Not So Sci-Fi: 12 Real Tech Innovations That Are Actually Pretty Creepy
By SA Rogers, Web Urbanist, 9 March 2017.
By SA Rogers, Web Urbanist, 9 March 2017.
Not so long ago, we made horror movies about invasive technology that was theoretical at the time, like RoboCop, Christine, Demon Seed and Videodrome. The 2002 sci-fi film Minority Report seemed far-out at the time, but accurately predicted a lot of today’s tech - and its drawbacks. Yet in 2017, most of us shrug our shoulders at surveillance and data mining, because if we aren’t committing crimes, who cares about our inconsequential little lives? Technology has a lot to offer humanity - including the potential to save us from ourselves - but as each new advancement becomes mundane, what are we giving up in return? Indulge your inner conspiracy theorist, if you will, and take a moment to examine how things like insect-sized drones, robotic police and even smart beds can go wrong.
1. Insect Drones Bug Your Home
Theoretically, bee drones could prolong the future of humanity after we’ve killed off real bees, continuing to pollinate the crops we rely on for survival. That’s definitely a plus. This ‘Plan Bee’ design is just one of several prototypes recently proposed to deal with the problem we’ve created, detecting flowers using ultraviolet light. It’s a great - and sad - idea, but do we really want to grow accustomed to insect-sized drones buzzing around in the air?
Engineers have already produced tiny robotic bugs, like these produced by the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, added cameras to them, and sold them to the government for testing. They’re small enough to fly through open windows, and it’s not too far-fetched to imagine them becoming advanced enough to pass as real insects while in flight.
2. Facial Recognition Smart Phone Apps
A new facial recognition app called NameTag lets you surreptitiously scan your date’s face (just pretend like you’re checking a text and hold your phone between you while seated at a table) and compare it with dating and social media profiles on sites like OkCupid, Facebook and LinkedIn. The value in this is supposed to be in knowing exactly who you’re interacting with and instantly discover what you have in common. NameTag will also scan sex offender registries. It’s undeniably Black Mirror-esque (season 3, episode 1, anyone?), enabling random strangers to do the kind of background checks that employers already perform. It’s a stalker’s dream.
3. Real Life RoboCop
Imagine this five-foot-tall, 300-pound robot silently zooming toward you in a dark parking garage, fixing its camera lens eye on your face. The K5 Security Robot by Knightscope is designed to detect anomalous behavior, like someone walking through a closed building at night. This particular design uses sensors, cameras and navigation equipment to notify a remote security center of potential threats.
If bots like these became widespread, how long would it be before they’re equipped with facial recognition software and even weapons like tasers? Check out the K5’s ominous website.
4. Smart TV Surveillance
Yes, your laptop camera can be hacked and remotely activated without you knowing. Wikileaks recently revealed that the CIA remotely turns on cameras and microphones on all kinds of devices to spy on citizens. It’s not just a theory, it’s happening. For example, a tool called ‘Weeping Angel’ exploits a technological loophole in Samsung Smart TVs to place the target television in ‘fake-off’ mode, recording conversations in the room and sending them to a covert CIA server via Wi-Fi. Do you really think the agency is only targeting suspected terrorists who just happen to own a Samsung? (FYI, if you own one yourself, here’s how to disable the feature that allows your TV to listen to you.)
5. Snitching Self-Driving Cars
In Minority Report, Tom Cruise’s character gets into an autonomous vehicle that immediately starts re-routing him to the nearest police station. When you don’t have control over where you’re going, what’s to stop your own car from trying to apprehend you and deliver you to law enforcement for something like failing to pay a bill? When biometrics and autonomous cars meet, this scenario becomes possible. A recent ride-sharing concept from IDEO featuring a transparent roof and halo-like extensions that hover over passengers’ heads suddenly takes on an ominous tone when you go down this path of thinking.
6. Smart Beds That Can Tell When You’re Deep Asleep
The new Sleep Number bed does more than just prop up your head and inflate an inner chamber to just the right firmness for your comfort. Using a variety of built-in sensors, the smart bed assesses how well you’re sleeping, giving you a ‘sleep score’ in the morning that tells you how much time you spent in bed, what time you fell asleep, and exactly when you were restless or got out of bed. That’s pretty valuable information for thieves who would love nothing more than to know exactly when you’re too conked to notice that they’ve entered your home.
7. Lie Detector Tattoos
Google has applied for a patent to develop a noise-dampening throat ‘tattoo’ implanted into your skin, ostensibly to reduce background noise on the other end of the line when you’re on the phone. Nope, nothing wrong with that at all. Especially once you read the entire proposal and realize that the tattoo can not only electronically alter and reproduce your voice, but detect when you’re lying. Seriously. (Image via Wikimedia Commons.)
8. Remote Fingerprint Scanners
A company called IDair has developed a system that can scan and identify a fingerprint from nearly 20 feet away, potentially allowing security systems to grant or deny access without going near the subject. The primary customer is currently the military, but a chain of gyms is already testing the system, and it could be applied to government buildings, schools and homes in the future. The basic scanner is surprisingly affordable at under US$2,000, so its potential to be widely adopted is high.
9. Predictive Analytics: Companies Know You Better Than You Know Yourself
How often have you taken a ‘fun’ quiz linked by a friend on Facebook, where it asks you all sorts of invasive questions about your personality and habits? Ever wonder where that data goes? Such quizzes are just one of many ways in which companies like Cambridge Analytica (where Steve Bannon is a board member) have acquired up to 5,000 data points on you, me and everyone we know. Every website you look at, everything you ‘like’ on Facebook, everything you buy or watch online is noted and used to create a consumer profile packed with more information about you than you know about yourself. This data can then be used for ‘predictive analytics,’ helping companies guess your actions before you perform them. That means they can use subtle psychological tricks to convince you to purchase a product, for example - or perhaps even influence your vote.
10. Smart Clothing: Gauging Your Emotions
Smart clothing ostensibly tracks our health through fitness, sleep and other biometric measurements or offering a fun gimmick, like this ‘True Love Tester’ bra that detects the wearer’s heart rate. Many tech experts have predicted wearables to be the future of smart devices, taking the place of smart phones. The idea of clothing that can light up, dry itself off, react to air pollution or warn us if we’re exhibiting signs of illness is undeniably cool - imagine a dress that sets off an alarm when someone invades your personal space, for instance. But the question, as usual, is what other humans could do with this data gathered directly from your body. Do you really want government agencies and corporate entities to be able to sense your emotions in real time? That’s Minority Report-style ‘pre-crime’ waiting to happen, especially in places like airports.
11. Smart Homes: Manufacturer Goes Under, Houses Get Bricked
Smart homes - wherein your locks, lights, blinds, Wi-Fi, appliances and more are electronically controlled - are rife with opportunities for horror movie scripts. Even beyond the fear that artificial intelligence could turn on us, there’s the fact that these systems can be hacked. But there are other worst-case scenarios that have already taken place in real life, like the fact that when a smart home company goes under, it could render your entire home totally unusable. When smart home hub Revolv was purchased by Google-owned Nest in 2014, for example, all of the tech it had previously produced became obsolete. While the company gave its customers plenty of time to transition to something new, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for future shutdowns to happen so quickly, customers get locked out of their homes.
Then there’s this electronic house nanny, dubbed “the universal monitoring solution,” which bridges the space between connected homes and smart devices to introduce the ‘internet of things’ into more people’s daily lives. It’s called ‘Mother.’ As in, what Mike Pence calls his wife. Isn’t that ominous enough?
12. Digital Data: Our Entire Era Could Be Erased
Will this entire period of history be erased with the corruption of data? It may seem like electronic data is safer from deterioration than physical materials, but even once you get beyond the problem of obsolescence, there’s the fact that no data is immune to bit rot. Over the years, no matter what kind of media it’s stored on, data decays. It only takes a tiny bit of rot to ruin an entire file and make it unreadable. For example, NASA already lost some data from its earliest moon missions. You might think the solution to that problem is to back it up by printing everything out, but our modern data systems increasingly rely on the ability of computers to crunch massive amounts of data at once in real time. Will future humans, should they still exist by then, miss out on the entirely of the early 21st century?
Top image: Driverless, automated vehicles with rotating passenger compartments from the movie Minority Report. Credit: tokamac78/YouTube.
[Source: Web Urbanist. Edited. Some links added.]