The second half of Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold continues delving into the social implications of technology.
I found this book to be complimentary of a lot of things I’ve come across. Rheingold had a lot of smart and insightful things to say, too much for me to react to in a blog post, so I’m going to start writing and see how far I can get before I decide I should go to bed.
I’m going to start at the back of the book and work forward. The final chapter talks about cyborgs. Cyborgs can mean a lot different things, but it essentially is when people start replacing their body parts with things that function “better.” For instance, I decide that I want to jump higher so I get nanobots grafted into my leg muscles (forget steroids). Now I can leap over buildings in a single bound, but I’ve given up my organic nature. A really good look at this comes from Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity is Near. In this book Kurzweil goes into detail on the social and ethical implications of melding flesh and technology, as well as the possibilities. Of course I think Ray is a bit overly-optimistic on the time schedule of singularity actually being near. He imagines earth as a form of Cybertron, teeming with robots and covered in a cyber-metallic shell. I doubt earth has the resources we would need to make ourselves immortal through machine parts, or make us into robot cars. Johnimus Prime anyone?
Continuing in the cyborg vein, I want to compare Rheingold’s idea of smart mobs to the Borg. Rheingold says that people will work and act together, sharing information and thoughts because of technology. He also says people will start wearing computers to give them access to central information resources on the internet. In my last post I talked about enhanced reality and the ability to point to anything in the real world to gain information about it, sort of a “mousing-over” an object to pull up a wikipedia entry as one walks down the street. The Borg are very similar to this, they act as one group and are connected to a central repository of information, have adapted cybernetic enhancements, and clearly wear computers. I think there is a chance we could become a hive-mind, sharing our experiences in real time. When faced with a dilemma, we could query what other people did in similar situations and the outcome. It would be like a living, artificial intelligence. The Borg do this when they adapt to the Federation’s tactics. One Borg ship takes phaser, figures out how to shield itself from it through its collective intelligence, and then shares this information with all other Borg vessels. It’s a million minds working collectively to solve a problem.
There is a lot of well-thought-out fiction dealing with possible scenarios of human/technology symbiosis. Ghost in the Shell, a popular Japanese manga comic and anime, follows a government group of enhanced human beings that track digital crimes in a future where everyone has cybernetic parts. One of the members of the team has had her entire body replaced and she only exists in a digital format. This allows her to enter host bodies, and communicate with other team members plugged into the grid. In this vision of the future, almost everyone in society has been modified in some way. Since everyone is connected directly to the net, hackers have found ways to scam or control people. Some cases involve criminals hacking into politicians brains through their internet connections to force them out of office or worse. Free episodes can be viewed at Adultswim.com.
As the internet becomes tiered, regulated, and is no longer decentralized, I see a lot more hacking that will start to take place. The cyberpunk sci-fi genre details the exploits of people willing to hack technology because the government tracks all of their activities. Right now we have people exploiting the system and people trying to stop them. There is a gritty underground of file sharing and P2P connections on the internet because people try to unreasonably control the internet and its content. Popular examples of the cyberpunk genre include Blade Runner, Neuromancer, and The Matrix. The recently shut down Oink music sharing site was a real example of this once fictional scenario. Oink was a private, invite only music sharing group that was shut down by government officials. There are concerns that a lot of people that were participating in this file sharing system are now being monitored. I imagine more sophisticated methods of file transfers will be created in the wake of this bust. We can compare file sharing to Iraq. In Iraq, the insurgence have no leader. You kill who you think is in charge and a new groups steps up to fill his place. The same thing happens with the net. You kill Napster, and Kazzaa, Limewire, E-Mule, Morpheus and bit torrents replaced it. There is no way to control it. Time to work with it or ultimately be destroyed. It’s an internet jihad on capitalist pigs.
As we speak, media companies are lobbying to divvy up the internet and oppress innovative ideas because they are the dinosaurs of business models and their livelihood depends on distribution chains staying the way they are. This is the only way to control the file-sharing hemorrhage that is happening and the reason the RIAA and MPAA sues everyone. They are threatened because they do not know what to do in the digital age and don’t know how to change to keep up with the times. They are losing power and money. They are scared. This happens every time there is a new communication technology. Radio sued television. Movie studios sued television. TV wanted to ban VHS. And now TV, Radio, DVD manufacturers, and the music industry want to sue everyone on the internet. At this very moment, Hollywood big shots are trying to pass laws that will lock you out of being able to use their products on anything but devices built to their exact specifications. Say goodbye to your video iPod, watching DVDs on your laptop at the airport and being able to loan a movie to a friend. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are trying to fight the laws the entertainment industries are trying to pass to prevent their income loss, but we need to be vigilant and aware of what is going on. Net Neutrality is at stake. It laws continue to pass that restrict what can legally be done on the Internet, Hollywood’s will strangle the usefulness of the net right out.
Cable and phone companies do not like the impending switch to wireless connections as much as the entertainment industry doesn’t like digital formats. For years, AT&T had a communications monopoly because they owned the wires running across the country and charged people access for them. That’s how they made their money. Cable companies did the same. What happens when people don’t need these wired access points anymore? The wired companies sue and try to enact legislation to prevent people from hurting their business model. What’s crazy is that it is way cheaper, more efficient, less unsightly, and requires fewer resources to setup a wireless network than it does to run cable everywhere, but major corporations with a ton of money invested in outdated technology don’t want to see that happen. In fact, there have been a lot of cities that were trying to create free wi-fi access for their citizens, but cable companies have sued to stop such projects.
My comment: get with it tech companies. You are called technology companies for a reason. Out with the old and in with the new. Don’t get sue everyone because you didn’t diversify and keep sinking dollars into out-moded methods.