Communion Of Dreams

But think of the convenience!

One of the basic premises of Communion of Dreams is that over time we will introduce personal ‘experts’ – advanced Expert Systems or Artificial Intelligence – which will act as a buffer between the individual and a technological world. We will enter into a trade-off: allow our ‘expert’ to function as an old-fashioned butler, knowing all of our secrets but guarding them closely, in order to then interact with the rest of the world. So, your expert would know your preferences on entertainment and books, handle your communications and banking, maintain some minimal privacy for you by being a “black box” which negotiates with other people and machines on your behalf.

Why do I think that this will happen? Why will it be necessary?

Because increasingly, in the name of ‘convenience’, both government and industry are seeking to become more intrusive in our lives, all the way down to the level of what happens inside our homes. People want the convenience, but are starting to become increasingly aware of what the price of the trade-off will be. The latest example:

Comcast Cameras to Start Watching You?

If you have some tinfoil handy, now might be a good time to fashion a hat. At the Digital Living Room conference today, Gerard Kunkel, Comcast’s senior VP of user experience, told me the cable company is experimenting with different camera technologies built into devices so it can know who’s in your living room.

The idea being that if you turn on your cable box, it recognizes you and pulls up shows already in your profile or makes recommendations. If parents are watching TV with their children, for example, parental controls could appear to block certain content from appearing on the screen. Kunkel also said this type of monitoring is the “holy grail” because it could help serve up specifically tailored ads. Yikes.

Here’s another source:

Comcast’s Creepy Experiment Puts Cams Inside DVRs to Watch You

In a scene straight out of 1984, Comcast said it will begin placing actual cameras in DVR units to track data for who is watching the digital television.This statement is so farfetched I almost don’t believe it, but it came out of the mouth of Gerard Kunkel, the senior vice president of user experience for Comcast. At the Digital Living Room conference he said that Comcast is already experimenting embedding cameras into DVR boxes that actually watch the television watchers. Big Brother, anyone?

Comcast is shilling this as a type of customization features. The camera would be capable of recognizing specific individuals and therefore loading a user’s favorite channels and on the other hand block certain content as well. Stop the schtick, Comcast. Nobody, and I mean nobody would ever voluntarily allow you to place a camera in a household, for any purpose. It’s a shame that I can already imagine the headlines when Comcast does this involuntarily.

Now, in the comments at both sites, there is disavowal by Comcast executives that the company is actually going to do this – they’re just “looking into it.” Sure.

More importantly, there are a lot of comments about how this is just yet another step into the world of total surveillance, another incremental loss of privacy. Sure, these comments come from tech-savvy people, who are well aware of how the technology may work – moreso than most people. And they are also aware that for many folks, this will be seen as ‘no big deal’, and a welcome convenience.

But the tech-savvy are the ones who will be developing the tools to counter this kind of intrusion. Sooner or later someone will figure out that there is a service to be met, creating a buffer of privacy between the individual and the corporate-government union. It may not be a huge market to begin with, but it will be the first start in the creation of the kind of expert systems I predict.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi. A slightly shortened version of this has been cross-posted to UTI.)

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