The crowdsourced surveillance that unfolded in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Boston is no surprise to futurists. Indeed, it sounded rather familiar. Poking around, I found this scenario vignette in a paper I wrote for the Proteus security conference five years ago:
They thought they had the assassin: he was at the rally when it happened, affiliated with a radical pro-male group in his homeland; he had ranted violently against Ms. Harstad’s UN activities on his blog, and he had a traditional blowgun like that used to deliver the tiny dart. Crime scene investigators ran the coordinates against public images and video: there were approximately 15,000 still images and 300 videos of the square that day. After a moment’s collation, the computer delivered the three-dimensional reconstruction of the hours around the speech. The team zoomed in on where Mwazi claimed he had been standing. There he was. They watched him from the front and each side, and it became clear: he never raised his hands near his mouth, and never used a visible comm device or even seemed to say anything. Unless they could hold a man for scowling, they were going to have to let him walk.
As I allude to in the vignette, it will be possible to automate many of the processes now being done laboriously and partly by hand. Experiments have shown that public photos can be used to reconstruct 3D images of places.
Meanwhile, the spontaneous crowdsourcing around the Boston case has shown uneven results. The most prominent effort, on Reddit, failed to spot the real suspects, while singling out many uninvolved people, and crowd-based efforts also seem to have misidentified an innocent missing person as a potential terrorist. On the other hand, a bystander did discover a high-quality image of a suspect in one of his snapshots.
Image: micahb37 (Flickr)
A report last week about the continued decline of the cost of genetic sequencing got me thinking about genetic privacy.
The fabled “$1,000 genome” is coming into view, the pricepoint at which full sequencing can begin to be part of routine medical care in the developed world.
That pricepoint also opens sequencing up for non-medical purposes; someone could do so to find out about a partner, employee, or celebrity, as long as you could obtain some kind of genetic sample.
Celebrities are highly plausible targets; an entire industry seeks out and distributes every little detail about their lives, and genetics promises insight into medical conditions, behavioral quirks, and propensities–all fertile ground for celebrity gossip. Of course, a lot of the information genetics could currently produce will be vague and pseudoscientific, but that hardly matters for this purpose.
This raises several questions:
- Is it illegal to have someone else’s genome sequenced?
- What happens if one has it done in another jurisdiction, as such sequencing will soon be possible in many places with lax enforcement?
- What are the penalties, given that candid celebrity photos can earn five and six figures?
In the future, I suspect that actress Scarlett Johannson might be more leery of selling a used tissue for only $5,300.
It is only a matter of time before many people will be wearing always-on streaming video cameras when they are out on the street. They may do this for a variety of reasons, including self-quantification, but an immediate application will be personal security: it would be riskier to mug or assault someone if you may be filmed, live, while doing so.
Because such devices would be an effective deterrent to crime only if obvious, people may advertise that they are wearing them with a highly visible badge or light.
This could create a secondary effect. Some anticrime technologies, such as LoJack for cars, reduce crime by making it easier to catch criminals. But others merely divert it elsewhere; this is said to be case with anti-burglary systems. When criminals see the “protected by” signs in the yard, they are likely to simply move on to a house that is not protected. Muggers might make a similar decision, avoiding the video-protected.
In areas where crime worries people, this could drive rapid adoption of what might otherwise be a niche technology.
Image courtesy Ha-Wee (Flickr)