Friday, October 28, 2011

Eye in the Sky

In a recent story, the Times’ John Markoff described the creation of a fully automated data base which some weird sounding government agencies are supporting(“'Government Aims to Build A "Data Eye In the Sky'” NYT, 10/10/11). Markoff pointed out that Isaac Asimov had anticipated this kind of collaboration between "mathematics and psychology to predict the future" when he coined the term “psychohistory” in his Foundation series back in l951. The term “cyberspace" emanated from William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the concept of the web was prefigured in Samuel Delaney’s novels so we shouldn’t be surprised at Asimov’s prescience. Markoff quotes someone named Thomas Malone, identified as director of the Center for Collective Intelligence at M.I.T. and  mentions Intelligence Advanced  Research Projects Activity or Iarpa, “part of the office of the director of national intelligence.”  Does this sound like something to worry about? Is such tech speak tantamount to the 'banality of evil'?  Should we be assured when we’re told that this system would be fully automated?  Is there such a thing a value free data collection? “The automated data collection system is to focus on patterns of communication, consumption, and movement of populations,” Markoff reported. “It will use publicly accessible data,  including Web search queries, blog entries, Internet traffic flow, financial market indicators, traffic web cams and changes in Wikipedia entries.” There has always been a certain ambiguity about Big Brother? Was Orwell referring to a human entity or a  collective consciousness? Even Wikipedia, which puts forth the dichotomy, can't seem to decide. Was he anticipating some sort of artificial and transcendent intelligence, resulting from the kind of “data eye in the sky” that is being talked about—a more evolved form of the military industrial complex that we might term the academic/intelligence complex?  Or was he simply envisioning the E-Z pass?

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