Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Age of Data

Sometimes one can check the news, not for the latest happenings, but for a sense of where we are as a culture.

I came across a headline that seems ripe for subjection to mockery by The Onion. (In fact, that prompted a visit to The Onion that featured a rather inspired work of satire. Reader discretion advised if perusing other headlines on that site.)

The headline was this: “What is a smart display and do you need one?

Get this: It's an amazing new internet-connected device, and it actually has a screen!

Wait, don't we have those already? Yes, but this screen doesn't do much. It just displays current status for things like the weather or your music playing. Dumb is the new smart. (I'm not saying it has no place; I'm just noting the irony.)

One of the samples shows a screen saying, “A light is on.” One the one hand, this sounds like it should be obvious enough, so why do we need another screen for that?

On the other hand, knowledge of your light being on is no longer limited to you. The Internet of things may redefine the internet and make it synonymous with your information being known beyond you.

More data means more power for data brokers. What if they assume your home lighting patterns correlate to how much sleep you're getting? What if a lack of sleep is reason to charge people more for health insurance?

This is the Age of Data. First social media rose to prominence after starting in the middle of the last decade, and YouTube was around before that. We've been amassing massive amounts of data, just as the internet has enabled us to do.

In this decade, we've begun to grapple with the implications of that massive data collection. This shift most notably happened on my birthday in 2013 with the revelations of Edward Snowden. The growth and acceleration of data accumulation has implications beyond national security. As data accumulation sources become more personal and more passive, we can expect to see increased pressure on all of our relationships in society.

Another headline I saw today: “In the future, not even your DNA will be sacred

Even if we've tried to keep our data out of the system, congratulations, that doesn't matter. We're related to other people who have shared their DNA information, and it appears our DNA information can now be identified anyway.

As these problems with data accumulation become more consequential and intractable, it becomes easier to see how a universal biometric implant system (known in the Bible as the mark of the beast) could be seen as a compelling option for solving or getting around some of these problems. It's good to know the dangerous areas where this could head so they can be avoided. Short of the consummation of all things, it's also helpful to keep a finger on the pulse of where technology is headed while we still must deal with its implications in times like these.

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