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« Military & Ethical Implications | Main | Systems of Survival »

May 10, 2006


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Phillip Huggan

I'm directing my 2006 non-technical study of MNT and nanotechnology in general, towards developing the idea of breaking or otherwise deactivating nanosensors. The idea is for a network of sensor destruction technologies to permeate the landscape of a ubiquitous sensor network.

My prefered endgame would see only WMD sensors protected under law. The destruction of other forms of sensors would be legal. I'm very willing to be influenced by suggestions sensors designed to monitor and report activities of genocide or even murder, that these sensors should be protected by law too. But it is a slippery slope from murder sensors on to traffic violation sensors, narcotics sensors, underage couples sex sensors, jaywalking sensors, underages smoking sensors, illegal CD burn sensors, on-the-phone-with-spouse-on-company-time sensors, etc. For now I'm happy with only WMD sensors and teaching people how to break the other types.

Tom Craver

Phillip - I'm sure you know this, but the direction you're headed is diametrically opposed to the default course. It would take something catastrophic to convince people that your position is correct. Barring such an event, people will slowly accept ever more monitoring and prohibitions on tampering with monitoring devices.


Phillip, what do you think of David Brin's idea for a transparent society? It seems to me that it is often people in power that often have the most peccadilloes. If they could get caught just as easilly as the rest of us, then there would be less incentive for abuse.

In fact we would all have to be more tollerant of each other.


Also a further thought on disabling surveillance systems, maybe you don't have to. The expression "the camera doesn't lie" has been engrained in our minds for generations. Now, however with computer graphics it is getting increasingly easy to fool people with images. Imagine you are a politician caught in a compromising position with a hooker in a hotel room, no problem! All you have to do is have made dozens of videos of you doing all sorts of things at the time of your indescretion. One of you stealling money from an old lady, another of you having sex with the pope, and another of you sleeping in your bed. Who would know wich one is the real deal? ;) Call it video SPAM.


Phillip, what about eyeballs? Are you going to poke those out too while you're at it? Eyeballs are a kind of sensor, and they're not just for WMDs.

Phillip Huggan

Nano, with quantum communications integrated into the surveillence network, covert data corruption is impossible.

Our laws were not drafted with the intent of ubiquitous enforcement. I haven't yet read Brin's Transparent Society, but I think the general idea is that both powerful and weak actors will be subject to 24 hour ubiquitous surveillence. Without restructuring society's laws from the bottom up, I cannot endorse such a de facto minimum security prison.

My objection here isn't political or idealogical like they have been in other topics such as generic MNTed products distribution saturation or MNT factory administrators composition. My objection is very pragmatic: ubiquitous sensor surveillence will put all of us in jail or bankrupt us.

One example: in the USA in cities, teens start having intercourse when 14.8 yrs old. Many states use <16 years old as a statuatory rape benchmark. So right away, many people would be imprisoned as soon as as a ubiquitous lie-detector presents itself. I think >80% of all drivers would lose their licences within weeks of nanosensor traffic cameras... the assumption is that present laws are just, but they are not.

I think it will be easier to teach people how to break nano-sensors, than it will be to revamp legal systems.

Phillip Huggan

If your eyeballs can legally be used as evidence to give me a jaywalking or narcotics fine, yes I will poke them out Hal.

Brian Wang

1. I presume that you are kidding about covering up any misdermeanor crime or traffic violation with a felony assault. Let the jaywalking - heroine junkie go, lest he freak out and poke your eyes out.

2. Jaywalking and many traffic violations like parking tickets are dual purpose. They are a local city tax. Some like speeding and wreckless driving are attempts at modifying dangerous behavior. 40,000 traffic fatalities every year in the USA is not a good thing. People who sit on city councils want their communities to be a certain way. Rising real estate values ...balanced with enough rentals for people who come in to work etc... They are limited in the USA by laws about what they can and cannot require. So they end up using legal statutes and statistics to steer things. I was just at a Sunnyvale city council meeting and the city council wants more home ownership and owner occupation. Zoning bylaws and rules are being shaped to get that result, which they cannot legally mandate.

3. Libertarian chaos is not the right answer for everything. A lot of people want to protect the "right" to drive. Including old people and drunk people who plow into people and cars and kill them. When we can get the tech for really good automated driving...society should force people to modify cars or buy modified cars that you punch in your destination and have the computer drive. Why is it a right that 40,000 people should die in the USA and 1.2 million around the world every year.
People should be more pragmatic about how to make things better. One example for the other side is a pragmatic response to drug abuse is to partially legalize it. Have clinics treat and supply the addicted. Target the economics of the money going to terrorists (Taliban gets money from drugs) and the columbians. It forces the government to get a bit messy assisting those with a drug habit but you have to balance out the bigger picture.

6. as I have said before, privacy is a lost cause.
Real time updated maps
Billions of video cameras and cellphones.
billions of RFIDs.

For $30,000, I could get 20 radio remote controlled blimps and hundreds of cameras watching around my city. Beaming the video back to a few terabytes of hard drives with DVD backup. I can't be bothered as I have better uses for $30,000. The point is loss of privacy ...technology favors surveillance now and in the future.

7. As for the laws, most people are pretty good and reasonably rational and reasonably pragmatic. The prisons are already overcrowded with the war on drugs. They are not going to build more prisons to house their horny teenage daughters and sons. They are not going to take away 80% of the drivers licenses and screw things up so that people cannot drive to work.

Phillip Huggan

"7. As for the laws, most people are pretty good and reasonably rational and reasonably pragmatic. The prisons are already overcrowded with the war on drugs. They are not going to build more prisons to house their horny teenage daughters and sons. They are not going to take away 80% of the drivers licenses and screw things up so that people cannot drive to work."

Yes they will. Why wouldn't they?

Phillip Huggan

"For $30,000, I could get 20 radio remote controlled blimps and hundreds of cameras watching around my city. Beaming the video back to a few terabytes of hard drives with DVD backup. I can't be bothered as I have better uses for $30,000. The point is loss of privacy ...technology favors surveillance now and in the future."

I have no objection to this. My objection is to trillions of nano-sensors in your own home. I agree privacy in public venues is already compromised.

"One example for the other side is a pragmatic response to drug abuse is to partially legalize it."

Yes harm reduction is a solution but you have no reason to believe it will be explored. Right now only 1-2 percent of Americans are wrongly imprisoned in forced-labour prisons (building goods at prices undercutting any workforce on the planet) on narcotics offences. With your ubiquitous nano-sensors, the majority of Americans will be (think pills without a prescription and marijuana, not heroin). Raise your hand anyone on this blog who has not driven drunk before (higher than .05% blood alcohol is about 1.5-2 drinks). What is the minimum prison time for all of us CRN blog readers? 3 years?

Most laws are drafted with a good portion of PR scare-value in mind; not meant to be taken literally. You can't just assume society will rewrite its legal system once it can produce ubiquitous sensors. In California you will all hit your three strikes in a few years at most and get to do favours for a big guy named Bubba, for the rest of your lives.


Phillip - Unfortunately for our eyeballs, eyewitness testimony has been legally valid for hundreds of years. People have been convicted of far worse than jaywalking or narcotics on the basis of information gathered by eye. I guess we better watch out when you come around with your eyeball-poking stick.

Phillip Huggan

Hal and everyone else, I don't care about celphone cams or eyeballs or CCTV. I'm opposed to ubiquitous nanosensors enforcing existing laws in Western societies. The same surveillence resources available to the American War On Drugs (because it is the best example I'm aware of) and the same *market forces inertia* forever increasing the size of the enforcement bureaucracy; that will be present in every police crime division thx to deflationary sensor prices.

Brian, 50% of the jobs in Afghanistan are opium related. The Canadian General in charge of operations there believes not targetting opium craps has kept the local population friendly. If you wanna kill the opium trade fine, but then you have to pay to subsidize the farming of new crops for a few years. Otherwise the population is practically forced to turn hostile.

Brian Wang

Philip wrote "My objection is to trillions of nano-sensors in your own home." and [the jaywalking thing]

Jaywalking in your home. That is a cute trick. Now you make me want to put cameras in your home to see it.

Phillip Huggan

If you want an alternative to my sensor bomb anarchy, I think you pretty much have to reform the laws individually that each new sensor design released would cover.

Mike Treder, CRN

Relevant to this discussion of surveillance, transparency, and enforcement regimes is Rob Freitas's recent CTF essay, which begins:

In an attempt to make David Brin’s privacy-free “transparent society” more palatable to civil libertarians, Robert Sawyer has proposed an “Alibi Archive” in which everyone’s activities are meticulously recorded in a centralized, judicially controlled archive, with the archives legally accessible only under court order and only upon request of the person whose activities were recorded. In a criminal investigation, this person would be able to access (and make public from the archives) those records of his activities that would definitively establish an alibi for him, thus conclusively proving that he was elsewhere when the crime was being committed. Potential criminals would know that they would not be able to establish an alibi in this manner, and thus would be deterred from committing crimes.

Regardless of the merits of this idea (and there are many aspects that can be debated), it seems that it is workable only with respect to perpetrators who actually care if their illegal activities are discovered. In the unique case of suicidal terrorists who plan to kill themselves during the achievement of their objectives, the alibi archive simply won’t work as a deterrent. Suicidal perpetrators plan on being dead after the commission of their crimes. They won’t care what, or whether, anything can be proven after they’re gone. We need some additional ways of deterring them and disabling their ability to act. Perhaps some sort of highly intrusive and actively monitored nanotechnology-enabled omnipresent recording system could be employed to this end.

Rob goes on to present an extensive evaluation of the tension between freedom and security -- and the end results are not very reassuring. We'll need to do a lot more thinking, debating, and planning if we are to preserve either life or liberty in the years to come. I'm glad to see some of that important discussion taking place on this blog.

Dan S

From total surveillance there is only a small step to automatic law enforcement. Legal laws could be made as unbreakable as physics laws leading to a preventive legal system. Nothing is stored or recorded for a long time and if one could not commit a crime there is no need for jails at all.

This will require major modification of existing laws of course, but hoping that current legal system can survive in post-MNT era is naive.

I think some kind of automatic law enforcement system is inevitable. If any modifications to it must be approved by majority of society and if this law is also is a subject of automatic enforcement, risk of abuse can be minimized.


I fear that with the advent of the typse of intense surveilance being discussed here liberty and freedom could easily be curtailed by a dominating government. It would be done obviously like it is happening today, in the name of protecting a population from a real or unreal (it's practically irrelavant) threat. I'm not saying that no protection is needed.

If we have huge numbers of nanites able to detect, find and neutralise any substance or material - such as an explosive, chemical or WMD weapon - then what does it matter who was planning to set the thing off.

If you have the ability to safegaurd against these threats 100% of the time then there is no need to find or punish the culprit because they would simply be unable to carry out their malicious act.

For instance let us imagine a bomber plants his device in a building and plans to murder people with it, or even a suicide bomber has some nasty peice of equipment straped to his person. As soon as he enters a puplic safety zone the dangerous materials would automatically begin to be transformed nanotechnologically into something benign (diamond?). I'm not sure if this could work because of timescales involved in converting a dangerous material, i.e they may be just too long to ensure the explosion or chemical leak or whatever doesn't happen before its neutralized.

Even if the person commiting this act is recorded by sensors red handed, no prosicution needs to take place.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Dan, I think automatic law enforcement requires AI.

Of course, today's AI is tomorrow's utility. Several years ago I read about a system under development at MIT that claimed to watch a video feed, learn what was "normal," and flag anything unusual. With vastly more powerful computers, one could imagine this being applied to everyone. If you're doing an activity the system recognizes, no problem. The minute you do something unusual--pour bleach into a drinking glass, point a gun at a person, engage in a rare sexual act, or whatever else--the system flags you.

The system's response to that flag could be:
1) Send that video feed to a person for evaluation.
2) Deliver a corrective shock to the collar you're wearing.
3) Add your name to a database of suspicious people.

This is an extremely scary idea, and I don't see anything at all to prevent it. Note that such automated filtering could allow everyone to be surveilled full-time.

Other technologies: Emotion-readers that use facial expression and body language. They already claim to have a lie detector that works on facial images. This could be used to profile a person and learn what their hot-buttons were. Room 101...

Text analysis. Search every conversation on the planet.

Note that these technologies would tend to enforce mediocrity and conformity. Sort of like our school system does today, only a lot worse.


Phillip Huggan

If I had MNT I could use it to corrupt and intimidate judiciary and political officials to rewrite the law as I please. There wouldn't be any military body on the planet that could do anything to stop me.

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