Every Move You Make

The social systems that guarantee ethical and intelligent use of that information are lagging behind, opening the door to all sorts of unscrupulous uses of our data

Within the next 10 years the convergence of multiple technologies will thrust people into a world where nothing is secret.

Starting yesterday and accelerating over the next 10 years almost everything that people and the machines around them do will be continuously recorded and stored in databases. And while the volume of data generated by these technologies was once so vast and complex that only big governments or powerful multinationals could manage it, by 2010 the average person will have enough desktop power to permanently compromise the privacy of their fellow citizens.

Unfortunately, that's us.

The social systems that guarantee ethical and intelligent use of that information are lagging behind, opening the door to all sorts of unscrupulous uses of our data. At the moment the boundaries are established by personal ethics, not by policy. Information is international. Laws are not. Something's got to change. It won't be the information.

The good news is that this creates a business opportunity for those businesses that can demonstrate that they can be trusted.

Mentats make sense of the infoglut. In a world without secrets, tremendous amounts of information are generated, but no one's time increases. So as citizens we are safe then from the prying eyes of would be Big Brothers. After all, the people who are trying to compromise your privacy can't deal with all this information can they? Machines can't yet do the necessary sieving, dicing and slicing needed to make sense of all of these different patterns in the world of transactions and camera images can they?

Unfortunately, they soon will.

It will not be enough to rely on technical impossibility. It may be hard now but it's getting easier. The data analysis needed to compromise someone's privacy will go the way of the 40-bit key, from intractable with current technology to mildly difficult, when the mentat - one of the most powerful technologies of the next decade - is deployed.

The word mentat was invented by novelist Frank Herbert in his science fiction classic, Dune. In the fictional world of Dune, computers are outlawed and human mentats analyze data, spot patterns and make decisions. In our world, computer mentats will do the same. They will make decisions and predictions based on qualitative factors like judgment, beliefs, values and emotions - fed by data collected from public sources in many formats.

Mentats tell us what matters, why and how. They provide the frameworks we use to interpret the world. A mentat's view can be embedded in software, making it an automated information filter, or I-filter, which can be applied automatically to large volumes of data. Yahoo!'s information hierarchies are a well-known example of an I-filter. They organize information and screen or demote stuff that's supposedly less relevant.

The word supposedly is used because there's a difference between Yahoo!'s overt and covert agenda. The overt agenda is to present information that's precisely relevant to the user's interests. The covert agenda is to present information that's relevant and for which advertising fees have been paid.

In a world without secrets, mentats and I-filters are necessary and dangerous.

The rise of the network army. The consequences of privacy leakage are not all one way. Groups of citizens can use mentats and I-filters to create network armies.

The series of assaults on the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle were planned and carried out by a motley collection of dozens of small organizations. They were a textbook example of a network army at work.

The network army forms, often suddenly, when the agenda of isolated community and individuals align. Its communications are public, enabled by the Internet and it takes shape in the open.

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