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Eek, I turned Dad into a Robot!

by leet


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Ahhh Christmas, the season of goodwill, overindulgence and rubbish presents is over for another year and we grimly look forward to austerity January…and February, possibly March. This spending contest gets more absurd every year: ”she spends about £50 on me, so I need to spend at least that much on her”.

Faced with the annual puzzler of what to buy dad, I was given some rare inspiration this year. The one-fingered typer and smartphone squinter has become a bit of a geek in his older age. He is also a Daily Mail reader, so constantly lives in fear of pretty much everything. Therefore I turned to new-fangled wearable tech, purchasing a reasonably priced wristband that cleverly tracks his every move.

Being Android-based, the install actually worked and didn’t eat up all the available memory on his phone (sarcasm really is the lowest form of wit). As we progressed through the festivities, dad started to buzz, bleep and flash like a greying Metal Mickey. With a worthy stream of data and prompts, I am sure his health-related behaviours will improve. If he does even 5% more exercise than beforehand, surely that is a good thing, right?

After another night on the cheese and vino tinto, I had a nightmare (as per the old wives tale) that basically cast me as the son who sold his old man’s soul to the devil…or the manufacturer of generic fitness tracking devices in this case. The thought persisted into the daylight hours. Basically, some organisation in a foreign land now knows who my dad is, where he goes and how long he sleeps. Don’t they tag offenders in the same way?!

I then had a ‘1984 moment’ and have since begun to wonder where this will end. As in Orwell’s dystopia, perhaps these devices are becoming the equivalent of Big Brothers’ Telescreen. I now appreciate why people have fought for the right to be anonymous in the eyes of the internet.

It is well known that governments and large corporations have long-since mastered the art of behavioural conditioning, metaphysics and advanced neuroscience. The subconscious mind overcomes conscious and logical thought, which essentially means we do what we are told. In this light, the collection of data through social networks and personal technology becomes incredibly powerful. This is serious stuff and not in the same league as the far-fetched Matrix trilogy. Oh no, it is far more subliminal and one starts to wonder whether we have genuine ‘free will’. Of course, the ‘keepers of the keys’ are governments and they can be trusted to protect our privacy can’t they?

Christmases will come and go. Our smart watches will become smart chips or even smart socks (?). We present more data to organisations with vested interests who then use this to make us do what they want us to. At its simplest, that may be buying more of their product. More sinisterly, it could go well beyond what brand of toothpaste we throw in the trolley on a Friday big shop.

Of course, all this may be absolute bunkum, but it did give me a great conversation piece to recant at the mantelpiece. One friend was lapping it up and even suggested that by 2060, we will all be paying tax and drawing services from the state based on our personal data. If you smoke 20 fags a day, your health tax premium goes up by 40%. Every mile you drive will be charged at 15 Googlars (allowing for inflation and the implementation of a world currency because we were told it was a good thing). Actually, that isn’t a bad idea!

Basically, I regret turning dad into a robot and do think the discussion goes beyond conspiracy theory. There is a very real danger that data and its abuse will become the biggest risk to humankind, and, here’s the killer, we won’t even know anything about it.

Think on when you are next asked to allow access to your data. How could this be used? The right to privacy and free will is worth fighting for.

by leet on 06/01/2015

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