Ubiquitous morality
October 30, 2004 10:06 AM   Subscribe

All watched over by machines of loving grace is Adam Greenfield's take on the consequences for designers of ubicomp. Setting moral guidelines seems critical in these early days of technological encroachment-- but how long can decency hold out against the promise of profit? I was forwarded a recent email from the CEO a major bookseller that made it clear that it's possible for them to track everything I do in their stores and online, and thank goodness they choose not to take advantage. But how long will that last? And with homeland security crumbling our civil liberties, article's like Adam's that remind us about our responsibility are even more important than ever.
posted by christina (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Great, now there's no way I'll sleep tonight. This is way spookier than ghost stories.
posted by hughbot at 11:13 AM on October 30, 2004

Very interesting link. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 12:02 PM on October 30, 2004

Take a moment to read the 1967 Richard Brautigan poem from which this article takes it's title.
posted by ahimsakid at 9:56 PM on October 30, 2004

But for a general collapse of industrial civilization or a devastating world war ( the likelihood of which grows far greater should the American religious right, with it's "Domininist" theological element cement it's hold on power, in the upcoming 2004 US Presidential election, in the person of George W. Bush - who has said that all rights flow from the Bible ) ubicomp is inevitable : so, it is wise to consider the implications and the ways in which the evils of globally pervasive computing can be at least minimized.

So, I'm glad Adam wrote this essay.

I heard a generalized plug for ubicomp recently, on a Public Radio segment, by one of it's enthusiastic proponents - who was touting one of Ubicomp's early and more benign manifestations - already into the testing stage, as a system to aid those suffering from Alzheimer's and severe age-related mental decline.

Individuals suffering memory and cognitive function decline who can no longer recognize the voices of loved ones, over the telephone, will look to their small screen by the phone which present a relational map of their friends and relatives.

Family members can monitor, via a home ubicomp network, how much their mother or father is eating or drinking (and other vital habits as well ) for baseline changes.

Helpful refrigerators and sinks will prompt regular eating and drinking, stoves will remind clients how to cook or make a cup of tea...

At one level, this sounded very useful and quite wonderful - the system would enable Alzheimer victims to function independently in their own homes for far longer than otherwise possible.

On the other hand, the dystopian element of this concerns the extent to which the elderly in the United States and - to an extent - in industrialized societies overall - have been marginalized : in fact, social isolation - loneliness and lack of human contact - is one of the very top risk factors for Alzheimer's.

But (this is Adam's province, I suppose) I can't even begin to imagine all of the insidious ends for which Ubicomp could be deployed : it is "Total Information Awareness" by a different name.
posted by troutfishing at 5:43 AM on October 31, 2004

"but how long can decency hold out against the promise of profit?"

Decency has bowed many times before the Almighty Buck, and will continue to do so. The very notion of respect for privacy is already quant, and will likely be utterly obsolete, eventually.

But we should be precise: it is not ubiquity in computing that we need concern ourselves with; cycles are already cheap and apolitical. The character of that new world rests largely in the hands of those who design the ubiquitous network.
posted by majick at 7:00 AM on October 31, 2004

Networks are subject to firewalls. As long as there's a market for them, they'll exist.
posted by kindall at 7:56 AM on October 31, 2004

The very notion of respect for privacy is already quant, and will likely be utterly obsolete, eventually.

The first part may be true. Don't know if I believe the second part. Either way, I'm assuming you mean the notion of corporate respect for privacy. I will always have respect for my privacy and so will plenty of other people. If it means we need to actively fight back, that's ok. It's worth it to me.
posted by yerfatma at 9:16 AM on October 31, 2004

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