Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Strange and yet not unthinkable...

A brilliant look at some future possibilities we are building right now:
Today, I can pick up about 1Gb of FLASH memory in a postage stamp sized card for that much money. fast-forward a decade and that'll be 100Gb. Two decades and we'll be up to 10Tb.

10Tb is an interesting number. That's a megabit for every second in a year — there are roughly 10 million seconds per year. That's enough to store a live DivX video stream — compressed a lot relative to a DVD, but the same overall resolution — of everything I look at for a year, including time I spend sleeping, or in the bathroom. Realistically, with multiplexing, it puts three or four video channels and a sound channel and other telemetry — a heart monitor, say, a running GPS/Galileo location signal, everything I type and every mouse event I send — onto that chip, while I'm awake. All the time. It's a life log; replay it and you've got a journal file for my life. Ten euros a year in 2027, or maybe a thousand euros a year in 2017. (Cheaper if we use those pesky rotating hard disks — it's actually about five thousand euros if we want to do this right now.)

Why would anyone want to do this?

I can think of several reasons. Initially, it'll be edge cases. Police officers on duty: it'd be great to record everything they see, as evidence. Folks with early stage neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimers: with voice tagging and some sophisticated searching, it's a memory prosthesis.

Add optical character recognition on the fly for any text you look at, speech-to-text for anything you say, and it's all indexed and searchable. "What was the title of the book I looked at and wanted to remember last Thursday at 3pm?"

Think of it as google for real life.

We may even end up being required to do this, by our employers or insurers — in many towns in the UK, it is impossible for shops to get insurance, a condition of doing business, without demonstrating that they have CCTV cameras in place. Having such a lifelog would certainly make things easier for teachers and social workers at risk of being maliciously accused by a student or client.

(There are also a whole bunch of very nasty drawbacks to this technology — I'll talk about some of them later, but right now I'd just like to note that it would fundamentally change our understanding of privacy, redefine the boundary between memory and public record, and be subject to new and excitingly unpleasant forms of abuse — but I suspect it's inevitable, and rather than asking whether this technology is avoidable, I think we need to be thinking about how we're going to live with it.) [More of a great read]
The idea of the "lifelog" is already being presaged by e-mail - for many of us it is our log of communications, thoughts, and events done automatically and relatively easy to find stuff in.

The idea of a permanent record of all we say and do is unnerving to say the least. That it would be searchable by authorities is chilling. That it is happening is undeniable.

This provocative essay also led me to consider how the mundane decisions of our lives are the concrete building blocks of the future. Our choices of transportation, communication, entertainment, and so forth give economic life to the options that will be available in the future.

While many will think agriculture will be shielded or left behind by such changes, the important note in this piece was how location matters so little anymore.

The influx of dollars into agriculture vis biofuels will only speed this process. While this does not have to be alarming news - we can still choose and forego many changes. But we will have to respect the rights of others to choose differently.

[via Grasping Reality]

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