Total Information Awareness? NSA (the National Security Agency) is building a mammoth electronic spy center in Utah. The $2 billion Utah Data Center, to be completed by Sept. 2013, will be five times the size of the US Capitol. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher and analyze torrents of information flowing through the world’s communications databases— with an ability to handle yottabytes of data. Much of it international but a fair amount obtained by sifting intra-U.S. phone and email traffic.
What does this have to do with transparency and freedom and all that?
Our protectors of online liberty, ranging from the ACLU and EFF and Privacy NGOs all the way to European Privacy Bureaucrats, are all very well-meaning - but clueless if they think laws, regulations and procedures will prevent elites (over the long run) from seeing anything that they want to see, or knowing whatever is within reach to know. Why? It's simple and basic. We’re monkeys! And a powerful monkey will not let you prevent him from seeing. Name one nation in all of human history where the elites allowed this to happen. One.
The chilling thing about the new NSA facility is not how much better it will let government “protectors” see, in order to better protect us. The scary thing is that there won’t be officers of a uniformed and independent Inspectorate, roaming the halls on our behalf, making sure that protection is the only thing going on. Or better yet, dozens of randomly chosen citizens (with security clearance) whose universal-access badges give them the right to poke their heads in any door and ask any question.
Inconvenient? Irksome? Will the protectors complain? Tough. We need to demand that price! In exchange for their omniscience, they must surrender any chance of omnipotence, by letting us wrap them in chains of accountability. A chain we can yank, to remind our watchdog THAT he is a dog... lest he start thinking like a wolf.
==An App for Reporting Crime==
Want to report a crime, terrorist alert…or just snitch on your neighbors? The new Suspicious Activity Reporting Application, a crime-reporting app for your Smartphone, lets you snap a pic, and anonymously voice your suspicions to authorities. Developed by the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security, the free app is available through Itunes. “The longer you wait the less accurate eyewitness information becomes and evidence fades,” said Thom Kirk, Director of the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center. “Enabling the information to be sent at the time the activity is taking place will not only improve the accuracy of the report, but also improve the ability of the authorities to respond quickly.”
Is this an aid to community policing or a way to harass your neighbors; a powerful tool against terrorism or the next step toward Big Brother?
Or rather... clearly if we all have this, then Big Brother becomes impossible! But (as I explore in The Transparent Society) might this lead to a nation and world filled with oppressive little brothers? With nosy neighbors bullying each other, or tyranny by a perfectly democratic 51%? I show good reasons to believe we may evade this pitfall too! But not if we remain mired in civil war.
== Sci-Tech Miscellany ==
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding Boston Dynamics’ development of a prototype robot called the Cheetah. (Recall Boston’s incredible robot donkey... and the satires it inspired?) The cat-like bot managed to gallop 18 mph on a treadmill, setting a new land speed record for legged robots. (The previous record: 13.1 mph, set at MIT in 1989.) The company has a prototype human-like robot in the works called the Atlas that can walk upright and use its hands for balance while squeezing through narrow passages on surveillance or emergency rescue missions.
Smart lighting: Philips has a system being widely used all over the world now with some statistics to back it up. They have just one camera in each light, facing straight down, with the light around the camera (concentric). The result is a computer vision system with mesh-based computing that estimates the number of pedestrians, cyclists, etc., and their speed and direction of movement, and predictively adjusts the light outputs on all the lights, to optimize for the activity detected by the vision system. One result is a 75% reduction in energy usage with no noticeable reduction in light output.
Ah, but will all lamps on public streets and areas then come equipped with cameras? (As I already portrayed in EXISTENCE.) Oh, what they'll see... and report.
Meanwhile.... more sci-tech miscellany!
A radical Japanese biplane design flies supersonic airspeeds without the sonic boom. Misoru (sky in Japanese) uses two wings to reflect shock waves back at each other, zeroing out the pressure shockwaves.
NASA has released a mosaic of images covering the entire sky as observed by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).
A gorgeous visualization of the Universe – dark matter and all.
== The Ideal Language for Human Speech? ==
In our increasingly interconnected, global economy, we will need to communicate effectively with the rest of the world. What is the best language for this generation to learn? By the numbers, Mandarin Chinese seems an obvious choice. Spanish or Japanese may be essential for international business. We will also need more interpreters of Arabic... A fascinating question, as humanity is busy re-erecting the Tower of Babel.
Of course English is today's lingua franca (an ironic term) for business and science. But soon, we'll all carry translation devices that will make the question at least somewhat moot. So what is my long term answer to this question, in my role as a science fiction author? Over the long haul... my candidate?
Hawaiian. Really. In a hundred years, translation and computer assistance will be automatic/invisible, conveying both surface meanings and underlying gloss and nuance. Meaning will become separated somewhat from the sonic specifics, or even which language has the most speakers or largest vocabulary or greatest catalogue of literature. Hence, we'll choose the language to come out of our physical mouths by one criterion only.
Beauty. The sounds, themselves. And by that token, there is only one truly beautiful language. You cannot say anything in Hawaiian without it sounding just perfect. Any man or woman would choose a Hawaiian-sounding name. It's what our descendants will speak, whether to each other or to machines or to aliens, even to dolphins.
Okay so is YOUR last name a piece of scientific nomenclature? "B. mori fibers were made up of two brins of irregular shape embedded in a proteinaceous coating. Failure occurred by fracture of the brins, whose fracture surface presented a fine globular structure corresponding to the ends of the nanofibrils of 1–2 lm in length and 100 nm in diameter, which form the B. mori silk brins according to the analysis of the brins by atomic force microscopy."
== And finally... two related items...
Disphoria, Normopathy, and Aporia… Ten Psychologica states you’ve never heard of…and when you experienced them.
And,,, The best bottled water ad, ever? Well. It ain't Hawaiian. But Kamehameha would've liked it.