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Tag: 1984

BIG BROTHER APP is watching you…. and looking out for your job prospects, romantic prospects, and any possible snake-fang-related threats!

Background:

Remember when privacy was a thing? No? Oh, ok then.

But people used to have some concern about having their location and whereabouts monitored by companies and governments.

I guess this information was used for evil-doing at least once in history? Whatever, who cares, let’s gather data and make an app!

The issue:

Have you ever been blindsided by an in-retrospect-obvious event, like a firing (or even just a passing-over for a promotion) at work, or a seemingly-sudden breakup?

Proposal:

Using the power of OMNIPRESENT CORPORATE SURVEILLANCE, we can create a new program, which we will call Big Brother 2, that does the following:

  • Reads all your email (like most email provides already do).
  • Reads all your text messages and any transcribed voicemails.
  • Examines your online purchasing habits.
  • Checks your location history and that of your friends.
  • Checks to see if you are associating with any subversive individuals or organizations.
  • Analyzes your photos and categorizes their content.
  • Monitors your mood by reading your posts on social media.

  • Optionally listens in to your conversations, if you are in a place where this is legal.

Big Brother 2 will collect this data from thousands or millions of users, and—using advanced and overhyped machine-learning techniques—it will figure out what kinds of warning signs preceded various life events.

Then it can forewarn you of danger in your own life!

Examples:

  • Dating (Figure 1): Two people are dating and their messaging steadily becomes less frequent and more negative. Big Brother 2 can extrapolate their breakup date and (optionally) start preemptively saving flattering photos of those users for their upcoming dating profiles.
  • Employment (Figure 2): Someone’s boss mentions “outsourcing” and then communication rapidly drops off. Big Brother 2 can recommend some resume-preparation services for that employee.
future-breakup

Fig. 1: Big Brother 2 can extrapolate from its millions of data points and figure out that, on average, users with a certain text-messaging profile typically experienced a breakup within X months. In this case, the user is being forewarned that they should expect a breakup on or around October 24 (orange line).

future-job

Fig. 2: Here, Big Brother 2 suggests that company layoffs will occur on June 28. In this case, the Big Brother 2 algorithm could also incorporate data about the economy / stock market / relevant world news that may impact the user’s job.

future-befangment

Fig. 3: Using sophisticated machine-learning algorithms, Big Brother 2 may even be able to predict things you wouldn’t think were predictable, such as exactly when a serpent is going to slither over and sink its fangs into you (thus, hopefully, allowing you to either prepare yourself for that moment or to take corrective anti-snake action).

Conclusion:

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs: hire me to develop this project. Thanks in advance.

PROS: Could reduce the likelihood of snakebite.

CONS: May result in “Logan’s Run”-esque scenarios where the system determines that a person has negative value, and then the user’s phone starts plotting to murder the user (see historical example from Episode #270 of The Simpsons). If this occurs, it is an example of a bad optimization function, and should be fixed in the next update.

 

 

 

00-SnakesByMail_fixed_transparency

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Five underrated facts about dystopian totalitarian surveillance regimes! You’ll never believe fact #2!

Background:

The optimal tradeoff between privacy and security is a topic that is endlessly debated.

In the past, omnipresent surveillance was not feasible—but technology is now at the point where implementation of a 1984-esque surveillance state is actually possible.

On the one hand, it would be theoretically convenient to have immediate response to crimes and/or injuries, and perhaps take action to prevent some crimes before they even occur.

On the other hand, you might be sent to a faraway gulag because you opposed the interests of a politically-connected individual.

Proposal:

The problem here, of course, is the human element (see Figure 1).

monitor-computer-guy

Fig. 1: This guy (right) can monitor every aspect of your life on the video screens (left). This works fine until you become successful and he blackmails you!

But if an all-seeing computer system (like Skynet in the Terminator series) were in charge of things, we could could theoretically know that the surveillance system could not be misused, and would only be used for the programmed-in purposes (e.g., catching kidnappers and insane murderers).

Humans would write the rules for the system, but the raw data would (somehow) be inaccessible except to the analysis computer (Fig. 2).

Some example rules that might be applied:

  • If a car was used in a felony, check traffic cameras for its license plate number.
  • If a person has purchased explosive-manufacture-related chemicals, check their records for unusual activity and potentially flag them for further investigation by actual humans.
  • If a person declared no taxable income, but drives around in an 80,000 dollar car, check them for tax fraud.

Since these rules could be set by the legislature, they could be transparent and subject to review by the voters.

One downside: many countries operate on implicit rules like:

  • If a person supports an opposing political party, make sure to harass and imprison them.
  • If a person is a member of a disfavored ethnic or religious group, make sure to hold them to the strictest letter of the law.
  • Otherwise, don’t enforce any rules at all.

These informal enforcement rules might be less likely to survive if they had to be explicitly coded up and put on the official registry of surveillance rules. Or perhaps they would remain, and just be enforced with horrific robotic precision!

robot-wheel

Fig 2: This robot is totally trustworthy with your personal data, and has no ulterior motives or desires of its own (unlike a human).

seeing-eye

Fig 3: This unblinking “panopticon” eye will be a useful symbol to let you know you are in a safe and trustworthy robot-surveilled region! Stick one of these in your bedroom and bathroom to remind you that a robot is watching you at all times.

Conclusion:

When you lobby for omnipresent surveillance, make sure to imagine the predicable scenario where some irrationally angry neighbor or ambitious business rival now has a recording of every stupid thing you (and your friends/family) have ever done!

PROS: Would probably reduce many types of crime.

CONS: Terminator and/or 1984.

 

 

 

Vanquish loneliness and existential dread with this one weird app that doesn’t exist (yet)

The issue:

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep in touch with your friends and family, especially if you live in different cities and time zones.

Proposal:

The solution is quite simple—an app that keeps track of when you last met up with, texted, called, or otherwise contacted your friends and family.

In fact, it could even be integrated directly into your messaging app and phone GPS, so the phone could automatically keep track of which relationships were being maintained. (Both your national government and companies like Google have more than enough information to do this already, but it’s unlikely to be a crowd-pleasing feature, so don’t expect it to show up on your phone any time soon. Fortunately, this still leaves the door open for an enterprising startup to create this program.)

The example program below (Figures 1 and 2) is called “FriendNeglectr” (if that gets trademarked, “Neglectly” and “FriendNeglect.io” are other popular startup-sounding names that could be employed).

friendneglectr-icon

Fig 1: The proposed FriendNeglectr icon.

friendneglectr-emphasis

Fig 2: Here, we see a list of several of your friends in FriendNeglectr, ordered by the time you last saw them. For example, you last met Dave (top) for coffee 4 months ago. But you haven’t seen Alfonso (bottom) in 1.5 years, so the bar is highlighted in red. 

Conclusion:

You should stay in contact with your friend Alfonso, even though the last time you saw him was in court (Fig. 2). Also, since this app doesn’t exist yet, you should develop it.

PROS: Helps you maintain important relationships that might otherwise be neglected due to time and distance.

CONS: Reminds you of the ubiquitous and inescapable surveillance of modern society, filling you with a chilling dread of a future “Orwell’s 1984”-esque world.

Daily recap: One weird all-seeing-eye trick to staying focused on your goals

TITLE: Daily recap: One weird all-seeing-eye trick to staying focused on your goals

Background:

People currently carry cell phones that have the ability to record nearly all aspects of life.

  • For example:
  • Location, via GPS
  • Step counting, via accelerometer (and GPS)
  • All Internet usage that goes through that device
  • All text messages
  • All email correspondence
  • Anything said within earshot of the device
  • Etc.

Soon, this self-surveillance will become even more all-encompassing, as people wear watches / lapel pins / fake flowers / whatever with integrated cameras and heart rate monitors. Nothing will be hidden from the all-seeing eye of THE CLOUD.

eye-watchFig 1: A hypothetical wristwatch with an all-seeing eye on it. The eye just watches the wearer 24/7, silently judging. Remember to charge it every night!

Interestingly, the “Telescreen” from Orwell’s 1984 actually gathers less information about a subject than a modern cell phone! For now, we will skip over the obvious dystopian applications for this technology.

Proposal:

1) The watch monitors its wearer at all times, and extracts a few clips of “interesting” things that happened during the day.

2) Then, overnight, it creates a 30 second video montage, complete with a dramatic voiceover narrating the highlights of the day, like one might see in a TV show with a continuing multi-episode plot.

3) When the watch-wearer wakes up in the morning, they are greeted with a “last time in: your daily life” video.

Example:

“LAST TIME IN: YOUR LIFE:

  • FIRST: YOU FAILED TO USE THE COPIER ON THE SECOND FLOOR:
    video clip of the user cursing at a copying machine
  • THEN: YOU MISSED THE BUS: video clip of the user running after a bus as it pulls away from the stop
  • BUT: YOU HAD A DELICIOUS KEBAB: video clip of the user buying lunch at a food truck
  • NOW A NEW DAY BEGINS. . .

 

heart-rate-etc

Fig 2: In order to obtain this information, the monitoring software could examine your GPS location, heart rate, step count, etc. Presumably it could look for interesting combinations of data that had not occurred before, and those would (hopefully) result in a useful recap of the previous day.

PROS: Could motivate the user to stay focused on their goals by providing continuity with their actions from the previous day.

CONS: Depending on the user’s daily routine, the “daily recap” might eventually find nothing interesting. “Highlights from yesterday: you microwaved a frozen meal and then watched a Youtube compilation of car crashes.”