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As a former techno-geek in my younger days, an employee in the defense industry for 10 years, and a corporate drone today, I'm very interested in (and paranoid about) the way technology has pushed us towards a 24-hour-a-day surveillance society. A few articles I've collected over the years:
Jeff Kaye, director of the Oregon Center
for Aging & Technology, said this monitored-all-the-time life will become
the norm for older people in the United States within five years, and will be
common for people of all ages soon after.
His lab has been conducting research on the benefits of
monitoring people all the time, and they have early indications that doctors
may be able to spot early Alzheimer's, dementia and indicators a person is
susceptible to falls by monitoring their daily lives.
While the technology is basically ready to go now, he said,
researchers haven't had enough time to figure out how these systems will work
most effectively. Crunching the data can be challenging, and the number of
things we can monitor needs to be increased for these systems to provide more
"The temperature you sleep at, the particulate matter
in the air, the ambient light your body experiences ... drastically can change
your physiology, and we are barely aware of it," he said.
Judging from a recent patent application, Microsoft hopes to
build some sort of "activity monitoring system" that keeps an eye on
worker productivity using various "physiological or environmental sensors."
These sensors would track everything from heart rate, respiration rate, body
temperature, facial expressions, and blood pressure to brain signals and
galvanic skin response.
Yes, galvanic skin response is what drives a lie detector.
Redmond sees this system as a way for companies and, um,
governments to monitor "group activities." "In particular, the
system can monitor user activity, detect when users need assistance with their
specific activities, and identify at least one other user that can assist
them," the patent application reads, in classic patent speak.
"Assistance can be in the form of answering questions, providing guidance
to the user as the user completes the activity, or completing the activity such
as in the case of taking on an assigned activity."
In other words: If you don't do your duty, the system will
make sure your duties are assigned to someone else.
The system is designed to provide its unique brand of
"assistance" as workers slave away on various computing devices,
including desktops, laptops, and cell phones. But it doesn't just track your
physical use of such devices. It also monitors things like "frustration
“With time, he and his team hope to build detailed models
for each worker, each one complete with a person's quirks, daily commute, and
allies, perhaps even enemies. These models might one day include whether the
workers eat beef or pork, how seriously they take the Sabbath, whether a bee
sting or a peanut sauce could lay them low. No doubt, some of them thrive even
in the filthy air in Beijing or Mexico City, while others wheeze. If so, the
models would eventually include this detail, among countless others. The idea
is to build richly textured models that behave in their symbolic realm just
like their flesh-and-blood counterparts. Then planners can manipulate them,
looking for the most efficient combinations…This is management in a world run
by Numerati. As IBM sees it, the company has little choice. The workforce is
too big, the world too vast and complicated for managers to get a grip on their
workers the old-fashioned way—by talking to people who know people who know
people. Word of mouth is too foggy and slow for the global economy. Personal
connections are too constricted. Managers need the zip of automation to unearth
a consultant in New Delhi, just the way a generation ago they located a
shipment of condensers in Chicago. For this to work, the consultant—just like
the condensers—must be represented as a series of numbers. Eventually,
companies could take this knowledge much further, using the numbers, in a
sense, to clone us. Imagine, says Aleksandra Mojsilovic, one of Takriti's close
colleagues, that the company has a superior worker named Joe Smith. Management
could really benefit from two or three others just like him, or even a dozen.
Once the company has built rich mathematical profiles of Smith and his fellow
workers, it might be possible to identify at least a few of the experiences or
routines that make Joe Smith so good. "If you had the full employment
history, you could even compute the steps to become a Joe Smith," she
says. "I'm not saying you can recreate a scientist, or a painter, or a
musician," Mojsilovic adds. "But there are a lot of job roles that
are really commodities." And if people turn out to be poorly designed for
these jobs, they'll be reconfigured, first mathematically and then in life.”
In the 1990s, a researcher named Kris Pister dreamed up a
wild future in which people would sprinkle the Earth with countless tiny
sensors, no larger than grains of rice. These “smart dust” particles, as he
called them, would monitor everything, acting like electronic nerve endings for
the planet. Fitted with computing power, sensing equipment, wireless radios and
long battery life, the smart dust would make observations and relay mountains
of real-time data about people, cities and the natural environment. Now, a
version of Pister’s smart dust fantasy is starting to become reality. “It’s
exciting. It’s been a long time coming,” said Pister, a computing professor at
the University of California, Berkeley. “I coined the phrase 14 years ago. So
smart dust has taken a while, but it’s finally here.” Maybe not exactly how he
envisioned it. But there has been progress. The latest news comes from the
computer and printing company Hewlett-Packard, which recently announced it’s
working on a project it calls the “Central Nervous System for the Earth.” In
coming years, the company plans to deploy a trillion sensors all over the
The wireless devices would check to see if ecosystems are
healthy, detect earthquakes more rapidly, predict traffic patterns and monitor
energy use. The idea is that accidents could be prevented and energy could be
saved if people knew more about the world in real time, instead of when workers
check on these issues only occasionally.
Running red lights and failure to stop leads to untold
numbers of traffic accidents around the world. Sitting at a red light with cars
idling also burns fuel that really isn’t needed.
IBM has filed a patent application that outlines a system
that would turn the motors of a car off at a traffic light to conserve fuel.
Few will take issue with green technology that conserves fuel, saves them
money, and reduces pollution. However, there is a dark side to the patent
application that privacy advocates will not like.
The system IBM is proposing has to have access to the engine
of the vehicles at the light to stop the engine. With access to the engine, the
traffic lights can not only stop the engine of a driver's car, but it can also
determine the duration that the engine is stopped and then when the light is
over it can start the motors of the cars up in sequential order so the first
cars at the light get to go first. The system would use GPS data to know where
vehicles were located at the light.
“The computer system detects resentment in conversations
through measurements in decibels and other voice biometrics,” he said. “It
detects obsessiveness with the individual going back to the same topic over and
over, measuring crescendos.”
”Air Force Wants Neuroweapons to Overwhelm Enemy Minds - It
sounds like something a wild-eyed basement-dweller would come up with, after he
complained about the fit of his tinfoil hat. But military bureaucrats really
are asking scientists to help them “degrade enemy performance” by attacking the
brain’s “chemical pathway[s].”
New software offers a data-mining approach. An employee
retention program developed by software company SAS, for example, crunches data
on employees who have quit in the past five years—their skills, profiles,
studies, and friendships. Then it finds current employees with similar
patterns. Another SAS program pinpoints the workers most likely to suffer
The eventual goal is to project how much workers will
produce over their careers. In a number-driven labor market, the value of their
skills will rise and fall. With these figures in hand, companies will be able
to carry out cost-benefit studies on recruiting, training, and employee
retention (along with its counterpart, layoffs).
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology are focusing the latest sensor technology on such behavior in the
workplace. Using high-tech badges that transmit data on an individual's
gestures, eye movements, voice levels, and even proximity to other people, MIT
is parsing the physical traits of leadership. Along with highlighting effective
managers, researchers hope the data will help train workers to be more effective
at everything from networking to dealing with customers.
Professor Alex (Sandy) Pentland, who heads the research
through MIT's Human Dynamics lab, argues that the technology goes beyond
anything captured in a typical personality test. With it, he notes, "you
can suddenly look at hundreds of people on a millisecond-by-millisecond
basis." In call centers, for example, the MIT team predicts successes and
flubs by studying patterns of listening and voice modulations. (Workers with
high scores listen more and alter their voice to express interest.) The unit is
working with companies such as Hitachi and Bank of America to study employee
Now companies are taking a page from social networking sites
to make the performance evaluation process more fun and useful. Accenture (ACN)
has developed a Facebook-style program called Performance Multiplier in which,
among other things, employees post status updates, photos, and two or three
weekly goals that can be viewed by fellow staffers. Even more immediate: new
software from a Toronto startup called Rypple that lets people post
Twitter-length questions about their performance in exchange for anonymous
If the idea of turning consumers into true cyborgs sounds
creepy, don't tell Intel researchers. Intel's Pittsburgh lab aims to develop
brain implants that can control all sorts of gadgets directly via brain waves
by 2020. The scientists anticipate that consumers will adapt quickly to the
idea, and indeed crave the freedom of not requiring a keyboard, mouse, or
remote control for surfing the Web or changing channels. They also predict that
people will tire of multi-touch devices such as our precious iPhones, Android
smart phones and even Microsoft's wacky Surface Table.
Turning brain waves into real-world tech action still
requires some heavy decoding of brain activity. The Intel team has already made
use of fMRI brain scans to match brain patterns with similar thoughts across
many test subjects.
Plenty of other researchers have also tinkered in this area.
Toyota recently demoed a wheelchair controlled with brainwaves, and University
of Utah researchers have created a wireless brain transmitter that allows
monkeys to control robotic arms. There are still more implications to creating
a seamless brain interface, besides having more cyborgs running around. If
scientists can translate brain waves into specific actions, there's no reason
they could not create a virtual world with a full spectrum of activity tied to
those brain waves. That's right -- we're seeing Matrix creep.
Here's a vision of the not-so-distant future:
_Microchips with antennas will be embedded in virtually
everything you buy, wear, drive and read, allowing retailers and law enforcement
to track consumer items — and, by extension, consumers — wherever they go, from
_A seamless, global network of electronic
"sniffers" will scan radio tags in myriad public settings,
identifying people and their tastes instantly so that customized ads,
"live spam," may be beamed at them.
_In "Smart Homes," sensors built into walls, floors and appliances will inventory possessions, record eating habits, monitor medicine cabinets — all the while, silently reporting data to marketers eager for a peek into the occupants' private lives.