Signs of the apocalypse: Bio-based infotech
Typically I’d be the first to tell you that the more information you have on a subject, the better off you are. In my own experience I’ve found that information is the key to mitigating everything from ignorance and hate to fear and anxiety. The more you know, the more control you have over yourself.
Well, some companies are taking that to a whole new level and I suspect that we may be seeing the beginning of the next infotech revolution. Numerous private companies have recently applied for or been awarded patents for various biologically based technologies.
Now before I get too deep into this let me explain. In the average account of a future apocalyptic-dystopian-society technology typically plays a central roll. The ruling faction often has heightened technologies that allow them to perfectly monitor and control their populations – without it they would be unable to maintain the illusion of peace. We’re talking eradicate disease, constant digital connection via brain signal, shut-off emotional centers of the brain, perfect lie-detection, embedded biosensor kinds of developments. Well my friends, these devices and others that will allow companies and governments to monitor and control populations on a whole new level are on their way. We have officially reached the point of TMI.
Diary-free Calorimeter: Microsoft was recently granted US Patent 8,182,424 – a calorimeter capable of estimating nutritional caloric intake by periodically monitoring weight and sensing physical exercise. The information stored can then be used in a calorimetry model derived from regression analysis of an individual or populations habits. The device can also detect heart rate, body temperature, skin resistance, motion/acceleration, velocity, and an intelligent, integrated exercise machine. As much as it would be valuable to some fields of medicine to have this kind of information on the entire population of the United States it makes me uncomfortable. Not because I’m not a healthy eater (I am) but because I don’t fancy the idea of wearing a sensor that’s constantly updating a file on me at a server farm for later use by a private firm or government. It just seems like such things are the first step to justifying nationally mandated dietary programs.
Access to Medical Information: Closely related to the Microsoft patent above (as such information captured and store by the calorimeter could be considered private medical information under law) IBM was recently awarded US Patent No. 8,185,411. This patent is for a method of permitting controlled access to medical information stored on servers under a variety of scenarios. Essentially, Microsoft’s calorimeter stores our data in massive servers and IBM whores the information out to interested parties to do with what they will. Great.
Automatic and Integrated Social Graph: Also causing me a little bit of grief is Facebook’s US Patent 8,185,558 which identifies a method for maintaing and storing data nodes for each of its users to track sharing and communications patterns. Now, some of you will think that Facebook can already do that and, in a way, it can. The social network uses a series of complex algorithms to capture and store data on user’s interests for advertising purposes. These however are not linked to shares (in my most current understanding of them) but rather options, apps, profilers, and searches. Such a method as is outlined in this patent would allow the network to also track you through your shares. Whole personality profiles could be developed based on what you share, to whom, and how often. Innocuous uses are of course for better ad targeting but such user data could also be used for rather disturbing psychological experiments and perhaps even finessed control of data presentation from news and media sources.
Smart Glasses: I’ll admit this patent is extremely vague; that’s partially why I think it’s so concerning. Google’s US Patent 8,184,067 describes a device that will select a pre-set action to match a power-state transition on a head-mounted display. For example, let’s say I have a pair of eye glasses with numerous sensors on their surface. If I were to trigger one of those sensors in some way the glasses would take a pre-determined action as a response. My favorite idea for how to use this one? Let’s say that the glasses sit on my cheekbones and have a heat-responsive sensor on each side. If I were to be embarrassed perhaps that sensor would trigger a laser vaporize whatever embarrassed me (assuming I was looking at said thing) or help me to turn invisible. More likely though, these babies will be used for additional data mining, collecting nervous and muscular impulses from the face and eyes to aid in research.
Further evidence that more information isn’t always a good thing? This post. I bet that if I spent less time reading newly approved US patents I wouldn’t be so paranoid.