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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Living in remote control

The Mercury News is reporting on a new technology developed in Japan for controlling humans by remote control. Technically called a galvanic vestibular stimulation, and worn on the head, the device works by stimulating the nerves of the inner ear with an electrical current. The stimulation causes the feeling of falling to one side or another, thus causing the wearer to lurch in that direction in order to maintain balance. One can even direct oneself with the remote control. And, of course, there's a military application:
Timothy Hullar, assistant professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., believes finding the right way to deliver an electromagnetic field to the ear at a distance could turn the technology into a weapon for situations where
"killing isn't the best solution.''

"This would be the most logical situation for a nonlethal weapon that presumably would make your opponent dizzy,'' he said via e-mail. "If you find just the right frequency, energy, duration of application, you would hope to find something that doesn't permanently injure someone but would allow you to make someone temporarily off-balance.''

Indeed, a small defense contractor in Texas, Invocon Inc., is exploring whether precisely tuned electromagnetic pulses could be safely fired into people's ears to temporarily subdue them.
Invocon describes what they do this way:
At its core, Invocon is a Research and Development company, developing new technologies, systems, and ideas for new applications, with different parameters, and with the newest processes or hardware.
That's pretty clear, isn't it?

In an article titled "Is Big Brother under your hood?", the Grand Rapids Press reports that auto manufacturers have been placing event data recorders in vehicles without notifying purchasers.
[They] are in most 2004 models and 15 percent of cars, according to the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The devices record information seconds before and during impact, including speed, air-bag deployments, throttle position and brake, seat belt and warning lamp status.
The technology has been around since 1998, but it is only recently that police have begun using the data they record in prosecutions.
In September, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth charged a Jenison woman after an examination of her car's "black box" showed she was speeding when her car hit and seriously injured a Kent County Road Commission worker patching a highway.
College professor Thomas Kowalick says that all the concern is overblown. "It is objective scientific data. It cannot lie, it speaks for the victims and that's why it's a breakthrough."

In the end it boils down to consumer acceptance, he said. Absent any means for democratic accountability in technology development, that basically means that we have little choice but to accept it.

In a related story, insurance companies in Britain have begun offering pay-as-you-go auto insurance. It could mean lower bills for those who drive during the day or short distances, for example. The catch? You have to let them place a black box recorder in your car to keep track of where, when and how you drive. And, it should go without saying that the police can subpoena the information. Or the company could just sell it to third parties. The recorders use mobile phone technology to transmit all pertinent information to the insurance company. In a creepy "slavery equals freedom" argument, an insurance company spokesman said,
For too long, motor insurers have paid too little attention to exactly who is behind the wheel, the cars they drive or the journeys they make. With tailored policies, consumers really are in the driving seat.
But how will people react to the new technology? That seems to depend on how they define freedom. One man who switched to the new policy put it this way: "Having my journeys logged doesn't bother me. What matters is the extra financial freedom."

In a couple related stories, Liberal San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has announced plans to place six new surveillance cameras in poor sections of town. Ostensibly to watch "high crime intersections," the devices will increase the city's ability to regulate the poor residents that live there. Newsom claims that the cameras, which have been tried out in a couple other locations, have the support of local residents. Although that doesn't entirely explain why the cameras are each housed in a bulletproof casing.

Meanwhile, the city of Cuyahoga Falls planned to vote Monday to place 31 surveillance cameras downtown at a cost of $166,000. The cameras will watch for vandals, and the film will be held for three weeks in order to be assist any prosecutions or investigations that might be necessary.

As our uncontrolled space continues to shrink, Mobile Health Data reports that "Crittenton Hospital Medical Center in Rochester, Mich., is using radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) to ensure babies and mothers match and that babies can't be removed from the facility until discharged." Under the Orwellian-named "Hugs and Kisses" program, both baby and mother wear RFID tags that track them throughout the hospital, reporting their locations every seven seconds to a central system. When the appropriate mother and child are brought together, the device plays a soothing, soulless electronic lullaby to signal a match.

At the same time, the US has reported it plans to install RFID chips in all passports after October 2006. The chips will have 64 kilobytes of data, more than is currently needed. The extra space anticipates government plans to include additional data, such as iris scans, fingerprints or other biometrics on the chip. The State Department took comments on the plan, and out of 2335 comments received, 98.5 percent were negative. Undeterred, the plan moves forward.

But none of this is bad news for technology workers. TechWeb News reports that internet technology workers salaries can be expected to rise by three percent this year on average. Ironically, leading the pack are IT auditors, who can expect their salaries to leap "11.2 percent in the range of $67,000 to $94,250." High technology might be bad for most of us, but it sure pays off for the technocrats.


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