Three Things Should Frighten You
- In China, the government is using data to control the country’s population. By building a firewall around China and then replacing the blocked global tech services with locally owned versions it can control, the government is able to create a digital profile of each person’s actions, affiliations, statements, acts, and misdemeanors. On this, people are “scored” within a “social credit” system and rewarded or penalized accordingly.
- The recent coverage of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook shows just how much corporations in the West know about us without us knowing. The sting on Cambridge Analytica and extensive reporting by Carole Cadwalladr, along with the Facebook Senate hearings, have shown how companies that manipulate public opinion are operating in a way that very few people, and clearly not our lawmakers, can really understand.
- Quantum computing will soon be able to break modern encryption, laying open everything we so far thought was private and safe, and more powerful computers will be able to search and map this data going back through digital time. Yes, today’s quantum computing is far off from doing this, but think of your current iPhone compared to your first PC, and assume that somewhere in the future, computers will be more powerful and capable than anything we can imagine today.
In all three scenarios, let alone all three combined, privacy is threatened on a scale we have never thought about. We are entering the post-privacy age.
Most of all, I feel for our children. They are growing up in a world where everything is connected, viewable, shared. They obsess over their image, worry about their following and who likes their posts. They suffer from cyberbullying and are exposed to the entire collective consciousness and memory of mankind all at once through their phone. They are no longer drip-fed access toward adulthood year by year, but instead see at one moment all of mankind’s horror, brute reality, fantasy and conspiracy, all of history and all of now, all at once regardless of whether they are ready or able to process it. They lost the filters of youth and innocence as the adults around them dumped the contents of their minds onto the web and gave them a tablet as a window into the darkest corners of their psyche.
Beyond what children can understand is that, as they become adults, they will be the first generation whose entire life will become a searchable digital profile. Everything the young do now is recorded. Not just the things they know are recorded, but information from security cameras to school reports, photos of them in a nightclub, CCTV of them buying alcohol with a fake ID, their internet search history, their likes, and their social graphs. Not only will the internet log who they know, but it will also map everyone they’ve ever known or interacted with digitally. While all this information isn’t yet searchable and may (for now) be private, it exists, and will do forever in a way that our current society is entirely unprepared to understand. Moreover, a child born in China in 2020 will be born into their social credit system, with its every action and word being mapped and tracked from birth.
What we should really fear is when future computers have the power to search everything from all of digital time and quantum computers are able to crack encryption. Suddenly, all the doors could fly open. We should anticipate a moment when a future version of Google can search for every image with your face in it. Not just photos on Facebook, but images in videos, from security cameras, from the background of other people’s holiday videos, photos of you in a crowd, marching in a rally. What happens when the opinionated teenagers of today run for political office in 20 years, and the future internet pulls up images of them as teenagers at some unsavory political meeting where they were forming their ideas? A generation back, you could make mistakes, do the stupid things teenagers do, and let it be buried by time. That is over.