7/4/2014 - 2/2015

In 1976 I remember our town celebrating the Bicentennial, which was
the 200th birthday of the USA.  It was the summer after elementary
school I think, celebrating on July 4th with sparklers and fireworks.
I felt very patriotic, appreciating the freedom of our country, our
forefathers, and all that.

At that time and the years to follow, it seemed like everyone had
heard about George Orwell's "1984" published in 1949, about
government's "Big Brother" stealing our freedoms and monitoring us for
our own good.  People would use it as a warning not to let government
become too controlling.  I came to believe Orwell's big mistake was
choosing a year too early, because in 1985, it was really amazing how
everyone seemed to forgot all about it, as if the prophecy had been
clearly disproven.

In college I read "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin, a Russian guy who wrote
this around 1921.  It was also about a government watching and
controlling it's people.  Kind of convincing considering the author's
time and place.  I found it far cooler than 1984.

As I got more into computer programming, one of the thrills was the
power of information.  So as it interested me in a mad scientist kind
of way which was fun, it also made me aware when others were employing
the power.  In my first two computer jobs, I could see how people
loved gathering information.  It's like an addiction.  It allows you
to see so much more about your business.  It allows you to track
things and people, and to know things.  Once someone running an
organization gains that kind of information, if you try and take it
away from them... you'll probably find out you can't.

However, I eventually realized it wasn't as simple as Big Brother
stealing freedom from the people.  Sometimes people demand to give
away their freedom for safety.  I think Benjamin Franklin was right
when he stated, "They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase
a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety".
Government and people in power were simply happy to take the freedoms
when offered.  "We only have a finite number of freedoms so we can't
just keep giving them away". - me and probably a bunch of other

On the other hand, as you keep living, you continue to witness some
really bad things happening to people.  The concepts of freedom remain
just as strong, but the memories of bad things which happen to people
continue to accumulate in large quantities.  The older you get, the
more horrors you've seen or heard about, and the more people you may
end up partially responsible for.

Anyhow, after studying computers and wondering about all this, it
became obvious to me, that a "Big Brother" could eventually track us
with computers very effectively.  For example in 2012 there were about
7 billion people on Earth.  7 billion really isn't a big number for a
computer these days.  It's not unimaginable to record the location of
every person on Earth ,every second of every day, for their entire
life.  I guess to be fair, that's still kinda hard to do today, but
it's not unimaginable in the near future.

Imagine what this would achieve.  It would go a long way to
eliminating many crimes.  Take kidnapping for example.  You'd be able
to find anyone at any time.  If something happened to someone, you
could back track and see who came anywhere near them, all the way back
their entire life.

Think of any criminal.  You could track backwards and see who they
associated with their entire criminal career.  If any one person was
discovered in a criminal organization, you would have a good chance of
rooting out everyone else.  Since some criminals naturally drift to
different organizations, you could end up uncovering many groups at

You may not be able to stop murder, but you'd almost always know who
the killer was.  Without the chance of getting away with it, imagine
how many fewer murders there would be.  Crime would be drastically
reduced, simply because crime would rarely pay anymore.

But in order to achieve this, you need to always track everyone, not
just criminals.

With a person's history you could determine all kinds of things about
them.  Who did they contact after any significant event?  Who did they
date?  Who are their enemies?  What food do they like?  What are their
habits?  What products will they buy and at what store?  Now imagine a
set of powerful computers which had access to all this data.
Computers could not only predict crowd behavior, but by inserting
stimulus you could influence or even control people and crowds because
you'd know the individuals extremely well.

For safety, parents will sign up their kids.  Families would want
their loved ones to be tracked.  Criminals would be tracked.
Eventually when the tracking method becomes easy enough, everyone will
be tracked.  Every single person on Earth, every second of their
entire life.  And the majority of people in the world would demand
everyone is tracked, because it would change life dramatically for the
perceived good.

I originally figured it would be done with satellites, kind of like in
Judas Priest's song, "Electric Eye". Eventually they'll have a way of
just seeing human life from space where ever it is, maybe tuning in to
brain waves (unless you're wearing a tinfoil hat!)  The computers
storing all that data will be up in space, well protected and out of

The government didn't appear eager to get in on monitoring people, but
businesses did.  I could easily recognize that familiar greed for
information as businesses started collecting our information.

Years ago stores started offering club cards which you could sign up
for and get discounts, especially at grocery stores initially.  Over a
number of years this spread to just about every store, and it's really
annoying.  At this point we don't yet have one card to use at all
stores, so we either need to carry 50 cards in our wallet, or happily
get ripped off at the cash register.  But what I really hated was the
idea of the store tracking all my purchases.  So many times I'd be
checking out and the cashier would ask if I want to sign up for a club
card to save money.  I'd say no, and inevitably it would become a
conversation where the cashier explains how I can save so much
money...  I mean... why wouldn't you get a card?  Are you crazy?  I'd
explain because I don't like all my purchases being tracked.  Often
the cashier would reassure me that isn't happening!  And at that point
it's just frustrating.  I mean seriously, then WHY do they need my
name and address and email address... and why would that cash register
need to be hooked to a computer?  You're telling me the company
doesn't want to track every one of my purchases, put me in categories
to sell to, or whatever?  Why can't the store simply offer good prices
to everyone, you know, since everyone's money works just fine?

Many years later everyone pretty much knows.  Just last week my
cashier pointed to the ceiling and talked about Big Brother.  That was
refreshing.  My babe joked that the cookies in one of the isles
literally WERE calling her name.  If the grocery store knows her
purchasing habits, then all that's needed would be a little speaker
near the cookies and the ability to track when she approaches..  Then
they could apply a little psychology on what voice and tone might best
invoke a positive emotional response for her specifically, such as one
of her favorite actors.

Online is, of course, much worse.  I suspect it's far worse than we
even know.  We all thought search engines were pretty cool, but we did
not realize they would be tracking everything we type.  Today targeted
marketing advertisements show up everywhere online depending on what
we type online.  Some email providers scan all our private emails in
order to determine what to advertise to us.  It's not uncommon today
to have some new mini-scandal concerning a breach of our privacy.
We've heard that one company purposely took email addresses out of our
contacts in order to send email ads.  We learned that some smart phone
companies let GPS tracking remain on in some previously unknown cases.
Maybe people are not noticing, but I definitely see sharing of my
information across different companies.  I do not have any kind of
account on the search engine I use, and yet what I search for ends up
as advertisements on other web sites.  It's come to the point where I
can tell what my babe is searching for from the ads I get, since we
have the same home IP address.

Beyond what we type online, there are rumors about game console
listening and watching us.  Today modern game consoles actually have a
camera which watches you move, so you can interact with games.  But
these game consoles can be facing our living room all the time, and
they are possibly going to listen to voice as well.  There was a
report where game console makers would like to listen in on
conversations for additional targeted marketing.  And why would that
be much different than scanning your private emails?  I'm not sure I
want to know what they will try sell to us after watching and
listening to us in our living room.

Crossing over from marketing to security, many businesses and
government now have security cameras all over the place.  It's far
more common these days to see crimes caught on video.  And when the
crime is so often senseless ultra-violence, it's hard to not feel real
happy the cameras are there.  But isn't that weird to be on video all
the time?

Another new thing is computer glasses.  I just saw on the news that
people in a bar were very unhappy about some other people wearing
their computer glasses possibly recording everyone.  I don't blame
them.  I don't go to a bar and want my night online.

The government didn't seem to be very eager to monitor everyone until
911.  Then I think they must have realized the importance.  In the
computer industry, those in communications noticed an interest.  I
noticed in the latter part of 2004.  You'd hear about a company
needing to provide online records, or the request for methods which
would facilitate gathering information.  But despite seeing that, and
being generally paranoid, even I was surprised with the NSA effort to
accumulate and track people online which became public around 2013.  I
think it's obvious the government should track crime online and
protect us from those who would hurt or massively kill us.  I guess
it's a matter of how far we should go.  And anywhere you look, whether
it's government or business, it's very commonly too far.  It's hard to
turn away from the power of information.  It's truly addicting.

It would probably be hard for a government to track everything about
people.  But it becomes wildly easy when businesses are already
tracking everyone.  If the information already exists, and it might
help catch a criminal, then you have some basis to request that
information.  This is one of the reasons I really don't like stores
tracking us, because I know the information, once it exists, is
functionally available to pretty much anyone.

It doesn't need to be a centralized Big Brother.  Any city can put up
cameras everywhere.  They are populating our street intersections and
will continue.  But what really surprised me is the police car I saw
the other day.  It had something on top if it, maybe a large camera?
I realized as I walked downtown what that could mean.  With
increasingly better facial recognition, it meant the police could
cruise around logging who was simply walking down the street.  With
the crime and criminals in a big city, there might be an argument for
that.  In fact just last week I saw they are now using license plate
recognition at intersections to track car movements.  Automatic toll
road readers will not only make tracking cars easier, it may become
mandatory and increase revenue.

Meanwhile in the computer industry, the new thing is, "The Internet of
Things", which is the idea of all devices wired to the internet.  This
also feeds into "Big Data".  So what you have is every little device
you can think of, all taking readings and sending data to a large
database to be analyzed.  I just ran across a company which was
putting sensors in all kinds of light bulbs, which would be fed into a
database.  Imagine every light bulb at your office participating in

I also read just this week, that our bathroom faucets at work needed
to be inoperable for 15 minutes next week for a software upgrade.  So
it's interesting to see how this evolves.  I go to work, my rfid badge
is read to get into the garage, then it is also needed to get onto my
office floor.  I know the badge data is recorded.  In my office the
infrared sensor which originally was just supposed to save electricity
by turning out the lights, now has an "occupied" indicator on it, and
I know this data is used to see if I'm utilizing my office.  (I
admittedly have a pretty cool office.)

There are many more devices that sense us and do not record us... yet.
But it's easy to see how they will be able to track us.  If I go to
use the bathroom, my office sensor knows when I've left.  The urinal
sensor knows when someone leaves the urinal, and can probably rule out
everyone except a few people not in their office.  The previously
mentioned faucet knows when I put my hands under it, as does the soap
dispenser.  Then the paper towel dispenser.  And finally the
electronic garbage can.  As far as I know all this isn't hooked to the
internet.  But someday soon it will... you know... to automatically
order soap and towels.  At least we'll be able to see who doesn't wash
their hands in the bathroom!

There will be enough of these devices in an office that you can
effectively be tracked.  There will be enough sensors everywhere to
map out people's paths.  So I do not think in the short term
satellites will be necessary.  You watch crime shows where they piece
together a criminal's path.  Well, there's going to be a zillion more
of these pieces.  If and when people start squashing those little
computerized devices because they don't want to be tracked, they will
soon be surrounded by a swarm of police drones.  In fact, I just read
our police department bought a drone... so it's reality.

When people hear about this kind of tracking, they always say we will
be able to beat the system and avoid being monitored.  Probably at
first.  But I also suspect this belief partially comes from watching
movies where the plot is the excitement and thrill of evading
tracking.  But I know in real computer science, usually the power of
the computer simply becomes stronger and faster until the error is
removed.  I think the real sign tracking has become significantly
powerful will be a great reduction of crime in large cities.

I suspect the Internet of Things will not be limited to simply sensing
us.  Similar to the situation where a grocery store will want some
cookies to call out to you, I think The Internet of Things will also
interact with us, including on an emotional level.  From the safety
point of view, it will be nice to be able to call for help to any
light bulb.  But if they interact with us, they will be able to
analyze the way we are thinking and feeling at the time.  We'll be
able to begin to implement a poor man's "Thought Police" where angry
or aggressive input can be tracked.  This may sound far fetched, but
again, I know what it's like to program for business and I can tell
you it's not.  If you program the cookies to call out to a person, why
not listen to their response to get a better idea of how to sell to
them?  And if they should become angry and get into an argument with
the cookies, shouldn't we record that?  I mean, it might be an unhappy
customer.  They might be preventing other customers from getting near
the cookies.  There's tons of rationalizations.  And finally, we'll
need to track and possibly report people who appear negative to the

However, on the positive side, we'll really be plugged into the
internet.  There will be lots of benefits, and arguably maybe the
Internet of Things can help prevent some of these massive attacks on
people.  But in any case good or bad, the Internet of Things will
consume us.  We'll also soon have implants.

This is the point where some become anti-technology.  But I like the
good aspects of technology too much, and I've learned some safety
isn't a bad thing.  I think the key is balance.  My babe says the lack
of privacy might not be much different than living in a small town
where everyone knows who you are and what you're up to.  Technology is
a power, and people just need to remain aware of it and on top of it.
It becomes more difficult because the ability to remove people's
freedoms probably becomes easier with higher levels of power.  So as
is the tradition of people in the USA, I think we just need to keep
vigilant and patriotic.  The flag wavers, the fireworks, those who
celebrate freedom, those who protest against what is unfair without
any visible gain... these all become very important in keeping us all
mindful, keeping the balance, remaining free.  Something to think
about on the 4th of July, thirty years after Big Brother failed to
take over.