Copyright Vladimir Kagan February 7, 2011
George Orwell’s book, 1984, published in 1949 - tried to predict what it was going to be like forty years hence….“Big Brother is watching you”…. Poor George couldn’t begin to fathom what is going on today!
Most of us (of a certain vintage) are uninitiated into the jargons of today’s youth. We may have a glimmer of what Social Networking is; if you are a movie fan and have seen the movie by the same name (it’s been nominated for an Oscar) you’re obviously very savvy.… You may have been invited to become a friend on FaceBook… If you have great savoir-faire, you may even have brushed up against Twitter, (Sarah Palin’s favorite form of communication)…. I’m almost certain that You-tube is beyond your kin, unless you have grandchildren hovering near you.
This was the context of The Coudert Institute’s second mesmerizing forum of the year titled: “What is Social Media? Where is it Going? Privacy and Governance on the Mobile Net”
Dale Coudert opening the second of her fascinating seminars - Social Networking and what it means to us
….All this movie stuff is not what it is about. IT’S ABOUT YOU and where you’ve been, what you are doing, how you are feeling, what you are buying, what you are eating, who your friends are and lots and lots more. Who’s interested in this?.... Walmart for one, your government for certain, telemarketers, hucksters, Wall Street Bankers, City planners, the Department of Defense and of course, our enemies.
This is an amazing tool for good and evil…. how to control and regulate it was much of the morning’s discussion. We were treated to this erudite information by two of the country’s top experts in the field…. John Henry Clippinger, PhD, currently Co-Director of the Law Lab at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland, Director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program.
John Henry Clippinger, PhD, from Harvard University and Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland of MIT about to square off on the pros and cons of Social Networking
This was the stuff for advanced students’ four-year graduate course in Cyber Media…. We got a glimpse of the complexity of the subject in three intensive hours of conversation with these experts.
"Sandy" Pentland, MIT's guru on Cyber space introducing us to "Human Dynamics 101"
Dr. Clippinger driving home the good and evils of the new world of Cyber information
It is inconceivable how sophisticated the technology is in this rarefied field. Why it is going to change everything…. what we can or can’t do about it… It is Email turned inside out. It acquires its knowledge not from your computer (that’s old fashioned), but from your cell phones, GPS, I-Pads, monitoring medical implants and other smart paraphernalia. The “boys” at MIT can predict your health before you can…they know when you might be catching the Flu, they know when you are stressed-out (even if you don’t know it), they can track the flow of infectious viruses, a change in your personal behavior, (even if you are ducking out for a clandestine affair!) they know when you go to the bathroom, they are privy to when, where and what you are shopping, they can foretell who are your friends with 95% accuracy, 40% who are not your friends now but may become so within 6 months…..….The list goes on. All this requires NO new hardware…. the signals already exist…. This thing crosses borders seamlessly! No wonder huge conglomerate merchants will pay dearly for this information: These companies can tailor their marketing accordingly: predict buying trends, control inventory flow, explore new markets with accuracy, adjust for regional proclivity and corner markets at their whim. (And you can’t do a darn thing about it!)
This intrusive technology can also determine
- If you have or are susceptible to Diabetes
- Where cops should be located on a Saturday night
- Where taxicabs in New York City pick up most passengers
- Infant mortality and where it is most prevalent
How to regulate this sensitive material is the joint project of the MIT and Harvard teams.
There’s an upside to this information gathering: It’s called “Shared Mobility”. It can predict traffic jams, people movement, vehicular movement, and social behavior. In emergencies like Katrina and Haiti it can locate victims and survivors, it can find the nearest heavy equipment for clearing roads, mudslides, prevent traffic jams, locate and move medical personnel into the troubled areas.
All this knowledge is the 21st century version of the water cooler gossip at the office. Executive teams had for years tried to break-up this café klatch mentality by staggering, coffee breaks and discouraging discourse amongst its employees. In fact, it has been established that that wasn’t all bad. Gossip is the best form of disseminating information…. A large corporate entity saved $15 million dollars a year when they brought back the communal coffee break!
This flow of information is like the 1993 play (and movie): Six Degrees of Separation… By example, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Internet, a contest was established called the Grand Challenge. 10 balloons were hidden throughout the USA…. it took the MIT team 9 hours to locate every one of them!
NUDGE, a new computer economics breaks it down this way:
Associates Rule Based
Frankly, I haven’t the foggiest idea what this means)
But Dr. Clippinger assured me that it means 99% of what we do is habitual and imitative - and not "rational" or conscious!
Our current methods of gauging demographics are over fifty years old. Census taking is inaccurate and costly…the new technology is 10 times better and more precise.
A test study was conducted in San Francisco where they discovered entirely different patterns of activities in different parts of the city…. Like two separate communities… it was a window on tribal behavior. It would allow the city to explore new business models, population growth, and where the people really are and what they are doing!
The world we live in is full of sensors, whether at traffic lights, every corner in Las Vegas, subways, airports, department stores, boutiques, Hotel lobbies, even the lavatory…. What’s most troublesome is lack of accountability.
Adding to this heavy dose of Cyber reality, Dr. Clippinger told us about coming changes…where we’ve been and where we are going…. Not surprising, this explosion of information started with the hackers of twenty years ago…. This morphed into new early technologies such as Tech Model, Arpanet which became the Internet, Richard Stallman’s free software, open licenses, GPL, Browsers, The World Wide Web, Yahoo, Amazon, Portals, MSN, EBay, search engines such as Google…. We are in a fast evolving world of information. New players not dreamed of ten years ago, invaded our virtual world with social networking and chat messaging, BBS, Pod Casting, Friendstel, Twitter, Myspace, Orkut and of course Mark Zuckerberg‘s FaceBook.
Mark Zuckerberg, the sweat heart of the information age
The "smart-ass" kids that run today's world... Mark Zuckerberg and one of his cohorts at FaceBook
....and the rest of the FaceBook team (these photos were cribbed from the recent Time Magazine's cover story on Mark Zuckerberg as the "Person of The Year")
If you think that all it takes to access Facebook is to punch in a few words on your laptop and it floats to outer space... you are mistaken! This is just a part of FaceBook's elaborate electronics that make it all seem easy
Question: Whom can you trust???? No easy way to distinguish friend from foe. It can promote transparency in government. It can also foster revolutions as we are seeing in Egypt today.
IF Professor Pentland taught us how to swim in waters over our heads, Dr. Clippinger took us over the falls!... They jokingly said, MIT invents the Bomb and Harvard tell us where to drop it!
This well greased Mutt and Jeff team introduced us to the interesting correlation of “honest signaling” in the animal world and the Homo sapiens world we live in:
A Peacock’s display of his rainbow colors takes energy and is rewarded with mating privileges. It is an honest signal because it cannot be faked.
Researchers took an ordinary sparrow and tinted his feathers to replicate the dominant bird in the neighborhood. This worked fine for a while until his rivals figured out that he was a fake: then they killed him! Fellow sparrows found out that he was a fraud. Animals are good at that. Nature selects for that ability to detect dishonest signals and punish the deceivers.
Deer, Moose and their ilk, posture with their antlers and win their superior standing with these obvious signs of their masculinity. In the REAL world, organizations posture in a similar fashion: Banks built tall and impressive buildings; insurance companies like AIG built armor around their reputation (until, like the sparrow, they crumbled from their own deceit). Citibank pouted its feathers to attain its dominance in the financial world, Lehman Brothers collapsed when their fabrications gave way to reality. These companies propagated falsehoods just like the little sparrow.
This posturing is regularly promulgated in political defamation. A New Yorker cover two years ago, depicting Obama and his wife Michelle, as Muslim jihadists…. A crude jest that took root and proliferated into a backlash of falsehood still circulating in conservative circles today. This defamation exists on both sides of the political spectrum. President Bush was vilified and political cartoonists practice this on a daily basis in their News Papers.
A bad judgment call by The New Yorker and its lasting consequences
The Internet is rife with fabricated events, which give legitimacy to falsehoods, BUT it also serves as a conduit for whistle blowers to expose the truth. This brings us to the now infamous WikiLeaks. Time Magazine suggested they could become as important to journalism as the Freedom of Information Act. Others consider Julian Assange, its founder, a traitor worthy of hanging. Actually, both are right. He has made whistle blowing a fine art and given them the stature of celebrated street artists…. He has also put people and governments in unimaginable jeopardy.
Julian Assange, the bete noir of the information age
The underground bunker of WikiLeaks
What fascinates me is the hardware behind all this cyber stuff. A recent photo in the New York Times showed the subterranean bomb shelter in Stockholm housing WikiLeaks high-powered hardware. It looks like the control center in an ultra-secured military bunker. Mark Zuckerberg’s FaceBook complex is similarly awesome. These “kids” are geniuses not only in the embryonic stage of their innovation, they take their start-ups to the industrial level and have the vision to capitalize on it…. making colossal profits.
This heady stuff calls for reinventing ourselves in 3D. You need to understand where and what you are dealing with…. And most of all, to protect yourself from this intrusion. Your digital footprint is everywhere! There will be 400 million medical sensors floating out in cyber space…. This could become commercial fodder for untold number of industries.
The mobile phone industry is growing exponentially…. cell phones are taking over the world…. remote areas where electricity is out of reach, there will be solar chargers. Inteli-pads that now cost $600 will come down to the $50s.
Cloud computing is the next phase in the evolution of software services…. no physical location…unlimited storage - under no one jurisdiction.
All this progress puts us face to face with the need for governance. Some people call for a Constitutional Convention of the 21st Century. Privacy is the buzzword. There is a call for a global trust framework by regulators in the US, EU and Asia…. Worried corporations are seeking answers: Pay-pal is trying to rewrite their codes, Microsoft, Bank of America, AT&T, Verizon…. are active players in this game and turning to their think tanks for guidance.
Cyber technology is unstoppable. It is a truth that can be used for good or bad. We are fast loosing our privacy…but the world, by-and-large is a safer place to live in…. for the time being!
There Is No Opting Out!
For information on the COUDERT INSTITUTE
Dr. John Henry Clippinger is author of A Crowd of One: the Future of Individual Identity
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