So, um…Can you make me a Cyborg?

November 19, 2008

Puzzlehead screen cap

 

San Francisco artist Tina Vlach, who lost her left eye in an accident, is now seeking a Webcam for her prosthetic eye. Tina starts off her post with a Donna J. Haraway quote:

 

“A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”

 

In an interview with the Washington Post, Tina states:

 

“There have been all sorts of cyborgs in science fiction for a long time, and I’m sort of a sci-fi geek. With the advancement of technology, I thought, ‘Why not?’”

 

BBC News

Why not indeed. Donna Haraway’s quote is especially pertinent here in that she is taking social constructions in reality and fiction to inform and potentially shape future advances in the real world. And truly, considering the advances we’ve seen in prosthetic limbs recently, perhaps this is not so far fetched. Just today we’ve heard that the researchers have developed micro-needle array sensors in tungsten carbide, which are around the size of a matchstick head, that will help amputees move artificial limbs with brain power.

 

And I do love the merging of social software concepts with post-human advances – now we have a call to arms from a needy person looking to have a functional eye again, who is using the latest advances in world communication technologies to put a call to arms to the engineering community. Tina is in essence looking for an augmented reality eye implant to give her a different set of sensory input that was not possible with her real eye.

My favorite part of her post though are the requirements specs:

 

Specifications: (I just put this together from the research I’ve done about miniature video cameras.)

* DVR
* MPEG-4? Recording
* Built in SD mini Card Slot
* 4 GB SD mini Card
* Mini A/V out
* Firewire / USB drive
* Optical 3X
* Remote trigger
* Bluetooth wireless method
* Inductors: (Firewire/USB, power source)

External Mobile Application:

* Acts as remote
* Power source
* Feed

Other Advanced options:

* Wireless charger
* Sensors that respond to blinking enabling camera to take still photos, zoom, focus, and turn on and off.
* Dilating pupil with change of light.
* Infrared / Ultraviolet

 

Um, yeah – lets definitely work on the wireless charger requirement! That solves the need to remove the eye, or to have one of those annoying cords attached to your eye! And in looking at the quality and breadth of the responses to her post, its clear she has motivated a large community of engineers to start working on this problem. Here’s to hoping Tina finds a solution – one which will aid everyone else in her situation.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living by SFAM.

Your future is in the (RFID) chips.

January 27, 2008

Chips, chips everywhere… anybody bring salsa? Wired posted this piece from the Associated Press about the possible (mis)uses of the burgeoning spychips.
Todd Lewan, AP National Writer:

-Microchips with antennas will be embedded in virtually everything you buy, wear, drive and read, allowing retailers and law enforcement to track consumer items – and, by extension, consumers – wherever they go, from a distance.

Some people may welcome the “conveniences” that these RFID tags may offer, but those “conveniences” come at a price… a loss of privacy.

With tags in so many objects, relaying information to databases that can be linked to credit and bank cards, almost no aspect of life may soon be safe from the prying eyes of corporations and governments, says Mark Rasch, former head of the computer-crime unit of the U.S. Justice Department.

By placing sniffers in strategic areas, companies can invisibly “rifle through people’s pockets, purses, suitcases, briefcases, luggage – and possibly their kitchens and bedrooms – anytime of the day or night,” says Rasch, now managing director of technology at FTI Consulting Inc., a Baltimore-based company.

RFID

Tag! You’re screwed. Companies, primarily retailers and manufacturers, are looking to use the chips for inventory control. They don’t have the personal information like the buyer’s name, but can be connected after purchase and the the personal information can be accessed and used… or abused.

Several companies have been granted patents for various RFID tag systems, and while they claim they’re not being used to track people, details of the patents say otherwise:

In 2006, IBM received patent approval for an invention it called, “Identification and tracking of persons using RFID-tagged items.” One stated purpose: To collect information about people that could be “used to monitor the movement of the person through the store or other areas.”

Once somebody enters a store, a sniffer “scans all identifiable RFID tags carried on the person,” and correlates the tag information with sales records to determine the individual’s “exact identity.” A device known as a “person tracking unit” then assigns a tracking number to the shopper “to monitor the movement of the person through the store or other areas.”

Another patent, obtained in 2003 by NCR Corp., details how camouflaged sensors and cameras would record customers’ wanderings through a store, film their facial expressions at displays, and time – to the second – how long shoppers hold and study items.

Why? Such monitoring “allows one to draw valuable inferences about the behavior of large numbers of shoppers,” the patent states.

Then there’s a 2001 patent application by Procter & Gamble, “Systems and methods for tracking consumers in a store environment.” This one lays out an idea to use heat sensors to track and record “where a consumer is looking, i.e., which way she is facing, whether she is bending over or crouching down to look at a lower shelf.”

In the marketing world of today, she says, “data on individual consumers is gold, and the only thing preventing these companies from abusing technologies like RFID to get at that gold is public scrutiny.”

Perhaps the most telling statement was made by a person being surveyed about RFID use:

“Where money is to be made the privacy of the individual will be compromised.”

 

The next step down the slippery slope. Currently, it costs seven to fifteen cents to tag something, limiting their use to pallets and cases. But it may not be long before people wind up being tagged, mostly by their clothes:

So, how long will it be before you find an RFID tag in your underwear? The industry isn’t saying, but some analysts speculate that within a decade tag costs may dip below a penny, the threshold at which nearly everything could be chipped.

Everything… including people. Will we be forced to have our children tagged, in the womb? Will the chip-happiness of these companies cause a major surge in faraday clothing, clothing designed to block RFID radio waves?

Hopefully, we will never come to human tagging… except for those who need to be tracked. Even better would be that those companies that have leveraged their futures on RFID will crash and burn as anti-RFID backlash cost them. Until then, you might want to start investing in a faraday wardrobe… just in case.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Wired Magazine Issue 15.12: Welcome to The Age of Genomics.

November 19, 2007

dna.jpg

DNA – The organic database that makes life possible. Have you ever wondered what your DNA says about you?

Wired Magazine’s website features several articles from the December 2007 issue about the new era of genome research: Genomics. The feature story is about the company 23andMe who will decode your genes for $1,000 US. Here’s the link to 23andMe’s site.

In addition, Wired has several related articles including a genome timeline, information about the writer’s genome, an open-source genetic engineering kit in development, and news of a genetic non-discrimination bill.

 

A closer look at yourself. Really. The process sounds simple enough: Order a sample kit, spit into the vial, send it back, they scan it, calculate your genetic risk factors, and they’ll let you log into their site to see what they’ve found. It makes for an interesting way to discover what your chromosomes say about what you are… and what may happen to you in the future. Currently, the cost and technology only gives you a strategic genotyping scan of 500,000 of your 3 billion base-pairs, but the results can affect your future in ways you may not (yet) realize.

What cancers will you get? Will you succumb to Alzheimer’s? Are you resistant to AIDS, bird flu, or high cholesterol? How long will you live? Will you develop the ability to fart lasers? Are you a woman trapped in a man’s body?

linda-avey-anne-wojcicki.jpg

Linda Avey (L) and Anne Wojcicki, founders of 23andMe. Give them a k and they’ll scan your DNA.

These type of genetic questions are what the curious-about-themselves would like to answer. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones who would like to “know more about you.”

 

Enter the Health Gestapo… and Genetic Discrimination. The results of your genetic scan can be beneficial by creating specialized drugs that can work with your genes to make you healthy. There can be some not-so-beneficial problems arising from the results. Health insurance carriers may insist on having genotyping done before insuring someone… unless they are forced to pay for it, but what the insurers can save by not insuring “genetically defective” people can offset those costs.

That can lead to the problem of genetic discrimination, the segregation of people due their genotypes. Imagine entire populations being denied health care because of “bad genes,” only allowing those with “good genes” to grow healthy and strong and reproduce. [”Master Race” and Nazi genetic experiment reference goes here.] There is a genetic nondiscrimination bill in Congress to prevent such crap, but it is being held up in Senate by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahama) who claims it leaves employers vulnerable to liability:

An internal memo obtained Thursday from Coburn’s office said the senator’s make-or-break objection was the possibility that an employer who provides health insurance for its workers could be sued both as an insurer and as an employer. That means employers could be hit for much higher damages than insurers.

Another major problem: What if your genetic information falls into the wrong hands? Could they use that information against you? After all, DNA can be described as very personal information:

Wojcicki (one of the founders of 23andMe) is onto something when she describes our genome as simply information. Already, we calibrate our health status in any number of ways, every day. We go to the drugstore and buy an HIV test or a pregnancy test. We take our blood pressure, track our cholesterol, count our calories. Our genome is now just one more metric at our disposal. It is one more factor revealed, an instrument suddenly within reach that can help us examine, and perhaps improve, our lives.

Unfortunately, Google and Microsoft want that metric in their databases as they are now competing in tracing your medical history… and genome. 23andMe is partially funded by Google, who invested some $3.9 million for the start-up. In case you haven’t heard, Google was reported as having “comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy.”

 

How to trade your bad genes for good ones. From the Wired article Genetic-Engineering Competitors Create Modular DNA Dev Kit:

College and high school students are helping MIT scientists develop an open source development kit for biological systems that could do for cells what Linux has done for computers.

As part of the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last week, Peking University students created tiny assembly lines out of bacteria. Their entry, “Towards a Self-Differentiated Bacterial Assembly Line,” won them the grand prize among 50 teams from around the world.

The idea is to create “genetic Legos” that can be used to crate chemicals, but this could be easily adapted for “human genetic improvement.” Being open source, it certainly sounds like a viable alternative to black-market genetic engineers to correct your genetic defects. That may happen if genetic discrimination becomes reality, as people will look to correct the “genetic defects” discovered in their genotype.

 

More twisted than a double-helix. This is the kind of stuff that could give one fits. Some may never go down that road unless they’re forced kicking and screaming. Some will go willingly, only to be scared shitless by their results and hole themselves up in a bunker for the rest of their lives afraid of fulfilling their “genetic destiny.” Others may try to change that destiny.

Go go down that road, though, you will need to pay the toll. One grand, please…

This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

It’s 2020. Do you know where your privacy went?

September 12, 2007

allseeingeye.jpg

How will you be tracked, monitored, and surveyed in thirteen years? One man gives his predictions on the marketing zine-site DMNews. While these predictions are meant more for “direct marketing” purposes, it wouldn’t take much to turn them into spy tools for Big Brother.

Washington-based privacy and information policy consultant Robert Gellman looks into his crystal ball and gives these predictions on future surveillance and possible consequences:

 

Auto tracking. Every car will be required to have a transponder, and automated highway readers will record all trips. The transponders will allow agencies to monitor driving habits and to issue electronic tickets for violations. The system will collect fees for using congested roads, replace parking meters and prevent undesirable people from driving in certain areas. For example, pedophiles will not be permitted to drive near schools. Driving with a malfunctioning transponder will be illegal. A black market will emerge in cars registered to “clean” or dead individuals.

Sounds like an evil E-ZPass, doesn’t it? Think I’ll take the bus… or get some “accessories” for my car like a black market transponder, machine guns, smoke screens, anti-aircraft missiles… :twisted:

 

Very personalized PCs. Every computer will have a static IP address. No one will be able to operate a computer without registering through a token, fingerprint or other identification device. All e-mail will be stored permanently, and records of other network activity, including searching and transactions, will also be retained. Stolen computers will be a hot black market item for criminals who will use them to avoid accountability for online actions.

Static IP addresses for PCs should make it easy for someone to trace where you are… unless you use an onion router or Tor, preferably one that isn’t easily defeated by traffic or timing analysis, or compromised by “security analysts.” Biometric login devices will be a safe way to access your system, until someone chops off a finger or digs one of your eyes out to defeat it. Don’t worry too much about the retention of e-mails and activities; Companies may not want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for more storage until terabyte drives become affordable. As for the black market computers, go with something relatively low-end, cheap, and disposable. You don’t want to spend too much on a system that you may only get to use once.

 

Mandatory MySpace. Every individual will be required to maintain a personal Web page with basic contact information accessible by the government and the public. People with out-of-date pages will be fined. An individual will be allowed to post minimal information for public use, but the government will demand more. Everyone will be required by law to have an active e-mail address. Official government notices will be sent by e-mail rather than by post.

Do we really want everyone on the net? It’s like driving; Some people should NEVER be allowed on the roads, real or virtual. They’ll just get in the fast lane and travel 25 when the limit is 65 and hold everyone up. Besides, can you see an Amish or Luddite webpage?

Also, people may not want to give much information out where perverts and telemarketers troll for people to harass. Then again, there’s nothing that says the information has to be 100% correct. :wink:

 

Society caught on tape. Surveillance cameras will be even more universal than they are today. You will not be able to walk down a street, enter a store, park in a garage, ride the subway, sit at your desk at work, open your front door or do anything else outside your home without being recorded.

Like that isn’t going on already. The big shock is quite a bit of surveillance is being done not by the government, but by the citizens themselves! That boy across the street with his RC car… it has a camera built into it, and his mother is watching him, and you, through her cell phone.

 

Penniless marketplace. Currency will disappear and all money will be electronic. Every transaction will be permanently tracked. Private money systems will develop using tokens, gold and other forms of intrinsic value. Paying in private money will work for some things, but prices for non-tracked activities will be double to cover the risks involved.

Guess Mr. Gellman hasn’t heard of “debit cards” yet. People who have checking accounts have them, they work almost like credit cards sans the high interest rates, they’re electronic, and transactions are tracked by your bank. Private money systems already exist as Warcraft players can attest to. But the idea of paying with “forms of intrinsic value,” to me that sounds like the Open Source community, where information is power and currency. 8)

 

Dog tags go digital. Identification chips implanted in the human body will be banned after some people are maimed or killed to obtain their chips. However, governments will promote the wearing of personal transponders so that scanners can identity each person within range. Personal transponders will first be touted as a safety program for children and then as a protection against terrorists. If your transponder does not work, you will be subject to arrest in any public space. Trafficking in transponders will be illegal, but widespread.

Mr. Gellman wrote his article the day before the reports of RFID chips causing cancer in lab rats. Personal transponders? Bad idea, unless you’re someone who works or plays in remote areas where rescuers need to find you fast. And if your transponder suddenly fails or runs out of battery juice, that automatically makes you a terrorist? Plus the possibility of cancer due to the radio waves they use…

 

Fast food goes under the table. The health and insurance industries will try to control costs by monitoring food purchases. They will begin by offering discounts to individuals who allow monitoring of their eating habits, but monitoring will eventually become mandatory. Separate checks will be universal in restaurants. Restaurants will prosper by putting fish on the menu, but will tell customers that the halibut is actually a hamburger. Eventually, insurers will audit restaurant food purchases to try to keep the reporting system honest. There will be a black market in unregistered junk food.

We’re already seeing a hostile takeover by “healthy foods,” surprisingly done voluntarily by restaurants and food manufacturers who are using “lower trans-fat oils” and making “zero carb, zero calorie, zero fat, zero salt, zero taste” foods. Next step: Everyone eats cardboard. MMMMMmmmmm….. cardboard. :p

 

Healthy living is a must. Government and private insurers will mandate that individuals agree to health treatments as a cost-saving measure. Computerized health records will be centrally reviewed to monitor compliance. If you don’t get a required treatment, your insurance will cost more or be cancelled, you will lose your job, your tax return will be audited and you will be labeled as unpatriotic. Digital health records will permit precise scoring of individual and family health risks. Each insured person and family will be individually rated and priced, even under employer-provided health insurance policies. An underground system of healthcare will develop for people who don’t want their insurer to know about some medical conditions. People will pay privately for care to avoid higher rates, uninsurability or monitoring.

Don’t forget about “data brokers” who would like nothing better than your private medical records to sell to the pharmacy cartels.

 

homelandsecurity.jpg

Relax, they’re only predictions. While some things like the penniless marketplace and “health food” replacing fast food are here already, the mandatory MySpace pages and transponders may never see daylight due to consumer boycotts and privacy and health concerns. Those transponders are just EVIL!

This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living by Mr. Roboto.

We The People Will Not Be Chipped: A grassroots campaign against VeriChip

July 2, 2007

Early this morning, Bruce Sterling blogged on Wired.com about this relatively new anti-RFID implant group based in Brisbane, Australia called We The People Will Not Be Chipped.

No VeriChip Inside

 

This is how they describe themselves and their mission:

The We the People will not be Chipped – No Verichip Inside Movement, is based on the irrefutable fact, that we believe in mankind’s inalienable human rights that are absolute and can not be debased, nor perverted. Human life can not be degraded to a 16 digit RFID chip number embedded under you skin under any circumstance. By uniting on this common ground, we can send a strong message to the IBM funded Verichip that we the people will not be chipped!

If you or your company/organization would like to get involved with the We the People will not be Chipped – No Verichip Inside Movement , we encourage you to get in contact with us. We are looking for contributors , web designers, artists in all fields , printers, multimedia experts, mailing houses, civil libertarians, financial contributors, and freedom fighters to help us take this message to the masses. We will only be treated like inventory when complacency becomes our drug of choice.

As history has a funny habit of repeating itself. Study World War II closely on how IBM backed the Nazi Regime utilizing the Hollerith Machine . The Hollerith Machine was a punch card system that aided in cataloguing the population. This IBM technology gave the fascist, totalitarian state the much needed technology boost to increase it’s rate of human data processing . The goal was simple, extreme nationalism which called for the unification of all German-speaking peoples and eradicating the enemies of the state namely the Jews and other non-compliant races.

Fast forward to the year 2006 , we have IBM funding the parent company of the Verichip namely Applied Digital Solutions [ADSX] . The VeriChip Corporation is both FDA approved and patented with the owner of patent (#6,400,338) granted recently to VeriChip’s manufacturer, Digital Angel Corporation, with worldwide patents pending.

In the re-active world’s state of affairs, we are seeing world governments tightening measures in regard to identity protection, trumpeting our need to be protected from the forces of evil. As we move into the age of paranoia and fear these ideologies, supported by propaganda campaigns, demand total conformity on the part of the people.

 

While there has been a sort of revolt by states against RFID being used in the Federal “Real ID” cards, this has to be first such NIMBY group against the implants themselves, although this seems to be more focused on VeriChip’s activities and experiments rather than the idea of such implants as a whole. For those who are looking to become DIY cyborgs, this will cause a conflict of interest as step one is getting RFID implants.

A warning about Big Brother, or just a bunch of Luddite kooks? Either way, this looks like the kind of battle that makes good cyberpunk lore.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.