Friday, November 07, 2008

Are you playing with yours now?

There is a lot of concern over privacy issues. It seems that as technology becomes more advanced, the threat to privacy becomes greater. Rest assured that this will change in the future. Actually, it will change as a result of one of two possible paths.

The obvious reduction to the threat is the elimination of technology altogether. This would be some global catastrophe (whether man-made or not is moot). That's the boring, predictable, outcome. The one depicted in comic books and bad science fiction movies where haggard old men live in the ruins of once great cities (or under bridges) and guard the "sacred texts" which they have forgotten even how to read. Yawn.

The second path is actually pretty interesting because it seems almost counter-intuitive. Privacy concerns will be reduced as a result of all the access. To understand why, consider an analogy with memory. An important part of our ability to remember is that we can (and must) be able to forget. Actually, we forget way more than we will probably ever remember. This is a blessing. Imagine the alternative. Remembering, in excruciating detail, every piece of sensory input and random thought you've ever had. Imagine that the memory for all that is equally accessible. It would be nearly impossible to sift through memory to find some specific detail. In fact, you would only be adding to the problem because you would also have a memory of your search through memory to add to your memories every time you searched memory!

The technology for my prediction is mostly here already. One pesky little problem stands in the way of a revolution to humankind that will eclipse anything previously (except maybe language itself). The problem has to do with data storage. Once the introduction of very cheap and very vast data storage occurs, the world will change forever.

The invention of all time will make a great deal of current technology obsolete. This invention is simply called, the pder ("pee-der"). It is an acronym of course, which stands for, "Personal Digital Event Recorder." Doesn't really sound like much for what it is, though. Very humble. But here is how it works.

You will carry around a device (on or around your head, like a hat, or headphones at first, but eventually all sorts of variations will emerge). This device records everything. It records everything in high-definition. It also both receives from and sends to other pders.

Everything is recorded everywhere. Not only that, but you can get special devices to interact more effectively with the data collected from your (or another's) pder. For example, the pder-box. Imagine simply receiving a transmission (not for free of course) from the museum. The pder-box generates a virtual image of whatever artifact you want to examine. This image is complete and highly defined. Zoom in to examine every tiny brushstroke of any painting. Rotate and examine ancient sculptures. In some cases, the data may be dense enough to literally turn your pder-box into a macro-micro scope.

Because of the transmission capability, imagine going to see a play. There is no longer a bad seat in the house. You drop down the pder-vision glasses and get a 3D projection of whatever other pder transmission you prefer. For a fee, you can have a front-row seat. Turn your head and the image shifts to match. You will forget you are wearing someone else's eyes.

There will be so much information being transmitted across so many pders that it would be almost impossible to target any one pder with precision. Not that you will have assured privacy, but with so many "channels" to pick from, there won't be many eyes on you.

Of course you can turn on/off the transmit feature of your pder. But, what if you forget? What if you get home and decide to get busy doing something. . . private? Yes, there is a chance someone might be "visiting" you if you are still transmitting. Fear not, though! You simply install a home pder-defeater! Industrial strength versions will certainly be installed in some areas in public as well as paid arenas. After all, you don't want people getting free pay-per-pder!

The commercial opportunities are virtually limitless here. Most electronic entertainment venues as well as communication devices will become pder-compatible. That is to say, cell phones and TVs will become obsolete. Your personal pder will double as your cell phone and TV will be sent to your pder-box. You can go to the theater or concert, etc. but stay home. You will be able to subscribe to all sorts of educational and entertainment delivery systems. Imagine a pder attached to a robot designed to explore the depths of the ocean; search and rescue operations; rove the moon and planets, etc.

Although the technology will have some clunky aspects at first, these problems will be "solved" in good time (workarounds will be developed and sold). The biggest problem will be to develop an efficient search and retrieval tool given the density of information stored.

Someday, then, either we will all be playing with our pders, or, just looking at the pretty pictures in the musty old books under a partially collapsed bridge outside a radioactive city.

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