Surveillance and security

An extract from Chapter 5 of the book Transcending Politics:

5. Surveillance and security

Connectivity has its advantages. Consider the needs of hard-pressed parents, who must periodically break away from other tasks to check how well their baby is sleeping. Remote baby monitors, plugged into domestic networks, can cut these parents some slack, by guaranteeing to alert them if their child wakes unexpectedly. Other systems, using small sensors in a “smart sock” worn by the baby, can provide additional assurance about the baby’s heart rate and blood oxygen level. This can reduce anxiety about sudden cot death. The vendor’s website explains, “More data, less worry: 83% of parents report having better sleep while using the Smart Sock on their baby”.

What’s not to like about this innovative use of connected technology? Alas, some baby monitors unwittingly provide the means for outsiders to spy on the children, and even to speak to them. Commissioner Julie Menin of the New York Department of Consumer Affairs issued a stark public warning in early 2016:

Video monitors are intended to give parents peace of mind when they are away from their children but the reality is quite terrifying – if they aren’t secure, they can provide easy access for predators to watch and even speak to our children. There have been numerous reports by consumers, including those here in New York City, that these video monitors have subjected them to unwanted intrusions into the most private of spaces: their own homes. Internet-connected devices like video monitors provide convenience, but without proper safeguards, they pose serious privacy risks. We encourage parents to take steps to make sure their devices are secure and call on manufacturers to make security a top priority.

As we’ll see in this chapter, the problems of insecure baby monitors are echoed in an avalanche of similar examples from the fields of smart cars and smart homes as well as smart healthcare. It turns out that connectivity is a two-edged sword.

The perils of connectivity

Let’s reflect on the predicament experienced by more than 100 car owners in Austin, Texas, as a result of the actions of a disgruntled former employee of used car retail firm Texas Auto Center…

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Recent Posts

Q2 sprint: Political responses to technological unemployment

Technological Unemployment v2

Q1 recap

Before sharing some details about Transpolitica focus during Q2 2018, here’s a quick update on Transpolitica activities during Q1 2018.

Transpolitica has made good progress during Q1 with goals identified at the start of this period:

Priority project for Q2

As Q2 approaches, it’s now time to put into motion the first of a series of time-limited projects to dive more deeply into some of the specific key themes of a better politics.

Each such project will involve gathering, developing, reviewing, and then disseminating the best technoprogressive thinking on a given topic.

The first project in the series is “Political responses to technological unemployment”, carried out over three phases:

  1. Up to end of April 2018: mainly writing and collecting submissions – framing analyses, thought pieces, policy recommendations, etc
  2. Up to end of May 2018: more focus on group deliberation – where are the weak points and the strong points of our collective understanding, and how can we improve our understanding
  3. Up to end of June 2018: more focus on communicating our findings and recommendations, via publications, memes, slogans, videos, etc

Note that I am using the phrase “technological unemployment” to also include “technological under-employment” and “precarious employment”. (A better choice of words could be one outcome from the project.)

Starting points for this project (to avoid people re-inventing the wheel) include:

Depending on progress, possible outcomes of the project might include a PDF research pamphlet, a video, an improved set of pages on H+Pedia, a press release, a set of slides, and/or a public event (such as a meeting of London Futurists in June and the Humanity+ Beijing event in July).

Questions that need addressing

Key to the success of the project will be the identification of the areas most in need of better understanding. These are the “major uncertainties” where we should prioritise our focus.

For the moment, it seems to me that these areas include:

  1. Potential transition mechanisms from where society is today, to a new social contract in which a citizen’s income (to give one example) is in place
  2. Possible alternatives to a citizen’s income
  3. Strengths and weaknesses of various forecasts of scenarios for the development of technological unemployment
  4. The pros and cons of various ways of raising money to pay for a citizen’s income
  5. The possible role of decentralised technologies such as blockchain in the administration of a citizen’s income
  6. The possibility of an “Apollo scale” project to drive down the costs of all goods and services needed for a prosperous lifestyle
  7. International and trans-border considerations

If you think you know at least part of the answers to the above questions – or if you think there are more important questions to be addressing – please do become involved.

To become more involved in this project

The mailing group https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/transpolitica exists to to coordinate planning and execution of Transpolitica projects. To join the group, visit this page, and send a subscription request.

(There’s also a Transpolitica group on Facebook, but with a potential impending mass exodus from Facebook, it’s more important than before to use other means for project coordination.)

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