Beyond the Cusp

May 6, 2014

Can We Trust Future Technology?

Whether you call it Artificial Intelligence, the Singularity, Future Tech or any of probably a few hundred specific areas or identifiers of what future challenges are approaching faster than we are preparing safeguards or educating people to facilitate acceptance, and will acceptance even be desirable? Some of the recent big news stories have dealt with data mining and the use of massive amounts of data in predictive technologies. But there are other uses of these exact technologies which we do not appear to be anywhere near as concerned about other sources using these exact same technologies and very likely with less oversight such as charge card companies and retailers. Then there is the eerie side of the education system known best as Common Core which includes large amounts of data mining on the children as a part of their educational experience presumably to be better able to tailor the education system to each child’s predetermined preferences and likely path in life as determined by the data. One of the fears is this information could also be utilized to spy on and make determinations about the student’s home life and might be applied by the government to make determinations which families might be at risk for undesirable behaviors or activities. If you do not think that any of this is a fast approaching problem then try to explain why whenever you do a search for some retail item or make a few purchases online that your computer begins to display advertisements of related and similar items in the pop-up advertisements. This is accomplished through very similar technologies to what the NSA (National Security Agency) and other government law enforcement and spying agencies were accused of applying to the data mining information that caused such an outrage recently. Somehow the fact that Google, Target, Amazon, Wal-Mart and who knows who else including technology companies and advertising agencies are increasingly using to better mold their advertisements and sales promotions in order to increase their revenues by better targeting trends and potential approaching markets. The one truth we all are facing is that as technologies advance and are refined and improved our privacy becomes more threatened to the point where many of us have probably already redefined personal informational privacy downward lowering expectations of remaining anonymous.

 

There are those among us who have already altered our lives to attempt to forestall the onset of completely and totally compromised personal privacy. Some refuse to use Google when they search for items, but is Google actually contributing to the search engine you use instead and thus you still are feeding the Google data mining which they have admitted to using in their research to produce a better Artificial Intelligence software and predictive analysis algorithms all presumably to better serve us in the future. But are their intentions really all that altruistic or could there exist deeper and darker motivations in their use of our search terms and other on-line activities. With Google we are almost completely defenseless against their attempts to gather the data about us as they continue to swallow up new technologies and smaller companies to the point they are almost omnipresent in everybody’s on-line lives. Then there are so many possibilities for character data mining and experimentation which can be incorporated within the plethora of on-line games and interactive on-line experiences and sharing services such as Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, MySpace and other social networking sites even including the one no one admits to ever using any longer, AOL, you know who you are, and so do the data miners. The one good side to using AOL is that the data miners likely refuse to store data on you. Many have probably forgotten but there was a time when AOL was the Google of on-line social interactive media and search engines but that was another time and almost seems like another reality and so innocent and almost primitive compared to Google and the rest of today’s on-line media and social activities. Still, these interactive social media and life sharing sites we provide so much telling information about ourselves that we really do not appear to really be concerned with the amount of information and personal data we provide or how it can and will be used and not necessarily in ways which we would be completely comfortable about. So, where should we draw the line and claim no further intrusions and should these lines apply to private industries and companies or solely apply to government agencies and departments which are presumably restricted from many of these type encroachments into our lives and information by the Constitution. Amendment IV states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The question will pivot on the definition of what is unreasonable and how invasive would we define an acceptable level of gathering data on us and recording our communications on open networks and public forums. The younger generations appear generally to be less concerned as their lives have been lived with the all-pervasive technology and universal data sharing and personal on-line presence which is openly available to almost any and everybody while those of us who were raised during the ultra-high-tech Etch-A-Sketch era probably fear these technological advances and intrusions far more.

 

The next concern, or at least it should be, is how far will these technologies go and what can we expect future society to resemble. Will we have precogs facilitating the arrest of people for future crime as in Minority Report or will we have to have a special law enforcement department to hunt down artificial humanoid life forms as in Blade Runner or will the future resemble the horrors and enslavement of humankind depicted in the 1927 futurist movie Metropolis. The decisions of how far is too far and what qualifies as unreasonable or too invasive is something which society needs to address and define now and not wait until the technology creates a situation where the consequences are so abhorrent and unacceptable that the decisions made subsequent to this almost predictable coming disastrous circumstance that many beneficial technological applications are made illegal or restricted causing a new problem where avoidable problems are not revealed as a result of the overreaction to the initial misuse of technology. The consequences of upcoming technologies will be astounding even to the most techno-savvy amongst us and quite probably horrifying to those of us less comfortable and acquainted with the possibilities and influences which are coming into existence spawned as a result to the power of information technologies. This will be an even more worrisome situation with the IRS now will not only hold a complete financial inventory of virtually every American citizen but will also have universal access to the health records of the vast majority of American citizens and all should Obamacare actually fulfill its objectives of instituting a single payer government provided healthcare system. Adding this level of data availability across the departments of the Federal Government to the potential metadata collected by the NSA and with the storage and retrievability capabilities of the new data storage complex built on a two-hundred-forty-acre site near Camp Williams outside Bluffdale, Utah, the ability to profile not only every single American citizen but also every individual holding positions of power in every national government in the world along with a sizeable percentage of people simply deemed of interest and you have an incalculable potential for evil pursuits beyond imagination. The coming technological society will be something so beyond anything we can imagine, as the people developing these technologies are far more imaginative than the average person and even if they have only the milk of loving kindness in their hearts, the potential for somebody with nefarious intentions within the companies at the leading edge of these abilities cannot be ruled out, or at least should not be ruled out. The future has the potential to make life enjoyable and promising beyond belief but with such ability it can also turn in a completely opposite direction, and since the government is partnering with these efforts and underwriting much of the research, can we trust the government which includes among their members the most hated politician of your choosing. Imagine the worst example of humanity from the White House or Congress and imagine their having their fingers on every piece of information about everybody and the ability to predict future actions with a believably high level of accuracy and try to find what would be considered off-limits to these politicians. If that does not scare you then you either live the most pure lives ever lived or have no reason as nobody is without sin when it comes to political expediency. I, for one, wish and hope that the future will be all flowers and sweet music but in order to make that so, I also will expect the worst from those with whom we place our trust to make the laws and run the nation and even the world. Watch, verify and constrict government for as George Washington quipped, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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June 11, 2013

Prism, Echelon, Unlimited Data Mining, the NSA, Where Did it Start?

We are hearing stories and rumors, facts and flights of fancy, truths and misdirections, and enough information overload to the point that our heads are spinning and we end up so confused that we likely just shake our heads, take a couple analgesics for the headache and go off to forget the whole mess. Unfortunately, once we know that our every communication, our every internet search, every web site we visit, every purchase we make, and even our every move is being tracked, stored and can be retrieved any time in the future and collated to make any story desired about us believable. Add to that the fact that with computers tapes can be made in which there is nothing that cannot be produced showing us doing anything from sleepwalking to murder and saying anything from the kindest compliments to the worst treasons. When we delve deeply into the potential powers that the government could use in nefarious efforts to paint us as guilty of any crime and part of any conspiracy which they could ever dream up we realize that the powers that be have the ability to make our lives into whatever scheme their sick little minds desired. But at some point in our paranoid fog the thought creeps into our consciousness, when and how did all of this start and how long has it been turned against the people?

 

The beginning of modern data mining was espionage, both between rival city states and within city states by the different members of the ruling court. Espionage was accepted by the common person as it was something that did not affect their lives and it also diverted the ruling classes from further ruining their lives. That has all changed as it is now utilized by governments in order to control the lives of the people. Totalitarian governments have long been known to have secret police and entire departments within their governments which collected information on the general public and went even deeper on persons of interest. The targets usually contained the wealthy, political activists and anybody who was thought to be a potential problem, threat, rival or simply somebody who may need some convincing to assist with gathering information on any others. With the advent of the electronics age espionage became both more technical and also easier to employ against a wider set of targets. Even as electronic data increased geometrically, the ability to gather and store data increased exponentially far outstripping the rate of increase of available data. The unfortunate fact is that the ability to collect data has reached the dream point for the political class as they can now record everything. And since they have the ability to collect every iota of available data they have reached the obvious conclusion, they collect everything, why not.

 

The first major data collecting on masses of people in the United States where anybody who may be of use or importance was monitored for whatever secrets or damning information that could be uncovered was FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover. His files on politicians, leaders of industry, and anybody who was somebody became stories of legend. But J. Edgar Hoover would have salivated had he ever seen the NSA system known as Echelon, the forerunner of Prism. Echelon was preceded by international signal monitoring between nations but Echelon was capable of such volumes of data gathering as to make everything preceding it seem almost amateurish. Today’s data mining capabilities make Echelon appear almost primitive. Echelon was implemented over a quarter century ago and gave the NSA (National Security Agency) unprecedented capabilities outstripping their wildest dreams of the founders back in 1952. With Echelon the NSA finally realized their dream of having the capability to collect data on almost anybody their little hearts desired. But even the immense gathering powers of Echelon were outpaced by the amounts of data being generated very soon after its inception with the addition of general use of the Internet plus cell phones and a simple explosion with the advent of the electronics age. The onset of the electronics age also provided the solution to the unimaginable amounts of data generated. This presented the NSA with the opportunity to meet the challenge before them, the ability to collect all data from all sources. This required an extensive storage facility. That is exactly what the NSA just officially opened in Nevada where they estimate they have sufficient storage medium to store every electronic signal generated worldwide for the next century. Even if it only does as advertised for half that time, it will still have been an impressive system.

 

Echelon caused a stir amongst many people who follow government abuses, politics and conspiracy theorists. Much of what was known in the public about Echelon was refuted by government as the NSA and others denied its existence. Eventually, like anything which requires large numbers of people to run the equipment and make the raw data into something presentable that had real uses and meaning, the secret got out and enough became known that denial was no longer possible. Armed with the experience of the warnings and denials over Echelon, the revelations about Prism are easily believed by the people and thus no attempt appears to be in the works for denial. That leaves the government with the choice of facing the music or making what they are doing appear to be both necessary and innocuous. Trust one who was a believer and ever suspicious of Echelon, Prism is every bit as dangerous with levels of misuse beyond the wildest of imaginations. We have already been witness to the powers of Prism. General Petraeus and General John Allen were early victims of the powers of Prism as they were disgraced into retirement by the revelation of their private emails. The information of their emails that were released did not result from their government email accounts but from their private email accounts. The power of Prism became evident in these two cases as once those who wished to destroy these men’s lives took the knowledge that there had been emails that might be of a questionable nature and then gathered the entire history of these emails simply be entering a query into Prism data search and waited for the results. Presto, everything that matched the query for the past decade at their fingertips to use in any manner against these men. These were private emails and before you claim they should have known better than to leave such evidence, what would your bosses think if they had access to every email, chat, instant message, tweet, and Facebook entry you have made over the past decade? Would your job be safe? What about that comment you made after a particularly bad day about that slave-master who runs your office? That is the potential damage anybody in our government with access to Prism can bring down on any citizen of the United States for the foreseeable future. I am fairly sure that Prism also is collecting data from other nations as well and its capabilities are being made available to friendly government within limits. With Prism now fully activated and connected to the immense storage facility in Nevada the government can continue collecting every electronic signal and run their queries at their convenience as the data will be available for the rest of time, well, in theory at least.

 

Some may be interested in what are the main differences between Echelon and Prism other than the sheer immensity of the data that can be stored indefinitely by Prism versus Echelon. Well, that actually is the basic difference. Under Echelon the government entered key words and phrases which could be adapted depending on what were deemed to be of interest. With Echelon they had permanent key words such as bomb, President, terror, attack, assassinate, kidnap, Echelon, and the names of important or noteworthy people. When a piece of data crossed the Echelon data input channels containing any of these keywords it was saved and if it contained the right combination or sufficient numbers of key words, it was marked for review by an actual person. Echelon was monitoring all the trans-Atlantic phone cables, satellite uplinks and downlinks, Internet providers’ data points to the Web, and numerous other data points which were considered necessary or sensitive. The main deficiency of Echelon was the amounts of data it was capable of both storing and monitoring. Prism does not have such limitations as it has the capability to take in all the data that the NSA can manage to find a method to intercept. There is no requirement for keywords with Prism. Using Prism does require keywords but they can be entered well after the data was stored, not using them as a hurdle to clear in order to be stored. When accessing the Prism database one enters the names and keywords which they wish to pull the data on just like we do when searching the Internet. The difference is Prism has far more data than the Internet and Prism can track any piece of data in its memory back to the person or people who were parties to the conversation or otherwise connected to the data. Prism has another capability that too many will be even more ominous. If you wish to track the movements of someone you only need to enter a few key numbers to gather tracking information for them from that point further. Whether Prism has the ability to track one from past data it would likely be limited to tracking where any person received a cell call or used their OnStar or tracked their lost vehicle. Any way one looks at the power and potentials for misuse of Prism, it definitely is a sign that Big Brother has arrived and we may soon need to monitor our every facial expression so that our faces do not arouse suspicions, after all there are cameras almost everywhere.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

June 8, 2013

Do You Love Big Brother Yet?

If you are among those who do not believe that the Federal Government has not achieved the equivalence of the Big Brother qualities from George Orwell’s book “1984”, then you probably disagree with Tea Party conservatives, not that that is necessarily wrong. It is very likely that most Tea Party chapters would probably disinvite me from their membership within a year if I were to join one of their chapters. That aside, the scandals currently demanding front page top of the fold coverage really does resemble themes from 1984 with a small flavoring of Aldous Huxley’s book “Brave New World” included. Exhibit one is the new National Security Agency (NSA) data storage complex that recently held its official ribbon cutting and was proclaimed open for business. Of course for the NSA’s meaning of open for business means that all your information is allowed in but can never leave while you may not get in or even approach the complex. This data storage complex is claimed to be capable of storing every email, instant message, Facebook post, Twitter message, phone call (cell or landline), search engine returns on your searches,  and all other electronic communication everywhere in the world in real time for the next century and beyond. Do you remember in the late 1980s and early 1990s when there were people whispering in hushed tones of the conspiracy that was listening in on everybody’s phone calls and later on monitoring all Internet traffic named Echelon? Well, that turned out to be valid paranoia as Echelon actually did exist but became obsolete before the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, thus the Echelon replacement that has probably been on line for the past couple of years even if it was just completed. There is no reason that the front end could not have been being fed all of our data while the back two-thirds were being installed. Presumably, this new Echelon on steroids complex is not only capable of monitoring and recording every electronic communication across the globe, it can theoretically even monitor your every keystroke as long as your computer is connected to the Internet including the backspace key, so they will know what you send in a message and what you rethought and deleted.

 

As this is discussed and everybody gets to add their two cents worth and the rumors and suspicions expand to the point that paranoia seems to have taken hold of everybody’s imagination, we still may not be capable of uncovering all the myriad of abilities these monitor gathering systems will actually possess. I remember the early days when the rumors of Echelon were the buzz of the conspiracy minded and it was otherwise being debunked as all in the imagination of a paranoid few. Within the decade we found out that the paranoid few were actually the well informed. So, taking that into consideration, I might tend to give credence to much of the most extraordinary theories that I hear. Why not as it can only serve to give me reason to be as careful as I can in sharing. Of course blogging is not exactly the best way to keep your head down, but at least I will not be owning the newest game systems with the camera and on-line links. Between monitoring computers and phones, using cell phones and anti-jacking car systems as GPS locators to track our movements, anything with a camera or microphone to monitor video and listen to our conversations, drilling our children through psychological testing, smart meters and appliances, networked cameras with face recognition software everywhere in public, along with whatever else their tiny little minds can invent to follow, monitor, categorize, analyze, and eventually predict future actions, why get all worked up as the Government will do what Government will do and there is little we can do to prevent them. I would rather know what they are doing than have them do everything serendipitously. Do I approve or like the idea of being under the proverbial microscope? Not really but then I have adjusted to such as after attaining ballot access for the United States House of Representatives, I have very likely been on a watch list for quite some time. Truth be told, major companies have been collecting as much information as they could in order to predict purchasing habits. I realize that this data mining by the Government is far more nefarious and invasive than most would like and it would serve them best to support candidates who will actually curb and rein in the levels of invasive monitoring without a warrant.

 

The real debate concerns exactly where will the Government go with this high level of data being available? If it were just the Government it would be one thing but it is so much more. All the way back in the good old days of the Presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower (the 1950s) the President made a speech with an ominous warning that we are now finding out was quite prescient. President Eisenhower warned that the people needed to be wary of the “Military Industrial Complex” by which he meant the large companies and the Federal Government as well as State and Local Governments. President Eisenhower foresaw a future where a group of too big to refrain companies teamed with the Government in order to apply undue pressure and influence over the public and affect their lives adversely. President Eisenhower feared a future where the Government in partnership with major corporations would have such an ability to control and influence society with such an iron fist that nobody would be beyond their controlling influence and nothing would be private from the snooping and controlling interests and invasions of this out of control behemoth. The one question we all likely have foremost in our minds is, “When will we know for certain that this has gone too far?” One sign might be the availability of a channel where they have a continuous program depicting an evil entity that has been identified as public enemy number 1 and it is advisable that when things are going poorly in your life you should tune to this special channel and yell at public enemy until you feel relieved. OK, so that might be too odd even for government. Well, how about if you begin to notice at most Starbucks there are middle age and older men and women dressed in heavy clothing regardless of the weather and season sitting there endlessly nursing a mocha java mumbling something, almost a whisper. If you get too curious and stand close to one of these poor souls you can hear them repeating slowly, painfully, endlessly, “I love Big Brother.” When these people begin to appear it is too late to worry, it is even too late to run, just join them now and maybe the government will leave you alone.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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