Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

Since I started the Dispatches I’ve been getting a minor bump in readership. That’s a good thing. Nothing like what I expect should I bleed on the blog about my seizures, but a bump nonetheless. That’s something because its not about me breaking down. Those reads are about me making something.

Also, it should be noted that I’m opening this up. I’ve written a couple so far and I’d like to see what you guys might have up your sleaves. Rules? Simple. There are some great examples of what I’m looking for at the PopSci link. These are vignettes of life at some point in the future. They should be around 500 words. More is okay, but less is much better. If you need assistance with editorial work, I’m happy to help.


Scare Tactics

“Should you decide to step out of line,” said Detective Pérez, “know that you’ve already been caught. It might seem a little like magic, but it’s math.”

The response from the classroom was predictable. A communal noise somewhere between a scoff and a irreverent chuckle. One of the kids, a skinny caucasian boy wearing an Ubu LED light up shirt and Freez boots, crossed his arms over his chest and said, “You can’t catch nothin’ Cheezer. Nothin’ but dust.”

Pérez tapped her right temple and bracketed the kid’s head with the target reticle floating in her vision. An eye blink later his dossier became an augmented vision floating transparently before her.

“Reuben Seth Wilson, you’ve already been arraigned twice in Juvy court system. And it looks like you’ve got a hearing scheduled next month for a traffic ticket. Thirty-five over the limit? Hum, you should prepare for a Reckless Endangerment charge too,” Pérez said.

The snicker-sneer was now focused on Wilson who shrunk a little in his seat. “Everyone gets caught, because everyone is in the system,” Pérez continued. “Wilson you signed a EULA when you purchased that Ubu shirt and those sneakers you’re wearing. That EULA tied you into the internet of things and gave law enforcement access to any meta-information you produce while wearing your stylish garments. We know everything about you. We’re better than Santa Clause that way, because once you’re beyond the Juvenile system we don’t have to wait for you to fuck up.”

A stillness descended on the classroom for perhaps the first time in the history of the building. “That’s right, you’re all nearing your eighteenth birthday. That’s why you’re here. The idea is that I’m supposed to scare you into minding your P’s and Q’s. But that never works. I’m a little woman, and a cop to boot. I can’t scare you with my piece or my authority, so I’m going to do it with math. Predictive data science to be exact. I know when you’re going to commit a crime before you do. So enjoy the little bit of time you have left before your next birthday, because after that day, I’ll have officers waiting to bag and tag you. You’ll be arraigned and processed and on your way to lockup from sentencing within seven business days of capture, and you’d better prey that you don’t already have a record of sociopathic behavior, because you’re future will be bleak if you do.”

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Zombie Nets

One of my favorite hacks last year was Samy Kamkar‘s RaspPi modification SkyJack which autonomously seeks out, hacks, and wirelessly take control over other drones within wireless distance. This single project points the way to a host of highly hackable projects and systems that we take granted because they’re so much a part of our daily lives.

Wirelessly managed systems are all around us and the zombie paradigm that Kamkar leverages with a toy could be the beginning of an entirely new industry. The ability to seamlessly time slice basic automated utility cannot be too far off and each embedded antenna in these ubiquitous automated systems is a door to control.

iRobot’s Wall Mounted Wireless Controller

Yesterday, while waltzing through the National Botanic Gardens with the family I watched a couple drop a GoPro2 on the ground in order to get a selfie in front of a topiary.  At first, the there did not seem to be anything special about this tiny little event. The guy used his iPhone to take the shot and the retrieved his camera.

However, at the time, I just happened to be searching for a wi-fi signal on my phone. Tess and Aral had wondered around a corner and I could not find them by peering through the jungle of growth in the main pavilion. I was hoping to hitch a ride on an open network for a minute so I could send off a quick iMessage to Tess. My reception in that Faraday cage of a building was sub-optimal and Verizon had 1x-ed me once more.

Thus it was that I discovered, somewhere within the building, were at least three other GoPro video cameras. All four appeared to have be operating their default hotspot with open settings. Honestly, I no interest in taking control of your cameras, but when I selected the one with the best signal it wasn’t difficult.

Seeing the inside of some strangers backpack got me to thinking about this. Yes, I believe that we’re just at the beginning of something here. But the ease with which consumer electronics can be co-opted is not necessarily a vulnerability. Rather, what if these light-weight, cheap, mass marketed devices became an integrated part of the IoT?

Imagine, for the moment, that the National Botanical Gardens were just a tiny cross section of what were available utilities anywhere. What is important about the portable lenses and robot vacuums and delivery drones of the world, even today, has necessarily less to do with the object itself and quite a bit more to do with what those things can do. Yet the rests physically with the object.

That is a fault in the economy as it changes, in my opinion. I could have taken picture after picture of the inside of some one’s backpack (and felt a certain sense of malicious glee as I filled up his memory card), but only if I had snatched the camera and made a mad dash for the metro would anyone care.

I believe that attitudes are changing, at least in small increments, already. The recent hubbub over the NSA spying on Americans (and everyone else), often by watching metadata , points at this. Regardless of whether you believe it is right, wrong, or are simply indifferent to the whole mess, I’d wager that you feel more attached the the SIM card in your mobile than you do to the device in your pocket. What if your address, indelibly etched on that card, were the thing of value, that unique mote of information that identifies you as a separate and independent entity, were the thing that had some sort of Constitutional protection?

The way I see it, trying to protect or guarantee or monitor or even manage information passing over a network is a lot like trying to do the same within an airspace between someone’s mouth and another’s ears. And ultimately, that is why the First Amendment was put in place. To ensure that no one tried to tell you or I, what to say or how to say it. There is no filter, at least here in the US, that needs to be considered before speak your peace. The air space is open.

By attempting to control something similar between networked peers, we’re creating opportunities that will invariably result in Zombie nets. We’re misplaced the value in any exchange of information which occurs online.