Category Archives: Surveillance

Will Technology of the Future destroy our relationships?

Photo credit: gurkan.ozsoy via / CC BY-NC-SA

A TED talk by Siri co-creator Tom Gruber on the affects of artificial intelligence on our work, memory, and social relationships shows promising impact on edging closer and closer to flawless design, making the world around us safer and more efficient. Gruber cites AI’s potential in contributing to a 99.5 percent accuracy rate in diagnosing cancer, an incredible medical feat. But when considering human memory, what will access to accurate recordings of our interactions mean for our social relationships?

The human condition is that our memories fade and are flawed. Augmented Reality tools have the potential to help us remember events exactly as they happened, giving us the ability to pore over them and access them at will. And that’s also a problem. Our memories are flawed for a reason. We all know the phrase, “to forgive and forget”. We reframe our experiences all the time. It’s an important part in mending our relationships when someone has done us wrong. Have a heated argument with a good friend or family member? Maybe their tone wasn’t as harsh as first detected, and could I have over-reacted?

Microsoft’s Gordon Bell is probably the earliest researcher helping us look at evolving issues around perfect memory in his project MylifeBits. The project was meant to be an exploration into paperless archiving and access to one’s own personal information, but raises several issues related to memory loss including how future technology can assist those suffering neural impairment or Alzheimer’s.

The TV series Black Mirror explores the impact of an unwavering Augmented Reality assisted memory in the episode, The Entire History of You, showcasing dire consequences for one couple. The show is known for taking a look at the darker side of a technologically infused society. Still, it raises some valuable questions we need to ponder.

How will our very own personal big brother change the way we interact with one another? Our ability to be honesty with one another? How we speak to one another? Our ability to get close and form intimate and meaningful relationships with others?

Big Brother in our Schools

Courtesy of Nighted, Deviant Art
Courtesy of Nighted, Deviant Art

Did you know that all schools providing registered childcare in the UK use a Canadian-made Internet filtering system to deter children from becoming terrorists?

Good grief. Kindergarteners are plotting terrorist activities? How they fit all that in between fingerpainting, learning to count to 100, and taking naps, I’ll never know.  Sound a little extreme to be true? Check the news release on Waterloo-based Netsweeper’s own website. Thank goodness we haven’t gone over the edge of paranoia in our schools here in Canada.

According to the Cambridge Times, that same company, Netsweeper has offered “free” internet filtering to the Waterloo Region District School Board on a trial basis. This comes on the heels of a request by school trustees including Cindy Watson, Natalie Waddell, and Kathi Smith to hire “experts” in Internet filtering after one Cambridge couple complained their child had seen pornographic content at school. While I sympathize with the parents, I believe we may be treading in dangerous waters here.

Netsweeper is the same company Toronto’s CitizenLab discovered in 2011 to be blocking sites in Pakistan. Waterloo-based Netsweeper was hired by the Pakistani government  in an effort to block any sites that would seem blasphemous to a muslim-majority, as well as those featuring political discourse, and the news outlet CNN.

Normalizing surveillance in society leads to the eventual acceptance of blocking freedom of information and freedom of speech. That’s a direct hit to democracy.  Am I over-reacting? Well, that’s why I started this post with the story about the terrorist plotting kindergarten kids in the UK! You see, this is how it all starts. Yes, filtering pornographic and racist material makes sense. Of course we want to protect our children. But, we need to consider how best to do that while being cognizant of the short and long-term effects and trade-offs.

There’s always a cost involved when hiring “Internet filtering experts”. Besides the high potential for computer algorithms to inadvertently block perfectly innocuous material and affect access and freedom of information, companies never give anything away for free. We need to consider our children’s privacy as many of these companies are in the business of data mining, especially if offering free services.

So, what’s the practical way to deal with censorship and surveillance for the sake of our children? With 571 websites created every single minute on the Internet, harmful sites are bound to slip through the best content filtering algorithms. That’s why WRDSB teachers use a user-based monitoring system called School Connect where they are able to monitor students’ screens in their classroom. There’s nothing better than this. Teachers act not just as filters intercepting inappropriate content, but as guides and educators, they are able to interject and have a discussion with students about content. This is what we call “education” and “media literacy”.

Is it any wonder the Board has delayed its decision on stricter Internet filters? They’ve got a lot to ponder.