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Posts published in “Day: March 22, 2017”

Ubiquitous eyes


If you think someone is watching or listening to you, odds are pretty high you’re partially correct. For sure you are not paranoid because it is almost a certainty that in this digital age you are being recorded.

The proliferation of sensors and digital cameras has been simply breathtaking. The amount of data being accumulated about individuals, their buying habits, recreation preferences, medical condition is stunning. Google yourself. You’ll be bowled over by high much is known about you.

Many folks have a false sense of security that their personal
information, income status, health history and credit record are safe. Balderdash. If there is one lesson folks should indelibly imprint on their brain it is that there is nothing a professional hacker cannot hack into. A basic rule one should keep in mind is this: The more connected one is the more vulnerable he is.

I garnered an inkling of what was coming during the presidential election of 2004. We kept getting a call from the county Republican campaign headquarters asking our presidential preference. Whether my wife answered or I answered each time we politely told them there was no way we would vote to re-elect President George W. Bush. Still, they kept calling.

Explaining all this to a good Republican friend drew a laugh. He gleefully explained the GOP (as well as the Democrats) had a sophisticated voter analysis program that developed profiles of solid Republican voters. I fit the profile yet was blowing their model.

Their data showed I had voted for Bush in 2000 (Could not stand Al Gore), was the co-owner of a successful small business, had purchased a flaming red Cadillac, had purchased a new shot gun for trap shooting, had a concealed weapons permit, had for a time belonged to the NRA, attended Mass at least once a week, sent my children to a private Catholic high school - in short, I appeared to be an almost perfect Bush voter, but I wasn’t.

One had the feeling they thought their entire model would collapse.

Fast forward now to 2017, and the amazing proliferation of even more technological developments, from iphones and ipads to kindles to gps chips in everything that moves and sensors that record reams of data instantly. All this and much more is explained in the one book everyone should read this year - Thank You for Being Late by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

His thesis is that there are three major forces inexorably shaping our future. Furthermore they are accelerating at an exponential pace that is outpacing human ability to understand and keep up let alone shape and control.

This ought to scare the hell out of a normal person because the day is not far off when society will have robots with artificial intelligence performing many mundane tasks. Think though about the implications of AI advancing beyond its inventor.

Perhaps you may recall that great scene in the Stanley Kubrick movie 2001. Hal, the on board computer, decides Dave, the space vehicle’s pilot, and his co-pilot are threats to the all-consuming mission to Jupiter.

While the co-pilot is outside the ship Hal cuts the tether and there goes the co-pilot spinning off into space. Hal then refuses to open the airlock that will permit Dave back onto the ship. Dave nonetheless figures out a way and the next scene is Dave, still in his space suit walking into the guts of the super computer to dismantle it.

The dialogue between Hal and Dave is one of the show’s highlights. The only thing Kubrick gets wrong is the size of the computer. Friedman explains how “Moore’s Law” has driven technology in the last 50 years to ever smaller, ever more powerful computer chips at ever more cheap to produce costs. The super computer in 2001 would fit into today’s lap top.

Friedman contends that what is so discomforting to so many is the simultaneous explosive acceleration in technology coupled with forces driving globalization and compounded by global warming and habitat loss.

He outlines how this incredible pace is impacting politics,
geopolitics, ethics, the workplace and communities. The implications of computer chips coupled with sensors, digital cameras, storage capacity and search engines to make a billion calculations in one second makes for an easy leap to recognizing that somewhere,someplace there are recordings of our coming and goings, of our phone conversations and who they are with. The search engine just needs a key word to find it.

What makes this book a cause for hope rather than despair is a quote Friedman cites at the beginning from the famous French scientist, Madame Marie Curie: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Amen.