Tomorrow Happens

...trends slamming at us from the dark

David Brin

David Brin
San Diego, California, USA
October 06
Bio David Brin’s novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, including New York Times Best-sellers that won Hugo and Nebula awards. His 1989 ecological thriller, Earth, foreshadowed cyberwarfare, the World Wide Web, global warming and Gulf Coast flooding. A 1998 Kevin Costner film was loosely adapted from his post-apocalyptic novel, The Postman. ............................................ Brin is a noted scientist, futurist and speaker who appears frequently on television (Life After People, The Universe), discussing trends in the near and far future, on subjects such as surveillance, technology, astronomy, and SETI. His non-fiction book, The Transparent Society, deals with issues of openness and security in the wired-age. ............................................. David Brin web site: Twitter: Facbook:

Editor’s Pick
APRIL 22, 2012 7:23PM

Is Technology Offering Transparency...Or Spying on us?

Rate: 6 Flag

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 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.

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I find that my friends' activities on Facebook have declined since it went to its personal dossier format. The real power relations of FB have become more out in the open since everyone will soon be forced to have their own timelines.

And rated as well for the Three Stooges.
...Curly, who was a force of nature - akin to gravity or electromagnetism.

So many people are ignorant, of how we are living in the time of "Big Brother". One just has to go to the Salon main page, to realize how we have been bamboozled. When you start getting "personal interest" related articles, and advertising. You know they have been watching where you have been going on the internet!
Good post for the tech savvy. I'll add another category: As things become ever more complicated, some of us are relegated to sidelines. I struggle with technology every day. So transparent or paranoid, those issues are far in the future for this birdbrain. R
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I think that the big problem is that big companies have got so big resources to use for their advantage. And their advantage is often to gather such information, which their 'targets' are not so willing to give to them.

But common people have got much power to fight back. For example in the Net there are many providers of similar services. For example google is not the only search agent available.
wendyo: "I struggle with technology every day."

Everywhere you need more and more complex technologies to manage everyday tasks, such as paying your electricity bills (for using that technology ;=).)

It is becoming imposible to live without mobile phones, computers and the net.

And all those information technologies have got inside them such complex programs and hardware that for the average user it is impossible to know what they are doing without your notice.

One answer for the general problem of the transparency of the information technologies was already quite long time ago offered by Richard Stallman, the founder of GNU projects. His idea was that all computer softwares' source codes should be freely available so that in principle every user could her/himself find out, what the software is actually doing. (At present we have got complete open source computer operating systems such as GNU/linux, GNU/freebsd, etc.)

But of course big companies making money with information technologies and software are not happy with the situation that people could themselves control machinery's doings. They want themselves to have the only access inside the machines, so tha they could make people to pay more and more to keep their machines working...

And of course open source software isn't any complete answer to the problem.

Machines, which we need to live are being made by big companies, who are all the time creating new machinery containing new hardware with softwares not known by ordinary users, and complete new information structures are being built... and being made necessary for everyday life...

Replying to your point "They want themselves to have the only access inside the machines" Urban legend has it that there have been people arrested by the US government when the Government agents couldn't access the computers. All because these people used non-Windows machines that wouldn't accept the government's spybots...

Don't know if it's true, but it makes a good story...

In general, good information here.

Thanks for the link to the audio of that "made of meat" piece!

Way back when I read "Earth" I remember wondering if another use for the updraft power towers could be to keep the air cleaner in places like the San Fernando valley by lifting the smoggy air up above the inversion layer (and sending it to Arizona/Nevada I guess!).
Like others, I'd rate this just for the line, "Curly, who was a force of nature - akin to gravity or electromagnetism."

As to the MRSA statement, it really is more of a threat to those who are immune-compromised. It's estimated that 1 out of 100 people harbor the virus as carriers, although it's also found in pets (nasal secretions of dogs may carry it).

But the reason we're entering the post-antibiotic era, is not a rejection of science, but a lazy embrace of it, by practitioners who gave Rx's to patients who demanded them, when they were completely useless for the illness (viral infections) and patients who either didn't take the complete course of them and / or took more partial courses of their outdated "left overs" insuring the survival of resistant strains. A culture (ironic, yes) that refuses to read instructions and rails against things that "don't work" because of it, was supplemented by professionals who should have stood their ground, instead of handing out meds to shut them up. But if that were the case, think of how many other "problems" we wouldn't have?...
* "bacteria" NOT "virus"