On the TV series “Person of Interest,” Michael Emerson plays a scientist who, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, created “The Machine,” a super-powerful computer that sifts through mountains of data recorded by surveillance cameras. In the “Fourth Realm” series of novels, John Twelve Hawks writes of “the surveillant society,” a “virtual panopticon” where people may not know whether they're being watched at any given moment, but they know they could be.
But these scenarios are increasingly less likely to be fictional. Writes Ross Andersen in The Atlantic:
“The New Aesthetic isn't just a cool art project; machines really are watching us, and they have their own way of seeing; they make mistakes that humans don't. Before automated surveillance reaches a critical mass, we are going to have to think carefully about whether we think its security benefits are worth the human costs it imposes. The ethical issues go beyond just video; think about data surveillance, about algorithms that can mine your financial history or your Internet searches for patterns that may infer that you are an aspiring terrorist. You'd want to be sure that a technology like that was accurate.”
He goes on to describe a similar situation in Britain, where there already is everpresent electronic surveillance. But, he writes, “British philosophers are starting to gaze back at the CCTV cameras watching them, and they're starting to demand that those cameras justify their existence.”
A new paper called The Unblinking Eye: The Ethics of Automating Surveillance argues for a minimalist approach to surveillance.
What do you think? Is electronic surveillance necessary for security, or an unwarranted and dangerous intrusion? Or something else? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Jun 14, 2012 at 7:01 PM5 comments
In the "you gotta be kidding department," ArsTechnica reports: "In one of the truly bizarre incidents we've seen out of the e-book publishing world, a translation of Leo Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' for Barnes & Noble's Nook platform has replaced all mentions of the word 'kindled' with 'Nookd.'"
Is this a case of competitiveness run amok? Can we expect a new Nook edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations that cites Voltaire as saying "The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbors, Nook it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all."
Or, perhaps it will tell us that Soren Kierkegaard wrote: "Never cease loving a person, and never give up hope for him, for even the prodigal son who had fallen most low, could still be saved; the bitterest enemy and also he who was your friend could again be your friend; love that has grown cold can Nook."
Actually, we suspect that a commenter on the original blog where the story broke has it right:
"This obviously wasn't done by Barnes & Noble, but by the publisher who submitted the book to Barnes & Noble. They created a Kindle version of this public domain book first, realized they used 'Kindle' somewhere in their submission, and did a quick find-and-replace to change 'Kindle' to 'Nook'—never once thinking it would affect the book's text rather than just whatever they put in the title page."
For federal employees who have to work with dense, repetitive documents, the incident carries a lesson: No matter how tedious it might be sometimes, read the text before you start replacing words automatically.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Jun 04, 2012 at 7:01 PM1 comments
Want to get noticed online?
Try tweeting messages that include any of these words or phrases: snow, ice, food poisoning, extreme weather, home grown, Tucson, prevention, metro.
Those are among the terms that the Homeland Security department uses to help its information-gathering systems detect potential security risks, according to a document posted online by Huffington Post reporter Andrea Stone and reported on also by Rebecca Rosen in The Atlantic.
The terms come from a binder issued internally in DHS that guides analysts on the agency's "Media Monitoring Capability Mission.” It’s part of an effort to comb “open sources,” such as social media sites and news reports, to develop a comprehensive picture of what people are talking about, Rosen reports.
Many of the terms on the list are obvious. Anthrax, Hamas, Iran, chemical burn, biological weapon and suicide bomber are unsurprising. But some seemingly innocuous words can apparently also draw attention, although presumably the analysts can distinguish between people planning to smuggle illegal immigrants to Tucson and company employees planning a business trip to Tucson.
Posted by Michael Hardy on May 29, 2012 at 7:01 PM3 comments