I spent a fair amount of the weekend thinking through the review, though I’ll need a few more days to get a stable draft together. Then, after admiring it, I’ll let it set for a while, come back to it, and completely tear it apart.
Why it is that everything I write follows a trajectory from “complex and long” to “simple and short” is an enduring mystery to me. Why can’t I just go straight to simple and short? I know, partly it’s a function of the fact that writing isn’t just a matter of spraying words on the page, but a process in which you figure out what it is that you really are trying to say; still, you’d think it would be easier.
Something that occured to me this morning that connects Smart Mobs and Natural-Born Cyborgs with the CTS [Combat Zones That See] project is that all three are describing worlds that could be quite different from today’s, but not because of radically new technologies that have to be developed and rolled out into the world. All they require is putting together largely extant technologies and infrastructures, and tapping into existing practices.
For example, take recommendation systems. Individual recommendations systems track your behavior in a single environment (e.g., this online store, that online catalog), and could do some very interesting things if they shared their data with one another. A more compelling example is technology that gives already-embedded devices the ability to communicate with each other (e.g. the roadway and automobile, or cell phone and billboard). The problem is that this process of building up new, smart worlds by tapping into extant infrastructures is very similar to the process required to create something like CTS, or the technologies imagined by the Terrorist Information Awareness program (which, incidentally, faces a serious legislative challenge). As several people noted, the scary thing about CTS is how it could be done with off-the-shelf hardware.
People argue about Star Wars missile defense because it’s so hard. They argue about TIA because it’s so doable.
Weaving together existing technologies into new systems is deeply political activity, one in which the legal or policy implications should be vividly clear. (It’s one thing for me to be able to record and recall my whole life; it’s another for an agency or company, using a technology life LifeLog, to be able to do it.) And, conversely, the kinds of policy and privacy rules we build around mobile technologies, recommendation systems, collaborative filtering tools, and the like, will strongly affect how those systems work, and for whom. As Larry Lessig puts it, code is law. The reverse is also true.