Monday, May 14, 2007

Charlie Stross is scaring the crap out of me

This is what happens when SF writers think too much:
Today, I can pick up about 1Gb of FLASH memory in a postage stamp sized card for that much money. fast-forward a decade and that'll be 100Gb. Two decades and we'll be up to 10Tb.

10Tb is an interesting number. That's a megabit for every second in a year — there are roughly 10 million seconds per year. That's enough to store a live DivX video stream — compressed a lot relative to a DVD, but the same overall resolution — of everything I look at for a year, including time I spend sleeping, or in the bathroom. Realistically, with multiplexing, it puts three or four video channels and a sound channel and other telemetry — a heart monitor, say, a running GPS/Galileo location signal, everything I type and every mouse event I send — onto that chip, while I'm awake. All the time. It's a life log; replay it and you've got a journal file for my life. Ten euros a year in 2027, or maybe a thousand euros a year in 2017. (Cheaper if we use those pesky rotating hard disks — it's actually about five thousand euros if we want to do this right now.)

Why would anyone want to do this?...

We may even end up being required to do this, by our employers or insurers — in many towns in the UK, it is impossible for shops to get insurance, a condition of doing business, without demonstrating that they have CCTV cameras in place. Having such a lifelog would certainly make things easier for teachers and social workers at risk of being maliciously accused by a student or client.

(There are also a whole bunch of very nasty drawbacks to this technology — I'll talk about some of them later, but right now I'd just like to note that it would fundamentally change our understanding of privacy...
No kidding. But for some reason, the eventuality that scares me is not the obvious one -- malicious laws passed by the state requiring you to document everything you do, see, or hear. Rather, I have this nightmare of some poor schmuck or schmuckette's significant other meeting with his or her ex-significant other, and downloading all the memories of every argument, every forgotten birthday or anniversary, and every unintentional slight. Worse yet, the idea of some kind of flickr-derivative, except instead of people swapping and publishing pictures, they're publishing their own memories. The kind of things ex-boyfriends will do to women in the future makes my hair curl just thinking about it...

If you'd like to watch an entirely mediocre and forgettable film along those lines, you can watch Strange Days with Ralph Fiennes.

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