The State-Society Relationship: Big Data's Big Future - But for Whom

When we ponder on the future, scenario-based planning is one of a number of approaches we can employ to consider the “what-might-be” possibilities. These are plausible scenarios that let us peer into the future, not with certainty of what will eventuate but with a spirit of consideration and preparedness.

Recently, Katina was invited to participate in Australia's Prime Minister & Cabinet series of workshops on the state-society relationship. A number of fundamental questions were posed at the workshops relating to futures. Some of these are highly pertinent to the thought-provoking Special Section guest edited in this issue by the studious Associate Editor Jeremy Pitt, Ada Diaconescu, and David Bollier, addressing matters of the digital society, big data, and social awareness. The questions included:

  1. What can governments use crowdsourcing for?
  2. How does government operate in a networked environment?
  3. Can Big Data help government solve problems?
  4. How will government respond to the empowered individual?
  5. How can governments effectively manage cities to meet the challenges of urbanization?
  6. How will the government communicate with its citizens given instant communications?

To some degree answering one of these questions provides insights into answers for others. For the purposes of this editorial, we'd rather ask:

  1. What can citizens use crowdsourcing for?
  2. How can companies effectively manage cities to meet the challenges of urbanization?

It should come as no surprise that in the last 12 months, T&S Magazine has published articles on a variety of themes relevant to the above-mentioned questions, relating to smart grids, smart homes, smart meters, energy monitoring, public technical means, public sector information, open government, big data, geosocial intelligence, the veillances (data-, sous- and uber-), future government, crowdsourcing, collective awareness, participatory government, and design science and development.

What binds all of these topical themes together is the emphasis on finite resources available to serve a growing highly mega-urbanized networked glocal population that places immense pressures on the natural environment. Take for example the Beijing-Shanghai corridor fueled with several megacities that are each suffering dire environmental problems. Scientists internationally have especially attempted to raise alarm bells as they report on increases in carbon emissions and air pollution, on rising sea levels (e.g., Jakarta), on changing weather patterns (El-Niño), on dying species of plants and wildlife, on the need for recycling and unacceptable means of waste disposal (especially e-waste), and on the fundamental necessity for clean drinking water.

There is no such thing as the “land of plenty.” Pristine artesian wells are being drilled as a last resort to supplying water to the impoverished. Oil reserves are fast depleting but stockpiles are in the hands of the accumulators. Rich minerals like coal and iron ore are being mined amidst a flurry of research activity into affordable renewable energy sources. Categorically our present actions will have a direct impact on our livelihoods (economic, health, social), and those of our children, and our children's children.

But we are living in the “upgrade generation” fueled by mass production, instantaneous consumption, and enough waste generation to land-fill entire new nations. The core question is whether technology can help solve some of the biggest problems facing our earth or whether the rhetoric that says using technology to correct economic externalities is a misnomer.

PetaJakarta.org team survey damage along the Ciliwung River using GeoSocial Rapid Assessment Survey Platform (#GRASP) via Twitter, as neighborhood children look on.

PetaJakarta.org team survey damage along the Ciliwung River using GeoSocial Rapid Assessment Survey Platform (#GRASP) via Twitter, as neighborhood children look on.

Let us ponder on the affirmative however. What role can big data play in civic infrastructure planning and development? Can citizens contribute data via crowdsourcing technologies to help service providers and government have better visibility of the problems on the ground?

For example, in the Chinese megacities that have emerged, capturing data that indicates where there is a pressing need for cleaner drinking water is imperative for the health and welfare of citizens. Doing this systematically might mean that citizens contribute this knowledge via a text message or through the use of social media, giving municipal and provincial governments and specific agencies in charge of waterways, such as environmental protection authorities, an ability to better plan and respond in a timely manner.

Similarly, if we can monitor zones prone to flooding that affect tens of millions of people, we might be able to lessen the burden on these citizens by informing civil infrastructure planners in the government to respond to the underlying problems perpetuating the flooding during monsoon season. Refer here to the work of Etienne Turpin and Tomas Holderness of the SMART Infrastructure Facility www.petajakarta.org. Here citizens send a text message using Twitter, some with location information and others with photographs attached, allowing partner organizations such as NGOs to get a complete picture of trends and patterns at a dwelling level, and collectively assess areas of major concern affected by banjir (i.e., floods). Is it possible to use this data to drive change?

Socio-technical systems in their purest form are there to fulfill user-centered aims, and not to act against an individual's freedom and human rights. Will we be able to convert the present senseless surveillance fueled by mega-companies and governments to a net-neutral opt-in detection and alert system toward access for basic needs and longer term sustainability for communities far and wide? At what point will citizens be able to donate their mobile and Internet and general utilities data without the risk of potential harm to themselves and their families? Or are we blindly being led down a utopian scenario that will ultimately be used to control or manipulate the masses even further?

Additionally, what will be the repercussions on private enterprise? To date utility companies have been taking advantage of their own inability to offer services that run on efficient energy redistribution to their subscribers. Of course it has never been in their best interest to “rob from the rich to feed the poor,” precisely because by offering this kind of redistribution, utilities companies would negatively be impacting on their bottom line. What will all this big-data achieve? An ever-greater ability to scrutinize the subscriber, based on smart meter data, in order to generate even more revenues for private companies who have taken on once government-based responsibilities.

We must not be myopic – big data can be used for us or against us. This issue presents the positive value of “collective action,” a fundamental ability to commandeer resources together, often self-organized, toward the benefit of our community at large. This is not a new phenomenon but with the aid of technology, both data collection and analysis have become possible at granular levels of detail. It is up to us to anticipate the risks associated with such engineering design principles, and introduce safeguards that will make such an approach work.

Citation: Katina Michael, Xi Chen, 2014, "The State-Society Relationship: Big Data's Big Future - But for Whom", IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Volume: 33, Issue: 3, Fall 2014, pp. 7-8. DOI: 10.1109/MTS.2014.2349572

Beyond Human: Lifelogging and Life Extension

I have often wondered what it would be like to rid myself of a keyboard for data entry, and a computer screen for display. Some of my greatest moments of reflection are when I am in the car driving long distances, cooking in my kitchen, watching the kids play at the park, waiting for a doctor's appointment, or on a plane thousands of meters above sea level. I have always been great at multitasking, but at these times it is often not practical or convenient to be head down typing on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

It would be much easier if I could just make a mental note to record an idea and have it recorded, there and then. And who wouldn't want the ability to “jack into” all the world's knowledge sources in an instant via a network [1]? Who wouldn't want instant access to their life-pages filled with all those memorable occasions? Or even the ability to slow down the process of aging [2], as long as living longer equated to living with mind and body fully intact.

Transhumanists would have us believe that these things are not only possible but inevitable.

In short: we Homo sapiens may dictate the next stage of our evolution through our use of technology.

Transhumanism

Shortly after starting my Ph.D., I came across a newly established organization known as the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), now known as Humanity+ (H+), which was founded by Nick Bostrom and David Pearce.

Point 8 of the Transhumanist Declaration states [3]:

“We favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives. This includes use of techniques that may be developed to assist memory, concentration, and mental energy; life extension therapies; reproductive choice technologies; cryonics procedures; and many other possible human modification and enhancement technologies.”

First let us consider briefly the traditional notion of a cyborg, part man/part machine, where technology can act to replace the need for human parts.

Steve Mann: “Here's a picture I took of my neckworn camera in 1998, along with other similar more recent devices. The 1998 camera was a “wearable wireless webcam” that had various other sensors in it as well. The microsoft sensecam picture I took in a similar style, and over the years various other products became available. The most recent picture I actually took in exactly the same location as my original camera necklace dome 15 years earlier: 2nd floor of university of toronto bookstore, St. george street entrance.

Steve Mann: “Here's a picture I took of my neckworn camera in 1998, along with other similar more recent devices. The 1998 camera was a “wearable wireless webcam” that had various other sensors in it as well. The microsoft sensecam picture I took in a similar style, and over the years various other products became available. The most recent picture I actually took in exactly the same location as my original camera necklace dome 15 years earlier: 2nd floor of university of toronto bookstore, St. george street entrance.

In this instance, some might willingly undergo surgical amputations for reasons of enhancement and longevity which have naught to do with imminent medical prosthesis.

This might include the ability to get around the “wetware” of the brain, enabling our minds to be downloaded onto supercomputers.

Homo Electricus

Perhaps those who love the look and feel of their human body more than machinery would much rather contemplate a world dominated by a Homo Electricus – a human that will use electro-magnetic techniques for ambient communication with networks [4].

An Electrophorus is thus one who becomes a bearer of technology, inviting nano-and micro-scale devices into his or her body.

An Electrophorus might also use brain-wave techniques, such as the electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures the electrical activity of the brain in order to perform actions by thinking about them [5].

This might be the best approach to retaining our inner thoughts for recollection though there are myriad vital issues related to security, access control, and privacy that must be addressed first.

Lifelogging

Twenty years ago, when I was still in high school, I would observe my headmaster, who was not all that fond of computers, walking around the playground carrying a tiny Dictaphone in his hands recording things for himself so that he could recollect them afterwards.

When I once asked him why he was engaging in this act, he said:

“Ah … there are so many things to remember! Unless I record them I forget them.”

He was surely onto something. His job required him to remember minute details that necessitated recollection.

Enter Steve Mann in the early 1990s, enrolled in a Ph.D. program at M.I.T. Media Labs and embarking on a project to record his whole life – himself, everyone else, and mostly everything in his field of view, 24/7 [6].

At the time it would have sounded ludicrous to want to record your “whole life,” as Professor Mann puts it. With Mann's wearcam devices (such as Eyetap), one can walk around recording, exactly like a mobile CCTV. The wearer becomes the photoborg.

It is an act Mann has called “sousveillance,” which equates to “watching from below” [7].

This is as opposed to watching from above, like when we are surveilled by CCTV stuck on a building wall such as in George Orwell's dystopic Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Since Mann's endeavor there have been many who have chosen this kind of blackbox recorder lifestyle, and more recently even Google has thrown in their Glass Project equivalent [8].

My guess is that we are about to walk into an era of Person View systems that will show things on ground level through the eyes of our social network, beyond just Street View fly-throughs [9].

Other notable lifeloggers include Gordon Bell of Microsoft [10] and Cathal Gurrin from Dublin City University [11].

M.I.T. researcher Deb Roy lifelogged his son's first year of life (with exceptions) by wiring up his home with video cameras [12].

When we talk about big data, you can't get any bigger than this [13] – chunky multimedia, chunky files of all types from a multitude of sensors, and chunky data ripe for analysis (by police, the government, your boss, and potentially anyone).

But I have often wondered where these individuals have drawn the line – at which occasions they choose to “switch off” the camera, and why [14].

This glogging still does not satisfy the possibility that I might be able to retain and indeed download all my thoughts for retrieval later [15].

A series of still photographs and continuous footage does help me to remember people I've met, things I've shared, knowledge I've gained, and feelings I've experienced. However, lifelogging is limited and cannot record the thoughts I have had at every moment in my life.

In addition, there is an innate problem with recording all my thoughts automatically with some kind of futuristic digital neural network: I would not want every thought I have ever had to be recorded [16].

Let's face it, no-one is perfect and sometimes we think silly things that we would never want stored, shared with others or replayed back to us [17].

These are thoughts which are apt to be misconstrued or misinterpreted, even perhaps in an e-court. We also do and say things at times which may not be criminal but are not the best practice for family, friends, colleagues, or even strangers to witness.

And there are those moments of heartbreak and horror alike that we would never wish to replay for reasons we might be overcome with grief and become chronically depressed.

The beginning and end of Ingmar Bergman's film Persona is reminiscent of a longitudinal glog [18]. See also “The Entire History of You” in the Black Mirror [16] available for download at https://archive.org/details/BlackMirror-Series. Directed by Brian Welsh and written by Jesse Armstrong and Charlie Brooker, the movie depicts the future, thanks to the “Grain,” a chip which can be implanted on a hard drive in the brain, with every single action that a person makes being recorded and played back at a later time.

Is More than Human Better?

Evolving in ways that could better our lives can only be a good thing. But evolving to a stage where we humans become something other than human could be less desirable.

Dangers could include:

  • electronic viruses,

  • virtual crimes (such as getting your e-life deleted, rewritten, rebooted, or stolen),

  • having your freedom and autonomy hijacked because you are at the mercy of so called smart grids.

Whatever the likelihood of these potentialities, they too, together with all of the positives, need to be interrogated.

Ultimately we need to be extremely careful that any artificial intelligence we invite into our bodies does not submerge the human consciousness and, in doing so, rule over it.

Remember, in Mary Shelley's 1816 novel Frankenstein, it is Victor Frankenstein, the mad scientist, who emerges as the true monster, not the giant who wreaks havoc when he is rejected.

References

1. W. Gibson, Neuromancer, Ace, 1984.
2. A. de Grey, "A roadmap to end aging", TED, 2007, [online] Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iYpxRXlboQ/.
3. "Transhumanist Declaration", humanity, 2012, [online] Available: http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-declaration/.
4. K. Michael, M.G. Michael, "Homo Electricus and the continued speciation of humans" in The Encyclopaedia of Information Ethics and Security, IGI Global, pp. 312-318, 2007.
5. K.D. Stephan, K. Michael, M.G. Michael, L. Jacob, E. Anesta, "Social Implications of Technology: Past Present and Future", Proc. IEEE, vol. 100, no. 13, pp. 1752-1781, 2012.
6. S. Mann, D. RikkeFriis, , "Wearable computing" in The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, Interaction Design Foundation, 2013.
7. S. Mann, "Through the glass lightly", IEEE Technology & Society Mag., vol. 2, pp. 10-14, 2012.
8. "Project Glass: One day…", Google, 2012, [online] Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6W4CCU9M4/.
9. Map My Tracks, 2010, [online] Available: http://www.mapmytracks.com/blog/entry/new-feature-street-view-and-google-earth-fly-through-bring-your-activities-to-life/.
10. G. Bell, Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, 2013, [online] Available: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/gbell/.
11. C. Gurrin, Lecturer at Dublin City University, 2013, [online] Available: http://www.computing.dcu.ie/~cgurrin/.
12. D. Roy, "The birth of a word", TED, [online] Available: http://www.ted.com/talks/deb_roy_the_birth_of_a_word.
13. K. Michael, K. Miller, "Big data: New opportunities and new challenges", IEEE Computer, vol. 46, no. 6, pp. 22-24, 2013.
14. K. Michael, M.G. Michael, "No limits to watching?", Commun. ACM, vol. 56, no. 11, pp. 26-28, 2013.
15. S. Mann, "MetaSpaceglasses now available to CYBORGloggers interested in becoming AR developers", glogger.mobi, [online] Available: http://glogger.mobi/.
16. C. Brooker, "Episode 3 - The entire history of you", Black Mirror, 2011, [online] Available: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/black-mirror/4od#3327868.
17. M.G. Michael, K. Michael, "The fallout from emerging technologies: On matters of surveillance social networks and suicide", IEEE Technology and Society Mag., vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 13-17, 2011.
18. I. Bergman, Persona, 1966, [online] Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMfqSuRlerU.
19. Inside cover art Frankenstein, 1831, [online] Available: http://www.archive.org/details/ghostseer01schiuoft.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

“The author would like to thank her fellow collaborator Dr. MG Michael, an honorary associate professor at the University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia, for his insights and valuable input on the initial draft of this article.

This article was first published under the title “People plus: Is transhumanism the next stage in our evolution?” in The Conversation, Oct. 29, 2012. The original article can be found at https://theconversation.com/people-plus-is-transhumanism-the-next-stage-in-our-evolution-9771.

IEEE Keywords: Transhuman, Social implications of technology, Electromagnetic devices, Human factors

Citation: Katina Michael, "Beyond Human: Lifelogging and Life Extension", IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2014, pp. 4-6.

Converging and coexisting systems towards smart surveillance

Automatic identification technologies, CCTV cameras, pervasive and mobile networks, wearable computing, location-based services and social networks have traditionally served distinct purposes. However, we have observed patterns of integration, convergence and coexistence among all these innovations within the information and communication technology industry.

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