Last year at this time as we transitioned from 2012 into 2013, the stark reality of the Sandy Hook school shootings numbed our collective senses. As we move into 2014 and leave this year in the rearview mirror, I feel like Dr. Who (shame on those of you who don’t know the good Doctor), caught up in some sort of parallel universe -- one that my favorite science fiction author, Isaac Asimov, would both appreciate and view with foreboding.
The brilliant writer who penned the classic Foundation series and I, Robot, was once asked about the rapid pace of technology and its effect on society. He responded by saying, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”
And what did Asimov view as the one constant of this frenetic technological advancement?
“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be,” he concluded.
Asimov made these observations more than 40 years ago. They have proved prophetic. We as an industry and citizens of the world now wrestle with moral and personal conundrums that sometimes conflict with technology’s good intentions.
You only have to dig as deep as yesterday’s headlines. Technology’s rapid ascent creates heroes and villains quicker than a politician’s sound bite. Solutions created in the innocent construct of solving societal problems, deterring crime or expediting brutal conflicts, now morph into Frankenstein monsters their creators never intended.
Regardless where you rank Edward Snowden on the traitor or hero meter, the fallout resulting from his NSA revelations have let the proverbial Genie out of the bottle and taken the Orwellian theme of “Big Brother” is watching to a level never before seen in the United States. It seems that with every passing day America’s not so covert agency drops another load onto the streets of DC. The blowback has splattered not only foreign leaders and their tapped cell phones, but ordinary U.S. citizens unaware both phone and email correspondence was suddenly government property. Again, make your own judgments.
In the spirit of good theater, we now find out that not only were cell, land lines and the internet being monitored, but junior’s PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have come under the microscope of the agency’s anti-terrorist unit. It seems while your teenage son was busy battling Garrosh Hellscream, Voljin and Deathwing, NSA operatives were busy trolling for al Qaida warriors.
Both the NSA and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British intelligence agency, have been working to infiltrate the virtual world of online games considered as an attractive environment for al Qaida, cyber terrorists and hackers,
While NSA tactics have certainly created a firestorm in their new light of day, the technology used to power the spy engine is a nebulas concept to most Americans. Not so with 2013’s other hot technology topic – drones. These denizens of the sky are tangible targets for any and all privacy advocates to see.
It is ironic that the same technology most Americans have accepted as a necessary tool of military combat, fails to illicit the same allegiance when applied to local law enforcement. While drone technology, when applied to crime deterrence and investigation, has a definite place in police work and emergency management applications, selling it to the general public figures to be more difficult as a result of the NSA’s growing hit list.
David McCullough, one of America’s most lauded historians, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, stated: “The evil of technology was not technology itself, Lindbergh came to see after the war, not in airplanes or the myriad contrivances of modern technical ingenuity, but in the extent to which they can distance us from our better moral nature, or sense of personal accountability.”