Smile! October 28, 2016

Matthew Hutson reports in The Atlantic about technical developments that will make it impossible to know when we’re on camera: Many of the cameras that can be pointed at us today are easy to spot. But researchers are developing recording devices that can hide in plain sight, some by mimicking animals. A company called AeroVironment has produced a drone that looks and flies like a hummingbird. Engineers at Carnegie Mellon, NASA, and elsewhere have designed ‘snakebots’ that can maneuver in tight spaces and could be adapted for surveillance. Robotic bugs are in development, too, and engineers at UC Berkeley and in Singapore are developing cyborg beetles—real insects that can be remote-controlled via implanted electrodes and that might someday pack cameras.”

Two engineers are “developing ‘smart dust’ and ‘micro motes,’ respectively: tiny computers mere millimeters wide that can be equipped with cameras and other sensors. One can (or can’t, as it were) see where this is going.”

Recognition software is also advancing apace. It won’t be long before “someone might be able to point a phone at you (or look at you through smart contact lenses) and see a bubble over your head marking you as unemployed or recently divorced. We’ll no longer be able to separate our personae—our work selves from our weekend selves. Instead our histories will come bundled as a pop-up on strangers’ screens.”

Even without cameras, the wireless webbing of our world will put us under constant surveillance: “With the advent of the Internet of Things, appliances and gadgets will monitor many aspects of our lives, from what we eat to what we flush. Devices we talk to will record and upload our conversations, as Amazon’s Echo already does. Even toys will make us vulnerable. Kids say the darndest things, and the talking Hello Barbie doll sends those things wirelessly to a third-party server, where they are analyzed by speech-recognition software and shared with vendors.

According to one commentator, “we’re creating a world-size robot,” what Hutson describes as “a system with sensors, processors, and actuators that can manipulate the world by, say, approving loans or steering cars.”

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