October 12, 2011
The awesome thing about science fiction is that it can show us a world of possibilities both mundane and extraordinary. The scary thing about science fiction is when a part of it actually comes true, but it’s not a part we really wanted.
Remember in Minority Report when the cops used a machine connected to psychics in order to predict when murders would occur? Seemed all fantastic and futurey, right?
As it turns out, not so much.
Our government has mined the internet for data for some time. Think Eagle Eye sans Julianne Moore and insane computers. Looking for key words and patterns in social media is not that outrageous, although Big Brother looking over your shoulder and flagging you because you were talking about the news and happened to mention “bomb,” “President,” and “kill” probably got on some peoples’ nerves. However, the Department of Homeland Security is moving on the road to complete thought police by testing out a new piece of technology.
It’s called Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), and boy is it neat-o. It does the same thing as mining the internet for data, but hey! This one goes right to the source and looks at things such as video, audio, heart rate, breathing, and even facial expressions. Homeland Security claims its non-intrusive, but it doesn’t get more intrusive that having a piece of government hardware looking at my pores and trying to guess if that twitch is because I’m nervous for hiding something or because I had a bean burrito and I’m holding a fart in.
Proponents of the new technology cite the well-worn scenario of a bomber entering a stadium, or a terrorist getting through airport security. Would you want little Billy and Susie to die because we didn’t catch this guy? Of course not, but if the government had the ability to monitor our physiological signs and try to guess if we would commit a crime, would you really want that technology applied to you? And don’t say that it’ll be only for terrorists, because as soon as the government can monitor someone, EVERYONE is up for grabs.
Here’s a fun game. If you’re on a phone and you hear a light click, that’s Homeland Security tapping the line. I’m not making that up. I’ve got friends in the department that can validate that. They even get THEIR calls tapped once in a while.
Look, I get it. It’s a scary world. There are people out there who have no qualms about killing themselves or women and children and puppies. I’m not blind to that, but if FAST works, it will give the government a tool to try and guess who will commit a crime.
And what will they do then?
Let’s say we do use this to catch a guy with a Semtex vest trying to sneak into a ballpark. Law enforcement gets him, saves the day, and the game resumes. Wonderful. Now let’s say little Johnny has a bad day because he burned his mouth on his Starbucks double mocha venti latte alfredo sauce coffee, and he’s in a bad mood. He walks into work not the least bit ready to deal with anyone’s crap, and the system flags him for harboring violent thoughts.
What then? Hold him until we find out what he was GOING to do? There are any number of ethical concerns with punishing someone who has done nothing. By simply predicting the future, we change it. If you told me that I was going to give a really bad presentation because I didn’t get enough sleep or I would be crabby because I would then lock my keys in my car, I would take steps to prevent those things from happening.
When you predict, you alter the series of events leading up to the prophesized moment. How can you possibly punish someone for future deeds? Granted, if I was driving around with a trunk-load of pipe bombs, the cops might have something to charge me with, but you cannot prosecute people who have done nothing. It’s a violation of privacy and an insane idea.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wait for the nice men in black SUVs to get here. I hear Guantanamo is lovely this time of year. In the meantime, please enjoy this video of the first trailer for The Avengers. Get excited!