Guest blogged by Anuj on April 8, 2008.
“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”, these are the words of Scott McNealy. Think about it, today everything you do can be monitored as more and more information about your life migrates to the Internet your privacy keeps on getting closer and closer to zero. No matter how much people protest this dictum, but nevertheless he was correct. Until the time comes that quantum cryptography becomes widespread we will live in a world where nothing is personal, nothing at all, if you think that your mind will protect you then think again. There’s been recently a lot of uproar about fMRI techniques that enable researchers to make better and better lie detectors, hell they can even tell to a certain extent what activity you’re performing by seeing which parts of the brain light up. Then there’s cybernetics, if brain-computer interfaces become widespread then who can stop anyone with the right techniques from reading your brain like a printout, your inner most sanctum is likely to fall within a few decades. Now a few decades isn’t that far away is it? Well the thing is that it isn’t a really distant events, it’s happening now, but mass scale and sophisticated use will take some decades. So now what? What should we do?
When you think about it you realize that you don’t have any privacy anyway, you made the choice to give it up for better service long ago and you didn’t even realize it, so why the hell are you getting so paranoid now? If you think you haven’t done anything like that, then think again; do you own a cellphone? If yes then your location can be easily triangulated and the company knows your location at all times have you ever noticed that helpful little label that tells you where you approximately are? If you think that nobody uses it and you’re safe, then what about calling, people with your number can reach you any time they want and they can enter your life at any time, any place. Now, did you think about this before you bought your phone? Probably not, all you thought of was “ooh look it has a camera, ooh look it can play mp3s, ooh look it looks so damn cool, I want one”. That’s the problem 80% of the users don’t use even 20% of the devices capability and have little or no knowledge about the product, they simply want to buy it due to the flashy ads, which never tell you everything about anything. Why are you lamenting, dear consumer? You, yourself, created the conditions for this to happen years ago, so why are people getting so worked up about it right now? Face it, privacy is dead, get over it.
What I am trying to say is that we will never go back to the Cro-Magnon days of privacy, the benefits and the convenience are simply too great. In short get over it, you know that life will be hard without it, anyway who the hell gives a damn who you are? It’s simple economics at work you chose to give it up because you found a good incentive in whatever convenience was being offered and you chose over time to make a world model on. Think about it.
It isn’t that bad, those fMRI scans will help to change the way we think about the brain and they are changing and will change the way we look at the brain, the same goes for cybernetics, see BCIs will have a lot of ethical problems with a lot of hypocrites but the fact is that they will give the handicapped a new lease on life and they will allow the average Joe / Jane to do some pretty amazing stuff. Think of the possibilities of a BCI, they’re endless; I will be able to learn instantly, all knowledge would be within my grasp. Imagine the gains we will make in augmenting humans, we will be able to make people smarter than any person who has ever lived in the history of the human race, this would allow for exponential progress in all fields. Now forget that vision and ask yourself; when do we cross the line and become a true totalitarian state? Where people automatically behave like a flock of sheep, each controlled by it’s implant, with a complete and absolute surrender to the status quo? Was George Orwell right?
We are discovering what it is to be a human and each time we reveal a layer we gain information and information is power, if society doesn’t adapt itself for use of that power then there are chances that something will go wrong. We are at this point in time at a critical juncture of human history, we can either choose the methods and the gifts of science and progress, or we can reject those methods and destroy ourselves in the process, what will we choose?
Okay, in case you’re wondering why the hell did I through that nugget at you, then here’s your answer; my parents want me to buy a cellphone. To which I had only one answer “Hell no!”. See, I hate being accountable to anyone, I am the master of my own will and a cellphone will effectively halt that, so what should I do? I worked out a very elegant solution, I turned the thing around; I told them that I won’t keep anything on me except for an iPhone and if, and only if, they invest in one when it comes out legally in India, will I use a cellphone. Now I gave them a good, long lecture on multi-touch, why it’s so insanely great and my mom, basically, gave up after the ‘pep’ talk. I agreed to give up an aspect of my life for the chance of having that gorgeous thing in my pocket, yes that’s a pretty good incentive for me, I love it plus I can use it.
In short, I got over it.