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Big Brother is Coming

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Do I Recognize You? Glen Goleburn

G-Squared Productions $10.99


he proposition cloaked for a change in a 230-page novel is this: “Big Brother is cyberspace”. The expanded title could have been: Artifi cial Intelligence Meets Biometrics In a ‘Deal with the Devil’. What follows is fi ction, science fi ction, in the Asimov rather than Star Trek vein. This is a depiction of the new world, born after the Mayan-predicted destruction of 2012. And, “life as we know it will be different”. In this novel, Kevin, Charles & [Face] Recognition Sales, Inc. [RSI], are aspiring to join the ranks of Google, Facebook, et al, in a meteoric rise-to-the-top tale, like that of two Steves in a garage, but which goes dreadfully awry instead. When and where did ethics fall off the planet? In 2012?

The book is very graphically written (no, not in that sense), and at times repetitive, overdoing and drawing out details. The author creates sympathetic characters in increasingly desperate situations. I hardly got through the foreword before a sequel was already being invoked! When will it become a TV mini-series? I suggest Justin Long (of ‘the Mac Guy’ fame) plays Zach, one of the book’s primary characters. The plot in a nutshell? A hodgepodge of greed, crime, assassinations, forensic accounting, skullduggery, family pain and suffering…echoes of Dr. Kimble (alright, the hero hasn’t got his PhD, yet), the Bourne series, Enemy of the State, and Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, with a bit of The Da


Vinci Code thrown in for good measure, plus a pinch of Paul Revere patriotism to round off the recipe. If as the book’s villain claims, “people got sick of the online experience” (pretty doubtful, considering how well the sector is doing), then they are in for a far greater shock with what RSI purveys: Matchmaking for products/services, not (soul) mates. “Manipulated by the salespeople” is a telling – perhaps damning – description of what is going on here. More euphemistically excused, in the novel, as: “Guiding customer decisions for more effi cient use of their shopping time!”

The book begs the question: Which is the better imperative? Information sharing for retailers (and thereby, ultimately, governments) to maximize profi ts? Or compartmentalized information to maintain some degree of privacy, a reversible component of security, as I have advocated previously in these pages? The book’s priceless gem is a store clerk

offering Zach “permanent opt out of point of sales (harassment) for $5”. Akin to my bank asking for (more) money so as to confi rm that my mortgage with them has been liquidated. Yes, information (I fi nd continued general use of ‘data’ totally outmoded) can, and is, being amassed ad infi nitum, then exploited by machines, or rather applications conceived by humans.

Be predictive – take risk out of the equation. But surely, it is impossible for a minute fraction among 7 billion people to ‘monitor’, and potentially ‘steer’ individuals, groups, communities, let alone whole populations? Nevertheless, fashion and pop music have been successfully doing just that for several decades with great ease and benefi t. What has happened is that the container has become more important than the content. While RSI concentrates on the exterior, it can make mistakes by not being able to suffi ciently differentiate the interior. The presumption is that PII ‘left’ at each transaction can be liberally (sic) aggregated across retailers, precisely what the data protection laws in an increasing number of jurisdictions are meant to prevent.

When, and if, such a ‘surveillance’ system reaches RSI’s level of sophistication, why on Earth would I still even need a credit/charge card, or cash altogether? As the book’s climax approaches, it’s “time to fi ght fi re with fi re”. Who better than our hero to sum it up in such an excellent way: “Don’t rely completely on advancing computer technology. Be vigilant to the inherent risks of artifi cial intelligence-based systems, and maintain adequate and ethical human oversight [oh, that dreadful word]”. P.S: In case of a reprint, please fi x “climb up the latter” (sic) on p125.

May/June 2012

Reviewed by: Hugh Penri-Williams

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