When I started this blog, I was a lot more excited about upcoming technology than I am now. Much more. Not that technology isn’t evolving the way I was expecting; that’s going just fine. It is the use of that technology by the Big Guys that worries me.
Right now, I have to predict these kinds of things for 2020:
- There will indeed be sensors and screens and cameras everywhere, including on every street, on every store shelf, on our noses, and in our fridges and bedrooms. But almost all of them will be controlled by a feudal overlord (Google, Facebook, and the like) and not by me or by people I trust. All these great devices will do what it good for the overlord, and care less about you and me.
- Tens, perhaps even more than hundreds of times as much data will be collected by others — mostly overlords — about you and me. And all of the interesting bits of that data will make it to a bunch of unaccountable, large organizations operating in secret who will correlate it with tons of other data none of us remember; for purposes that do not put your and my well-being at the top of the list.
Some of those organizations will be national intelligence agencies. Others will be crime syndicates. And sometimes it will be difficult to tell which is which. (In the US, we worry about the NSA. But that is a myopic view. This is a global phenomenon because all other countries’ agencies would be insane not to do their own “best” collecting data themselves. And what a treasure trove for tech-savvy crime entrepreneurs. Imagine what you could do as a criminal if you managed to hack what Google knows about me in 2020.)
- I’m afraid some people will ask questions like “why did you turn off your bedroom webcam when you retired with your wife on Saturday night. Do you have something to hide?” And others will attempt to backdoor said webcams on the theory that “pillow talk” may contain information that cannot otherwise be obtained. I’m not kidding.
This is where this is going, for two reasons:
- The commercial incentives of Web 2.0 being what they are, Google and the like will never collect less information about us, but whatever they can get their hands on, which is more every year and every acquisition. That’s the only way that they know how to grow. If you believe for longer than a microsecond that the NEST data will not, sooner or later, be correlated with whatever else Google knows about you, I suggest you do not state that publicly, because by 2020, Big Data will take this as a strong indication that you are a prime prospect for buying Brooklyn Bridges. In 10-packs.
- I don’t believe for one second that the political process in the US — or in most other countries, for that matter — will reign in massive data collection on individuals. Some programs will be killed just like Total Information Awareness was, but as we found out, they often get renamed or folded into others that are doing the same or even more. When not even close allies can agree not to spy on their top government officials, everybody is going to try to get all data about everybody; they have to, because everybody else will do it, too.
The questions for me are: just how many people are bothered by this dark vision of a dark future? Are there enough to make a difference?
And if so, just what is an alternate, realistic, view of how 2020 and beyond could look like? Do we even have such a vision?