Technology often advances more quickly than our society’s ability to deal with the ramifications of technology.
For example, President Eisenhower’s effort to improve our national defense via construction of a high-speed interstate highway system led to a number of unintended consequences, including the devastation of city downtown areas that were now being bypassed by travelers.
There are numerous other examples.
The previously unknown consequences of biometric technology
One way in which technology has outpaced society is by developing tools that unintentionally threaten individual privacy. For Bredemarket clients and potential clients, one relevant example of this is the ability to apply biometric technologies to previously recorded photographic, video, and audio content. (I won’t deal with real-time here.)
Hey, remember that time in 1969 that you were walking around in a Ku Klux Klan costume and one of your fraternity buddies took a picture of you? Back then you and your buddy had no idea that in future decades someone could capture a digital copy of that picture and share it with millions of people, and that one of those millions of people could use facial recognition software to compare the face in the picture with a known image of your face, and positively determine that you were the person parading around like a Grand Wizard.
Of course, there are also positive applications of biometric technology on older material. Perhaps biometrics could be used to identify an adoptee’s natural birth mother from an old picture. Or biometrics could be used to identify that a missing person was present in a train station on September 8, 2021 in the company of another (identified) person.
But regardless of the positive or negative use case, biometric identification provides us with unequalled capability to identify people who were previously recorded. Something that couldn’t have been imagined years and years ago.
Well, it couldn’t have been imagined by most of us, anyway.
Enter Carl Sagan (courtesy Elena’s Short Wisdom)
As a WordPress user (this blog and the Bredemarket website are hosted on WordPress), I subscribe to a number of other WordPress blogs. One of these blogs is Short Wisdom, authored by Elena. Her purpose is to collect short quotes from others that succinctly encapsulate essential truths.
Normally these quotes are of the inspirational variety, but Elena posted something today that applies to those of us concerned with technology and privacy.
This is a quote from Carl Sagan.
“Might it be possible at some future time, when neurophysiology has advanced substantially, to reconstruct the memories or insight of someone long dead?…It would be the ultimate breach of privacy.”
The quote is taken from Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science, originally published in 1979.
The future is not now…yet
Obviously such technology did not exist in 1979, and doesn’t exist in 2021 either.
Even biometric identification of living people via “brain wave” biometrics isn’t substantively verified to any large degree; last month’s study only included 15 people. Big whoop.
But it’s certainly possible that this ability to reconstruct the memories and insights of the deceased could exist at some future date. Some preliminary work has already been done in this area.
If this technology ever becomes viable and the memories of the dead can be accessed, then the privacy advocates will REALLY howl.
And the already-deceased privacy advocates will be able to contribute to the conversation. Perhaps Carl Sagan himself will posthumously share some thoughts on the ongoing NIST FRVT results.
He can even use technology to sing about the results.