really provide an excellent support to me.”

I must agree.  The really frustrating thing is not that elites will know about me.  That’s inevitable.  But what is dangerous as hell is their reluctance to let us have full access to our own information… or reciprocal information about them.

Transparency in Science

Scientists are not immune to bias, and they should be transparent about the sources of their funding. The director of the US National Institutes of Health called for a  compulsory online registry of researchers’ interests as a condition of federal funding. “The public may not always understand the intricacies of rigorous science, but most individuals quickly grasp the concept of bias.” Nothing came of this proposal. Each university should have a publicly searchable database of academics’ external sources of money. And that’s fine, so far… but where does this simply become a way to bully scientists, making them look over their shoulders with every step?

If we scientists do have to set this example of transparent accountability, then can we at least have back a little respect?  And start seeing Wall Street follow suit?

Dire news on the medical front

Up to a third of what the U.S. spends on medical care may be wasted, in large part because of over-testing and over treatment.  Now a major panel has cited nine procedures that doctors should resort to far less often.    Fascinating article.

One of the most highly-valued contributors to this blog’s comment community, an emergency room physician, reports,  “We stand on the brink of the post antibiotic era.” One of the worst antibiotic-resistant staph infection strains called cMSRA, which can penetrate even healthy, intact skin, has just learned to defy the last defensive drug that physicians could use without fearing major consequences to children or the allergy-prone.

This is not a good time to back off from science.  In the 1950s, the most popular man in the United States was Jonas Salk.  Today, most Americans have never heard of him, and nut-jobs on both the left and right rail against vaccination and the Medical Establishment.  It seems we get what we deserve.

Science & Tech Potpourri

Experiments are finally moving ahead with HTML Tutorial solar updraft power towers… of a kind that I mentioned long ago in Earth. These systems use a very large surrounding “greenhouse” - many square km of clear plastic or glass - that heats air to flow up a tall chimney while driving generators.  Efficiency is much lower than solar thermal, but start-up simplicity and load balancing are attractive, as is mixed use of the land below the sheeting.

On the Lighter side

Examples of my Uplift meme used in modern humor.

Terry Bisson’s classic, hilarious little story about why we may not have been contacted. “They’re Made of Meat” has been produced for a lovely, ironic radio show.

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team smashed its own world record for largest Rube Goldberg machine with a 300-step behemoth that flawlessly accomplished the simple task of blowing up and popping a balloon.

And finally…  A Sober Thought on Pop Culture

Stooge alert!  (woop, woop, woop!)  Like most American males, and all American kids (something happens to women, I guess) I love the Three Stooges.  I haven’t seen the new movie.  I hope it’s good, though even if it’s great I expect my wife to get her year’s quota of eye-rolling exercise!

Now, let me stand up for this in philosophical terms.  The best of the old scenes weren’t the plain hitting. That was always lame. No, it was those stunning metaphysical contemplations of the inherent, hopeless irony of existence.  In other words… art!  In that art  connects the viewer directly to life’s inherent poignancy without words or persuasion.

Take some of the most perplexingly ironic-tragic stooge situational dilemmas, like the boys using Curly as a battering ram to punch through a brick wall, then trying to pry him back out with a crowbar. Oh, the expressions on his face, as the crowbar hook moved back and forth in front of him, preparing to strike like a cobra… or like implacable fate. He is hypnotized, transfixed, the way all of us have been, at various train-wreck moments of “real” life.

Nothing better distilled for me the inherent unfairness of the universe… or the absolute impossibility of human beings being able to think our way out of this puzzling quandary called the life - the game that you simply cannot win.  And yet the boys never stopped trying. Persevering. Coming up with one “hey, let’s try this!” hopeless gambit after another. And sometimes something brilliantly stupid - or stupidly brilliant - actually worked!  And you came away thinking… maybe I should keep trying, too.

I confess, that philosophical depth may just be rationalizing away what’s really no more than Neanderthal immaturity.  (See the “laughter scene” in the amazing paleolithic film QUEST FOR FIRE.) So? Nevertheless, I made my Tymbrimi and Tytlal characters big stooge fans, and for reasons that they found wholly adequate!

Ever see the Stooge flick in which they made fun of Hitler, a full year before Charlie Chaplin started THE GREAT DICTATOR?  Oh, they had guts too.

Final note.  It is a tragedy that we never had a four stooges film, with brothers Curly Howard and Moe Howard sharing the screen with both Larry Fine and the other brother, Shemp Howard.  I consider Shemp to have been a comic genius of the first order and always enjoy him immensely. I hate the fact that he is excluded from Stooge Festivals on TV. History and fans are unkind to him because we compare him to Curly, who was a force of nature - akin to gravity or electromagnetism.

Oh, never forget that the greatest city in the world—fittingly the home of Wall Street, where stooge-like intelligence and antics are the norm—was pre-named, as if precognitively, for one of Curly’s most perceptive lines. Nyuck Nyuck.

Whether the new film is a fitting tribute or (most likely) a travesty, still carry the deeper lesson with you, every day. Persevere you knuckleheads, numbskulls and dollfaces. A civilization that can produce such art should be able to achieve anything.


David Brin Ph.D. is a scientist and best-selling author whose future-oriented novels include Earth, The Postman, and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. David's newest novel - Existence - is now available, published by Tor Books."

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