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Big Brother is Among Us

Cody Boyte | May 9, 2005

In 1949, George Orwell published the book “1984,” scaring the world with the idea of Big Brother and having someone observing members of society. In the book, the main character is observed by a television, as well as other forms of technology that are used to constantly watch him. That vision may be coming in the next decade, but not quite in the same fashion that Orwell imagined.

The coming loss of privacy is not going to be the work of Big Brother, though our government and corporations have installed an incredible number of surveillance cameras in schools, banks, stores and even on street corners. The coming loss of privacy has already begun willingly. We are taking our own privacy away.

The revolution began in early 2000 with the invention of the camera phone, first released in Japan. By 2003, according to www.worldchanging.com, there were more camera phones sold than regular digital cameras. Today, people are setting up Web sites called “moblogs,” which are blogs where participants update their status by taking pictures of where they are and what’s going on. They’re recording themselves.

During Britain’s recent national election, the Labour Party enforced a limit on the number of cameras that would follow Tony Blair around in hopes that his actions would not be recorded as often. The Guardian, a British newspaper, started a project called the “Blair Watch Project” in which any citizen with cameras, camera-phones or video cameras were to take as many pictures of him as they could during the campaign. Blair ended up having more pictures taken of him than in any other campaign in history.

3G networks are being developed to allow video that both streams into mobile phone and then video that streams out of phones. It will enhance the constant surveillance that we’re doing to ourselves by making possible the recording of whole scenes. The video will allow us to search through beautiful moments, baby’s first steps and the heated arguments that we experience.

The development that will push the revolution the most will be when we finally decide to move our mobile phones into a constantly on, constantly viewing position. A number of developments are in progress to allow this crazy idea to become reality.

The most reasonable idea seems to be the idea of having your cell phone attached to a pair of glasses that allow you to view numbers, information and watch or record video. It has been featured in numerous sci-fi movies and in magazines such as Popular Science. Different versions are currently being developed by HP, Microsoft and Nokia.

The second idea, which is more radical, is being tested at University of Southern California, where scientists implanted a computer chip into the brain of a rat. The researchers implanted a 2 mm computer chip into the hippocampus (a portion of the temporal lobe) of a mouse in hopes that the chip would intercept neuron transitions, process them and send neurons back. It is the first step toward making direct connections between technology and our brains.

If technology continues to progress down the lines that are currently being researched, our privacy could be under heavy attack in the next decade or so. Then again, our memories would be enhanced, our ability to connect with friends would be instantaneous and constant, and our learning abilities would grow by leaps and bounds.

With these new technologies come a whole host of questions and legal problems as well as social concerns. One of the most obvious questions is if we can record our daily lives constantly, how do companies protect their copyrights? If I buy a ticket and watch “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and record every moment of it, just like I do the rest of my life, am I infringing on a copyright? I would be able to review it as I wanted, so it appears so, but at the same time I will be highly unwilling to take my glasses off. And assuming that we move to the next step of it being implanted, there is no way that someone is going to convince me to remove it just so I can watch a movie.

One of the most important ideas that will come out of the revolution will be the ability for citizens to observe the government and corporations, just as they are observing us now. We will develop a new check and a new balance.

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